TAMPA — There are lots of haunted houses and whole theme park sections created for Halloween season. But the SS American Victory, a World War II cargo ship docked at Port Tampa Bay, has a native creepiness it puts to full advantage.
Called UnDead in the Water, the haunted maze set aboard the old warship was designed by Scott Swenson. He worked for 15 years as the director of Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens, and it shows. Even walking up from the Channelside Parking Lot, there are spooky sounds of distant screams and growls.
The normally wholesome AmVic is bathed in eerie purple lights. While the crowd waits, a video is projected on the side of the ship showing some of the shenanigans going on inside — and warning them of the zombies crawling all over.
Because the ship is a true maritime asset, walkways are narrow and space is tight as you climb up and down stairs through the bowels of the AmVic.
But getting on board takes some time. Organizers manage crowds by letting on eight to 10 people at a time, spacing them out so the groups don’t run into each other. (That also gives the scare actors a little time to reset and get ready for the next wave.)
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On a recent visit, that meant a wait of nearly an hour, even though we arrived before the 8 p.m. start time. If you’re the impatient type you might want to consider paying the extra $10 at the gate for a fast pass.
Once aboard, you’re given a short talk about a virus spreading on the ship. You will also receive a small blacklight flashlight you’re told will repel the zombies, should they attack.
The AmVic, built in 1945, carried ammunition and other cargo during WWII and the Korean War and sailed around the world twice, the ship’s biography says. This setting gives the haunt its power.
Narrow passageways go past galleys and staterooms, where the doors are slightly ajar to make visitors extra jumpy. Some of the staterooms feature phrases like “we are alive” written in blacklight-sensitive paint. Try to remember to look out at the great view of Tampa, which you can see by moonlight. But know that the spooky sounds around you will draw your attention back to the ship.
UnDead in the Water feels like one long version of a house at Howl-O-Scream, taking advantage of tight corners and blind spots that allow zombies to jump out. And there’s a section of hanging ropes and life jackets to brush your face and block your vision, which is a classic Howl-O-Scream ploy.
Wear comfortable shoes and watch your step because it’s a real ship with tripping hazards — and that’s what also gives it its appeal.
IF YOU GO
UnDead in Water
$13-$15; optional $10 fast pass available at the gate. 8-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Oct. 31-Nov. 2. 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa (behind the Florida Aquarium). Parking is available at the Channelside Parking Garage and the aquarium. undeadinthewater.com.