Dare to spend an evening in Southern California’s most terrifyingly authentic haunt? Look no further! The Queen Mary’s world famous Dark Harbor features 7 ghoulish mazes, nonstop entertainment on multiple stages, electrifying drinks, secret bars, festival food, private tours and more all based on the ship’s own legendary, ghostly tales.
Where it all began…
The RMS Queen Mary is the last ocean liner from the Golden Age of transatlantic travel. Rising from the fogs of Long Beach California, near Los Angeles, in stark black and white with “Cunard Red” smokestacks, she instantly brings to mind her “older sister,” the ill-fated Titanic, though she’s twice the size of that other famous liner.
Retired in the late 1960s, the massive ship was brought to Long Beach when inexpensive air travel replaced steamships as the most economical way to travel the globe. The original wooden finishes and art deco details of the Queen Mary’s First Class areas have been largely preserved in this floating 24-hour hotel, event centre, and museum. Over 50 million guests have visited the ship since it reopened to the public in 1970; many in search of things that go bump in the night.
Time Magazine calls the ship one of the most haunted places in the world, and many would agree. Among the ghosts reportedly still hanging around are a crew member who died in the ship's engine room, a "lady in white” that haunts some of the ship’s opulent ballrooms, and perhaps most famously, a spirit of an alleged “little girl” who drowned in the ship's pool. Even today crew members still report mysterious activity, and some of the house keeping staff won’t even visit the ship’s lower decks.
During WW2, an escort vessel collided with the ship causing a massive loss of life. During her sailing years, another 51 deaths occurred aboard. Illness, two cases of passengers falling downstairs and breaking their necks, and in one gruesome example, an officer named William Stark drank carbon tetrachloride (mistaking it for gin) and died from the poisoning the next day. Supposedly, people have seen the image of an officer walking around on Sun Deck and the Bridge early in the mornings and they believe it is his ghost.
The ship was facing hard times when it began turning to its darker history to generate revenue. It’s a common joke that a boat is a hole you throw money in, and at over 81,000 tons, several operators have struggled to generate a profit with the massive ship. Ghost tours proved a fairly low cost, high demand offering for guests.
But in time, the Queen Mary launched its first Halloween event (then called Shipwreck) in 1995. Originally only one haunted maze took guests through the ship’s labyrinthine Engine Room, and into its three-story Exhibit Hall for a massive rave dance party. That event would grow to include a variety of mazes, both on the ship and in the surrounding buildings before dwindling in size.
In 2010, a new creative team was brought together to reimagine the event, taking inspiration from the legends of reported ghostly activity. A decision was made to also embrace the surrounding port, with much of the new event being constructed with massive assemblies of shipping containers, and a decidedly industrial aesthetic. In time, this would grow into a full-scale festival of fear, combining the look and feel of a carnival, sprawling around the Queen Mary every fall.
And that was the beginning of Dark Harbor.
The Captain’s Crew…
Since its inception, the event has grown to become the ship’s most profitable, annual special event, hosting over 150,000 souls over the 2017 season.
Upon entry, guests are funneled through a security screening before reaching the event gates, where the ships ghostly Captain cheers the crowd, while massive 40 feet jets of propane fire ignite the night. DJ’s spin exciting music, and frightfully sexy attendants mill around the crowd offering sinister potion shots.
And just behind the gates, our talent director, David Wally, drives the cast into frenzy. Watching the monsters dance, and psyche themselves up for a night of fright is an awesome sight. The energy is palpable, and the crowd on the other side of the gates thrills to the chants, howls and screams of the cast, thirsty for blood.
At the Captain’s command, the gates are flung wide, and guests enter the event through a massive gauntlet of monsters, sliders, and our icon characters in an opening ceremony unlike any in the industry. The nightmares start with this monster run, but guests quickly spread to their favorite mazes, and to discover tequila tastings, cocktails, and unique food as the frightful park opens.
Dark Harbor attendees will never see Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees terrorizing our guests. All of the fearsome spirits of Dark Harbor are inspired by stories from the ship’s past, brought to life in spectacular fashion.
The street cast is comprised of frightful spirits of every kind. Sailors, sliders, clowns, and artful circus sideshow performers entertain and scare guests at every turn. The most popular ghouls are the icon characters: The Captain, Graceful Gale, The Ring Master, Samuel The Savage, Half Hatchet Henry, Scary Mary, The Voodoo Priestess, The Iron Master and Chef.
Beyond the normal scare zones, Dark Harbor boasts a huge roster of entertainment. Wandering acts and stage shows delight the guests, creating a unique party and festival atmos-fear that is truly unique. A nightly fire show with multiple dancers thrills audiences, and circus aerialists delight crowds while flying through the air on hoops and silks. The nonstop entertainment creates a sense that the event is much larger than one might initially think, an important benefit when competing with massive events like Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights and Knott’s Scary Farm.
Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor features 7 frightful mazes, each inspired by those original stories of the ship’s famous authentic hauntings.
In 2017, Dark Harbor debuted an ALL NEW maze on the ship called FEAST! The new maze is based on a new icon character, Chef, who originated from a popular legend about an army cook that was killed in his own ovens.
During WWII, the Queen Mary served as a troop transport ship, carrying hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers to Europe for the D-Day invasion. According to legend, an enlisted cook rose to become a highly decorated Chef. Depending on the story, in either a reaction to notoriously bad food or as an act of revenge, the Chef was forced into one of his own ovens and cooked alive. In the new maze, our ghostly kitchen crew is found still at work, trapping new victims for some of Chef’s diabolical recipes. In one pivotal scene, guests are forced to crawl through a hot oven tunnel, before coming face-to-face with the Chef.
