Disney’s Tower Of Terror

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Features, The 626, Walt Disney World

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Published on September 23, 2012 at 2:57 am with 15 Comments

When Disney MGM Studios was opened in 1989, it was a mild success. Michael Eisner’s plan of having a “Universal killer” Park was rushed into opening, so it didn’t have a lot of the essential E ticket attractions that most guests craved. So, when it came time to expand the park, a big draw was planned.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror originally started its life as an attraction being developed with the famous comedian and filmmaker, Mel Brooks. Brooks and his son, Max, were avid fans of Disneyland, so Eisner wanted to lure him into making movies with Walt Disney Studios by offering him a chance to develop a hybrid comedy and horror attraction. The original idea was called “Castle Young Frankenstein,” a spinoff of one of his most famous films. That idea eventually evolved into Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel. Brooks eventually left the project because of commitments to the movie “Life Stinks,” and the fact that Imagineering was starting to stray too far from his original ideas.

However, the Hollywood Hotel idea stuck, and Imagineers continued to develop on it. Since the planned expansion was going to feature a Sunset Boulevard of the 1930s, the idea evolved into a hotel stuck in that era, with a ghost story behind it. They thought a Spanish Renaissance architectural “look” would fit in nicely with the rest of the store fronts on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards.

Without Brooks behind it now, Disney felt the attraction needed another movie or pop culture tie-in to fit with the “movie studio” theme of the Park to help draw crowds in. They eventually settled on the idea of the Twilight Zone, since they had originally wanted to do a Twilight Zone attraction for the opening of the park. For the most part, The Twilight Zone theme was a fairly easy overlay for the Disney Imagineers to do, although they did go through all 156 episodes of the show to pick out elements suitable for the attraction.

One idea was to have the attraction be a walk through AND a ride, with Guests partaking in a murder mystery to try to figure out what happened to a group of movie stars during a storm, only to find out the truth much too late when they boarded an elevator. While the idea was well liked, Eisner wanted the guests to feel more involved, and so Imagineers decided to make it so that the guest would star in their own Twilight Zone episode.

Because of the unique nature of the ride, with the elevator traveling on its own through the fifth dimension, only to free fall multiple times later on, a new ride system had to be developed. The AGVs, or Autonomous Guided Vehicle, were self-controlled, self-contained ride vehicle there were designed to move without a track. Although the 5th Dimension scene floor has guide ways for traction, the vehicle itself runs on its own wheels along the floor. A modified version of the power couplings used in EPCOT’s universe of energy were used for battery power.  Onboard computers follow a pre-programmed ride path, and “talk” to the Ride Control System through RF wireless frequency. A secondary tracking system follows a wire embedded in the floor to keep track of the AGV`s location, and can easily trigger a ride shutdown if something happens.

In order to make the AGV fall faster than terminal velocity, a second ride vehicle was required. As the AGV guides itself into the ride shaft to ascend to the boiler room level, it goes into a larger ‘elevator’ – the VVC, or Vertical Vehicle Conveyance. This is an elevator car in the true sense, complete with cables and wheels. It is this vehicle that lifts the AGV up through the corridor scene, and to the 5th Dimension level. As the AGV transfers horizontally, the VVC returns to the basement level to receive the next AGV that is unloading its guests. For the drop shaft, a beefed up VVC is employed…enough to take the rigors of accelerated free fall, and with a pulley system not just on its roof to lift it like a conventional elevator, but a complete loop of cable that also pulls the entire carriage downwards as well as up – hence faster than gravity.

On July 22, 1994, the brand new attraction opened its doors to the public, and guests have been…dropping in…ever since. The attraction was so popular that versions have been created at Disney California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, and in Tokyo DisneySea. Although, the Tokyo version nixed the Twilight Zone References, since the television show wasn’t well known in Japan.

Next time you’re in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, be sure to check out…or into, the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

Do you enjoy The Tower Of Terror? What’s your favorite part?

And now for something completely different . . .

Many of you know that George Taylor and I are hosting a 30th anniversary celebration for Epcot. Unfortunately tickets have completely sold out.  HOWEVER, some of MiceChat’s finest have created two new events with plenty of room for everyone . . . a FREE scavenger hunt at Epcot and a Food and Wine Festival event. We’d love to see you!

