2013 was a banner year for Knott’s Scary Farm. Between the return of Elvira to some of the most high quality mazes the event has ever seen added to the mix, our hats are off to the team behind Halloween Haunt for really pushing forward and expanding the horizon in Buena Park, California. As is the nature of the beast, some designs that look great on paper are ultimately a challenge to pull off in reality. Such was the case with Mirror, Mirror…
The concept for Mirror, Mirror this year was really simple: Create a steampunkish mirror maze that fits within the look and theme of the Necropolis scare zone at Halloween Haunt. An honest to god mirror maze, complete with a few monsters and hidden exit that only opens every few minutes. To keep the maze edgy and frightening, use dim lighting and only allow a handful of guests in at a time, so as to avoid a conga line situation while delivering a solid, unique true maze experience.
That was a really cool concept. Except for the serious underestimation of capacity for an advertised Haunt maze. On a busy night, Knott’s Scary Farm can see better than 30,000 guests. Create a maze that has an average hourly capacity of 200 guests (approximately 13 guests let in every 4 minutes or so) and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see you’re going to have one hell of a queue problem. Even bumping that number way up to 1,000 guests per hour, you’d still have a major issue regarding wait time and how many wouldn’t get to experience Mirror, Mirror on an average to busy Haunt night. And long waits there were. Mirror, Mirror was a textbook case of a design that sounded great in concept but was doomed to fail by execution.
Theme Park Adventure went through Mirror, Mirror once. We were escorted through one time only, because there was no way we’d have ever had time to do it on our own while adhering to a rigid shoot schedule at Knott’s. As a result, we didn’t have time to shoot the maze with either video or SLR. And honestly, all you’d really see in a video POV would be my reflection and the LED light bar I use to shoot with, which would not be of benefit to TPA or Knott’s.
To be clear – I thought Mirror, Mirror was gorgeous. It was just about perfect as mirror mazes go. And I thought that throwing monsters into the mix was really clever as well. I also love the idea of the exit revealing itself to guests only in the right place at the right time; very fun and clever. Aesthetically, the look of the maze was fantastic, and I was impressed by how much they actually crammed into such a small footprint in Camp Snoopy.
That appreciation wore thin however, whenever we’d walk through Necropolis only to see hundreds of people waiting in line for Mirror, Mirror. It sucked, because we knew their precious Scary Farm time was being destroyed by one small attraction. Throughout the month, we heard over and over from fans that waited more than two hours in line for Mirror, Mirror; many of them simply gave up after waiting that long and left the queue. Others saw how huge the line was and opted to bypass it completely this year. I must have told a dozen close friends and family members to make sure to get to Haunt prior to opening and then rush to Mirror, Mirror immediately following “rope drop” at the beginning of the night. I also stressed that if they couldn’t follow those directions, to forget it – because the queue would be horrendous and it was a lost cause at that point. Luckily, most of them headed my personal warning and were able to see it. A few didn’t make a beeline to the maze and ended up missing it because the line was already too long when they finally arrived at the maze; no bueno.
As we moved quickly through Mirror, Mirror, we didn’t have time to see the talent interacting with guests, nor did they really approach us; the trek through the maze was just that – a quick trip through to see it, see how it worked and to at least have an opinion to share. We didn’t even have a chance to listen to the soundtrack, so this review can’t really touch on those two components like we normally would.
One of the biggest new pushes this year was the introduction of the Skeleton Key, a “fast pass” type of system that also granted guests access to special rooms at select mazes so that they could experience an even more immersive experience in the way of a private scene that played heavily into the theme and backstory. The cost of Skeleton Key was substantial, pretty much more than doubling general admission to Knott’s Scary Farm. What I think would have been a better direction to take with Mirror, Mirror would have been to make it the one maze that only guests with Skeleton Keys could experience. You know, something that could be marketed as, “You’ve unlocked the extra rooms at our mazes with your Skeleton Key – now the final prize awaits! Enter the bewitching realm of Mirror, Mirror and get lost in a brand new Halloween Haunt experience exclusively for Skeleton Key holders!”
Having Mirror, Mirror be part of the overall Skeleton Key package would have greatly reduced the amount of guests trying to see it, and would have given people more incentive to pony up the extra $65 for the special pass – extra rooms at five mazes, plus exclusive access to Mirror, Mirror. After all, when a theme park has an attraction that cannot at all meet the capacity demand of its crowds, up-charge is a very common route operators and designers will take, simply to greatly “thin the herd”, if you will. I’m not a fan of up-charge attractions at all; never have been. However, in a case such as this, I think that Knott’s seriously misstepped with the execution of Mirror, Mirror; up-charge/Skeleton Key exclusive would have been the only route I would have ever suggested for it.
If Knott’s brings Mirror, Mirror back in 2014, I would love to see the maze undergo some major changes. I’d like to see it take up a larger footprint somewhere else so that there could be at least two separate routes in operation at once to immediately double its capacity. I’d also strongly recommend to Knott’s that it be re-imagined as part of the Skeleton Key package, so as to reduce the amount of guests each night spending hours in line to see it. It’s a great concept and really beautiful mirror maze. It just simply is not right when billed as one of the regular Halloween Haunt mazes at the Scary Farm. To do so promises a certain level of experience, as well as one that doesn’t take half your night waiting in line to see when the rest of the mazes at Knott’s move thousands of people through each hour.
Tough break for Mirror, Mirror. It was fun and really gorgeous to look at. The design work was top-notch. Unfortunately, it failed on execution and left fans and guests frustrated, disappointed and ultimately, feeling like their time was wasted at Haunt.
Did you experience Mirror, Mirror this year at Knott’s? If so, what did you think of it, and how long did you wait? We want to hear from our TPAers and continue the discussion below regarding the maze and its future at Halloween Haunt!
– Rick West