Universal’s Great Movie Escape Brings Great Escapes and a Good Bar to CityWalk

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Universal’s Great Movie Escape Brings Great Escapes and a Good Bar to CityWalk

There’s more to a theme park than rides. That might be the most important part of a theme park for many guests, but a well-rounded park needs entertainment for everybody. That means not just rides for all ages and thrill levels, but shows, parades, music, fireworks, even themed restaurants—all the bells and whistles that set major theme parks like Universal and Disney apart from so many of their smaller regional competitors. And given how much those major players depend on multi-day visitors, that kind of entertainment has long since spread out from the confines of the actual parks themselves and taken root as miniature golf courses, water parks, movie theaters, and entertainment districts like Universal CityWalk and Disney Springs. If you’re going to spend a week in Orlando, you need something to do on the days you aren’t schlepping through the theme parks, and that brings us to the latest addition to the Florida version of CityWalk: Universal’s Great Movie Escape.

Billed as an “escape room experience,” Great Movie Escape brings popular Universal IP and theme park-level design to the humble puzzle room, that fun (and often aggravating) party experience that has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Based on Back to the Future and Jurassic World, its two escape room experiences have multiple rooms each, with the kind of exacting detail and transportative design you expect from world class theme park artists. You will think you’re decoding a dinosaur’s DNA by sliding metal viewfinders over wall-mounted computer screens—or at least will experience what is clearly a theme park approximation of the kind of nebulous science-y hijinks that B.D. Wong gets up to in those movies.

There are some similarities between the two experiences. You have an on-screen guide in both who will give you some basic instructions and offer up additional clues if you take too much time on any puzzle. You can’t really lose in either one; if you take too long to figure out how to get out of Back to the Future: Outatime’s old west engine room, for example, your guide Niko from the Institute of Future Technology (yes, rooms are full of Easter eggs not just for the movies but for Universal attractions past and present) will miraculously figure it out from her end and let you move on to the next room. Both experiences are designed to have you in each room for a set amount of time, so if you quickly solve an initial puzzle you’ll get to take a crack at additional puzzles until it’s time to move on. It’s a smart way to make sure no groups bump up against each other, and to ensure that a specific number of slots are available each hour. It also doesn’t really impact the challenge that much, as some of the rooms (especially in the Back to the Future experience) can be really tough to solve.


Of the two rooms, I prefer Back to the Future: Outatime, although that’s partially because I just like those movies a lot more than Jurassic World. (Not gonna lie: I haven’t actually seen any of the Jurassic World movies. That first Jurassic Park is pretty great, though.) It’s not entirely just because of nostalgia or because I prefer those movies. Back to the Future was a more challenging room for us, with a number of surprisingly complicated puzzles that depend on actually thinking things through and not just looking for obvious clues or yanking on specific props. It requires critical thinking and doesn’t mind setting the bar a little too high for a group of strangers who might not have any rapport with each other. It also has far more personality and humor than Jurassic World, and although some of the videos and jokes can be a little cringe-worthy, they also seem to be a better motivator than the non-threatening scares of a fake dinosaur attack.

As entertaining as the escape rooms are, the best thing about the Great Movie Escape might be its bar. The lobby is designed to look like an old Art Deco movie theater, complete with a screen showing movie trivia, and it’s well-appointed with classy old furniture and a soundtrack of ‘30s jazz. The bar offers a variety of movie-themed cocktails (some of which taste distinctly like concession stand treats like popcorn and chocolate), and between the great drinks and the enchanting atmosphere it’s worth hanging out at even if you don’t plan on doing any escaping. Between the music and vintage aesthetic, it reminds me of Disney’s lush Abracadabar, only larger, less intimate, and more family-friendly.


Between the drinks and all those immersive interactive puzzles, Universal’s Great Movie Escape knows how to show you a good time. It doesn’t come cheap, though. Each experience takes about an hour and welcomes parties of up to six guests at $49.99 a pop (yep, you’ll have to pay separately to do ‘em both). If you don’t have six people in your party, you will probably be joined up with strangers, so get ready to interact with others. Special groups of up to eight people can also do a room for $300, which is the most economical way to experience the, uh, experiences.

At that price point, it can be a bit of a tough ask—if you’re a family of six (as mine was growing up), you’ll already be paying thousands to visit the theme parks, and an extra $300 for an hour of (potentially stressful) fun might be out of the question. (Also good luck getting four kids to agree on doing the same escape room without any whining or complaining.) When you compare the level of craftsmanship and design of these escape rooms to what you might find at the one at the strip mall in your home town, though, $50 a person doesn’t seem too out of line. Still, Universal’s Great Movie Escape might ultimately make more sense as part of a vacation package than as a stand-alone activity—something whose price is factored into whatever lump sum you pay for your family’s Universal vacation.

Although I enjoyed both experiences, and would like to do the Back to the Future one again at some point, I’m pretty sure the main reason I’ll head down to the Great Movie Escape in the future is to sidle up to that bar and order some kind of tiki drink that tastes like popcorn. Did you know “popcorn falernum” exists? Well, it does, and it absolutely makes the Grand Banks Swizzle taste like popcorn. The cocktail even comes with a tiny paper cone full of caramel corn clothespinned to the glass, to really hammer home the connection. I wish I could escape from my office right now and get back down to the Great Movie Escape for a drink or two. That would be the greatest escape of all.

Universal’s Great Movie Escape is now open at Universal CityWalk Orlando.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.