Epcot 30th Anniversary FREE MiceQuest – Sept 29, 2012
Join MiceChat’s Kevin Yee and the Communicore Weekly crew for a FREE fun-filled scavenger hunt game celebrating Epcot’s 30th Anniversary.  The Quest, designed by Kevin Yee, is fun for the whole family and will take place on the Mexico side of World Showcase from 3:30pm until 6:30pm on September 29th, 2012.  Create a team of 1-4 people, and compete for the title of biggest Epcot geek. Fun prizes will be awarded to the winning teams.

Sip and Nibble at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival – Sept 30, 2012
Enjoy a leisurely stroll around World Showcase with your favorite MiceChatters, sampling the food and wine offerings of Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival along the way. You will be given a lanyard with a marker attached so that you can record your progress as you tour the world of food and drink! Guests who desire to partake of the adult beverages will also be given a small glass to conveniently share “sips” during our journey.  Come spend some quality time with other foodies and the best online Disney community on Earth! To reserve your place at this year’s Sip & Nibble event purchase your ticket today for just $3.99. Please click through for full event details.

by Jeff Heimbuch

If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

You can read past columns of The 626 by clicking here!

Jeff can help you plan your perfect Disney vacation with Fairy Godmother Travel! Call him at 732-278-7404 or email him at [email protected] for a free, no-obligation quote for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani or Adventures By Disney.

Jeff also writes another column called From The Mouth Of The Mouse. We invite you to check it out.

Jeff co-hosts the weekly VidCast Communicore Weekly as well!

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About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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  • LoveStallion

    O how I wish the other versions would have copied Florida’s. The one at Studios is still far and away the best, from the 5th dimension room, to the fact that the elevator drops you off on a completely different level than where you started.

    I loved this ride when I first went on it, and I was thrilled when it was announced for DCA, and while I still get plenty of kicks out of the DCA/Paris version, it lacks that extra little bit of pizzazz that makes the Florida version resonate so well.

    • bmcj199

      They couldn’t just copy it because they were limited on space and money, so they needed to redesign the whole ride system. (which makes break-downs very, very little) And besides, they hate making carbon copies of attractions.

      • LoveStallion

        I know. I also heard about reliability issues with the original.

        But if they don’t like copies, explain how the oddly-placed Tower of Terror in Paris is the exact same ride, down to every detail. Totally disappointing.

        I’d love to check out the one at DisneySea to see how it is without a Twilight Zone overlay.

    • bmcj199

      That’s because DCA’s Tower of Terror was planned for Paris since the beginning, but because DCA was such a fail and that Disneyland Paris Resort was having financial troubles, they decided to put Paris’s version on hold and built it at DCA instead to bring in more crowds.

  • rmsongs

    The whole ride is incredible, from the queue all the way through. The only thing I’m not crazy about is the restraint system; my kids and I preferred it when you came right out of your seat the way you did before they changed it.

  • Orange Co Native

    I went on this attraction for the first time this year at Disney’s California Adventures. I don’t know about other people, but I thought it was rather bland and lacking in imagination. You get in line, board an elevator, a couple of special effects and a monologue by Rod Serling on a television set. I thought there was going to be more to the attraction. It didn’t meet my expectations. Then you do a free fall in an elevator shaft. It was alright, but lacked details for wanting to revisit the attraction at a later date. Indiana Jones is far better as is Pirates of the Caribbean.

    • bmcj199

      “You get in line, board an elevator, a couple of special effects and a monologue by Rod Serling on a television set.”

      Sounds like your eyes were closed during the whole queue. The moment you enter the hotel is the attraction, not just the elevator ride. Watch the Twilight Zone series, and go back on the ride. You’ll find a crap ton of secrets and nods to many episodes in the queue and elevator ride. That’s the detail you’re looking for.

      If you still want more, go to Walt Disney World and go on Tower of Terror there, that’s the original and better version with more ride scenes.

    • bmcj199

      I’m sorry if I sounded like I insulted you, everyone has their opinions.

    • DuckyDelite

      I definitely agree. They quickly horde you into the movie preview room so you don’t really get to appreciate the lobby, and conceptually I understand the boiler room, but I find it ugly, claustrophobic, and uninspiring.

      Compare this to the pre-show of Haunted Mansion which I still love every time I ride. On Tower of Terror, I can’t wait to get out of the pre-show on unto the actual ride.

