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Escape to Melbourne

exceladdict

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After a year or so of mismatched annual leave entitlements, the stars finally aligned for Mr & Mrs Excel to spend some time off together. We’ve recently taken a liking to the escape room phenomenon and after exhausting most of the rooms in Perth, needed to look east to continue to satiate this need. This short TR encompasses a trip to escape to – and from – six rooms in Melbourne in four days, along with a couple of other activities on the way; and will hopefully provide a unique take on a city we're very familiar with on AFF.

(NB: only decided to write the TR after landing in Melbourne, so we don’t have photos of the trip over, but it was as an enjoyable transit as could be expected).

Departing Perth

No classic rewards were available direct to MEL so we went via BNE, which meant an early rise to be at PER by 5.45 for the 6.30am departure. There was an unspecified delay in preparing our inbound aircraft, but we were pleasantly advised by the PER J lounge staff to wait for the boarding call and enjoy the lounge until then.

That we did. Mrs Excel enjoyed the pancake machine while I had scrambled eggs on toast, and we were well-caffeinated by the friendly barista. While fluorescence is starting to creep back into the PER lounges (a positive sign for the WA economy, I guess?), the J lounge was not unbearably busy for a Thursday.

Flight 1: PER-BNE, QF650, 737 J, 3D&F, VH-VXD

We were called over to the aircraft just before 7am and eventually departed at about 10 past. This was my 100th domestic Australian flight, so it was nice to cash in some points and do it in relative comfort. The crew were apologetic about the late departure, but we were in the air and on our way quickly, with the wifi-equipped plane allowing us both to close some open loops in our inboxes so that we could then focus on enjoying the time off.

The poached eggs were probably the best breakfast I’ve had on a plane, but I declined to accept bread which made eating them a little unusual.

Our one disappointment for this plane was that the in-seat power was not working. The FAs offered to plug in our charger(s) into the row in front, but we declined, not wanting to bother those sitting there. Fortunately, I had my battery bank to keeep my phone alive while I enjoyed some episodes of Chernobyl via the IFE, which was a gripping if somewhat gruesome series.

A flight time of 4 hours 20 meant that despite a delayed schedule, we arrived at 1.30 in BNE. After a recent misconnect in BNE I checked with the crew that we’d be able to make QF623 down to Melbourne, and they advised that they were in fact crewing that flight too, so it was very unlikely to depart before we arrived. 😊

Altogether a nice way to enjoy my 100th Australian domestic flight.
 

exceladdict

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Flight 2: BNE-MEL, QF623, 737 J, 3A&C, VH-XZB

Welcomed again by the same crew from our prior flight, we took our seats behind Leigh Matthews in the row 2, and another probable football personality in row 1 who he enjoyed some banter with. Formalities completed we were in the air quickly and on our way down to MEL.

I don’t have a recollection of the catering but the service was once again pleasant and we arrived uneventfully in Melbourne around 4.30pm.

Transit to ‘Melbourne Town’

Our bags were quite slow to come out, which we thought was unusual as we figured they would probably have been the last in! About 20 minutes later, and after some account issues, we set Mrs Excel up with an Ola account to take advantage of a referral credit and their ‘50% off for all rides in the first two weeks’ promotion. While I probably would have saved more by using the 20% off airport rides code for this first transit, the 50% off for two weeks coupon would prove to save us a fair few dollars over the next four days.

One anecdotal downside to the Ola app is that the GPS leaves some accuracy to the imagination. We did have to wait the better part of 15 minutes for the car to arrive, and being the first time we caught a rideshare out of Melbourne, didn’t realise that it would probably have been wiser to wait inside the terminal where it was less cold. But once the car arrived, we were on our way.

(We had one driver during the week who repeatedly referred to the city as ‘Melbourne Town’, so we’ve now adopted that term as an inside joke. Unsure if this was his somewhat Rastafarian personality or if that’s just what the cool kids call Melbourne these days.)
 

exceladdict

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Accommodation: Novotel Melbourne Central, 399 Little Lonsdale St.

In past stays we’ve stayed at the IC on Collins St as well as outside of the CBD, so we wanted to stay in a different area of the city for this stay. We picked the Novotel mainly based on location and a reasonable-ish rate ($225 incl breakfast). No Accor status, so booked and received a deluxe king room, which was very comfortable for a 4 night stay.

