Category: Halloween

2016, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews, Theater

Tampa, Florida: Interactive Theater Review: The Vault of Souls

Thankfully Hurricane Matthew didn’t hit where I was in Orlando directly, so general pre-hurricane chaos, losing a couple of haunt days, and having to drive 20+ hours out of my way (OMG) to get home because 95 North was flooded was the maximum impact we experienced.

Yeah – my back still hurts days later. :( This is why the reviews are coming out slower. The hurricane really impacted us.

Orange County lifted the curfew just in time for me to get to Tampa on Friday, October 7th, 2016 to see The Vault of Souls for their second year of operation. Time to go haunting!


I reviewed them last year and was very impressed at that time. I felt like it was an amazing start to an innovative show. I was extremely pleased that they did it again. Did I mention that they they won an Innovation award from us? Yep.

What was it like this year?

This year they took the concept up to the next level with some great alterations and additions. First, let’s talk about what The Vault of Souls is if you haven’t read my previous review. It’s Interactive / Immersive Theatre; a haunted experience located in a Tampa landmark that also draws upon the local history.

“The Exchange National Bank opened in 1923 to protect the worldly possessions of Tampa’s High Society. The founders of the bank soon discovered that there was also a desire to protect their clients’ “other-worldly” possessions as well. After consulting with the most prestigious psychics and local native Shaman, they were able to invoke “The Vault of Souls”. This paranormal purgatory was constructed in the basement of the bank and became the safe haven for carefully selected souls. To this day, Tampa’s elite gather in October, when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, to enter this mysterious vault. For some it is a brief visit. For others, it is an eternity.”

This is not a startle scare chainsaw fest. There are no startle scares in here whatsoever. If you enjoy theatrical haunts OR don’t care for scary things but enjoy theatre, this is for you. Yes, even your friend who hates haunts will like this as long as they enjoy fun.

Harknell and I love it.

You start off in “The Arrival”, which is a bar area with live music, dancers, and people serving small bites of food. The food is included with your admission, the alcohol is not.


Shepherd’s Pie and Shrimp and Grits:


The Vault Ventilator, their specialty drink:




You wait here until your name is called. Characters will interact with you up here, which is new this year and a great addition. I encountered a clown, fortune teller, researcher, and at least 1 other from the time period. They have added enhanced effects and animated ghost projections on the wall.


When your name is called you enter “The Ritual”. Before you enter you get to watch 2 ghosts do a waltz, and then you enter in small groups. You have the ability to wander around for as long as you want, exploring, solving puzzles, and piecing together the story. Remember adventure video games in the 90s? This is that in real life. I freaking loved those type of games.

You get to go deeper into the story of Lucy, whose soul was kept in the Vault by her parents. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay the fee to join her there so you run into their ghosts looking for Lucy. A particularly unsettling scene added this year was Lucy’s Mom done with a Pepper’s Ghost effect. Mad props to that.

They don’t cram people inside. We were in there for over an hour and didn’t get to everything that we could have done – this year there is so much more that you can do inside. You”ll notice some similarities with last year’s show but they have expanded almost everything. There are now several quests you can complete in order to find out pieces of the story. I didn’t complete all of them but I did ask Creative Director Scott Swenson if they could all be completed if we had stayed longer. He told me that yes, every quest has an ending and something that happens. Cool!

After you choose to leave you go upstairs to the Gin Joint, just like last year. I’m told that they may make the Gin Joint a year-round thing. This makes me happy because it’s a gorgeous space. This year they had a couple of (amazing!!!) live singers and several more folks in costume. I didn’t want to interrupt the actors’ work, but here are some shots of the Gin Joint decor, which I loved:


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Upstairs they also had the gelato, coffee, and fortune tellers like last year in “The Readers’ Clearing”. They upgraded that space with …well…look:


When you leave you get to keep your mask and you get a book of poetry written by Scott Swenson. The book is the second volume, so it is new for this year. Women get roses:


I particularly liked that they alter your mask depending on what quests you do and how you interact with the actors. I interacted with the dentist and the seductress. I hope they add more to the mask alteration and really go nuts with it next year. That would be cool – and majorly appeal to my love of wearable, fluid, performance art.

If you require glasses to see I highly recommend that you wear contacts when you go here because of the mask. I thought I could get away with having my glasses under the mask, but I wouldn’t do that again. Because after surgery I now require progressive lenses which can’t be done in contact lenses easily I’ll just wear my single vision contacts and bring a magnifying glass to be able to read with next year. :D (I am still learning how to interact with the world after my eye surgery.)

