It’s FINALLY October, and that means haunt season is in full swing. That’s it LA was invited to Dark Harbor over the weekend to check out this year’s event by the sea. We have your Dark Harbor survival guide to get the most out of your experience at this year’s event.
No new mazes have been added this year, BUT the favorites that are back have been completely reimagined. No doubt this is due in part to Dark Harbor’s team gaining the haunt talent of Jon Cooke, creator of new fan fave mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm (SPECIAL OPS: INFECTED), and his team. Their touches can be felt in all the mazes, and it’s such a win for Queen Mary’s event. His signature style brings out even more thrills and surprises from iconic Dark Harbor staples like B340, which adds a crime layer mixed in with some demon summoning that got me multiple times. A recent addition to the roster: Intrepid–which has tried many things over the past couple years of residence, and I feel has finally found its footing. Intrepid’s character The Iron Master laid his anchor by the sea in a very haunting and atmospheric maze that we wanted to walk through many times. The cemetery and church set pieces were some of the most gorgeous we have seen at any event, the Dark Harbor team really nailed that. The performances in the church setting had many running scared.
A big draw of Queen Mary’s mazes this year is the expansion of multiple paths within the mazes that would take you through new sections or even lead you into a secret, dark bar (more on that later). Circus has done this for many years, but other mazes have joined suit which is a great motivator to go through them multiple times. It’s refreshing not to have the same experience every time. Fast Fright and the new Evil Express are a must if you want to walk through multiple times.
Whoever holds the coin can enter the secret bars:
Queen Mary is known to be a stationary haunted booze cruise, and they know to capitalize on that in new and exciting ways. So, while in the maze, monsters can hand you special wooden coins that will grant you access to the bars hidden throughout. It’s super random and yet another motivator to get back in the queue to quest for them. The most coveted is the Broken Compass Bar in the Engine Room, which we got into and rests in the heart of the ship. Each bar has a signature shot that embodies the maze it’s in. We also got into the secret bar inside B340 which has a two-way mirror that looks into the labyrinth and allows you to interact with people going through with a fun button that creates a scare for people going through. I’d like to see more of that sort of thing in the coming seasons because participatory entertainment is definitely the future of these events.
Also, it would be great to see more photo ops like in B340 that correspond with the maze. Many of the set pieces are stunning that it would be awesome to take pics in front of them, for example, the cemetery or church in Intrepid but that would obviously cause a conga line. But, if sections of the secret bars had similar facades where guests could take exclusive pics for their social media posts, the event would go gangbusters. People have made a thing out of taking pics in front of Disney walls, they’ll jump on exclusive spooky photo-ops. Especially is the lighting is good.
Tasty Treats and Meats:
Like most years, there’s always a great selection of food. From barbecue to fries to crepes and ice (s)cream! We love the soft-serve shack’s theme every year. This time the shack is close to the vodka ice bar, which was one of my faves from last year because it reminded me of the good old ice sculpture days of Chill but spooky. Be sure to hit this early because the line is always long for this unique drinking installation.
If you’re going in a big group, I can’t stress enough: Rent a creepy cabana.
Seriously, these cozy tents with couches and exclusive menus where the food is served to you is an excellent break from standing in long food lines and searching for seating. Performers are wandering in and out of the tent areas plus a cabana offers terrific views of stages where you can watch the action from above.
The energy of the Dark Harbor performers has got to be one of my favorites. They’re allowed more interaction than at most other major LA haunts and they shine in creative ways. There are sideshow performers, acrobats, singers, and SLIDERS. The awesome slider stunt show is a must-see. The fire dancers are a personal fave and this year I was serenaded by an undead lounge singer next to Circus, and it was terrific. The ensemble kills it year after year. They create the best atmosphere and community at the haunt, and they alone are worth a visit.
Tickets for Dark Harbor start at $29
Fast Fright begins at $69
Evil Express starts at $89
Cabana rentals start at $99
VIP packages start at $99
Prices vary by date