Imagine that you’re locked up on death row and you’re completely innocent. The last day of your existence has come and the clock starts ticking away at the last 45 minutes of your life. Tick… Tock… Your heart beats faster. Your breath gets shorter. The prison guards have gone on break and have left the keys to your cell in sight. All you have to do is get to them and make your ESCAPE!
Prison Break is only one of three escape scenarios offered at Ottawa’s newest attraction. Opened in November on Queen Street in Ottawa’s downtown core, Escape Manor invites groups of two to six people to escape from prison, a creepy Wine Cellar or The Asylum.
Once securely locked up and on its own, the group has to work together to find clues and solve puzzles that will lead to freedom. But what’s the catch? Freedom has to be achieved in 45 minutes or the group will meet a tragic end. And I can tell you from experience, escaping a room here is no easy feat.
According to Billy Rogers, one of Escape Manor’s official Keymasters, the new attraction offers a unique and “dramatic” experience. “It’s like watching a CSI show on TV, except you’re right in the middle of the action,” Rogers said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism. “You’re the main character. It’s a new form of entertainment, where you’re a full piece of it instead of watching it from the outside.”
Rogers noted that the idea for Escape Manor in Ottawa stemmed from online escape room games that have been around for years. He added that real life escape games started in Japan about 12 years ago and have since made their way to the United States and Canada in the past year. “We’re the first in Ottawa and we’re already looking at expansion with some other locations and some other really unique team-building events,” he said.
Rogers explained that he worked with an Escape Manor co-owner for about a year to find a location for the new attraction and to develop clues as well as puzzles. “We were scouring the deepest and darkest corners of Ottawa so to speak, to find the right location and the right props to get this thing going,” he said. He added that during the attraction’s development, the owners even turned to psychiatric professionals for advice on clues and to learn more about how thought processes work.
Having been locked up in the Prison Break room myself and not being able to escape in time, I can tell you that this attraction’s set up is quite clever. Just when you think you have something figured out, you’re forced to guess again.
According to Rogers, Escape Manor has hosted more than 2,400 guests since its opening this fall. Between the Prison Break room and the Wine Cellar, in which wine is made from ‘human blood,’ he said only 15 per cent of guests have escaped successfully. “They’re both pretty difficult rooms, but they’re both equally as fun and completely different in nature,” Rogers said.
On Feb. 13, Escape Manor will expand its offering with its newest room: The Asylum. In this haunted hospital, a team will attempt to escape from a mad scientist who haunts the building’s basement. They will have 45 minutes to escape or they will become the next human piece in a formaldehyde jar.
Rogers noted that upon opening, he thought Escape Manor would attract “young professionals” in the 18 to 29-year-old demographic. He said however that he’s been surprised at the mass audience Escape Manor has attracted so far.
“We’re all over the map,” Rogers said. “From sixtieth birthdays, to fiftieth birthdays, to groups of friends coming in from out of town, to bachelor and bachelorette parties, to a lot of corporate team building.”
Though the escape rooms are this attraction’s main feature, its lobby offers a cozy, bar/lounge atmosphere. And as Escape Manor will be obtaining a liquor license in the near future, it’s sure to become a late night hotspot with escape attempts being available until 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
But though Escape Manor is the newest thing to do in Ottawa, Rogers said there’s only one rule: “Don’t talk about Escape Manor,” he said with a laugh.
Rogers noted that so far, Escape Manor has appealed to a “pretty competitive” crowd who has yet to divulge any clues to friends or family members. “If they don’t get out, they definitely don’t want to help their friends get out, because then the friends will have bragging rights,” he said. “And if they do get out, they definitely don’t want to help their friends out because they don’t want them to beat their time.” Rogers added that due to the Manor’s competitive nature, spoilers haven’t been an issue at all.
If you’re looking to do something different, Escape Manor is for you. And at $21 CDN per person, it’s an affordable night out. Who knows? You might even make it into the 15 per cent escapee Hall of Fame.