Last year, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor panel had a big surprise. Jon Cooke came out to reveal his company Plague Productions was coordinating with the event to bring their touch to all of the mazes for 2018.

Suffice to say, it worked out fantastically well. Everyone I talked to during my multiple visits only had glowing things to say about the changes for 2018, and that was without a new maze introduced. And his presence on the stage this year also showed that he’ll be around for 2019 as well, which is good news.

If you’ve already dug around to start getting tickets for Dark Harbor (Often starting on the first Friday the 13th of the year), you’ll notice their logo has a 10 incorporated into it, which, as I hope you readers can figure out, is their 10th year of running this event. Looking into my old photos, I started going about 6 or 7 years ago, and even back then it was hard to believe it was just a few years old then. Time flies, folks, time flies.

I love the Queen Mary. I love Dark Harbor. And I especially love their Midsummer Scream panels. Dark Harbor doesn’t have a big year-round theme park they can work in. There’s no annual reveal event in some amphitheater they host by the ship. So when it comes to revealing everything, they do it here, and they do it all at once, with the presence of their most famous characters you’d find wandering around the event.

It’s quite possible I missed it, but all the notifications about this event seemed to mention it was only focused on Dark Harbor. The reason I bring that up is that recently they began teasing an event in Orlando, of all places, called “Dark Horizon” that was going to take place not too far from that one resort out there. So I was especially curious if their panel at Midsummer Scream was going to cover that as well, or even just bring it up.

Thankfully, they had enough time to cram in all their banter and reveals for both haunted events, but sadly no Q&A.

Starting off with Dark Harbor, they discussed Bundara for a bit, a character I was not too familiar with, as the people on stage all discussed how many years they had been working the event, most being around the 7 or 8-year mark.

For anyone unfamiliar with Dark Harbor, they take over the Queen Mary ship that’s permanently docked as a hotel in Long Beach, and host a half dozen mazes, both on the ship and in the surrounding area, alongside a ridiculous amount of bars (some readily available, others requiring physical tokens to gain access to), and topped off with slider shows and multiple stages of constant vaudeville-style entertainment, but spooky-themed, of course.

Thankfully for the sake of time, the bar talk was minimized this year into a single slide. If you have any leftover tokens from last year, they’ll be valid for this year. The secret bars, even if you aren’t a drinker, are a fun side task to try to find where the entrance is in the mazes.

On the west coast, we call our haunted buildings “mazes” where they’re a more traditional name of “haunted houses” on the east coast, and it’s always appreciated when a few multiple paths and choices are incorporated into what has always devolved into a conga line of people, destroying the usual sense of a “maze”. But, getting that kind of crowd through the maze in a short period of time usually requires such sacrifices. Do you increase the complexity of the maze? You might end up with a backed-up path of people and a flow problem. Let in fewer people? That lengthens the wait for everyone. So there’s no one true solution to this. The tokens, however, are a small way to allow the most devoted to at least go off the beaten path.

Following the theme of improving the ending for mazes at Knott’s, it seems that is a theme this year, too. If memory serves me right, the ending for Feast was a set table where a server was glaring at you menacingly. So now there’s going to be something else involved. As to what that is, we’ll find out next month!

Circus is the maze that can’t die. And that’s great because it has one of the best host characters in it. Last year was a very open style to the maze, really setting the tone of the traveling style. And this year will add more interactivity.

Intrepid was the one that got the most love last year. Secretly, this took over Voodoo Village, and is essentially two mazes in one, and that’s a good thing. They went quickly through this maze, but promised it’d be scarier, too. There were a few spots in our trips through it where it could have been more populated, so I’ll be keeping an eye out there to see what changes.

Continuing the re-ending of mazes, B340 is going to get that treatment, too. I wish I had more to say, but it’s clear they only had enough time to focus in deep on a few mazes this year, plus B340 got a good rework last year already, so it didn’t need much.

This got the biggest cheer of all to know it returned. The new path for this involves the path going through some kind of pool and it was noted as scary even with the lights on and serves as a prequel for the original story. The pool area access has been closed off in recent years, so I’m curious as to how they’re going to handle the pool section of this maze this year, but they’re very conscious of it, at least.

And, lastly, it looks like Deadrise, my personal favorite, has seen its last year in 2018. Now it’s been redone as “Rogue” where the entire maze will make use of heavy effects, both in terms of water and a constant rocking motion. It’s focused around a story of how it nearly capsized when it was delivering soldier during its largest crew ever held during WWII. That loss could have turned the tide of war with a loss that large.

I truly truly hope the famous ending of Deadrise will continue in some fashion here. It’s a show in itself. Given that it’s clear this is a successor to the previous maze, I expect to see some elements make their way into this iteration.

No specific acts were announced for the entertainment, outside of the superb Queen Mary Sliders doing their twice-nightly show. You can find out more about the sliders at their newly launched official website: https://www.officialqmsliders.com/

But that was only half of the presentation.

They’re branching out! Dark Horizon is debuting this year in Orlando with the same creative team! Starting at a bit of a smaller scope, with just three mazes, it will run from October 4th to November 2nd. I’m personally excited for this as I had a trip planned to Orlando this October and this is a perfect chance to compare and contrast the two events.

Regarding the three mazes, just like the ones for Dark Harbor, they each have a character hosting them. That’s when a vaguely familiar face stepped out onto the stage.

Referring to herself as Captain Killigrew, she’s the most famous female pirate in history. I think we need to pause for just a second to appreciate the Halloween maze industry. Try to think of how many other industries or cultures that would have a slide like we have below, with a bullet point saying “Known for hoards of loot & wakers of terror, flesh-eating bacteria & botulism” and we collectively nod our heads and go along with it. It’s insane and it’s why I love it.

This will be the haunted house known as “Ghostship” and really, everything we know about the haunted house is on the slide. We are very curious to see how this Captain handles herself, as she is known to be quite the ringmaster, if you catch my drift. (The talented lady portraying Killigrew is the current and beloved Ringmaster of Dark Harbor fame)It didn’t take long for another familiar face to stroll out, too. The Vodou priestess, now going by the more proper title of Mambo C├ęcile, resurrecting the long-time Dark Harbor maze across the country. The mind instantly goes back to the Voodoo Village at Dark Harbor, so we’ll see how it looks here, in a more appropriate location.

The final haunted house (I’m honestly trying to split the phrasing between the coasts. I appreciate any and all opinions on this topic when discussing the divided nomenclature.) is Murder Island, featuring the new character of Bloody Watson, Florida’s first serial killer.

There will also be entertainment on stages around the event, as well, so there’s always going to be something to keep you busy. It’s nice to see the haunted houses at Dark Horizon have a logical story-based anchor to their location. There’s no historical ship to provide as a basis of stories, so it gets them a completely different set of stories to tell, without needing an obligation to feed on an entirely oceanic theme. Dark Horizon will definitely be one to keep an eye on for 2019.

Given that it’s the same team handling both events, they don’t start on the same day. Instead, after closing out the first week of Dark Harbor, the remaining team on the west coast will scoot on over to Orlando and start getting ready for Dark Horizon, and that seemed to include some talent as well, so if there’s a certain high profile monster you want to encounter down in Long Beach, you’d best be visiting it as early in the season as possible.

Tickets to both events are on sale now.

Queen’s Mary Dark Harbor runs from September 26th to November 2nd and tickets are available at https://www.queenmary.com/calendar-of-events/dark-harbor/2019/

Dark Horizon is running from October 4th to November 2nd and tickets can be purchased at https://www.darkhorizonorlando.com/