As my kids get older, it’s harder to find indoor entertainment for the colder months that doesn’t include movies or bowling alleys. We recently discovered two escape rooms -each within an hour’s drive - and they’re still raving about them.
Escape rooms sound scarier than they are. The ones described here don’t really lock you in, and there aren’t any frightening elements. Your mission is to “escape” in as little time as possible by collecting clues and solving puzzles. Sometimes, you have a finite time frame, normally an hour. Going in groups, ideally between five and 10 people, brings more brainpower and extra hands for physical challenges.
If you’re new to escape rooms, like we were, Escape 101 in Danbury, Conn., is a good place to start. There are four rooms with different storylines. Doomsday and Victim No. 7 are best suited for ages 13 and up. A new room called Ice Cream Truck just opened specifically for younger kids, ages 5 and up. In this scenario, groups work together to earn money to buy ice cream.
We took my daughter’s fifth grade Girl Scout troop to try Jet Set, which is recommended for ages 10 and up. In this story, you have won a trip to a mystery destination, but you only have an hour before your plane takes off. In that time, you have to finish a to-do list, pack your bags and find your boarding pass. The difficulty level was perfect for their age, because we made it out with seven minutes to spare. Staff was easy to contact by waving at the security camera, and would offer helpful clues when we were stuck.
It was a little alarming not being given any clues whatsoever to start, but the kids’ natural curiosity soon had them touching every prop in the room to see what would happen. Eventually, the clues became evident, and the remaining challenge was to figure out what order they went in to solve the final puzzle. This was an interesting group dynamics experiment, as everyone shared what they had found, talking over one another. It took a good 20 minutes before they got into a collaborative groove.
Admission prices begin at $26 per person, but vary by the size of your group, and by the room you choose. Reservations are required.
Located at the top level of the Palisades Center in West Nyack, 5 Wits is actually three separate interactive adventure rooms with different themes; Tomb, Deep Space and Drago’s Castle. Our family, which includes one teenager and one tween, tried the latter two.
In Deep Space, you begin in a teleporter room on the Starship Nebulous, where you’re getting a distress signal from an abandoned ship that you have to save. There are three smaller rooms within this experience. Activities include maneuvering the ship through an asteroid storm, refueling the ship’s power source, and matching wits with the evil Artificial Intelligence that wants to destroy Earth. Having a tech-savvy son helped speed us through, which improved our score.
In Drago’s Castle, you’re helping a princess find and recapture her pet dragon. You follow the pages of a storybook, starting in a dungeon, through the throne room and secret passageway. You end up in the bell tower. The challenges here are less high-tech and more hands-on, but overall, this was a more difficult escape, and we never even found the dragon.
5 Wits is a chain with other locations (and different challenges) in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, should you want to try the others. These adventures are best suited for ages 7 and up. There are some moments of darkness and loud noise. Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older.
Admission is the same for all ages: $22.99 per person for a single adventure, $26.99 for two adventures and $29.99 for all three. Sign up for the newsletter online to get a $2 coupon. Reservations are not required, but there may be a wait on busy days.
Frequent contributor Traci L. Suppa writes about travel, parenting and family life. WordS
69 Kenosia Ave., Danbury, Conn.
4270 Palisades Center Dr., West Nyack