Category: Florida

2016, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions

Haunted Attraction Preview: Orlando, Florida: Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 26

Harknell and I attended Universal studios Halloween Horror Nights on Saturday, October 8 2016 in Orlando, Florida.

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Disclosure: This is not a review. Harknell and I toured the event with Creative Director Michael Aiello for free and skipped all lines. My experience does not reflect the experience of an average customer so I will be talking honestly and transparently about the event’s features instead of reviewing it. My aim here is to help you guys can understand what’s here and empower you to make a decision on if the event is right for you. I always have and always will keep it legit with you.

I do genuinely think that they made some great improvements this year. But first, some background is needed!

My biggest complaint from last year is how I was made to feel at the event by their 2 checkpoints of aggressive security. If you have never been to this park you need to understand that there is a garage where you park to enter the park. The walkways before you get to Universal Studios is called CityWalk and it features shops and restaurants. There’s no knife or gun shop in CityWalk so I found it peculiar that they needed a security checkpoint just to get to this area. Previously you would have to enter the park through Universal Studios CityWalk, go through security there, then walk past the shops, and then go through security again at the park turnstiles.

This second security checkpoint’s implementation was problematic in the past. You’d need to funnel yourself into a horde of impatient (and possibly drunk) park guests. There was no queue or line management as such. It’s likely you may have gotten shoved, kicked, or hit by other park guests intentionally or unintentionally trying to make it to the front of the line to go through the security scanners. If you are claustrophobic, worried about being groped/touched/hit this would probably be of concern to you. The only other place I’ve encountered a line handled like this was at Six Flags Great Adventure Fright Fest in 2007 – right before I never went back to that event because of how badly managed the crowds were. I enjoy Universal Studios and was irritated because I think highly of the park in general. Any comparison with Six Flags is just…it shouldn’t be possible by me or anyone else. Universal Studios is a top tier park and should be run like one.

They completely fixed this this year. You now just go through 1 thorough security checkpoint at the beginning of Citywalk and wait for the event to start in the Guest Services area at the Universal Studios gate. Harknell and I both thought this was great right from the start and a major re-think on the part of Universal.

The Houses:
This year they have 9 Haunted Houses, so let’s go through it:

American Horror Story:

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This house was made up of Murder House, Freak Show and Hotel. The staging, lighting, and execution was phenomenal. I’m a fan of this show but even if you are not this house delivers. I was told that this is the most popular haunted house in the event’s history and I have to agree that I can see why. On the night we went it had a much higher queue line all night long–go to this first if you can, the rest will be much easier to get through.

I did notice where the line in their depiction of the show probably was though – you won’t see any aborted babies in Dr. Charles Montgomery’s area, but you will see the Infantata, and I noticed that there were multiple scares for each character so that if you miss a scare you’ll be hit by their alternate scare. I am not sure I noticed this implemented this well before, but this year every house had great alternate scares.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: I am completely unfamiliar with this film so I can’t comment on how accurate it is to the film. (I seriously doubt they didn’t nail it because that’s never been something that’s been an issue with this event.) I can tell you that we enjoyed going through, the rooms were laid out well and there were various types of scares in here. I like when rooms tell a story and sure enough there were scenes with 2 actors menacing each other. Coolness!

The Walking Dead: Guys, I don’t dislike TWD, but I personally sure am sick of it. It’s very popular so I get why it’s here again. That said, I felt that this year’s TWD house was so much better than last year’s. Every year they have done TWD the houses flowed pretty well and told a story such that even those who don’t watch the show could figure out what was going on – except last year. A good gauge of this is Harknell. He doesn’t watch the show and I had to explain to him what the different rooms were last year. (“What the hell is that van doing playing random club music?”)

If you are a TWD fan you will enjoy this one. It goes over the greatest hits of the previous seasons and they got most of the memorable scenes from the show in here. This year the narrative per room was stronger and it didn’t require cliff notes for those not familiar with the show.

The Exorcist: These classic films HHN never has trouble executing and this house is no exception. What I remember from my walkthrough is it being more visual than being scary, but do note that I am really hard to scare. :D

Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield: Every time HHN does Mike Myers – just like what I said above about their execution of the classic movies – they do a good job at it. This house was no exception. There were a lot of distraction scares and they nailed all of the iconic scenes from the film that I still remember. They also told a story as you go through. I appreciate cohesive narrative. This was their version of the second movie.

