To say that my interest was piqued when I heard that Scott Swenson (Ex-Creative Director of Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream) had been recruited to work on The Vault of Souls in Tampa, Florida is an understatement. It seems that everything that Scott is involved with always has a lot of heart put into it. I have no trouble expecting the best when I hear he’s involved with any project.
The Vault of Souls is not a boogity boogity haunted attraction in which you cram gaggles of people through per night. The scope of the show is larger than that. It lasts an entire evening and includes varying tiers of food and drink. It has been called “An elegant night out” because that’s exactly what it is. You must be 18 to partake of this experience. Get more info here.
The event consists of several different parts:
– The Arrival: An eerily elegant cocktail lounge with live atmospheric entertainment
– The Ritual: A personally terrifying non-linear walkthrough haunt experience filled with the long lost residents of The Vault of Souls
– The Gin Joint: A sinister speakeasy with live entertainment
– The Readers Clearing: A serene clearing where psychics and tarot readers gather to share visions of the future
– The Gold Standard Lounge: An exclusive lounge for the Gold Standard Account holders that overlooks The Arrival
Passbook Account: The lowest tier is the $100 per person “Passbook Account” which includes:
– Reserved entry time for The Ritual
– Access to The Arrival 30 minutes prior to The Ritual (Hors d’oeuvres are served)
– Access to The Gin Joint and The Readers Clearing (The Readers clearing includes free coffee/cappuccino service and gelato.)
– Valet Parking
Gold Standard Account: The higher tier is the $400 per person Gold Standard Account which includes:
– Exclusive Access to The Gold Standard VIP Lounge (Hors d’oeuvres are served)
– Gold Standard Concierge Service throughout the night
– Multiple entry times for The Ritual (as arranged through the Gold Standard Concierge)
– Access to The Arrival, The Gin Joint and The Readers Clearing throughout the night
– Open bar at The Arrival, The Gin Joint, The Readers Clearing and The Gold
– A meeting with the a key member of the Creative team to discuss the making of The Vault of Souls and to see some of the make-up and special effects used in this ground-breaking event
– 1 personally autographed copy of “Souls” a book of dark poetry written by the Creative Director based on the characters in The Vault of Souls
– Valet Parking
– 1 personal psychic reading in The Readers Clearing
Harknell and I did the Gold Standard Account. The main difference we had from the lower tier is that we got to hang out with the Creative Director on the balcony level, free drinks all night, a book of poetry, the ability to enter the theater experience multiple times, and a free psychic reading.
You might be saying, “Holy crap, this is expensive for a Halloween event!”
It is priced higher than your standard boogity house, but this isn’t a boogity house. What you are buying here is what I’d dub, “Next Level Shit”. You get extremely high quality food, drinks, coffee/cappuccinos, and the best gelato I’ve ever had. The entire experience lasts about 3 hours or more in which your small group gets personal attention from the ghost actors. Don’t eat a big dinner before you come. The food is really good.
Is it worth it? Hell yeah, it’s worth it.
They encourage fancy dress because it is an elegant 1920s themed gala. We suck, though. We were 1000 miles from home and separated from our closets. I did a dress, but Harknell did dark wash jeans as he didn’t have any of that on vacation. They aren’t enforcing a dress code. I saw women in there wearing light wash jeans, so don’t frantic your anus about it too much.
Our evening started when we were checked in at the front. A woman then proceeded to cleanse us to make sure we weren’t bringing any bad juju inside.
Cool decor is in this area before you even get to the main halls:
If we had had the Passbook Account we would have been escorted directly into the main hall where we’d partake in hors d’oeuvres, purchase drinks, and take in the music and dance entertainment that happens at intervals throughput the night. Since we Were Gold Standard, we got to enter a secret passage behind a bookcase that led up to the balcony where Creative Director Scott Swenson sits. It has it’s own bar and Hors d’oeuvres service. We were given a card so that drinks anywhere would be free for us.
