In the holiday season, a time where most of us are saving and spending and trying to make the most of our dollar, it’s worth asking, “Is an escape room worth the price?”
It’s an honest question, and a good one, but difficult to answer. You know what I’m going to say—obviously I think it’s worth it, because I love escape rooms. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be working here. So I’m going to do my best to frame an argument outside of simply fun and funds.
What Am I Paying For?
First, let’s recap what you’re getting when you book an escape room. In most places, you’ll have one hour to solve a series of puzzles and riddles, hidden in either one or multiple rooms. There will be a theme, some kind of adventure or task you’re setting out to achieve—a bank heist, a treasure hunt, a life or death mission in outer space. Keep in mind, this is something you will have to achieve. Your participation is an integral part of the game. You’ll interact with puzzles and brain teasers, led by a game master who will be giving you clues and personally ensuring you have a good experience.
So for $28 per person, that’s one hour of personalized immersion with pictures at the end to prove that you’re the smartest of all your friends.
But now you’re saying, “There are so many other things I could do instead.”
Alright, buckle in, folks. You’re about to get a first class look inside my brain, cause my birthday is coming up and I’ve compiled a handy list of alternatives to an escape room that I personally would consider.
Night at the Movies
I love going to the movies. I love my blockbusters and my franchises, and somehow I still haven’t gotten to the theater to see Thor: Ragnarok. The cheapest place I know to go see a movie is my tiny local theater, which has a $7 special on Tuesdays. Unfortunately, most of my friends refuse to go to this theater for quality reasons. So realistically, you’re looking at $12-$15 dollars depending on the theater you go to. (Then you tack on another $15 at concessions, because I always forget how much popcorn I can realistically eat in two hours.)
So that’s $27-$30 per person to see what I’ve heard is a wonderful film. It’s twice as long, but it keeps me occupied in a completely different way. If the film’s writing is good, I’m definitely immersed in another world for two hours, and yet I’m not actively doing anything. My movie experience isn’t much different than the experience of the person next to me. But we’ve both seen Chris Hemsworth shirtless, which is something.
What’s better than dinner and a show? I’m not sure how many people actually engage in dinner theater these days, but for the resident nerd in your life, I highly recommend Medieval Times. It makes me nostalgic—for my childhood summer vacations, not European feudalism—and it’s yet to disappoint. It’s can be pricey—$62 for an adult ticket. But we have to take into consideration that this includes dinner, where the previous options don’t. So for sake of this argument, we’ll say $31 goes to my food and $31 to my entertainment.
This grants me entrance to the medieval stadium to watch the tournament. The audience is divided into teams to cheer for their respective knights, who compete in everything from sword fighting and jousting to falconry. The show runs about two hours long, and I’m likely to be more engaged than I will be at the movies. I’m asked to applaud with your section and show my support for the performers. Still, this experience won’t be personalized, and it revolves exclusively around watching. But hey, that might be a good thing, since I don’t know anything about sword fighting.
If you’re up for a bigger commitment, maybe you’ll consider going on a few rides and coasters. An any-day ticket to Six Flags Great Adventure runs at about $60—this time not including dinner. But seeing as you usually spend more time in an amusement park, it evens things out. Kind of.
Let’s say I spend about 6 hours at the amusement park, and I go on 10 rides. (This is generous considering my personal aversion to roller coasters and low-adrenaline tolerance, but maybe you have better stamina than I do.) Each ride lasts maybe 3 minutes, which means I’ve spent 30 minutes actively engaged in the experience I’ve paid for. Even if I go on 20 rides, that’s one hour. That’s less than any of the other options above. Now, it could be argued that ‘immersion’ is the park’s atmosphere, but it still stands that while I’m standing on line for BATMAN: The Ride, no one is personally watching to make sure I’m having a good time. The amusement park experience is much more interactive than the movies or the show, but you also spend a smaller percentage of your time doing those interactive things.
This is a popular alternative to escape rooms that I hear about pretty often. I’ve only been to laser tag a few times, personally—that’s because I’m a terrible shot. But in a group with low lighting and killer black lights, it’s definitely an exciting option.
The first laser tag place I found had rates of $10 a game, and a special of $22 for three games. As each game lasts between 15 and 20 minutes, that’s $22 a person for the hour, which is not bad. I get to explore the arena, split up in teams or play solo depending on the game style that my friends and I choose. It’s got good ambience, and definitely requires vigilant interaction. With a game runner to corral players, it seems to be on par with an escape room. It just requires a lot more physical action and hand-eye coordination, which is not my forte.
This is not to say you shouldn’t play laser tag. It’s not to say you shouldn’t go to amusement parks, or to the movies, or to Medieval Times. (If anyone I know is reading this, please remember my birthday is coming up. Hint, hint.)
What it is meant to do is put in perspective why escape rooms cost what they do. You really are getting a highly personalized experience that is almost unparalleled in other areas of recreation. It’s engaging and interesting, and definitely worth considering for the ambitious adventurer. Especially for those of us who get headaches from roller coasters.