Tampa’s premier haunt event is back for another year of “elegant fear” in the old Exchange National Bank which opened in 1903. There are several notable changes to the event this year and while some may not be for the best, this is still Central Florida’s most unique haunt experience and I genuinely look forward to it every year.
For those who unfamiliar, the Vault of Souls was created in 2015 by haunt industry genius Scott Swenson, formerly in charge of Busch Gardens Tampa Howl-O-Scream event. Vault of Souls uses what may be the coolest setting for a haunt event in the country, which is because it sits in a real bank with marble floors, enormous windows overlooking downtown Tampa and a basement that is equally creepy and fascinating.
In years past, the event was broken into three parts. The arrival, which takes place in the lobby of the bank where you get to mingle with various characters who are connected with the spirit world. Various performances occur randomly throughout the evening from fantastic dancers to an extremely skilled cellist. It was an elegant, creepy and fun way to be introduced to The Vault of Souls.
At various scheduled times, groups were ushered down to the basement of the Exchange National Bank and were left to roam free to discover what’s lurking in the underbelly of this gorgeous building. Guests were adorned with masks (as to hold their anonymity from the spirit world) and got to explore all kinds of unique sets filled with spirits crawling everywhere. The amount of time you spent down there was entirely up to you. You could do a simple walkthrough in about 20 minutes time or you could spend 3 hours exploring.
Finally, there were two post-show areas you could explore. An upstairs lounge with a bar, various tarot card readers and a place to relax. And a Gin Joint, where you could watch flappers sing along with a pianist while sipping on whiskey and other refined spirits. Unfortunately, the Gin Joint is no longer a part of the event, since it has become a year round bar/restaurant. I absolutely adored this event and you can read all about it in previous posts I’ve made here at TPU. In 2017, the Vault of Souls is a mixed bag and that’s due to several changes made to the event. Let’s start with the positive.
The price has literally been cut in half. What previously was a $100 per person event is now $50. This makes it far more affordable for people to experience the event, not to mention makes it more in line with competing haunt events in the area. The other good news is the masks all guests were required to wear in the basement of the Vault of Souls are nowhere to be found. While they served a purpose, they were often uncomfortable and required some ventilation from time to time.
The bad news is, the entire basement of the Vault of Souls is no longer a free-flowing immersive experience. Instead, when you book your ticket you choose one of four release rooms which allow you to visit one of four locations within the vault. Once there, your group (of up to 10) has to complete a series of tasks in order to release the soul of an inhabitant through a series of tasks.
Is it an escape room? I would be hard-pressed to compare it to anything else. These are more “adventure rooms” with a series of tasks and not any real brain-busting puzzles to solve. This is the model that 5 Wits uses (if you’ve never heard of them, read our extensive coverage of them here) where guests are moved along regardless of how well or poorly they accomplish their given tasks. To be clear, if you’re looking for a traditional escape room, this is not it. Consider “the release” a starter kit for those who have never done an escape room to get an idea of what it is like.
After you release the soul of your chosen spirit, you are sent up to the third floor of the bank where you can mingle with the spirit you just released and several more. There are also random performances scheduled throughout the evening on the third floor, creating a unique party atmosphere. Overall, I felt the experience of the Vault of Souls had been drastically neutered from previous seasons. Was it still fun and unique? Absolutely.
What Scott Swenson is a master of is attention to detail and casting the right people for roles. The cast of Vault of Souls continue to grow and the characters are beyond what you’ll find at nearly any other haunt event. This year, the bonus is you’re allowed to communicate with every single character in the building, where in previous years you were required to keep silent while wearing your mask in the basement. This actually adds a new dimension to the event, which I thoroughly enjoyed. All the characters in the Vaulf of Souls are connected and while some seem obvious, there are some that you have to do some probing to find out. If you’re going to the event this year, I highly encourage you to engage with everyone that crosses your path.
Even days after experiencing the third year of this event, I’m torn. While the character interaction has become far more engaging, what I consider the “meat and potatoes” of the event has been slashed fairly drastically. After all, if the main reason the bank is haunted is because of all the lost souls lurking around in the basement… if you don’t actually encounter any souls in that basement (and you only see a sliver of the entire labyrinth of underground tunnels), it isn’t actually haunted anymore… or is it? If you get a chance to visit this year, I’d love to hear your thoughts. The event is a hard one to categorize as it is still part haunt, part immersive theater, and part adventure room. Still making it one of the most unique haunt events in the country. For more information, visit ElegantFear.com.
Make sure to follow Theme Park University on Instagram, on Twitter, subscribe on YouTube and like our Facebook page! Want to support Theme Park University? Donate via Paypal! Doing any online shopping? Click on any Amazon link on this page and it helps TPU pay the bills and costs you nothing extra!
Images Copyright: Vault of Souls