Scavenger hunt tours offer unique views of cities
Townies and sightseers alike are signing up for these brain-teasing expeditions.
When Dalia Levine and her classmates graduated from librarian school, they were looking for a way to let loose. Their celebration of choice? A scavenger hunt around the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. They lost to a team that included a former "Jeopardy" contestant. But she wasn't upset. The hunt led her to see the museum in a way she never had before.
"You get to see the details that you sometimes gloss right over," she told From The Grapevine. "I love learning how to think differently."
Levine is at the forefront of a new trend in sightseeing. Those looking to explore a city – even their own – in a fun and fresh way are turning to scavenger hunting. Hunts can be organized around a place like historic neighborhoods or flea markets, and along the way participants are asked tricky questions or to complete fun challenges.
A food market in Israel serves as the backdrop for a fun scavenger hunt. (Photo: Nir Levy/Shutterstock)
Philadelphia-based Gil Travel, a company that has been helping Americans tour Israel for more than 40 years, offer a dozen different scavenger hunts all organized around a theme – such as food or beach towns. One popular hunt is the "Market Dash," in which participants explore a bustling Jerusalem marketplace to complete certain tasks. Supplied with maps and mission packs, teams are dispatched from the starting line, and they race to sell fruit, pose with a fish or find someone from Greece.
Rachel Duncan is a hunt producer at Watson Adventures, a New York-based company that orchestrates scavenger hunts in many cities across America, including Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. "We consider them walking tours spiked with caffeine," she told From The Grapevine.
The bulk of Watson's hunts are for team-building exercises and corporate events. Groups consist of no more than six people. "Our theory is that teams work better because everyone looks at something in a different way. Everybody brings their own talents into the team to accomplish the hunt."
Britain-based Wildgoose brings the treasure hunt into the digital age, by giving teams GPS-enabled tablets that help navigate from clue to clue. Interactive features – like a live scoreboard – allow users to track the progress of other teams on the same hunt. And event managers can score photo challenges instantly over the Internet and send motivational messages to teams.
Another British company offers a James Bond-style hunt where participants play pretend spy games around London. And Canadian-based Urban Capers offers tours of hidden (and haunted!) Toronto as well as the usual neighborhood tours and museum hunts.
"It's really about exploring a space that you may have seen a million times," Duncan says.
Levine, the librarian from New York, couldn't agree more. She has since been on many more hunts around Manhattan, including some from Watson Adventures. One showcased the ghosts of Greenwich Village and another that took place at Grand Central Station. "I go through there every single day – twice a day – and there were things I had never seen before," she says. "It was so exciting. There was a chalkboard of a schedule still up in a fairly public place, and you just don't realize it's there, and the hunt led us there, and it was really awesome. There's always that moment of: Wow, this is so cool."
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