Courtesy of Grand Canal Shoppes The Wizard Trials room at the PanIQ Escape Room in Chicago.
My tween daughter could play for hours on the online gaming platform Roblox, so it didn’t come as a huge shock to learn that 76 percent of American kids are gamers, according to a recent report by the Entertainment Software Association. more surprising? 67 percent of adults are also enthusiasts. In fact, the hobby is so widespread that it’s begun to shape family travel in myriad ways, from elaborate suites and specialty cruises to high-octane adventure tours.
Atari, which first popularized home consoles in the 1970s, opens eight Gensler-designed Atari hotels across the United States. The first will open in Las Vegas in 2025, with more hotels in cities like Denver, Austin and Seattle to follow. Each will feature retro-style arcades and innovative immersive entertainment. Penta hotels (doubles from $100), with properties in Europe and Asia, Penta PlayerPad already offers rooms and suites in 20 locations, including Paris and Vienna. Facilities in the suites include a spacious lounging gaming area with PlayStation 5 consoles and freshly made pizzas available with 24-hour room service.
Courtesy of Electric Playhouse A projection-based play area at the Electric Playhouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For next-level immersive experiences, Universal Studios Japan opened Super Nintendo World in Osaka in Spring 2021. It’s like living in a cheerfully surreal video game. Now the concept is coming to the States, with a location in Hollywood opening next year and another in Orlando after that. Albuquerque’s Electric Playhouse, a sprawling digital entertainment facility with 16 high-tech interactive zones, features an array of innovative games including full-body air hockey and space runner. But most impressive is King of the Worms, where the floors react to your body, so your movements dictate the game.
In Orlando, Star Wars: Galactic Star Cruiser (from $4,809 for two people), A two-day experience aboard Disney’s Halcyon spaceship hotel is the ultimate adventure of your choosing, supported by an eclectic cast of real characters. Join a smuggling ring, wield a lightsaber, or visit the remote planet of Batuu before spending the night in a themed cabin or suite.
Courtesy of Disney The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Escape rooms are like video games excitingly brought to life, and PanIQ Escape Room, a worldwide operator, has some of the most imaginative. Located in New York City, Pyramid Heist requires players to crack codes to find Rah’s golden ankh or be forever cursed by Anubis, an Egyptian god of the dead. Across the Hudson River, the Liberty Science Center, an interactive science museum in Jersey City, New Jersey, is hosting Minecraft: The Exhibition through September 5th. The 6,000-square-foot multimedia extravaganza has 15 life-size characters, Minecraft biome dioramas, and time-lapse world-building tutorials.
Recently launched tours combine gaming with opportunities for cultural immersion. GACUCON (6-day trips from $2,330 for two people) offers a cruise from Miami where families can take advantage of a 24-hour onboard arcade, manga library, and live-action role-playing combat training. Stops in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Haiti can include tubing, ziplining, swimming with dolphins and trips to architectural sites to inspire future world builders.
Travel company Tailor Made launched its free Lost Tribe Esports Birthright Israel trip to connect Jewish young adults with Tel Aviv’s cutting-edge tech scene. The itinerary offers the opportunity to compete against professional esports players in games such as Fortnite and FIFA. Attendees can also meet with developers of the 2021 game Grime. Outdoor excursions include swimming in the Dead Sea, rafting down the Jordan River, and sleeping in a Bedouin tent.
Individual itineraries are also possible. Keith Waldon, founder of Texas-based Departure Lounge and member of T+L’s Travel Advisory Board, can design a trip based on one family’s video game. Set in Los Santos, a fictional Southern California city, fans of Grand Theft Auto V can embark on a tour of Los Angeles to see the sights featured in the game, and then take part in a stunt driving lesson, studio tour and more a bank robbery escape room.
London-based bespoke travel company, Brown & Hudson, offers a groundbreaking new holiday scrapbook in which a videographer with a 360-degree camera discreetly joins a family to capture their journey. Upon returning, the entire journey transforms into an epic VR experience to revisit together, with new surprises woven throughout.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Beyond banana grams.