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Five Things to Know About The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a different type of thrill ride at Walt Disney World. It combines elements of dark-ride storytelling, suspense, and sudden drops to create an immersive journey for those who dare to visit. A journey into another dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind … into the Twilight Zone! Of course, if you’d rather skip the trip to another dimension and just learn about the wheres, whys, and whats of this attraction, here’s your shortcut.

1. Think of it as the “Drop Inn.”

The ride is based on the classic television series, “The Twilight Zone,” created by Rod Serling. The storyline revolves around the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel, a once-glamorous establishment that was abandoned after being struck by lightning on October 31, 1939. That caused a supernatural event that resulted in the mysterious disappearance of an elevator and its passengers.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

You’ll walk through the lobby and library (more on that in a bit) to the boiler room where you’ll board the service elevator. Rod Serling provides narration. (Serling is voiced by Mark Silverman, handpicked for the job by the Imagineers and Serling’s widow.) Your ride vehicle takes you upstairs, the doors open, and you’ll see the ghostly victims of the lightning strike. Doors close, you ascend again, and your vehicle leaves the elevator shaft to journey down a hallway, taking you into the Twilight Zone. At the hall’s end, your vehicle enters the drop shaft, and the real fun begins: the drops (yes, plural!).

At one point during your ride, the doors open, giving you a bird’s eye view of Hollywood Studios, reminding you of just how high up you are! And then, your ride ends back in the boiler room. Which is where my wife and I waited while our kids and grandkids took the ride.

2. It could have been “Castle Young Frankenstein.”

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened its doors on July 22, 1994, at what was then Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Initially, the ride included only one big drop. In May 1996, a second full drop was added, followed by a third drop and enhanced special effects in March 1999. Finally, in December 2002, Disney implemented the four different randomized drop sequences still used today. Each has different special effects so each time you ride, your experience is different.

Tower of Terror Exit / Waiting Area

But believe it or not, back in 1989 Mel Brooks met with Michael Eisner and Imagineers to discuss ideas for a funny and scary attraction, perhaps “Castle Young Frankenstein.” Mel left the project for several reasons and the idea was abandoned. Several other options were proposed, including making it a real hotel/ride hybrid. After much discussion and creative back-and-forth, the Imagineers finally settled on the Hollywood Hotel idea we know today.

3. Loiter in the lobby, linger in the library.

Your trip to the Twilight Zone begins as you walk up the winding path to the hotel. The walkway itself was poured at a 2–4-degree angle. You may not notice it, but it’s just enough to register with your subconscious that something isn’t on the level here. The walls of the path are also wonky, while the garden is overgrown and unkempt at best.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

The look of the hotel took its inspiration from the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. But because it’s so tall (199 feet) and can be seen from the Morocco Pavilion EPCOT’s World Showcase, the back of the hotel has elements that allow it to blend seamlessly with the look of that pavilion.

The lobby was modeled after that of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. The props in the lobby are actual antiques, purchased from shops in California. Some of the furniture are replicas of 1930’s pieces, built by the original manufacturers. Several Easter Egg references to Twilight Zone episodes are scattered throughout as well. There are lots and lots of secrets to the fantastic preshow which we talk about here..

4. You’re not falling for it.

One of the most remarkable things about the Tower of Terror is the engineering that went into the ride. The ride vehicle you sit in is called an Autonomous Guided Vehicle. It’s locked into place in each elevator (actually, they’re referred to as Vertical Vehicle Conveyances). To move from one elevator shaft through the hall to another, your vehicle follows wires in the floor. The communication from those wires to the vehicle is somewhat sensitive. So, if any sort of litter or foreign object falls on the floor, it can disrupt communication between the two. This is one of the most common reasons the ride may close for a while.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

During the drop sequences, you’re not actually falling; you’re in a tug-of-war. Disney Imagineers worked with the engineers at the Otis elevator company to create the cable system that not only pulls you up but pulls you when you’re moving down as well. Two massive motors (weighing 132,000 pounds!) move the platform your vehicle locks into up and down. This system enables you to reach a speed of 39 miles per hour at one point – which means you actually drop faster than gravity! (A fact that became all too real for my daughter when her phone flew up out of her unclasped purse and into her lap.) The biggest drop on the ride is 130 feet, not the full height of the Tower.

5. The Nuts and Bolts.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror sits at the end of Sunset Boulevard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s an indoor attraction, but if the line is long, the queue will extend outside where you’ll be exposed to the weather.

Tower of Terror includes sudden, fast drops in a dark, enclosed space which may be frightening to some guests. Also, if you bring any bags or backpacks with you, keep them closed and tucked securely between your feet. The drop sequences will cause them to shift around or fly up.

Each ride vehicle has 21 seats with 7 guests per row. An aisle separates the first two rows, 4 guests to the left and 3 to the right. Guests in the second two rows will have to walk up 1 or 2 steps to board. Each seat has a hard back and a fabric safety belt. There are handlebars between each seat and on the walls of the ride vehicle. Guests must transfer from a wheelchair or ECV to ride.

Tower of Terror

For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride, and all guests must be 40 inches or taller. As with all rides that have a height requirement, Tower of Terror offers Rider Switch. Service animals are not permitted.  Video captioning is available.

The attractions in Galaxy’s Edge, along with Slinky Dog Dash and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, draw crowds away from Tower of Terror. If you can’t ride first thing in the morning, waits should be shorter in the last hour the park is open. Alternatively, you can purchase Lightning Lane entry via Genie+. The Tower is also open for Early Theme Park Entry.

The Bottom Line.

We rate the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as not to be missed. It’s totally unlike any other ride at Walt Disney World, which alone should put it on your must-do list. If it’s not your thing, you can do what we did: bail out at the “chicken exit” in the boiler room, right before others board. You’ll get to see all the cool details in the lobby and library, which alone are worth the trip to this other dimension.

Have you ridden the Tower of Terror? What was your favorite Easter Egg? Tell us in the comments below.

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Bob Jacobs

Bob Jacobs lives in Wisconsin where he retired as Editorial Director for a well-known catalog company. He and his wife Cristie have four children, seven grandchildren and a cocker spaniel named Penny the Dog. They’ve visited Walt Disney World regularly since 1992.

2 thoughts on “Five Things to Know About The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

  • My favorite Easter egg was when I saw Caesar staring at me through the elevator shaft It made it more Thrilling in some sorta way. Overall I enjoyed it! it should be added back in California adevnture. They better keep tower of terror in Florida!


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