My #3 attraction in all of Walt Disney World is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When the park opened as Disney’s MGM Studios in 1989, it had only two rides: the Backlot Tour, and the Great Movie Ride (both now sadly defunct). Even with the addition of Star Tours in December of that year, the park lacked a true E-ticket attraction. When Sunset Boulevard, the park’s first major expansion, was greenlit, it had to include a truly thrilling ride. Thus was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror born.
Such is the staying power of The Twilight Zone that it seemed perfectly natural as the inspiration for a modern theme park ride even thirty years after it went off the air. It still feels natural 54 years later! It’s one of the few truly timeless shows of its or any era; The Twilight Zone is Rod Serling and a particular mood, and everything else is completely malleable. That means it can mesh with the park’s heightened Old Hollywood aesthetic effortlessly.
The ride is actually presented as an off-format ‘episode’, using archival footage of Rod Serling spliced with newly-recorded imitative dialogue (the new voice was picked with the approval and input of Serling’s widow. And the new portions of the video were directed by Joe Dante!) to introduce you to the Twilight Zone, a land of shadow and substance, of things and ideas, a place where, on a night long ago, a group of five people who entered an elevator at the Hollywood Tower Hotel found themselves when lightning struck the building. Now you are about the take that same journey.
The Hollywood Tower Hotel has gone to seed in the decades since that fateful night, and the queue is filled with delightfully derelict details – an empty fountain, dusty statuary, prodigious cobwebs. The boiler room area you enter after the intro video in the library is genuinely foreboding, and always psyched me out as a kid. This is the ride at Disney I waited the longest to ride, out of sheer intimidation.
The attraction itself is an accelerated drop ride, but with a distinctly Disney flair. You travel through a charming recreation of The Twilight Zone‘s lo-fi intro sequence, complete with a floating white ‘E=MC^2’, before entering the pitch black elevator shaft. Once there, you fly upwards and plunge downwards on a randomized sequence. What makes the drop so potent is the fact that you’re actually accelerating faster than gravity, pulled down by enormous cables. It’s a uniquely stomach churning experience.
Standing a foreboding 199 feet tall, the TZToT is the second tallest attraction in all four parks (Expedition Everest edges it out by a mere six inches). It’s so visible it has become a de facto icon for Hollywood Studios, and it was even specially designed to blend with the skyline of the Morocco pavilion in nearby Epcot.
The Tower of Terror is the oldest extant ride still operating in its original format at Hollywood Studios, a park that has undergone a truly tumultuous change in the last decade. Together with Star Tours, it represents the first indication of what the park is now becoming fully, in defiance of its original vision – not a place about the making of movies, but a place about putting you inside the media you love, whether it’s Toy Story, Star Wars, or a region adjacent to a location known as… The Twilight Zone.