Disney’s Tower of Terror: Secrets, Histories, and Mysteries

Welcome to TowerSecrets, a fan-made tribute to Disney’s most thrilling attraction, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!  It goes without saying that this site is full of spoilers! If you explore this site, you’re going to discover many of the secrets behind the Tower’s thrilling effects!

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The Tower of Terror’s Legend

Built in 1917, the Hollywood Tower Hotel was an elegant destination for the showbiz elite during cinema’s golden age. The Hotel’s towers soared 13 stories high, a pinnacle of luxury and modernism in their day. On the unusually stormy night of October 31st, 1939, a massive bolt of lightning struck the Towers, scrawling its sizzling signature across the facade of its elevators… which vanished, never to be seen again. In the wake of the catastrophe, the hotel was abandoned and left to crumble into the debris of history.

As for the five unlucky guests inside the elevator that night? They were never found. Perhaps they’re resting in peace, somewhere in the Hotel’s ruins… or perhaps their stay never ended. Perhaps you’ll find out, as you check in to a room with a view of… the Twilight Zone.


Towers ‘Round the World

About the Attraction

What lies beyond these gates is a spine-tingling, hair-raising one-way ticket to an exhilarating plunge into another dimension! Okay, it’s a drop ride. But it’s better than the garden-variety drop rides you find at Universal or Six Flags.


Inspired by the classic American science-fiction TV show, The Twilight Zone (which ran from 1959-1964), the attraction’s story is presented as a “lost episode”, complete with an introduction by Twilight Zone creator and host, Rod Serling (thanks to a bit of Disney magic).

At nearly 200 feet tall, the Tower of Terror’s glowering presence is felt by all who enter the park. Heck, you can even see it from the highway outside the park and it’s not too hard to spot when flying into Santa Ana or Orlando, depending where you’re flying from.

Elevator doors to the Tower’s missing hallways are exposed to the park, opening and closing in time with the arrival of shrieking passengers. Where do they go?  You’ll have to ride (or read!) to find out. 🙂

Nitty-Gritty Technical Stuff for Nerds

More Secrets, Mysteries, and Miscellany

Tower of Terror Ride Experience & My Review

The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror attraction is hands-down Disney’s most thrilling ride. It’s been my favorite for 20 years (in case you couldn’t tell… hah). Whereas most Disney attractions are mildly spooky at best, the Tower cranks it up to 11! You can’t help but feel creeped out as you approach it, and the Tower revels in its atmosphere of suspense.

Best Times to Ride the Tower of Terror

I’m giving away all my other Tower secrets… might as well tell you the best times to ride, too!

At park open

Go as soon as the park opens, and you’ll have the ride to yourself for at least an hour.

In DCA, everyone beats feet for Cars (feel free to pick up a Radiator Springs Racers Fast Pass before hitting up the Tower, it’s pretty close by) and in Hollywood Studios, everyone’s busy packing themselves into line for Buzz Lightyear and Rockin’ Roller Coaster.

5pm – 7pm

Crowds thin out around dinnertime (doubly so if you can time it with a parade). Not only do you get to ride over and over, but the sunset colors are either just starting or in full swing depending on the time of year you’re visiting. The park looks great at sunset, so take a long look… before you plunge into darkness!

Ordinary Weeknights

The best weeknight I’ve found for marathon rides is Tuesday. I guess Tuesday is a pretty boring day in the scheme of things, but Tuesday also seems to be one of the days that Disney doesn’t close down Disneyland / Magic Kingdom for special ticket parties, so crowds don’t pile into DCA/HS.

Conversely, some of the worst Tower waits I’ve ever seen were in DCA when Disneyland closed down for Mickey’s Halloween Party and in Hollywood Studios when the Magic Kingdom closed down for Mickey’s Christmas Party.

Late at night / Nighttime Passholder Hours

Yes, the creepiness is extra creepy at night, but that’s not the only reason to ride the Tower at night. The real reason is to ride with the locals and other diehards.

Families and tourists go home, but the locals know the ride by heart. These guests just love the ride and I love riding with them – they chant along with the pre-show movie, mug for the camera, and scream extra loud with every drop.

