Happy birthday, Tower of Terror! Thank you for 20 years of ghosts, screams, and being my absolute first-stop every time I go to the parks.
Here are 20 factoids about the Florida tower you (some apply to all Towers of Terror) you can use to impress dates and co-workers.
20 Years of Thrills
The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror attraction opened its wire gates to the public on July 22nd, 1994 in what was then called Disney’s MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) in Orlando, Florida. Since its opening, the original attraction’s drop sequence has been modified a few times, but much else has stayed the same (aside from a completely new coat of low-VOC paint in 2010).
As a testament to the Tower’s enduring popularity, Disney has constructed three more Towers of Terror throughout the world, the first one opening in California in 2004. These new towers feature efficient but controversial updates to the original Tower’s design. The Orlando Tower remains unique among the four with its salmon pink facade, 5th Dimension hallway sequence, and two-shaft design.
20 Bits of Tower of Terror Trivia
1. Lightning has actually struck the Tower in real life (here’s a video!)
2. Smile – you’re on camera the whole time you ride. A night-vision camera feeds into a back room where cast members monitor your car for trouble (or shenanigans).
3. The Otis Elevator company, after 100 years of engineering elevators that don’t feel like free-falling, helped design the vertical ride system used in the Tower of Terror. Otis is the world’s oldest and largest elevator manufacturer and has installed elevators in the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, and Petronas Twin Towers – just to name a few.
4. The walkways leading into the Tower are tilted at 2-4 degree angles. This seemingly minor detail heightens the feelings of disorientation as you navigate the gardens towards the entrance.
5. The Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror architecture and color palette were chosen to blend into Epcot’s Morocco exhibit, since the Tower is clearly visible from inside Epcot. This building design has not been re-used for any of Disney’s newer towers.
6. Loose objects on the Tower “hover” during the free-falls. This happens because you (strapped into the elevator seat) are being pulled down “faster” than gravity. The loose object, however, is only being pulled by gravity alone.
7. Each elevator shaft has its own very large, very heavy motor sitting at the top of the structure. These motors are each about the size of a single-car garage and weigh about 132,000 lbs each. (Read more about the Tower’s motors here.)
8. Numerous safety features protect Tower riders in the (exceedingly rare) event of an actual free-fall.
9. It’s hard to see the left side and the back of the Tower from the park, but it is possible. The best way to see the left side of the Tower is from the Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster queue. (Amusingly, the bottom 1/4 or so of the Tower’s right (your left, from inside the park) side is completely smooth and unfinished looking.) The best way to see the back side of the Tower from inside the park is from the Fantastmic! stadium. From outside the park, the back of the Tower can be seen (at a distance) from the Swan and Dolphin Hotel.
10. Disney made a movie about the Tower of Terror! Sure, it’s not as well-known as other movies-inspired-by-Disney-rides (ie: Pirates of the Caribbean), but it’s a fun family film.
11. Stare left, right, up, or down (basically, anywhere but straight in front of you) and you might catch a glimpse of some of the ride’s fascinating inner-workings such as maintenance bays, staircases, emergency exit doors, and wiring. This holds true on many Disney rides – look anywhere except where you’re supposed to be looking and you can find all sorts of interesting “behind the scenes” things to see!
12. When it first opened, the Tower featured a padded lap bar shared by all the riders in each row. As a child riding in 1994, I can assure you the 8 inch space between my lap and the actual bar (thanks, adults) was the real source of terror on this ride.
13. Cast members are instructed not to smile, but it’s easy to crack them up if you play along with their serious-face act.
14. There are no rails or tracks in the 5th Dimension hallway. Instead, the so-called “elevator” from which you experience the ride is actually a self-driving car that rides inside the actual elevator. The 5th Dimension disguises the transition of the autonomous car from the “back” elevator to the “front” elevator. (Read more about how the 5th Dimension works here.)
15. Rod Serling passed away 20 years before the ride was built, but his appearance in the pre-show video is really him! His voice, however, was done by a talented impersonator. (Read more about the Disney magic behind Rod Serling’s mysterious Tower of Terror appearance here.)
16. All that wind you feel blowing as you free-fall? It’s from fans underneath the elevator!
17. A few “backstage”areas are visible from the top of the Tower. You only get a few seconds to look, but you can spot trucks, cars, loading docks, costuming areas, and roadways that sort of look like the park but aren’t accessible to guests.
18. If you’re lucky enough to ride when the lights are on for some reason, you’ll see most of the lift shafts and interior walls are made of undecorated plywood and fire-retardant grey stuff. (I’ve seen it myself, albeit briefly. On a ride in 1997, the ride stopped lights were on for about 10 seconds. The ride faced a wall covered in grey fire-proofing material at the bottom of the final drop shaft. No reason for the pause was given, and the ride just continued when it went dark again.)
19. Disney’s Imagineers packed the Tower with Twilight Zone memorabilia and props. Even die-hard fans may have a tough time catching all of the obscure references.
20. The Tower is modeled after real life Old Hollywood hotels, most notably the Mission Inn, the Biltmore Hotel, and the Hollywood Hotel. (Read more about Tower of Terror architecture here.)
There you have it – 20 Tower of Terror trivia bits. Here’s to another 20+ years! I can’t wait to ride when I’m 50!