I had the honor this year to be part of the expert panel for USAToday’s 10Best where I nominated escape rooms & haunted attractions for their annual list.
Be sure to support your favorites by voting at the links below
Black Market Escape Rooms Murder Co is an incredible experience! This year round immersive haunted attraction is perfectly executed. The artists are top notch. The set and props are great. The puzzles are fun. The sense of urgency is spot on. The mix of horror and comedic moments are blended wonderfully. I loved MurderCo and highly recommend it!
I really enjoyed this attraction. It’s definitely not an escape room, but it’s a fun interactive year round haunted attraction.
Watch me explain how much FUN this experience is on my YouTube channel:
Growing up in the midwest hayrides and tractors were a bit more commonplace, but the idea of a haunted hayride in the middle of Los Angeles is unique. The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is located in Griffith Park near the old zoo area. The hayride, dark maze and trick or treat area are the three main haunted attractions at the event. There are also food vendors, psychics, entertainment and a creepy carousel.
LA Haunted Hayride is a fun event, however 2017 was not their strongest year. The clown theme was interesting enough, but not very original. I liked their use of the old zoo area and incorporating the animals. The oversized marionettes were fun. The guy on the motorcycle looked cool. Overall the hayride didn’t deliver those stunning staged scenes I have come to expect from this event. This year it seemed a bit lighter on actors and the scares seemed to be focussed primarily on jumping on the wagon or stalking guests a little too long along a sparsely decorated path.
The House of Shadows maze is a dark maze with a handful of actors that work very hard at jump scares. It’s a fun place to get lost with your friends. There are a few dimly lit scenes within and some writing on the walls to “help” you to the correct path. There was a half deflated airbag effect that was less than effective. It isn’t the scariest or prettiest maze I’ve seen, but the idea of getting lost in an actual maze is quite fun.
Trick or Treat was the only attraction that made me put away my camera specifically saying “no lights, photos, videos, snapchat, instagram, etc while inside”. I wondered if that was so the poor quality of the attraction wouldn’t get plastered all over social media. It was a lot of fun the last time I did it…actually one of my favorite things in Los Angeles because of the creativity of trick or treating at the homes of different creatures. This year the set looked like it needed some touchups, the actors weren’t behind their doors to answer the knocking and there was no candy for the trick or treaters. It was a series of awkward moments where we would knock on a door and wait, then an actor may or may not appear to try and do some sort of jump scare that we were literally standing around waiting for. It seems to have lost motivation for Trick or Treat when they removed the Trick or Treating element from the attraction.
Overall this year was disappointing, but I still look forward to seeing what they do next year. I hope it is a fun theme and they reignite that spark of creativity that I have enjoyed so much from them in the past years.
You don’t get much scarier than a haunted attraction in an actual haunted location, for that reason Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is a must see event. The mazes are fun and the actors work hard to create jump scares, but this attraction has a built in creep factor that can’t be created by the best designers in the business…it has real ghosts! I know because I saw one here years ago and didn’t even realize it until I talked to the staff later. (I thought it was just an elaborate special effect they had added to the pool area, but it was actually the little girl.) Now every time I walk through the ship I keep my eyes open.
Whether or not you personally encounter an actual ghost, you will have a spooktacular time at Dark Harbor. This year they have 7 mazes with 4 of them on the ship. One of my favorite things about Dark Harbor is how they theme the mazes after real ghost stories from the ship. Lullaby & B340 are definitely favorites as far as story and creep factor because of the real stories they are based on. I really enjoyed the opening scene of Soulmate this year as well. The new ship maze, Feast, is innovative and fun especially when part of the audience is made to crawl into an oven while the rest pass by looking in on them. Dark Harbor also stepped up their interaction with guests in Circus this year by adding a few alternate paths where chosen guests may go through a ball pit or be invited into a secret bar within the maze. Deadrise is as scary as ever with it’s agile, hardworking actors popping out from every direction. Intrepid is really the only maze at the event that seemed a bit out of place to me. It didn’t tell a clear story and seemed a bit thrown together, but the actors still did a great job. (The ship’s captain explained Intrepid to me after I’d gone through it and apparently it has a clear story, it just isn’t conveyed as well as the rest.) There are also multiple entertainment stages, slider shows, walk around entertainment and monsters, multiple bars, food vendors, a souvenir shop, and a VIP area. The entertainment schedule was impressive. You would need to attend multiple nights to see all of the entertainment.
Overall Dark Harbor is a well run, professional, fun event at a truly haunted location. It is also a very popular event so arrive early and consider a front of the line pass as it can get very very crowded. Leave time for traffic and parking. There is onsite parking for a fee. Check their website for details on parking and other things to know before you go.
The USS Nightmare is not your traditional haunted house. It is immersive storytelling on a boat. It’s located just outside of Cincinnati hidden on the river. (We did not see any signs for the event until we’d found it.)
My husband and I opted for the RIP experience, therefore we had additional scenes and a more hands-on experience than the standard ticketed guest. I highly recommend doing RIP. We were given a flashing necklace and were directed to a special queue line. We were our own group to start, however about halfway through the attraction the actors put us together with a larger group of teenage girls.
The story is basically that the boat had a terrible accident and those aboard are lost spirits. I really enjoyed the way in which characters would introduce us to future characters through story and requesting we complete certain tasks when we meet them. It was fun anticipating what the Captain and Ana would be like based on the little info we had received. We did our best to complete tasks such as asking the clown a question, giving an object to Ana, however we realized after we left that we completely forgot to tell the captain something we were supposed to. It makes me wonder if that would’ve given us a different experience or made no difference at all. We did notice we were covered in clown weave by the time we finished and not sure if that was something we did or random.
The path was interesting starting with an intense elevator ride and taking us throughout the boat. I loved the use of maze elements. I found the repetition fun throughout the walk and felt it must represent being stuck in a loop as some hauntings appear to be. The decor on the boat was good. The props and effects were well suited for the story for the most part. The make-up and costumes were fine. There were a few really fun effects, that although I’ve seen them used in other haunts, still caught me off guard since I didn’t expect to see them on a boat.
The actors worked very hard to give a great performance. Some were more gifted than others when it came to interaction and improvisation, but they all seemed to know their characters well. I found the clown with the large weapon to be just incredible, as well as the actor at the beginning and the elevator operator. Some of the characters had to interact with the audience more than others, such as getting us to eat and drink things or reach into buckets to fish out objects with our hands. They did a great job as a cast.
Overall USS Nightmare is a fun immersive theatre piece. I wouldn’t call it a standard walkthrough haunted house if you upgrade to the RIP Experience, I can’t speak to general admission.