Scared to Ride? Here’s What it’s REALLY Like

This section is for first-timers who aren’t sure if they want to ride or not. I know YOU’RE not scared, but a lot of visitors and people I meet in real life are terrified of this thing!

Fear not, daring riders: this ride’s bark is worse than its bite.

You will ride seat-belted firmly into your seat. Readers who expect to be standing can be forgiven, as Disney usually portrays this ride as standing-only.

Once you’re buckled in, rest assured – the first few minutes of the ride have no drops. This portion of the ride is all about the effects.

  • If you’re riding in Florida: You’ll watch a few minutes of special effects before you get to the big drops. You will traverse a dark, star-lit hallway and pass through a set of glowing-edged doors. This is where the real drop action begins (don’t let anyone spook you into thinking the drops start sooner). From here, your elevator will either immediately drop or rise. There is no way of knowing ahead of time which you’ll get, so be prepared for either. I find this to be the absolute most suspenseful part of the ride!
  • If you’re riding in California, Paris, or Tokyo: The whole ride takes place in a single elevator shaft. You’ll know it’s time to start the real show once you’ve seen both the magic mirror and the ghost scene. In California, the Tower always drops first.

Once the free-falling mania begins, just… try to relax! I actually find it makes things worse to hold onto the hand bars, but your mileage may vary.

The drops themselves are short and usually four in number. The worst part is waiting for them to begin! The Tower may look tall, but you’ll only drop the entire height of the attraction once. You’ll probably rise out of your seat on the descent, but the change in direction is smooth.

I’ve had the pleasure of riding with many first-timers, and (aside from laughing themselves silly once it’s over), they all marvel at how smooth the ride actually was. If you’re scared to get on, my advice is to get on and do it anyway – you’ll be laughing by the time it ends.

See You Soon

After you ride, please come back and explore this site! I am a lifelong Disney parks fan and Tower of Terror nut. Building and updating this site is one of my most cherished hobbies.

Thank you… for dropping in. 😉 

-M. Booley, the “Haunted Hostess” of TowerSecrets

Tower of Terror Architecture Styles

The fundamentals of the ride are the same across all four Towers, but the architecture on the outside varies: 

  • Florida: pink-colored Neo-Mediterranean styling
  • Paris: boxy yellow-and-teal Pueblo Deco styling
  • Tokyo: ornate Moorish Revival (ie: New York brownstone)
  • California: Guardians of the Galaxy stuff  
Kinda makes you want to visit all four, doesn’t it?

So why the architectural differences?

Disney doesn’t really drop an attraction into a park without thought to how it will complement the surrounding area. Each park section has its own look and feel, and everything in that section (even down to the trash cans and street lamps) is designed to fit in.

So while a Neo-Mediterranean tower fit in the “old Hollywood” of MGM-Studios, Florida, Disney’s Imagineers felt that a Pueblo Deco building was more appropriate for the heavily California themed Disney California Adventure park, even though both are creating an idealized vision of Hollywood.

Like most art, architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A single structure may incorporate traits from multiple time periods and regions. As we explore the architecture styles of the Tower of Terror attractions, keep in mind that many design ideas are so widely used that they can be represented in multiple architectural styles.

The Original Original Tower

Before we dig into the individual Towers, let’s first meet the original Hollywood Tower.

No, it doesn’t look much like the rides – all it really has in common is the glowing Hollywood Tower sign and the pointy towers atop the roof.  But it’s been cited by Imagineers as inspiration for the attraction, so there you go.

The Hollywood Tower (how difficult it is to type that without adding “of Terror”!) is an apartment complex designed by Cramer & Wise and built in 1929 in the heart of Hollywood.  It still stands today. It’s considered a Hollywood landmark and national treasure (it was even added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988).

Nineteenth and twentieth century revival styles were all the rage in early Hollywood, so the Hollywood Tower is far from the only “faux historic” building in the area, and we’ll get to the importance of those other buildings in the Florida Tower of Terror’s section.

Now that you’ve met the granddaddy, let’s meet the offspring.

The First Tower of Terror

Hollywood Tower Hotel Florida original

The original Tower of Terror’s most noticeable architectural characteristics are Neo-Mediterranean, a revival style that peaked in popularity in the 1920’s and 1930’s in both California and Florida.  The style was especially popular for hotels and apartment buildings. Characteristics of Neo-Mediterranean include red tiled roof, arched doorways and windows, keystones, stuccoed walls, rectangular floor plans, and even lush gardens.

