“Team-building is a big part of what we do,” says Andrew Preble, proprietor of the award-winning Escape My Room, which opened its Mardi Gras Study in the summer of 2015. “It has been our biggest growth. I think it speaks to how escape rooms and similar experiences bind people together in a fun way.”
Over the past few years, escape rooms have exploded in popularity both locally and nationwide. “When we opened, there were between 20 and 50 other companies in the U.S.,” notes Preble. “Now there are around 2,500, with two others in the city and eight or nine around the region.”
It’s easy to understand their appeal: Locked in a confined space, teams use their collective wits to solve riddles and break free within an hour. What ensues is 60 minutes of brain-teasing, adrenaline-pumping, team-building fun. Escape My Room, which has welcomed more 75,000 guests since its debut, has grown to feature three additional rooms—the Jazz Parlor, Inventor’s Attic and Smugglers Den—each with its own New Orleans flavor.
“With, say, bowling, you’re still on a team, but you are really working against each other,” says Preble. “With an escape room, you are all working toward the same mission. It brings out your best…and your worst.”
Preble’s latest endeavor, Escape Extinction: Sharks, a joint venture with the Audubon Aquarium, is designed to be as educational as it is interactive. Groups set off on a simulated submarine piloted by Captain Davie, a virtual sea otter, in an effort to rescue the world’s shark population from villanous Dr. X.
“It’s similar in style to an escape room,” Preble explains, “with puzzles and games that you try to accomplish in each space. Where it’s different is that the games are geared toward children. But we designed it to have a wide range of interests for different ages, so, like a good Pixar or Disney movie, it’s still relevant for adults.”
Along the way guests get swallowed up by a shark, attempt to identify different species and are schooled the importance of marine conservation. “The goal is to know more when you leave than you did going in,” adds Preble, who is also helping design the aquarium’s new shark exhibit and the Audubon Zoo’s updated lions lair.
Magical Mystery Tour
Lauren Delaney George worked with Preble before setting off on her own adventure, The Mystery of the Tiny Tombs, which can best be described as part escape room/part scavenger hunt. “Investigators” meet at an undisclosed location, where they receive a dossier of clues and are then sent packing.
“I love escape rooms, but I’m really bad at accomplishing them,” admits George. “So I love being on the other side, befuddling people.”
The goal is to crack conundrums and uncover 13 tiny tombs hidden in secret locations all over town. There is no time limit; teams can take two hours or three days. During the course of their travels, participants come in contact with in-the-know locals, while gleaning insight into Crescent City culture.
“In Atlanta and Ann Arbor there is this tiny fairy door phenomena,” says George. “I wanted to do a snarky, New Orleans version of that, where people travel to really cool corners of the city, picking up more clues, and there’s a story that emerges.
"In New Orleans there is a huge appeal in the supernatural and this idea of magic,” she continues. “I’m skeptical that there are actually ghosts that walk through walls, but I think magic does exist here. When you strike up a conversation with a stranger or veer off course and take a chance, life richly rewards you. That’s a special kind of magic.”
Hands-On & Hardcore
Mardi Gras World
No Carnival parades where you come from? Take a tour of the world’s largest float-building facility then join with your teammates to create your own miniture version. Mask-making workshops, with an overview of the city’s masking traditions, are also offered.
New Orleans School of Cooking
Located in a former French Quarter molasses warehouse, this sweet spot conducts daily, three-hour how-to courses on pralines, gumbo, étouffée and other beloved local dishes. Grab an apron and a spoon and get stirring, then dig in to enjoy the fruits for your labor. Demo classes and private events are also available.
Designed for corporate and conference groups, this one is guaranteed to get your heart pumping. Set amid a forest of pine and live oak trees, the City Park Challenge Course encourges participants to step out of their comfort zones with a variety of highflying exercises and trust activities. Something closer to the ground? Take a group paddle around City Park’s scenic lagoons.
NOLA Motorsports Park
Just minutes from downtown, the largest karting track in the nation provides 30 acres of fast-paced, team-building action. Geared to groups of eight to 150, races run between one and three hours. Real adventurists will want to sign up for the Group Xtreme Xperience, which puts you behind the wheel of souped-up supercars.