The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror review

Photographed by Michael of Countdown to Magic

When Disneyland closed their Tower of Terror ride and announced that they were replacing it with a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, my first thought was, “I hope they don’t close the Disney World one, too!” 

This ride has been around for a while, but it remains a favorite ride at the Hollywood Studios. In fact, there are many who consider this ride to be the best Disney World ride available.  So for those unfamiliar with this attraction, let me walk you through all of the things that make the Tower of Terror so special.

The Ride

I debated for a while as to whether or not to spoil the actual story of the ride, because it’s nice to be surprised if you’ve never been on it before.  However, since the ride has been around for more than twenty years (it originally opened in 1994), and since numerous videos of the experience are available all over the web, I don’t suppose I can really spoil much for you. 

However, as fair warning, if you are planning on riding this, and want to be surprised, skip down to the next section titled “Decor.”

Now, this ride is a story-based thrill ride, and while the story of the ride is fun (and really involved), I won’t go into the details here.  The short version is that the “Hollywood Tower Hotel” suffered a major, supernatural accident in 1939, and has been “haunted” ever since.  The accident took place on a freight elevator, and –- what a shocker! — it’s the very same elevator you are riding


Now, let’s get to the ride itself.  After boarding the elevator and strapping yourself in (there are individual seatbelts for each guest; you’ll want them), the elevator begins a slow, lumbering (and “alarmingly” squeaky) ascent.  At some point, the doors open, and you are looking down a long corridor of the hotel.  The window at the end is dark, lit by the occasional flash of lightning. 

Suddenly – and this is where the magic of Disney really comes into play! – five ghostly, transparent people appear in the middle of the hallway, turn towards the elevators, and bid you to follow them.  They disappear in a crackling surge of electricity, and the hallway darkens.  Everything becomes a field of stars, with that window still chillin’ over there at the end of the hallway.  Now, this next part took me several times of riding before I was no longer surprised by it, but the window at the end of the hallway begins to float away. 

The illusion is perfect

The window shatters, the doors close, and the elevator continues its ascent.  Once it reaches the thirteenth floor, the doors open and the elevator car moves horizontally through a large room, in which rather odd and unusual items and images are floating.  Since this ride is based on the television show, The Twilight Zone, there are iconic elements of the show in this room, such as an enormous eye, a doorway floating in space, etc. 

The elevator continues forward, stopping, eventually, at another field of stars.  Then, everything goes pitch black, the wall in front of you opens, and you are suddenly looking out of an opening at a panoramic view of Hollywood Studios.

And then you drop. 

And then you shoot back up to the thirteenth floor, and drop again.  This pattern repeats several times before your elevator plummets all the way to the bottom, where you land (gently!), and are soon able to exit the ride. 

While I wouldn’t consider this a scary ride by any means, it IS intense, especially the drops.   Personally, I would use some discretion with your smaller kids – there is, by the way, a height requirement of 40 inches –- as the moments of pitch darkness may be scary, and, depending on how well your child can process fiction versus reality, the ghosts may be a bit creepy. 

However, this isn’t a haunted house with ghouls jumping around corners, or machete-wielding clowns waiting for opportune moments to make you soil yourself, so while I would caution discretion for younger kids, this isn’t what I would call a scary or horrifying ride.  In fact, it’s really quite fun and I like the story aspect of the ride far more than I even like the drops (although those are fun, too).

And, never fear, should you wish to purchase a memento of your terrified, “I’m-plummeting-thirteen-stories!” face, they take your picture on the ride. 

Isn’t that nice of them?    

The Décor (5/5)

In the same tradition of The Haunted Mansion, Disney’s design team really captured the feel of an abandoned, 1930’s-era, high class hotel.  The exterior is imposing, towering nearly two-hundred feet above you, its coral-colored edifice scorched by lightning, the plaster peeling and crumbling, and the grounds – surrounded by cobblestone walls – are overgrown with weeds and shrubs. 

The exterior gives the impression of being old and in bad need of repair, and one sort of forgets the fact that this is all controlled, and the landscaping is supposed to look like I did it . . . er, I mean, look like someone forgot how to use hedge clippers. 

Yeah, that’s what I meant to say.

The interior is even gloomier, with antique furniture covered in dust and cobwebs.  Unlike The Haunted Mansion, there are no gargoyles or gothic, spooky decorations, but the hotel is set up to remind us of a bygone era, an era in which the wealthy could come to Hollywood and stay and be pampered in one of the finest hotels the city had to offer. 

And the design team succeeded at their job.  In fact, I can’t remember which time it was – I’ve enjoyed this ride several times since the late nineties – but on one of my meanderings through the line, I found myself absent-mindedly wondering why no one had cleaned up and refurbished the place, and tried to re-open it. 

