Whether you’ve lived in the area for a year or your whole life, there’s a high probability you’ve heard of the USS Nightmare—the legendary Halloween attraction that’s haunted the shores of the Ohio River since the early 1990s. Many have witnessed the terror first-hand over the years, first as kids and later as adults. Less brave individuals have only heard of the horrors aboard the old dredging ship and lived vicariously through second-hand stories. Regardless of which boat you’re in, the USS Nightmare has been a Cincinnati Halloween tradition for three decades now.
If you think this is the year you’ll muster the courage to tackle the nightmares inside, the USS Nightmare is returning in 2022. Now in its 30th year, the ship is once again primed to entertain (and scare!) anyone who dares board the spooky vessel.
“There is a certain look on a guest’s face as they exit the boat with sweat on their brow, unable to catch their breath, smiling from ear to ear with an adrenaline rush from being completely entertained,” says Terri Bernstein, CEO of BB Riverboats, the parent company of the USS Nightmare. “It’s rewarding to see that while hearing the excitement and exhilaration as they swap experiences with their friends.”
She also says one of the most rewarding things about the annual attraction is hearing parents’ stories of how they visited the Nightmare when they were young and how they’re now bringing their own kids to continue the Halloween tradition. It’s easy to keep the tradition alive due to several different offerings that range from milder lights-on experiences to hands-on, intense, adult-oriented tours. Whatever your personal threshold of fear, the boat can appropriately meet it.
One of the big reasons the USS Nightmare became a 30-year tradition is due to its location. The attraction was built aboard a real-life former steamboat dredge called the William S. Mitchell. Measuring 277 feet, it tells the tale of the over-70-year-old boat by having scary amounts of fun with glorified characters rooted in the ship’s history. These characters are spread throughout 30 different areas and two levels of the boat. Among the large cast of characters is the dreaded Captain Mitchell, who many consider to be the most frightening being aboard the ship. The captain’s creepy daughter, Anna, also haunts the vessel with her legion of horrifying crewmembers, several of whom are clowns.
And according to Terri, there’s even been some paranormal activity on the ship outside the nightly scheduled tours.
“Life onboard a working vessel is hard and rarely without incident. We have had paranormal teams investigate who have left believing the ship is haunted, and we have had many crewmembers who have shared ‘unidentified haunted experiences’ with encounters that simply cannot be explained,” she explains.
These characters, the story of the dangerous ship, and the rumored hauntings help provide a unique Halloween experience that other land-locked haunted houses and theme parks do not.Named after its Captain, the William S. Mitchell is among a fleet of four steam-powered, side-wheel dredge boats designed to carve through the river’s erosive and treacherous path clearing way for commercial travel. From the very beginning however, the Mitchell seemed to have a much more sinister purpose that would remain in existence to this day.
Regular tours are recommended for children over 10 with an adult present. If you think you’ve seen it all before, though, think again. Terri says crews have been working this season to enhance and intensify the experience to better immerse guests in the story of the William S. Mitchell. While the Lights On Matinee tours are geared toward the faint of heart and children, the regular tours, the RIP Experience, and the Captain’s Extreme Tour will satisfy nightmare thrill-seekers.
“For many people, [the Captain’s Extreme Tour] will be the most frightening night of the season,” says Terri. “These are the nights I like to stand near the exit and talk to our guests before they leave.”
Those extreme tours, which aren’t recommended for people under 17, only happen during the final two nights of the USS Nightmare’s season (November 4th and 5th). The RIP Experience is offered every regular show night. The Lights-On Matinee show happens on October 23rd from 4 to 6 PM.
Don’t like waiting in a long line to get in? No problem. The USS Nightmare has two options for you. For a little bit more, the Fast Pass grants you access to a shorter, priority line that’s separate from the regular queue. If you don’t want to wait at all, the Front of the Line Admission lets you bypass the line entirely so you can get straight to the spooky stuff.
While adults are fully capable of choosing a suitable tour for themselves, Terri stresses the importance of selecting the appropriate tour for children.
“We want all guests to leave satisfied having experienced a frightening show perfect for their age and scare level,” she says, “and then continue to return for more for years to come!”
To purchase tickets and for more information visit the website.