Tag: Escape room

Posts that discuss escape rooms that we have played while travelling around the world.

Stansted shocker

Departure airport: London Stansted
Destination airport: Václav Havel, Prague
Airline: Ryanair

There is something seriously wrong at Stansted. Security is actually working quickly and effectively and we both clear the scanners in under 15 minutes – even after Lin forgot to remove her toiletries from her bag and had to undergo the usual ‘enhanced’ check.

Ryanair’s advice to arrive three hours before flight time turns out to be utter nonsense. Departures is busy, but nowhere as bad as our previous visit. We have no problem finding a bench to sit on this time, and munch a £4.99 WH Smith meal deal for breakfast.

The gate experience is the usual Ryanair farce. The “priority” queue is longer than the regular queue – and that’s before you count the non-priority travellers taking the piss. Fortunately the process is relatively smooth and we leave just a few minutes late (airport incompetence rather than Ryanair’s).

Arriving at Prague Airport, the post-Brexit passport queue is quick and efficient – absolutely no different to the pre-Brexit process (I know – I have always queued because I have always collected passport stamps). The immigration officer even sends me away from the desk to call other passengers forward while he processes my passport.

Top tip: The Airport Express bus (route AE) leaves from directly outside the terminal and costs 100CZK (£3.45) per adult – buy your ticket from the driver. It takes you directly to the main railway (Praha hlavní nádraží) station in the city and the journey takes about 40 minutes.

When visiting Prague we have established something of a ritual – we stop at the Café Trinity at the bottom of St Wenceslas Square for a beer to break up the walk to our hotel. But after sitting on the terrace for five minutes and being unable to get service (or find out if they even sell beer any more), we decamp to the Jan Becher bar/restaurant instead.

Beer drunk, we continue our walk down to Hotel U Zlatého Stromu which will be our base for the next four nights. As we approach, I have two major concerns. First, the hotel is located on the main route between Prague’s famous astronomical clock and the Charles Bridge, meaning there are thousands of tourists passing our front door all day and all night. Second, there is a big sign advertising a nightclub inside our building – and it’s far bigger than the one for the hotel.

Check-in is quick and we are allowed into our room a little early. The room is decorated in a similar style to the other Bauer Hotels in the city, which is nice (more about them tomorrow). I’m pleased to see that our room is at the back of the hotel, away from the noise of the street – but it is also directly above the nightclub which I can see out the window.

Feeling quite hungry we head out for some food, eventually arriving at a place on Melantrichova that specialises in “Prague ham”. Linda and I both opt for the ham and mashed potato – and the waiter immediately forgets our order (he admits as much after the first 30 minutes of waiting). Eventually the food arrives and it is actually pretty decent, but the poor service detracts from our experience.

Afterwards, we head off for our first escape game of the trip – Moriarty’s Phantom Trap, operated by Questerland. Rated 10/10 difficulty, this is a hard room, particularly when there are only two of you. The first hour passes quickly and we expect to be ejected at any moment. However, we struggle on with the tasks, making very slow progress.

Eventually after 109 minutes, the games master helps us solve the final puzzle and we are free. We feel slightly embarrassed, but the young man running the room tells us that larger groups often take well over two hours before giving up entirely. (Prices from 1290 CZK / £44 GBP – not bad value if you’re allowed to keep going as we were).

A short tram ride and walk back to the hotel and it’s time to call it a night.

Bonus tips:

  • The Hotel U Zlatého Stromu is not air conditioned – all you get is a fan which is hidden in the wardrobe.
  • There is no lift at the hotel and your room will be on the second floor or higher (reception is on the first).
  • The reception desk is not staffed after 7pm in the evening.
  • You will be given two keys at check-in – one for your room and a second for the iron gate used to keep nightclub revellers out of the hotel after 7pm.
  • There are never enough plug sockets at Bauer Hotels properties – you will probably need to unplug a lamp or the TV. I strongly recommend packing a socket doubler or 4-gang power strip as well as your travel adapter.
  • The WiFi is rubbish. If you want to stream a movie, it has to be done during the day because there simply isn’t enough bandwidth to support all the guests at night.
  • Taxis from Prague airport cost £20/€27+ if you really can’t bring yourself to travel on the bus.

Climbing a mountain

Having seen most of Prague’s main sights on previous visits, we’re in no real hurry to ‘do’ anything. After breakfast we decide to take a trip up to the Petrin Gardens and have a look at the mirror maze.

