Remembering the Magic: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

by Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer

Welcome to another episode of "Remembering the Magic." This time, we explore the history of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The ride has had the same name and building since it opened, so there are not completely different versions of the ride to remember. However, there are some enhancements made at various times to "plus" the ride. So let's plunge right in as we "go directly to… The Twilight Zone."

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by Jonathan Heigl.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (July 22, 1994 – Present)

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was part of the first major expansion of the then-Disney-MGM Studios, as part of the new Sunset Boulevard area. Both Sunset Boulevard and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would open in July 1994. This was a big step for the park, as it added its true E-ticket attraction.

The "Hollywood Tower Hotel" was built at the foot of Sunset Boulevard. Guests make their way through the winding queue through the hotel's gardens, and then eventually enter the building. The lobby is old, dusty, and has cobwebs throughout. Guests make their way to the pre-show area, which is a small library area for the hotel.

Once everyone is standing in the room, the doors close, and an old TV turns on. This TV plays a black-and-white video about The Twilight Zone, and what happened at the hotel. After this pre-show film, guests exit the room through the second set of doors, which leads them to the boiler room of the hotel. Guests wind through the queue in the boiler room area and up to the loading area of the elevators.

There are five elevators down here (four "service elevators," which are the ride vehicles, and one actual working elevator, which allows cast members to enter and exit the area—and also provides a "chicken exit" for the ride, so that those who change their minds can exit without going on the ride. A cast member sends you to the row number in front of the elevator you will be boarding. Once the doors to the elevator open, you make your way into the row to which you were assigned. Unlike a regular elevator where passengers remain standing, in these elevators, guests sit down.

Hollywood Tower Hotel sign at the entrance to the queue. Photo by Jonathan Heigl.

Once on board and the doors close, you are told, "You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator about to ascend into your very own episode of The Twilight Zone."

With these ominous words, the elevator rises for a  brief five seconds or so, then stops. The door opens. You see a somewhat dimly lit hotel corridor. At the end of the corridor is a window that shows the lightning flashing. All of the sudden, the ghosts of the five occupants of the elevator in 1939 materialize and motion you to "come on" with their hands. The little girl can be heard singing, "It's raining, it's pouring…"

The electrostatic of the lightning bolts surround the ghosts as they slowly dematerialize and vanish. The corridor becomes darker, eventually changing into a star-filled sky, with just the window at the end of the corridor is still visible in the starry sky. The window then transforms into the old black-and-white version of the window, then shatters.

The elevator doors close again and the elevator begins ascending. During the ascent, the voice of Rod Sterling comes back, and says, "One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare. That door is opening once again, and this time, it's opening for you."

Once the elevator stops again, the doors open to show another hotel corridor, but this one is even more dimly lit than the one before… all that you see are the lights on the wall that line the hallway.

Then, the elevator cab exits the shaft, and begins moving forward down the corridor (something normal elevators don't do). This section of the ride is called "The Fifth Dimension." As the cab travels down the corridor, the lights dim and eventually fade to black, and flash stars.

You see a large clock, with the hands of the clock spinning backwards rapidly. You then see other objects, like the "e=mc²" formula, doors, and lightning bolts. You again hear the little girl again singing her song. A little further ahead, a TV appears, and shows the riders in the elevator. The stars start to disappear and then a bright flash in a vertical line, which splits and opens like elevator doors.

The tension mounts as you hear Rod Serling's voice once again.

"You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination, in the Tower of Terror."

At this point, the elevator moves into its drop-sequence shaft. The elevator gets pulled up a bit, and its doors open to allow you to see outside the hotel, over the park.

Then the elevator "drops." A gut-wrenching 13 stories.

The elevator doesn't actually "drop," of course. Instead, it is being pulled down by an intricate and powerful motor and pulley system.

At the end of the drop sequence, you see the black-and-white swirl with the door, and then the window swirling around (like in the show's opening). Other objects from the show also show themselves; even Rod Sterling, whose voice is heard saying:

"A warm welcome back to those of you who made it and a friendly word of warning; something you won't find in any guidebook. The next time you check into a deserted hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know just what kind of vacancy you're filling or you may find yourself a permanent resident… of The Twilight Zone."

The elevator doors then reopens and you get to disembark.

Drop Profiles

The entire drop sequence—from the amount of drops, time spent at the top, distance the elevator goes on a drop, and so on—is part of a "Drop Profile."

