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.

Winter Terrorland: Tower of Terror Snow!

Sure, the Tower’s been struck by lightning, but has it ever been snowed on?

Yup!  While snow is almost unheard of in sunny Florida and California, the Paris and Tokyo parks occasionally offer a wintry version of Disney.  The Tower of Terror may be a haunted Hollywood icon, but it isn’t immune to the occasional blizzard.

The Disney And More blog shares a stunning collection of photos from the Paris park after a January snowfall.  The Tower of Terror covered in snow is such an unusual sight!

Paris Tower of Terror snow

The Paris Tower of Terror seems extra haunting under a layer of snow! Photo credit: Disney And More

Over in Tokyo DisneySea, the old New York style Tower of Terror is stunning with a layer of snow gracing its turn-of-the-century architectural details.

Sarah at A Jubilation! visited Tokyo DisneySea in January – along with 7 centimeters of snow. Read her wonderful recounting of the experience here.

Tokyo DisneySea Tower of Terror snow

Photo credit: A Jubilation!

It seems that Disney does not automatically shut its parks down on account of snow, although it may close down early.

Tower of Terror Construction Hollywood Studios Florida

Contrary to what the attraction’s story might want you to believe, the Tower of Terror was not built in 1917. 🙂  Disney’s construction crew cleared the site and broke ground in 1992. Discovery of a sinkhole necessitated a slight relocation of the build site. Construction continued until the ride and Sunset Boulevard opened together on July 22nd, 1994. (Source: Wikipedia article)

Tower of Terror Construction Hollywood Studios Florida billboard advertising

Early 90s Tower of Terror billboard advertising the upcoming attraction. Photo credit: Jack Spence

Exterior Construction

This aerial shot of the Tower of Terror’s construction is the earliest one I’ve fond.  It gives a good sense of the scale of the building – look at those tiny trucks!  The gardens are just a pile of dirt, and the building itself is little more than a steel skeleton.  This photo is particularly noteworthy because it offers a rare glimpse into the area between the back lift shafts and the front drop shafts.

aerial photo of Tower of Terror construction in Hollywood Studios Florida

Photo credit: Vintage Disney parks

This next photo is somewhat of a rarity among Florida Tower of Terror construction photos because it’s crystal clear!

This photo, depicting the building’s left side (which is the side guests enter and exit) was taken shortly after the previous photo – you can tell by the completed rooftops in the back and the addition of the “front building” at the building’s front.

Tower of Terror construction Hollywood Studios florida

Scaffolding surrounds the Tower during its construction in 1993/1994. Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

This photo of the Tower’s construction depicts some roofing details on the structure’s front, details that appear to be missing from the previous shot.  Few other differences are noticeable, suggesting this photo was taken around the same time as the previous one.

Tower of Terror MGM original construction

The lightning-scarred facade becomes recognizable in this construction photo.


Interior Construction

Taken just months before the attraction opened to the public in July, this May ’94 photo shows the hotel’s lobby midway through its own construction.  The walls have been painted and textured, and the light fixtures added, but the floor tiles have yet to be grouted and none of the iconic dusty decor has shown up yet.

Tower of Terror construction hollywood studios Florida

The Tower’s hotel lobby under construction – May 1994. Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

Cranking up the Thrills

Disney legend has it that a ride designer rode an early version of the Tower and said, “If my tie doesn’t fly up in my face, it’s not good enough”. A descent at normal “freefall” speed wasn’t thrilling enough, so the ride’s design eventually came to feature a “faster than gravity” pull. That’s right – you aren’t freefalling in the Tower, you’re being pulled down (at about 30 mph).


Opening Day

The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror officially opened on July 22nd, 1994 featuring one gigantic drop. Reception was overwhelmingly positive, and the ride became an instant favorite for thrill-seekers and Disney fans. Over the following 20 years, the ride was reprogrammed a few times to add more drops, rumbles, and an element of randomization to differentiate repeat rides.

Disney soon started work on a second Tower of Terror…

Tower of Terror at Night Photos

The flickering sign letters, the ominous blue glow, and the occasional shrieks… the Tower of Terror at night is extra spooky! One of my favorite park traditions is to watch the Tower during sunset – it’s a beautiful sight and a great way to give my aching feet a little break. 😀

Hollywood Studios, Florida (HS)

I took this photo of the Florida Tower myself on a cloudy day in December. The clouds suit the Tower well!


Photo credit: M. Grant (TowerSecrets)

I love the toasty brown sky in this photo. This photo is from DisneyRunning, and I have to wonder what conditions allowed for the amber sky and the orange lightshow on the front of the Tower! This is a difficult angle to get in the park, so kudos to them for this great photo of the Tower at twilight!

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

This photo is spectacularly spooky – what a great angle and a great effect with the orange and the grain! If I didn’t know there was a theme park around this structure, I’d be seriously creeped out!

Photo credit: Spectropluto

Photo credit: Spectropluto

The Tower of Terror falls asleep! Have you ever seen the Tower with its sign unlit? Credit goes to Jake for capturing this unusual sight of the Tower!


The Tower falls asleep by Jake.


Disney California Adventure, California (DCA)


Tower of Terror in October, 2014. Photo credit: M. Grant (TowerSecrets)

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Nighttime Tower of Terror photo DCA

Photo credit: Rae Lane

Tokyo Disneysea, Tokyo (TDS)

The Tokyo DisneySea Tower of Terror doesn’t have a flickering old electric sign; in its place, a mysterious green flare of lightning in the top window. It is, however, still bathed in purple, just like its siblings elsewhere.

Photo credit: The Disney Wiki

Photo credit: The Disney Wiki

For more Tower photos shot by me, visit my Tower of Terror album on Flickr.

