Is Tower of Terror Scary? – Ride Speed, Drops, and Safety

Is Tower of Terror Scary, and if so, how scary?
This photograph was taken by Michael from Countdown to Magic

If you’re heading to Disney World soon and have never experienced the exciting Tower of Terror ride, you might be wondering what you can expect from this attraction.  Is Tower of Terror scary?  And if so, how intense is it for all the various ages in your party.  Don’t fret, because in this article, we’re going to provide you with all of the answers to your burning questions about this classic attraction.

Is Tower of Terror Scary?

First and foremost, let’s look at the basics. With a base height requirement of 40 inches, Tower of Terror is open to children potentially as young as four-years-old, though taking a child that young on the ride should really be left to the parent or legal guardian’s discretion and probably would terrify one that small. However, should your little one be insistent that they want to go on the ride as I myself was despite my aunt’s warnings, rest assured that its top speed and highest point from which you fall is equivalent to that of Splash Mountain.

If you’ve made it this far, it should be noted that Disney’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was designed to be visually frightening in the same sense as Haunted Mansion, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone that all its set dressing is made to elicit a sense of foreboding. 

The pre-show tells the story of five people mysteriously disappearing after lighting strikes the hotel’s main elevator towers, trapping them in the mysterious Twilight Zone, and then guests are guided down into an eerie boiler room with electrical coils that seem to spark every few seconds. 

Even before boarding the service elevator ride car, more nervous riders may be scared. That being said, the ride’s intensity may be more than you can handle if you find the brief drop on Pirates of the Caribbean too extreme for your liking because Tower of Terror has multiple drops with no set pattern. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference and judgement, but let’s take each element of the ride one at a time for a more in-depth understanding of exactly how scary (or not scary) Disney’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror can be for riders.

What to Expect

This photograph was taken by Michael from Countdown to Magic

If you pay attention to the pathways and walls along the queue line, you’ll notice that the ground is uneven. This puts guests off balance as they make their way through the queue and leaves them disoriented as they step inside the hotel lobby where things look as if the guests left the hotel in a hurry, leaving their belongings behind as they fled. 

Cobwebs cover everything from the abandoned game of mahjong in the corner near a tea cart to the alligator skin luggage by the front desk, and an Out of Order sign stands in front of the main elevator. A Triple-A plaque featuring thirteen diamonds, well above the company’s top Five-Diamond rating, hangs by the door. All are clear signs that something about this place is amiss. 

This surreal queue that looks like an ordinary yet abandoned hotel on its surface is equal parts indoor and outdoor depending on wait times, and it has slightly more menace to it than a ride like Haunted Mansion with its largely outdoor and cartoonish queue. 

While undoubtedly eerie, this isn’t as likely to make the ride “scary” because most people, adults and children alike, are unlikely to notice much of this on their own. It’s only as you’re told by a bellhop who seems almost spookily gleeful that your rooms are not quite ready and asked to wait in the library that you might begin to notice the subtle tingling sensation of fear run through you.

From what I have seen, everyone seems to get excited when anticipating this ride, including and teenagers. Always remember that, at the end of the day, you’re at Disney World.  This is all fun and games—you never need to be legitimately worried for your safety.

Is the Tower of Terror Pre-Show Scary?

After the eeriness of the queue, guests are led into the library of the Hollywood Tower Hotel for the pre-show. A storm can be heard raging outside no matter the weather guests experience in the outdoor section of the queue; lighting flashes, the power goes out, and then the little television set on one of the high shelves comes to life. 

The familiar voice of The Twilight Zone host Rod Serling, actually the imitation of Serling done by voice actor Mark Silverman, fills the room as the guests are told an curious tale in which five people mysteriously disappeared in the hotel’s main elevator after it was struck by lightning in a storm much like the one heard outside the library windows. 

Serling offers the guests a chance to step into a service elevator and become the stars of the show themselves. A secret door opens, leading guests down to the boiler room where coils spark as you walk past, and a bellhop as unsettlingly eerie as the ones before waits to help you onto your service elevator. 

All in all, this pre-show element can sometimes be frightening for younger children, but most kids probably won’t even pay attention to the pre-show for the most part. It’ll only be as the doors close and the car is plunged into darkness that the frights truly begin.

Best Ages to Ride the Tower of Terror

Disney labels this attraction as being appropriate for kids, teens, tweens and adults.  And as mentioned before, you also have to be at least 40 inches tall to board the ride.

Now to be honest, I would highly recommend accompanying your young ones—even your tweens—on this ride because the attraction is seemingly intimidating at first.  Despite this being a fun attraction at the end of the day, it can potentially be a bit off-putting, especially at night, for kids of all ages who have never experienced it before.  

On top of that, do remember that this is an attraction where you can hear other guests experiencing the attraction as you walk up to the ride or wait in line.  So, if a kid is hearing Disney guests screaming because of the ride’s speed or drops, it may cause them a bit of worry or anxiety.  So you being there right by their side may help ease a bit of that tension.