We walk up to the Staromestká tram stop, catching the number 15 across to Újezd. There is a long queue at the funicular station and Linda decides we should walk to the top of the (large) hill – even though the queue is actually for tickets (and we already have one).

Top tip: Your public transport tickets are valid for the funicular too. A 24 or 72 hour ticket will not break the bank and will save time and hassle as you move around the city.

Bonus tip: Your public transport ticket is not valid for the AE airport express bus.

We make several stops on the way up the hill, including taking a short detour to find a geocache. The view is absolutely spectacular:

Reaching the top, we realise that the mirror maze is not free – and that we don’t actually want to visit all that much anyway. Instead we stop for a beer at the Petrin lookout tower and then head back down the hill – this time using the funicular.

Afterwards we head over to The Chamber to play their Haunted House escape game. We had tried to book this room on our previous trip to Prague in February, but never quite made it, so we’re looking forward to it. (Prices from 1590 CZK / £55 GBP).

The room is extremely well put together, has some intriguing and clever puzzles and maintains a serious sense of dread throughout. This time we do manage to escape within the 60 minute time limit and have a really good laugh while being slightly on edge.

Going back into the old town, we stop at the Good Food trdelnik shop next door to the Hotel U Zlatého Stromu. Yes, we know that chimney cakes are not a traditional Czech dish, but we need a snack and they look cool. Linda opts for The Devil, black yoghurt poured into a black chimney. I choose the apple strudel variant (caramelised apples, walnuts topped with whipped cream). They are both very good.

Later that evening we go all out with a three course meal at Deer, another Bauer Hotel property. Linda starts with fish and I choose the sampler, which includes a small amount of all the starters. Too late I remember that I hate goats cheese. and there’s a big dollop of it on my plate. The duck pâté tastes like pure butter and the steak tartare is unmemorable. Presentation of all the dishes is incredible though, and the bread rolls with pink butter is a nice touch.

Top tip: If you’re staying at a Bauer Hotel property, reception should be able to make you a table booking at Deer, even if the restaurant is busy.

For main course, Lin has the sea bream because she enjoyed so much during our last visit in February. This time I go for the deer saddle and dumplings. There’s plenty of flavour but my main course is cold. For dessert, Lin selects the ice cream, including a scoop of sea buckthorn gelato; it’s unusual but very tasty and a good partner for the other flavours (mascarpone and blueberry).

Then it’s back to the hotel, another day done. But just as we’re dropping off to sleep, I’m jolted awake by the weirdest creaking noise – there’s someone in our room! We lie awake, waiting to see who it is and what they want.

Creak… creak… creak.

Eventually we realise the noise is coming from the floor above. That pretty painted ceiling can be a little creepy when your upstairs neighbour is walking around late at night.

I guess that’s what happens when you visit a haunted escape room and watch a horror movie on the same day.

Escape, Café, Home

It’s our last day in town so we plan one last escape room. This time it’s The Alchemist’s Chamber, run by MindMaze. Having played two of their rooms previously, we expect this one to be good. (Prices from 1490 CZK / £51 GBP).

We’re not disappointed either. The puzzles are suitably challenging and inventive, with some nice variations that we’ve not encountered before. After a couple of errors, we do eventually manage to get free – with less than four minutes to spare. We did struggle with one puzzle in particular because we’re both short!

Making our way back to the hotel to collect our suitcases, we stop for lunch at the Hard Rock Café – another of our travelling traditions. The menu has expanded slightly since our last visit, so I select the “local legend” burger which is exactly as expected. Lin tries one of the Kiss-themed cocktails and declares it good – so she has a second.

With food done, it’s time for an epic yomp, first to the hotel, then back to the main railway station to pick up the Airport Express bus. Lin sets a punishing pace, but we make the 6pm bus with time to spare.

Top tip: The Prague Airport Express (AE) leaves every 30 minutes. You can find the correct bus stop by entering the main train station and following the signs that show a bus and an aeroplane. The bus departs from the upper level. A queue of travellers with suitcases will tell you you have arrived at the right stop.

At Prague Airport we clear immigration in a matter of seconds – and again we have arrived too early. Some kind of screw-up at Stansted means that our flight will be about 25 minutes late, so we sit in one of the corridors waiting.

