While I find myself continually switching back and forth between what I claim is my favorite attraction in all of Walt Disney World, there is one favorite that never changes. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is hands down my favorite attraction in terms of theme and atmosphere. As soon as you step onto Sunset Boulevard and hear the distant screams echoing from the decrepit tower, you know something sinister is waiting for you. Then once you enter through those large gates, you’ve officially hit the point of no return from…The Twilight Zone (dun dun dunnn!).
When The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened in July 1994, the view from Sunset Boulevard took a turn for the ominous as the 199 foot structure dominated the skies. Why 199 feet and not an even 200? Imagineers purposely left it just under 200 as to avoid having to place the required blinking red air safety lights on the top, thus taking away from the theme and time scheme of the tower. Since the building is so tall, you can actually see the back of it from the right angle in World Showcase over in nearby Epcot. From that vantage point, it looks like a far off building behind the Morocco pavilion. So Imagineers made the back of the tower have a slightly Moroccan design to it, leading it to blend in both with the front of the building and the Moroccan pavilion. See if you can spy some of the differences between each side of the tower and also spot it from World Showcase. The building also forewarns you that something greatly damaged it, marring the front with a big black spot. While the tower definitely bears the mark of being struck by lightning, in reality during construction it actually was!
As you enter through the gardens, your senses are overcome with the clouds of mist, the almost mournful wails of jazz, the wild and uncared for gardens, and the ever present screams from above. Immediately you get the sense that something not right has happened there, as you get closer and closer to the building and start seeing more damage from that fateful Halloween night. As you round a corner about to enter into the lobby, be sure to check out the cornerstone of the Hollywood Tower Hotel which gives you a sense of the era in which something happened there.
Once you step into the lobby, the theme of this attraction really shines through as there are fantastic details throughout the room. Immediately you can sense that people here were from a different time and left in a hurry. You can spot something new as you pass through here each time you ride, so be sure to keep a sharp eye and look all around you. Try to find several clocks, all stopped at 8:05…seems like something must have happened then. Look for the AAA 13 Diamond Award plaque, a fun and foreshadowing play on the actual 5 Diamond Award. Some of my favorite details include the Mahjong game left mid-play, the mail for guests still waiting in their room slots, and a pair of broken glasses. These broken glasses are actually a reference to Time Enough At Last, an episode of The Twilight Zone in which the main character survives a nuclear war and is left with all the time in the world to read his favorite books…until he accidentally breaks his glasses and is left blind without them. The glasses are only one of many props that pay homage to certain episodes of the show, so be sure to look around you and see what you can find. Also in the lobby you will notice the broken down elevator, complete with askew doors. You know you are going up, but now you are left to wonder how. Perhaps my favorite little detail in the lobby is featured on the directory board near the broken elevator. You’ll notice there are letters that have fallen from the announcements, spelling out a particularly sinister warning at the bottom of the case. Sometimes this detail gets moved around and won’t be there, but be sure to check — it’s worth a look!
Once you are in the library, you are introduced to your host and told the story of what happened that fateful Halloween night in 1939. The Rod Serling you see throughout the short film is actually the actor himself. His voice is a mix of clips taken from his introductory speeches in various episodes of the television show as well as a few gaps filled in with a voice impersonator. Fans of the show will also note that his cigarette, a trademark when the show was airing, has been digitally edited out. Serling tells you that you are about to embark onto the service elevator to find out what happened to those five people and head directly into…oh you know!
You then make your way through the boiler room and onto one of the service elevators which seem to be departing full of people and dropping back in empty…can’t be a good sign! Once you are on board, you are at the mercy of the tower. You have a close encounter with those five people lost that Halloween night and find yourself and the elevator moving…forward? This symbolically represents your moving into the Twilight Zone where you encounter sights, sounds, and some pretty ominous music. Suddenly, it’s pitch black and you know that drop is coming! As I said, you are at the mercy of the tower as the drop sequence is now computer randomized ensuring a different ride each time. As you are falling, you are actually being pulled down, making the drop faster than gravity and leaving your belongings floating in air before you.
If you make it back out alive, count yourself lucky. Just don’t be surprised if for the rest of the day you think you hear a little girl behind you singing “it’s raining, it’s pouring…”
What is your favorite detail about The Tower of Terror? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!
Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.