“Step right in folks and spin the wheel of misfortune, and enter the box of doom…!” Words spoken as victims are guided deeper into the history of San Francisco and its dark side.
Only in a location like the San Francisco Dungeon can you be entertained, educated and scared all at once. The Dungeon balances all three of these very well. As you progress through the dungeon you move from court rooms to bars to being shanghaied and put on a boat, then contract the plague. There are plenty of chills and scares and great use of darkness, but make no mistake this is no haunted house or tourist trap. You will be entertained, but also educated.
In the hour we were inside, we had our share of jumps and laughs, but we challenge anyone to walk out and NOT have learned something new about the history of San Francisco.
Any attempt to describe the Dungeon is truly wasted, as it is so much more than just an attraction. We will start by saying that most of the special effects are first-rate. Some of them even up to the par of larger facilities like Disney and Universal. We at BtT have to admit that despite our history and knowledge there was a simple effect even we were baffled by and sadly General Manager Adrea Gibbs was not willing to give away secrets. The actors at the Dungeon were also first-rate. This was no weekend haunt job, these people were fully in character and never broke.
During our tour we had a moment where another guest actually broke down. During the scene the actor was attentive and asked if she wanted to leave, but did so fully in character. That level of commitment surpasses that of most theme park cast members or actors. For this alone, the Dungeon should be applauded.
On top of this, we have to look at the environmental theming as well. Real rats, real metal, real wood (Adrea advised us it was all reclaimed and recycled wood used) all put together to turn a reasonably confined space into a full immersive experience. While we are on the subject, let’s talk about the space as well.
Less that a year ago, the building was a gutted out shell that has been completely remodelled inside for two separate but connected attractions; The San Francisco Dungeon and Madame Tussand’s. That is an impressive feat when you see the quality of the show for both attractions. Deep within the Dungeon, the lights become low and it is easy to get disoriented when you are trying to remember the outside shape of the building. We were confused by the layout enough that the only way you would know where you were inside would be if you had a layout or map (we did not).
Inside, the rock-work, and wood work is very well done. Virtually all of the props and environments are fully immersive and well designed. From fire embers to dirty, bloody costumes, no detail was left out. The designers definitely put a lot of thought into the design of the Dungeon as well as the layout of the path and transitions from one event to the next. The script called for a lot of audience participation and the actors were happy to pull unsuspecting guests into the story. Speaking of story, expect a certain level of adult humour (it IS called a dungeon) and adult situations throughout.
On exiting the Dungeon, you leave the darkness of old San Francisco and head either back out to the street or over to its attached neighbour Madame Tussaud’s. The level of detail and accuracy on most of the sculptures was quite impressive but the addition of the dioramas, really sets the scene well.
Watching guests take pictures and interact with the sculptures was intriguing and entertaining. There are also stations that allow you to take a wax copy of your hand and take a variety of pictures in scenarios for take home keepsakes (also available at the Dungeon).
Moving from one attraction to the next was a bit of a shock. If you are going to do both, we would advise guests to consider going to Madame Tussaud’sfirst, unless you scare easily, then you may need the candy gloss of the sculptures and dioramas to relax after screaming and (for some apparently) tears.
In the end, we actually really liked the Dungeon. It was just a fun and educational experience. We walked out smiling and happy with the knowledge that the visit was a great time… and that we didn’t live San francisco back then.