If you feel like the Axios Charlotte’s coverage of escape rooms is increasing, it’s only because escape room experiences seem to be spreading like wildfire across the Queen City. We’re now home to the largest escape room in the Southeast (possibly the country) and at least four other dedicated escape experiences.
As a self-described escape nerd, I visited all five businesses to scope out the adventures and find out why there’s been a sudden boom in our area.
Hitting three Charlotte escape rooms in one week. I’m either having the best or most stressful week ever.
— Dana Boone (@deboone) November 30, 2015
You should go to this escape room if…
…You’re a serious escaper
Codescape: This place blew me away. No other experience in Charlotte combines physical and mental puzzles in quite the same way. Adding a physical element also creates an immersive experience that starts with the elaborate Disney-esque sets. When taking on their Shipwrecked room, we all felt like we were actual explorers on a Shipwreck… or standing in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Location: 933 Louise Avenue, Suite 201
Cost: $25-28 per player
Number of rooms: 2
What makes them different (in their own words): “I think our location is great – we’re in a cool neighborhood. Our games are much more scenically immersive with special effects, soundscapes, lighting and the sets.” – Nathan Mitchell
“In a lot of other rooms you’re flipping through a book and looking for numbers. We tried to make ours a little different and more interactive.” – Jordan Renda
Why they think escape rooms are booming in Charlotte: “I think market-wise Charlotte isn’t necessarily the first place you think to put an escape room, but I opened because of personal preference – I live here. I think the whole industry is booming. People see the money end of it and think they get in and make some quick cash pretty easily.” – Mitchell
My take: There wasn’t a lot of build up story-wise before entering the room, but there are clues inside to provide background and context. The room sets are the most involved and realistic of any in our market and the puzzles are decidedly different (in a good way). I went with three friends and we had a fantastic time. Tip: Don’t drink anything you may find inside the room. Just trust me on this one.
— Dana Boone (@deboone) December 2, 2015
…You want a complete night out
Blackout: Located in the heart of South End, Blackout has the perfect location (and partnership with the Brass Tap) to make their experience part of your night out. Blackout’s owners are also committed to making sure each group has a great time (we had a FANTASTIC time). Is there someone in your group of friends you love to pick on? Drop them a note ahead of time and they can customize the night to provide laughs for your group.
Location: 1415 S. Church St, Suite B
Cost: $28 per player
Number of rooms: 3
What makes them different (in their own words): “I believe our location makes us different and we have partnerships with local businesses like Brass Tap to help support those around us. The character portion of our experience is also different and helps us transport you to a new world. We want you to lose yourself when you’re coming to a Blackout experience. We keep group numbers small, six to eight, to help everyone have a chance to play and interact with characters.” – DC Caldwell
Why they think escape rooms are booming in Charlotte: “Escape room gaming is its own world with diehard gamers. It’s a way for people to unplug from the virtual world and get back to using their senses. It’s still a new concept and people are looking for it when they travel, which makes Charlotte great with so many coming through. If anything, I don’t know that we’ve even really touched the Charlotte locals yet.” – Caldwell
My take:his is the only location where I was partnered with strangers and still had a good time. Blackout has the most immersive experience from a story standpoint and it bonds your group in a way that makes the rest of the night much more fun. While serious escapers may not appreciate interruptions during the game, I thought it made for a fun night out. Bonus: I appreciated the ability to park for free and walk to multiple nightlife spots nearby.
…It’s your first time
Escape Hour: Owners Ryan and Lindsey Salone both have day jobs, but spend all their free time creating escape room experiences. Their passion for the game is clear. I feel they spent the most time making sure players are prepared and understand intricacies critical for first-time success – how certain locks work, what isn’t part of the game, small basics on how to play – before you enter the room, instead of having to spend a lot of time coaching you while already playing. That said, don’t mistake the “first time” award as code for easy.