But the Tower of Terror also draws inspiration from at least two real life Hollywood hotels.  The Tower’s twisted columns, minarets, archway ornamentations, and gardens are reminiscent of those of the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside, California.

Mission Inn Riverside California vintage photograph Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror HS walkway Riverside Inn
Photo credit: Jack Spence

The Château Marmont Hotel of Hollywood, California looks at first glance like the tower repainted.  Its blocky facade and roof gables are echoed in the Tower’s design.

chateau marmont roof like tower of terror

Some elements of Spanish Gothic architecture tie it all together: the tiled roof, pinkish-orange facade, and soaring height are all reminiscent of the style.

Oh, and it had to blend in with EPCOT’s Morocco exhibit.


The California and Paris Tower of Terrors

Photo credit: Wikipedia

After Disney California Adventure opened in 2001 to relatively poor reviews, Disney’s Imagineers set to work on improving the park.  Opening in 2004, the new DCA Tower of Terror was one of the first imports brought in to help perk up the park.

But since Disney California Adventure is a celebration of California, the Tower would need an architectural makeover to really fit in at its new home on the park’s Lake Buena Vista street, which recreates Los Angeles as it appeared when Walt Disney lived there in the 1920s.  So whereas the original Tower was inspired by old Hollywood, the DCA Tower would be inspired by… 1920’s LA.  It’s a subtle difference, I agree. 🙂

The California (and later, Paris) Tower was built in the distinctly American Pueblo Deco architectural style. Pueblo Deco is a hybrid of Art Deco, which characterized by geometric shapes and bright colors, and Pueblo Revival, characterized by southwestern Native American motifs like sunbursts and arrowheads, adobe (real or simulated) exteriors, and flat roofs.

Photo credit: Matthew Walker
Photo credit: Cehannan
Photo credit: Scott Weitz

Combinations of the two can be found throughout the American Southwest. The DCA/Paris Tower of Terror’s fake construction plaque gives it a construction date of 1929, placing it right in the midst of the Art Deco fever that swept the United States between the World Wars.

But wait, why is the Paris tower built to look like California if it’s in Paris?  When the Tower came once again to the rescue of lagging ticket sales, this time in Paris, there was no “Hollywood Street” already established in the park. So Disney made one.

The decision to keep the Tower grounded in Hollywood was probably both a cost-saving move (yay, recycling!) as well as a desire to celebrate Disney’s California and Hollywood roots.

Photo credit: distherapy.com
Photo credit: distherapy.com

The DCA and the Paris Towers were practically twins, but if you looked real close near the top you’d see the easiest to spot difference:


The Lobbies

If there’s one thing the Hollywood Studios Tower and the DCA Tower share, it’s their lobbies.  Identical in layout but varying architectural details (most notably the ceiling structure), both lobbies were inspired by the real-life Biltmore Hotel.

Biltmore Hotel ceiling:

Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios) ceiling:

Photo credit: maybesomeday

Biltmore elevator doors look a lot like the Tower of Terror’s pre-library wait area:


The Tokyo Tower of Terror

Photo credit: The Disney Wiki

Tokyo Disneysea’s Tower of Terror is mechanically identical to DCA/Paris, but the rest is a complete reimagining of the story concept and architectural design. The new Tower was plopped down in the established “American Waterfront” land, set in turn-of-the-century New York Harbor and Cape Cod.  A story about the New York City Preservation Society’s efforts to save the historical hotel and solve the mystery of its owner’s disappearance was built up around the new Tower. Since the attraction was “relocated” to New York, styling it after old Hollywood or the American Southwest would be out of place.

Imagineers undoubtedly looked first at turn-of-the-century New York for inspiration, where the Moorish Revival  architectural style was enjoying a period of popularity.  Below, an example of Moorish Revival architecture (also known as Mudéjar, and not to be confused with Moorish).

The DisneySea Tower’s multifoil arches, small domes, simple window tracery, and detailed brickwork are all characteristic of the Moorish Revival style.  The style also emphasizes articulation – the emphasizing of distinct parts of the building.

