You are about to enter another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
A typical family of four has been enjoying a fun-filled day in the warm Florida sun. Father, mother, and two twin boys are on vacation together at the Walt Disney World resort. Day is quickly turning to night as they make their way down Sunset Blvd. The palm trees lining the street sway in the cool evening breeze, bordering a path leading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios signature ride, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Here at the end of the street lies the deteriorating Hollywood Tower Hotel. It has a strange presence, simultaneously inviting and foreboding. As the two little boys look up at the hotel extending into the night sky, they have two very different reactions. One fills with a sense of excitement, the other a paralyzing fright. The mother holds the hands of both little boys and assures them everything will be all right. This promise may be one she regrets. You see, this family of four thinks they are boarding another ride, but they are about to enter The Twilight Zone.
Tonight’s episode is a first on the Twilight Zone. I want to welcome you to our podcast, an audio journey that will explore one family’s story as they experience a Walt Disney World ride. Pay close attention, this information may help you should ever find yourself on the steps of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
Welcome to the…
WDW Ride Guide Episode 039- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Before we begin, let’s introduce you to the principle facts:
- The ride is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Fastpass + is available and recommended
- The fright factor is 5 out of 5
- You must be 40” tall to ride
- Guests must transfer from a wheelchair/ECV
- Warning! For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.
- The ride opened on July 22, 1994. It was updated in 2002 to randomize the drop sequences.
Those are the facts, now time for another dimension!
Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling, young movie town at the height of its golden age, The Hollywood Tower Hotel was a star in its own right; a beacon for the show business elite. Now, something is about to happen that will change all that. The time is now on an evening very much like the one we have just witnessed.
Our family of four is about to discover what happened on that fateful night in 1939. They begin their journey by stepping through the Hotel’s gate located at the end of Sunset Blvd. The once pristine gardens are now overrun. The walkways and outer walls of the hotel are cracked and crumbling. It would appear that whatever happened in 1939 served to shut down the hotel. Since then, the glitz and glamour of this Hollywood monument has given way to cobwebs and dust. As the family slowly walks up the hill and makes the turn into the hotel lobby, it becomes clear that the hotel is frozen in time. The lobby has not been touched for over 70 years. The hotel lamps still work and provide enough light to display an eclectic collection of statues and objects. One of the chairs appears to be home to a vintage Talking Tina doll. Moving on the father notices an old poster in the lobby. It is an ad for the Tip Top Club, formerly at the top of the hotel, featuring a performer named Anthony Freemont and his Orchestra.
Next, the group is ushered into the library. The door is shut behind them. The two little boys are unsure about their surroundings. This room houses a very odd collection. There are books, such as How to Serve Man, and other oddities like a miniature space man on the top shelf. Taking a moment to study the shelves, the mother in the group notices a couple of plain envelopes. Both have hand written names. One reads Victoria West and the other Rod Serling. Perhaps they belonged to the owner of the round rim glasses that sit under the television? Suddenly, lightning flashes and thunder claps outside. The room goes pitch black. A second later the old television comes to life in black and white. An eerie song begins to play and then a man in a suit begins to tell the story of what happened in 1939.
It seems that fateful night was the last for five unfortunate souls. Much like our family today, this group was made up of a father, mother, and child. Joining them on the elevator was the nanny and a bellhop. Shortly after boarding the elevator to their rooms, the Hollywood Tower Hotel was struck by lightning. The elevator shaft vanished, along with the five passengers.
The time is now, and our family of four is faced with a most peculiar challenge. Board the maintenance service elevator, cross over to the Twilight Zone, and discover what became of those cursed riders. A hidden passage opens at the back of the library and our family is escorted into the hotel boiler room.
By now, our two small boys are sure they have entered something beyond any reality they previously knew. For one this is exhilarating, but for the other, pure torture. As they follow their parents past the large boilers, a dark elevator door comes into view. Above the door is a semi circle shape, dimly lit, numbering 13 floors. Next to the door, an inspection certificate, numbered 10259 and signed by Cadwallader. A rather somber individual is running the elevator and tells the family where to stand. He notices the timid boy has a tight hold on his mother’s hand. The elevator operator leans over to the mother and in a rather deep, low voice, tells her this is the last chance to exit the hotel before boarding the elevator. She politely declines and assures the young boy one more time.
