Thursday, October 27, 2011

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror East vs West

            Both Walt Disney World, Disney Hollywood Studio and Disneyland have the Tower of Terror ride. Both are fun and give a good scare but they are decidedly different.

            ToT at WDW was the first of the two versions to open. When we were on the Disney Cruise in 2005 we had the pleasure of meeting Mike West, one of the Imagineers responsible for designing the WDW version of ToT. He gave lectures on the cruise and after one of them he gave a copy of the book, Living Life the Imagineer Way. I was lucky enough to win that book and he autographed it for me. Even Mike did not know of the differences between the DHS and DCA version of the ride.

            ToT at DCA opened after the one at DHS. The differences are due to available space. Just looking at the pictures you can see that the ride at DHS is bigger. That lack of space limited what could be done at DCA.

            At DHS there is an out of elevator shaft trip around a floor seeing the story about the five people trapped in the elevator. At DCA due to lack of space they could not add the trip out of the elevator shaft. Instead you stop at one floor and you look out the open elevator door and see the five ghosts standing there. As you sit there you are told the story of how they disappeared in the same elevator you are in.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror CU.JPG
Opening date
July 22, 1994
Hosted by
Rod Serling
(voice of Mark Silverman)[1]
Ride duration
3:10 minutes
Total height
199 ft (60.7 m)
Number of lifts
Drop shaft count
Number of vehicles
"Never the Same Fear Twice!", "The Tower is in Control!"
Must transfer from wheelchair
Fastpass available

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
DCA's Tower of Terror.JPG
Opening date
May 5, 2004
Hosted by
Rod Serling
(voice of Mark Silverman)
Ride duration
2:25 minutes
Total height
183 ft (55.8 m)
Drop shaft count
Number of vehicles
Must transfer from wheelchair
Fastpass available

Tower of Terror ride - Disney's Hollywood Studios.

       The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, more commonly known as Tower of Terror, is a drop tower thrill ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios (Florida), Disney California Adventure Park, Tokyo DisneySea and Walt Disney Studios Park (Paris). It is based upon the television show The Twilight Zone. The original version of the attraction opened at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios) in July 1994; the California Adventure version opened nearly ten years later in May 2004. The Tokyo DisneySea version—named simply "Tower of Terror" and featuring a modified storyline—opened in September 2006, followed by the Walt Disney Studios Park version in April 2008.

          The attraction takes place in the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel (itself inspired by the Hollywood Tower, named a historic landmark by the US Department of the Interior). The story of the hotel, adapted from elements of the television series, includes the hotel being struck by lightning on October 31, 1939, mysteriously transporting an elevator cart full of passengers to the Twilight Zone and causing an entire wing of the building to disappear. The exterior of the attraction resembles an old hotel with a blackened scorch mark across the front of the façade where the lightning struck it. All of the cast members wear a costume that resembles that of a 1930s bellhop. At over USD$1000 per uniform, it is the most expensive costume in the various theme parks.

          At 199 feet (60.7 m), it is the second tallest attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort, shorter only than Expedition Everest's 199.5 feet (60.8 m). The Tower of Terror is 199 feet (60.7 m) high at Walt Disney World because of FAA regulations that require a fixed red light beacon to be added to the top of any 200 feet (61.0 m) or taller building. Imagineers thought that the beacon would take away from the hotel's 1939 theme. At the Disneyland Resort, the 199 feet (60.7 m) structure is the tallest attraction at the resort, as well as one of the tallest buildings in Anaheim. At Disneyland Paris it is the second tallest attraction, although, when aloft, the Jules Verne-themed "Panoramagique" tethered balloon attraction climbs over 200 feet (61.0 m).

Queue and pre-show

          In the American and European versions of the attraction, guests enter the hotel through the main entrance gate. The outdoor queue winds itself through the overgrown gardens of the Hollywood Tower Hotel and leads to the lobby. Inside the lobby, it is dark and the whole place is covered in dust. There is a yellowing copy of the Los Angeles Examiner dated October 31, 1939, a table set with tea and stale pastries, several suitcases, and a cobwebbed owl sculpture surrounded by a circle of dead flowers that appears to be the centerpiece of the room.