The North-Eastern view from level 31 mainly featured the construction of a hotel just down the road, though construction noise was only really discernable on the Friday morning.

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The rooms were new and modern bathroom section was very clean. The layout was interestingly open, you can see the edge of the bed behind the sink in this photo. Toiletry supplies were also pleasant. (excuse our stuff strewn across these photos).

Next up: the first evening in Melbourne.
 

exceladdict

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Thursday Night

With our stuff down and sorted it was time for some dinner before our night activity. We wandered down Hardware Lane and did not enjoy being somewhat heckled to come into the restaurants there; so got out of there quickly and settled on ‘Shanghai Street’ on Little Bourke St, on the basis that there was a large queue so it must be good.

To our pleasure a staff member was walking up the queue asking if anyone was happy to sit outside. Mrs Excel and I were rugged up so were very happy to sit outside next to a heater, but were asked to pay inside after placing our order.

We enjoyed the Black bean/pepper Noodles and the Fried Beef and Cheese dumplings. We’re big dumpling fans but had never had ones that feature cheese before – was it nice to try something different. Would both visit Shanghai Street and order this again.

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The food consumed, and after a brief stop by Eckersley’s near RMIT – Mrs Excel will purchase some art supplies throughout this adventure – we caught another Ola down to our first escape room.
 
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exceladdict

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Escape Rooms – a background

For those yet to partake in this phenomenon, the short summary is that you are locked in a room for a period of time, usually around an hour, and are presented with a set of puzzles to solve and ‘escape’. Rooms are of varying difficulty, and often involve riddles, logic puzzles, physical puzzles, or even simply finding things to put together and solve a problem.

In the best rooms, you’ll also feel immersed in a gripping story, uncovering clues which guide you towards a climactic conclusion. While some rooms rely heavily on combination padlocks to proceed, others will use magnets, electronics and hidden doors to make you feel a part of the theme. While a little on the pricey side for an hour or so of entertainment, the experience can be extremely fun when partnered with the right teammates – more on that later – and you all leave with a great sense of achievement when completing a room successfully.

Reviewing Rooms

We’ve completed around 20 rooms in Perth, two of which I’ve reviewed over here, as well as a couple in Singapore. The big downside to most puzzles is that once you’ve solved it, you can’t really play it again, and similarly, sharing too much about a room will firstly ruin the puzzles, and secondly could ruin any surprises that you encounter along the way.

Accordingly, there are very few pictures from the escape rooms themselves to share, so I’ve scraped a few from their websites for visual detail. My descriptions will attempt to describe the pros (or occasional cons) of a room while generalise puzzles so that none are ruined, and where I’ve been specific, it is with information that is either given to you in the briefing or is available on the room’s website itself. That way, if you take our recommendation and try a room, nothing will be ruined for you 😊

Scoring System

In order to compare rooms, we’ve decided to give a score out of 5 in four separate categories, which averaged will give a number of keys out of 5. For those who have done a few rooms in the past, I’d be interested to know if these factors are what you look for in rooms as well!

1: Story/Theme: Uniqueness of the story (or the take on the story), interaction of the theme with the puzzles, logical flow or progression of the story, and the story’s immersiveness

2: Set: The room’s design, props (not too many or too little), wear and tear/cleanliness, lighting (so as to fit the theme but not to make playability difficult), and how the set fits the theme

3: Puzzles: The room’s variety of problems to solve, creativity and uniqueness in the puzzles, a variety of methods to unlock the next clue (i.e. not always padlocks), functionality/wear and tear of the puzzles (does the lock work when the correct combination is entered); satisfaction of puzzle completion (is there a satisfying ‘a-ha’ moment when a puzzle is solved).

4: Service and Amenity: Encompassing price, booking process, how enthusiastically and in-story the attendant is when welcoming you to the scene, how appropriate the clues are (helping you along the way without ruining puzzles), waiting rooms, bathrooms, and other elements of the overall experience.

We’ll also close with whether or not we’d recommend it to a friend, and any caveats we would apply.
 

exceladdict

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Room 1: Escape Room Melbourne's Fractured: Remember Me.

Our first room, on Thursday night, saw us head to South Melbourne to one of Escape Room Melbourne's centres. In the room we completed, you enter the mind of a world war 2 veteran, who has fallen into a coma; you need to collect and connect his memories to respark his consciousness and escape.



