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How to make your 'escape room' tourist attraction stand out? Build it in a boat

Its backers have spent months sourcing props for the new ship-based attraction, they say.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

INITIALLY AN ASIAN craze, the ‘escape room’ business in Ireland appears to be booming at the moment.

The latest addition to the sector was launched in Dublin yesterday afternoon – and its backers are hoping to stand out from their competitors by offering something a little different: Ireland’s first ‘escape boat’.

“We’ve done a lot of research on escape rooms,” Ronan Brady of escapeboats.ie told TheJournal.ie at Dublin Port as he watched the soon-to-be-refitted Zorg Ella barge being lowered into the Liffey.

I’ve travelled around Europe doing a lot of them and we’ve done all the ones in Dublin – and we think there’s room for huge improvement.

Brady, who has teamed up with Irish Ship and Barge Fabrication for the new venture, hopes to have the attraction up and running on Grand Canal Quay, near the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, by spring.

They’ve spent months sourcing props for the 101-year old ship and thinking of ideas for the different rooms on board, he said.

We spent quite a while over in Holland in salvage yards finding a lot of antiquated stuff to add to the design and we’ve got a whole lot of huge, amazing props.
Our first room is based on a 1920s ship. There’s going to be a lot of action on it, there’s going to be water – things that other rooms haven’t used yet.

What are escape rooms? 

A relatively new phenomenon, escape rooms first emerged in Japan around a decade ago, and have been gaining popularity in Europe more recently.

Themes vary, and can feature anything from straightforward puzzles to a mocked up zombie apocalypse. The basic principle is the same in each one, however: participants are locked in a room and must finish their task within a time limit to escape.

2015 Comic-Con - The Call of Duty: Black Ops III Zombies Escape Room Challenge Fans try the "The Call of Duty: Black Ops III" Zombies Escape room challenge at Comic-Con International in San Diego in 2015. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Here at home, companies offering escape room-type attractions have popped up in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Waterford in recent years. In the US, the craze is also gathering pace: President Barack Obama and his daughters even paid a visit to one as they holidayed in Hawaii over Christmas.

In Europe, according to Brady, Budapest has become the escape room capital – with nearly 70 such attractions now operating in the Hungarian capital.

The standards of them are amazing around Europe – some of them you’d do, you’d just be blown away.

Brady travelled to the Netherlands three times to try and locate an appropriate vessel for their escape room idea, he said.

He eventually found the Zorg Ella – a 21 metre barge originally used to transport potatoes – in the east of the country. It had been in the same family since its construction, back in 1916.

Shipped over to Dublin by ferry in recent days, the vessel was launched on Ocean Pier at the port yesterday, and was being sailed upriver last evening to be berthed temporarily near the Jeanie Johnston tall ship.

Sam Field Corbett, whose company also refitted well-known floating pub-restaurant the Cill Airne on the Dublin quays, will oversee the re-fit, and it’s hoped the first rooms will open on board the Dutch barge in April.

Brady said that once the project was opened they planned to add other rooms to their offering nearby, at other venues. Amongst other ideas, he said, they’re looking at opening one “in a tank”.

- Video editing by Nicky Ryan 

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