Tickets are $100 plus a $5 service fee. Our tickets were complimentary, but even if I weren’t a writer I would have paid to go see this show. Arrive about an hour early so that you can properly eat, drink, and interact with the actors in The Arrival. The cost includes the food – and the food is extremely good. If you show up just before your arrival time I feel that you will probably not get all that you should be getting out of the experience. This is a high end elegant night out and every year they keep setting the bar higher and higher. This is where I am seeing true innovation and creativity thrive.

Since Tampa may be my future home I am very happy that the arts are thriving in Tampa and elevating the city’s history and capabilities. I feel that too many people just go to the theme parks in Orlando and fail to look just an hour southwest at the city of Tampa. Tampa has so much to offer, is always the place I have my most memorable vacation days at, and The Vault of Souls is solid proof of that.

You really should…DO THIS ONE!

2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

INTERVIEW: Busch Gardens Williamsburg “No Escape” Rooms

This is a guest video by Kara Dennison.

I’m not nearly done with Howl-O-Scream. I have plans to go back over the course of the month and see everything there is to see. But before that, I was invited backstage to learn more about the “No Escape” rooms currently running in Rhinefeld.

In addition to speaking with the events manager, I also had a rather… special… interview with the stars of the rooms themselves, Jack the Ripper and Mr. Karver. I also got to speak with Nate Edwards and Nick Hanni, the actors behind the two terrifying characters, and learn about their experience with the park and what makes a room escape experience different from a haunted maze or terror-tory.

There’s still time to buy tickets and try the rooms out with your friends! Visit the Howl-O-Scream website to find out more!

2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Howl-O-Scream 2016 Opening Night Review

This is a guest post by Donika Haddock.

September 23rd marked the opening night for Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Each year the park brings in a new theme for their event. Cursed (2014), Unearthed (2015), and new for 2016, Evil Encore.

The premise with Evil Encore is heavily advertised dolls. And not just any dolls, but the creepy ventriloquist type dolls. Aside from the new ‘No’ Escape Room, and some random creepy decorations throughout the park, this is where the creepy theme ends.

New attractions for 2016 include an all new maze, Circo Sinistro, and two ‘No’ Escape rooms, one themed to Jack the Ripper, and the other themed to the dolls and their creator, Mr. Karver.

Returning attractions for 2016 include the same mazes from the last several years, Bitten, Deadline, and Catacombs, plus the new mazes from last year, Unearthed, Lumberhack, and Cornered. I have to say, while I love Bitten and Catacombs, I’m ready for a change. Can we retire them and bring on something new??
I will say though, there were quite a few changes to Unearthed and Deadline that really impressed me. While I won’t give them all away, I will say, the park has added projection screens to the mazes, as well as throughout the park itself. They make a difference to the overall Howl-O-Scream experience, and not in a bad way. They’re well done and not cheesy like one would expect or anticipate. While they certainly don’t replace the human factor in the mazes, they are an added bonus to the overall theme.

Unearthed was my favorite maze last year. The amount of detail that went in to it was fantastic. I still wish we could walk through it with the lights up so guests can take in every bit of detail to the rooms.

This year Busch Gardens presents Circo Sinistro. This replaces last years’ Cutthroat Cove, the pirate themed maze. With this change, Festa Italia has gone from pirates to clowns. Not the creepy terrifying clowns from a few years back with Fear Fair, but a new version of the creepy clowns. I love this theme!
The downside to the new maze on opening night, it wasn’t completely finished. And it was obvious. The characters within aren’t quite sure of their roles, and like most of the mazes, there wasn’t a lot of actors within it. But those that were there did a good job of keeping you on your toes as you didn’t know who would jump at you and when.
On the upside, I LOVE this maze, it’s a new favorite (coming from someone that was terrified of the clowns from Fear Fair), along with the accompanying scare zone, Sideshow Square. You simply must visit the fortune teller booth for your reading!

One disappointment with the park is the removal, or partial removal, of the pirates. If you’re going to do a theme in a particular area, I want to see the theme throughout. While the pirates were a major theme in both Festa Italia and San Marco, it is now just the San Marco portion of Italy that is themed. And by theme I mean, they kept the Pirates Baaaaargh (the bar), and kept the decorations throughout the shops in the area, but that is it. I say get rid of the pirates completely and just make that area circus themed, clown’s and all.
Speaking of San Marco, the park has brought back, for the first time in eight years, their Starfright Orchestra. I wish I could comment on their performance, but since we were there on Friday night, and they apparently only perform on Saturdays, well, we were disappointed. So those attending Howl-O-Scream on Fridays or Sundays won’t get the chance to see this show. Why even bother with one day out of the weekend? Either do it, or don’t. While I tend to avoid the park on Saturdays, I feel I will be forced to fight the crowds at least once this season, just to see this show.