Tower of Terror Brief Ride Walkthrough

While its main classification is that of a drop tower ride, Disney’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a hybrid in that the first half of it operates as a standard dark ride…well, standard for Walt Disney Imagineering at least. When the ride begins, guests board a vehicle designed to look like a service elevator. 

The car containing the seats is actually not an elevator at all; it’s actually an Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) designed by Eaton-Kenway that rolls backwards into the OTIS designed elevator car and locks into place before the car rises up to the two show scenes on the floors above, the first being a scene in which riders see the ghosts of the five people whose disappearance caused the desertion of the hotel. 

The ghosts generate some sort of electrical field as they motion towards the passengers, and a little girl’s voice can be heard singing a haunting rendition of Mother Goose’s “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring.” The ghosts’ electrical energy bounces around the hallway, and then they and the hallway disappear; everything but the window at the other end fades to black, and all guests can see are stars, blackness and the lone window staring back. 

Suddenly, the window begins to move. It morphs into the window from the opening of The Twilight Zone then shatters. The doors close, and the elevator moves up another floor. This scene may look like it took some sort of high-tech theme park wizardry to create, but what if I told you that the techniques used to bring ghosts to Hollywood Studios is the same as the one that brought them to Magic Kingdom fifty years ago? 

That’s right, the sparky specters and shapeshifting window are projected into the hallway scene using the same Pepper’s Ghost technique that fills the dining hall of the Haunted Mansion with grim, grinning ghosts. 

As for the starfield, most of the hallway is actually a scrim covering thousands of fiberoptic lights that shine through the scrim when the main lights are turned down to give the room the effect of the vast and endless void that is space.

In the second show scene of the ride, the AGV travels out of the lift shaft and through a room filled with ticking clocks and floating doors reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone opening towards another starfield. The little girl can be heard singing once more as the AGV approaches the starfield, and a bright white light bifurcates the field, opening it to allow the vehicle to move into the drop shaft. 

This light is actually the splitting of the two mirrors set at an angle as this room utilizes more of Pepper’s Ghost and fiberoptic lighting to send riders through the fifth dimension. Visually, this and the previous show scene can get dark. From the moment those mirrors split to allow the AVG to pass into the drop shaft, you’re in pitch black. If you or someone in your party has trouble with being in the dark, then this will most likely scare them. If not, the brace yourselves for what happens next: the drops.

Tower of Terror Ride Speed and Drops

There’s no doubt for anyone that Disney’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of Walt Disney Imagineering’s crown jewels. While it’s a hybrid attraction, it’s better known as a drop tower attraction; as its name would imply, the main objective is to drop riders from a great height in a simulated free fall. 

However, this is actually a bit of a misnomer for Tower of Terror because the ride never actually drops passengers. What really happens is that cables on both the top and bottom of the elevator car work to pull it down at a rate of speed slightly faster than a normal free fall, with top speeds maxing out at about 39 miles an hour, which gives riders the feeling of weightlessness before forcing them back into their seats. 

Though the drops are controlled, this doesn’t make the ride predictable because Tower of Terror has the unique ability of being able to think for itself…to a certain degree at least. While there will always be at least one half drop of about 45 feet, one full drop of about 90 feet, and the doors opening to give riders a brief but breathtaking birds-eye view of Hollywood Studios, the drop and rise pattern is otherwise random. 

Not knowing exactly what to expect might be scary, but the general estimate is that the ride drops anywhere from three to eight times from varying heights never exceeding 90 feet.

Tips for Easing Your Tower of Terror Ride Anxiety

If you are still quite nervous about riding the Tower, just look around, you—you are not alone! There are likely quite a lot of new riders amongst you, ranging in age from kids to maybe even senior citizens. 

If you’re really worried about the ride, try focusing on other people’s reactions to the attraction when you’re in the elevator with them.  It might be hard to do this, but if you can remember to do so, you’ll realize most of the people are having a ton of fun—even when they’re screaming.  In general, I feel that people’s reactions to any attraction ease my nerves.

So How Scary is Tower of Terror?

While I feel this ride is a classic, I can recognize that it’s not for everyone.  With a largely unpredictable drop pattern, very little light, and the continuous switch between being lifted out of your seat and being shoved back into it, Disney’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror can be absolutely frightening for some small children. 

If you’re a theme park thrill seeker of any age, however, this could be the greatest ride of your life. Children are able to board the ride so long as they meet the height requirement, but the choice to ride is ultimately that of the individual rider. 

While I myself have been a fan of the attraction since I was a kid and have never once found it the least bit scary or intimidating (I rode it back-to-back when I was just eight-years-old), I have known both children and adults who felt the Tower of Terror is just too much for them. 

So it the Tower of Terror scary?  Well, yes it certainly can be.  But, there’s actually some good news here too, because this attraction has what’s commonly referred to as a “chicken exit” in the boiler room. Just find the nearest cast member and let them know so they can direct you to the exit. 

This article was written by Pamela (with some content by Charlize), and edited by Michael. 

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