Note: Tomb has closed in Boston. You can find this attraction now in Syracuse and West Nyack, NY. 5W!TS has opened new interactive adventures near Boston in Foxborough, Massachusetts: Espionage and 20,000 Leagues.
What do you get when you blend a haunted house, a theme park attraction, a Hollywood movie set, a reality TV show and a traveling museum exhibit? You can find out in a somewhat unlikely place--Boston. 5W!TS, a company founded by Attleboro, Massachusetts, native Matthew DuPlessie, opened its first interactive adventure, "Tomb," in the Fenway area of Boston in October of 2004, and those who dare to enter the pharaoh's lair will have quite a story to tell--if they get out alive!
It's Not Real
Now before I go too far, it's important to point out that you won't actually die. In fact, few groups fail the pharaoh's challenges and find themselves exiting the attraction via the "death hallway." Still, the possibility of fatality does heighten the level of urgency and dread you'll feel as you meet the pharaoh and see the skeleton of the last guy who tried to plunder his tomb. DuPlessie explained, "If failure is not a reality, people don't take it seriously."
About.com Theme Parks Guide Arthur Levine invited me to join him on a behind-the-scenes tour of the attraction shortly after it opened, and I must admit that I was feeling a bit, well... chicken. Early reviews of Tomb were filled with talk of death and snakes--two of my least favorite things. But I mustered some courage and agreed to assume the role of screaming sidekick to the fearless Theme Parks Guy.
I was a bit shaken when our flashlights mysteriously went dark after we entered the realistic Egyptian pyramid, but overall, Tomb proved not to be nearly as scary as I feared, which was good news for my vocal chords and Arthur's ears. Though not recommended for children under seven or for anyone who is easily spooked, there is nothing gory or horrifying.
A New Kind of Urban Entertainment
"The point of the show is not to scare; the focus is puzzle solving," said DuPlessie. As groups proceed through the attraction, they face a variety of challenges, everything from reproducing a sequence of musical notes to moving a stone statue to solving a puzzle by twirling hieroglyphic-inscribed columns. While some of the pharaoh's requirements, such as standing immobile on a stone while virtual snakes slither around your ankles, are individual tests of courage, most of the activities require interaction and cooperation, which makes Tomb an interesting outing for groups. "We've been pleasantly surprised with both the number of corporate outings and the school groups," DuPlessie said, adding that a field trip to the attraction is a perfect reward for students who have completed a study of Egypt.
There is a high level of authenticity to the set, which is unique in that it has been designed as a traveling installation. To create Tomb's interior, "We digitized images from actual Egyptian tombs," DuPlessie said. Unlike a theme park attraction, where guests are often strapped into cars, Tomb is a walk-through adventure, during which you are not only encouraged to touch, you must interact physically with the environment… or perish!
Degrees of Difficulty
Tomb is truly a technological marvel. On our behind-the-scenes tour, we learned, for example, that the guides who lead groups through the attraction can control the pharaoh's commands and comments by surreptitiously waving magnets over hidden panels. We also discovered that the whole attraction's level of difficulty can be altered to suit the participants. As each group moves through, the attraction automatically re-sets itself for the next intrepid bunch.
DuPlessie told us, "What's neat about this show is that it is both fully automated and interactive. We've attempted to make you feel like you're Indiana Jones. It's not something you're watching; it's something you're doing," he said. An original soundtrack further enhances the experience. It's "full, hands-on, sensory immersion," said DuPlessie, a graduate of MIT and Harvard with a background in mechanical engineering and business, who decided to pursue his first job in the theme park industry in 1998 "after having too many cubicle jobs in conventional engineering."
Death Isn't So Bad
I know at this point you're wondering if we made it out alive. Being gutsy reporters, Arthur and I actually asked to experience "death," and I'm pleased to tell you--it's not so bad. Those groups who fail the pharaoh's final challenge see shimmering blue lights and hear a roar as they are first engulfed in the waters of the Nile and then find themselves walking through a dark, laser-swirled tunnel of mist into the light… and the gift shop.
Yes, the good news is... dead people can still shop.
If you're going...
Tomb is located at 186 Brookline Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. You'll find complete details on getting there, admission fees and more on Arthur's Theme Parks site, along with additional pictures of Tomb. Call 617-375-WITS (9487) for reservations (recommended) and additional information.
The attraction is especially appropriate for older kids and teenagers visiting Boston.
DuPlessie said that there is a good chance that, after a 12- to 18-month run, Tomb's next home will be in Providence, Rhode Island. 5W!TS is developing new installations that may replace Tomb in Boston, including a James Bond-like safe cracker attraction and an underwater diving adventure.
2010 Update: 5W!TS has plans to open two new interactive attractions, Espionage and 20,000 Leagues, at Patriot Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Boston Globe has a sneak preview. DuPlessie told the Globe that Tomb may close in the fall of 2010 and be relocated to a larger space.