Photos by Brittany Woolsey. Full gallery below.
I live for the Halloween season. The costumes. The horror films. The haunts. The events.
I’m one of those crazy horror fans who goes to all the Halloween attractions, and one thing I was really looking forward to this year was my annual trip to the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. But I’m sad to say that I was disappointed this year, even compared to Knott’s Scary Farm, which I generally consider to be child’s play (and not the good kind with Chucky, either).
Before writing this article, I had an entirely different plan for it. The original agenda was to compare Dark Harbor to Knott’s and Universal Studios’ halloween events, and explain why, as an avid horror freak, I thought it was better. That’s been my viewpoint for years.
After attending all three events, however, I think my opinion has changed. Dark Harbor just isn’t what it used to be. Could it be that Dark Harbor is riding on the wave of success from past years so much that it thought it could get away (once again having) extra costs for newer (but lame) attractions? And could Knott’s actually be getting better? My mind is completely warped right now.
As I entered the gates of Dark Harbor, I expected to be greeted by a swarm of zombies, clowns and other frightening figures. Sadly, there seemed to be a lack of performers this year—but their makeup and costumes were still Universal Studios “Halloween Horror Nights” quality. Nice save there, Dark Harbor.
Knott’s, on the other hand, had plenty of monsters, though some of their costumes looked as if they could have been purchased from Party City. The intense simulated fog did a fair job of hiding the cheap-looking costumes (and anything else for that matter.) While the fog was indeed intense, it was probably a little too intense as I had to often use my iPhone as a flashlight to guide me from maze to maze.
I’ve been to Dark Harbor since it first opened in 2009, so the amazing makeup and costumes weren’t anything new to me. What I was looking forward to the most, however, was the all-new interactive Encounters attraction. After all, it costs an extra $15 on top of the regular admission price, and you get to explore rarely-seen parts of the ship. You also had to SIGN A FREAKING WAIVER to participate. Color me intrigued.
I’ll preface this by saying my bitterness toward Dark Harbor this year is mainly due to this attraction, and if you want to avoid spoilers, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs. In a nutshell, you’re better off pocketing that Encounters admission money and spending it on a single cocktail (because these days, $15 won’t even buy you two drinks at Dark Harbor). As my group traveled through the ship during Encounters, we were greeted by even fewer monsters, along with cheesy effects you could also find for free in a dinky haunted house set up in your neighbor’s front yard.
As we entered one room, we were asked to choose a sacrifice from our group. With mixed feelings of being excited and a little bit offended, I was voted unanimously by my 10-person group (half of whom I didn’t even know) to sacrifice myself. Maybe, just maybe, this experience would get better for me since I was the “chosen one.” As a black pillow case was placed over my head, I was told by a Darth Maul-looking demon to do exactly as the spirits instructed me. I was greeted by no such spirits. Instead, as soon as I was lead out of earshot of my group, Darth Maul took off my pillow case hood and told me to run up some stairs, before sticking me in a grounded cage. I guess I can thank Encounters for allowing me to get my evening cardio in, at least.
I also got my cardio in at Knott’s as I chased zombies while shooting them with a laser tag-style gun in the all-new Special Ops: Infected attraction—which was free, by the way. Yeah. Fun, interactive and free. Dark Harbor may want to take a page out of Knott’s book on that.
Dark Harbor guests are better off visiting the event’s free mazes, which were still decent, despite a lack of monsters. One thing Dark Harbor does have as an advantage over other area haunted attractions, however, is its (supposedly) actually-haunted location. I still get chills every time I walk through the boiler room or past the empty First Class swimming pool, but it’s definitely not because of the actors. And the off-board mazes are still pretty awesome, with fun, chilling sets like an easy-to-get-lost-in hall of mirrors full of demented clowns, or the hot, noisy, confined chaos of Deadrise, a sort of jungle/war themed maze built out of metal shipping containers that includes a 90+ foot flamethrower shooting into the sky at regular intervals, with heat so intense it feels like it’s going to singe your eyebrows off.
Dark Harbor is also the best bet for people with a lack of patience, as the lines are much shorter than at Knott’s—and especially Universal Studios’—halloween attractions. I also feel like you get the most bang for your buck at Dark Harbor, with a $25 ticket giving you access to six haunting mazes. The lines won’t be as short the closer it gets to Halloween, though, so you may want to go soon. (Just skip Encounters. Trust me—you and your wallet will thank me later.)
Editor’s note: This article originally stated that food and drink prices had increased; they were the same price as last year according to Queen Mary officials.
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