Compare with the DisneySea Tower:

Photo credit: DF82

A few other influences are mixed in, such as elements of New York’s famous Brownstones.  The brickwork designs, roof gables, lighter stone window trims are all traits of Jacobethan architecture, and the columns and layered arches hint at some Neo-Byzantine and Richardsonian-Romanesque influences.

In contrast with the other two Tower designs is the noticeable lack of lightning damage on the DisneySea Tower’s facade. According to the story, the destruction came from within on this version. The stained glass windows are broken, but the building itself looks pristine.

As long as we’re on the topic of New York…

Some say the Palazzo Chupi looks quite a bit like the Tower of Terror.  We’ve apparently gone full circle. 🙂

Tower of Terror Construction

Tower of Terror construction Paris crane construction zone
Photo credit: Parksmania video

It takes about two years to build a new Tower of Terror. The steel framework goes up quickly under about 200 feet of scaffolding, but the facade, details, and inner workings requires years of planning and coordination between multiple teams of experts to bring the Tower to completion.

Thanks digital cameras and a widespread fascination with all things Disney, the construction of the newest Tower of Terror in Paris was particularly well documented.  WDSFans has over 5 pages of posts chronicling the Paris Tower’s construction.  Disney itself even created a few behind the scenes videos exploring the various stages of construction.

Something I find interesting is how much more efficient the newer towers are than the original.

Hollywood Studios – the original

  • 1,500 tons of steel
  • 145,800 cubic feet of concrete
  • 27,000 roof tiles
  • 2 miles of HV DC power cable

Source: wdwmagic.com


  • 900 tons of steel
  • 43,200 cubic yards of concrete
  • 50,000 square feet of exterior plaster
  • 2 miles of HV DC power cable

As you can see, it takes a lot less material to make that compacted DCA/Paris Tower design. Read more about the two different Tower designs here.

Tower of Terror Construction Photos

This first one is the original Tower in WDW, Florida.

Photo credit: Vintage Disney parks

Here is the Paris Tower under construction. After the 2017 reskin of the California Tower, the Paris Tower is now unique in its design and theming.

Confirmed: DCA Tower of Terror to be re-skinned with Marvel theming

Don’t freak out – yet – it’s just a rumor, but it’s a widely reported one and it’s picking up steam.

Update Monday, July 25, 2016: Rumor confirmed.

The DCA Tower of Terror will be closed down within the year (some sources say late 2016, some say early 2017) to be re-themed as Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It will reopen summer 2017. MiceChat has a very detailed article (and some speculation) on the re-skin.

If this change makes you unhappy, join the protest:

Numerous sources report a Guardians of the Galaxy or Marvel-themed “makeover” (or total ruining, depending how you look at it) in the works for the Disney California Adventure Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction, coming as soon as 2017.


The rumor goes something like this…

Disney’s paying mad bucks to CBS to license the Twilight Zone for its Towers in Paris, Florida, and California. Meanwhile, Marvel (also owned by Disney) is printing money like its going out of style, and Marvel-themed attractions would undoubtedly draw some crowds (the same way Star Wars is packing people into Tomorrowland with Season of the Force).

Iron clad licensing agreements with Universal Orlando (hello, Islands of Adventure) don’t allow for anything from the Marvel universe to appear at Walt Disney World, so this revamp would be limited to parks outside of Florida, namely Disney California Adventure.

(This also might mean the Florida tower is safe… for now.)

Where’s the rumor coming from?

Specifically, a poster by the name of “WDW1974”, also known as “Spirit”, on the WDWMagic.com rumor forums shared (supposedly) insider knowledge that Disney is looking to remake the California Tower in time for 2017, to be the first of many major Marvel attractions coming to DCA and parks not located in Florida.

“If they have their way, the current Anaheim ToT will close around the first oft the year and reopen before summer with an entirely new GotG based show, still (somehow I am told) centered on a haunted hotel from the 1930s.” [source post]

From what I can tell, Spirit has historically been a reliable source of insider knowledge regarding Disney parks.

How likely is this rumor to be true?

Obviously, Disney’s no stranger to building drop towers without the Twilight Zone licensing. They already did it for Tokyo DisneySea, and avoided paying licensing and royalty fees to CBS. Disney’s also not afraid to inject new and popular IPs into classic attractions, such as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean and Frozen in the Maelstrom attraction at EPCOT.

