Hi All, for the past couple of years we have all been following with great interest as OLC and Disney built it's newest addition to TDS, the "Tower of Terror". We have all been wondering and offering opinions about the quality of this latest encarnation of the ride, while at the same time, gasping at the unbelievable beauty of the building's exterior theming as it took shape in the past several month. Now I am pleased to be able to offer you my personal thoughts on this newest addition to one of Disney's greatest achievement in the theme park business: TDS.
I attended TDS on August 26th and was able to enjoy a soft opening preview of the new TOT. The park had opened its gates a bit early and I was able to enter TDS at around 8:25am. I immediately headed towards TOT in hopes it would be opened. Apparently a few others had the same idea. When I got there, a batallion of CMs in their new navy colored TOT costumes were there to welcome us. Enough CMs in fact to staff the entire MK it seemed!! Of course.. I am exagerating... a little. Nevertheless.. many guests were sitting there or standing by awaiting news of the TOT opening for business... After a little while and some anticipation... at 9am sharp, CM's informed guests the ride would open shortly. At the sound of.. "Mamonaku..." (meaning " in a moment"...) guest RAN! to get in line in quite a spectacular sight, as everyone filed up into queue, in a line that grew about 20 guests per second I kid you NOT! Quite rapidly, the line had reached the side of the Broadway Theater a block away from TOT.
Immediately, we were ushered inside TOT (no need to use the outdoor portion of the queue at all) and cmae upon the spectacular grandeur of the main lobby area. The lobby features a most impressive collection of art and murals depicting the many travels of our tower owner, Mr. Harrison Hightower (a nod to Indy maybe in that name?) Mr. Hightower has a most stunning resemblance to a certain Joe we have come to know and respect in some other Disney jungle somewhere nearby the swamps of Central Florida... The lobby is extensive enough to house a rather large switchback queue that travels around the lobby, giving guests a change to enjoy upclose the collection of artifacts and murals in this area alone. It's almost like a shrine-like atmosphere to the very excentric Mr. Hightower. We also get a view of the elevator shaft that sit there in the backside of the lobby, now destroyed and cordonned off since that fateful night when Mr. Hightower disappeared from the building, never to be found again. We can see the ripped elevator cables inside the shaft...which I found to be very spooky.
After several minutes of zig-zagging around the lobby, we find ourselves at the point where both stand by and FP lines merge, just before we are to embark on our tour of the Tower, hosted by the NYC Restoration Society. After all...it's 1912 and it's been 13 yrs since Mr. Hightower vanished from the face of the Earth... Approx. 25 guests or so are led into a small room filled with photograghs of Mr. Hightower's many travels and adventures, in which he has collected hundred of artifacts he has brought home. It is here where our tour guide introduces himself and explains that about 13 yrs ago, Mr. Hightower came back from one of his travels with a small devilish statue called Shiriki Utundu, and it was shortly after Mr. Hightower presented Shiriki to the eager Press, that he was last seen getting into the elevator, with Shiriki in hand... then his elevator plunged to the bottom floor... but Mr. Hightower was nowhere to be found and was presumed dead. Shiriki however..survived the plundge and is now on display in the former Mr. Hightower's office, which is where we will be headin into next.
Doors open and we are led into the Mr. Hightower former office room. We immediately see the impressive desk, with a vitrola on it. A magnificent stained glass of Mr. Hightower holding Shiriki in his hands and Shiriki itself standing there on a pedestal looking innocent and inviting enough. One technical aspect here... the stained glass window is a digital image of stunning clarity. Adding to the glorious effect is a well positioned lighting system that projects the stained glass image on the floor as we enter the room, giving the illusion of sunlight passing thru the stained glass and reflecting it on the floor itself.. It's a very well done special effect and quite convincing.
The tour guide explains we are in the former Mr. Hightower office and points out the lovely Shiriki statue sitting there by itself. He goes on to explain the mystery of the statue and then the tour guide plays a recorded spiel of Mr. Hightower's Shiriki presentation to the press.. if I understood that well since it is all in Japanese. The Tour guide quietly exits the room and we are left there alone with Shiriki.
