Walt Disney World : Disney-MGM Studios : Sunset Blvd : The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Located in the Sunset Blvd. section of the Disney-MGM Studios theme park, Tower of Terror is, in basic thrill ride classification terms, a freefall ride. However, this is a Disneyfied freefall, which puts it on a whole different level.
Tower of Terror opened in July 1994, and has gone through a number of rehabs since then. Most noticeably, the drop sequence has changed from 1 drop, to 2 drops, to a pre-programmed multiple drop sequence, to today's randomized drops. Also, this is not just a freefall; the elevators are actually pushed down faster than a freefall acceleration (1.3 g, to the best of my knowledge).
This section contains a pretty detailed account of the ride - If you don't want to know (you want to keep it a surprise, or what-have-you), you may want to skip right over this.
The outdoor portion of the queue winds its way through an overgrown garden filled with an eerie mist. The line then enters the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, the setting for the ride. This is supposed to be an abandoned hotel, so the lobby looks appropriately old and dusty.
The preshow begins in the library. Once a large enough group is in the library, a cast member will shut the door. Lightning flashes, the lights go out, and the intro starts. The ride is themed after a Twilight Zone episode, which is what starts playing on the library's small black-and-white television set:
Rod Serling: (Your typical Twilight Zone intro) You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is 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. You've just crossed over into... The Twilight Zone.
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 video shows a group of 5 people getting into the hotel elevator. Lightning strikes the side of the hotel, causing the elevator and the outer wall to vaporize).
The time is now, on an evening very much like the one we have just witnessed. Tonight's story on the Twilight Zone is somewhat unique, and calls for a different kind of introduction. 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.
Once the preshow is over, the group in the library moves into the boiler room to board one of four maintenance elevators.
Rod Serling: You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator, about to ascend into your very own episode of... The Twilight Zone.
The elevator goes up a little ways, and the doors open to reveal a hallway of the Hollywood Tower Hotel as it appeared in 1939. The missing elevator passengers are there too, trapped as a kind of residual electricity. The hallway disappears into a starfield, leaving only the window that was at the end of the hall floating in front of you. The window shatters, and the elevator doors close. The elevator continues upwards.
Rod Serling: 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.
The elevator doors open again, and suddenly the elevator begins to move forward. You pass a giant eyeball while traveling through a star-filled corridor. The stars then all converge towards a single point in front of you, which then turns into two vertical lines that move away from each other.
Rod Serling: 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 drops begin, and they're randomized. Every time I've been on this ride, the first drop has happened in total darkness. The elevator then gets pulled back up to the top, and the outer doors open, showing you EXACTLY how high up you are. Then it drops again... and again... When Rod Serling starts talking, the drops are completed.
Rod Serling: 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.
Other stuff - details and things to notice
At 199 feet tall, Tower of Terror is the tallest attraction at Walt Disney World. The reason it's not taller? If the structure had gone over 200 feet, Disney would have had to put red airplane warning lights on top, which would have taken away from the illusion of this being an abandoned hotel.
The sign in front of the building that says "Wait time" is almost always set to 13 minutes. As such, it's not very accurate most of the time. The real wait time is displayed at the entrance around the side of the building.
The theming on this ride is fantastic. The lobby shown in the preshow video is the same one you pass through in the queue, and if you look closely at the exterior of the building, there is a portion of the front facade that has been made to look charred - it corresponds to the location of the old elevator, which was vaporized by lightning.
There are a number of props representative of different Twilight Zone episodes located throughout the ride. I'm not sure if they are the ACTUAL props or not (I tend to doubt it), but they include a pair of broken glasses (Time Enough At Last), a book entitled To Serve Man (To Serve Man), and a fortune-telling device (The Nick of Time). Most of the props are either in the library or in the storage areas on the sides of the elevators just before you exit the ride. Keep your eyes peeled.
While we're talking props, keep your eyes open for: the AAA 13-Diamond Plaque in the lobby; the "What! There's No Mickey? (What Kind Of A Party Is This?)" sheet music in one of the libraries; a maintenance worker's desk props in the boiler room (follow the line that goes straight at the split).
If you're walking by Tower of Terror, wait for one of the elevators to drop - when the doors open on to the park, you'll hear an elevator bell (you know, "Second floor, *ding*"). It's a nice touch.
In order to give the preshow video its authentic Twilight Zone episode feel, Disney Imagineers watched each episode of the original series at least twice. The brief footage on the video where Rod Serling is shown is taken from an actual episode, while most of the other voice-over work is done by an incredibly good impersonator.
There are a number of "chicken exits" available for that last minute "No way" decision. The last possible one is just as you reach the elevators in the boiler room.
Depending on what the weather is like outside, you'll be able to tell exactly when your elevator enters the drop shaft. If it's warm outside, you'll feel a pretty good upwards temperature change, since they can't do much to insulate the doors that open on to the park.
There is no over the shoulder restraint system, just seat belts. No matter where you're sitting, SECURE LOOSE ARTICLES! Stories abound of people who put bags in front of them and watched as their belongings floated up in the air, eventually landing on an unsuspecting person 2 rows down.
Tower of Terror contains many scenes that are either mostly dark, or are pitch black. It takes place in an elevator. It goes up very high. It has a number of faster-than-freefall drops. Thus, if you are afraid of the dark, claustrophobic, afraid of heights, or you suffer from motion sickness, this is not the ride for you.