Fancy putting your code-cracking skills or sleuthing instincts to the test? Onboard Thomson Cruises' TUI Discovery you can get the chance to channel your inner Bond or Holmes in one of two puzzle rooms onboard, just keep your eye on the clock (and any loose wires!)
The idea behind Breakout & Escape is pretty simple: To breakout (or escape-) the room within an hour by solving a series of often interconnected clues. There are numerous objects scattered around the room, some of which contain vital clues that unlock the next step, while others are red herrings that just gobble up valuable playing time. Players are encouraged to really explore and interact with the environment as much as possible (at least within reason, opening plug sockets and removing ceiling panels won't reveal solutions). Trial and error can also play a large part, so the best strategy is to keep plugging away trying new things. For this reason the more players in the room the better (groups range from two to five) ideally with the brains of the outfit coordinating. Some clues can be rather devious, but thankfully the control room –is watching every move and feeds in hints, via a TV screen, to keep the action moving.
Passengers have a choice of two themed rooms: Spy Academy, where cadets have to prove their worth to become fully-fledged agents; and The Detective Office, where you have to clear yourself of a murder charge by finding the identity of the real killer. The murder mystery is the easier of the two.
While I was certainly leaning towards doing the easier detective-themed game (3/5 difficulty rating) the popularity of the Breakout & Escape rooms meant they only had the harder (4/5) spy-themed experience available by the time I'd arranged our booking. A fan of puzzles, my partner was also keen to play though also in tow was our 14-month-old son who was joining us (due to lack of onboard babysitting, but that's another story).
Anyway, with excuses out of the way I'll begin. We arrived at the puzzle room area, at the end of a hallway tucked away down on Deck 3, to be greeted by one of the cheerful supervisors who oversees the game (in a cubbyhole office next door via CCTV). Rules were explained, questions answers, and fears allayed -- you're not actually locked in the room allowing for loo breaks if necessary, for example. A stopwatch would countdown from an hour, during which time we had to solve chains of clues, each of which gave a part of a maths formula which when put together and solved gave the code to the door's keypad. It already sounded complicated. A calculator was gratefully provided.
We stepped (and toddled) excitedly into the room and the door closed behind us. The space was decked out with lockers, desks, and a wardrobe, looking somewhere between an office and a changing room. A siren sounds, and a large flat-screen TV starts counting down from 60 minutes, and we start flapping around like headless chickens. About five minutes off the clock and we'd got nowhere; the various combination locks, electronic safe, and secure boxes remained stubbornly shut. Then a breakthrough -- a four-digit code under a [REDACTED] and we were on our way. Clues and solutions segued satisfyingly into the next: a [REDACTED] stuck on the [REDACTED] opened the lock to the wardrobe where inside the [REDACTED] revealed the next. It wasn't without lengthy impasses however, and having to re-find clues the wee man had hidden around the room meant it felt like we had a mini-saboteur in our midst.
While an hour may sound like a long time, about half way through we realised it was going to be tight. At less than 10 minutes remaining the pressure started to build as it dawned we might not make it. With a few minutes left the clock turned red and panic-inducing countdown music began. With only the final clue to slot into place we were down to just seconds. Things were tense. The computer held the last piece of the puzzle, but refused to turn on despite repeated stabbing of the power button. By the time I noticed the loose cable it was too late. We'd failed.
It was certainly disappointing to get so close, but much fun was had by all and while it's not exactly recommended for younger kids, the little one seemed to enjoy it as much as any of us.
While being locked in a room for an hour might not be everyone's cup of tea, for anyone with even a passing interest in puzzle-solving, it's a must. As well as being a great way for families to have some structured, absorbing and interactive fun, it's also a good way to meet new people -- groups can be made up of passengers meeting for the first time.
At £15 per person it's certainly not the cheapest form of entertainment onboard, especially for families with two or three kids. Rooms can be hired on an exclusive basis for £75 per hour (though it doesn't work out any cheaper even for groups of five).
Players should be aware that the atmosphere can get tense, and we've heard reports of minor fallouts occurring between the more competitive players when things don't end well. Though this is rare, and most just find consolation in having spent an hour of enjoyable and absorbing entertainment that tests the "little grey cells" -- at least we did!
Updated January 08, 2020