What to expect: The Vault of Souls is an evening of 1920s elegance and immersive fear
Stepping into The Vault at 611 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa is like stepping into another time and another world.
The lobby feels like a waiting chamber, draped in vibrant blue and bleach white linens. The chairs and sofas are so beautifully Victorian they look like thrones.
Waiters walk around offering small bites, taking strong drink orders and interrupting the handful of characters chatting up guests with tales of lost treasure and bank research and reading auras.
The serene lobby is just the first room guests encounter during an evening at The Vault of Souls.
Created by former SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment's Howl-O-Scream creative mind, Scott Swenson, The Vault of Souls is a highly-interactive experience that plops visitors in the middle of a terrifying performance.
Guests aren't just observers of the story happening in the historic Exchange National Bank, they become part of it in three Acts — The Arrival, The Ritual and The Gin Joint.
Once guests check in, they're entertained by a cellist and dancers in the ballroom and wait to be called. The man in the green accountant's visor calls about half a dozen people at a time to be briefed on the rules and goings-on of the Vault of Souls they're about to enter.
After a harsh talking-to from a sunglasses-wearing Vault employee, groups are instructed to don white face masks - to protect their identities from the spirits they'll encounter below. Guests also aren't allowed to speak (ghosts can detect vocal patterns, apparently).
The basement is where all the action happens. It's not a haunted house like you would see at Busch Gardens of Universal Studios. There's no sound stage or plaster forming the walls of a maze.
Swenson and his creative team utilize the aspects of the bank itself to create a haunting performance of characters and scenes around every corner of the basement.
Visitors will have to weave their way around the mysteries of a vault filled with treasure (watch out for the thief who's trapped inside), have a psychotic scientist whisper shortcomings in their ear, flee a dominatrix without a whipping and be scolded by a doctor who claims they're late for an appointment.
If you can stomach playing sadistic games with demonic doll-toting children in one of the first scenes, you can survive anything else the Vault has to offer.
Oh, and guests aren't told where the exit is. They have to figure that out themselves.
Those who make it out reap the sweet and savory rewards. On the third floor is a dreamy lounge with a gelato and coffee bar, plush white leather sofas and cordoned off rooms where Tarot readers wait to read your fate.
Back on the first floor, there's a raucous 1920s-style gin joint with flapper dancers and singers. Our suggestion: The Vault's twist on a Manhattan or the best gin and tonic you'll ever have.
You might need both after escaping the spirits below.
The Vault of Souls runs Friday and Saturday nights in October. Tickets are $100 and include valet parking, light food, personal psychic reading and the four theatrical interactive performances.Only those 18 and up are permitted.
Visit elegantfear.com for more information and to make a reservation.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.