          Behind the front desk is the broken elevator, its sliding doors having slid off their grooves. A sign still reads "Out of Order". Everything in the hotel has apparently been left undisturbed ever since it closed decades ago. Guests are informed that their rooms are not quite ready yet. For the time being, guests are asked to simply enjoy themselves in the hotel's library. The library is full of not only books, but exotic antiques, a television, and plenty of Twilight Zone memorabilia. Through the window, guests can observe that there is a thunderstorm going on outside.

          Lightning strikes and the television comes on, apparently of its own accord. The opening sequence of Season 4 of The Twilight Zone plays, followed by a supposedly "lost" episode hosted by Rod Sterling. Serling explains the mysterious events that caused the hotel to close back in 1939. Serling then states that the present evening's atmosphere is similar to that of the night the guests have just witnessed, but this time they are the ones involved in events. He also mentions that one elevator in the hotel is still in working condition: the maintenance service elevator in the basement boiler room. He invites the guests, if they dare, to board the elevator and discover the secret of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

          With that, the television shuts off and a back exit from the library opens. The guests exit into and move through the boiler room, at the end of which they are placed upon a row to stand on a marker of their choice, awaiting the elevator's arrival. In order to achieve the weightless effect the Imagineers desired, cables attached to the bottom of the elevator car actually pull it down at a speed slightly faster than what a free-fall in gravity would provide. Two enormous motors are located at the top of the tower.

          The motors are 12 feet (3.7 m) tall, 35 feet (11 m) long, and weigh 132,000 pounds. They are able to accelerate 10 tons at 15 times the speed of normal elevators. They generate torque equal to that of 275 Corvette engines and reach top speeds in 1.5 seconds.

          In an effort to be true to the spirit of The Twilight Zone, Disney Imagineers reportedly watched every episode of the original television show at least twice. The attraction buildings are littered with references to Twilight Zone episodes.

          This ride appeared on the Disney Channel's Halloween edition of Walt Disney World Inside Out with guest star Gilbert Gottfried.

          Following the ride's success, Disney produced a 1997 film based on the attraction, starring Steven Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst. Many shots were filmed at the Orlando theme park, whilst some of them were shot on Burbank movie sets.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Version

Technical details

          The ride system of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios employs specialized technology developed specifically for Disney, particularly the ability to move the vehicle in and out of the vertical motion shaft. The elevator cabs are self-propelled automated ride vehicles, called an "AGV" or autonomous guided vehicle, which lock into separate vertical motion cabs. The cabs can move into and out of elevators horizontally, move through the "Fifth Dimension" scene, and on to the drop shaft. After the elevator cab has completed its profile, it propels itself to the unload dock and then back to the show shaft. The Floridian ride system runs on a unique loop system, although this is not as efficient as the newer "franchise" version used in California, Paris, and Tokyo.

          Florida's version of the ride is the original version of the ride, and opened July 22, 1994.

First ascent

          In this version of the attraction, Rod Serling greets passengers the moment the elevator doors close, saying, "You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator about to ascend into your very own episode of The Twilight Zone." The elevator rises for a few seconds before coming to its first stop.

          The doors open to reveal a long, dimly-lit hotel corridor with a single window at the opposite end. A violent thunderstorm is raging and lightning flashes outside the window. Ghostly images of the five doomed guests from 1939 appear for a moment, then vanish in a burst of electricity. (These ghostly images, while thought to be holograms, are actually a classic example of a Pepper's ghost effect. Other Pepper's ghost effects at the Walt Disney World Resort include ones inside the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom). The guests disappear in a burst of lightning. The corridor then fades away, but the window remains and morphs into a creepier black-and-white version and shatters in the now star-filled hallway, like in the opening segment of each episode.

