America’s Escape Game: Whether or not you’re a fan of Myst, Riven, Zork and other immersive computer games that require intellect to solve a problem, America’s Escape Game on I-Drive is the latest venue for Orlando’s hottest new craze, and it’s a must-try experience.
We went along for a media preview on 9 April and were paired up with two other families (for a total of 9 gamers), shown a quick safety message (don’t take the light switches, outlets, or air conditioning vents off the wall!), then informed a pandemic—The Red Death—was ravaging the country and it was up to us to discover the clues that would lead us to finding the cure, nearly perfected by scientists who succumbed to the disease.
We entered the lobby of Dr. Andrea McClain’s lab and were confronted by two locked elevator doors. The lobby contained gas masks, satchels, locked tool boxes, and a framed map of the lab bolted to the wall. With nothing more than these few elements, we were left to solve the problem and save the world. And we had one hour to do it.
With a great deal of ingenuity and some extremely helpful clues from our Game Master (via intercom), we succeeded in gaining access to both anti-chambers, where we had more puzzles to solve, more locks to open, and about a billion test-tube vials to categorise, and, within minutes, the drive of a common cause turned strangers into team-mates determined to win.
Did we find the cure? Almost. With a lot of ‘thinking outside the box’ and a massive amount of teamwork, we were in the final stages when time ran out. But we were comforted by the knowledge that only 20-25% of those who attempt the game succeed. Was it worth it anyway? Without question! Will we go back to try another game? Absolutely! Have we recovered from the adrenaline rush yet? Not quite!
Along with Pandemic, there are two other gaming options. Lost Tomb of Monthu immerses players in the heart of a pyramid to discover a secret tomb, while Crisis at 1600 pits players against the clock in a race to stop a paramilitary group who have taken over the White House and launched a series of missiles which can only be neutralised by gaining access to the Oval Office.
We’ll give you a little hint that will make your efforts much more successful: That whole “work as a team” concept your Game Master keeps mentioning? They really mean it!
Leonardo Da Vinci Exhibit: This world-travelling exhibit will only spend 14-15 months in Orlando, but if you’re here in time it’s a delightful insight into the man and his machinery (not to mention his art). Along with exact replicas of the master’s most famous works, including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, are scale models of Da Vinci’s inventions, many of which were prototypes for machines we still use today. The display is located inside the CSI: The Experience building on I-Drive.
Consumed by Art: We’re reluctant to use the term “hidden gem”, so let’s just say this one is a “hidden laugh”. Consumed by Art, located upstairs from the CSI Experience, is about as quirky as it gets, but in a good way. It’s a simple concept: make some giant 3-D art, put it up on the wall, and let visitors with cameras loose to interact with it. Sounds weird, right? But once you see the backdrops on offer, we dare you not to pose at every one of them (okay, maybe not the giant spider…) and have a good laugh doing it.
What kind of backdrops does the exhibit have? First, there’s a giant shark with its mouth wide open (don’t be afraid to lie down on the floor when you take a photo with this one; you won’t be the first!). Then there’s an ice-cream loving giraffe, a charging T-rex, a mermaid, a pair of massive angel wings, and a slightly unnerving tiger, among others. Really want to go all out? Do what one patron did and stand on your head in front of the parrot backdrop so the birds look like they’re sitting on your feet.
The attraction is $10 per person if you visit it as a stand-alone, but spring for the CSI Experience and/or the Da Vinci exhibit and Consumed by Art is only $5. When you consider what you’ll spend on a single photo in any of the theme parks, then balance it out against the unlimited number of photos allowed at the exhibit, you’re talking serious value for money. The fun you and your family will have coming up with creative poses is priceless, so set your inhibitions aside and go wild!
McFaddens: Brand new to the I-Drive scene is this Irish-inspired pub (if Irish pubs were enormous!) with a distinctly American twist (Irish Nachos, anyone?). With the Orlando Eye as its near neighbor, McFadden’s offers family-friendly dining from 4pm, growing increasingly high-energy (read: raucous!) as the evening wears on.
Off Kilter, formerly of Epcot’s Canada pavilion at Walt Disney World, entertained us at McFadden’s VIP night and we’re quietly waiting and watching to see if this long-time fan favourite might become a regular part of the McFadden’s scene.
Pirates Cove mini-golf: Okay, so Pirates Cove isn’t new to I-Drive, but you could be forgiven for thinking it is after a major make-over added a pirate village, shipwrecks, and some highly elaborate visuals to this long-standing attraction. Not content with being just another themed mini-golf center, Pirates Cove now has the look of a miniature theme park, with details you’ll swear came straight from the Islands of Adventure book of design.
The new “pirates village” includes a bakery, blacksmith shop, and the rather dubious Rotten Head pub, each with a resident caretaker going about their business. It’s all for show, but the effect is terrific, and a reminder that nothing in Orlando is without “that something extra” if it’s going to last.
There are more enhancements coming to Pirates Cove, including the sounds of pirate battles and ‘fire’ effects that riders on the nearby Orlando Eye will be able to see. Drop by as you’re strolling along I-Drive, take advantage of some wonderful photo ops (there’s even a Medieval pillory you can pose in), and play a round or two of mini-golf at the most elaborate course in town.