Explore Universal Orlando Resort’s First-Ever Escape Room Experience

Universal’s Great Movie Escape, housed inside an art deco theater-inspired venue and located at Universal CityWalk at the Universal Orlando Resort, is a next-level escape room experience that invites guests to solve their way through challenges based in the worlds of two of the biggest film franchises in history. Guests of all ages can participate in either or both of the experiences – Jurassic World: Escape and Back to the Future: OUTATIME – starting at $49.99 per person (plus tax) for up to six guests per group, and to keep things interesting, the eight detailed environments you’ll experience in each will have randomized solutions and are designed to adjust based on skill level.

Even if you think you know escape rooms, this experience has the added enhancement of movie magic, with Universal’s entertainment team working with Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment, the filmmakers, and even Doc Brown himself, aka Christopher Lloyd, to create original storylines within the worlds of those fan-favorite films. Whether you decide to become a new geneticist at a secret lab on Isla Nublar to experience the dinosaurs of Jurassic World firsthand, or you travel through time to save the past and future from Back to the Future antagonist Biff, you’ll have an epic adventure.

To learn more about the experience, Crumpa got the opportunity to chat with Nathan Stevenson, Show Director for Universal Orlando Resort’s Creative Development Group, who filled us in on all the details. If you’re a local who’s thinking of checking it out, or you’ll be making a theme park trip soon, you can check out what he had to say about how the escape rooms came about, the dream of getting to play in these much-beloved franchises, what guests can expect the experiences to be like, why it was important to create experiences that would work for all ages and skill levels, how you can hang out in the beautiful art deco lobby and partake in the venues two bars that offer themed specialty drinks, and that they’re always juggling various projects in different stages of development.

Image via Universal Studios

Crumpa: So, why an escape room experience, and why now? What made it something that you wanted to bring to the Universal Orlando Resort and put your stamp on it?

NATHAN STEVENSON: Right from the beginning, we set out to do something really unique with escape rooms. We thought, if we’re gonna do something, and we’re gonna do this, we want it to be totally different than anything anybody’s ever seen before and very next level. And then, we partnered with two of the most iconic brands of all time, Back to the Future and Jurassic World. And in doing so, we were like, “Okay, now we also wanna bring these brands to life in a way that no one’s ever seen before.” That really lent itself to the escape room idea. Universal is awesome at immersing people into these properties and into these brands, but usually you’re flying through it, or you’re just on the outside looking at it. You’re experiencing it, but you’re not a part of it, really. And so, this took us to a next level immersion experience. They let us write our own story that runs in tandem with their canon and works along with their canon. We worked hand in hand with the filmmakers to really make it authentic, but what was cool there is that we were able to weave the story into the gameplay. So, when you’re in these really immersive environments, it feels like you’re in the movie, and you’re actually interacting with the movie. It went hand in hand with the escape room idea, and it really pushed it forward once we brought these folks on board.

On a personal level, what’s it like for you to have a hand in a project like this, where you get to write new scripts, write characters, and get to play in these worlds? How much fun is that?

STEVENSON: Oh, man, it was a dream. We have great partners over at Universal Pictures, and we worked with them and Amblin Entertainment. Everything went straight, all the way up to the filmmakers. We had a really good relationship with them, which is just a dream. Talk about dream career moments, Christopher Lloyd came back to reprise his role as Doc Brown, and it was just amazing and incredible to hear him read those lines, and to be able to write those lines and to write a new story. They really let us go for it. Both of these have a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s a very immersive story, and that’s something that’s very unique about these, as opposed to other escape rooms. Being able to work with these iconic brands, that are two of my favorite franchises of all time and two of my favorite trilogies of all time, and to be able to actually write stuff that gets to be in that, it just blew my mind. What a cool opportunity.

With Universal, you have some great movies to choose from. Was it always just immediately Back to the Future and Jurassic World that you knew you had to do for this? Did you talk about any others?

STEVENSON: These obviously are two of the most iconic brands of all time. You can’t say Back to the Future and Jurassic World, and have anybody not understand or know what you’re talking about, so that was obvious. What’s also very cool about these two brands is that they’re very different, so they made for very different experiences, which we really liked. In Jurassic World, you’re an engine and you’re in that world, so it’s very techy and very computer based, with a lot of computer-based challenges, and things like that. Whereas the challenges and the scenic with Back to the Future is very prop-based with decor out of those scenes that we know from the film. They both have a very different feel with a very different style of gameplay. Those two brands really helped us make two very uniquely different experiences.

Image via Universal Studios

It’s cool because, even if you don’t know what you’re going to experience by walking into this, you know what those movies are.