Location: 9301-A Monroe Road
Cost: $25 per player
Number of rooms: 2
What makes them different (in their own words): “We travel a lot and this has become something we love doing. We’ll even travel internationally to do these. We just fell in love with the concept and we think that shows.” – Ryan Salone
Why they think escape rooms are booming in Charlotte: “They’re becoming so popular. They’re interactive, they’re immersive and you can’t just play one. That’s why there’s room for businesses like this, because you’re going to want to keep playing and trying new rooms.” – Lindsey Salone
My take:My favorite feature of Escape Hour is the sheer number of puzzles in each room. Other escape rooms feature a fairly linear path to escape with one puzzle at a time leading to your way out. At Escape Hour, there are mini puzzles so even with a large group, there are enough moving pieces so almost everyone has something to work on throughout the experience.
…You’re looking for a corporate team building space
Exit Strategy: While all Charlotte escape rooms offer programs for businesses seeking new ways to connect with and energize their employees, only one escape room offers seven unique escape experiences and a staff of 20 to accommodate groups of up to 65.
Location: 4215-B Stuart Andrew Blvd.
Cost: $25 per player
Number of rooms: 7
What makes them different (in their own words): “Our rooms are very immersive. It’s not just about puzzles in a room. If you do our Lost in Space experience, you’ll be in space. We really try to create an atmosphere with our entire facility. We’re all the largest escape room so we can accommodate more people at the same time.” – Mylene Labrie
Why they think escape rooms are booming in Charlotte: “It’s really part of a national trend. There about 400 different locations just in the United States. Then again, if you look at the population of Charlotte, we probably have a higher ratio of escape rooms than more areas. I can’t help but think people saw what we were doing and the success we had and wanted a piece of that.” – Labrie
My take: Because Exit Strategy is the best known escape room in Charlotte, most of the experiences sell out each night (they can see 300 people come through in a weekend). Knowing you’ll be partnered with strangers, I would recommend either hitting this location with a large group of friends (to be the majority) or buying out the hour slot. I was partnered with a group of eight who have visited Exit Strategy at least twice. They dominated the room and were a lot of fun to watch (we almost broke the record for escaping the hardest room), but I didn’t get a great feel for the puzzles because I didn’t really get to touch any of them. That said, with a location near Olde Mecklenburg and seven different rooms, you’ll be back for another challenge and consolation brew!
…You need something appropriate for the whole family
Escape Kings: The blue puzzle piece in Escape Kings’ logo isn’t just about the challenges you’ll encounter within. It’s also a symbol representing Autism Speaks – a cause that personally affects the owners. Because of this, there’s an emphasis placed on keeping their escape rooms family friendly and appropriate/accessible for young players. In addition to their escape rooms, they also offer a space with projectors and tricked out chairs dedicated to hosting parties for Halo 5 enthusiasts.
Location: 11333 Granite St., Suite B
Cost: $25 per player
Number of rooms: 3
What makes them different (in their own words): “We consider ourselves the most high-tech escape room in the area. Escape Kings is our name and we want to be the best one. We strive to be high-tech so the player feels in control and not like they’re being watched or controlled by a game master.” – Paulette Manis
Why they think escape rooms are booming in Charlotte: “The popularity of Exit Strategy in Charlotte did kick off a pretty big investment piece where individuals see something they think will be profitable. For Charlotte specifically, I think the Exit Strategy success can be linked to the boom.” – Manis
My take:Located near Carowinds, Escape Kings was the farthest drive for me – it took more than 30 minutes to get there from South End (at rush hour) and almost an hour to drive home to Matthews. I’d like to go back and try one of their rooms with a group of friends. My visit was in a large group of two couples, a set of three friends and one other solo player. Our group didn’t really gel and that’s a key piece in solving the puzzle and having the most fun.
While all of the Charlotte escape room owners feel they bring something different to the table, I love the attitude most take toward their competition. DC Caldwell of Blackout said it best: “All the escape rooms in Charlotte are amazing and it’s hard not to fall in love with escaping after visiting any of them. Once you go, you have the bug. Having other escape rooms in the area just increases our chances of being discovered as people want to keep trying new escape experiences.”