The rest of this is my own speculation – take it with a grain of salt!

I think it’s fairly likely that Disney would permanently re-skin one or more of its Towers with a new theme. Whether that’s Guardians of the Galaxy, or something from the larger Marvel universe (Stark Tower?), or something else entirely is harder to say.

I thought GOTG was a fun film, but was it substantial enough to base one of the park’s strongest attractions on? I don’t know about that. If someone had asked me what theme I thought Disney might redo the Tower with, I’d have guessed Star Wars!

But I do know that The Twilight Zone license is old and was only vaguely familiar to me as a kid 20+ years ago, and I’m sure it hasn’t fared any better with kiddos born in the 90’s and 00’s.

Furthermore, the DCA Tower has forever lived in the shadow of the Florida Tower. Anyone who has ridden both is quick to compare the two and the Florida tower almost always comes out on top, if the comments this site gets are any indication. A unique theme in DCA could help the two towers stand on their own unique merits.

I also think Bug’s Land is ripe for bulldozing. A fully-realized Marvel-themed land could fit in that space, capitalizing on the record-breaking films’ collective popularity better than that glorified gift shop / museum over by Space Mountain ever could.


What’s the fan reaction?

Negative reactions abound on fan forums, but those are enthusiast forums, not the general public.

I trust Disney will do a good job with any makeover they might apply to the Tower, as they have with revamps in the past, but don’t take this as happiness on my part – I’ll be sad to see the Twilight Zone disappear from DCA. This Tower holds many special memories for me, and it saddens me to think I soon may not be able to “go back” to it, the same way I can’t go back to the Back to the Future attraction in Universal Orlando.

Anyway, that’s what I know about the Tower of Terror revamp rumor – I’ll post more when more is known! And if you know more than I do, please share in the comments!


Interview with a Real Life Tower of Terror Bellhop

I recently had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Bruno, a Croatian student studying in the Netherlands. He is a former Tower of Terror bellhop from the Disneyland Paris park, and he graciously agreed to be interviewed for TowerSecrets.

I hope you enjoy his bellhop stories as much as I do!


A lineup of Tower of Terror bellhop cast members welcome guests to the grand opening of the California Tower of Terror. Photo credit: disneyparks.disney.go.com

Tell us how you got the job as a Tower of Terror bellhop.

I was a bellhop for 3 months, 2 years in a row (so 6 months overall). That was my summer job and so far the best student job ever. I worked in Paris Tower of Terror in boiler room and on boarding the elevators. I requested any “fun” job in my student union and they gave me bellhop job and I was amazed.

What was your favorite part of being a Tower bellhop?

My favorite part of the bellhop job was that it’s like you are in a movie. You have your role and you must play it well and it was hard to stay “creepy” and “serious” in some cases, but roleplaying like that was thrilling.

Have you ever seen guests do something special on the tower (like a marriage proposal)?

There are always some people that are trying to do something “special”, but I haven’t seen anything even close to the famous proposals. There was one guy that removed his seatbelt as soon as the doors closed but all of our elevators are monitored so ride stopped immediately. That passenger was kindly asked to belt himself up over intercall system and he did. Later, I asked him why he did that and he said that he wanted to see if he would feel “zero gravity” while dropping.

Did you ever see the ride break down, and if so, what happened?

Breakdowns in Paris tower are very rare but I saw it once. The problem was that elevators were not synchronized. That means one elevator was leaving station while second one was still in the shaft. Luckily, whole tower went to emergency stop so everything was all right. We had to evacuate elevators to synchronize them again and in half an hour we were back on track.

Where do items lost on the Tower show up? Do they land at the bottom?

In the elevator’s cabin I’ve found 2 wallets, a cell phone, glasses, and 3 bags, but everything was returned to their owners same day. When something falls in the shaft we can’t collect it same day, but we collect stuff from the shaft once a month and we return everything that we find to its owners (if there is a name tag or something on it, of course).

Are the Tower bellhops the best cast members? I’m pretty sure they are 🙂

All of the bellhops are one big cast and we have to be in creepy mood all of the time. We have only few mins to rest from being serious in the hallway between boiler room and elevator when both of the doors are closed. We often look at each other and we just laugh 🙂

Before we go, do you have any funny stories you would like to share?