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This was one of my favorite houses. I haven’t seen this film yet, but holy crap. They built upward and created a true 3 dimensional sense of the world this lives in. I enjoyed the design of the characters, the little gingerbread men, and the dark comedic nature of the house. I’m going to see the movie now because of this.

Lunatics Playground 3D – You Won’t Stand a Chance

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I LOVE LOVE LOVE their original IPs. My issue with HHN has never been the creative aspect of it. My issue has always been that I feel the folks working on this event do such great original work that I prefer to see what happens when they run wild over the IPs. That’s my bias spelled right out for you. I don’t have hatorade for IPs, but I’d jump at any opportunity to see what original works these folks can do. Their icon this year is Chance, a Harlequin style character. The story of this house is that Jack left her behind to take the fall and she’s in custody having all kinds of weird fantasies and freak outs. Using her was a smart choice given that Suicide Squad / Harley Quinn is popular right now. I’ve seen people cosplay her at cons, so it appears she’s been well-received. I definitely appreciate and enjoyed this one.

Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch: This is about a town that only appears when lightning strikes during a storm. If you are here when it strikes you are stuck there forever. There’s a lot of ghostly gold diggers in this one. If we are talking movies, westerns are a big foundational genre in America so I thought it was cool to play with western lore.

Tomb of the Ancients
This is another one of my favorite ones. I can tell you why. The key to my heart is building upward / downward and deviating from linear lunge n scream. I dig storytelling and world building because it’s something that nationwide quickly gets cut. There’s also a GAT in here (Guest Activated Trigger). So if you see a rope hanging down that looks like it should be pulled – PULL IT!

Interactivity. Win.

Scarezone Overview:

This post is getting really long, so I’ll link all the scarezones here and talk a bit about the 2 that I felt were my favorites: Vamp ’55 and A Chance in Hell. The former was a 50’s themed vampire homecoming with a lot of detail put into the story. It reminded me a little bit of the original Buffy: The Vampire Slayer movie. A Chance in Hell was Chance, their icon’s Scarezone where park guests can interact with her.

I have always felt that a unique, original icon is a simple way to put a unique point of view on the event each year and was glad to see that they truly supported the idea front and center!

Conclusion:

My issue with HHN was never the creative work or execution. It was always that I loved what they were doing but had issue with how it was presented from a crowd flow / park experience point of view. Their changing how security is handled this year I feel will go a long way to addressing that for everyone. Would I like to see less IP based houses and more original works? Yes. I feel that if left completely unfettered we would see the most insane, cool, off the wall shit coming out of Universal A&D. But I do know that the general public may disagree with me, and that’s OK. In the same way that I am one of a smaller demographic that truly enjoys Prog Rock and can spend an hour discussing poly rhythms most people are probably thinking I’m an idiot for needing anything more complicated than a power chord. I accept that I am not the only demographic that they have to be concerned about, think that they are doing a great job with the IPs, and while I’d like to see more original works, the original works they do have this year were enjoyable.

I highly recommend using ExpressPass or utilizing multiple days if you go to this event, though. The week that I went it was actually not super crowded, but it was right after the hurricane, so I think that this may have affected the crowd levels to my benefit.

If you attended this event I’d really love to hear your perspective! Thanks to Mike Aiello for his kind hospitality! He’s a good example of someone who loves what he does and truly elevates the NBC/Universal brand.

2016, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews, Theater

Tampa, Florida: Interactive Theater Review: The Vault of Souls

Thankfully Hurricane Matthew didn’t hit where I was in Orlando directly, so general pre-hurricane chaos, losing a couple of haunt days, and having to drive 20+ hours out of my way (OMG) to get home because 95 North was flooded was the maximum impact we experienced.

Yeah – my back still hurts days later. :( This is why the reviews are coming out slower. The hurricane really impacted us.

Orange County lifted the curfew just in time for me to get to Tampa on Friday, October 7th, 2016 to see The Vault of Souls for their second year of operation. Time to go haunting!

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I reviewed them last year and was very impressed at that time. I felt like it was an amazing start to an innovative show. I was extremely pleased that they did it again. Did I mention that they they won an Innovation award from us? Yep.

What was it like this year?

This year they took the concept up to the next level with some great alterations and additions. First, let’s talk about what The Vault of Souls is if you haven’t read my previous review. It’s Interactive / Immersive Theatre; a haunted experience located in a Tampa landmark that also draws upon the local history.

