Tomorrow, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the most-anticipated addition in the brief history of Disney's California Adventure, officially throws open its freefalling doors. Predictably, the usual suspects are already arguing over whether or not DCA's Tower is a great ride and over how it compares to Orlando's version.
But more important than the question of Do people like DCA's Tower of Terror? is the question of Do people finally like DCA? No one pays $49.75 for one ride. What Disney is desperately waiting to discover is if this one attraction markedly increases the overall value of DCA. Or, if adding Tower of Terror to DCA like putting a party dress on a pig.
Tower of Terror is designed to address one of DCA's primary shortcomings: lack of an iconic, established E-ticket. Usually Disney copies rides from one coast to the other because they're either essential to the park's concept (such as the core Magic Kingdom rides) or because they're highly marketable (Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear). DCA's retreads (MuppetVision, It's Tough to be a Bug) were neither.
Fortunately, the omission was DCA's last glaring hole. Since opening three years and three months ago to light crowds and heavy criticism, DCA has gone on a mad dash to fill in the gaps. The complaints were many and varied, but they all had one thing in common: they were all comparisons to the original Disneyland 100 yards away.
Hip and edgy entertainment like Steps in Time would give way to the musical Aladdin. The occasional walk-around characters were replaced by countless Meet & Greets and character shows. The slim attraction roster has been fattened and the overly long list of restaurants pared back. The void of toddler-friendly rides has been filled with a whole new land. DCA's most disappointing attraction, Superstar Limo, was boarded up after less than a year. And its limiting theme has been ignored when it proved an impediment to new attractions and entertainment.
Still, most of the fixes have been quick and temporary. Unlike the seasonal promotions and introductions such as Aladdin, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Play It, and Playhouse Disney Live, Tower of Terror is the first addition you know will still be standing 10 years from now.
Consequently, much of the public still thinks of DCA as a carnivalor doesn't think of DCA at all. Disney is hoping Tower of Terror gives DCA a positive new identity. That's what it did 10 years ago for Disney-MGM Studios, which for five years was criticized as an overpriced half-day park short on thrills. Tower of Terror infused the entire park with energy and an exciting new image. Before, its major landmark was a pretend water tower with mouse ears on top. Thrilling.
Granted, Disney-MGM did have two advantages over DCA that made the transition smoother. First, it already had a solid foundation of family-friendly rides; Star Tours was the only one with a height limit. DCA remains schizophrenic: small children can't ride most of the grown-up rides and most grown-ups won't want to ride most of the kiddie attractions.
Second, the majority of Disney World guests are out-of-towners who buy park hopper passes. When they run out of things to do at one park, hundreds more attractions are a quick boat, bus or monorail ride away. Full-fare-paying guests in Anaheim are more likely to be locals who buy single-park tickets.
Obviously, there's a lot riding on this ride. Good enough is not good enough. No other $100 million E-tickets are on the immediate horizon. So really, for Tower of Terror to be a success, it must help DCA finally achieve its goals:
With Tower of Terror, DCA finally has its weenie. Let's see if the public will bite.
(Send an email to David Koenig)
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.