By: Gino Sabato Around the end of September and the beginning of October the normally family friendly, zip-a-dee-doo-dah atmosphere in Central Florida takes on a much darker and eerie persona. It’s Halloween season, and there is no shortage of haunted houses and things that go bump in the night. I am not a huge fan of the standard haunted attractions with ghouls and monsters lurking around every corner. It’s just not scary when you know exactly what to expect. There are a few exceptions and Vault of Souls is certainly at the top of the list.
Vault of Souls takes the relatively common concept of scaring people, and turns it completely upside-down. The experience begins before you even enter the majestic Exchange National Bank building in downtown Tampa. The seemingly normal, yet somewhat dated, doorman appears perfectly average at first glance, however after a few moments you realize there is something creepy about the way he looks at you. Upon entering the building, your entire party has their souls thoroughly cleansed for the experience that awaits. You are then immediately invited to join the other guests for complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
Imagine if you will a doorway that leads to a different era – a place that has been frozen in time. That time – the early to mid 1920’s in upper class America. A well stocked bar is available with the finest selection of liqueurs matched only by the amazing assortment of hors d’oeuvres, of which there is a seemingly endless supply. A cellist is playing at the head of the room and dancers are adding a certain authenticity to the entire event. As you begin to feel very comfortable in your environment and start to mingle, you realize some of the guests are not exactly what one would expect. Meeting some of these “guests” causes that creepy feeling you felt with the doorman to make a return visit and you know that the evening will be full of surprises. Announcements are made periodically inviting those brave enough, to enter the vault and this is when the next level of your experience begins.
Once being instructed on the rules, which include absolute silence on the part of the guests, and keeping your identity hidden under masquerade masks, you are ushered to an awaiting elevator that takes you to one of the most disturbing experiences you will ever have the opportunity to take part in. Upon exiting the elevator, you are immediately thrust into a completely immersive and interactive environment which will ultimately cause you to confront all of your deepest darkest fears. There is no narrow path which you must follow, you are free to explore at your own pace and in whichever direction you choose. You will discover quickly that you are now inside a real life manifestation of the labyrinth of terror which exists in the murky hidden corners of all our minds.
Whatever it is that wakes you up at night will soon become a part of the waking world. The souls in the vault know your fears and apprehensions and will exploit them for their own pleasure. Did you have a disturbing childhood? Be prepared to play a game with some children that will give you chills. Are you burying your worst insecurities beneath a smile everyday? You won’t be able to hide them here. Do you feel a little apprehensive about dental procedures? You may skip your next appointment. Are you hiding some strange sexual desires? Not anymore. These are only some of the things you will experience in the Vault of Souls.
Don’t simply walk through looking at the assortment of oddities and grim scenes. This is a very personalized experience, which is what makes it so terrifying. Take full advantage of the situation. As previously stated, this is an immersive and interactive experience. If you find a box or drawer, feel free to open it and find what awaits you inside. You never know what you will find. It may even be your own death certificate. Interact with the souls… but remember, there is no talking, which in and of itself is extremely tortuous. Eventually you want to escape this truly ominous domain and when you do, you will find that your evening is far from over.
After such a disturbing experience you will want to visit a more upbeat and lively setting. Have no fear, because you can visit the Gin Joint, another place stuck in time with flapper girls and the upbeat music that the 1920’s offered. Not to mention an opportunity to consume more cocktails or maybe just a glass of water while you recover from the vault. In addition, you can also choose to visit The Readers’ Clearing where you can enjoy more hors d’oeuvres and drinks as well as get an extremely eye opening psychic reading.
The Vault of Souls is truly an experience like no other. You can leave your fears of long lines and hoards of overly intoxicated patrons at home. Save that anxiety for things that really terrify you. This is a truly elegant horror experience that words cannot justly describe.
The Vault of Souls sets an entirely new expectation for haunts and horrors, redefining your perception of unique. Unlike many seasonal attractions, The Vault of Souls provides a full, inclusive evening of entertainment. It’s not a fifteen-minute, clustered walk through attraction relying on jump scares and animatronics. There are no chainsaws or gory prosthetics. This event can be better described as spooky, eerie, chilling, and disturbingly unsettling in the most satisfying way. If you’re looking for something entirely different, The Vault of Souls delivers – on a silver platter.
To learn a little about the background of the historical Exchange National Bank building that hosts The Vault of Souls, feel free to revisit our review from last year’s event. The Vault of Souls is open on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the month of October. Reservations must be made in advance, with available time slots ranging from 6:00PM – 11:30PM. This is an extremely limited engagement, and sell-outs are a very real possibility. Admission is limited to ages 18 and over only, and is priced at $100 per person. For more information, or to secure your reservation, visit The Vault of Souls online. Follow The Vault of Souls on Facebook and Twitter as well.