Fifth Dimension scene

          The elevator doors close and the car continues its ascent. Serling's voice continues on, saying "One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare. That door is opening once again, and this time, it's opening for you." The elevator stops once more. The doors open to what at first looks like a maintenance room, but slowly morphs into an endless field of stars. The elevator car emerges horizontally from the lift shaft and enters a section of the ride called The Fifth Dimension, which is a bizarre collection of sights and sounds and starfields, once again in the style of the television show's opening sequence. A rendition of The Twilight Zone opening sequence plays throughout. The scene ends as the elevator reaches another star field which splits and opens much like elevator doors. The elevator enters another vertical shaft. Serling's voice is heard again, saying, "You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination, in the Tower of Terror."

Drop sequence

          On the last word of Serling's narration, the elevator starts its drop sequence. Rather than a simple gravity-powered drop, however, the elevator is pulled downwards, causing most riders to rise off their seats, held down only by a seat-belt. At least once during the drop sequence, wide elevator doors in front of the riders will open to reveal a view of the park from a height of about 170 feet (52 m). The back of the "Hollywood Tower Hotel" sign partially obstructs the view.

          In the years since the attraction's initial opening, a randomized pattern of drops and lifts have been added, where the ride vehicle will drop or rise various distances at different intervals. Other effects were also added, including new projection images of the breaking window, wind effects, lightning flashes, and ominous blacklit figures of the five ghostly original riders. These changes were made so that each trip on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a slightly different experience. The ride was reprogrammed most recently in its fourth conversion. The result of the reprogramming is that the ride system allows for any number of randomized drops and lifts. When guests enter the drop shaft, a computer randomly chooses one of four drop profiles, one of which is a modified version of the ride's third incarnation. Regardless of the number of randomized drops and lifts, each drop sequence always features one "faux drop" meant to startle the riders, and one complete drop through the entire tower. Since each trip results in a unique drop sequence, Florida's slogan for the ride is "Never the Same Fear Twice!"

          After a series of these drops have been made, the elevator returns to the basement of the decrepit Hollywood Tower Hotel. A movie plays, showing elements from the season four opening sequence, along with the 1939 elevator passengers and Rod Serling, falling into the "vortex" seen in the season three opening sequence. Rod Serling's voice states, "A warm welcome back to those of you who made it, and a friendly word of warning; something you won't find in any guidebook. The next time you check into a deserted hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know just what kind of vacancy you're filling. Or you may find yourself a permanent resident of... The Twilight Zone." Guests then exit the elevator, leaving the hotel through the gift shop.

Summer Nightastic Update

          Disney announced on their Parks and Resorts blog that the Tower of Terror will receive "new lighting effects and a new addition" as part of a Summer entertainment package called "Summer Nightastic". Rod Serling's voice is removed from the Fifth Dimension scene. Replacing it is music played in the drop shaft, along with a projected picture of the riders just before they enter the drop shaft. Much like in the California Adventure version of the ride, the riders disappear to show an empty elevator. A new drop profile was also created for "Summer Nightastic!", and replaces the other drop profiles on all rides. The Fifth Dimension scene is mostly covered by black tarps with fiber-optics starlight. The changes were introduced on June 5, but were officially introduced the day after. All changes were temporary, and lasted until August 14.

Disney California Adventure Version


          While similar in concept and theme to the original attraction in Florida, the versions of this attraction at Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort and Walt disney Studios Park at the Disneyland paris Resort do have some differences. These versions of the ride opened in 2004 and 2007, respectively, 10 and 13 years after the opening of the original Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

New ride operation system

          In order to conserve space and money, Imagineers redesigned the entire ride system for the attraction at Disney's California Adventure and made some general changes to the show scenes. The attraction features three elevator shafts. Each shaft, in theory, is its own separate ride with its own separate operating system. This makes it easier to repair individual areas of the attraction without causing the entire attraction to go down. Each shaft has two vehicles and two load levels. It is designed so that the lower vehicle can be in its ride profile while the upper vehicle is loading, giving the attraction the ability to move its line much faster. Since each vehicle loads and unloads from the same point, it ended up saving space. Due to the smaller budget and fewer breakdowns, Disney decided to use this ride system again for Walt Disney Studios Park's version of the ride and for Tokyo DisneySea's Hotel Hightower (Tokyo's version of the Tower of Terror).


