Friday, September 29, 2017

REVIEW: The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor 2017

Let's get this out of the way: I was totally taco-blocked at the Queen Mary last night.

After standing in line for the better part of an hour, my haunt companion and I were super stoked for our turn at the taco bar. We were downing cocktails and rubbing elbows with the Captain. Those tacos were ours and we knew it. We were sure of it.

Alas, our taco dreams were dashed when we were unceremoniously denied in no uncertain terms. Why? Who knows! Did we ask? You bet! But no one seemed to have any information on this diabolical taco moratorium - only that it was to be strictly and immediately enforced. All I know for sure is that when we were mere steps away from our treats, we were tricked instead.

Deprived of my promised Mexican feast, I let out an insane roar of pure hanger and flipped the table, sending beans and tortillas sailing over the railing and into the inky black of the harbor below before leading my fellow Halloween bloggers on an anarchic rampage through the RIP Lounge, which we left in smoldering tatters, our final act of revenge.

Just kidding. My friend and I went and paid for food at the Muertos Morsels booth.

Spotted when we first entered the haunt, when we still believed we lived in a just and fair world in which "free tacos" were more than just an empty promise.

The "I Scream" booth. Absolutely adorable, but they were sold out of chocolate soft serve! And it was like 8:30 on opening night!

These swings from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch certainly have stories to tell.

With the great Taco Debacle safely in our rearview, our bellies blessedly full of nachos and quesadillas, we could finally begin our evening in earnest.

I haven't visited the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor in years, so I was excited to see how it's grown and evolved. It still has a delightfully dark carnival-esque feel, closer in vibe to the LA Haunted Hayride than it is to one of the theme park haunts like Universal or Knott's Scary Farm. The overall theme seemed to be a mixture of circus/sideshow/clowns and nautical horrors, drawing heavily on the ship's notoriety as an actual historical landmark, complete with reputed hauntings.

These creepy tableaux were scattered throughout the haunt, adding atmosphere and providing ample opportunities for impromptu picture-taking.

By the power of Greyskull, it's a kilt-wearing ghoul in the Intrepid maze! (Photo by Iona Lie.) 

Beware the water elements in the Deadrise maze, lest ye get splashed. (Photo by Iona Lie.)

Damn dude, how many meals did I miss out on at this haunt? (Photo by Iona Lie.)

Try that flesh suit on for size. (Photo by Iona Lie.)

There are 7 mazes at Dark Harbor this year, with 3 of them taking place on dry land (Intrepid, Deadrise and Circus) and 4 on the ship itself (B340, Soulmate, Lullaby, and the brand new Feast). What I love about these mazes is that they feel totally unique to their setting - nothing based on existing horror properties or even typical haunt tropes like zombies, vampires, or haunted houses. It gives this event a very distinct character that sets it apart from its pro haunt brethren.

I also think they take some interesting risks here: Surprise water elements, totally fogged out rooms with near-zero visibility, very little in the way of guidance from security so that you actually might become (at least temporarily) lost...I honestly didn't know what to expect from one maze to the next, and I appreciate that anarchic, lunatics-running-the-asylum quality.

Somewhat surprisingly, neither of my favorite mazes was actually on the ship. Intrepid has some very cool medieval-gothic rooms full of plague doctors and kilt-wearing ghouls (see pic above), as well as one particularly memorable glowing green room where monsters rose into and out of low-lying fog - a very eerie and unique effect.

My other favorite was Circus, which transcended the usual killer clown stereotypes (hard to resist, I'm sure, particularly in the age of It!) and instead gave us a huge ball pit, sinister sideshow performers, and an incredibly cool secret bar. (Want to find the entrance? Here's a hint: Find out what the future holds.)

Into the mouth of madness at the entrance to the Circus maze. (Photo by Iona Lie.)

I'm more surprised that teddy bears have rib cages than I am to see poor teddy eviscerated. (Photo by Iona Lie.)

Nun of your business. (Photo by Iona Lie.)

Fog-shrouded freaks lurk, lurch, and lunge. (Photo by Iona Lie.)

I enjoyed the ship mazes as well, but I think they relied a little too much on the inherent creepiness of the ship and didn't put as much effort into the mazes themselves. That being said, there were little moments here and there that certainly made these mazes more than worthwhile: The glimpses of the ship's bowels through windows as we wound our way through Lullaby; a glance at the Queen Mary's enormous propeller, still and silent as a ghost in the black water as we entered Soulmate; and above all, the catwalk we had to cross in B340 - a moment of true terror as it seemed to buckle beneath our feet.

TFW you're surrounded by the tormented souls of the damned but you're just feelin' fine. 

Pros: The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor continues to be a fun addition to the Halloween haunt scene in southern California, offering a nice change of pace from Knott's and Universal and giving us LA-based Halloweenies perhaps our only chance to attend a haunt in an actual haunted locale. Bars are plentiful and there are lots of fun photo ops. The scareactors are deeply committed and enthusiastic, and there are several stages featuring live entertainment including musicians, aerialists, puppet shows, fire dancers, and more.

Cons: Parking is a truly staggering $40 a pop. Taking a Lyft or at the very least carpooling is highly recommended, unless you are lit'rally made of money. This is definitely a loud and bombastic haunt in the vein of Universal, so prepare your earholes. Vegetarian options were hard to come by at some of the food stands, and several vendors were already out of listed menu items early in the evening on opening night, so you may not want to come desperately hungry. Oh, and did I mention the tacos? DID I?!

Conclusion? If you've never been, or if it's been a minute since your last trip, I certainly recommend dropping anchor in the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. Maybe grab some tacos beforehand though.

Use promo code: FEAR30 at checkout to receive 30% off your GA ticket. Sale Ends on September 30th at 11:59PM.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event. I was NOT provided with complimentary tacos.

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