Queen Mary's Dark Harbor event is always one of my Halloween favorites, if only because of its maritime—scaritime?—appeal. It feels thematically
Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor event is always one of my Halloween favorites, if only because of its maritime—scaritime?—appeal. It feels thematically familiar: a seaside carnival on its last legs, something you’d read about in a worn paperback. It’s fun just to be there. You get to hang out near the water, see a bit of the ship, and sample whiskeys in a cheesily decorated pub.
The food options are plentiful and cheaper than most theme parks. The monsters are excellently made up, and often do more than just yell ‘boo!’ Many have their own backstories, like Graceful Gale, a debutante forever in search of her soulmate. Throw in a giant swing ride, live entertainment, and secret bars in the event’s half-dozen mazes, and you’ve got yourself a full night. Some of the mazes were a bit lackluster this year, offering sparse stretches with few effects or actors, but it was still a nice night with friends. Here are our maze rankings:
Every Halloween, the Ringmaster brings her circus to the Queen Mary, taking over the grounds with clowns, rides, and, of course, this maze. Maybe it’s because it can’t rely on the inherent creepiness of a dark ocean liner, but Circus is always great and genuinely very fun. It offers a playful scare, never mind the body parts, turning the lights on when other mazes flip them off. It toys with illusions, harkening back to funhouses of yore. You begin in a genuinely confusing hall of mirrors, bumble through a ball pit, then try not to get disoriented as you stagger across a very trippy bridge. What’s not to love? The monsters are almost friendly, as though they’d rather you live to partake in the madness than perish in a watery grave. Clowns and carnivals may be a tired trope within horror, but there’s something very charming and refreshing about this one. It just fits.
This maze plays with the legend of Samuel the Savage, a passenger who supposedly snapped in 1948 and went on a bloody rampage. He was confined to—and later disappeared from—room B340. While the Samuel tale is highly embellished (and seemingly more so year after year), the Queen Mary does like to say B340 is their most haunted room.
B340’s guests take the perspective of the detective investigating the gore left in Samuel’s wake. We snaked through blood-spattered crime scenes and occult tableaus. Newscaster voiceovers and retro new wave music (reminiscent of the Unsolved Mysteries theme) played. At one point, we had to crawl through a very narrow space on the floor to access an Art Deco labyrinth full of creeps.
I liked this maze a lot, aesthetically, and you get to see a lot of the ship. Like the other on-board mazes, there were some empty stretches, but I could also see myself just hanging out in here. Maybe with a martini.
Rogue’s problems are not supernatural in nature. A stormy sea is threatening the ship and all lives on board. Can the Captain save us? Does he want to? We watch him labor at the wheel while waves rage outside and anxious crew members yell at us to get to safety. There are some fun effects in this maze, especially considering this maze is set on a ship, but is one of the few not actually built on the Queen Mary. I won’t spoil the end for you, but let’s just say I wouldn’t wear leather shoes to this haunt.
The Chef was supposedly a hard worker until he was shoved into his own oven and burned alive. Why? A pernicious rumor about his penchant for human meat. It’s not clear if Chef ever really served human meat in life, but undead Chef most definitely does. The maze sees guests wind through scenes of cannibalism—a limb here, a torso there—while attempting to evade the kitchen staff and their knives. The best part of this maze is the meat grinder, which you can apparently crawl through if you like. Of course, a friend pointed out that there’s no padding in the grinder, so maybe don’t do that in shorts.
The premise of Lullaby is that a little girl named Mary drowned in the ship pool in 1952 and has been haunting it ever since. In this particular incarnation of Lullaby, they’ve added a psychic medium investigating the haunting.
Unfortunately, the maze itself was a mostly desolate stretch of ship filled with ominous music and the occasional giggling Mary. Some fun things, though: a face presses against a malleable wall, a tarot reader spins fortunes at the “secret” bar, and the ghosts of dead little girls hoping you’ll be their eternal playmate.
My favorite monsters here were the living dolls, who moved in a dim corridor with rigid, clunky imprecision before letting guests pass into a dark passageway. So dark, I frequently had to stop and wait for a light to flicker back on. Despite this, Lullaby was a bit too empty to rank higher on the list, despite the fact that ghost children are always creepy.
I’m not entirely sure what the plot of this maze is. Ostensibly, we’re meeting the Iron Master, the engineer who built the ship, then traded his soul to a sea witch for immortality as a half-metal cyborg. And yet, we start on a train. A Scottish train, to be precise, pulling into Edinburgh station. We meander through a graveyard and into a foggy church, where shrouded parishioners sit in silence. And I think we were maybe in a sexy jungle? Or… a sexy sea cave? Whatever it is, I think the witch lives there. Despite some beautiful sets towards the beginning, a lot of this maze seemed to be wandering through mostly empty spaces in the dark. I also feel like if you don’t read the story online first, the maze fails to convey it.
Other attractions at this year’s Dark Harbor include Panic, a 4D William Castle-esque film experience, on top of a swing ride, entertainment, photo ops, bars, and food vendors. And of course, the roving monsters are always up for a shriek or two.