Arts & Life

Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor sets a creative standard

The same decks and halls that host ocean-side festivities have been transformed into a vessel of terror, as The Queen Mary’s month long annual horror event has once again set its anchor in Long Beach.

The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor returned to terrify visitors with all new mazes, performances and monsters lurking throughout the park.

This year’s Dark Harbor features seven mazes, four of which take attendees through areas of the ship. Each labyrinth had its own elaborate story and characters, all tied to the Queen Mary’s history, rather than popular movies or TV shows.

Upon entering the park, guests are greeted by scare actors running up to people and sliding on their knees to create sparks with their metal pads — a signature feature of Dark Harbor. It’s easy to see the amount of time and effort put into each of the character’s costumes as each actor displays intricate makeup and prosthetics to make for a believable getup.

The actors don’t merely jump out and scare guests, they have a lot of freedom to roam around the halls and even follow people through parts of the mazes, making for a more fun and genuine experience.

With no signs offering directions, guests are left to find their own way to the attractions, which made it difficult to find your way around throughout the night. Even those familiar with the park layout may be confused by the fog machines and strobing lights making it harder to see.

The trouble of finding a maze is worthwhile though, as each one offered something unique from the last.

My personal favorite was the “Circus” maze, which included optical illusions and traditional circus freaks on display. Once we entered the maze, we were immediately transported into a hallway of mirrors where most of the party got separated and had to reunite. From there, a goat-girl hybrid and scary clowns with caked on blood and sharp teeth were among the monsters that popped up from every dark crevice of the maze, sometimes following those who walked by with their eyes.

The best part of “Circus” though, was leaving — or rather attempting to leave — the eerie maze. To exit the room full of freaks, we had to walk through a rotating tunnel illuminated by neon lights. I doubted the illusion’s effectiveness until we were about halfway through the tunnel and I thought the ground beneath me was twirling, which left me a little disorientated. By the time I made my way out, I was dizzy and immediately blinded by bright white lights and fog that made it impossible to see anything beyond a foot in front of you.

The feeling of walking blind but hearing monsters all around you, knowing they can pop out and scare you at any moment was both terrifying and exhilarating. Little tricks like this were scattered throughout all of the mazes, making every attraction unexpected and fun.

“Intrepid,” which took guests through a haunted train, included a room which utilized fog machines and green lasers to create an optical illusion of a barrier between us and the ground. Anything below the laser’s glow was cloaked by mist that heightened our terror when monsters emerged from the smoke to scare us.

While most mazes took the creative route to inspire fear, a few that overused jump-scares and loud noises to frighten guests fell flat. The loud banging on metal became more annoying than scary after the hearing it a few times.

Venturing into the underbelly of the Queen Mary to see creepy dolls, cannibalistic chefs and psychotic killers put the ship in a whole new, more terrifying light.

While it was a unique experience to be taken inside the ship, some of the four mazes tended to blend into each other and make it difficult to distinguish a particular theme or storyline. This didn’t extinguish the horror of the attractions, but it did make a few of them seem less original, like they were drawing ideas from one another instead of coming up with their own story.

For those put off by mazes, The Dark Harbor also offers a variety of other things such as performances ranging from live music, fire twirling, magic shows and skidding contests which run throughout the night.

The big-ticket attraction for those 21 and over was the Ice Bar. There guests are given parkas, taken into a seven-degree bar and allowed to choose from a selection of flavored vodkas.

Maze tours and “baller buyouts” are also available for larger groups. These offer secluded patio dinners, entry to secret bars and private performances ranging from sword swallowing to self-mutilation.

Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor will continue 7 p.m. to midnight through November 1 on Sundays and Thursdays, and from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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