If you’re looking for jump scares, hideous monsters, chainsaws, and rickety shanties housing the remnants of gory massacres, The Vault of Souls is not for you. In fact, The Vault of Souls is the complete polar opposite of every traditional “haunt” you’ve ever experienced. It’s chillingly real, and entirely unique. The Vault of Souls is a high-end, sophisticated evening of very personal, transformative, elegant fear, and it may just be the most elaborately conceived Halloween event to ever land in Central Florida.
The Vault of Souls is located in downtown Tampa, in the historic, three-story Exchange National Bank built in 1923. As the stories go, Tampa’s most elite residents once stored their most valuable possessions in the bank’s vaults. At the time, our nation was in a state of change, and a state of pleasurable indulgence. The bank’s high-society clientele feared losing their status and enjoyment upon their death, so it was arranged to use the vaults as a repository of souls as well, allowing the wealthy to continue their lavish lifestyles well into the afterlife. Now, you have been invited to enter their realm and explore the other side.
Curbside valet service greets you as you pull up at the building – a haze of subdued, blue light illuminates the dusk. As you make your way to the entrance, a cordial doorman greets you. You check in at the front desk, and receive a thorough “cleansing” to sweep away negative forces prior to entering “Act I: The Arrival”. The Arrival is an opulent 1920s cocktail party, complete with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and live entertainment in the form of dancers, cellists, and more. Guests mingle in this vast open area – all waiting for their turn to advance into their unique, spiritual journey. Well… maybe not all… some of your fellow patrons are psychics and tarot readers. They’re pleased to make your acquaintance, and prepare you for your visit – or provide you with a tantalizing taste of their bristling insight. Everything about this waiting area drips with sophistication – genuine antique furnishings and out of the box decor flank the borders of the ballroom.
Every 15 minutes or so, a group of eight guests is called by name, forming the next group to move on in their experience to “Act II – The Ritual”. The Ritual begins with a brief, curt overview of what you are about to encounter, as well as the rules associated with your visit. Each guest is provided with a simple white masquerade mask, and instructed to not speak from this point forward. This is all protective measure… to hide your identity from the eternal residents below. You then descend into the building’s basement to begin exploring the 11,000 square foot, dank, winding space. No pathways are marked, and you’re essentially on your own to navigate this expansive area. The system of tunnel-like passages twist into a maze, intertwining the stories of numerous resident souls. The inhabitants have their own individual personalities and backgrounds, which unfold before you. Each guards secrets and history that you are left to decipher, if you dare to scavenge their surroundings. You’ll stumble upon alluring seductresses, wailing souls in agony, deviously playful children, and many more questionable characters. Give them some time, and you never know what they may be willing to reveal! Each set is designed to apply deeply to its resident, so heed their warnings, and their instructions. By the way – watch out for that seductress! She has a tendency to get frisky, and she leaves her mark.
As you wander the basement, you’ll cross paths with the living as well as the dearly departed. The distinguishing feature between the two realms is the face mask. This element itself is intensely unnerving – you’re not the only one struggling to find your way back to the portal of mortals. Your journey in the basement is not bound by mortal minutes… it is unlimited, until you find your own escape.
When you do make your way to the exit, you’ll have the option to visit the third floor Readers Clearing and/or the Gin Joint on the first floor. The Readers Clearing is a dimly lit room full of plush couches, spooky hovering candles and a complimentary coffee and gelato bar. Jazz music permeates the room, and small private rooms surround the main area, where tarot readers and psychics wait to share their visions and discoveries with you. The Gin Joint is a 1920s speakeasy with live music, a bar, flappers, and thoughtfully intricate decor. Spend as much time as you’d like kicking back in these relaxing hubs, reflecting on your experience. Perhaps you discovered some harsh realities when you encountered the room of truth, and you need some time to wash away the searing accuracy of what lies beneath your own exterior self? Or you may have to shake the inner rattlings from your foreboding train ride.
The Vault of Souls is an unparalleled venture into the unknown – a rendezvous with your untapped subconscious. It’s a gently tormenting intrusion into your own thoughts with elements that leave an imprint on your soul. It is nothing like what you’d expect, and everything that haunts you. While not relying on tawdry gimmicks and startle scares, The Vault of Souls employs enough special effect and costuming pizazz to be technically impressive, without the necessity of standard Halloween-themed crutches that most haunt venues rely on. The Vault of Souls is draped in elegance with an unsettling shroud of darkness. It’s theater with no bounds, and performance of the highest standard. Allow yourself to become one with the experience, and become fully immersed in the story. There is no need to run, and there is nothing discouraging you from soaking up every aspect of your environment. Explore, scavenge, interact, and keep an open mind to get the most from your visit. Your experience is a direct reflection of your personal investment, both mental and physical.
The Vault of Souls is open for just two more weekends this year, on Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations must be made in advance, with available time slots ranging from 6:00PM – 12:00AM. This is an extremely limited engagement, and sell-outs are a very real possibility. Admission is limited to ages 18 and over only. There are three levels of admission, each with different inclusions and pricing: Passbook Account ($100), Premium Account ($250), and Gold Standard Account ($400). For more information on package details, or to secure your reservation, visit The Vault of Souls online. Follow The Vault of Souls on Facebook and Twitter as well.