→ Return to the Main Photo Gallery.

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.

Designing the first Tower of Terror

The story of Disney’s The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror attraction starts around 1985. A small team of Imagineers had been tasked with creating two new pavilions for EPCOT. Those plans included something called The Great Movie Ride. Newly appointed Disney CEO Michael Eisner liked the plans so much he decided that this new ride shouldn’t be in EPCOT, it should be part of a completely new park!

This new park would be a “studio back lot” themed park dedicated to Hollywood and entertainment.  And it wouldn’t just celebrate show business – it would help create it with real movie and TV production facilities on site.

Disney entered into a licensing agreement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and branded the park Disney-MGM Studios. (This would later become a point of contention, and modern-day readers will note that the park is now named Hollywood Studios.)

Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989.


But the park was pretty small, and some say it was rushed to open in order to compete with the brand new Universal Studios, Orlando, which opened almost a year later in 1990. To really stand on its own, MGM-Studios would need an E-ticket attraction – something amazing to draw the crowds. In 1989, movie director Mel Brooks, Disney CEO Michael Eisner, park designer Marty Skylar, Imagineer C. McNair Wilson and a group of Imagineers met to discuss plans for the park’s first expansion and first thrill ride.

Early Ideas and Designs

Numerous ideas were kicked around for the new park section. One early and prominent idea was a “Castle Young Frankenstein” attraction, complete with Bavarian village and drawbridge leading to the castle. This idea morphed into “Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel”. Early in the park’s development, Imagineer Bob Weiss had pursued the idea of an art-deco high end 1930’s-style hotel near the park’s entrance.

Mel Brooks left the project, but the idea of a spooky hotel had stuck. Disney’s team looked at available movie and TV licenses and found a perfect match: The Twilight Zone.


Early drawing of Sunset Blvd. and the Tower of Terror waiting at the end. Image credit:


A whimsical conceptual drawing actually comes pretty close to the spirit of the attraction’s final design.

Technological Innovations

With Sunset Boulevard and the The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror attraction idea in hand, Disney’s Imagineering team was ready for the next challenge: finding the technologies that would bring the attraction to life.

AGV Technology

Transitioning the elevator cars horizontally, from the back of the attraction to the front, via a corridor scene known as “The Fifth Dimension” was one engineering challenge. The elevator car would need to separate from its lift elevator and safely transition from one elevator “harness” to another. This tricky design challenge necessitated the refinement of a technology Disney had used before: the Autonomous Guided Vehicle.

The AGV is a self-guided passenger car capable of moving from one elevator (at the attraction’s back), through the 5th Dimension, and into the grand finale drop sequence elevator (at the attraction’s front), all on its own without any rails or tracks. The vehicle follows a pre-programmed path and communicates with the ride control system.

It’s an impressive technology, though not immune to breakdown as the occasional hat or park map dropped in the 5th Dimension has shown.


A glimpse at the underside of the Autonomous Guided Vehicles in the Tower of Terror.

Elevator Technology

The world’s oldest and most famous elevator manufacturer, Otis Elevators, contributed to the design of the “free-falling” elevator.  Otis had spent over a century refining and downplaying the sensation of riding in an elevator, but Disney was asking it to play it up – and play into people’s worst fears about elevators. Fortunately, Otis signed on anyway and lent its expertise to the project.

Continue reading: Building the world’s first Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror Mistakes & Bloopers

No one’s perfect, not even our dear Tower of Terror. 🙂

Video Tower vs. Real Tower

The Tower you see in the pre-show video is not the Tower you see in the park. 🙂   Here’s a few fun differences to look for each time you watch the pre-show:

Sign Location

Look closely at the “Hollywood Tower Hotel” sign during the library pre-show. The sign is positioned above – way above – the soon-to-be-destroyed elevator shafts.  On the physical building, the sign letters are much lower and overlap the destroyed elevator shafts.

tower of terror mistakes and bloopers

tower of terror mistakes and bloopers

tower of terror mistakes and bloopers

The sign placemnt was corrected in the California and Paris versions of the ride.  The Tokyo DisneySea version does not include a hotel name sign.

Building Details

Look closely at the side of the Tower’s tallest structure.  Down the side are three columns of windows in the video, but there are just two columns on the real tower.

The video shows a large pointy-roofed building in front of the tower, but that building is absent in the real version.


Photo credits: YouTube video by macattack5545

Tower of Terror Background Music

The Tower of Terror’s spooky queue and pre-show atmosphere is enhanced by a one-hour loop of otherworldly background music from the jazz era.

Listen to the entire Tower of Terror background music loop on YouTube.

Background Songs

“Alabamy Home” by Gotham Stompers Tower of Terror background music

“Another World” by Johnny Hodges

“Can’t Get Started” by Bunny Berigan

“Dear Old Southland” by Noble Sissle

“Deep Purple” by Turner Layton

“Delta Mood” by Cootie Williams

“Inside” by Fats Waller

“Jeep’s Blues” by Johnny Hodges

“Jitterbug’s Lullaby” by Johnny Hodges

“Jungle Drums” by Sidney Bechet

“Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington

“Pyramid” by Johnny Hodges

“Remember” by Red Norvo

“Sleepy Time Gal” by Glenn Miller

“There’s a House in Harlem (for Sale)” by Henry Allen

“There’s No Two Ways About It” by Frankie Newton

“Uptown Blues” by Jimmy Lunceford

“We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn

“When the Sun Sets Down South” by Sydney Bechet, Noble Sissle’s Swingsters

“Wishing (Will Make it So)” by Vera Lynn

Disclosure: If you enjoy the Tower’s queue music, your purchase through these Amazon affiliate links helps support this site!