“The Exchange National Bank opened in 1923 to protect the worldly possessions of Tampa’s High Society. The founders of the bank soon discovered that there was also a desire to protect their clients’ “other-worldly” possessions as well. After consulting with the most prestigious psychics and local native Shaman, they were able to invoke “The Vault of Souls”. This paranormal purgatory was constructed in the basement of the bank and became the safe haven for carefully selected souls. To this day, Tampa’s elite gather in October, when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, to enter this mysterious vault. For some it is a brief visit. For others, it is an eternity.”

This is not a startle scare chainsaw fest. There are no startle scares in here whatsoever. If you enjoy theatrical haunts OR don’t care for scary things but enjoy theatre, this is for you. Yes, even your friend who hates haunts will like this as long as they enjoy fun.

Harknell and I love it.

You start off in “The Arrival”, which is a bar area with live music, dancers, and people serving small bites of food. The food is included with your admission, the alcohol is not.

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Shepherd’s Pie and Shrimp and Grits:

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The Vault Ventilator, their specialty drink:

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You wait here until your name is called. Characters will interact with you up here, which is new this year and a great addition. I encountered a clown, fortune teller, researcher, and at least 1 other from the time period. They have added enhanced effects and animated ghost projections on the wall.

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When your name is called you enter “The Ritual”. Before you enter you get to watch 2 ghosts do a waltz, and then you enter in small groups. You have the ability to wander around for as long as you want, exploring, solving puzzles, and piecing together the story. Remember adventure video games in the 90s? This is that in real life. I freaking loved those type of games.

You get to go deeper into the story of Lucy, whose soul was kept in the Vault by her parents. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay the fee to join her there so you run into their ghosts looking for Lucy. A particularly unsettling scene added this year was Lucy’s Mom done with a Pepper’s Ghost effect. Mad props to that.

They don’t cram people inside. We were in there for over an hour and didn’t get to everything that we could have done – this year there is so much more that you can do inside. You”ll notice some similarities with last year’s show but they have expanded almost everything. There are now several quests you can complete in order to find out pieces of the story. I didn’t complete all of them but I did ask Creative Director Scott Swenson if they could all be completed if we had stayed longer. He told me that yes, every quest has an ending and something that happens. Cool!

After you choose to leave you go upstairs to the Gin Joint, just like last year. I’m told that they may make the Gin Joint a year-round thing. This makes me happy because it’s a gorgeous space. This year they had a couple of (amazing!!!) live singers and several more folks in costume. I didn’t want to interrupt the actors’ work, but here are some shots of the Gin Joint decor, which I loved:

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Upstairs they also had the gelato, coffee, and fortune tellers like last year in “The Readers’ Clearing”. They upgraded that space with …well…look:

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When you leave you get to keep your mask and you get a book of poetry written by Scott Swenson. The book is the second volume, so it is new for this year. Women get roses:

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I particularly liked that they alter your mask depending on what quests you do and how you interact with the actors. I interacted with the dentist and the seductress. I hope they add more to the mask alteration and really go nuts with it next year. That would be cool – and majorly appeal to my love of wearable, fluid, performance art.

If you require glasses to see I highly recommend that you wear contacts when you go here because of the mask. I thought I could get away with having my glasses under the mask, but I wouldn’t do that again. Because after surgery I now require progressive lenses which can’t be done in contact lenses easily I’ll just wear my single vision contacts and bring a magnifying glass to be able to read with next year. :D (I am still learning how to interact with the world after my eye surgery.)

Tickets are $100 plus a $5 service fee. Our tickets were complimentary, but even if I weren’t a writer I would have paid to go see this show. Arrive about an hour early so that you can properly eat, drink, and interact with the actors in The Arrival. The cost includes the food – and the food is extremely good. If you show up just before your arrival time I feel that you will probably not get all that you should be getting out of the experience. This is a high end elegant night out and every year they keep setting the bar higher and higher. This is where I am seeing true innovation and creativity thrive.

Since Tampa may be my future home I am very happy that the arts are thriving in Tampa and elevating the city’s history and capabilities. I feel that too many people just go to the theme parks in Orlando and fail to look just an hour southwest at the city of Tampa. Tampa has so much to offer, is always the place I have my most memorable vacation days at, and The Vault of Souls is solid proof of that.

You really should…DO THIS ONE!