This is where things start to happen.. In a flash, the stained glass window changes color and tells the story of what really happened to Mr. Hightower, showing him going up in an elevator and crashing badly and violently to the ground. Technical note= The images on the stained glass (which is a digital screen of sorts) is stunning in color, plus the crystal clear sound of the presentation, elevates this portion of the show to the highest degree of quality available.
Suddenly... the lights go out around us and we see Shiriki's face and eye come to life (yet another stunning crystal clear effect that sent chills up my..) Shiriki's eyes survey the audience and he then cracks into a devilish laugh. The lights go out and we see white fiber optic pixie dust enfulf Shiriki, and in a split second. HE HAS DISAPPEARED!! The three times I saw the show, the audience gasped! at this spectacular trick. We are so dumbfounded, we walk up close to examine the pedestal in disbelief, as another CM tour guide opens the doors and we are invited into the Storage area of the Tower, where Mr. Hightower's unbeliable collection of exotic artifacts can be found. This is quite an impressible area with high ceilings and artifacts as tall as 20 some feet up. An egyptian sphynx of sorts sits there in the middle majestically, surrounded by mummies and other exquisite stuff from many regions of the World. I have to say that I was floored by the sheer magnitude of this collection of props. They look awfully real and if they were commissioned for this ride, whoever produced all this simply outdid themselves ten folds. This works for me so much better than the famous boiler room we have at the other TOTs. It must be seen to be believed.
Here, similar to DCA's boarding area... the line is split into two floors, both floors filled with exquisite art, with three boarding gates upstairs and three downstairs. each boarding area is a room with different theming. The first one I rode had a medieval feel with swords and such, the other time I rode, it was a room filled with other type of stuff... like medieval torture gear! Very Amsterdam if you ask me. Now mind you... these areas look like a room with a secret door and NOT an elevator hall like DCA's. So when it's time to board, the door slides opened and we are invited into a service area to board the elevator for our tour of the Tower. This works well, unlike DCA where you are waiting to go into the elevator and come into a hall instead, before the elevator. Here you wait to go into a service area to board the elevator. Great show saver and continuity.
Once we board, I noticed the elevator is ornated to some degree... It does not look like a cage-style elevator like the ones at MGM and DCA. Also, the seatbelt has a shoulder harness, and operates in similar fashion to the seat belt in the passenger side of the front seat of a car. So extra precautions are taken here, maybe due to stricter rules in Japan. The CM does take special care to instruct row by row on the use and proper use of the seat belt and harness and /he/she makes sure everyone is well secured before the trip begins...
Here, the ride becomes quite similar to DCA's. The lights go out. The elevator begins to move backwards (which caused a reaction from the japanese guests as it was unexpected) I call this.. the 3rd dimension room backwards. As we move backwards, Shiriki's green eyes look at us and he issues a warning ... Then the upward ascent begins. The motion upward is stunningly smooth..and you can't hardly feel you are moving, until the doors open, to reveal a ghostly Mr. Hightower in his chambers, being zapped and sent down the elevator shaft by Shiriki, who appears to emit an electric field around him... similar to that by the Emperor on Star Wars... Then Shiriki turns towards US as the entire room turns into a star field..
Doors close...and we go up (or down) depending on what room you boarded) and doors open again to reveal a beautiful hallway with a love mirror in which we see our reflection..slowly turning into ghostly forms and then disappearing.. Very cool... then the elevator picks up upwards speed and comes to a stop at the top of the shaft, with doors opened, treating up to a glorious view of TDR. A quick photo of us is taken and we hear the sound of electricity. We drop a bit to the floor below and then drop the big ONE!!! Everyone screams!!!!! The elevator drops and then goes up gathering more speed as it goes up, creating a very long and sustained air time. I got a kick out of everyone, including the men, screaming at this point in time!! Then we drop again... Just to go up one last time and come to a stop at a very decripit looking hallway. We hover and then drop again one last time. Then we come to a stop as Shiriki's eyes glow in front of us. The elevator moves forward, the lights come on and a CM opens the gates for us to exit. We then walk down a corridor that leads us to the ride photo counter, where you can order your ride photo, and then you can step into the gift shop, to hunt for souvenirs and purchase your ride photo. The TOT experience then comes to an end.
And there you have it.
