There is a new attraction that is becoming extremely popular all over the world. “Escape Rooms” are puzzle-solving adventures putting you and a group of friends (and sometimes strangers) into a room and the only way out is to solve various puzzles via clues hidden all around you in order to get out. No cell phone or iPads are used; only the wits of you and your friends.
I recently got a chance to experience the Escape Room in Niagara Falls, Canada, and it was hands down my favorite attraction that I did during my visit to Canada for several reasons. One, this is a small adventure for groups of between three and six people. Unlike a roller coaster or a haunted house, very few people can say that have been through the Escape Room and often need to make reservations weeks in advance.
Escape Room Niagara Falls is an immersive experience with its own theme that will be changed out every few months to give guests something new to discover every time they return. My group was one of the last to go through their first version and I was heavily impressed.
“We wanted to make it look like we raided your Grandmother’s cottage and made a game out of it,” said Escape Room Niagara creator Sarah Thomas.
According to Thomas, the theming of the room came before actually creating the puzzles. They went out to salvage stores and found framed pictures, jewelry boxes, small trunks and even antique furniture that all gives the room a sense of nostalgia.
Thomas continued, “We were very particular with the design of the room itself. It needed to have various zones and not just a box. The flow of how people moved through the space was very important to us. We wanted to make sure people didn’t sit still for too long.”
Keep in mind, the puzzle pieces I am showing you now have nothing to do with the current or future games you’ll encounter at the Escape Room, so these are not spoiler pictures. Scattered throughout were nearly a dozen padlocks that needed a special code to crack them open.
Codes were found anywhere from a carousel horse’s hooves (with the help of a special black light) to a dart board that needed a custom made decoder to get the code to open specific padlocks. Once a padlock was opened, it often contained a clue to another puzzle or maybe even another key to a box you couldn’t get open previously.
Keep in mind, you are in this room with just you and your group and no supervision. However, the room is being monitored by an employee who can track your progress. Thomas told me, “It was really important to us that groups continued to make progress during the hour. We don’t want them to get totally stumped after 15 minutes and then wait another 45 just so we can let them out.”
So what happens if your group just gets stumped? As luck would have it (by design), the door you enter the Escape Room in has a crack underneath it. If the monitor sees that your group needs a nudge, a small note is slid under the door to help give you some guidance. Granted, these don’t give you answers, just a reminder that you maybe need to look harder at an object that you only glanced at earlier.
Also hidden in the room was a clue book. As it turns out, my group actually found this within the first five minutes and then tossed it aside and we never ended up using it to help us get out. That said, while we didn’t escape, we got extremely far and solved many of the puzzles within the hour we were given without using the book once. According to Sarah, only 12 groups escaped the room within the hour of the over 160 who attempted and only two did so without the help of the clue book.
While Niagra’s Escape Room plans on doing a few special Halloween-themed events with some scares thrown in, those will be few and far between as this attraction is designed with families in mind. This is something that kids around age 10-and-up and their grandparents can do together. This is a true family bonding time with no cell phones and no television. It’s almost like a family game night but far cooler and much more sophisticated.
That family theme continues with “The Attic” which Sarah describes as similar in tone to the “Lemony Snickett” books. In this new adventure open now, groups will have to navigate their way through secret passages, bed sheet forts, strange contraptions and an imaginary friend who may or may not be on your side.
The new Escape Room will have more use of technologies like projections, black light and more. However, for Thomas, this is only the beginning. She hopes to open up a new Escape Room in a larger building just down the road from their current location. This would enable them to do larger corporate/team building events with up to 50 people at a time, broken into smaller groups all solving mini-mysteries of their own.
I promise you, if you haven’t heard of an Escape Room, you will soon. These attractions are about to explode in popularity (they have already started) and Thomas is the person to watch in this business. She knows how to build interactive attractions, she knows the industry and she’s extremely passionate about it. I look forward to what she brings to the table in the near future.
If you want more information or would like to try and escape yourself the next time you are in Niagara Falls, check out their website at www.escaperoom.ca and tell them Theme Park University sent ya. Meanwhile, feel free to like TPU’s Facebook page and follow us on Twitter!