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) 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.

Tower of Terror Safety Features

While the Tower of Terror simulates one of many people’s fear of a free-falling elevator, naming it “Tower of Terror” is just for show – the simulated free-fall is actually a highly controlled, very safe experience.  Disney takes rider safety very seriously – after all, Disney has a worldwide, multi-billion dollar brand to protect.  Read on to learn more about the Tower of Terror safety features.


If you rode the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror in its early years, you might remember the shared lap bar that inevitably stopped far too high for small riders.  The shared lap bar was replaced in the early 2000s by individual seat belts, which allowed for personalized restraint and for a greater feeling of freedom while on the ride.

DCA and later versions have always featured individual seatbelts.

Smile, You’re on Camera!

The Tower’s ride operators can see and hear the car passengers the entire ride. Yup, even as you’re posing for the camera or making a silly face during the descent…

It’s someone’s job to watch the live video stream of the car’s passengers in a hidden monitor room. In the event of an unintended stop, a cast member makes an announcement over the PA that they can see and hear the passengers and emergency assistance is just a shout away.

Your Seat Belt is Monitored

Riders who don’t connect (or somehow disconnect) their safety belts cause the ride to stop and a cast member to ask them (over the PA) to re-buckle. As you board the elevator car, look low and to the right and you should see a panel of green lights. These lights are used to indicate which belts are buckled and the bellhop cast member who loads your elevator car checks it before you depart. Belt buckle status  is monitored throughout the ride, too.

Lightning Rods

tower of terror safety features lightning rods

Photo credit: TheStuartcarrol

Yup, lightning really does strike the Tower! But unlike in the pre-show video, the present-day Tower of Terror is equipped with lightning rods to redirect lightning away from the structure.

Multiple Cables

Traction elevators (the kind suspended by a cable) are suspended by anywhere from two to eight woven steel cables, any of which can support the loaded elevator on its own.

Safety Brakes

Like many theme park attractions (and real life elevators), the Tower is equipped with several different kinds of emergency breaks.  Some sources say the TOT has 8 different braking mechanisms.

The first set of brakes is sometimes referred to as “Otis Brakes”  which were designed and popularized by the Otis Elevator Company.  These brakes serve to lock the car in place should the hoisting cables fail for whatever reason.  Typically, the brakes are a set of heavy duty rods under tension by the cable.  If the cable’s tension were to slacken, the rods would slam down against the roof of the elevator and catch the cabin.  In other designs, the elevator jams a wedge into the rail that the elevator normally moves along.

The Otis Elevator Company is still around today and in fact contributed to the design of the Tower’s lift system.

Shock Absorbers

Tower of Terror safety features shock absorbtion spring system

Shock absorbers at the bottom of the Tower of Terror elevator shaft as pictured in a Disney Filmparade video. Large springs pressurized by oil act to slow the car’s descent.

These green boxes (pictured at right) contain springs highly pressurized by oil, ready to cushion the landing of an elevator car that reaches the bottom of the elevator shaft.  The shock absorbers aren’t for long-distance falls, but they do help in situations where the computer “misses” the ground floor by a few centimeters (a meter at most) to make the landing softer.

Codes & Inspections

The states of Florida and California have numerous laws aimed at keeping park riders safe.  Disney employs a large workforce of saftey technicians, mechanics, engineers, and maintenance workers. Daily, monthly, and annual inspections are routine in all amusement parks.  Hours before guests arrive, technicians are running the attraction through its paces, testing every seat belt, every car, and every inch of track.

Compressed Air Cushion

In the extremely unlikely event of a complete free-fall, a massive buildup of compressed air below the elevator would slow the descent.  This is true even of conventional elevators. In one well-known case of a free falling elevator, the “air cushion” is believed to be one of the reasons Betty Lou Oliver survived a 75-story plummet in a free-falling elevator in 1945.

Good Ol’ Statistics

Elevators are the safest form of mechanized travel when measured by number of trips.  Annually speaking, about 18 billion trips are made in 900,000 elevators in the USA.  Injuries to passengers are exceedingly rare.

Tower of Terror Aerial Photos

Aerial photos offer a rare and unusual glimpse of the Disney’s parks and attractions.  This is a collection of my favorite Tower of Terror aerial photos. Obviously, these are not my photos. 🙂   If they are yours, please contact me for credit or removal.

Hollywood Studios, Florida

A couple of these aerial photos are quite old, especially the first two in this sequence which appear to predate digital photography. These photos are quite possibly from the attraction’s early years (the Florida Tower of Terror opened in 1994).

tower of terror aerial photos hollywood studios florida WDW

I think this shot is great because it shows a rather plain portion of the Tower that wasn’t meant to be seen by guests. Since the addition of Rockin’ Roller Coaster, it’s sometimes possible to see this plain wall part from the line queue to that ride, although the view-blocking trees grow taller every year, it seems. 🙂

tower of terror aerial photos hollywood studios HS WDW front

Below is a rare left-side view of the tower, showing off all the attention to detail that Disney put into this beautiful structure.  Most guests will never see 90% of this – and the details are pretty hard to see and appreciate from within the park, where you can only really stand at the base of the building.

tower of terror aerial photos MGM Hollywood Studios side view

Photo credit:

tower of terror aerial photos google maps hollywood studios mgm front side

Photo credit: Google Maps

Disney California Adventure

Google Maps has some great aerial views of the Tower of Terror in Anaheim, showing off the back and the front of the structure. The Tower is all party in the front, business in the back.

I think it’s cool to see all the “normal building” stuff on top of the roof and behind the building. Some people might think this spoils “the magic”, but I’ve always loved peeking behind the curtain. In some of these shots, you can see parades getting ready to go “on stage”, as well as cars, trucks, and utility buildings that no doubt contribute to the smooth operations of the park.

The mysterious conga line of blue boxes in its back lot (which I’ve been told just contain parade costumes).


Photo credit: Google Maps

Rotate the view on Google maps to see the front, along with a clearer view of the roof and backstage area.

Photo credit:Google Maps

Photo credit: Google Maps

Walt Disney Studios Park, Paris

I’ve never been to Paris, but their Tower is a near identical twin to the California Tower of Terror…. except for the roof tops.  The roof tops in the Paris version are red. Most park guests will never know this, but now you do!

Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo

One more set of aerials: this series depicts the Tokyo DisneySea Tower of Terror. Remember, this Tower doesn’t use the Twilight Zone branding, so Disney pursued an entirely different look and feel for it! This Tower is very similar to the DCA and Paris Towers in terms of layout and structure, so you’ll probably notice that this version has basically the same “bones” as the two yellow towers.


Aerial Tower of Terror photo by Google Maps

The brickwork is considerably less elaborate on the back side, and the backstage area is much more compacted than the luxuriously large landscapes that fill in behind the Florida and California towers. 😉


Another Google Maps aerial.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of the Towers from above!

→ Return to the Main Photo Gallery.