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This week we got some very big news about the Twilight Zone™ Tower of Terror out at Disney’s California Adventure theme park in Anaheim. It seems that Disney is switching the theme over to a property that they own verses one that they are, for all intents and purposes, leasing. However, the news of Guardians of the Galaxy moving into the Hollywood Tower Hotel in California has brought Disney fans all over closer to the attraction in Florida at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. For the time being, the Tower in Florida, which was the first Tower of Terror attraction, will be keeping its theming, story, and incarnation that we all have come to know and love. Opening at Hollywood Studios on July 22, 1994, the Tower of Terror turned 22-years-old this month, and I thought it would be fun to list 13 facts about our beloved Twilight Zone™ Tower of Terror.
1. Rod Serling was edited into the attraction pre-show video with the help of voice artist Mark Silverman.
Rod Serling, the host of the Twilight Zone™, passed away long before the pre-show video was shot for the Hollywood Tower Hotel library scene. When the pre-show video starts and Rod Serling appears, you are seeing footage from the Twilight Zone™ episode “It’s A Good Life”. Rod is only briefly on the screen up until the point where he says, “This, as you may recognize is a maintenance service elevator…”. At that point, the video cuts to footage Disney had filmed more recently for the attraction. In the original Twilight Zone™ episode, Rod is standing in front of a map of the United States, and he says “This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States”. The video you are seeing is all Rod Serling taken from that episode. The audio you are hearing is of voice actor Mark Silverman. Mark did a spot in impression of Rod, and he is “the only voice artist recognized by the Serling Estate”. Pretty amazing video editing, huh?
2. There are several Hidden Mickey’s in the attraction.
Hidden Mickeys are all over Walt Disney World as an homage to the mouse that started it all, and the Tower is no exception. For instance, when you walk in the lobby, to your right are a pair of glasses sitting on a dusty table. The glasses are an homage to the Twilight Zone™ episode “Time Enough At Last” in which Burgess Meredith plays Henry Bemis, a man who never had enough time to read. After an apocalyptic event wipes out all living beings on Earth, he has plenty of time to read, but his glasses get broken. However, the glasses also form a nice Hidden Mickey.
3. The Tower of Terror structure is way more than just a façade for the ride.
Many buildings you see in Walt Disney World are facades with not much inside of them other than maintenance areas and storage space. But the Tower of Terror contains the elevator shafts that the ride elevators use, the “chicken exit” elevator, queue paths, show rooms, rooms for maintenance, electrical rooms, a control room, bathrooms, gift shop, and even a cast member break room as well as a space for attraction supervisors and managers.
4. A separate power grid was created just for Sunset Blvd. due to the amount of electricity it takes to run Tower of Terror and the Rockin’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith.
Imagineers discovered very early on that if both elevators in the Tower of Terror were to fall at the same time the Rockin’ Roller Coaster launched it would bring down the park’s power grid. So, in order to avoid this, a sub-station was built that services the Sunset Blvd. area of the park.
5. The Hollywood Tower Hotel was designed to fit in with the skyline that could be seen from Epcot.
The Tower of Terror can actually be seen sticking up above the skyline of the Morocco pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. In order to make the structure blend in so that it isn’t a jarring distraction to guests, the Tower’s earth tone color was made to blend in with that of the Morocco pavilion structures.
6. The Tower of Terror is exactly 199 ft. tall.
Disney purposely made the Tower of Terror as tall as they could without having to add any additional elements that didn’t fit with the theme. FAA law requires any structure of more than 200 feet tall to have a blinking red light on top of it to warn aircraft that might be flying too low. Much like Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom and Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, the structure was built about as high as they could build it without being required by law to install that blinking red light that would take away from the theming. This makes it one of the tallest attractions in Walt Disney World.
7. Top speed for the elevator drop of the Tower is 39 mph!
Many people have described the Tower of Terror as a sort of free-fall attraction. This is a rather simple, and technically incorrect, way of putting it. The truth of the matter is, you are actually falling faster than a free-fall brought on by the force of gravity. The elevators use motors and cables to actually push you down faster than just an ordinary free-fall. This is what gives you the stomach-in-your-throat feeling that so many people have come to fear and love at the same time.
8. It cost Disney $140 million to build the Tower in 1994.
The Hollywood Tower hotel consists of 1,500 tons of steel, 27,000 roof tiles, and 145,800 cubic feet of concrete. The small fortune Disney paid for the construction of the Tower is more than 10 times the amount it cost Disney to build Cinderella Castle in today’s dollars if you count for inflation.
9. Otis Elevator Company built the elevators for the Tower of Terror.
Otis Elevator Company is well-known, and they pride themselves for making safe elevators that operate so smoothly that you barely realize they are moving. This is ironic, since this thrill ride drops you at a force greater than the force of gravity. Otis prefers it be called a “ride vehicle” instead of an elevator, so they don’t develop a negative reputation when it comes to their main line of work.
10. The queue area music is authentic 1930’s jazz correct to the period the attraction is themed around.
The story told in the library of the Tower of Terror takes place in 1939. The music that is played, both inside the Tower and outside in the exterior grounds, is some of the eeriest jazz you will ever experience. Some of the memorable songs featured are “Can’t Get Started” by Bunny Berigan, “Remember” by Red Norvo, and the classic “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington.
11. The Fifth Dimension scene was inspired by an actual The Twilight Zone™ episode.
The section of the ride where your elevator actually leave the first elevator shaft and begins to travel through a hallway filled with eerie imagery is known as The Fifth Dimension. This section of the ride was inspired by an actual episode of The Twilight Zone™ called “Little Girl Lost”. The episode is about a girl who falls through a wall behind her bed into The Fifth Dimension. Throughout the episode her parents look for her while they can hear her voice but cannot see her. This section of the ride is probably the most impressive. Below you can see a clip of the History Channel episode of Modern Marvels that featured The Tower of Terror.
12. There are actually up to 4 elevators running at any given time.
Although you can only see 2 elevator shafts from the front of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, there are actually up to 4 elevators that can be running at any given time. If you look at the diagrams below, you’ll notice that there are actually 4 elevators that can be boarded. Two of those elevators share one of the Fifth Dimension hallways, and the other 2 share the second Fifth Dimension hallway. This allows Disney to move more guests through the attraction than they would be able to if they only had the 2 elevators.
13. The Pepper’s Ghost special effects technique is used in the corridor scene.
Disney uses many special effects techniques to make their attractions come to life, but one is so simple yet magically effective. This technique is used to project the ghost-like images of the 5 people who vanished in the corridor scene of the Tower or Terror. The effect has been used by Disney going as far back as 1969 when The Haunted Mansion opened in Disneyland. The effect is used to project the ghosts in the ballroom scene. The effect essentially using mirrors and reflections to project ghost-like images. It is a rather low-tech and simple effect that has amazing results!
The next time you visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, take some time to look around the Tower of Terror and think about the modern marvel that it is. While the Tower of Terror in California will be getting a complete makeover with an entirely different theme and story, the Hollywood Tower Hotel in Florida remains “a star in its own right”.