My love for escape rooms and similar experiences has continued through 2023.
Pete and I had an impromptu day out in London in June when we participated in Moriarty’s Game: The Professor’s Invitation, a treasure-hunt guided by your mobile phone. And the following month, we booked ourselves a slot for The Magpie Mystery to add another completed escape room to our list.
While we had a great time at both, they couldn’t compare to Phantom Peak a couple of months later. It first came onto my radar when I saw a post about it on Instagram. Advertised as a place where you could ‘explore a steampunk town and uncover its mysteries at your own pace for up to five hours in an open-world adventure’, I immediately booked tickets for us to go in September.
It was one of the best events we’ve ever been to. Stepping through the gate was like being transported into another world in which we were protagonists in an adventure game, questioning non-player characters (NPCs) and completing quests called ‘trails’. We loved it so much that we returned in October for the Hallowed Peak edition, a Halloween-themed evening that ended with an excellent closing ceremony.
When the organisers announced in November that they’d secured a new lease for the next two years, we were excited to discover that five more Phantom Peak chapters will be coming in 2023. But there was still a final event to take place in 2022 first: Wintermas. Earlier this month, Pete and I made once again made our way to Canada Water in London for an evening of adventure, mystery, and a few hot drinks to keep us warm in the cold weather.
It’s impossible to not get swept up when you’re at Phantom Peak and there was something about Wintermas which made me feel as excited as a small child.
Hallowed Peak had been a popular event and the volume of attendees had made it a little difficult to move around freely. It was quite a shock then to see Wintermas as empty as it was. The combination of train strikes and freezing weather had likely persuaded some people to postpone their trips. While this left the festive atmosphere feeling slightly flat, it came with benefits: there was plenty of space and time to talk to the actors, and we had a good excuse to drink the gorgeous hot chocolate from the stall in the Old Town area.
Speaking of the actors, they were again the biggest highlight of the evening. It was a shame to see that some of our favourites weren’t there, possibly due the train strikes mentioned above, but those that were smashed their performances as usual. We’d like to give a shoutout to Pax, who signed us up for their community acting group and Dr Winter, who had an excellent evil cackle. We were now used to seeing different actors play familiar characters so the experience wasn’t so jarring as it was during our last visit.
When we stopped inside the picture house, owner Rattigan explained they were looking for people to cast in their next film: ‘Indiana Jonas’. This led to us being handed a short script and roped into acting out one of the scenes while one of the town’s residents critiqued our performance. It was the funniest moment of the evening and we came out laughing. I love the way the actors throw in moments like this outside of the trail storylines, as they add to the colour of the characters and really make you feel as though you’re involved in the event.
As explained in November’s Save Point, I usually adore Christmas but have found it hard to feel festive this year as so much has happened. But it’s almost impossible to not get swept up when you’re at Phantom Peak and there was something about Wintermas which made me feel as excited as a small child. We left the venue in a way that has become something of a tradition now: talking about our favourite parts of the experience, picking up apple pies to eat back at home and already looking forward to our next trip.
Perhaps the planning for Wintermas was a little rushed after the end of Hallowed Peak the month before?
During our first trail of the evening, we were directed to watch a video message to find the character who’d be our next lead. However, when we entered their name into the JonAssist app, it told us this was wrong. We decided to spam the hint button until it revealed the answer and it turned out to be something completely different to the name we’d been provided with. I’m afraid to say this happened twice. Perhaps the planning for Wintermas was a little rushed after the end of Hallowed Peak the month before?
Our first visit of the event had been full of intrigue. Everyone seemed to have an underlying suspicion about the town founder’s intentions, each character warning us about Jonas always watching and the members of the resistance hiding out in the dark Old Town. This theme has become a little lost during the Halloween and Christmas events so the trail storylines are less cohesive. I’d love to see the organisers dig into Jonas’s background more in future chapters so we can find out what’s really going on.
Speaking of intrigue, Phantom Peak’s social media channels have highlighted some sort of controversy surrounding the menace that is Father Platmas. We found him locked up in a cage in the Winter’s Grotto but his presence there wasn’t explained by a character or trail story; and this new area was supposed to be run by Jonas himself, but he never made an appearance. Perhaps the train strikes had affected the actors’ ability to get to the venue just as much as it had the attendees.
We got the impression that not all of them were available. It felt as though some had stepped into different roles at short notice and certain areas weren’t as populated with townsfolk as they should have been. For example, the Miramine Maze was unstaffed this time so you could enter without speaking to anyone first, and several of the characters mentioned in the trails didn’t seem to be anywhere at the event. Train drivers’ salaries are outside the organisers control though so I’m sure they did the best they could under the circumstances.
Phantom Peak has been one of my favourite experiences in such a long time and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three times we’ve been there.
Phantom Peak has grown in popularity since September and a season pass was announced alongside the lease renewal. This entitles you to return twice during each season, so you’d get ten visits during 2023. It’s expensive at over £300 per person but with each visit usually costing £45, you’d save quite a bit of money. It’s just not worth it for us though. We wouldn’t be able to visit so frequently due to how far away we live from the venue and regular weekend arrangements with my stepson.
However, we’ll definitely be returning next year. Phantom Peak has been one of my favourite experiences in such a long time and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three occasions we’ve been there. It’s a dream for anyone who’s a fan of the adventure genre like me. You’re given the opportunity to immerse yourself in another world for five hours and, although none of the puzzles are very challenging, it feels like you’re the protagonist in your very own video game. (Plus, the hot chocolate there is incredibly good.)
Speaking of the puzzles, it’s worth covering them again here. The JonAssist app provides plenty of handholding and this may be too much for seasoned gamers. We’d personally like a higher level of difficulty in the future, but we understand why it’s kept relatively low: the organisers are trying to cater for a wide range of puzzle-solving abilities and increasing it could result in a backlog of attendees trying to speak to characters. This shouldn’t stop you visiting but it’s worth being aware if you’re thinking of booking tickets.
My guess is that the next Phantom Peak edition will take place in February and perhaps we’ll see a celebration of romance in the town for Valentine’s Day. Then maybe there’ll be something spring-related in April – an Easter Platypus festival? Although I like the idea of these themed chapters, it would be food to see a couple of generic ones like the original September event. These may give attendees the chance to dig into the suspicions behind Jonas which have divided the residents of the town.
The low difficulty level and enthusiasm of the actors make it a great experience for kids, but not all the areas of the town are accessible by wheelchair.
Wintermas runs until 15 January 2023 so there’s still time to go if you’re looking for something to do during the Christmas break. The low difficulty level and enthusiasm of the actors make it a great experience for kids, but it’s worth noting that not all the areas of the town are accessible by wheelchair. It’s also quite expensive at £45 per ticket with no concessions. But it’s totally worth it for the atmosphere, quality of the acting and setting, and five hours of immersive fun.
Similar to how I ended my post about our last visit, let’s wrap up this one with the Wintermas carol lyrics: This winter time, come home to mine, platypus in the snow. Let’s drink and sing, and eat like kings, the best friend that I know.