We hung out up there for awhile and got to have some great conversations with Scott until our names were called. Here we are in the VIP lounge pretending to be classy AF:
Copies of Creative Director Scott Swenson’s book are included:
Also this guy was on the table. Seems to be having a festive time holy shit, dude:
There was a great view down to the regular waiting area complete with live music and ghost dancers who would come out at intervals:
They even had a signature mixer at the bar:
When our names were called we went down into the main hall and were told to enter. Upon entering we were immediately given masks and told that we had to wear them for the entire time and to not speak in the attraction. If a ghost recognizes your face or voice as a descendant you may become trapped in the vault. You are only allowed to nod your head. However you are allowed to open and explore everything as long as you return it to how it was when you found it.
You descend an elevator and then you are on your own to freely wander throughout the space. It reminded me a little bit of American Horror Story Season 1 because the ghosts are just living their lives as you come along into their rooms. They will not startle scare you. They may ask you to play with something or perform an action. We encountered children, a scary doctor, had to participate in a bizarre ritual, saw a woman who clearly loves S/M, and a host of many other characters who were either stuck there waiting, confused, or upset.
The idea of this is to piece together what happened. You are quickly made to understand that there’s a girl named Lucy and she may be the key to all of this. Throughout the evening you piece together her story and her parent’s story. You also will find your death certificate in Mona’s room.
Mona is a secretary who has one of those new-fangled typewriters. If you type to her on it, she will answer you. There’s also a thing that you can find that triggers something. The characters will eventually tell you exactly what that item is. You actually don’t have to find said item and can leave whenever you want. In fact once it’s found you have to wait about 30 minutes for it to come back – we were told that it’s an extra and not an absolutely necessary element for everyone. I recommend exploring every room. I particularly loved the mirror room in which you have a pretty intense encounter with an actor that just fills my conceptual art-loving heart with joy. The haunted house fan in me has never seen a slow blinking light done better than in the train room. The only other place I have ever see it choreographed that well was at Hotel of Horror in Saylorsburg, PA in 2013.
After we explored for hours we exited up to the Gin Joint and was greeted by a bouncer. (After all, this is the Prohibition.) They take photos of you in your respective waiting room and we collected ours there.
We headed up to The Readers Clearing to partake in cappuccinos, gelato, and snacks like fruit, cake, flan, and more. The area had some nice couches and was a great place to chill out. Or in my case I had a lot of coffee and gelato so I grabbed our video camera and ran around like a hummingbird. I wonder if that video came out ok? I’ll find out later. Here we are in our masks from the show with our gelato:
If you have Passbook you leave whenever you are done partaking of the desserts. IF you have Gold Standard you can go back to the VIP lounge or main area and go back through again.
Vault of Souls very much reminds me of one of those 90s video games in which you go from room to room and explore. I loved those games and I love this.
The Vault of Souls is some Next Level Shit. It’s entirely worth your time and money. I really hope that there is one next year and that they expand the experience to allow each guest to complete an action in some way. That would likely be hard to figure out how to implement from a logistical point of view, but if anyone can do it Scott Swenson can.
This experience would be my #1 can’t miss event of the season because it’s so unique and unforgettable. There’s nothing else like it that I know of in the Florida area and only a few similar experiences nationwide – the most known being in NYC and CA. The way this is set up with the coffee and desserts afterward appeals to me far more than the events in NYC do because the NYC ones assume that you want to drink your ass off. I am allergic to most alcohol so paying their ticket prices for the inclusion of just alcohol always seemed to be a waste to me. The coffee and everything included here makes me feel like everyone can participate and everyone is getting their money’s worth. This experience is actually priced lower than events of it’s kind that offer you less so I believe that you are absolutely getting what you pay for here – and more.
You’d be really making a mistake if you did not check this one out. The best part? It appeals to both haunted house fans and theater lovers who don’t care for haunted houses because the actors aren’t trying to terrify you – they are ghosts. They are creepy, confused, saucy, and they might even try and spank you. That’s exactly how I like them.
DO THIS ONE.
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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