2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream 2016 Preview: “No Escape” Escape Rooms

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This is a guest article written by Kara Dennison.

Escape rooms escape rooms escape rooms. I’m not sure what cause the surge of popularity in escape rooms over the last handful of years, but I can’t say I mind it. I’ve sadly never actually been to one, although not for lack of trying — my closest experiences are either attending Then She Fell or playing those Flash games online. So Busch Gardens getting two as part of Howl-O-Scream excited me.

Our group attended Media Night recently, where we were promised a “modified experience.” No one was entirely sure what that meant, but we went along with it.

Now, the things you need to know first off. The escape rooms are across from Land of the Dragons in Germany. Each room holds a group of six, who have half an hour to track down clues in order to solve a mystery and escape from the room. You have two to choose from: one Jack the Ripper themed, one themed to Mr. Karver and his creepy dolls from this year’s overarching ‘Evil Encore’ branding. Oh, and yes — they do cost extra ($30 before 4 PM, $40 after), but the price includes a group photo at the end.

Now, for the modified experience.

There were approximately 30 people in attendance for media night, and they wanted us to be able to see both rooms. So, rather than sending us in in groups of six and locking us in until we found our way out, we were split in half and invited to look around each room with the doors still open, and after a time we’d swap rooms.

My group saw the Jack the Ripper room first.

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Without giving too much away, the idea is that anyone who comes through Jack the Ripper’s apartments is helping the London constabulary find out his true identity. As the constable put it, ‘Clues will lead to other clues, which will lead you to his identity.’ The room was full of drawers, cabinets, hidden items, and even some hidden areas that went largely unsearched until the end of our time. I was pretty sold on this one right away, as even with the quick-and-dirty walkthrough we were able to start piecing apart bits of the mystery and how one would go about putting the clues together. It was well constructed, with plenty of things to delve into, and rewards of clues (or occasional silliness) for people like me who pick up literally everything.

Then came Mr. Karver’s room, and I was super excited about this. The Evil Encore branding has been so prevalent, and creepy dolls are kind of my jam, so I was really ready for this.

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And… well. While the look of the room, the props, and especially the gentleman playing Mr. Karver were all especially creepy and unsettling and wonderful… I had absolutely no idea what we were meant to be doing. I had to go to the website just now to find out that the point of the room is finding out where Mr. Karver’s workshop is. Does that mean you’re locked in there and don’t know how you got there? Or is there a second, freakier workshop that you’re trying to find your way into? Even a poke around the room with about the same diligence as the Jack the Ripper room didn’t turn up much by way of what we’d be doing if we were actually meant to be in there.

The Mr. Karver room honestly felt more like a theatrical experience/display of the branding than a preview for an escape room. I know who the character is, I know why we’re meant to be afraid of him, but I have genuinely no idea — to put it bluntly — why I’d want to spend $30 to be locked in there with five of my friends. Again, as an experience, it was very cool. And the actor was amazing. But for what it was, the preview was fairly unsuccessful.

That said, I’m not entirely convinced that an unsuccessful preview means a bad attraction. If the two rooms are designed by the same people, then there are good odds they’re of equal quality. And admittedly, Jack the Ripper needs no introduction, where Mr. Karver and his dolls are a new IP.

The size of the venues, while not great for our preview group, would be ideal — snug but with enough room to explore — for the advertised group of six. Things were easily accessible from their various drawers and shelves, though there were a lot of dark areas that I wouldn’t have had a chance in without the flashlight on my phone (a thing to bear in mind especially for the Jack the Ripper room). And it goes without saying that the attention to detail was fantastic — not only because it has to be in an escape room, but also because the atmosphere of Busch Gardens’ various haunted attractions usually does have intricate details to it.

Final thoughts? I love the idea. It’s smart of them to jump on the escape room train, especially as a way to give park attendees a jumpscare-free alternative that’s still immersive. The ticket price is surprising, but not horrendous. I do, though, feel that they could have done the left-hand room a bit better service on their preview night.

For more information on No Escape and to book a time, visit the official website.

Author: Kara Dennison

Kara is an interviewer, host, writer, and anime/game editor from Newport News, VA. In addition to serving as community manager for Onezumi Events' conventions Intervention and (Re)Generation Who, she reviews and interviews for various blogs under the OE banner.