The generator operating the elevator disrupts their conversation as it sounds like it is struggling to maintain power. However, the elevator doors open and this is the moment of truth. Our family of four walks in, sits down, and pulls the lap restraints tight. Next stop, the Twilight Zone.
As the elevator doors close, the eerie music from the library begins to play again. The elevator ascends and then comes to a stop a few floors up. The doors open and an empty hallway lies ahead. It does not remain empty for long. The five passengers from 1939 materialize as electrically charged ghosts. They are gesturing for the family to come with them. However, the ghosts vanish before anything else can happen. The corridor goes black and slowly fills with stars. A window floats in space and then breaks with a loud crash. The elevator doors shut quickly and the elevator ascends again.
Our two five-year-old boys have been completely sucked in by the Twilight Zone. One sits on the edge of his seat with a big smile while the other melts into the arms of his guardian. Neither one is prepared for what comes next. The elevator doors open again, but this time the elevator car moves forward, going beyond the confines of its vertical shaft. Strange sounds and sights fill the dark space ahead. At the end of the void a pattern of concentrated dots of light merge into a single line. This light forms an opening and the elevator box moves into another shaft. Everything is now completely dark. The family sits in silence and shadow, waiting.
Without warning, the elevator comes loose from its supports and plummets down the dark tower. To the riders it feels like their stomach is in their throat. Yet, their screams still manage to fill the elevator shaft. However, rather than slamming into the ground below, the elevator shoots back up. The riders inside are now at the mercy of the randomized drop sequence. This unknown combination of rocketing up and plummeting down makes each ride on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror unique. Taking place in the fifth dimension means the ride moves faster than the force of gravity. The two boys are bouncing up and down at close to 40 mph. At one point they reach the summit of the tower, 170 feet high in the sky. The outer doors open up and they can see across Hollywood Studios. Before they can make out the people far below, they drop yet again.
Finally, the elevator stops. One boy is squealing with pure joy, the other a still statue petrified by the terrifying experience. The music plays again as a screen comes to life with an oscillating circle of black and white lines. The elevator moves backwards as our family is pulled away from the Twilight Zone and back to reality. The voice of the man in the suit can be heard overhead welcoming them back. He offers this friendly warning, “The next time you check into a deserted hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know what vacancy you are filling, or you may find yourself a permanent resident of The Twilight Zone.”
Fortunately, our family of four does not become permanent residents. However, their story is not over just yet. Their family vacation continues on for a few more days. They ride many other rides, but none seem to have the lasting effect of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The boy who fell in love with the ride, wants to go again and again. He claims his time in the Twilight Zone to be his absolute favorite part of the trip. His brother, on the other hand, avoids the tower at all costs. Beyond that, he has a couple of lingering questions: What happened to the five people he saw as ghosts? Will his mother assure him she won’t become a ghost herself when she rides again?
So, let the tale of two brothers be a lesson the next time you wander down Sunset Blvd. This ride is so rich in story, detail, and experience it will transport you to another dimension. A dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You are moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. This is not a land for everyone, but a land that no one will be able to forget. Will you be one that loves this strange dimension or will you be someone that is haunted by its story? There is only one way to find out…
This, as you may recognize, is a maintenance service elevator still in operation, waiting for you. We invite you, if you dare, to step aboard because in tonight’s episode, you are the star. And this elevator travels directly to…The Twilight Zone.”
Well, that concludes our special edition of one of my absolute favorite rides at Walt Disney World. Actually, this is my second favorite ride behind Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. The little boys mentioned in today’s episode were of course my nephews and this was a true story. One of them absolutely loves the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. He still talks about it today and can’t wait to go back. The other was pretty troubled by the story of vanishing people. He didn’t care for the sudden drops in the dark either! As for the rest of my family, this is my dad’s favorite ride and it ranks high on almost everyone else’s list.
We always ride Tower of Terror more than once every time we visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I would say it may be the best ride for repeat trips. Um, that might be a good podcast. Best Rides to Ride Multiple Times? Stay tuned. If you can I also recommend riding during the day and at night. With the elevator opening to reveal the park below you get a different experience depending on the time of day. Also, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is bathed in purple light with neon accents and looks completely different at night.
All right, I could go on and on, but we better stop there for today. Next week we will conclude our look at Disney’s spookiest rides. What could possibly top the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror? Come back next time to find out! Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you have had as much fun as I have. Have a great week and make each day a ride worth taking!