Universal’s Great Movie Escape is now open at Universal CityWalk, adding a new form of entertainment to the complex. The next-level escape rooms are themed to two classic Universal films – Back to the Future and Jurassic World. The premium cost experience will probably be discussed a lot on social media, but under this being the guise of Universal’s first foray into escape rooms. Universal invited us out to a media preview to play both rooms on Thursday, September 8th, and we discovered quickly these weren’t your average escape rooms.
Universal doesn’t allow photos or video inside the escape rooms to help preserve the games and magic. Photos are allowed in the lobby and all room photos were provided by Universal.
For those who have never done an escape room. The premise is you get locked in a room and have to solve puzzles to help you escape from the room or rooms in a certain amount of time. Typical escape rooms vary in difficulty, and there is a chance of failure. The story behind the games you are playing is usually a straightforward setup. For example, the first escape room I ever experienced had us break into the office of an art museum curator to try and track down a painting he may have stolen and then get out before he returned.
Universal’s Great Movie Escape feels more like a cousin of typical escape rooms than one itself. The reason for this is they put story and operations first in order to preserve a good guest experience. What does that mean? Universal wants you to see the story from start to finish and how it plays out, so there is no such thing as failure with the rooms, and you will always make it on to the next location.
The result of this is an experience where you move from room to room with your group in a way that feels similar to walking through a Halloween Horror Nights House. There’s a good reason it feels like this. The creative team behind Halloween Horror Nights is responsible for Universal’s Great Movie Escape. Beyond their skills with highly themed environments, the creative team all love escape rooms and experienced way more than any of us will in our lifetimes to become experts on this form of entertainment.
Chances are guests from around the world will want to try out the escape rooms but have no prior experience. Honestly, the less experience you have might be a good thing. If you have expectations based on other rooms you’ve done before, you may leave feeling unfulfilled in a way. However, you’ll be upfront to forget about other rooms you’ve done in the past and go into this one with a fresh mind.
The difficulty of the games is varied. Back to the Future: OUTATIME takes place in 1993 as sort of a semi-continuation of the former Universal attraction and feels more like a traditional escape room. The puzzles feel more physical and mental and require more searching around the rooms to be solved. Jurassic World: Escape follows the Jurassic World movies, so it feels more high-tech because it’s newer. The games still have a physicality to them, but it feels more straightforward, as if you were playing a game versus solving your way through a game. Jurassic World: Escape is more appropriate for beginners, but Back to the Future: OUTATIME isn’t impossible for first-timers.
The reason both are accessible is because of the interesting way Universal designed the levels. Universal has stated leading up to the opening that they are designed to adjust based on skill level, and that’s exactly what we saw. Each puzzle you solve is the completion of a level. The faster you complete a level, the more difficult it will get as you move on. For example, in one room, we had to read codes from a shelf, and after entering three correct codes, the next codes we had to enter were only half visible, adding extra difficulty. We failed at guessing the difficult code correctly but still felt like we succeeded in the first portion.
If you’re completing a lot of puzzles quickly and get to a higher level, the puzzles can become more challenging faster as you make your way through the games. The games will also randomize the challenges, so there is plenty of replay value. One question being thrown around a lot was choosing how difficult you wanted to make it from the start. Can you walk in, having done these rooms before, and say you want to make it as hard as possible right away? Right now, it seems like that’s not the case and the game master can just increase the difficulty through the levels more quickly based on how your group is doing, but it’s a way to keep it fair.
It fairly levels the playing field because you may not be alone in the escape rooms. The rooms are designed based on groups of six. Universal can adjust the gameplay based on the number of people in the groups, but six is the ideal number. If you book a private experience, you can bring up to eight people, but it may get a bit cramped. The rooms are intimate, and the games usually utilize five people with a floater, so more than six would require taking turns or some people taking a backseat.
Unless you book a private experience, there is a great chance you will be placed with people you don’t know. Escape rooms are team-building experiences, so you will quickly figure out your roles, strengths, and weaknesses and get along with relative strangers. Your experience might not end up being as difficult as you want because of this or may have you feeling in over your head quickly if the others in you’re playing with are professionals.
The group gameplay does bring up questions of accessibility. Universal Orlando Resort is a destination for people around the world. The escape rooms, as of now, are catered to only English-speaking audiences. The clues and puzzles sometimes require a lot of listening and comprehension, so if you’re not fully fluent in English, then it might not be worth your time for now. Universal is also currently working on a way for deaf and guests with hearing loss to experience these escape rooms.
The rooms are also accessible in terms of mobility. Guests in an ECV will have to transfer to a standard wheelchair in order to play. The games are mostly designed at a height suitable for guests of all sizes so no one will feel like they can’t get involved. That being said, the rooms are constrictive, so guests in wheelchairs won’t be able to move about as freely as other guests. However, Universal said testers who experienced the rooms from a wheelchair praised the accessibility.
Also worth noting, whatever you have with you must be carried the entire way through. Universal offers paid lockers – $5 for 90 minutes which is way less than the whole experience lasts. You’ll be fine with a backpack or small bag, but I wouldn’t way to carry multiple bags and have fewer hands to help with the challenges in the room.
Escape rooms have a tendency to make you feel very alone because you are, and that’s the case with Universal’s Great Movie Escape. Each game has a virtual host that guides you through the puzzles and can chime in with hints when your group is struggling. Some escape rooms take this approach and try to keep you in the story by playing pre-recorded hints. Others allow the game masters to speak with players in the room directly. The games, for the most part, aren’t so difficult that many hints will have to be given.
Finally, effects and easter eggs. Back to the Future: OUTATIME is jam-packed with easter eggs and is basically a giant easter egg. You’ll have no problem spotting all of your favorite elements from all of the Back to the Future movies, and one character from the original films is involved – but no spoilers here! Jurassic World also has some nods and touches to pay tribute but focuses more on immersing you in the movies. There are effects that take these games to the next level, but again, this shouldn’t be a surprise considering the Halloween Horror Nights team worked on them.
Beyond the games, Universal’s Great Movie Escape is a CityWalk experience complete with bars on the first and second floors with signature cocktails themed to the escape rooms. The lobby is designed to feel like a classic movie house. A theater screen is front and center, playing trivia questions while you wait for your turn. Merchandise can be purchased inside the lobby. Access to the lobby is for everyone, so even if you don’t want to play the games, you can still walk in, check out the area, and grab a drink.
As for pricing, it starts at $50 per person, plus tax for all ages above 3. Private experiences start at $300 for a group. The max pricing I could find for the experience is $64.99 per person, plus tax for individuals and $390 for a group. The tickets do include free parking at Universal Orlando Resort when purchased in advance, and discounts are applicable for passholders. The hours are roughly 10:30 am through 10:30 pm as of now. The actual experience time lasts less than an hour.
I’m sure you have the question, “Is it worth the money?” Since we didn’t pay for the escape rooms as part of the media event, we won’t answer that directly. That being said, we fully plan on going back and throwing our own money at it, but more likely as a private group experience to share the fun with friends and family. That being said, don’t be afraid of being placed with strangers because you don’t have the ability to book a private room. We didn’t know the other people in our group at the start but quickly started working together as a team, and that’s just the nature of escape rooms.