Don’t worry, as that thought process lasted less than ten seconds, and I immediately felt stupid.  However, I also think that is a testament to how well Disney has created this kind of atmosphere through the décor.   

Wait Time (5/5)

There are all kinds of people, all over the Internet, who tell you that a Fast Pass is absolutely required for this ride.  In 1999, five years after this ride opened, some friends and I waited in line for nearly an hour. 

I have not waited in line since. 

My wait time has been, tops, ten minutes.  Now, we tend to go in late October or early November (in other words, the off-season), and, given that the ride is almost twenty-five years old, that probably accounts for my lack of a wait time.   According to the internet chatter, however, every afternoon, year-round, is going to see a wait of at least forty-five minutes, but possibly up to an hour to an hour-and-a-half.   

This is a very popular ride, but they also have four working elevators.  The total ride time, once you’re on the elevator (I’m just spit-balling here), is somewhere around five minutes.  That means that in the course of an hour, they can get some forty elevators full of people through the line (allowing for boarding and exiting time). 

What I am basically trying to say is that I have never needed a Fast Pass, but if you want one, there’s no real harm, I guess.

For Returning Riders (5/5)

Up until this point, I’ve approached this ride from the standpoint of someone who has never been on it, trying to answer some of their “I’ve-never-been-on-this-ride-and-I’m-kind-of-scared-that-I-won’t-like-it-and-I-don’t-want-to-waste-my-time-standing-in-line-for-a-ride-I’ll-hate-oh-and-is-it-okay-for-kids” questions.   

But what about returning riders?  What about those who have been on it once or twice, but it’s been a while?  Or, maybe you’re like me, and you’ve been on it several times, and now you want to see if there are any cool details you may have overlooked.

I’ve compiled a list of a few of the secret, fun things that are hidden throughout the ride.  Now, most of these are in the hotel as you move through the queue, so if you’re someone who has been on this before, it may be in your best interest to actually find a longer wait time, in order to give you a few moments to explore the lobby. 

Here we go:

Hidden Mickeys – This is kind of a no-brainer, since the parks are infested with hidden Mickey designs.  However, a few of the notable ones are as follows:  the boiler room (check, especially, the gratings, the boiler doors, and oddly-shaped water spots on the walls), the lobby (check, especially, the desk to the right of the front door, the hanging lamps, and the moss on the entrance doors); the library (most notably the display cases and the introductory video)

Props – Many of the items and things scattered throughout the lobby and the library are actually replicas of props from some of the Twilight Zone episodes.   A pair of broken reading glasses sits atop a stack of books, referencing “Time Enough at Last”; a fortune-telling machine in the library is from the episode, “The Mystic Seer”; and a slot machine shortly before you disembark from the elevator is from the episode “Slot Machine” (rumor has it that this is the ACTUAL slot machine prop used in the episode).  There are numerous other props, but I’m going to leave those for people who actually know the show, and want to find some things for themselves.

Reference Props – These are props on the ride that aren’t in specific episodes, but they reference things Twilight Zone-related.  The elevator inspection certificate is especially noteworthy, as is the collection of thin, blue-cover books on one of the shelves in the library.

Rod Sterling – Sterling, the host of The Twilight Zone, has long been dead (1975), but it IS Sterling who is introducing the ride during the movie.  This is because they used Twilight Zone footage, but used a voice actor to do the dialogue, lip-synching the WDW script over the existing footage.  It’s really good, but it you watch very carefully, you can see – on occasion! – where the words don’t quite match up.

Interesting tidbits – In the lobby, underneath one of the windows, is a game, set up as if someone stopped playing it mid-game, and simply walked away.  You get extra points if you can discover it and name the game, but don’t ask what the points get you —(hint:  the word starts with an “n” and rhymes with “othing”). 
Oh, and the dust on the furniture?  It’s real – Disney staff is only allowed to clean the lobby and hotel area up to a certain point, but must leave a good deal of dust and cobwebs on the furniture.  Also, many of the furnishings in the lobby that look antique are, well, real antiques! 
Pretty cool, right?

Worth It?

The Tower of Terror remains one of Disney’s most popular – and most incredible – rides.  It isn’t for the faint-of-heart, of course (literally – people with existing heart conditions are advised not to ride it), but it is very well done. 

From the moment you enter the ride grounds, to the final exit into the gift shop, it’s easy to forget that you are on a ride.  The attention to detail surpasses almost every single ride in the Disney parks.  And it’s a pretty awesome ride, to boot.

The hallway illusions, the numerous Easter eggs, the fantastic view, the plummeting to (not really) certain death . . . it’s worth whatever time you may or may not spend in line.  If you are tall enough and brave enough, don’t go to Hollywood Studios without trying this ride.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Final Verdict:  Entering Another Dimensions Rocks!

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