Tower-savvy fans already know there are four Towers worldwide, two of which are located in the US. Ten years separates their construction (Florida came first in 1994) and, unsurprisingly, the differences between the two have been controversial among fans. I have visited both – welcome to a little comparison I like to call Tower of Terror Florida vs. California!
If you can only get to one or the other, don’t despair – the Tower is amazing no matter which one you ride.
The major differences between the two are the exterior appearance, the overall dimensions of the attraction (California’s is wider but smaller overall), cost to build (CA’s came in at many millions of dollars less), rider capacity (Florida’s is more prone to breakdown, California’s has three separate drop shafts), and unique show features such as the 5th Dimension (FL only) and the “Wave Goodbye” screen (CA and all other versions in the world).
Let’s dig into the differences between the Florida (HS) tower and the California (DCA) tower.
The Towers’ architectural differences are the first difference everyone notices. The tall, spindly towers of the HS version were traded for a more squat-looking, flat-roofed design in DCA. Alas, like many fans, I disliked the new look at first, but I grew to appreciate its blocky style (especially once a layer of sentimentality was applied – this is the first Tower version that my husband and I rode together).
If I have any real complaint about the DCA Tower’s exterior, it’s that it just doesn’t look as old. The perkier colors and the architectural style feel fresher than the downright haunted looking Florida version.
Both towers have the same tilted, half-burned out sign letters, but the arrangements differ. In DCA, the words “Hollywood” appear over “Tower” – in Florida, the two words fit all on one line. This is a fairly unimportant difference, but putting the words all on one line might have highlighted the wider width of the DCA tower. Notice the CA tower has three drop shafts on its front, where the FL tower just has two. The sign difference also serves to further distinguish the two tower designs from one another.
Edge: Hollywood Studios for its gloomy glare
The Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror has a palpable detachment from the park around it. Guests enter the queue from an off-to-the-side entrance, and wind through an overgrown garden queue before entering the Hotel’s dilapidated library having (hopefully!) thoroughly forgotten the park they left behind.
The Disney California Adventure Tower of Terror welcomes guests right off the street. The queue is much less tucked away from the rest of the park. Inside the building, the view from the DCA lobby entrance isn’t an outdoor garden like it is in Hollywood Studios, it’s just the rest of the park. The experience of becoming “lost” along the way got… lost.
Edge: Hollywood Studios for its tucked away entrance
Both the Hollywood Studios and Disney California Adventure towers have stunningly detailed lobbies accented by different architectural touches.
The HS lobby is painted in a more muted color palette, while the DCA lobby features brightly colored accents playing up its art deco style. The HS lobby feels older and dimmer, and its walls are more crumbly looking.
The CA Tower has a flat ceiling which is just a bit less awe-inspiring than the soaring arch ceiling of the FL tower. As for details, there are plenty of small differences for guests to notice, but I think my favorite detail is the Burberry coat that only exists in DCA, draped like a scarf over the front lobby desk. (Is the California tower cold? Aww.)
Edge: They’re so similar, but the Florida tower’s arched ceiling is just breathtaking in person
The libraries are identical as far as these eyes can tell. Here is a particularly well-lit photo:
Boiler Room / Loading
Both boiler rooms are going for the dark, old, and dusty look. Guests wait here to be loaded into returning elevator cars.
The Hollywood Studios boiler room takes dark, old, and dusty to the max. This boiler room is so creepy, sometimes I think it went a little too far for a Disney park attraction (which is, of course, exactly what I love about it).
The DCA boiler room is decorated the same, but I seems to have brighter and more colorful lights. Reds, blues, greens, and yellows shine in spots on the ceiling.
The DCA boiler room also has an usual new addition: a second floor! The left Library unloads guests to the top floor (guests take a flight of stairs up within the boiler room). Thanks to its larger size, the DCA boiler room also has more props and small scenes to look at (including a gigantic glowing creepy “face”). The double decker loading might detract from the “basement boiler room” feel, but it greatly increases the attraction’s throughput.
Edge: The HS boiler room gets the theming spot-on, but DCA wins this one with shorter wait times.
The elevator always arrives empty no matter which version you’re visiting. This is excellent design choice that I’m glad survived to DCA’s budget-oriented version of the ride. Watching as the previous guests stumble off the ride is one of my least favorite parts of the Disney theme park experience, and in TOT’s case, watching the previous riders exit would spoil the story.
