By Kyah Corff

SYV Star Intern

Not many people are willing to be locked into a room by a stranger, but recently people have been spending money to do just that.

The “escape room” is a new entertainment industry in which a group of people are locked into a room (usually with a theme, such as zombie apocalypse) and have to work together to find clues and solve puzzles in order to escape.

Now the escape room trend has come to Solvang; Ultimate Escape Rooms opened Aug. 9 in Frederik’s Court in Solvang.

The business is owned by Alexis Crouse, her husband Scott Crouse and her stepmother, Annette Cortez. The first of its kind in the Santa Ynez Valley, the location has three rooms inspired by Danish culture and California history.

“It’s fun to watch and be able to give people some exciting, challenging things to do as a family or with your friends,” Cortez said. “It’s not a thankless job!”

The idea to open the Ultimate Escape Rooms came to Cortez in 2016 after she and some friends experienced a Las Vegas escape room. The challenge was exhilarating.

“After we solved each puzzle, we would laugh and giggle. We were excited that we solved what we thought was impossible,” she remembered.

Adrenaline still pumping through her veins, Cortez left the escape room that night knowing she wanted in.

“It seemed like a great opportunity to get in on while the industry is still in its infancy,” she explained.

When Annette told Alexis that she was planning to open an escape room of her own, Alexis and her husband decided to risk it all and become partners. After resigning from teaching at a preschool, Alexis became a stay-at-home mom. Scott Crouse left his job as an IT technician to spend more time building up the new business.

The first Ultimate Escape Rooms location opened in Ventura in late 2016. It quickly became popular and, only a year later, the family began looking for a second location.

They chose Solvang because “the demographic of tourism is a really great supply of customers, and it’s not a bad place to visit!” Cortez explained with a laugh.

The main challenge of securing permits for their second location, she added, was negotiating with the town on how to “legally lock people in a room.”

Like pieces in an escape room puzzle, Cortez and the Crouses work together to manage all sides of their business. Alexis is the creative director, Annette manages everything business-related, and Scott works on social media, marketing and anything that involves computers.

After they decided on Danish and California themes of their three escape rooms, Alexis had the main role in designing each room and its puzzles. As a former teacher, she decided to have each room teach its occupants something new.

The Mischievous Nisse escape room is inspired by Jul, or Danish Christmas, and teaches about Danish cultural traditions. The Snow Queen escape room is inspired by the Han Christian Anderson fairy tale that was the basis for the movie “Frozen.” The third room, called Gold Fever, is inspired by the California Gold Rush.

“You really do learn about Danish culture or about the gold rush without even realizing it,” she said.

To get more information or book an escape room, go to or call 805-474-4208.