STEVENSON: Yeah. We wanted to make an experience that was appealing to somebody who’s not really into escape rooms that much, all the way up to people who have done hundreds of escape rooms in the past. Telling an immersive story is part of that because, no matter what level of gameplay you’re at, or what level of challenge you’re used to doing, you’re gonna have fun. You’re still gonna get that immersive story, and it’s still gonna move you through. But then, we added all these unique things to make the challenges more exciting and more fun, and we randomize all the stuff in every room, so there’s a big replay-ability factor when you come back. You’re never gonna see the same answers twice. We also have different stages in each of our challenges. The more stages you unlock, the more story you unlock, which is really fun. That’s what makes them replay-able. Being able to immerse people in these brands, everybody that comes expects a certain level of immersion. No matter what their level of experience with this escape room environment, they’re gonna have a great time.

It definitely makes sense to build in the randomization, so that guests do want to come back and have another experience.

STEVENSON: Yeah, we work with experts in the industry and we say, “What’s cutting edge? What’s new? What don’t people do? What would be unique for us to do?” And that was one of those big things. We wanted there to be replay-ability and different stages that you can unlock within the experience and within these challenges. What’s neat is, in some of the areas, if you unlock enough stages, you’ll open a whole new challenge that somebody else might not even get, if they didn’t go as fast or they didn’t get there. Every time you come through, you’re gonna get a completely different experience than you got before.

What happens, if guests fail at a challenge?

STEVENSON: We’re not really built that way. It’s stage-based. The real challenge is to get through as many stages as you can. We’ll have this chart that’ll tell you, you reached this stage, and you reached this stage, so this is your title for completing that many. The immersive story that you’re in moves you along, no matter what. So, in each area that you’re in, you wanna try to push as fast as you can to get to as many stages as you can. But no matter how many stages you get to, from one all the way up to seven or eight, or whatever is in that particular room, the story is gonna take over at the end of each room and take you into the next space. That being said, depending on how many stages you unlock, you might get a little bit different story than somebody else would get, but the overarching story is gonna take you through the experience, no matter what.

Image via Universal Studios

I also think it’s important that you give people an out, if they feel they need it, and you let them exit the game. Why did you feel like it was important to allow for that? Does it feel like it eases people’s nerves a little bit, to know there’s an out, even if they don’t take it?

STEVENSON: Yeah, we always wanna give everybody an option to feel comfortable, in every situation. That goes back to being Universal Studios and always just trying to think of everything being as accessible as possible and making sure that everybody feels as comfortable as possible. So, that goes hand in hand with that.

I absolutely love the art deco style and this theater-inspired venue. It’s beautiful to look at. What made that the right way to present this experience? I just want to hang out there all day.

STEVENSON: Please do. You don’t actually have to buy a ticket to come hang out in the lobby. There are two separate bars. We have specialty drinks. There’s trivia playing on the screen. There’s lots to do. It’s a really cool place to hang out. We went with that 1920s art deco feel because Universal Pictures has this really cool history of interactivity with people. If you go all the way back to Carl Laemmle, who founded Universal Pictures and Universal Studios, and it was first called Universal City, he immediately started with something cutting edge because back then, we weren’t into the talkie era yet. It didn’t really matter if people were talking on set, so he built these huge bleachers, and he would let people come sit in them and actually interact with the actors that were being filmed. While they were filming the movies, they really were truly part of the film. If they went to watch the film later, they could be like, “Hey, I was right over there on the side of that, and I made that person do that thing.” From the very beginning, it was this cutting edge interactivity. So, we thought, “Well, that’s what we’re doing.” This is a whole new level, not only of immersion, but interactivity with our guests, so it just made sense to say, “Let’s celebrate the history of Universal Pictures and this really awesome way that we’ve interacted with guests, from the first films that ever came out to the talkies to color pictures, and then to Universal Studios. So, that’s really what the lobby is all about. It’s paying homage to those early days of Universal Pictures. The history of Universal Pictures is a really rich history of really unique interactivity with the people that are involved with us.

With something like this experience, you’re going to have people who have never done anything like this before, and you’re going to have people who are very experienced with this sort of thing. What is it like to figure out that balance of everything, to make an experience for all ages and all experience levels, and that appeals to everyone?

STEVENSON: We really did have to think outside the box on this because we wanted it to be totally unique to the industry and totally different than anything anybody’s ever seen. We want to take these brands and we want guests to experience them in a way that no one ever has. We want kids to come in here and have just as much fun as adults, and we want people who love escape rooms to come in and have just as much fun as people who’ve never done the escape rooms. There were a lot of parameters that we thought through, and we did a lot of working through that on paper. We have an incredible team, over here at Art & Design, and we also partnered with industry experts to really think outside the box and figure out how we could make something that appeals to every single age and every single skill level. I think we did a pretty good job at capturing that.