Once a granny was entering an elevator cabin and she asked me, “Son, are you really that disappointed with your job? Because I have been watching you for few minutes now and I haven’t see you smiling or talking to the riders.” I just said, “Ma’am, if I tell you that being serious is part of this job you wouldn’t believe me.”

Then there was one little boy that was so scared that he was shaking and he asked me if I can go in with him. Since that was our last ride of that day anyway I asked my colleague if he could start the show so I could ride with the boy. He was so happy that after ride, he gave me a hug and he said “thank you” to me at least 5 times. That was really a moment to remember inside the Tower.

Another interesting story is that every morning we have to check if sound and light effects are synchronized with the ride itself and only way to test that is to ride it so every morning at about 7:30 a.m. we rode the Tower and that was just amazing. When I first came to the Tower job they asked me if I had ever been on the Tower and I said no, so the first thing they did was, of course, give me opportunity to ride it! And believe me, riding the Tower in the bellhop uniform was just amazing. 🙂

Thank you, Bruno, for the fascinating interview and wonderful stories from your time as a Tower of Terror bellhop!

Recommended Photography Equipment for Great Disney Photos

I wasn’t much of a photographer back when I started this site: I just held up my phone and snapped a pic. 😀 Running this site inspired me to take better photos of the Tower – and by extension, my vacations in general: Disney or otherwise.

Since my equipment has served me so well (and survived so roller coaster twists and Tower drops), I’d like to dedicate a page to recommending the photography gear I use when I visit a Disney park!

My Disney Park Photography Equipment List

Joby GorillaPod

First up is this quirky tripod-thing that works with virtually any point and shoot camera. Disney isn’t fond of larger tripods and (as far as I know) doesn’t allow them in the park. Plus, most people don’t want to carry a large tripod around all day anyway.

This flexible Joby tripod has never drawn ire from Disney staff when I enter the parks, and it’s perfect for stabilizing my camera for long twilight and nighttime shots. It fits nicely in a cinch bag or small backpack, and it’s light enough to just carry around in my hand without it being a bother. It goes on every ride with me and it has survived half a dozen theme park trips since I got it.


Joby has bendy feet for standing anywhere. One of my favorite uses for it is to wrap its feet around the railing near the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty castles for lovely nighttime photos.

With this Joby tripod, I can:

  • Take group shots that include me using a timer on the camera
  • Take long exposure twilight shots
  • Take even longer exposure nighttime shots
  • Make videos that are completely stable
  • Get photos in awkward locations – wrap it around railings, bench backs, trash cans, etc to get shots from areas where normal tripods wouldn’t fit anyway

Night Photos

It’s pretty much impossible to get a decent photo in the parks after the sun sets. A camera has to be held perfectly still for a couple seconds or more to make a clear shot. A small tripod and a point and shoot camera can do that with ease.

Here’s a shot (taken with my iPhone) of my Canon PowerShot working on a long-exposure photo of the Epcot ball supported by the Joby tripod.


Here’s how that photo turned out:


And here’s another 2-second exposure shot, this one of the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland. All those little details captured at night look so pretty!


These are pretty good by my amateur family vacation standards, and not bad for equipment that cost less than $200 total.

Get Everyone in the Picture

Another perk of bringing a Joby tripod along? I get to be in the picture, too!

I see lots of families at Disney taking photos with one member noticeably absent because that person was busy holding the camera. With a miniature tripod, you can get everyone in the shot together. Yay!


My husband and I pose for a photo at Epcot. The camera was on a 10 second timer and attached to my Joby tripod across the walkway.

There are lots of Joby models, the Joby GorillaPod is the specific one I use.

Canon PowerShot

Canon has been my favorite “point and shoot” camera for a long time (I’m on my third one in 10 years), and my whole family uses them because they’re rugged, well-priced, and easy to use.


This Canon PowerShot is the camera I use in the parks and for the photos I take for this site.

I use a Canon PowerShot ELPH (in red!), but there are so many to pick from and Canon is always updating the line. My dad and sister both have slightly different PowerShots than I do, and they’re all great.

Check out the current selection of Canon PowerShot cameras on Amazon.com.