2015, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theater, interview

Interview: Tampa, Florida’s Vault of Souls Creative Director talks about what it’s like to wrangle ghosts in the roaring 20s

I had the opportunity to go to Tampa, Florida to attend and review The Vault of Souls 2 weekends ago. This “elegant night out” consisting of food, drink, and interactive theater firmly rooted in Tampa’s local history is possibly the most ambitious project I’ve seen for the Halloween season this year – or ever. Naturally, I had a few questions:

Oni: Hiya Scott! So how did Vault of Souls come about? Is this a collaborative project, or are you running the whole show?

Scott: The Vault of Souls started in December of 2014 when Susannah Smith with The Wilson Company contacted me to create a Halloween event for adults that would utilize their events pavilion, The Vault, and the surrounding environments. We toured the spaces and developed a story that would feature the wonderful history of this gem in Downtown Tampa. Any project of this magnitude requires a “village” to bring it to life…or “after-life” as the case may be. The incredible staff at The Vault and The Wilson Company stepped up to the plate to do things completely above and beyond expectations.

Our Technical Director, Jason Atwell and his company AAG created and refined the many worlds of the experience. Spellbound Stitches created the costumes and Dawn Harlan designed the make-up. The cast created rich characters that can truly interact with guests throughout the night to create a personal and detailed experience. But the real champion and visionary who was brave enough and insightful enough to support this endeavor is Caroline Wilson. She is at the helm of The Wilson Company and has allowed us to build the perfect creative environment.

Flapper costumes by https://www.facebook.com/StarrbirdProductions
Flapper costumes by Spellbound Stitches https://www.facebook.com/StarrbirdProductions

Oni: I am sure you have a lot of elements of the show that you are proud of. If you could pick just one thing what would you say is your biggest achievement while developing this show?

Scott: Its really hard to pick a specific element, so I would have to say the communal and totally interactive nature of the event. The guests affect the growth and path of the story. People spend as much as 3 hours in the Ritual, masked and silent, exploring the details and making the plot connections. Then they come back to the world of the living and sit in either The Gin Joint or The Readers Clearing and discuss their adventure. This sense of communal pretending is by far the most interesting element of the entire project for me.

Oni: The thing that that I noticed is that the food served at the event was really good. Who do we have to thank for that? Is there a kitchen in the building? How hard is that to coordinate?

Scott: In the on-going attempt to bring attention to Downtown Tampa and specifically the Franklin Street Corridor, the catering is provided by Spain, a local restaurant blocks from The Vault. They are WONDERFUL to work with and have a totally professional team of culinary experts and hosts.

Oni: How did you go about picking the actors for the event? Were they all originally scare actors, or did you spread a wider net?

Scott: About 60% of the actors came from a haunt industry background and 40% from the local theatre community. We held several auditions for actors, dancers, singers, variety artists, Tarot readers and musicians. Auditions started in June of this year and continued, on and off, until 2 weeks before opening.

Oni: Vault of Souls is linked to Tampa history, which is something that I particularly love about it. Is Lucy or any of the other characters based on a real person?

Scott: There are a few actual names that appear in the “mythology” of the event. For example, James A. Griffin’s name appears on several communications from The Exchange National Bank. This was the name of the actual bank president when it opened in 1923. The characters themselves are more based on people who could have existed in the 1920’s vs. those who actually did. The character of Wisteria, who resides in The Arrival, for instance, represents the huge popularity growth of “Mystics” during the early 1920’s.

Oni: I loved your book of companion poetry that was available at the event. When you write, how does your writing process generally work?

Scott: Thank you so much! When writing the poetry for “souls”, I tried to get a sense of the character and their surroundings and then “get out of the way”. I tried to let the poems develop without too much guidance. With that collection, the more I tried to force the writing, the worse it got. Some character details actually emerged during the writing process…sometimes they even took me off guard.

Oni: What advice do you have for the kids out there who would love to grow up to do what you do?

Scott: Do it…Don’t worry about “who will pay me” or “I’ll never get anything produced” Find a way to make it work. I have learned just as much about haunting from home haunters as I have from industry professionals. This doesn’t mean that just by wanting it to happen it will. I have studied theatre and story-telling and anything else that struck my interest for YEARS! Realize the “wanting” and “doing” are 2 different things. Take responsibility for your own future. Find ways to work with great teams of people. Learn from them. Make mistakes. LEARN FROM THEM! Take artistic risks but make sure the application is 100% safe! Be a storyteller!

Oni: What do you have planned for the future? Will there be a second installment of Vault of Souls?

