USS Nightmare – Full Review

USS Nightmare is a Haunted Attraction located in Newport, KY.

101 Riverboat row, Newport, KY 41071
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Haunt Type(s):

Haunted Boat


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Free Parking, Food/Concessions, Gift Shop/Souvenirs, Optional Games/Midway, Special Events, “Hi-Tech” Attraction, Original Characters, Covered Outdoor Waiting Line, All-Indoor Attraction

Team Zombillies reviewed this attraction on September 28, 2016.

Final Score: 9.57


If you haven’t guessed yet, the USS Nightmare is a haunted steamboat. That’s right, not just a haunted boat (as if that wasn’t cool enough), a STEAMboat! Actually, it’s a former dredging vessel (that truly is floating on the Ohio River) whose sole purpose in life was to dredge all of the grime, muck and debris out of the main, commercial channels of the same waterway it resides on. At least’ that’s what you’re supposed to think. ‘Built by the U.S. Army,’ a recent discovery indicates that the USS William S. Mitchell was actually ‘Designed for Death!’ Some say that human bones and remains were often found in the Mitchell’s dredge lines. Others think that it was used to transport barrels of unknown substances. Reports even claim that she was a vessel (in more ways than one) for top-secret government projects! Are the reports and beliefs true?

The 20,000 sq. ft. USS Nightmare, now in their 24th season, offers customers more changes and improvements than we’ve ever seen in the last several years that we’ve been visiting them! The core experience is still very similar to years past, so returning customers that enjoy the authenticity and realistic characters here will still get to see their favorite parts. However, with the new ‘crash simulator,’ a couple of upgraded rooms that’ll make you wonder if you’re spinning in circles and a bounty of new and improved special effects, the USS Nightmare will surely give any haunted house enthusiast one of the best shows of the 2016 haunt season! With that, we offer you a word of advice’ bring your life jacket!

Cast: 9.48

The cast of USS Nightmare are consistently some of the best performers that we get to see every season! The fact that they never tell you to ‘get out!’ and always have something original and ‘in character’ to say back to you (if you interact with them) are just a few of the signs of a well-trained crew; and trust us, these guys have got their acts together (yes, pun intended)! Despite having several new cast members this year, they not only know their own roles, but they know each other’s too and they proved capable of working off one another from several scenes away. After being welcomed into ‘the Nightmare portion of the tour,’ one of the first crewmen we ran into was the Dredge Master, who warned us not to trust ‘the boxes.’ We recommend heeding his advice! Later, we met Anna (Captain Mitchell’s daughter), who showed us her mommy’s baby that she’d just ‘filleted’ because it was crying (and she doesn’t like things that cry). Mommy must’ve been crying before we got there, too, as she wasn’t doing so well with half of her body missing! Of course, ‘Daddy’ is never far from his beloved daughter, so we recommend trying to keep her as happy as possible when you pass through. Speaking of which, many of the actors made references to Captain Mitchell before we actually met him, which helped build up the suspense for doing so. In the clown area, we were glad to meet Mrs. Bradley, The Director of Lost Souls, who took us for a loop before showing us the way out of the maze (you’ll see what we mean if you go). You may also question yourself if you get to meet ‘Ox’ in the bathroom (the facial accessories should’ve tipped us off, but we had to ask for the name before we left). We also walked in on the doctor as he was nonchalantly sawing off a finger. He asked if we needed medical attention then directed us to his nurse, whom he assured could help us with whatever procedure we required. This was good to know, but we weren’t really sure that the extra-large scissors were going to be necessary! The list goes on, but other notable characters that we encountered include a saw-on-a-stick-wielding madman, a chainsaw slinger, a necrophiliac (sort of’ don’t ask… we were told, ‘No looks!’), a mad scientist, slithering sailors, clowns and even a ‘rat lady’ (who turns out to be one of the Captain’s exes’ we guess Anna didn’t like her, either). Overall, as if you can’t tell, USS Nightmare had a great crew during our visit this year!

