Recently, Orlando became home to several new attractions, all with the theme of “escaping” from a locked room by solving a series of puzzles and challenges. My girlfriend and I have quickly become big fans of these attractions, and I’d like to share our thoughts about them.
Each attraction has multiple different rooms with different story lines and puzzles, challenges, clues, and hints, for a completely different experience. As of this writing, we have experienced 9 different escape rooms, at three different locations. We’ve done four each at Escapology Orlando and Mindquest Live, and just last night completed our first room at It’s A Trap. We are very much looking forward to returning to It’s A Trap for their remaining three, and are anxiously awaiting both Escapology and MindQuest opening new rooms to experience as well.
All of attractions have the same basic set up – you and your party are led to a room fitting the theme of the experience – a science lab, a 1960’s politician’s office, a saloon from the Old West, a medieval wizard’s hut, and so on. Once you are in the room, you begin searching for clues. Clues can take many forms. You might find different kinds of locks – combination locks, word locks, directional locks, padlocks, and more – and they might be locking different items in the room, be they cabinets, desks, chests, etc. You might also find keys that may or may not open a lock you’ve already located. And you will certainly find puzzles that need to be solved, and clues to those puzzles also sprinkled throughout the room. It is unlikely you’ll be able to solve more than one puzzle at a time. Instead, each puzzle you solve or lock that you open will lead you to further clues, keys, codes, locks, and puzzles that will work together with what you’ve already found.
You and your team have one hour to find all of the hidden details in the room, solve all the puzzles, unlock all the locks, and complete your quest. You will be surprised how quickly that hour elapses, and as time goes by, you may realize that your stress level increases as well. Whether that stress helps or hinders your progress can make the difference in whether or not you escape. Now, these games are designed to be fun, and obviously for most people the most fun is had when you succeed in your goal. As a result, none of them are too challenging. In fact, my girlfriend and I successfully completed our first attempt at 8 of the 9 rooms we’ve played so far (in The Bomb, at MindQuest, we overlooked a detail that was very literally right in front of us, and were too prideful to ask for a hint. We did complete it on our second attempt, however).
Each of the three attractions we’ve visited do have a variety of differences, beyond the basic theme and setup of each room. Among the differences we’ve noticed thus far:
- The Goal
- While all the attractions fall under the generic category of “escape rooms”, it turns out that may be a bit of a misnomer. At Escapology, the point is to get out of the room – to find the final secret code or key that will reopen the door from which you entered. At MindQuest, you are searching for a McGuffin fitting the theme of the room, which you will find hidden in one of the locked areas of the room. At It’s a Trap, you are immersed in a storyline, and must complete your characters’ role in the story, carrying out whatever final task you’ve been charged with.
- Should you be stuck on a particular task or clue, each attraction provides a way for you and your party to receive a nudge in the right direction. Escapology has a “game master” who will periodically enter the room to check on your progress, and give a helpful hint as to what you should try next. MindQuest’s employees monitor your progress via cameras in the room. If you get stuck, you can hold up a sign reading “HELP” toward the camera, and they will give you a clue via a TV screen hanging on the wall. In It’s a Trap, you are immersed in the storyline you are acting out, and the live performer will make casual remarks – while staying in character – that will lead you to solve your next puzzle (if you’re clever enough to pay attention)
- At both Escapology and MindQuest, you book a room for just you and your own party. No one else will be joining you. At all of the other escape rooms in Orlando (The Escape Game Orlando, America’s Escape Game, and The Great Escape Room) you will be teamed up with strangers who have also booked the same game at the same time. The only way to get a private experience at those locations is to book the entirety of the room (anywhere from 6 to 12 people, depending on the room). It’s A Trap used to fall into this second category. Recently, however, they have started offering “exclusive games” on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in September (though we were told while there that it’s likely they will continue past the end of the month), in which you can book a private room for just yourselves, without paying extra for imaginary people. This is why we decided to try an experience there last night. Neither of us really wants to “share” the experience with strangers, we prefer to work out the puzzles and clues on our own, without the help (or possibly hindrance) of people we’ve just met.
- Time Reporting
- Escapology informs you how much time you have left by periodic announcements via the overhead speakers, as well as a small running video clock in the top corner of the room. At MindQuest, there is a running countdown clock on the aforementioned TV screen that starts as soon as your guide leaves the room. At the It’s A Trap room we just did, there was no clock of any kind – the employees simply told us what our final time was when we successfully solved the quest. I don’t know if the lack of a clock causes more or less stress, to be honest – because you’re constantly searching and solving, it’s hard to gauge how much time has elapsed, so you might think you have all the time in the world left, or you might start panicking that you’re about to run out of time.
Recently we were informed by a friend (thanks, Dave!) about a new TV show on the Science Channel, Race To Escape. We’ve watched every episode and thoroughly enjoyed them. If you’re curious about what escape rooms are like, I encourage you to watch a couple episodes as well. However, please take note of some important differences between that show and the real Escape Rooms (or at least, the ones we’ve experienced):
- You will not be bound or locked to anything, anyone, or anywhere. You enter the room of your own free will and have full range of motion throughout the experience.
- In the show, the teams have to solve one challenge at a time, each time ending with a four digit code they have to enter on a (comically oversized) combination panel. Entering a code starts them on the next challenge. In the real rooms, you will be finding bits and pieces of different puzzles throughout the whole experience, with no clear direction as to which is the next puzzle you’ll be able to solve. And when you find a code, it will be used on a different lock in the room; you’ll rarely use the same prop/lock/code twice.
- DO NOT BREAK THINGS. Under no circumstances should you in any way destroy or damage anything in the room. These rooms are designed to be repeatable by the next set of customers, after a brief “reset” by the attraction’s employees. The rooms on the show are designed as one-offs, sets and scenes to be used just that one time for filming that one episode. If you encounter something that you can’t open, and you think there may be a clue inside, either you’re wrong and there isn’t, or you have yet to find a clue, key, or code that will let you open that locked item. Do not destroy the property trying to get it open.
The attractions all do have a cost associated, of course. The prices vary, but generally fall into the range of $20-$30 per person. Check Groupon frequently, they often have deals on all of the different escape rooms. Make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully, however – some Groupons can only be used Monday-Thursday, some are only valid on certain rooms at the attraction, etc. Regardless of how much you end up paying, I believe that every one of the rooms we’ve experienced has been well worth the money. Like I said, we’re looking forward to completing the other three rooms at It’s a Trap (assuming the exclusive games continue), and we also bought a Groupon to do The Escape Game Orlando with a pair of friends during their trip to Orlando in November. That will be our first experience with the possibility of one or more strangers joining us, so we’ll see how much that changes the experience for us. I may update this entry once we’ve visited these other rooms, so stay tuned.
If you’re coming to Orlando on vacation, set aside a couple hours of one or two of your days, or make a reservation for a booking after the theme parks have closed. The rooms and experiences are well worth your time and money, and are a great break from the crowds, heat, and queue lines of Orlando’s more famous attractions. And if you’re a local like us, seriously, what on earth are you waiting for? Stop reading this blog, go over to Groupon, find a deal on one of the rooms, and go play it ASAP.
Have you already experienced any of the escape rooms I mentioned? Have you done one of the others in Orlando we haven’t tried yet? Are there escape rooms in your city that we should try if we ever visit there? Please let us know all about them in the comments below. But please – no spoilers! 🙂