Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Vault of Souls turns Tampa’s Exchange National Bank into a creepy chic escape room

If you've ever wanted to help a lost spirit escape from eternal damnation, the Vault of Souls is the experience for you.

Now in its third year, the immersive haunt in downtown Tampa's former Exchange National Bank, now known as The Vault, is truly unlike any other Halloween attraction around.

Previous coverage: The Vault of Souls is an evening of 1920s elegance and fear

It was created by former SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment creative mind Scott Swenson, who for years helped bring to life Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream. With the Vault of Souls, he's plopping guests into a roaring ‘20s party that lets you interact with dozens of Jazz Age spirits.

Swenson and his team made some minor changes to the storyline and some drastic changes to guest activities this year, which makes the whole experience more enjoyable and certainly more affordable.

Vault of Souls

The first thing you'll do upon entering the Vault on Franklin St. is imbibe in the lofty, blue-tinged Arrival area. There's an elegant bar (try the Final Waltz special), tables of mediums ready to give readings and haunted actors chatting with guests about their 95 years of entrapment in the bank's vault.

The next part of the evening involves heading into the 94-year-old bank's stuffy basement, where you meet and interact with the dozen terrifying souls that live there. The guard, the dominatrix, the child and the doctor all have intricate backstories that'll haunt you long after you leave.

What to expect: Howl-O-Scream is crawling with monsters this year

In a drastic change, this year's experience is a creepy escape room rather than guests wandering the basement on their own. Reservations are made for a particular character, and guests are guided by a deathly bank teller. The teller than leads you to the particular spirits' abode, where groups have to work together to solve hands-on puzzles and release their character's soul.

Once you release the soul (our group freed the guard Mr. Plutus in record time, according to our teller's cute little hourglass) your reward is spending the rest of the evening back in the Arrival or in the third floor Spirit Bar, where you'll get to meet the spirit you just released.

This pivot to an escape room is a welcome and refreshing change. And it surely attracts more guests with the lower price point of $50 a reservation, halved from last year's $100 a ticket.

And I'm certain Vault of Souls veterans are overjoyed to be rid of those creepy white masks and vows of silence in the basement. They helped ramp up the fear the first year, but by the second they were just cumbersome and caused too much face sweating.

What to expect: Step inside The Shining, American Horror Story at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights

This year's Vault of Souls mixes scary chic with an immersive experience that goes beyond just strolling through a haunted house. Guests get to know these character personally, and Swenson and his team have created an event that feels like you're stepping into a movie.

It's a surreal, 1920s talkie that's sure to win Best Picture.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.

If you go

The Vault of Souls continues Oct. 27-28 at 611 N. Franklin St., Tampa.

Reservations are $50 per character release room. Guests can purchase additional release room experiences.


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Published: 08/13/18