Shooting Modes for Night

I get a lot of use out of Handheld Night Scene and Long Exposure shooting modes on this camera. Switching to those modes is fast and easy. With the camera attached to my Joby tripod, taking great nighttime and twilight shots is not only possible, it’s pretty easy and fun, too.

This is one of my favorite park photos, and it was taken with the camera and tripod sitting on a trash can near the tower.


That’s it!

That’s all I bring.

I hate being bogged down with camera equipment when I’m having fun in the parks, so I keep it super lightweight and simple.

Note: The links in this article are Amazon.com affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I get a tiny % of the purchase price as a kickback from Amazon.com at no added cost to you. As always, shop around for the best deal!


Tower of Terror Ride Stats

Here are the basic ride stats about the Tower of Terror – attraction heights vary by Tower, but the rest is pretty much the same across all four. Click here for a detailed comparison of the four Towers.

Max Speed: 30 mph

Drop Total: 4 of varying length separated by a few changes in direction. Read more about the Tower’s drop profiles.

Drop Distance: 130 feet at the longest, but most drops are shorter (20-40 feet)

Airtime: 2½ seconds on the longest drop

Attraction Height: 199 feet

Door height from ground: 156-160 feet

Around the World: There are four Towers of Terror worldwide. They are located in California, Florida, Paris, and Tokyo.

4 Towers Comparison Chart: Towers Around the World

How do the Towers of Terror around the world stack up when compared to each other? This chart will tell you!

ParkDisney's Hollywood Studios (Orlando, Florida, USA)Disney California Adventure (Anaheim, California, USA)Walt Disney Studios (Paris, France)Tokyo DisneySea (Tokyo, Japan)
Opening DateJuly 22nd, 1994May 5th, 2004Sept. 22, 2006Dec. 22, 2007
Construction Budget$140 million$70-90 million$160 million$230 million
Building height199 feet183 feet183 feet157 feet
Highest rider elevation170 feet157 feet157 feet157 feet
Seats per elevator car21212121
Boiler room floors (loading decks)1222
Transitional hallway (5th Dimension)YesNoNoNo
StorylineTwilight Zone "Lost Episode"Twilight Zone "Lost Episode"Twilight Zone "Lost Episode"Harrison Hightower's cursed idol
Architectural StyleNeo-Mediterranean Pueblo DecoPueblo DecoMoorish revival
Affectionate Nickname 🙂Pink and pointyBig yellow boxFrench yellow boxGingerbread house

How the 5th Dimension Scene Works – Tower of Terror (Florida)

5th_dimension_diagramThe Hollywood Studios (WDW, Florida) version of the Tower of Terror is the only version of the ride that contains the “5th Dimension” scene.  Essentially a hallway of stars and mirrors, the 5th Dimension is a horizontal connection between one of the four “lift shafts” at the back of the Tower building and one of the two “drop shafts” at the front.

Learning how the 5th Dimension scene works will spoil some of the mystery so proceed with caution!

The 5th Dimension Experience

After the ghosts in the corridor scene, Florida riders are treated to a unique experience known as the 5th Dimension.  The elevator lifts the passenger car and the doors open to reveal a dark star-field.  Suddenly, the passenger car drifts forward.  Bizarre sights and sounds pop up around the car – a door to nowhere, the apparitions from the hallway, an eyeball reflecting the passengers themselves.  The stars fade away and are replaced by glowing outlines on a set of elevator doors, which open wide and swallow the approaching passengers.

Everything goes dark as Rod Serling’s voice intones, “You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension. Beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination… in the Tower of Terror.”   Faster-than-gravity thrills ensue!

Now let’s take a look behind the scenes at how this all works.


This photo from (now defunct) MouseTimes.com shows the 5th Dimension scene fairly well illuminated, likely with the help of a camera flash.

The Passenger Car

The transitions from “lift shaft” elevator to “drop shaft” elevator are so well hidden, most guests don’t realize that the passenger car is not the elevator itself.  The passenger car is in fact a separate vehicle, often termed an “autonomous guided vehicle” or AGV.  The AGV moves independently of the elevator cars.

Look behind you!