We certainly jumped in the deep end; this is the hardest of ERM’s three rooms in South Melbourne, reportedly created by two psychology PHDs. For two players, we booked it at $44 per player and had a time limit of 70 minutes. The experience started well, as while we booked for a 9pm session, we received a text at 7pm inviting us to arrive whenever we’d like as the room was free – so we did head down a little earlier.

On arrival, we hung out in a well-decorated waiting area while we signed the usual waivers and the attendant prepared the room. It did take a little while to get some of the tech working, but we were glad that it was all prepared so that when we entered there were no hassles to interrupt our experience (We did experience a system failure once during a heavily electronic room in Perth).

The room itself contained a great mix of puzzles, with a set that matched the story as our journey into Robert’s mind unfolded. Using a mixture of physical, written and digital elements, the narrative unfolded logically as we solved each problem, leading towards a rewarding conclusion.

Our only hiccup, which required assistance, was when we opened a padlock after solving three of the four numbers (the fourth one being worked out using trial and error). While you can sometimes get away with this, in this case the process for working out the numbers also set off an electronic trigger which unlocked a puzzle later in the game. The attendant pointed us back to a puzzle we hadn’t completed yet, to get that fourth number and unlock the subsequent puzzle.

We did need to ask for a clue probably 2/3 of the way through the game, when we were struggling to connect some elements to solve a multi-element puzzle. We appreciated the way the attendant understood where we were up to in the game, and gave us enough hints but still allowed us to solve the problem ourselves.

Edit: Mrs Excel and I were successful in escaping. 😊

Story/Theme: Unique theme, well-executed with puzzles that matched an overarching storyline. 5/5.

Set: Matched the story, good props in good condition, well-lit, and included some effects we hadn’t seen before. 5/5

Puzzles: A good mix of visual, logical and physical puzzles that flowed, fit the story, worked (despite our eagerness to skip one), and without ruining anything – some really cool things happened when you completed them! 5/5

Service/Amenity: Was grateful to be able to start early, and an overall good experience. 5/5

So we’re off to a good start, with Fractured: Remember Me being awarded a full 5 of 5 Keys! Mrs Excel and I agree that this room would go straight into the top 3 rooms ever completed, having a good level of difficulty and satisfaction for the price per player. 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑

Would we recommend this room? Absolutely.

Recommended players? We’d suggest 2-4. Mrs Excel and I find less can be more when it comes to staying on track, and while you have 70 minutes for this room, there is a lot to get done. All puzzles can be completed by two players.

Anything to consider? As per ERM’s advice, I wouldn’t do this as your first ever room. If you’re still relatively new, it may be easier with three or four people.

Edit: Mrs Excel awarded Mr Excel the gold star for performance in this room, for quickly finding the next step on two occasions.
 
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exceladdict

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…. But not quite ready for bed.
After heading back to the CBD in another half price Ola, we needed just a little something more to top off the night, so went for a walk and ended up at QV Melbourne and the Max Brenner chocolate bar. We both enjoyed a ‘hug mug' of hot chocolate.

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From there it was a quick walk back for a good night’s sleep in preparation for some more escaping.
 

exceladdict

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Novotel Melbourne Central: Some more thoughts, and breakfast

It might be a good time now to add some more thoughts on the hotel where we stayed. The hotel shares a building with the ibis, another Accor brand, and while you enter on the ground floor, a lift must be taken to access reception and to access the Pretty Boy restaurant, where breakfast is served.

While three lifts service the Novotel floors, we did find that we spent a bit of time waiting for lifts, that the lifts were generally busy – a fourth lift for that number of floors would probably have reduced wait times quite a bit, especially considering a lift must be taken to check in or out.

Customer service was fantastic across our stay, with all staff we encountered being very friendly, the room being very well kept and stocked.

One thing I noticed was cool was that you could order room service (and amenities) via the touchpad next to the bed! For the more antisocial traveller, I imagine this would be a welcome addition. We did however wish we’d discovered we could have ordered bathrobes and slippers earlier in our stay (we didn’t notice until the last day).

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Down to breakfast, I enjoyed the full cooked buffet, and barista coffees were $4 each and very good. It was nice not having to walk down the street to get a coffee first before breakfast, as is sometimes the case.

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Throughout the week, we enjoyed a number of combinations, Mrs Excel liked the jars, the juices were nice, and the egg station remained on-point.