But there is an interesting difference here:
- In HS, riders step directly from their loading lines into the elevator.
- In DCA, riders step through a hallway on their way into the elevator. Walking the width of the hallway does detract somewhat from the feeling of boarding an elevator.
The hallway seems weird at first, until you consider that it’s also the same hallway riders enter when exiting the ride (out of view of the next group). This is a huge efficiency gain over the HS design where the riders unload elsewhere and the car then rotates and drives itself into its loading position.
Edge: Hard choice. Hollywood Studios “feels” better, but I think I’d give DCA the advantage here: the hallway step-through is brief and the increased efficiency presumably allows more guests to enjoy the attraction more times.
Spoiler alert! If you want to be surprised when riding a Tower for the first time, skip this section!
Hollywood Studio Tower ride experience
(Skip ahead to 6:30 for the ride experience)
Riders are hoisted up the elevator shaft directly from their loading position. The illusion of an elevator stays intact from the start, and the ride increases the tension slowly. Doors open to treat guests to the hallway ghost scene, and then the elevator rises again.
Doors open and the elevator moves forward through through a mirror-filled dark starlit hallway known as the “5th Dimension”. (It looks better in person than it does in the video.) At the end of the 5th Dimension, the elevator enters the final drop shaft and begins its thrilling drop sequence.
There are four different drop profiles, and the one your car gets is randomly chosen.
DCA Tower ride experience
(Skip ahead to 12:00 for the ride experience)
Shortly after boarding, the elevator is yanked backwards amid a visually stunning explosion of lightning and effects. The elevator illusion is lost, but the spectacular sight starts the ride off with a bang. The elevator enters the lift shaft and immediately rises to show one of two scenes first: the ghost hallway scene, or the wave goodbye scene, depending on which elevator shaft you’re in (the sequence is reversed in the other shaft).
The “wave goodbye” scene is present in all towers except the one in Florida, and it’s a nice addition. Guests watch their reflection fade from a huge mirror, and the glow effect is fun to play with (wave your arms to smear it around!). The elevator then begins its drop sequence, a thrilling series of four long drops and pulls. There are four different drop profiles, and the one your car gets is randomly chosen.
Edge: The drop sequence – the meat and potatoes, if you will – is spectacular in both versions. The rest is just variations in seasoning.
If I had to pick a favorite, it’d be the Hollywood Studios version. It’s not without flaws – Florida’s 5th Dimension transition scene can feel a bit slower than the rest of the attraction and the transition into the drop shaft is bumpy, with little to distract from the sensation of the car aligning itself for the finale. And I love how the California version of the Tower of Terror keeps the thrills coming, from that explosive start to the seamless transition into the final drop sequence. DCA’s “wave goodbye” screen is fun to play with and a wonder to watch. But the Tower in Hollywood Studios offers a greater variety of drop sequences, has cool props in the elevator shaft itself and at the bottom while you turn around to unload, and looks more menacing from the outside.
In Hollywood Studios, the passenger car “lands” in a room full of Twilight Zone references and old memorabilia to feast your eyes on. The elevator rotates and drives itself to deliver the passengers to the unloading dock, where they disembark and stumble into the gift shop.
The DCA version unloads in the same place it loaded. At the end of the drop sequence, the passenger car is pulled forward and out of the elevator car to dock at the exit door. There is no room full of Twilight Zone “memorabilia” in the DCA tower. Riders enter the same hallway they passed through while boarding, turning right to exit towards the gift shop.
The walk to the gift shop feels much longer at DCA, and the hallway itself has a rather “backstage” feel to it – it’s just a blandly painted, mostly empty corridor.
Edge: Hollywood Studios for the spooky room full of Twilight Zone props and short and more decorated walk to the gift shop!
The Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror is just a bit more off-kilter than the DCA version. It is content to let you linger and roam a bit, separate yourself from the busy park you left behind when you wandered off the beaten path. This tower is spookier and the suspense is almost overwhelming by the time the big drop arrives!
The DCA version gets right down to business from the minute you step off the street and through its gates. The compacted entrance queue, double-decker boiler room, step-through hallway and single-shaft design add efficiency and snappiness. This tower keeps the thrills coming fast – hold on tight!
Really, whichever one you think is best is up to you. My favorite is the Hollywood Studios version, which wins at theming and suspenseful atmosphere (and heaps of nostalgia since this was the Tower I grew up with(; but I also love the DCA Tower of Terror for its fast-paced thrills and efficiency.