The Tower of Terror – 24 Years in the Twilight Zone
You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of your imagination in…The Tower of Terror.”
Those final, fatal words are the last you’ll hear in this realm; the dark, dusty, shaft of the maintenance elevator is the last thing you’ll see- or it would be, if you could see through the veil of endless, all-encompassing blackness that surrounds you. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any darker, two shafts of light appear out of the abyss, and their outline quickly reveals that you and your fellow ill-fated elevator partners are actually passing through two massive doors that travel directly to…The Twilight Zone. There isn’t an escape, and the weight of that unavoidable truth hits you just as you tighten your grip on the hand holds, but you’re too late, and the only way out is DOWN!
In the 24 years since the Tower of Terror opening, the run-up to the drop sequence hasn’t lost even a tiny fraction of its luster. And neither has the run-up itself. Nor the eerie allure of the lobby. Or the overgrown queue…it’s all just as awesome as it was on opening day, and it’s one of the few attractions I usually ride at least twice on every single vacation. We all know the backstory, and most of us have taken a trip or two into The Twilight Zone ourselves, so on the anniversary of this incredible attraction, let’s explore everything that gives The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror its impressive staying power.
Theming Inside and Out
Before you even enter Hollywood Studios– or even enter the parking lot- The Hollywood Tower Hotel is impossible to miss. The 199 ft. structure juts proudly above the tree line, and since the removal of the sorcerer hat a few years back, it has become the icon of the identity-seeking Hollywood Studios. The true awe-inspiring view comes from that turn onto Sunset Boulevard though, and no matter how many times I walk down that street, I never tire of the view. From first glance, the Imagineers succeeded in setting the scene for the story.
The story really is what makes this attraction as alluring as it is. No one does immersive storytelling quite like The Walt Disney Company, and one of the finest examples is The Tower of Terror. The overgrown gardens and dry, cracked fountains that make up the exterior queue let you know that this place hasn’t been touched since 1939- the year of the incident that left the hotel abandoned. Inside the lobby, though, is when the unbelievable attention to detail really becomes apparent! Here are some of my favorite facts about the lobby design:
- The décor was purchased from LA antique shops and auctions
- Disney hired professional mahjong players to play the board that is featured in the lobby, and when they were instructed to stop playing, the Imagineers placed the unfinished game in the attraction as-is
- The sculptures in the lobby were created by famed sculptor Auguste Moreau
- Disney nod: Sheet music for “What, No Mickey Mouse!” is what sits under the trumpet
- Baggage, hats, and other articles were strategically placed in areas that guests would have dropped them when they fled
After you pass through the lobby, the library room is where Twilight Zone fans should keep their eyes peeled for props and artifacts from the TV series! Before the lights are dimmed for Rod Serling’s famous introduction, take a look around at the decorations…I’ve spotted the devil juke box and a few other props from the show! After the library scene, you’re spit into another unbelievably themed queue area: the boiler room. The maintenance elevator is the only one still in operation, and it’ll be your vessel to The Twilight Zone on your journey. Not only should you take note of all of these amazing details, but the fact that you have in fact been waiting this entire time. Yes, in my opinion, this attraction features the most interesting and immersive queue of any, and it isn’t until you pay extreme attention that it becomes apparent just how much thought went into THE LINE!
My dad and I always joke that we would be happy just walking through the queue and skipping the ride itself, and although it hasn’t happened yet, we’re always blown away by the design of the attraction as a whole. The ride portion itself is just as technically interesting as the queue, and the design team behind its creation certainly left no stone unturned and no avenue unexplored. To create the weightless feeling that makes the tummy flip, Imagineers had to look beyond the force of gravity to create that mind-boggling effect. If you thought your elevator was free-falling down a 13-story shaft, you thought wrong. It turns out the pull of gravity isn’t strong enough for The Twilight Zone- a metal wire physically pulls the elevator cars towards the ground to create the awesome ride sequences we have all come to love!
Did you know that you can ride, re-ride, and re-ride the attraction over and over and never experience the same drop sequence? That’s because a computer system selects a drop sequence for each elevator load of guests at random! Your car might stop mid drop sequence as you’re treated to a scene of frightening ghosts or the poor family who took that fateful elevator ride in 1939. No matter which sequence is selected on your ride, you are guaranteed at least one full, bone-chilling 13-story drop from top to bottom. I’ve made it back every time I’ve taken the journey, but if you’re not careful, you might end up a permanent resident of…THE TWILIGHT ZONE!
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Special thanks to Maria Salerno for writing this article: Hiya pal! I am a NYC-based writer thrilled to be a part of your Walt Disney World vacation planning! I’m a WDW Annual Passholder, so you can find me in the parks regularly throughout the year. In addition to being a Disney Parks loving girl, I’m also a Disney toy and merchandise collector, a runDisney enthusiast, and Disney music and movie aficionado. You can follow me on Instagram: NYCtoAP and find me on YouTube: NYCtoAP. Thanks for reading, hope to see ya real soon!