Universal Orlando has a long and frustrating relationship with the word "escape."
When Universal Studios Florida expanded by adding Islands of Adventure and CityWalk in 1999, some higher-up decided that the best possible brand that Universal could use for its Orlando property would be "Universal Studios Escape." I get what they were going for - that Universal's two theme parks and retail district would provide an escape from ordinary life and, in a dig at Disney, from "ordinary" vacations.
But the brand fell flat and soon Universal came to its senses and renamed the property the much more intuitive "Universal Orlando Resort."
Now, the E-word is back at Universal Orlando, this time in the name of the new "Universal's Great Movie Escape." The "Great Movie" provide another subtle dig at Disney, which years ago closed its beloved "Great Movie Ride" at Disney's Hollywood Studios. And the "Escape?" Well, that's supposed to reference escape rooms, but again, I don't think that Universal's intended use of "escape" quite reflects what the resort actually is offering.
Universal's Great Movie Escape offers two separately-priced, one-hour adventures: one themed to Back to the Future and the other to Jurassic World. I admitted in my preview for Universal's Great Movie Escape that I was an escape room rookie, but what I found in the new attraction on Universal Orlando's CityWalk did not feel like the experience that escape room fans have described to me.
In both the Back to the Future and Jurassic World experiences, you play the hero, not a victim. You are charged with saving lives rather than just finding a way out of your prescribed predicament. Only in the Jurassic World experience do you feel anything close to peril. Yes, you might call these escape rooms, but a host at the attraction better described them as "immersive walk-through puzzle experiences."
So if the use of "Escape" in this title turns off dedicated escape room fans who find this experience too different while turning away those who want no part of a traditional escape room experience, yet another rebrand might be in order. (But the "Great Movie" part surely will remain so long as it twists the guts of enough Walt Disney World fans.)
Let's forget the semantics and get to the experience, however.
Universal has created a comfy art-deco-inspired lobby for the Great Movie Escape, one designed to make you feel like you have walked into the Golden Age of Hollywood. A full bar greets you on each level of the two-story experience, serving beer on tap and several themed cocktails, including a "Gigawatt Glow" (New Amsterdam Vodka, Blue Curacao, lime juice, and Sprite for $14) and a "Raptor Bite" (El Jimador Blanco Tequila, mango juice, Triple Sec, lime juice, Hella Smoked Chili Bitters, and jalapeno for $14.50).
They do ask that you finish your drinks before entering the experience, however. Universal's safety-spiel pre-show continues by noting that you won't need to use force to pull or pry anything in the rooms. Nor will you need climb to reach anything. And, in a "I wish I had been in the planning room when someone suggested this" moment, the spiel includes an admonishment against digging while in any of the rooms. Do people actually bring shovels to these things?
Neither of these adventures is a one-room experience. Once finished with the safety spiel, you proceed through about eight themed rooms, with a character guide directing you via video screen or audio speaker in each. Each group can include up to eight people, with four groups going through an experience at the same time. That means Universal has to employ some nifty timing tricks to keep any of the groups from bumping into another.
The line-up of puzzles in each room adjusts to keep you on pace. You do not need any advance knowledge of Back to the Future or Jurassic World to solve the puzzles, but fans of each series will enjoy the multiple references that Universal has included throughout the experiences. Each one creates a convincing immersive environment that makes you feel like you have entered the franchise's universe.
To that end, the tech used in the Back to the Future puzzles reflects the time period of the room. A stop in the 1890s looks and works different than one in the 1950s, or set in the 1980s, or one from 2015 - as they should.
Back to the Future also includes a welcome call-back to the late, great Back to the Future: The Ride by beginning with a trip to Doc Brown's Institute for Future Technology, where Biff is once again up his old shenanigans of stealing Doc Brown's tech. On the Jurassic World side, we're new hires - geneticists working for Dr. Henry Wu. Of course, perhaps since this is the sort of place where no one bothered to check our academic credentials before hiring us, something goes terribly wrong, and we are called into action to help save the day.
My assigned group of six found some puzzles quick to solve, while I am sure that Universal's system took mercy and simply kicked us out into the next room after we wasted enough time flailing about on others. Sensitive visitors should opt for the Back to the Future side, to avoid the jump scare(s) in Jurassic World. The Back to the Future side does include small strobe lights in fog ("it smells just like Horror Nights!") in between rooms, however.
Ultimately, it's all fun and a great bonding experience for those in the room. If you're up for spending $50+ for one hour immersed as an active participant in the world of Back to the Future or Jurassic World, then Universal's Great Movie Escape delivers what you've been looking for - no matter what it is called.
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Tickets for Universal's Great Movie Escape are $49.99 plus tax per person before 6pm and $59.99 after. A private room experience for up to eight participants is $300 plus tax before 6pm and $360 in the evenings.
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