Just beyond Oktoberfest, located in the Wilkommenhaus gift shop, is the all new ‘No’ Escape rooms. These rooms replace the beloved Blood Banquet dining experience. For $30 (before 4pm) or $40 (after 4pm) you can choose between two themed rooms, Jack the Ripper, and The Case of Mr. Karver. You’re locked in, trying to find clues to help you escape. If you’re familiar with escape rooms, you know the drill here. While we were given a ‘modified’ experience for these rooms, the experience was NOT to the parks advantage. Our group was disappointed and confused with the Mr. Karver room. The actor in it is AMAZING however, and I feel that had we been given the full on experience, or even had someone actually EXPLAINED to us what the room was about and what clues to look for, we would’ve walked out wanting more, but this attraction fell flat in my opinion. The Jack the Ripper room though, definitely a keeper. I loved the theme, and the actor inside was great. The sneak peak we had in this room convinced me the money for the full thirty minute experience would be worth the price.

One more thing with this year’s event, a not advertised little piece of fun, if you have the Busch Gardens app on your phone, they have snuck in a game. Basic premise, you go around and pick up buttons. There’s sixteen total around the park. In previous years, you can win prizes such as a free drink, free snack, and during Christmas Town, an ornament. Not sure what the prizes will be for Howl-O-Scream but it’ll be fun finding out!





2016, Attractions, Food, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream 2016 Review: Vampire Wine Tasting

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This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

Full disclosure, I have been extremely jealous of Oni’s talk about food and wine tastings at Busch Gardens recently. If I’d had more time, I would have gotten in on them early on. But envy aside, I’m very happy that this is becoming a “thing” for them. The German cordial tasting at Bier Fest was well run and very interesting, so when I heard there was a “vampire wine tasting,” I was very excited.

At first, I thought the “vampire” part of the title was just a theming conceit for Howl-O-Scream. But there is literally a Vampire Vineyards, so named because said vineyards were originally located in Transylvania. They’re now in California, and the Vampire Wine Tasting at the park introduces you to four of their wines.

The tasting is set up in a corner of Der Marktplatz across from Curse of DarKastle. Be ready with your ID over at the cash register, which is in the opposite corner, and bring your receipt over to the tasting table (and be ready to show your ID again — they’re very thorough about that, but also very kind). The tasting will run you $14.95, which also includes a Busch Gardens wine glass — bring that back, and you can get wine tastings on future trips at the refill price of $9.95.

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One thing I’ve loved about both events I’ve done like this in the last few months is the people running them. They’re knowledgeable, but that knowledge is conversational and accessible. I never felt out of my depth with high-flown descriptions of what I was trying, nor did I walk away feeling underinformed. For the Vampire wine tasting, our hostess was a friendly lady named Ruby who was very cheerful and could answer all our questions as we went. She claimed to be relatively new to these particular wines, but we’d never have known without her saying so.

The wines themselves were nice — a pinot grigio, a chardonnay, a “Vampire Red” winemaker’s blend that was four different reds (which I can’t remember off the top of my head), and a cabernet sauvignon. The third was my personal favourite, but all were good. Granted, it’s hard to tell a stranger if they’ll like a wine. That’s what a wine tasting is for. But as there are two reds and two whites, you have a decent chance of finding something you’ll enjoy.

We were told that Vampire wines aren’t as widely distributed in, say, Total Wines or grocery stores, so they may be harder to find. However, if you find something you like during the tasting and don’t want to order online when you get home, they do sell it at the park for between $20-30 a bottle depending on which you choose (the Vampire Red is the priciest).

I’m really enjoying how widespread the wine and cordial tastings are becoming at the park, and the Vampire one was perfectly themed for Howl-O-Scream. These have also opened me up a lot more to going to tastings, as the few I’ve gone to outside the park in the past leave me feeling awkward and uninformed. The friendliness and accessibility of these is great, both for people who want to try new things and for people like me who are extremely picky about their drinks and want a little help finding something for the cabinet.

And yes… I’m getting me some of that Vampire Red.

Visit the Howl-O-Scream Dining and Spirits site to find out more about the event’s Spirit Bars and to book your wine tasting in advance.