Prague Airport has a slightly unusual set-up where you don’t pass through security until you reach your gate. I actually quite like this, because it means you’re not trying to clear security with the whole airport – just the other people on your plane. This tends to be far quicker and painless than the Stansted approach.

Once at our gate, the “Priority” queue is again longer than the regular one. But as another traveller points out, we have to get on a bus out to the plane, so queueing is pointless anyway. And he’s right.

Our flight departs slightly late (as expected) and is again, uneventful. Back at Stansted passport control is unusually efficient – even the ePassport gates seem to be working – so queues are weirdly fast. Strange things are afoot at what I once called ‘The World’s Worst Airport’.

Final thoughts

Thanks to its excellent transport links, Prague is a great choice for attending concerts abroad. Ticket prices are often lower than the same gigs in the UK too, as we discovered when we caught Def Leppard at the O2 Arena back in 2019.

It’s also worth noting that Prague is not as cheap as it once was (no more £0.12 beers). Food, drink and accommodation prices are shooting up. Clearly some of the rises are caused by the global ‘cost of living crisis’ that saw Czech inflation top 11% back in February, but it appears that Prague no longer sees itself as a budget backpacker destination either.

This is also the first time we have not visited The Black Angels Bar while in Prague. As much as we love their cocktails, we were disappointed by our last visit so we gave it a miss this time round. Hopefully, they get back to the standard of service and chat that saw them ranked as one of the top 10 hotel bars in the world soon.

Who is this trip for?

  • Americans apparently – they seem to be everywhere.
  • Beer lovers.
  • Stoners. Prague has sold its soul to hash culture, which is a great shame.
  • Medieval sightseers – most of the buildings are older than the USA.

Next stop, Southampton…

Down South again

Departure port: Southampton
Destinations: Hamburg, Zeebrugge, Rotterdam, Le Havre
Cruise Line: MSC

This time we’re doing something different and trying MSC Cruises. The surprisingly low fares, coupled with the fact that they are the only operator still running cruises out of the UK at this time of year makes MSC the obvious choice for a short break.

MSC ships leave Southampton later in the evening, so there’s no need to stay in town the night before. Instead we take a leisurely daytime drive down without any major headaches.

Once in town we had planned to stop for lunch in the Westquay Shopping Centre. As we head up from the carpark, I remember there’s an escape room across the road, so we forget about lunch and head over to Locked in a Room instead. The venue is deserted and we are able to walk straight in. We choose Parallax which turns out to be the hardest room of the two on offer but we do manage to escape with six minutes to spare. The theming is great and the games masters really get into character – we have a great time (much better than a KFC).

Top tip: Look under everything.

Afterwards we stop for a Krispy Kreme donut and drive to the port (after much hassle trying to pay for parking). MSC sail from the Horizon Terminal which would be an easy walk from the city centre.

Our first sighting of the MSC Virtuosa moored in Southampton
First ‘glimpse’ of the MSC Virtuosa

Parking is right outside the terminal which is great. The journey through the terminal is smooth and hassle-free – none of the grief we have come to expect when sailing Princess Cruises. No queueing, no shoving, no complaining – incredible.

Once onboard, the sheer size of the ship becomes apparent. With a max passenger capacity of 6334 (+ crew), this place is enormous. There’s plenty of glitz and shiny stuff, much to Linda’s excitement.

Top tip: MSC offer a status match program, so if you’ve achieved status on another line, use the form here to apply for the MSC equivalent. Our Platinum Captain’s Circle status on Princess equates to ‘Gold’ level on MSC.

The cabin stateroom itself is nice, although the MSC experience lacks much of the polish we have come to associate with Princess. This is particularly true when it comes to tannoy announcements which are given in five or six languages, dragging on for several minutes at a time.

That said, we’re looking forward to our latest adventure…

No Escape

It’s been a busy year, so we haven’t written up Cruise #9 or Kraków yet. Maybe we will get round to it. One day. Perhaps.

Anyway, we’re off to Southampton again for our ninth Princess cruise, visiting Iceland and Greenland (and two lesser ports) over the next sixteen nights. The drive down was unremarkable although we took our chances at the Dartford Crossing – thankfully it paid off, saving us at least an hour going the other way on a heavily congested M25.

