ByJeremy Howard, writer at
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Jeremy Howard

I’ve always been a fan of horror mazes during Halloween. In Southern California, Knott’s Scary Farm has been the granddaddy of these types of events. The experience at Universal Horror Nights is always epic in scale. Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain is more coaster-driven, as you’d expect.

So how does Dark Harbor at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA compare to these other experiences?

Let’s find out!

Wait a second, I thought this was supposed to be "dark harbor." This doesn't look dark and scary at all!

I expect by nighttime the outhouses in the foreground are going to be very dark and scary.

Kinda cool getting an overview of the setup before the festivities begin.

Here we are back on ground level as nighttime has descended upon us.

The line for the requisite fondling before entering.

And here we go! The terrors of Dark Harbor await us inside!

There's great atmosphere in this park. Lots of smoke and lighting effects.

The central pavilion connects to the mazes, a sketchy carnival swing ride, which you won't catch me on, and lots of food and other diversions.

Monsters lurk in the fog and shadows. Somewhere.

Such a cool shot. The ambiance, really, is excellent. Lots of fireball effects, spontaneous surprises, etc.

Let's get in line for the mazes! VIP tickets with front of the line access are the only way to go to avoid the crowds.

Trippy laser-light effects!

The inside of "Carnival," as you might expect, a horror clown themed maze. Very well done.

Back outside. The food offerings are quite good. Think Orange County Fair with a nice horror overlay.

Heading up to the VIP lounge...

Private bar, sliders and snacks, a vantage point overlooking the park. Very well done!

I want to own this.

Some great shots overlooking the park!

Looks totally different at night!

A full sensory experience.

Crazy fire and smoke effects!

This stuff is great. Just when they thought they made it out of there, one last scare surprise is waiting for them!

So…impressions of Dark Harbor at the Queen Mary

  • Overall, this was really well-done. If you haven’t been, and you’re a fan of these types of experiences, it’s well worth it.
  • If you can splurge, the VIP tickets are a must. Very quickly, the park gets crowded and the lines for the mazes back up considerably. The staff isn’t as polished as what you’d expect from, say, Universal Horror Nights, which contributes to a bit of a lack of efficiency with moving guests though. So these lines take longer that you might expect.
  • Having the “front of the line” access is a huge timesaver, and will ensure your ability to make it through each of the experiences. Even the VIP lines tend to back up as it gets later in the evening, so if you can, get there right at the start and conquer a few mazes right from the get-go before settling into a churro or a bacon-wrapped hot dog.
  • Speaking of which, I enjoyed the carnival fair take on the food, with a fun horror overlay, for example “Killer Tacos.” Dark Harbor’s accessibility to fun foods to indulge with and snack on is better than what Universal or Knott’s presents.

As far as the horror, the immersion, the quality of the mazes, when compared to Knott’s or Universal…

  • Dark Harbor reminds me of a good solid B-Movie horror movie. Without a mega budget for crazy makeup and special effects, the park relies on ambiance, atmosphere, lighting, smoke, and the psychology of it all to deliver.
  • There weren’t nearly as many cast members in costume terrorizing you through the park and the mazes. Knott’s is chock full of these creatures, but Scary Farm, with it’s makeshift plywood maze structures, doesn’t provide nearly as realistic an environment as Dark Harbor.
  • The mazes that take you into the bowels of the Queen Mary itself were particularly engaging. It was awesome heading down a dark stairwell through a tiny corridor only to emerge in a massive interior space, once used as the indoor pool, which I never even knew existed, for the ship. Or you walk around a corner and find yourself able to look through actual porthole windows and see the ocean outside. This gives the mazes a unique sense of a tangible space. These are physical places that exist. It added to the sense of realism, and brought a unique dimension to the “horror maze” that I hadn’t experienced at Knott’s or Universal.

Knott’s Scary Farm, for whatever reason, seems to have taken a step back in recent years. Universal Horror Nights seems to be the reigning crown jewel of these mainstream offerings.

Dark Harbor fits snuggly, and surprisingly, in between these two. It’s a solid effort, scary and fun, and I will be back next year.


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