          Disney California Adventure opened Tower of Terror in 2004 to better lure crowds into the struggling theme park, while bringing the Tower of Terror to the west Coast as well.

Ride experience

          When the horrific show cycle starts, the vehicle pushes backwards away from the elevator door while a starfield appears around it and a purple spiral appears on the doors. The narrator (Rod Sterling, voiced by Mark Silverman) says, "You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator about to take the strangest journey of your lives. Your destination...unknown, but this much is clear, a reservation has been made in your name for an extended stay. Wave good bye to the real world. You haved just entered The Twilight Zone. What happened here to dim the lights of Hollywood's brightest showplace is about to unfold once again. One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the elevator door and into a nightmare. That door is opening once again but this time it's opening for you." A door closes, placing riders in darkness as the elevator rises.

          The first stop for the elevator is a hotel hallway dominated by a large mirror. Rod tells riders to "wave goodbye to the real world." As they do, lightning strikes and electricity begins to arc around the mirror and the reflection of the riders is replaced by a ghostly silhouette of themselves. The passengers' reflection then disappears leaving only the empty seats with the narrator saying "For you have just entered ... the Twilight Zone!" (The mirror uses computer-generated imagery to change the appearance of the riders' reflections, ultimately removing them from the image completely. A high resolution camera captures the guests' image and compares it to an image of an empty elevator, then removes whatever is not in the empty image.) The elevator shudders as the door closes and the elevator slowly descends to the next show scene. As the door opens, it reveals a corridor of the hotel, with an elevator door located on the far end of it. Here, the narrator says, "What happened here to dim the lights of Hollywood's brightest show place is about to unfold once again," which is followed by an appearance of the hotel's permanent residents. Electricity courses through the hallway after their disappearance as Rod Serling continues his narration: "One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare...."

          The hallway slowly fades away into a starfield with the permanent residents standing in the now open elevator that was at the end of the hallway. Serling then says "That door is opening once again, but this time, it's opening for you." Then the elevator at the end of the hallway with the permanent residents has a little "show sequence", when it shows them standing helplessly in the shaft then their elevator drops. Then the "ghostly" projected passenger elevator drops, followed a second later by the actual passenger elevator beginning its drop sequence: a drop from the show scene to the first floor, then a rise to the "13th" floor. After flashing strobe lights and the photo opportunity, the elevator has a short drop, followed by a longer one, then a rise that goes up 2/3 of the way up to the top and an immediate fall down to "B3". The lights flicker as the elevator goes all the way back up to the top; it is then that the top floor doors open and riders are treated with a sky-high view of both Disneyland and California Adventure. The elevator pauses there a moment and falls to a place between the load levels (so that both load levels give the same ride) and a door opens again and passengers see an elevator door. The vehicle begins moving toward the door. The Twilight Zone theme begins again as Rod Serling says, "The next time you check into a deserted hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know just what kind of vacancy you're filling or you may find yourself a permanent resident... of The Twilight Zone." The door opens, and a bellhop is standing in the doorway to greet departing passengers. As passengers exit, a creepy voice says, "We hope your stay at The Hollywood Tower Hotel has been a pleasant one. And please... do come back and see us again."

Seasonal enhancements during Halloween Time

          Started in 2006 for Disney's Halloween Time, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's California Adventure receives special sound and lighting effects for the exterior and themed Halloween decor for the surrounding area and in the lobby. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is the starting point of Disney's "Happiest Haunts on Earth" tour. The Halloween decor was not put up in 2008, but lights projected spinning spider webs upon the exterior of the hotel.

Twilight Zone references and design information

·         In the hotel Lobby at California Adventure, there is a door with 22 in brass numbering. This is a reference to the episode "Twenty Two".