Once in Southampton, we had planned to play an escape room and have some dinner before heading back to our hotel. Turns out No Escape rooms are half price on Tuesday night in Southampton, so nothing was available. Not even in Portsmouth, a little further down the coast.

Top tip: No Escape rooms are half price in Southampton on a Tuesday night, so you can grab a bargain. Just don’t forget to book in advance.

Instead we had dinner at the local German Doner Kebab outlet (nothing special, but cheap and reliable) and a quick pint in the Slug & Lettuce (nothing special, full stop).

It’s a bit of a schlep across town to the Holiday Inn Express Southampton and I am mildly concerned about getting a taxi to the docks tomorrow. However, we eventually find the hotel opposite the Rose Bowl, Hampshire County Cricket Club’s ground.

Once past reception, the hotel is pretty average, not unlike a Travelodge. It is also heaving.

Top tip: The Holiday Inn Express Southampton offers good value cruise parking deals. Expect to pay approx £250 for a one night stay, breakfast, 14 days parking and taxis to and from the port. Considering the rack rate is £300 per night, this is a bargain.

The decor is a little dated and the hotel has a very Travelodge feel, but we’re only here for the night, so it doesn’t matter too much.

Tenders in the Mist (Falmouth)

Our first port of call is Falmouth, just a little way along the coast from Southampton. Despite its diminutive size (in terms of Princess Cruises) our ship is too big to dock in the harbour proper, so this will be a tender port. In his early morning address, the captain advises us that the transfer will take about 45 minutes, which seems like an extraordinarily long time compared to other ports.

Top tip: Tenders operate on a ticket basis – collect yours from the Crooners Bar on Deck 7, then hang around in the central atrium area until your number is called. Tender embarkation takes place on deck 4, Gala.

Once washed, dressed and breakfasted, we head down to the tender embarkation point and onto the small boat which will take us into town. The journey is quite long, weaving around various sailboats and naval transport ships. Eventually we are deposited at a dock where buses are waiting to take us into the centre of town proper.

With no definite plan about what to see or do, we tap up one of the local escape rooms. Located on the main tourist road, Market Street, Eureka Escape is able to fit us in, although we do have to book by phone.

We stop into the Prince of Wales across the road for a quick beer first. Neither the pub nor ale is particularly impressive, but it does seem to delight the American tourists from our cruise.

Beer drunk, we head back to Eureka Escape to try out the Nocturnal Alchemist game. It’s a multi-room affair with some nifty little puzzles, searching for various chemicals and ingredients – along with the key to the exit. We complete the escape room with just over 3 minutes to spare which is a relief. The gamesmaster claims that although one of their oldest rooms, the Nocturnal Alchemist is also one of their hardest. We did ask for five clues, but this is well below the twelve average – particularly impressive for a team of two apparently.

Was it worth visiting? Absolutely. There are some good, tricky puzzles to be solved here.

Market Street, Falmouth

Afterwards I pick up a Cornish pasty from Rowe’s Bakers to eat on the walk back to the port. It is delicious – and face-meltingly hot.

Top tip: Port transfer buses are free and run from the dock to the Maritime Car Park. Simply follow the road straight ahead to get to the centre of the town.

At the port, we are serenaded by a Cornish men’s choir which is nice and entertaining. There is something very special about a group of men’s voices in song.

On every trip we take, something unusual happens. One event that will stick in our memories for years to come. This has ranged from meeting the presidents of several countries to gatecrashing an international footballer’s funeral. But today it was getting lost on a tender.

As we left Falmouth dock, we quickly became engulfed by fog, severely limiting visibility. Not a problem in the age of radar – or so you would think. After 45 minutes or so, we noticed that our tender driver could not find the Island Princess – despite being one of the largest vessels for miles around. And so we looped and circled for another twenty minutes or so while the bridge issued instructions via radio.

Eventually the Island Princess loomed out of the mist and we were able to disembark. Some people were worried, some people were angry. Linda and I were just greatly amused; ‘This is that memorable thing, isn’t it?‘ Linda laughed. At least we didn’t end up gatecrashing a funeral this time.

Twilight Manor escape room, Cluetopia Ipswich

What’s the best way to celebrate Mother’s Day? Chocolates? Breakfast in bed? Flowers? Meal out? No. It’s a trip to Twilight Manor.

