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Who doesn’t think of Halloween when you hear Shaqtoberfest? Certainly not myself. Especially not being a sports fanatic. It was understandable to be completely skeptical of what sort of relationship could possibly be conjured between NBA star Shaq and Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group (the same team that operates long time Halloween event Los Angeles Haunted Hayride).
So how does it fair as the replacement spooky time offering from Dark Harbor at Queen Mary in Long Beach? Surprisingly well, actually. If you or someone you know loves Halloween, but not brave enough for scary events that are offered at Knott’s Scary Farm or Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, then Shaqtoberfest is your transitional ticket from spooky to scary. Starting at 6 pm on weekdays and 5 pm on weekend evenings, the event is centered on family-fun Trick or Treat Trails to collect candy. But once the clock strikes the Witching Hour of 8 pm every evening, Shaqtoberfest transitions into a spine-chilling evening that transforms the music and lighting. Interactive but creepy characters have free roam of the grounds. And the Trick or Treat Trails become Twisted Trails for actors waiting to give you a fright.
The event consists of a fair ground surrounded by comfort food, carnival rides, themed bars, winding trails, and DJ stage. Food choices range from funnels cakes, pizza, sandwiches, ice cream, tacos, nachos, cookies, Pink’s Dogs, and Hot Dog on a Stick. There’s even carnival rides to change up what scares you. A ferris wheel, carousel, tilt-a-whirl, Gravitron, and a Whacky Shack funhouse completes the attraction lineup. And to retain some sort of basketball connection, you can throw a severed head into a basket. Heads up! The stage backdrop is themed to a garage with a basketball hoop over the garage door that doubles as a video projector.
Part of the fun is the aspect of implementing Shaq into Halloween. The design team must have had an assuming time when coming up with ways to sneak the name of the successful business owner into Halloween themes. So there’s “Shaq-enstein” in front of a windmill facade and the “Pumpkin Shaq” in the Pumpkin Patch. Whilst being an oversized chicken statue nearby, guests were asking themselves “where’s the chicken ‘Shaq’ next?” The big guy himself in fact actually does own a fried chicken business called Big Chicken. Hopefully this will fly in for next season. We hope the Shaq theme continues to expand in the future. Shaq-ula? Were-Shaq? Creature From the Shaq Lagoon?
Themed bars have become an enjoyable novelty for alcoholic enthusiasts. What better way to have a collection of the most popular themes than in one location at Shaqtoberfest. The Homecourt Bar carries basketball, Diesel’s Boathouse ropes in sea dock, Captain Shaq’s Hideaway weighs anchor in the stern of a pirate ship, Tiki Terror Bar oversees a shimmering view of the Queen Mary, & VIP Slam Dunk Lounge hangs in the gangway of the historic ship. A variety of environments for a variety of tastes.
Cinched to the ground is an enormous Beast lying just for the midway area. It’s actually a giant inflatable big enough to walk inside of. Guests enter its gaping jaws, swallowed inside past the swinging uvula, and navigate the creature’s dark insides and chambers before existing the other side. No scare actors here to come at you from hidden crevices.
Shipwreck Graveyard is like a themed land to itself. There’s the Deadman’s Wharf trail, oversized props and figures, plenty of photo-ops, live characters, and even a themed bar. The design team really knocks it out of the park with decorating to impressive standards.
Deadman’s Wharf takes a dive into the depths of undersea exploration. A dismantled submarine, diving suit, monstrous whale, colorful reef, and a maddening anglerfish fill up this compact trail. It’s no wonder the surrounding Shipwreck Graveyard has to makeup for the limited space, but still pleasantly separates itself from the rest of the festivities with approachable set pieces for photographs.
Midway Madness springs up the big top tent for big scares. The crazy clowns have taken over the fairgrounds to chase you with chainsaws into a covered funhouse of terror. A large spider tantalizes guests into the jaws of a waiting snake. Sharp shooters take aim as guests become the unsuspecting target. Creepy clowns make sure there’s no “crate escape” possible.
Lost City Boardwalk is the most kid-friendly of the trails with a 1920’s atmosphere. The theme is not an issue with the dimly lit casino, fueling station, bank vault, bustling sidewalk, and jailhouse. The round design of cardboard skeletons works well for the daytime family dynamic, but is ironically lost in the night version. More actors are needed to fill out each building. There is also not enough for the actors to work with given the current space. The only portion that has any chance of success is the inmate skillfully owning the jailhouse for the best scares. A competent effort but loses points in the scares.
Pirate’s Cove is well decorated and highly detailed walk on the wooden planks of a pirate ship. After skimming the outer deck, the hull opens inside the hall of barrels, draping canvas, heavy cannons, bony skulls, and looping ropes. The stern of the ship is where a hidden bar is tucked away. The path spits out on the other side of the ship to admire the statues of pirates, treasure chests, and a silent but deadly creature of the sea. A moody version at night and certainly fun to point out the intricate scope packed into the limited space.
Pumpkin Patch is by far the longest trail filled to the brim with fresh pumpkins, packed haystacks, stuffed scarecrows, dry cornstalks, and old-fashioned farm trucks. Children and adults can bounce, slide, and race on giant inflatables. There are a couple shacks closed during the family-fun day time hours. But come nightfall, they are open to reveal some gory props seldom seen in the rest of the festival. The rotating colorful lights and EDM in the background gets you into pumpkin picking dance mood. The barn provides a movie set quality design but lacks enough actors to fill the space to give this trail that lasting wow factor.
Overall this brand new Halloween festival kills. The event is wide enough to roam freely. Not too overwhelmingly scary, crowded, or in-your-face like other theme park Halloween offerings. You can get tipsy from the bars, fill your belly with food from county fairgrounds, and explore at your leisure. From a cheerful family day trip, to a whimsy evening of mild frights perfect for a chill date night.
Shaqtoberfest is open select nights from now until October 31, 2022. Located in Long Beach, CA alongside the historic Queen Mary ship. General Admission tickets start at $29.99 for children and $34.99 for adults. Expedited Access at entry and at trails with priority seating called “Fast Break” is offered starting at $44.99 for children and $49.99 for adults. The $99.99 VIP Slam Dunk admission grants Expedited Access at entry and at trails and preferred seating at bars, rides, Bounce, VIP Deck access, plus one signature cocktail or beverage. For more information and to order tickets, visit www.shaqtoberfest.com.