      Also, I’m not sure why they kept the Twilight Zone/Terror theme for DCA. It doesn’t really make any sense here. And with it being one of the larger structures in the area, I can’t believe Disney really wants to make a half-destoryed building their visual icon. Again, conceptually I understand, but for now it just reminds me of the “cheap and easy and good enough for Six Flags” era of Disney.

  • bmcj199

    To me, each version has it’s own style. Florida, better architecture, better lobby room, 5th dimension scene, random drops. DCA has better boiler room, mirror scene, better build up to the drops, better narration on the ride, and a system that doesn’t break so often.

    I love them equally.

    • lionheartkc

      Don’t forget Tokyo… The external architecture is light years beyond the others, The internal architecture is fascinating. The pre-show blows the rest away (I watched the idol from 2 different angles and still don’t have a clue how it disappears). Also, it could have been just me, but it feels a lot faster than any of the others, especially going up. Orlando only beats it in the ride, itself, with the 5th dimension.

      • bmcj199

        I don’t really count the Tokyo’s version because it’s so different, even though the basic ride is the same. It may be better, by I enjoy the Twilight Zone ones a lot more. :3

  • yellowrocket

    I haven’t ever read a review of the tour the park offered before the ride actually opened. So, I thought now is a good of a time as any…

    I had the opportunity to visit the Studios in early June of 1994. Sunset Boulevard was complete, as was the exterior of the hotel. They offered a twilight, afternoon sunset tour of the new street and a sneak peek into the attraction, along with a Twilight Zone digital watch. The price was around $100 a person, but the cast member at guest services said that if we didn’t want the watch, we could just meet the tour guide at the new Wait Time Board at the entrance to Sunset Blvd. And, we did. It was a free.

    A cast member in a bellhop uniform took us down Sunset and described what each of the buildings were based on, spending quite a bit of time at the Carthay. All the buildings on the right side were empty front facades at the time, with no plans on building them. He pointed out the cables above the left side of the street, explaining that there were hopes that the street would expand in the future and the park would get their own functional redcar.

    We got to walk through the entire outdoor queue of the hotel as the bellhop explained the story of what happened on that stormy night in the dark side of Hollywood. He pointed out the Halloween decorations in the window of the gift shop, saying the hotel was boarded up and left alone after the ‘event’. We made our way up to the entrance. He made a call on a walkie talkie and a real security guard (named “Orlando”. true story.) came and opened the door. He told us that the week before, during one of Orlando’s typical afternoon thunderstorms, lightning actually hit the building, sending a surge of electricity through the building that caused one of the televisions in one of the libraries to come on. He said that until the attraction opened, someone in security had to stay inside the building at all times.

    He gave us each surgical boots to go on our shoes for us to enter the lobby. We learned how the Imagineers scoured antique shops for props, and how they found lots of items in buildings from downtown Los Angeles that had been abandoned. We learned that all of the letters in the message boxes were individually written – part of Imagineering’s philosophy of “sanding the underside of every drawer.”We each then got to sign the hotel’s guest register with different check in dates from October 1939. I got lucky and was the one on the tour that was randomly selected to sign the book as being checked in on October 29th but with no check out date.

    On the way out, the bellhop cast member answered questions. At the time, I was fascinated with Celebration, and he spend most of the walk back filling me in on the details.

    • victoriaskitten

      Wow were you lucky to have that experience. I just love finding new things to look at in the Q. Love the ride and the hang (air) time you get when free falling. I usually ride 2-4 times in a row. Thanks for your comments.

  • darkamor

    The Hollywood Tower of Terror was a welcome addition to Disney California Adventure … the problem is the queue area doesn’t allow you to explore the Hotel Lobby close enough (so you really do not get to see 90% of the Twilight Zone references) … Cast Members quickly herd you into the Viewing Room where you watch a brief intro from Rod Serling (you’re barely in there for 1 – 2 minutes) … you spend time walking through the boiler room (which has an interesting theme but needs more interactive moments) to line up and board the elevators (I’ve never waited longer then 5 minutes, so that’s a plus) … the lack of a “complete 5th Dimension Experience” (which WDW’s Disney Hollywood Studio offers) makes you feel that you’re only getting 2/3 of the original Ride …. a shame DCA doesn’t offer a dining experience here themed like it was the 1930s (you know? like a murder mystery dinner theatre?)

    C J