Review: Haunted Harbor Cruise, Salem, MA (3.5 stars)

Last year, the team from Events INSIDER went on a 10-day Halloween blitz! In October 2013, I visited 28 attractions to bring you reviews and information on everything Halloween in New England. We went indoors and outdoors as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Rhode Island, and as far west as Connecticut. Don’t forget to visit, where we list more creative October events than anyplace else!

The Haunted Harbor Cruise is a Halloween themed tour of Salem harbor that lasts for more than an hour, run by Mahi Cruises, which runs tours all season. During the day they give narrated historic tours of the harbor, including corporate events, and in the evening they run booze cruises and cocktail tours with DJs or live music, where the point is not to learn but just to let go.

The ship has a maximum capacity of 150 and is often sold out on the weekends, but when we went, Thursday, a work day, there was plenty of space for everyone. Alcohol was available and they grill hot dogs and hamburgers to order. The two level ship had decorations from From Art to Zombies in Danvers, which makes high quality Halloween crafts all year round. The ship is available for weddings, birthday parties, and other private functions.

A bit of slack must be given to the Haunted Harbor Cruise because this was only their second year doing anything like this, and the boat itself is newly restored. This is a brand new business. That being said, the decorations were minimal and the boat had a party atmosphere, not a spooky one. Only one of the crew had an elaborate costume: a gorilla, a conflicting choice because it wasn’t practical to wear a full-face mask working a ship. A conflict in vision was emblematic of the entire experience.

The first conflict was the view. The point of a boat tour is to let the sights inspire and calm you, but the music added to the engine noise made the decks a bit too loud to relax. We had to raise our voices rather than enjoy a normal conversation with friends. Also conflicting were the Halloween tales. If read as a script, they would be engaging and well researched, but told over the public address system, they seemed more like a historical tour than a ghost story. No attempt was made to get people into a circle to talk theatrically, to make it more of a performance than a story. I suggested to the narrator that, like close-up magicians who wander and entertain small groups of people, that he might tell stories to small groups personally rather than over the sound system with the boat’s strange acoustics — it was quite difficult to hear what he was saying and pay the kind of close attention that is required for a performance to be engaging and for him to startle you with a yell.

A big plus was their having a facepainter on board, who painted both kids and adults and gave me a great skeleton face. This upped my lame costume considerably.

Counterbalancing that, it was disappointing that they had a fortune teller on board who told me that she believed in the magic of her cowrie shells. Playing up ghosts and fortunes for fun is one thing, but making money from urging people to make big life decisions from your spirit world rather than take responsibility for their own decisions… that is harmful. I was glad that the Halloween tales however were definitely on the “for fun” side. In the stories there was none of that silliness on walking ghost tours where the tour guide asks you to take a photo and interpret every blemish as a ghost. We learned about the Misery Islands and saw the first lighthouse to be staffed by a woman. We heard about pirates, revenge, and love on the high seas, to the extent that we could follow.

Speaking with the crew it’s clear that they are smart people who will work out the kinks in their attraction, aligning all of its elements for a unified experience (celebratory vs. relaxed, spooky vs. informative, personal vs. distant) and that their reviews will rise. For now, I can only give the cruise a 3.5 stars. I only wish I had eaten hamburgers on board. Don’t have lunch before you go!

This review was from Events INSIDER’s 2013 10-day Halloween blitz, where we visited 28 attractions across New England. Visit, where you’ll find more fun Halloween and October events than anywhere else!