We attended our first haunt of the season last night. I heard about the Vault of Souls on a facebook group I follow, and it sounded intriguing. I couldn’t resist grabbing reservations and heading to Tampa for the evening.
Our reservation was for 6:00pm. We hit traffic and arrived at 6:15pm, but they were running a little late, so the doors were just opening. Not unusual, especially for the first run. We left our car with the valet, and after a few minutes in line, we were ushered into the front part of the lobby to present our tickets. There we received a credit-card sized “passbook” that I expected to present at some point.
Once processed, we had our auras cleansed by a witch before entering the lounge. She took her job very seriously.
The Vault is located at the Exchange National Bank building, erected in 1926. It’s a lovely space, with high ceilings and plenty of room to mingle amongst lovely vintage furniture pieces. The lounge includes a bar, and servers circulating with hors d’oeuvres. Melancholy cello music sets the mood, and occasionally dancers take the floor.
There is a tarot reader, and Mysteria the Psychic, who will come hold hands with you and deliver messages from beyond, like “open all the drawers, you may find something useful.” Just about everyone picked on the Spousal Unit. It’s like they were all cats, and they sensed he was allergic.
We waited in the lounge until 8:00pm. About every 10 or 15 minutes, the gatekeeper strikes his gong several times, and announces about five names. Those folks gather, are given time to use the facilities, and then head to the preliminary vault where they are given white masks to wear, and further instructions on spirit etiquette. The Spousal Unit got in trouble for the first time here. He talked back (to be fair, the guide said something kinda stupid), and had to go stand against the wall.
I won’t go into detail on what happens beyond that. You are taken to the basement and allowed to wander at will. You’ll meet many characters, and they will interact with you very personally. The actors will touch you, but not in any way that’s particularly scary. The Spousal Unit was extremely indulgent, and no one drew back a stump.
Once you’re tired of wandering around, find your way out and you’ll be taken to the Speakeasy or the Reading Room. We visited both. The Reading Room had a lovely dessert table, and lots of couches where you can unwind. The Speakeasy was more of a bar, complete with personable bouncer.
So what did I think?
First, the wait in the lounge was nuts. We arrived 15 minutes after the doors opened, and waited 90 minutes before entering the haunt. There was very little entertainment, and I was desperately wishing for a book. I can only guess that later reservations didn’t escape until the wee hours of the morning. This could have been first-night problems, but it genuinely seemed like they overbooked the reservation slots.
Now, I’ve never been to a truly expensive haunt before. This was a big splurge, at $100 per ticket. And that was the least expensive option. So I had expectations. I wanted a coherent story, some good scares, great costuming, great makeup, and maybe even some special effects or unusual props. I’d hoped there might be a puzzle or mystery to solve.
I got none of that. Well, I’ll give them nice period costuming, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The whole thing seemed like one huge missed opportunity. I never even used that fancy passbook we got at check-in. Just an expensive souvenir.
I will say that the actors were fantastic, and very entertaining. But each time we entered a scenario, there was interaction, setup, and…nada. I kept thinking, oh, they’re gonna try to scare me now…but no. It’s dark! Something’s going to happen! No. I don’t need jump scares, but I do expect some art. Usually at a haunt, no matter how humble, I have to stop and wonder at some fantastic prop, monster, or scene. While the scenes were realistic enough, I found them lacking interest. By the end of the experience, instead of thinking about the good bits with glee, I was just happy to be done. We left at about 9:00pm.
Apparently, what you’re paying for are amenities. Valet parking. Two bars and a dessert lounge. So if you’re into live theatre, and want an interactive experience in a creepy setting, this is great. Grab some friends and go. But if you’re a Halloweeniac who expects something scary…have a cocktail.