As Linda’s recovery from her hip replacement operation continues apace, we decided to have a family day out to try a new escape room – Twilight Manor. Hosted by Cluetopia, this is a ‘haunted house’ style room housed in an old building down near Ipswich Marina.

From the blurb:

You managed to buy Twilight Manor at a fraction of its true cost. You knew it needed some work. However, you didn’t know it was HAUNTED! A local urban legend states the only way to rid the house of its unwanted guests is to find the ancient Talisman, hidden somewhere deep within the manor. No one who has entered has survived longer than an hour. Can you find the Talisman and rid the Manor of its nasty spirits?

Obviously I can’t say much about the specifics, but this is a quite large, multi-room affair. There is a good mix of simple and difficult puzzles and many of them require good teamwork and timing to solve.

The theming itself isn’t too bad and the room is clean and well-maintained. The horror theme means that you will encounter some blood and body parts, but they are relatively tame compared to what you encounter on the European mainland!

Twilight Manor is reputed to be one of the hardest rooms at Cluetopia Ipswich so less experienced teams may want to take a fourth member (you can have up to eight).

There are also a few ‘scary’ moments but I was so focused on the puzzles I missed them all!

Did we escape? Yes
Did we have fun? Yes
Mobility rating: 2.5 out of 5 (there are a few stairs in this multi-room game)
Price: £72.00
Would we recommend? Yes
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Linda and I have done a few rooms at another Cluetopia location (Clacton on Sea) and enjoyed them both. The games masters are always very friendly and helpful and take great pride in doing a good job for the players.

Other important Twilight Manor stats
Number of players: 3
Time limit: 60 minutes
Time remaining: 3 minutes
Number of clues: 1
Live actors: No
Cluetopia difficulty rating: 4 out of 5

It’s also worth noting that there is no parking at the Cluetopia escape rooms, although there are two car parks nearby. Just be warned that it’s not cheap (£3.20 for two hours).

The Illusionist escape room, Escape Basildon

Unusually we managed to catch both boys at home and in a good mood, so we arranged another family trip – The Illusionist escape room hosted by Escape Basildon. Because of the relatively short notice, we had to book by phone (not a problem) and pay over the phone (big problem).

The escape room itself is located close to the pedestrianised city centre of Basildon opposite one of the more run-down looking buildings. Once inside however, the shop itself is fine, looking very much like any of the other games arenas we have visited over the years. 

After a shortened introduction and safety briefing, we were led into the room and given an analogue countdown clock and the background story: 

The curtains close, the cheering stops, yet you still await the appearance of the Illusionist. Having volunteered to take part in the grand finale it turns out there is a more sinister edge to the Magicians final trick. In order to escape you will need to defeat the magical challenges ahead!

Then we were set loose. 

It took us a little while to get into gear but once the first few puzzles were solved, we found our groove. There are quite a few padlocks in this particular game, some easier than others. On the few occasions we did get stuck, it was usually down to miscommunication rather than the difficulty of the puzzle itself. 

Experienced gamers will recognise many of the puzzle principles used in The Illusionist. But we still had fun and enjoyed the challenge, escaping from the room in just 45 minutes. The theming and condition of the room is also pretty good.

A picture of the family inside The Illusionist escape room in Basildon
As you can see, we had 15 minutes left on the clock

With four people playing, the room did feel a bit cramped at times. With six (max capacity) I can see fellow players becoming a hindrance – especially if one of you is less mobile than the others. There is no crawling, climbing or uneven floors in this room, which makes it relatively accessible.

Back in the Escape Basildon foyer, there are plenty of comfortable seats and a collection of 80s style arcade games. There is also a milkshake bar selling Shakeaway style drinks which is pretty cool.

There are two other rooms to play at Escape Basildon (a horror room and a wizard-themed room) which we may come back and play at some point in the future.

Did we escape? Yes
Did we have fun? Yes
Mobility rating: 4.5 out of 5 (the whole game operates in one room on one level)
Price: £88.00
Would we recommend? Yes
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Other important stats for The Illusionist escape room:

Number of players: 4
Time limit: 60 minutes
Time remaining: 15 minutes
Number of clues: 0
Live actors: No
Escape Basildon difficulty rating: 4 out of 5

It’s worth noting that there is no parking at the Escape Basildon escape rooms, although there are plenty of car parks nearby. After 6pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays, it costs just £0.75 to park. There is no free parking for Blue Badge holders.

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