The best park you’ve never seen: The Frights and Chills of the Queen Mary at Dark Harbor

Dark Harbor Hell's Bell Tower

Hell's Bell Tower at Queen Mary Dark Harbor

Think you’ve been to the Queen Mary Halloween event in Long Beach?

Think again!

pening night was sparsely populated for the 2010 Queen Mary Dark Harbor event, but the people who were in attendance were treated to a top-notch, five-star haunt.  They’ve let go of their old Shipwreck theme and replaced it with a new and more cohesive theme — as well as a seasoned crew of designers and producers who know how to really deliver on the fear and fun.  (QM Event Director Paul Haught has spent an entire year prepping the event with two specialty firms — Seruto & Co. of Pasadena, and T. Edward Design of Glendale — and it shows!)

The backstory of the Dark Harbor is all about the famed ocean liner ending up in a hellish port controlled by three female demons (Mattentoot, Searer and Bundara, for those keeping score at home), but the results are all that matters.  Halloween buffs have been a little disappointed with the QM offerings in the past.  Not this time!

Queen Mary silhouette

The Queen Mary, docked in Dark Harbor

As you approach the ship, you’re greeted by the usual security… and a sardonic carny barker-style monster, illuminated by torchlight, who dares you to pass through the shadowy, fogbound portal into the Dark Harbor.  And when we say “fogbound,” we mean FOGBOUND — Dark Harbor’s foggy areas are as thick with peasoup as certain Scary Farms used to be, and you’ll be suitably disoriented when you emerge from winding passageways into the onshore area of the Dark Harbor.  And that’s when the monsters start looking for you!

You’ll find food and drink, a different band every night and some cool vendors on shore.  In the past, that would have been as much as you could have hoped for.  Now, not only does Dark Harbor have all that, it also has wandering monster hosts dishing out the morbid laughs and creepy attitude, high-quality ghouls (including some very talented sliders) ready to scare you, excellent decoration and lighting (themed around blazing fire, thick fog and twisted steel), a free-standing semi-maze called the Barricades (you’ll have to go in there sometime) and two shore-based mazes: Village of the Damned and The Cage.  And all that’s before you get to the three ship-based mazes (Submerged, Hellfire and Containment)!

So how do the mazes rate?  Outstanding!


The Cage is a mood piece; clearly themed on a weird and unsettling nightmare, it’s a literal maze that has many very interesting disorienting effects and makes great use of its enormous space.  It would be spookiest if you can find a quiet time to go through it, but you’ll enjoy the tricks it plays on your senses and sensibilities any time.  Definitely an A.

Village of the Damned was probably my favorite of all five Dark Harbor mazes.  It’s themed after a colony of bizarre and revolting mutant cannibals, and it’s gorgeously decorated and lit, with plenty of good fright moments.  And like all of the mazes presented at the event this year, it is satisfyingly long.  You’ll feel like you got your money’s worth for quality and quantity.  This one hits it out of the park.  I call it an A+.


Containment is the superstar of the shipboard mazes, and you can give the lion’s share of the credit to the cast of monsters.  What energy and fun!  They’re a great bunch of performers and you’ll jump and laugh as you go through the dark corridors.  The storyline deals with evil experiments performed by a mad ship’s doctor, with lots of grisly consequences.  This one’s another A (kinda monotonous, huh?).

Submerged falls somewhere between The Cage and Containment on the mood vs. shrieks axis.  You absolutely do not want to miss the subtle, eerie effects in this one (watch for a certain tricycle in the corner of your eye), but don’t worry, the monsters aren’t asleep on their feet.  The crew and passengers of the good ship are doomed to drown, and you might be, too.  My rating is B, but if you get the right vibe from the quiet chills hidden here and there, you might rate it even higher.

Hellfire is the weak link in the chain, but seriously, who doesn’t have at least one maze that isn’t up to par?  When the par is as good as the rest of Dark Harbor’s mazes, it’s perfectly understandable.  Hellfire is somewhat underpopulated and not as exciting as the other four mazes, but since it’s fire-themed, that’s also understandable.  (Folks, live fire effects in tight shipboard quarters are a little unlikely…)  That’s not to say that it’s bereft of shocks or that you should give it a miss.  Frankly, the other four mazes are a hard act to follow… I give Hellfire a C+.

Two things to note about Dark Harbor: First, there are a lot of stairs on the shipboard mazes and there’s little the management can do about that.  So you’ll want to be prepared for stair climbing.  Second, keep your map handy.  The signage for the mazes is beautiful and, unfortunately, almost impossible to read in the equally beautiful mood lighting.  If you don’t know what to look for, you may not know which maze you’re about to enjoy.  But enjoy them you will.

Put the Queen Mary Dark Harbor event on your MUST DO list for this Halloween season, and tell them Creepy LA sent you.  The event takes place 7 p.m.-midnight on Oct. 8-10, 15-17, 21-24, 27-31. General admission is $35 (purchase online or starting at 5 p.m. each evening at the door), and a Fast Fright Pass costs $55 (it allows attendees to cut to the front of the line). Parking is available at the Queen Mary for $15 a vehicle. Tickets and info.