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Pirates of Emerson 2003

45031 Warm Springs Blvd., Fremont

Reviewed by Hauntmaster: 10/15/2003

2003 marks the 12th year that Fremont based Pirates of Emerson has been scaring the public right.

At Pirates of Emerson you journey back to the Isle of Emerson, a circa 15th century pirate village where the pirates don't want you to stay but might not let you leave!

We actually visited the pirates twice this year, first on the 10th and a second time on the 15th. This was for two reasons, we first wanted to make sure we got a typical experience (opening nights can be a little rough as actors and equipment get sorted out) and second just because this haunt is so much damn fun.

Located in a wide-open industrial area of Fremont, Pirates of Emerson (POE) is free from distractions that might spoil your journey back in time, such as street noise and traffic lights. This year the POE compound hosts three haunts: the main haunt containing the "Village of Emerson", the "Pirates of the Deep" 3D haunt, and a new "Skeleton Maze". The "Skeleton Maze" is $2 in addition to the general admission price. POE also offers a spooky graveyard scene, a small area with seating where you can watch a cool horror movie (Cutthroat Island was playing when we visited, not terribly spooky but very appropriate), a booth where you can buy hot dogs and drinks, and an ever so handy booth selling discounted tickets if you want to go through the haunts again. You might want to buy these up front because believe me, you will want to go through again.

The Main Haunt, "Village of Emerson": On our most recent visit to POE we started with the main haunt. This is where POE really shines. This is the most richly decorated haunt in the Bay Area. There is something to look at everywhere and everything fits with both the overall theme of the haunt and the room you are in. From the ceiling to the floor, each room is richly and fittingly decorated. The details were carried through even to the quality of the air. In a section where you are walking through a cave the air is cool and had a damp earthy smell. While in the dungeon it was warm and almost dusty. Such attention to detail is rare and greatly appreciated.

In a great twist this year they have added the element of choice. Throughout the haunt there are doors you can open to choose your path. Some doors are real, some aren't. There is an easy way to tell but I won't be the one to do it.

The acting on opening night was average. There were several instances where the actors either laughed after scaring a guest or could be heard talking out of character behind the scenes. Kind of a mood spoiler but this appears to have been cleared up by the time of our second visit. The actual scares were also rather one dimensional the first time through with every scare being a pirate yelling "Yarrrrrrr". On our second visit, the pirates were in character and were mixing up their scare tactics, which was overall much improved and very effective.

Also missing on the first night but added for great effect on our second visit was the fog inside the haunt. While I enjoyed seeing everything in clear detail the first time through, the fog really added a mysterious and foreboding feeling and set the scenes it was used in perfectly.

The Hauntmistress particularly enjoyed the door room where you are presented a bewildering number of doors to choose from as well as several of the pirates she thought were static props that turned out, most dramatically, to by live actors.

Perhaps the thing that impresses me the most about the main haunt is its length. You feel like you've spent a long time in the haunt and have fully explored every aspect of the "Village of Emerson" (Pirate's homes, their dungeon, their ship, the cave where the treasure is hidden, etc) by the time you've left. POE is very much unlike other attractions, where, after standing in a very long line, you feel like the payoff wasn't worth the wait. This one haunt alone would be worth the price of admission.

Pirates of the Deep: "Pirates of the Deep" is a remarkably well done 3D haunt exploring the pirate filled horrors at the bottom of the briny sea. Just as with the main haunt, our second visit was much better than our first. The pirates had gotten their rhythm down and were delivering good scares from all angles. The Hauntmistress is well known for being an easy mark when it comes to scares. It wasn't long before, what seemed like all the pirates at POE, had converged on her to scare her at every possible turn. Pirates were jumping out at her from around corners, following her down hallways and growling, yarr-ing, and hissing at her. At one point, in a flash, five pirates converged on her and made her scream near to the point of crying. So sad was the Hauntmistress' state that pirates were foregoing trying to scare me and moving in directly to get her again and again.

While I particularly enjoyed how well painted the the scenes were and the clever construction of the sea creatures (I really liked the jellyfish) the Hauntmistress' favorite part, aside from being scared silly, was the vortex tunnel near the end of the haunt. For those who don't know what a vortex tunnel is, it is a brightly painted tunnel that spins around you as you walk across a bridge through the center. The spinning of the tunnel and the pattern painted on it cause you to loose your equilibrium.

The haunt ends with you exiting into the graveyard for one or two last good scares. As with last year, the lights were out when we arrived on opening night but were on for our second visit.

Skeleton Maze: As we mentioned before the "Skeleton Maze" is new this year and an additional $2. It was open on opening night but not when we returned on the 15th. It's a rather novel form of a maze constructed entirely out of chain link fence so you can see from one side to the other. Overhead is a powerful strobe light which can disorient you. However, the maze was far too simple for adults. Neither the group before us or our group was caught in any dead ends and the whole maze took about two minutes to complete including the obligatory trying to ditch your friends. When we exited the maze we were assured by the nice pirate that there were dead ends that have trapped other visitors.

We thought the maze was an interesting addition but should probably have been included in the cost of admission. As a $2 extra it might be fun for younger children. Alternately, a much expanded and more complex maze could be worth an additional charge next year.

Overall, this haunt has been, by far, the best haunt we've been to in the Bay Area. I don't hesitate in recommending this one to everyone. "Come early, come often", would not be too strong a phrase used in describing the Pirates of Emerson!

Note: Pirates of Emerson has fog and strobe lights are used in several sections of the haunt. It is also quite intense and scary and not recommended for small children.

Be sure to take a look at our Events Calendar to find all the other great events going on in the Bay Area. Or if you're reading this review in a year other than it was written, please check our Events Calendar for current dates and hours of operation.

Have you visited Pirates of Emerson? Agree with us? Or just want everyone to know your thoughts? Then start a discussion in our forums!

When Oct. 10 - Nov. 1 (except Oct. 13-14 and Oct. 20-21); Fri. - Sat and Oct. 30.: 7 pm - 11 pm; all other days 7 pm - 10 pm
Where 45031 Warm Springs Blvd., Fremont
Admission $10 Sun. - Thurs.; $12 Fri. - Sat. The Skeleton Maze is an additional $2 per person




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