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Later in the week, I began experimenting with breakfast combinations and landed with ‘beans on browns’.

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The breakfast did get quite busy, to the extent that on Sunday the queue was probably 15 people deep waiting for a table. As with the elevators, this made me think that capacity was not quite thought through when considering fitting two hotels into one building. I’m unsure whether you could make reservations for breakfast; fortunately, Mrs Excel and I seemed to beat the rush for breakfast most days, and most of the time got a quiet table away from the business of the buffet. We’d recommend a seat near the window, should you have the choice.

A Shopping Stroll

Our first room for Friday wasn’t due until later in the afternoon, so we spent some time visiting art supply stores, camera stores and bookstores. While Perth has some awesome niche dealers in these categories, the scale and range of some stores in Australia’s larger cities is always enjoyable. We also swung past Outré Gallery on Elizabeth St which had some pieces Mrs Excel enjoyed.

We clocked up the step count heading up to Readings in Carlton before catching another half price Ola to the next room.
 

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Room 2: Extreme Escape’s Spellbound



Room number two was booked by a Groupon, which stacked with a 15% cashrewards referral saw us book in for under $45 for two players! With our groupon code, we were able to conveniently book the room using SMS.

We arrived at Extreme Escape in St Kilda about 15 minutes before they opened, so found a nearby bench to rest before heading in. While signing the usual waiver we were defeated by a logic puzzle on their coffee table (a fit-the-shapes-in-the-square type puzzle) and hoped this wouldn’t bode poorly for the room to come; though it was nice and entertaining while we waited to get started. After not long, we were welcomed into the room.

The theme for Spellbound is that you wake up inside a mystical bedroom, unsure if you’re still in a dream – but knowing that you need to escape before you’re trapped in the dream forever! We thought this was a fun premise, a little less sad than the coma concept from the day before.

Entering the room; the design elements fit the mystical theme, with a dark, glowing, eeriness. As you work your way through the dream, you work on many ‘classic’ escape-room style puzzles; the room was quite dependent on opening a padlock once you’ve solved a puzzle, to then collect more clues and progress further. One frustration of rooms that use multiple combination padlocks is that you may need to try a code in multiple locks to know which one comes next.

The puzzles to solve were a mix of logic and physical puzzles, that involved a range of senses (our somewhat poor ability to discern using one of our senses required us to ask for a clue to solve one puzzle). While possibly not as jam-packed with steps as the room from the night before, there were some multi-step puzzles that kept the room challenging, and some custom-made elements and puzzles we hadn’t encountered before.

One downside to the room was that it was a dark set, which is one element Mrs Excel in particular does not enjoy, mainly because you’re needing to hold a torch for the full hour in the room.

We completed the room with a bit of time left, needing to ask for two clues to keep us on track.

Story/Theme: An interesting theme that matched the room, but could have been more strongly tied to the puzzles. 3/5

Set: Matched the theme well and had some really cool effects, but did require a torch during the whole game. 4/5

Puzzles: Logically flowed, with a good level of difficulty, and had some unique puzzles, but used padlocks heavily. 4/5

Service/Amenity: Easy booking, great price, and a very friendly operator. 5/5

Overall, we award this room four keys. Mrs Excel and I would return to try the other rooms at Extreme Escape when next in Melbourne, especially at the discounted groupon price. 🔑 🔑 🔑 🔑

Would we recommend this room? Yes.

Recommended players? We’d suggest 2.

Mrs Excel won the gold star for this room, solving a huge number of the puzzles while Mr Excel went down rabbit holes – you could say, he was dreaming…
 

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Lunch
After escaping from the dream, we went for a walk down to Fitzroy Street and feeling a bit peckish, stopped in at Café Banff, where we were somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of signage, but decided to stay for a bite.

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I ordered the sliders and a coffee while Mrs Excel went for the nachos and a juice. We were a little disappointed with the nachos; feeling that more could have been done to combine the elements together; though the sliders and coffee were decent.

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We were intrigued when subsequently sitting outside to wait for our Ola, that there was a table at which a sign clearly indicated no food was allowed. I was later told that having food at tables where smoking is permitted was recently outlawed; I found it interesting that smoking near tables wasn’t banned rather than the other way around. Anyway. After an Ola back to the city, we dropped some dollars on art supplies at Eckersleys and returned to the Novotel briefly.
 