Scott: As a freelancer, the future is always in flux…The success of The Vault of Souls has given the team a great deal to think about. Although there is no final decision regarding the future, we have proved that there is an eager audience for this style of interactive environmental performance art in Tampa. We hope that this will inspire growth and new opportunities.


Tickets are on sale now for The Vault of Souls. Up to six people may enter at once. General admission is $100 per person. Learn more and buy tickets here. Read my review here.

2015, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions

Winter Haven, Florida Haunted Attractions: The Shallow Grave 2015 review

I had the opportunity to check out The Shallow Grave in Winter Haven, Florida on October 9th, 2015. They have 2 haunts: ADHD (Attention Deficit Haunt Disorder) and Haunted Hills: The Rage. They actually cultivated a pretty detailed back story that you can check out here.

The Shallow Grave is located about 49 minutes south of Orlando and has 2 haunts. I felt that both haunts were really well-designed. In some ways the sets reminded me of Netherworld in Atlanta. While not as large as Netherworld (because absolutely nothing I have seen so far is) you can definitely see the care that they took to construct and plan each room. The set pieces were very well placed and it did feel like each room was a different place rather than a different room in a warehouse. They let customers in 6 at a time and do not conga line people through, which is good. They also had at least 5 scare actors out front scaring and posing for photo ops.

ADHD: Overdose

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ADHD is exactly what it sounds like it is – it’s a nightmare of varying rooms that switch themes at a moment’s notice. This is supposed to be your tormented mind after you evade their icon, Thaddeus. I did this haunt first, but I believe it’s supposed to come second in the story. In here you’ll find much of the more fantastical monsters, clowns, and wild insanity.

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Normally I would say that it’s odd that they switched themes from room to room. Many haunts so this and it’s a thing that I usually give the side-eye at. That isn’t the case here because the entire point of the haunt was an ADHD nightmare and they even created a back story to go along with it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – narrative makes a haunt. Tell me a story. Yeah, they have that down.

ADHD was a good choice because it allows them to get creative with a wide spread of monsters in a geographical area that I feel is under served when it comes to indie haunts. This is needed. Theme park haunts are what most Floridians seem to be familiar with. Theme parks are great but there’s an entire scope of Holy Shit that theme parks won’t ever be able to do that the indie haunt can and will do. Where I live in the northeast it’s the opposite – most people know indie haunts and look at theme parks strangely. My travels have really shown me the difference in how haunts are regarded on the eastern seaboard. Since I was a sociology major this kind of thing fascinate me.

But I digress.

Haunted Hills: The Rage

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Haunted Hills: The Rage was more of a linear story about their icon, Thaddeus who is a cannibal during the Great Depression. Again, the haunt was well-staged and the actors were in good places that I felt complimented the props rather than doubled up on where the props were. That’s pretty important and something I have seen many haunts get wrong, so I notice when it’s done right.

You start out entering Thaddeus’ house and then you have to find your way out because HOLY CRAP cannibals and monstrous people. My only issue with both haunts was that a few of the actors were not as active as they should have been and simply stopped after an initial scare so the person in the back (me) didn’t get it as hard. The sets were done so well and everything worked together so fabulously that I don’t think most people would notice, but I am trained to notice the smallest things.

I actually think that (if the local economy can handle it) they should consider an upcharge price where you get to go in as 1 or 2 people. I think that would be something people would love and the issue I had being at the end of the line of 6 would become a non-issue.

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Conclusion:

I really liked The Shallow Grave. This is a growing haunt in the central Florida area that is poised to really show the locals some of the more freaky stuff that is done in other geographical areas. If you want to see some different types of scares than the usual theme park scares you should definitely check this one out because they are really building something Florida can be proud of. I can’t wait to see how it grows next year.

Ticket prices vary but ranges from about $15-$20 and I feel are pretty inexpensive for what is inside. You can see pricing details and learn more here.

2015, Attractions, Florida, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

Tampa Florida (not exactly) Haunted Attractions: The Vault of Souls interactive haunted theater 2015 review

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.

Overview:

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

Our Experience:

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.

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Cool decor is in this area before you even get to the main halls:

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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:

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Copies of Creative Director Scott Swenson’s book are included:

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Also this guy was on the table. Seems to be having a festive time holy shit, dude:

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There was a great view down to the regular waiting area complete with live music and ghost dancers who would come out at intervals:

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They even had a signature mixer at the bar:

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Live music:

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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.

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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:

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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.

Conclusion:

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.

Get more info here.

DO THIS ONE.