Image via Universal Studios

Obviously nothing in a theme park gets done overnight. What was the development process for this? How long did it take for everything to come together? What really takes the largest chunk of time, when you’re putting together something like this?

STEVENSON: We were at it just over two and a half years, to bring this online. But really, the answer is, as long as it takes to get the very best product that we can for our guests is how long it takes. We wanna make sure that when we open, we’ve checked every box and done everything we need to do, so that everybody has the best experience. There’s a lot of planning ahead of time, before you get going. We have these incredible designers, and we have all these incredible tech people. It’s a great team that really sits down and has lots of meetings and figures this out on paper first. You have to figure out what’s gonna work and what’s not in the space. There’s a large chunk of planning ahead of time, and then we start building as we go. This whole process ended up taking about two and a half years, which I think is actually rather quick for what we’ve created. I’m really incredibly proud of the team over here and what they accomplished, in such a short amount of time.

What would you say to reassure people who have never done anything like this and who might be wondering whether to do it, or who might be worried that they can’t do it? What would you say to encourage people who have never had this kind of experience?

STEVENSON: First off, I’d say that you’ve never experienced this kind of thing before, where you actually get to almost feel like you’re in the movie and you’re moving the story forward. That’s gonna be fun for everyone. Whether it’s an escape room, whether it’s challenges, and no matter what else is going on, these immersive experiences are gonna be appealing to everyone. I would just say, forget everything you know or have heard about escape rooms and just come and experience it anew. You’re gonna have an awesome time. There’s no one that’s not gonna have a great time and leave really happy with what they experienced.

There are rides that feel like they’re very immersive, but on a ride, you’re not the one controlling anything. This takes things that step further, where you’re in the middle of it and you’re at least partly in control of it, which is really cool.

STEVENSON: For sure. That goes back to weaving the story into the challenges, so that you’re not just standing in an engine lab, doing a random challenge, but you’re standing in an engine lab, and you are moving the story forward. The things that you’re doing in that lab are moving the story forward and taking you to that next piece, so it really does feel like you are in the movie, and you’re a part of the movie, and you’re a player in the movie.

Image via Universal Studios

Is this something where you’d like to add additional experiences down the road, or would you change up the movies that are available to experience? What are you looking to do with this overall?

STEVENSON: At Art & Design, we’re always conceptualizing. We’ve always got a ton of great, fun, exciting things that are coming down the line. Right now, for this, we’re really focused on making sure we got these two brands right and that we have a really strong showing with what we wanted to originally create.

As far as the work that you do, how many things are you juggling, at any given time, in different stages of development? Are there always tons of things happening? How much do you work on, at one time?

STEVENSON: There are always things out in the ether. We’re all in the same building, so we know what’s going on and what’s coming. But at the same time, when you get into a project like this, they really give you the ability to focus on one thing, so that all of your time and effort and energy is going towards that. So, for the past two and a half years, I really have been able to just fully delve into this and make this as good as it possibly could be. That was my sole focus, for the past two and a half years.

What led you down this career path? Was it about movies? Was it about theme parks? Did you want to be involved with entertainment, in general?

STEVENSON: My father was a huge film buff, and was taking me to movies and when I was really young. I’ve just always loved the movies. It’s been a big part of my life. Also, on the escape room side, I’ve always really been into games and things like that, so I have that whole other side of my personality. Me and my family would have tournaments and game nights, and I have friends that I get together with every week, on Wednesday night. We’re all in all different places, around the world, but we all get together online and play together. So, I have those two sides, which is really nice because this merged those two things together. That’s really what led me down this path – my love for movies and my love for storytelling.

I’ve been going to theme parks my entire life. My earliest memories are in theme parks with my family. And it’s just truly amazing to see how far everything has come since then.

STEVENSON: Absolutely. Every day, we’re thinking how we can be more immersive and more cutting edge, and what the next thing is that nobody’s ever seen. We’re constantly thinking outside of the box. We’re constantly trying to make all these really awesome things and immerse the guests in a way they’ve never been immersed before. It really leads to some cool ingenuity. That very first Universal Studios that opened was an awesome Universal Studios, but as things change and technology changes, you get to do cooler and cooler things. We just try to stay on top of it and think of the coolest things that we possibly can, that’ll make the guest experience as good as it possibly can be.

For more you can visit the official Universal Orlando website.

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