A 73 year old naval ship sets the scene for Central Florida’s most authentic, most story-driven and perhaps most creepy haunted attraction.
UNdead in the Water, as an event, is made all the more unique by its venue – fully integrated into the SS American Victory. After being delivered in 1945, this authentic naval warship actually served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, before retiring to Tampa, Florida to serve as a museum and cultural attraction in 1996. The SS American Victory still holds the distinction of being only one of four active WWII ships left in the United States, occasionally offering cruises around the channels of Tampa Bay.
During the Halloween season, the ship takes on a much more ominous persona, transforming into UNdead in the Water – a specially ticketed stand-alone boutique haunted attraction that runs twelve select nights between October 4, 2018 and October 31, 2018. including every Friday and Saturday, as well as most Thursdays and, of course, Halloween night itself.
Brain and heart-eating zombies who have taken over Tampa Bay. By coming aboard the dark and eerie WWII 1945 American Victory Ship to escape infestation, you’ll watch an informative video. You’ll then make your way to safety by walking cavernous decks, multi-level ladders, chilling hallways, ghastly Captain’s Quarters, the ominous engine room, and more terrifying spaces throughout your route.
Remember, zombies must feed for energy and can survive on land or sea. Can they infiltrate the mighty S/S American Victory? Will you make it to safety?
You’ll be given a special UV flashlight to help find your way around… but will you survive? You’ve been warned.
From the moment you approach the SS American Victory, before even stepping aboard, it becomes clear that UNdead in the Water is destined to be a theatrical, story-driven haunt like few others. Professionally produced emergency broadcast messages play on monitors adjacent to the event’s ticket booths, warning of the impending affects this zombie outbreak will soon have on Tampa and the surrounding areas. It’s made clear that we must evacuate onto the ship itself, designated a safe haven quarantine zone to keep the uninfected healthy.
But like all good plans in the face of a mass zombie pandemic, something is about to go terribly wrong. Sure, we get on the ship — but we do so moments too late to learn that others on board have become infected. Now we too are at risk of direct mortal peril. Our evening plans quickly shift from safe haven to floating damnation – and things quickly turn to a desperate mission of survival and escape.
We’ve said this before, but it always bears repeating – even Hollywood-quality scenic can only go so far to create a world. There is simply nothing that can compare to the authenticity of a haunt set in a very real physical environment. And boy oh boy does UNdead in the Water understand how to embrace that fact.
As we mentioned above, UNdead in the Water is located quite literally aboard the SS American Victory – a 73 year old naval warship that saw battle in some of the grisliest combats our country has faced. It’s old. It’s gritty. This is a vessel that was never intended to be a luxury yacht; it was never intended to take on passengers. She was commissioned to carry soldiers into battle – and there’s nothing pretty about that.
Every scene is decked out with decor that feels as authentic as the actual deck of the ship it’s on. Crew quarters are lined with cots and bunk beds. The kitchen is fully stocked. And naturally, the captain is at the wheel.
Modifications made to the ship specifically for this year’s haunt add a surprising new layer of thrills – most notably holes quite literally cut into the very decks guests traverse, replaced with open air metal grating. Yes, it’s safe – but it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it. And that apprehension is only further solidified by the eerie glow of ominous, threatening messages that can be read on crates that rest several stories below your feet.
Arming each guest with their own blacklight flashlight, UNdead in the Water is able to embrace some truly spooky scenic flourishes that bring its dark world to (after)life. It seems this particular strain of zombie leaves a glowing residue trail in its wake – making it easy for us to know when we’re walking right into a hungry horde of them — not as though we have a choice while trapped aboard this confined, claustrophobic vessel.
And it is again that its location becomes one of UNdead in the Water’s greatest allies; being on this old naval vessel allows them to design a haunt that is not required to adhere to ADA standards. And while this may admittedly be bad news for those members of your party who may travel in a wheelchair, what results in the haunt itself are many narrow passageways that absolutely and instantly take you out of your comfort zone, as well as the ability to have many steep flights of stairs. You’ll literally find yourself going up and down, and up and down – all over the ship – with some flights of stairs so high off the ground that you may actually find yourself with a sense of very real vertigo. As such, the experience feels more like a terrifying adult playground than your typical, flat walk-through haunted house.
