Thanks for Dropping into the Tower of Terror
Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Explore the history behind the Hollywood Tower Hotel as you enter… the Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened in Disney-MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) in 1994 as part of the Sunset Boulevard expansion. Imagineers wanted to add an E-ticket attraction to the park to draw in a bigger crowd, and the haunted hotel did just that. The attraction is based on the award-winning television show The Twilight Zone and features Rod Serling, the creator and narrator of the show. Serling passed away nearly 20 years before development so Imagineers used old footage of Serling with a voiceover done by actor Mark Silverman.
As guests walk to the end of Sunset Boulevard, they are greeted by the once-glitzy, art-deco Hollywood Tower Hotel. Guests enter through the lobby and see a hotel frozen in time: 1930s style with dust and cobwebs. The hotel staff informs parties that their rooms are not available yet and they are filed into the library. Here the infamous pre-show video plays where Rod Serling explains the terrifying history of the hotel:
Hollywood 1939. Five people enter the hotel’s elevator and while inside it is struck by lightning. Those five people mysteriously disappear and the hotel has been shut down ever since… until “an evening very much like the one we have just witnessed.” Guests are invited to step aboard an old service elevator, if they dare, to enter their own episode of The Twilight Zone. Exiting the library, guests are taken to the boiler room where they enter the service elevator. Once in the elevator, guests strap in and the creepy hotel employees say their final goodbyes. The ride begins and guests ascend to the 13th floor where they see the ghosts of the missing victims. They are then drawn into the fifth dimension as the ride car pulls them forward into the Twilight Zone. Then the ride drops in a series of random patterns. Guests will experience at least one half drop, one full drop and the doors opening to see Hollywood Studios. One of the unique features of The Tower of Terror is that the cars are dropping at a speed faster than a normal free fall. This makes the drops feel more dramatic as the cables are pulling the cars down at a max speed of 39 mph.
The Tower of Terror was the first ride to open in the Sunset Boulevard expansion. It sits on the back of Sunset Boulevard next to G-Force Records, which houses Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Fun fact: to keep with the theme, G-Force Records’ backstory corresponds with The Tower of Terror. G-Force Records was a top recording company in Hollywood until the incident at The Hollywood Tower Hotel, after that G-Force was blamed for the incident and its business suffered. This, of course, is never mentioned during the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster attraction, but it’s something diehard Disney World fans should know.
The Hollywood Tower Hotel’s design is inspired by the Biltmore Hotel and Mission Inn, which are two famous hotels in California. However, the color and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture were designed to fit in with the skyline visible from the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot.
The Tower of Terror is the second tallest attraction in Disney World, trailing behind Expedition Everest, at 199 feet. Nothing in Disney World is taller than 200 feet because structures of that height are required by the FAA to have a red blinking light for airplanes to spot. Imagineers thought these lights would take away from the immersive environment, so they kept all buildings below 200 feet tall.
The only major enhancement made to the original ride was the creation of the drop sequences. Before 2004, the sequence remained the same during every ride. Now, guests experience a random drop sequence so it’s “never the same fear twice!”
The Tower of Terror has, however, seen enhancements in different parks around the world. The version in Disneyland Paris was recently reimagined to include three new storylines and ride sequences.
In Tokyo DisneySea, the Tower of Terror has a completely different storyline, one that doesn’t include The Twilight Zone. This version is set in 1912 New York at the “Tower of Terror” hotel, so-called after its owner went missing in 1899, where the New York City Preservation Society now offers tours to the public.
Disney’s California Adventure had a Twilight Zone Tower of Terror until 2017 when it was replaced by Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! This attraction follows a similar ride pattern, however, with Marvel IP included. It is one of the main attractions in Disneyland’s new Avengers Campus, which opens on June 24, 2021. During the ride, guests join Rocket on an adventure to rescue the Guardians of the Galaxy from the Collector’s fortress. Unlike Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! walks guests through the Collector’s fortress, which is equipped with all of his collections from across the galaxy, and leads them to a pre-show room where an audio-animatronic Rocket tells guests his plan to save the Guardians. This attraction has six different storylines and features special effects and songs from the movie soundtrack.
The Tower of Terror remains a fan favorite among Disney World goers. Even with the new Star Wars and Toy Story IP in Hollywood Studios, it can still be considered a Tier 1 FastPass attraction. It is a must-ride attraction, as long as you don’t find yourself a permanent resident of the Twilight Zone. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.