Costuming: 9.79

Costuming is also a very strong point at USS each time we visit and this year was no different! We noticed many prosthetics and a lot of airbrushed designs that looked extremely realistic! From aging, discolorations, wounds and snake skin, there was quite a variety of authentic makeup accenting this crew. All of the costumes matched the scenes we saw them in and helped in bringing this demented crew to life! Several masks were also noticed, some partial and some full, that were all diverse from what we typically see and of high quality, especially the one worn by the nurse. We must say that Anna’s costume stood out to us the most, but other memorable costumes include the Captain, the Director of Lost Souls, the bow watch and the scientist in the lab.

Customer Service: 9.64

Our GPS led us right to where the boat is docked on Riverboat Row. A paved lot for free parking can be found directly up the bank from where the USS Nightmare is docked. A very large banner displaying the haunt’s name welcomed us from the side of the boat, so if you are having issues finding it, search for the banner on the scariest-looking steam boat on the water! Head towards the small building in between two tents to purchase your tickets. It was pouring on the night of our visit and only part of the queue line is completely covered, so dress appropriately. Whatever you do, DO NOT run while you are trying to get in line on wet surfaces… we learned the hard way! A photo ops area will lead you into the queue line. If you would like your mug shots, they can be found under the tent when you exit the boat and head back up towards the parking lot. A screen was playing the history and interviews about the ship from crew members to help in passing the time while we waited. On the night of our visit, a vampire was roaming the queue, making sure everyone was kosher (and making sure no one sat on his handrails). There are also toy machines and another kiosk where you can scare guests available in the queue line (for a small fee). The tent near the parking lot where your photos can be purchased also offers haunt memorabilia as well as snacks. Navigating the attraction was simple, just keep it between the ropes and guardrails and you should be good!

Atmosphere: 9.93

As soon as we shut our car doors, we could hear a musical and narrative warning echoing from the decrepit boat that compliments this part of the Ohio River with it’s dark and deathly presence. It’s difficult to beat the atmosphere that USS projects unto its guests. An authentic, truly-wrecked steam boat that literally floats on the murky river; it just doesn’t get much more realistic than that! Add the giant skull on top, the multiple signs and the Bow Watch and, without a doubt, it’s quite evident that this is not the Belle of Cincinnati you’re climbing aboard (although, they are owned by some of the same people)! As we were waiting in line, the Bow Watch was slithering in and out of the waiting patrons, helping to prepare us all to enter this mysterious vessel, and lots of eerie sounds were coming from below our feet as we waited!

Special Effects: 9.71

The build crew behind USS Nightmare have added more special effects this season than we’ve ever seen them do in the last several years of reviewing them! Among these additions are the new ‘crash simulator’ room (no, it’s not an ‘elevator’… although the basic concept of it should ring familiar to most avid haunt-goers out there), an extended maze section, vortex tunnel upgrades and more! The first part of the ‘tour’ has lots of antiquated display cases, old photographs of the ship, design diagrams and even some old life preservers to help you get a grasp of the time period and set the tone for the rest of the haunt. The undead, victimization skit that takes place in one of the first windows looks so realistic that it almost ‘pops’ out at you as the person’s head implodes! One of the most noticeable changes to the walk-through is definitely the crash simulator, where the whole room shakes and rumbles with flickering lights as an evil-sounding narrator explains the dark and sinister history of ‘the death dredge’ that you’re about to experience! Some of the other effects that you’ll encounter include thick fog, strobing lights, what we call ‘the wheel of death,’ a chainsaw, plenty of human corpses (and even a few fish, here and there), a mirror entrapment, a significant temperature drop (in the freezer), multiple realistic (and *actually real) electrical panels, a bubbly cage maze, smoking skeletons, flailing torsos and more! Another one of the most impressive changes we saw this year were the additions made to the vortex tunnel. With strobing black lights that flicker in sync with impressive and dramatic audio, mirrors, see-through grating that rocks from side to side and glow-in-the-dark paint that shows when the black lights are off made for one of the most extravagant (and effective) versions of this effect that we’ve seen to date! The list of changes goes on and on, but we can’t go without mentioning the impressive detail put into the scenes, the actual pumps, motors and machinery that were fully operational in the ship’s glory days, several wet surprises, piles of crates in the cargo hold, a monstrous creature that rips apart any humans that come near it’ there’s really almost too much to take in during just one tour and it translates as one of the most realistic and authentic settings you can find in a haunted house.