Now my opinion. This version of TOT excels in many ways, but it's not a ground breaking leap ahead for the genre. This Tower does benefit from being in Disney's most gloriously themed park and as such, I expected NO less than a fabulous thematic experience. It did not disappoint. The show begins from the moment you walk towards the attraction. Just looking up and seeing the fabulously decorated building, with the even more attention grabbing electric bolts rushing thru it's upper windows... set the stage for you to know that something wicked is up with this Tower. It's a stunning pre-show to the preshow inside. Even the outdoor queue has been meticulously designed to create a welcoming feel, yet one of forebodding wonder. Once inside... the collection of art and attention to details are simply beyond comprehension.. How can something so simple look so stunningly real and beautiful is quite an accomplishment. Immediately, you get a sense that Mr. Hightower was a self-loving, Care-free explorer who obviously was living a life too good to be true for his own good. So while we do not rejoice on his demise, you can only be left wondering if his extravangant tastes did him in for good or for at least ironic meanings. Oh well...
The new preshow and tour-like setting of the preshow is mercifully short. We do not spend more than a couple of minutes with a tour guide. Once the preshow begins in Mr. Hightower's office, the show elements are stunning... the lighting is put to good use, the video image of the stained glass window is simply awesome and the sound terrific. Shiniki's disappearance is pulled off flawlessly, and to me.. *THAT* is the quintessential moment in this entire attraction.
The storage room, with it's forebodding feel and spectacular props is yet another visual treat, and it's a good thing because it is here where the line moves slowly..as the elevator loading seems to be a little slow. Similar to DCA's if I recall.
The ride itself does not featured any ground breaking effects we have not seen before in the other TOTs. Star fields... floating images of ghosts... etc etc. The ride however seem quite similar to DCA's in every respect... elevator goes backwards, goes up, comes down, goes up etc etc.
The ride is however painfully short. An added surprise would have been a great improvement.. Something along the lines of the third dimension room similar to MGM's but with a vastly improved show, would have elevated this ride experience way above that of MGM and DCA's and I dare say WDSP's as well. But that did not happen. Maybe redoing the ride system would have required way too many technical changes and redesigned features that would have added more to the cost of building this TOT. Who knows.. So as for now, the ride experience at TDS' TOT is apar with that of MGM and DCA. Please note that I do not have a predilection between MGM's and DCA's as I like them both, reason why I also feel TDS' TOT is apar.
If I have an issue, it's at the very end. Once you get off the elevator, the glorious theming of the preshow comes to a halt and you find yourself walking down a plain looking "service hallway" that appears horribly devoid of any theming or continuity to round up the experience. That to me was a big let down. Then you finally end up in the Tower's gift shop, which is nicely ornated but appears to be fitting more with Arabian Coast's theming than that of an old fashions NYC store perse...
Also.... on your way out, DO NOT forget to collect your free Tower of Terror Mystery guidebook brochure from the rack nearby the photography counter or from a CM nearby. It's a memento of the ride that explains further about the mysteries we just witnessed in the attraction. However..one drawback.. the guide is printed entirely in japanese and no english versions were available.
One extra treat... a stunning state of the art effect featured on this tower alone and only visible to those guests outside the tower looking up to the top of it: The electric bolts inside the tower. Everytime an elevator reaches the top of the shaft, a lighting bolt from the center window will travel down the tower's wall and hit the elevator, causing it to plummet. The effect works round the clock but it's much more impressive at night when you can fully appreciate the entire spectacle of it. But DO NOT close your eyes... as it happens quite fast! Every time an elevator shaft opens, you will see electric current traveling towards that particular elevator zapping it!!! It's a most stunning special effect and one that had the crowds sitting there looking up in pure AWE! I know I was hypnotized by the sheer beauty and sychronization of this effect with the motion of the elevators... CHECK IT OUT AT NIGHT!!!
So all in all... was TDS' TOT worth it? YES IT WAS. Proceed knowing ahead of time that the ride here is NOT the main attraction and pay attention to everything else that is around you and you will come out quite satisfied.. After all, the premise of the attraction is to go into the Hightower Hotel to discover it's many artsy wonders and not to ride the silly elevator thingy. With that in mind...and the fabulous music score outside the building in the queue...
I RATE TDS' TOT: ****1/2 stars out of Five. A solid A- experience.
GO and DROP IN!
Here are the photos!!