·         In the lobby of the hotel, at California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios (Paris), on a couch sits a dusty old doll. Some say the doll is supposed to be Talky Tina from the Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll," but others say is Sally Shine, the little girl in the pre-show and ride experience, from the 1997 movie "Tower of Terror".

·         Rod Serling's opening lines in the introduction video during the queue are as follows:

Tonight's story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This as you may recognize is a...

In the original episode, "It's a Good Life," Rod Serling says " of the United States." In the Tower of Terror opening lines, the line instead is "...maintenance service elevator, still in operation, waiting for you. We invite you if you dare to step aboard because in tonight's episode, you are the star. And this elevator travels directly to...the Twilight Zone." This is the point where the narration switches from a recording of Rod Serling to that of Mark Silverman, who provides the impersonation of Rod Serling for both the Walt Disney World and California Adventure versions of the ride.

·         At all rides besides Tokyo's, the preshow includes the little girl holding a Mickey Mouse plush toy, along with her still holding it on the hallway scene. At California Adventure's there is a picture behind the counter in the gift shop, that is said to be of Walt Disney at a Tip Top Club party holding a Mickey Mouse plush toy as well.

·         Outside the libraries at California Adventure, in the glass case adjacent to the doors there is a gold thimble accompanied by a card that reads, "Looking for a gift for Mother? Find it in our Gift Shop!" This is a reference to the Twilight Zone episode "The After Hours".

·         In the library, the Mystic Seer machine from the episode "Nick of Time" can be seen sitting on the high shelf.

·         In the Florida library, there is the book titled to Serve Man from the episode of the same name.

·         At California Adventure, envelopes with the names Rod Serling and Victoria West can be found in both libraries, near the sliding wall, a reference to the episode "A World of His Own." In Library 1, it sticks out of the top of the green books. In library 2, it sits in front of the books. The green books contain titles of selected Twilight Zone episodes. Other books in the libraries are in various languages from around the world, including German and Danish.

·         The trumpet from "A Passage for Trumpet" can be seen in the display while exiting the libraries.

·         The queue at both the California Adventure and the Paris venues, features a reference to the Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost". Chalk marks on the walls are in the same style that they were in the episode when trying to find where the portal to find the girl was. This can be found in the upper level of the boiler room next to the attraction warning signage at each of the 2 venues. Periodically the girl's voice can be heard calling out for help from the wall and from the radios around the boiler room.

·         The elevator has a plaque that says the last time the elevator was checked. Its number is 10259, which is a nod to the date October 2, 1959, the date The Twilight Zone first aired. The plaque also states the elevator was checked by Mr. Cadwallader, the sinister deal maker from the episode "Escape Clause."

·         After guests are loaded on the elevator, the needle to indicate what floor the elevator is on moves past the 12th floor. This is a reference to the 9th floor in the episode "The After Hours".

·         As the ride comes to a stop in Florida, the slot machine from the Twilight Zone episode "The Fever" can be seen.

·         As the ride comes to a stop the flying saucer from the Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders" is hanging from the ceiling. The titular characters of that same episode can be found on display in the libraries at the Florida and California attraction.

·         Both of the elevator exit areas of the Florida ride contain a display featuring, among other things, the ventriloquist dummy "Caesar" from the Twilight Zone episode "Caesar and Me".

·         There is a display case in the photo gallery of the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney's California Adventure that contains two items relating to the "A Thing about Machines" episode. One is a typewriter (with the GET OUT OF HERE FINCHLEY message); the card next to it reads "Almost Writes By Itself." There is also an electric razor; its card reads "Has A Long Cord - Can Follow You Everywhere." There is also a toy telephone from the episode "Long Distance Call" with a card saying "Perfect for the children's room and those late night calls from Grandma."

·         "Picture If You Will..." is in the Hotel Gift Shop where guests can buy their on-ride photo, something Rod Serling would say in the Twilight Zone episodes.

·         While exiting the Disney California Adventure ride, there is a display window for "Willoughby Travel", a nod to the episode "A Stop at Willoughby".

·         By the radio in the boiler room, jungle sounds can be heard from a nearby phone. This is a reference to The Jungle.


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