Disneyland vs. Disney World Attractions: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

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TOWEROFTERROR
photo by Mike Sperduto

Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort share a number of the same attractions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, “it’s a small world,” and many others. But if you think that these attractions are the same on both coasts, you would be mistaken. One of the many things I love about Disney is that they never do the same thing twice; and while the attractions that can be found on both coasts may share the same names and themes, they do have differences too. Hey, who doesn’t like variety, right? But you have to wonder, which resort has the best version of a popular attraction? Which Disney Park has the bragging rights? I’m about to find out in today’s showdown of Disneyland vs. Disney World Attractions: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!

What is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror?

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a freefall drop ride housed in an Old Hollywood hotel and themed after the classic, psychologically thrilling television series, The Twilight Zone. The story is that on October 31, 1939, five guests of the Hollywood Tower Hotel were aboard the hotel’s elevator when lightning struck the building and sent them directly to the Twilight Zone. The attraction itself takes guests through the cobwebbed hotel, where something is clearly not right, and then aboard a maintenance service elevator to reach their rooms; but, along the way, they end up traveling to The Twilight Zone where their elevator drops over and over!

Tokyo DisneySea - Tower of Terror
Tokyo DisneySea – Tower of Terror

History

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror first opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios, in 1994 and was an instant success with guests. It even sparked a TV film in 1997 starring Steve Guttenberg and Kristen Dunst. In 2004, another Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened at Disney’s California Adventure and featured a different exterior look, as well as a few modifications. In 2007, yet another Tower of Terror opened at Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris. Tokyo DisneySea also has their own Tower of Terror, but it doesn’t carry the television series theme but its own unique story.

While there are several Tower of Terrors around the world, I’m zeroing in on the versions available here in the states to see which coasts boasts the best. I will be comparing the towers based on different categories, and the version with the most category wins will be our winner! Ready? Let’s do this.

California Adventure Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
DCA’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Exterior:

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the taller of the two at 199 ft. tall while Disney’s California Adventure’s version tops 183 ft. tall. Disney World’s exterior was inspired by famous hotels, such as Mission Inn and the Biltmore Hotel, while California Adventure’s sports a Pueblo-Deco design. The most noticeable difference between the look of the two towers is that at Hollywood Studios, the tower is incredibly imposing, extra creepy, and appears even taller than its counterpart due to its spires while at California Adventure, the tower is more modern and horizontal in design. It also sports a lighter color scheme. Both towers feature the scorch marks and exposed interior from the fateful lightning strike, as well as the signature flickering hotel sign; but I have to give this category win to Disney World’s Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It looks much scarier and adds more to the experience.

Winner: Disney World

Ride Duration:

The ride duration of Disney’s California Adventure’s Tower of Terror is 6 minutes while Disney World’s Tower of Terror is 15 minutes!

Winner: Disney World

TOWEROFTERROR_Bricker
photo by Tom Bricker

Location:

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, The Twilight Zone Tower of Tower is situated at the end of the park’s Sunset Boulevard and seems to draw guests to it like a magnet. It also helps that guests can see the tower before they even pass through the park’s turnstiles and only ups their curiosity and anticipation. Now at Disney’s California Adventure, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror sits in its own little corner of Hollywood Land between the Backlot and A Bug’s Land. While it can be seen from several areas of the park, it seems to lack the presentation and presentation that Hollywood Studios’ version offers. It’s almost as if guests stumble across this Tower of Terror as opposed to being drawn to it.

Winner: Disney World

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Tower of Terror’s removed location at DCA

Efficiency:

It’s always interesting to analyze how attractions, especially an attraction as unique as The Twilight Zone Tower, are designed to handle the packed queues of thrill-seeking guests. Each elevator at both Tower of Terrors can handle 21 guests, but that’s where the similarities between the two end. When Imagineers built the second Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure, they learned from constructing the first for how to move guests through the attraction more efficiently. For example, while Disney World’s Tower of Terror has four lifts, and California Adventure has only three, the three shafts operate independently from the others so that the entire ride doesn’t have to shut down if an issue arises. Also, each shaft at Disney’s California Adventure has two vehicles for each shaft and two loading levels, including the second story boarding level which always takes Disney World guests by surprise when they check out this sister attraction. So due to the implemented ingenuity at Disney’s California Adventure’s Tower of Terror, the West Coast version wins this round!