In fan-favorite maze, Deadrise, guests are assaulted by the ghostly crew of a sunken escort ship that helped guide the Grey Ghost through WWII. Inspired by the true story of a fatal crash during war time voyages, Deadrise is home to the vengeful Half Hatch Henry. Half Hatch Henry and the sailors of Deadrise have been called up form the briny depths by The Captain to terrorize the living.
With Dark Harbor being known for its larger-than-life pyrotechnics, Deadrise takes guests frightfully close to jets of propane fire and massive water effects. The signs don’t lie, you WILL get wet in this attraction! As guests exit, a team of energetic ghouls engage in parkour-like stunts off the exit containers, creating loud crashes and a show that guests love to watch.
In recent years, the industrial maritime horror has also been mixed with a unique turn-of-the-century circus aesthetic, inspired by a famous painting in the ship’s original First Class restaurant, the Veranda Grille. In the painting, a Halloween-like masquerade complete with clowns, witches, and acrobats dance in a massive party scene. In this deep theme, the Captain has conjured the Ringmaster (the spirit that inspired this painting) to create a carnival of chaos in our popular Circus maze.
In addition to clowns, the Circus maze features classic fun house illusions, carnival acts, and a section where guests have to crawl through a giant ball pit crawling with creatures (and ADA bypass is offered). Last season, the crew also launched a new hidden bar concept inside the maze that proved hugely popular among fans and on social media. Fans found clues online that led them to speak to a fortune teller arcade game that revealed the secret entry if the riddles were answered correctly.
The intrepid maze was inspired by the Scottish shipyards that built the ship over 80 years ago. Drawing from a vintage industrial design and Scottish folklore, this maze located off the ship is hosted by the evil Iron Master, the mastermind behind the ship, and a ghostly train that takes guests from Dark Harbor deep into the dark crypts beneath Scotland.
Utilizing a portion of the footprint of a former maze called Voodoo Village; the maze is haunted by fearsome kilted warriors and mysterious plague doctors. Fading from shipyard, to train, to dark crypts and snowy Northern Scotland, this is a surreal experience unlike any of the other more linear mazes found on the ship, and has been a big hit with fans. The massive set pieces and the detail of the catacombs make it unlike any other maze in the event.
Another more traditional icon, the alluring Graceful Gale, haunts Soulmate located on the aft or rear portion of the Queen Mary. In her signature maze, Gale has been haunting the ship looking for a perfect dance partner since her mysterious disappearance. As guests explore the maze, they realize the spirit (styled as a beautiful blonde in a flowing white gown, soaked in blood) has taken to assembling her perfect partner from the pieces of less suitable partners. The creative team behind Dark Harbor has big plans for this maze, expected to be announced at Midsummer Scream convention in July.
Legend has it that the ship’s most haunted room is B-340. In the maze of the same name, guests explore the background of our icon, Samuel the Savage, and what drove him to madness. Guests see the number 340 throughout the maze, in cryptic messages, clocks, numbers on endless doors, etc. The maze explores a popular myth that a man went mad on a voyage and murdered his family in the room.
This maze is an extreme experience, from padded walls to classrooms, where stern and terrifying nuns brutalized a young Samuel. The path carries back to the fateful night that Samuel went insane, joined by surreal hallways with bizarre sculptures, representing the twisted recesses of Samuel’s brain. The maze also contains Dark Harbor’s most jarring and effective gag. Guests explore a terrifying bridge over a 50 feet fall into the ships cavernous boiler rooms, when with a crack of electricity and a cackle of massive 3.4 million volt tesla coil lights the space, the bridge suddenly drops. While the pneumatics only drop the platform a short distance, the effect is sure to shake even the most hardened guest!
Finally, the last on ship maze, Lullaby, is hosted by Scary Mary. Inspired by perhaps the most famous ghost of the Queen Mary, a little girl who allegedly lost her life in the First Class swimming pool, this icon is both scary and playful!
Indeed, Scary Mary seems to appear from every corner, in surprising ways. In the most popular sequence, guests walk by the pool that is said to have a “vortex” in it. This gateway to another place is believed to be one of the most haunted in the world. Naturally, the art deco pool is also an extremely effective distraction, setting our cast up for amazing scares.
While the Queen Mary has been able to grow its Halloween event by embracing its unique haunted history, it’s the extreme party atmos-fear that makes it truly unique. Most haunts and scream parks in Southern California have either stayed away from serving alcohol, or only begun to explore bars in limited ways. At Dark Harbor, the crew has embraced it, creating an event like an EDM music festival more than a traditional haunt.
The Voyage Ahead…
Dark Harbor has been a monstrous success, inspiring a host of other popular events for the ship.
During her sailing years, the ship hosted literal and figurative royalty on voyages. Hollywood and entertainment has always embraced the ship. As such, it’s fitting that the ship has embraced entertainment in its future strategy.
Elaborate plans are being developed for an entertainment zone with multiple restaurants and themed attractions on the waterfront surrounding the ship. Dark Harbor is a prime example that the right program can excite crowds and draw a new audience to visit the legendary liner. The producers of the Coachella music festival have also just announced a partnership with the ship to create a series of massive concerts in the shadow of the ship each year.
None of this would have been possible without the dark delights of Dark Harbor, and this haunt will continue to grow for many years to come.