The authenticity that automatically comes with UNdead in the Water’s location, coupled with its solid, engaging story makes its scares instantly believable. Nothing about this experience feels like a simply “tour of the ship.” The immersive nature of this experience leaves us feeling lost, almost trapped, aboard the SS American Victory – with our only option left being to search the halls in hopes of finding a way out.
And speaking of those halls… one epic haunt perk that comes with the ship are several long hallways, lined with doors on both sides. There’s few things more intimidating in a well-designed haunt than walking down a hallway of doors. It’s impossible to not wonder which one might have something evil lurking behind it. And I’m here to tell you — there’s quite a few things lurking in this old ship.
But as much as the ship itself sets the scene for a haunt unique to anything else in Central Florida, it’s the actors of UNdead in the Water that make it shine so brightly (and not just because of their aforementioned glowing residue trails.) This is far from your typical cliché haunted house. Don’t expect overdone “boo!” scares around every corner. UNdead in the Water is a far more upscale, dare we say, psychological affair.
Every character you encounter has their own history. And moreover, they have in-world dialogue and even some light blocking that furthers this zombie invasion story more like what you might expect to encounter in immersive theater than in a stand-alone haunt. These actors clearly understand that it’s not about screaming in your face; good theater isn’t about what you say, but rather how you say it. Some of them speak to you in rushed whispers; others on the verge of tears. There’s clear urgency – and their urgency creates an even stronger sense of danger for the guests who encounter them.
And then there’s the zombies; sure, they’re zombies. They check off all the classic boxes of growling, hissing, and wanting to eat your brains – but at times, even these zombies are so much more sophisticated than that. This next bit through the end of the Scares section is a bit more spoiler-y than we’d usually include on Escape Authority, so skip now to Overall if you’d like to avoid it… One incredibly staged moment finds us stumbling upon the captain of the SS Victory, who is clearly relieved to learn there are actually some healthy survivors left that have not been overcome by the zombie virus. He calmly but firmly directs us toward an exit, assuring us as best he can given the circumstances that everything will be alright. Except I don’t think I even need to tell you that it won’t be.
In a shocking theatrical twist, the captain, who we up to this point have only seen in side profile begins to choke, gasp for air and then turn to face us from the opposite direction – now fully infected by the virus, and clearly hungry for our brains. This moment is just far too masterfully staged to not give it the credit that it’s due. And best yet – this is but ONE moment of a pulse-pounding immersive adventure that is jammed full of countless moments just like this one.
With everything else UNdead in the Water has going for it, we hardly need to give more reasons to visit this Halloween season – but we’ve got one big one left to mention. Or, perhaps as it were, one great small reason. Unlike the massively crowded theme park haunts that Central Florida is perhaps best known for, UNdead in the Water promises an exclusive, boutique haunt feel that elsewhere often demands a much higher ticket price. Small groups are sent in, spaced apart enough to create a sense that you’re almost in there alone to face the horde, leaving guests to feel like they got a major bang for their buck. There’s simply no comparing the feeling of being “just you” in a haunt versus being one of several hundred slowly trudging forward in a conga line. It creates a real life movie-type mood, where each guest is an active participant in the story as it unfolds around them in a very real way.
And that story unfolding is the true crown gem here that we simply must circle back to; Every actor aboard the ship has a clear purpose in the over-arcing narrative. None over-act, and all have been clearly trained on the subtle skill of delivering a truly effective psychological scare. And best of all, the cast here actively works to draw you into their storyworld, making their guests the stars of a cinematic-flavored adventure.
UNdead in the Water may not have the massive budget of some of its neighboring theme park haunts, but we dare say every penny has been well spent to artfully ensure a theatrical, story-driven and most importantly memorable experience that will rival – and in some cases actually surpass the rest. The SS American Victory will succeed in not only thrilling guests, but the nightmares of its voyage will stay with them long after All Hallow’s Eve has sailed off into the sunset.
Location: Tampa, Florida
Dates: Select Nights October 4th – October 31st
Hours: 8pm – 11pm
Cost: $13 per person ($10 for active military, first responders or veterans with ID)
We thank American Victory Ship & Museum for inviting us to experience this haunt. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.