When the ride first opened in 1994, there was only one big drop. In May 1996, a second drop profile was put in place, with the slogan, "Twice the Fright." This profile added a second big drop to the ride.

In March 1999, a third drop profile was put into place with the slogan, "Fear Every Drop!" This drop profile added greater acceleration, rumbling, 30 percent more time in the shaft, and more of the weightless feeling.

On January 1, 2003, a fourth drop profile was set in place with the slogan "Never the Same Fear Twice!" This fourth drop profile was actually four new profiles, with the computer randomly selecting one of the four. All four drop profiles included at least one full drop, but some of them also introduced different projections during the drop (such as a blue ghost, the original five ghosts, lightning, and so on.). There can be a varying number of drops, big or small. However, variations such as the number of drops, and length of drop are all programmed into the profile, and will always be the same. Since there are four new profiles, however, chances are that you will probably get a different profile most of the time you ride it.

From June through August 2010, the ride introduced special "Summer Nightastic" profile, which was mostly a random number of drops, but they were all full big drops. The previous profile was returned into place after August 2010.

My verdict – revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?

My verdict on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is to leave it alone! Personally, I think the story of the ride is great and the Hollywood Tower Hotel building is iconic. It invokes screams, fright, thrill, and in some sick way, always leaves riders wanting to do it again. I think the technology used is quite amazing (I mean, come on, an elevator exits the shaft, moves forward, and goes into another shaft). Since part of the history of the ride includes various different profiles being used, I am not counting that when I say "leave it alone." I do think that new profiles should and probably will always be part of the ride when the old profiles get stale, and is a quick and easy way of updating the ride to make it a new experience.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my verdict? If not, what would you suggest they do? Feel free to discuss with me and others! I'd love to hear your opinions on the article and your verdict!



  1. By jon81uk

    There is actually only four lift shafts (plus the chicken lift) in the boiler room, this blog has a good write-up of the technicals of the Florida Tower of Terror where there are four loading/darkride lift shafts and then two drop shafts. The California and Paris towers are different as there are three drop shafts and they load into the same shafts, the cars don't move horizontally in the same way as Florida.

  2. By jheigl

    Quote Originally Posted by jon81uk View Post
    There is actually only four lift shafts (plus the chicken lift) in the boiler room, this blog has a good write-up of the technicals of the Florida Tower of Terror where there are four loading/darkride lift shafts and then two drop shafts. The California and Paris towers are different as there are three drop shafts and they load into the same shafts, the cars don't move horizontally in the same way as Florida.

    You are absolutely correct. Thanks! Sorry about that. This was a case of two different thoughts combined into one. I was going to start off with the six motors but then went into elevators for one reason or another. I will have this corrected.


  3. By jon81uk

    Quote Originally Posted by jheigl View Post
    Thanks! Sorry about that.

    No need to apologise, I am just fascinated about the mechanics of how the two different types of Tower work in FL and CA.

  4. By DisneyGator

    It's a good thing you said "leave it alone"! Man, I was ready to blast!

    I love the ToT at WDW. It's just the best ride ever. I just wish that the Disneyland version would be like it's Florida sister. You get in the elevator, it picks you up, talks, then drops you in the same sequence each time. There's no top floor dream sequence or the sound of you entering the 5th dimension or that eerie sequence that stops you in the shaft with the ghosts looking right at you. It's just not the same.

  5. By safmouse

    I actually prefer the ride being in the same shaft like at DCA. Having it move forward reminds me that I'm not actually in a elevator, but in a thrill ride. Somewhat lessens the illusion.

    I do like the random drops at DHS though, and the enormous grounds make it one of the best themed rides ever done in my opinion.

  6. By Klutch

    I met one of the Imagineers who designed Tower of Terror. I was demonstrating a computer system for him. He asked great questions and, unlike almost everyone else who received such a demo, he clearly understood everything I told him. His name was Bran Ferren. Forget the Dos Equis guy. Bran Ferren is the "Most Interesting Man In the World"! This guy has been doing amazing things since he was in high school. After working for Disney, Ferren started a fascinating company called "Applied Minds". My employer occasionally works with them.

    I saw a TV show where Ferren was interviewed about designing Tower of Terror to pull riders down faster than gravity would take them. When he and other Imagineers visited Otis elevator and described what they were doing, the people at Otis told them to get lost. They wanted nothing to do with an elevator intentionally designed to scare the wits out of people.

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