Theme: 9.91

As the story goes, ‘The USS Mitchell was designed and constructed by the U.S. Army. It’s purpose was to dredge the river’s trenches, but the SHIP had something much more sinister in mind.’ Reports claim that human bones were often discovered in the boat’s dredge line and barrels of unknown substances were also transported by the ship. Some believe that she was used as a vehicle for top-secret government projects. But not to worry’ you’ll find out for yourself what REALLY happens aboard the Mitchell when you embark on your journey into the bowels of the very ship that was actually… ‘designed for death!’ With their impressive theme introduction and with the sets and cast members that reiterate this notion, it’s hard to believe that anything else could be even remotely close to the truth. Admittedly, there are a few small places that can make you wonder, ‘How does this fit’ (such as the clown and mad scientist lab areas), but these aspects have been covered by previous years’ themes and, ultimately, revolve around Captain Mitchell’s devotion to keeping his daughter (Anna) happy.

Fright Effect: 8.9

USS Nightmare, bluntly, has some downright scary stuff going on. With all of the decor and attention to set design, there are plenty of hiding spots for actors and props to jump out and scare the daylights out of you! Now, take the culmination of their actors, props and sets and throw in some uber-creepy sound effects and you’ve got yourself some places where you’ll probably find yourself thinking ‘hey, I really don’t think I wanna go through there!’ Well, there’s always the chicken exits. However, for those hardcore haunt enthusiasts who crave an immersive experience that captivates you and keeps you guessing throughout the show, the USS Nightmare delivers. It’s not so completely terrifying and life-scarring that those who are just above ‘small children’ status can’t enjoy it too (parents, use your own judgement), but adults and thrill-seekers can still get a great show that’s full of frights and fun1 Some of the fears you may face include startles, claustrophobia, disgust, dizziness, heights, blindness, darkness, electrocution and dismemberment, just to name a few.

Value: 9.23

General admission tickets to tour the USS Nightmare remain the same prices as last year at $20.00 per guest. If you visit on a Wednesday night, GA can be purchased for $17.00. If you visit during busy hours, RIP Express passes are available for $30.00 on Wednesday and $35.00 on any other night that the dredge is open. It took our group about 27 minutes to sneak our way off the vicious vessel, bringing the overall value to 1.35 minutes received per dollar spent. That is just below our average of 1.5 minutes per dollar that we calculated from all the attractions we were able to visit last season. When combining that to the quality of the experience aboard the ship, it makes for a rather compelling ticket price, especially if you go on a Wednesday (which is when we were there). Other events and ticketing options are also offered by USS, including their Captain’s Extreme Tour ($30) which takes place four nights out of the year now, Captain’s Season Passes ($45), Light on Matinee ($8) and various group rates for the different nights. As we mentioned earlier, USS Nightmare made the most changes in one season than we have ever seen them make! So, even if you’ve been here before, be sure to visit them again because there are plenty of new crew members and sights to see this season! If you’ve never been there before, well… what the heck are you waiting on? This ship consistently offers a quality show with great detail and some one of the best acting crews that we get to see each year! So, dig yourself out some life jackets and head out to the dark and demented boat that sits on the Ohio River… she’s waiting for you!

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Past Awards

2022 Awards

Most Unique Scene - Theme Intro (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Anna - Alisha McDuffee (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Vampire - Riley Krull (Given by: Team Zombillies)

2019 Awards

Most Interactive Haunt (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Best Scene Detail (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Highest Rated Haunt in Kentucky (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Highest Rated Cast (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Highest Rated Theme (Given by: Team Zombillies)

2018 Awards

Memorable Moment - The RIP Experience (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Highest Rated Special Effects (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Highest Rated Theme (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Actor Shout Out - Anna - Alisha McDuffee (Given by: Team Zombillies)

Actor Shout Out - Captain Mitchell - Michael Doench (Given by: Team Zombillies)

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