It’s not always possible, but if you’re seated in a particular position (for example, if you’re seated on the left side of an elevator car that just emerged from a right-side shaft) you can look backwards through the wire wall of your car and catch a glimpse of the other 5th dimension entrance – or possibly another AGV full of ride passengers. It’s rare, but whenever I’m seated on the side of the car I try to look back and see if anyone’s over there.

Self Steering Car

The car that takes you through the 5th Dimension is self-steering.  You’re not on a track! The car rides on its own wheels, steered by its own computer, following a buried wire underneath the floor.


A peek at the underside of the Tower of Terror’s “autonomous guided vehicle”, ie: the car you ride in as you move forward through the 5th Dimension.

The system is highly sensitive – any abnormalities in the 5th Dimension’s floor, such as a dropped object, will cause any approaching AGVs to come to a stop.  (Because this system is so prone to delay-causing troubles, the 5th Dimension scene was not included in later versions of the Tower.  It also takes up a lot of horizontal space, which was at a premium in other parks.)

This 3-minute clip  from “Modern Marvels” demonstrates the entire process.

Ride Diagram

Coincidentally, the 5th Dimension is on the building’s 5th floor.

Passengers load into the AGV, which is already sitting inside of a larger elevator car (A, B, C, or D, depending on which loading dock was used). The elevator lifts the AGV first to the “ghosts in the hallway” scene, and then lifts the AGV again, this time to the fifth floor.  The passenger car moves forward and out of the elevator, traveling on its own through the mirrored hallway scene.  At the end of the 5th Dimension, a set of doors open and the passenger car moves forward into one of the two front (E, F) elevators.

In other words, the 5th Dimension is just an elaborate way of transferring the passenger car from one elevator to another.

tower of terror how the 5th dimension scene works diagram

5th Dimension Hallway Design

The Tower actually has two separate 5th Dimension hallways.  They’re basically identical as far as passengers can tell. Each one is Y-shaped and each accepts passenger cars from two of the four lift shafts (so A and B share one 5th Dimension while C and D share another). Each 5th Dimension hallway feeds cars into the final “drop elevators” located at the front of the Tower structure.

5th Dimension props and effects

There’s a ton of visual eye candy in the 5th Dimension – you could ride a dozen times before you’ve really seen it all! There’s flashing lightning, a startling breaking window, a door, an eyeball that sometimes shows a photo of your car, and a seemingly never-ending field of stars.

While these illusions are convincing, they’re very simply made – just plastic cutouts with an image shining on them from a projector. The twinkling stars are fiber optic lights. Mirrors and reflective surfaces add to the otherworldly experience.

Catch a glimpse of your vehicle

If you’re seated in an advantageous position (a front row seat, far right or far left depending which fork you’re entering from tends to be best), you can sometimes see the red lights on the underside of your vehicle reflected in the mirrors of the 5th Dimension. To Disney’s credit, their designers did a great job of making it hard to see anything you aren’t “supposed to” in the 5th Dimension.

Exit signs and doors

One of the easiest “secrets” to spot in the 5th Dimension are the exit doors. Look around, especially to the sides, and you can spot ’em. I find them comforting, personally!

Passengers who have had to disembark the ride at this point due to technical problems have described the floor as rather flimsy-feeling.   Near the entrance to the 5th Dimension hallway, a door to “backstage” areas of the attraction is hidden in the darkness.

The Tower Turns 20: Celebrating 20 Years of Terror with Tower of Terror Trivia

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

tower_of_terror_20_year_birthdayThe 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.


The Tower’s windy-wobbly tilty-wilty entrance path.

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.)


Part of one of the Tower of Terror’s motors, as seen in a cool Disney-produced video about the construction of Paris’s own Tower of Terror.

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.


A rare glimpse at the side of the Tower that’s not meant to be seen from inside the park.

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.


The Tower of Terror movie features American actress Kirsten Dunst in an early role.

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!


If you find this photo utterly fascinating, consider a career in engineering. 🙂

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.


Me and the most adorable Tower bellhop ever!

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.)


The footage of Rod Serling was taken from the intro to the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”.

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.


Orlando’s own “cars land” is visible from the top of the Tower.

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.


The ventriloquist dummy is one of the harder props to spot. He’s in the collection of stuff at the bottom of one of the drop shafts.

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.)


The Hollywood Hotel is just one of the hotels that influenced the design of the Tower of Terror in Orlando, Florida.

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!