USS Nightmare 2011 Review

USS Nightmare (Newport, KY)

“Welcome To Nightmare University”

By Noah Wullkotte:

For a haunt to survive 20 years of operation is a monumental feat and this year USS Nightmare in Newport, Ky will be celebrating its 20th anniversary of scaring people in Greater Cincinnati. USS Nightmare has always been one of the best known haunts around and has gained a loyal following over the years. It’s a mysterious haunt with a haunted history that rivals any stephen king novel. If the setting of a haunted boat doesn’t intrigue you, then you might need to check to see if you have any blood flowing through your veins.

Back in the early 90’s I was a young child and didn’t really pay attention to much that didn’t concern me. But when I first saw the original USS Nightmare float past me while I was on a BB Riverboat Cruise, I was intrigued and it sparked my interest. The boat was white with peeled paint and looked as if it was rusting from years of use. The boat alone would scare the boots off of anyone, but inside is where the true terror would start.

Not until many years later would I have the nerve to tour the boat of lost souls, better known as USS Nightmare. It was the late 90’s and I finally mustered up enough courage to step foot on to the dark and mysterious haunted steamboat. It was late Halloween night and surprisingly there were many people waiting in line to enter the Death Dredge. After waiting in line for about 30 minutes, it was my turn to enter.

I can’t recall every detail about my experience, but I remember being simply blown away by the sheer amount of detailed sets and animated scares. It was one of the first haunts in Cincinnati to utilize modern technology and many of the same incredible props are still present at USS Nightmare to this day. Some scenes have been scrapped over the years and the haunt is drastically different. But it still gives me a chill when I enter the boat and I’m always on the edge of my seat waiting for someone or something to emerge from the darkness.

Fast forward many many years later and USS Nightmare is celebrating their 20th anniversary. City Blood was cordially invited to their unique birthday celebration and it was an event I won’t soon forget. You can read about it by clicking here. But this review isn’t about the history of USS Nightmare since the majority of people reading this will be visiting the spooky steamboat for the first time or only visit every couple of years. You want to simply know if this haunt is worth your hard earned money and if you should return next year. The simple answer is yes.

USS Nightmare has made many changes over the years. They’ve introduced a new Family Fun Center a few years back and in 2010 they overhauled the haunt to make it more dark and sinister. They even included an Unrated Night where the haunt was more extreme and actors could really let loose. This year there have been many changes made to the haunted boat that you’ll read later in the review.

So, sit back and enjoy the 2011 review of USS Nightmare: “Welcome To Nightmare University”

It was Saturday, September 17th and we planned on touring a few haunts that weekend and record plenty of audio for the new episode of City Blood Radio. When we arrived at USS Nightmare, we were pleasantly surprised considering it was their second night of operation. The crowd was large and people seemed really amped up about the Halloween season. They wanted to get their shirts scared off of them. Our mission that night was to record our experience at USS Nightmare and to make it out alive with our body parts still attached. The last time we had seen USS Nightmare was on September 1st (before the Sunday Riverfest preview) where we were treated to a partial lights on tour and boy has it changed since then.

The first scene for 2011 features a grim tour of Mitchell’s Museum with many items on display that tell the history of the ghostly boat. Watch out for the startling surprise that awaits you behind the haunted portrait. In previous years the rat lady calmly played with her furry friends, but this year she’s being eaten alive as you hear her scream in pure terror. There are many new elements that have been added to this year’s USS Nightmare. As you walk through the nuclear wasteland you’ll notice large barrels that flash on and off as if they are full of radioactive waste.

For 2011 USS Nighmare has become a little more interactive. This year’s catwalk features falling water from above. So, wear a raincoat or you’ll definitely get wet. The element of smell has also been introduced to give the old steamboat a more realistic feel. The clown house smells just like cotton candy and the new laundry room has some unexplainable smells that remind me of laundry detergent or cleaning chemicals. Different people may smell different things.

USS Nightmare has scrapped many scenes over the years so they could introduce new rooms that would add to the history of the haunt. The new machine shop introduced this year showcases machinery used when USS Mitchelle was in its full glory. This isn’t a very scary area of the haunt, but it really adds to the mystique of the boat and makes it even more bone chilling. I could hear the group in front of me say “wow” and rightfully so. This new room is beautifully lit and makes you think about what the boat used to be like back in the day when things were much simpler.

There are many new additions at USS Nightmare for its 20th year and I won’t dare give away all the startling surprises that you’ll come across this year. But, there are many scenes that have become staples at USS Nightmare and are back once again. Who doesn’t love the classic laboratory featuring Frankenstein’s monster and a variety of deranged ghouls ready to pounce? The forest/jungle (aka Chicken Coop) returns as well as the body bag chamber, vampire lair, the hospital, Anna’s playroom, Michell’s dining room, The Dreamulator, the falling balcony and all the different rooms that have helped recreate the haunted history of USS Nightmare .

USS Nightmare doesn’t just have great set design. They also have haunting sound that brings rooms to life as well as dynamic lighting. USS Nightmare uses a lot of old style lamps that illuminate scenes and props. This makes a customer feel like they are stepping back into time. USS Nightmare has a great cast of actors with elaborate makeup, prosthetics and costumes. You’ll rarely see a mask being used at USS Nightmare and it’s truly appreciated.

Masks just aren’t very realistic and actors can’t interact with customers as much as they would like to. When is the last time you’ve been at a haunt that uses masks and said, man that monster looks so real? Unless the character is wearing an expensive silicone mask, this is rarely the case. A new character that was introduced this year is “Professor Pickels” who teaches at Nightmare University. Watch out for this deranged clown.

After you exit the haunt, you’ll enter the Family Fun Center where you can enjoy some food, games, Laser Rage and more. There’s a lot to do at USS Nightmare from getting the ship scared out of you to sitting back and enjoying some games with the ones you love. The 2011 USS Nightmare has little faults. Some of the new actors are a little too enthusiastic and can overract at times. I only encountered two actors who stumbled over their lines, but they’ll improve as the season progresses.

Too many people were let through the boat at once which caused us to walk at a snail’s pace in order to not run into the group ahead of us. Besides these little gripes, USS Nightmare is pretty close to perfect as far as a haunt goes. For $16 you’re getting close to 30 minutes worth of haunting entertainment and memories that will last a lifetime. On Saturday, Oct 29th join USS Nightmare from Midnight to 2:00 am for their Unrated Captain’s Tour. If you’re a fan of Laser Tag, be sure to check out USS Nightmare’s Laser Rage which is only $17 with a combo ticket. Visit for all the grisly details.

Next year USS Nightmare will be old enough to drink. So, save them a seat at the bar.

Length-10  Design-9  Props/Animatronics-9  Acting-9  Scare Effect-9
Final Stab: 9.2