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Dark Harbor to turn Queen Mary into a nautical nightmare

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Dark Harbor returns in October with a new haunted maze and a motley crew of morbid characters inspired by ghost stories from the Queen Mary’s haunted history.

> Photos: Dark Harbor haunted mazes at the Queen Mary

The Dark Harbor haunted event in and around the permanently moored Queen Mary cruise ship in Long Beach will feature six mazes filled with 250 monsters.

I skipped Dark Harbor in 2011 because event organizers offered nothing new, recycling the exact same mazes and themes from the previous year. Since then, Dark Harbor's creative team has doubled the number of monsters in hopes of increasing the scare factor and improving the mazes.

Dark Harbor 2012 adds a new maze with an intriguing Queen Mary theme and a cast of characters that promise to tie the event’s back story more tightly to the cruise ship’s legend.

The new haunted maze, Deadrise, takes visitors inside a World War II escort ship that helped guide the Queen Mary until a fatal collision in 1942. Trapped in a watery grave, sailors still haunt the sunken escort ship. The Captain, the lead character created for Dark Harbor 2012, still commands his undead sailors.

What follows are my reviews of the five returning Dark Harbor haunted mazes, ordered from best to worst:

The Cage – A confounding yet simple series of black curtains sets the nonlinear ball-of-confusion tone for this caught-in-a-cage maze. You never know where to go or what to expect next. The amazing lighting effects take full advantage of the cavernous space. (Inside the former Spruce Goose dome)

Village of the Damned – Mutated monsters scared me 10 times in a row in this well-themed maze set in a haunted seaside town. The highlight: tarp-covered air walls that pressed against visitors as they pinched through a narrow, pitch-black passageway. (Inside the Queen Mary Seawalk shops)

Submerged – A multilevel sinking-ship maze filled with fantastic water effects, many of them activated by hidden triggers on the floor. Unfortunately, the living monsters (and scares) weren't as plentiful. For me, the Queen Mary swimming pool filled with fog was the most memorable moment of the night. Graceful Gale, a beautiful passenger looking for a dance partner, searches the sinking ship this year as a new key character. (Bow of the Queen Mary)

Hellfire – Lots of long and boring black hallways through the ship's hull with hardly any scares. The lamest maze of the night was saved only by the coolest effect of the evening: the elevated walkway five stories above the "engine room." Half-Hatch Henry, a firefighter crushed in an onboard accident, roams the maze this year as a new key character. (Midship of the Queen Mary)

Containment – The monsters and scares were few and far between in this medical-ward-gone-mad maze. Highlights: The crazy woman in the wheelchair and the old man with the walker left lasting impressions. Samuel the Savage, an inmate found ripped apart in his cell, joins the psycho ward this year as a new key character. (Stern of the Queen Mary)

Dark Harbor 2012 at the Queen Mary runs from 7 p.m. to midnight on October 5-7, 12-14, 18-21, 25-28 and 31.

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FictionAmusement and Theme ParksServices and ShoppingHalloween Horror NightsSix Flags Inc.World War II (1939-1945)
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