Winner: Disney California Adventure

DSC_0227
Twilight Zone Details

Queue:

Disney is famous for using its queues to immerse guests into the storyline of their attraction, and the queues at both Tower of Terrors illustrate this ability fantastically. At Disney’s California Adventure, the queue begins when guests pass through the hotel gates and into the cobwebbed lobby, which is met to look as if time stopped when lightning struck all those years ago. Next, guests are taken into the hotel library where an old television flickers on, seemingly of its own freewill, and Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone television series appears to fill guests in on what happened to the hotel in 1939 and what’s about to happen now. The final phase of the queue is the dim, industrial boiler room, where guests wait to board their maintenance service elevator and eerie bell hops thank you for dropping in…

The queue is very similar at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, but does have a few differences, such as an outdoor portion. When approaching the tower at Disney World, guests leave Sunset Boulevard and head up and around a curve to reach the gate before having to pass through hotel’s overgrown gardens. Eerie music plays as guests wait, but what they probably notice most is the screams from guests dropping just overhead! Once they pass through the hotel’s doors, they are in a lobby very similar to Disney’s California Adventure; but fortunately, there are different details to discover and a few differences in design. The library is pretty much the same on both coasts; however, the boiler rooms are different. California’s features different lightning, details, and the boilers are much bigger and in close proximity to the guests in line, as well as having a set of stairs to take guests to the second story boarding level overhead.

Winner: Disney World

HTH
Themed Tower Merch

Overall Ride:

Despite the fact that both towers tell the same story and are drop rides, there are several differences in the overall ride experiences. At Disney World’s Tower of Terror, the ride experience begins when the elevator rises and opens to reveal a special effect scene. Disney’s California Adventure’s version actually moves the elevator backward and then rises to open its doors to a scene, but the special effects presented here are different and much better in my opinion. Next, the elevator rises once again, opens, and then the elevator moves out of the shaft and actually through the next scene, or “Fifth Dimension,” before entering a new shaft and beginning its drop sequences. At California, however, this is not the case. When the elevator rises to its next scene, a special effect shows the original guests who disappeared on that fateful night before the elevator and drops and begins its sequence. The elevator doesn’t leave the shaft at all.

So which one is best? I love the effects at California Adventure, but it’s hard to beat the “Fifth Dimension” scene and the spooky realization that your elevator has left the shaft at Hollywood Studios! It also makes this drop ride feel like more of an attraction than just a standard drop ride. Also, I love the randomization of Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror. In California, there are drop patterns but the determination of which shaft gets which pattern is what’s randomized.

So which Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is the winner? I have to give to Disney World’s Tower of Terror!

Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

9 thoughts on “Disneyland vs. Disney World Attractions: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

  • May 10, 2016 at 9:44 am
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    IIRC, there is an outdoor portion to the Tower of Terror queue (through the gardens) at DCA, but since it is the overflow queue (and since there is no FP+ causing longer standby waits) it is rarely used.

    Reply
  • May 10, 2016 at 10:38 am
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    One of my favorite Disney Stories is why they picked the color for Disney World’s ToT. There is a sweet spot inside Epcot where if you stand on the future world side of the lagoon, and face Morocco, you can see the ToT right behind it. The color and shape of the ride blends in with the pavilion very well.

    Reply
    • May 10, 2016 at 1:09 pm
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      Great tip! Love that Imagineers make sure every little detail is perfect. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  • May 10, 2016 at 11:08 am
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    There is an interesting rumor that the DCA Tower of Terror is going to be undergoing a retheme. The current status is that it will be changed to a Guardians of the Galaxy theme to match what that area will be rethemed as a Marvel Area.

    Reply
    • May 10, 2016 at 1:15 pm
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      I’ve heard this rumor too and I’m very interested to see if it might be true. Part of the reason why I did a comparison between the two towers is that Disneyland regulars like the idea of a Guardians of the Galaxy theme, while Disney World regulars do not. I think the differences between these two versions play a big role for why that is. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  • May 10, 2016 at 1:46 pm
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    -The WDW version of the ride is not 15 minutes. I’d imagine it’s a minute or two longer than DCA, given the 5th dimension scene, but it’s definitely not 15 minutes.

    -As for the thrill ride/”drop” experience, I always describe it like this: WDW has the drop profile randomization, so you get the fun of the unpredictability. DCA’s is the exact same ride every time (regardless of shaft), but the drops themselves are much faster and with more aggressive velocity changes. DCA’s is more predictable, but it’s much more physically thrilling.

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    • May 10, 2016 at 11:32 pm
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      Maybe they’re counting the preshow lobby show at Orlando as part of the 15 min time. And then the moving to the elevator basement queue as ride time?
      Much like the haunted mansion does the streching room and then a second queue that’s themed as part of the attraction.

      Reply
  • May 11, 2016 at 11:53 am
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    Possibly, but both versions have the identical preshow movie in the library and wait-in-the-boiler-room experience. If that counts as ride time (which it probably shouldn’t), then it would count for both.

    Reply
    • May 11, 2016 at 6:06 pm
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      The ride duration times used in this article were based off information from the TouringPlans site. Feel free to check out the pages on ride durations from each park and to contact us if you feel the date is no longer accurate. Thanks!

      Reply

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