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Evening
Next up it was time to catch up with some family in Melbourne and we started so across the road from the Novotel at the ‘downstairs@lab’ under Games Laboratory, a boardgames bar that is everything you could want in a boardgames bar.

We played a giant version of one of my favourite games, Quarto, over some snacks before heading to our nighttime activity (this is a two-player game, so people don’t normally all touch the board like this!).

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All around us, people were enjoying games of various complexity. I feel like if we sat at any table, we’d be entering a guided masterclass in a game I’ve never heard of. But alas, there were rooms that needed escaping, so Games Laboratory would need to wait for now.
 

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Room 3: The Mystery Rooms’ Chapter 1: The Lost Tomb



I had been looking forward to visiting The Mystery Rooms (TMR) after reading some awesome reviews and booking a few weeks out to do their first room, The Lost Tomb, with some family (the rooms have a recommended minimum of four players). TMR rate this as a room suitable for beginners.

The online description for this room got me extra excited – warning that ‘We must emphasize that this is an actual escape room in sand. With literally 6 tons of sand inside this tomb you will need to come dressed for the tomb-raiding occasion!’ And sand it indeed did have.

But let me take a step back. The four rooms at TMR form a part of an overarching story, with chapters one, two and three needing to be completed before being allowed to proceed on to room number four. The stories are linked through the creative use of time travel; to start, we would ‘Head to ancient Egypt, uncovering Cleopatra’s lost tomb and acquiring Knowledge by unearthing the Book of the Dead.’

We have completed two previous Egypt-themed escape rooms in Perth, one of which was down with our least recommended rooms, and the other which was great but over too quickly, so we were hoping it would be third time lucky trapped in an Egyptian Tomb.

Our experience at TMR was tremendous from the moment we arrived, with the staff jumped into varying states of character, walking us through the concept that links the rooms while we signed waivers and prepared to head back in time.

The Egyptian Room we’ve always wanted



This room is quite difficult to describe in detail without ruining the surprise of any elements, so please forgive me if I do sound a little disjointed.

As mentioned, we entered this room in a team of four, immediately presented with a number of puzzles to pursue. Having four players certainly helped as we explored the various things to do and got underway solving the problems. The room itself was also quite large, so a bigger team allowed us to communicate more easily while pursuing different puzzles.

The puzzles and set matched the theme well; a mixture of locks were used to proceed, with some really cool elements of the room interacting with each other. There was also a great mix of puzzles with one action required to solve a code, which are great to get a sense of momentum, and others that were more complex as the room and story progressed.

One last thing to mention, is that each of the rooms at TMR – as we discovered in this first room – contain a bonus puzzle, for escape room veterans or anyone who finishes early. We thought this was a really cool way to provide a bit of extra content in case people blitz through initial puzzles; but still allow newer players the satisfaction of escaping.

This room challenged our logic, deduction, visual scanning, coordination and communication skills – all while keeping on theme. We were very impressed, as you’ll see in the scores.

The four of us escaped the room and completed the bonus puzzle with time to spare; we did ask for assistance at one point when I (Mr Excel) struggled to count to a number less than 10.

Story/Theme: While not the first Egypt room we’ve completed, it was executed extremely well with a very strong story. 5/5

Set: Let me emphasise the sand! Really cool decor to match the theme, well maintained, well lit, and with a good amount of space for four players. 5/5

Puzzles: Matched the theme and flowed well, with escalating difficulty. A good length for four persons and it was a bonus to have the extra puzzle to solve, which we did, on top of escaping. 5/5

Service/Amenity: Well priced at $37.50, but the combination of a strong set, good facilities, and friendly staff that bring you into the intricate storyline. 5/5

Another room that’s straight to the top three. We’d strongly recommend this room, for beginners or more experienced escapees alike; the only caveat being if you have movement difficulties, but do get in touch with TMR as they may be able to accommodate you. We think 4 players is the sweet spot.

Overall, 5 out of 5 Keys! 🔑 🔑 🔑 🔑 🔑

Gold star awarded to one of our joining family members for restoring the bonus puzzle after I completely undid their good work trying a different 'theory'.

Bonus content: I found an interview with the owner & designer of TMR while checking what was public knowledge about this room and can be shared. If it’s your thing, please enjoy!
 
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