Behind the Ride: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Whenever you are walking down Sunset Boulevard in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s hard not to notice an enormous, eerie looking building standing at the end of it. As you walk closer, you start to hear loud screams! Don’t worry, you haven’t entered the Twilight Zone…yet. However, you are about to experience one of Disney’s spookiest rides ever, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. 


MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) was looking for rides and attractions to add to their massive expansion and to boost attendance. Many ideas were thrown around, including “Dick Tracy’s Crimestoppers”. Ultimately, it wasn’t picked up but instead was later made into Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland. MGM Studios was now in crunch time and needed to decide on a new thrill ride to bring in. Finally the idea of a drop-shaft ride was chosen. Several ideas were brought to the table to try to decide what this ride would be themed around. Interestingly, they all had a spooky theme. Some early ideas included, a ride based on Stephen King’s Novels, a Mel Brooks narrated ride, a Vincent Price ghost tour, and even a murder mystery. 

Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone

Disney Imagineers finally came up with the perfect idea. They decided that they would base the ride around the tv show The Twilight Zone. Imagineers worked hard to figure out a way to take guests into the “fifth dimension” just like in the tv show. With the plan in place, Disney quickly secured the rights to use The Twilight Zone intellectual property from CBS. The Disney Imagineers also decided that the theming of the ride would take place in a 1930’s era Hollywood hotel with a Twilight Zone theme. Disney wanted Rod Serling, the legendary narrator of The Twilight Zone, to be part of this attraction. Unfortunately, he passed away almost 20 years prior. Disney decided to hold auditions to cast the voice of Rod Serling. Carol Serling, Rod Serling’s wife, served as a consultant for the auditioning. Mark Silverman was ultimately chosen to provide the voice. The archival footage of Rod Serling that would be used in the preshow was taken from the Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life”. 


The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride system employs special and unique ride technology that was developed by Walt Disney Imagineering. The ability to move a ride vehicle in and out of the vertical motion shaft had never been done before and was groundbreaking at the time. The elevator cabs on the ride are self-propelled and they lock into separate vertical motion cabs. The cabs move in and out of the elevators horizontally. This can be seen during the ride where you enter the “fifth dimension” and onto the drop shaft. There are two identical ride systems built within the ride and they run on a loop system. There are also four shafts in the back of the building that merge into two shafts during the “fifth dimension” scene. During the drop sequence, each individual cab (ride vehicle) enters its own shaft and returns to the loading area.

“Never the Same Fear Twice”

Imagineers created the weightless effect on the ride by attaching cables to the bottom of the elevator car and pulled it down at a speed slightly faster than a free fall. The ride elevators are able to accelerate 10 short tons at 15 times the speed of normal elevators! They can generate 275 the torque of a Chevy Corvette engine! The ride’s slogan is “Never the Same Fear Twice” because riders will never experience the same drop pattern. It is randomly selected by a computer and it makes the ride that much more exciting! The drop reaches a top speed of 39 mph, although it feels much faster than that. The ride opened its doors on July 22, 1994. At 199 feet tall, it was the tallest attraction in all of Walt Disney World at the time. It was surpassed by Expedition Everest (199.5 feet tall) in 2006.

Queue and Preshow

The queue for the Tower of Terror is one of the coolest, unique and most elaborate queues in all of Walt Disney World. Guests enter through the front gate of the hotel. As you look around, you notice that the gardens are overgrown and unkempt. Guests enter the actual hotel after walking through the outside gardens. As you enter the lobby, you began to notice the cobwebs, abandoned suitcases and very old décor. It is now glaringly apparent that the hotel has been abandoned for a very long time. Riders are now led into the hotel’s library that is filled with many books and antiques. Once everyone is gathered in the library, you hear a loud crash of thunder and lightning and the room goes black except for the small television. The television starts playing the opening sequence from The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling comes on the television and starts to explain the backstory. We find out that on a dark and stormy night in 1939, five guests vanished from the elevator, along with entire wing of the building. We then find out that we will be stepping into a maintenance elevator to become the stars of our very own episode of The Twilight Zone. The room then goes black again and we are led out to a spooky boiler room. 

Ride Experience

Guests are loaded into a maintenance elevator, the doors close, the lights dim and so begins the journey into the “twilight zone”. Rod Serling’s voice welcomes us to “a most uncommon elevator about to ascend into your very own episode of The Twilight Zone”. Guests are now led into a dimly lit corridor and at the end, there’s a window. The ghosts of the five missing guests then appear and then disappear with a burst of electricity. The view of the corridor then fades and transforms into a bunch of twinkling stars and the window that we saw before, shatters. The doors close once more and the car continues with its ascent until it reaches a maintenance room. Once the elevator enters another dimension, the ghosts and spooky images surround the car. The doors open, and the twinkling stars disappear, leaving riders in complete darkness. Rod Serling warns us “You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination…in the Tower of Terror”. The ride suddenly drops! During the ride, the doors will open in front of guests to reveal an amazing view of Hollywood Studios and an on-ride photo will be taken. For guests who have PhotoPass, there is also an on-ride video! The Tower of Terror was the first ride in Walt Disney World to have an on-ride video. “Those of you who made it” will return to the boiler room of the hotel and will then exit the ride through the gift shop. 

Tower of Terror at Other Disney Parks

Due to the extreme popularity of the Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios in Florida, a version of the ride opened in Disney California Adventure in 2004 and in Disney Studios Park in Paris, France in 2007. Though all of the rides had a similar theme, they were different in many ways. The building used in the Tower of Terror in California and France were both designed differently than the one in Florida. The California and France versions had a very different exterior architectural design of the hotel. The boiler rooms are also two stories rather than only one story in Florida. There are also three elevator shafts with two elevators per shaft that have six ride vehicles operating at one time. The Tower of Terror closed in Disney’s California Adventure in 2017 to make way for Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. The Tower of Terror still remains at Disney Studios Park in Paris, though it was reimagined in 2019 to be called The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror- A New Dimension. The ride was enhanced to include new story lines, effects, and drop sequences. Three new storylines were added and they all starred the little girl who disappeared from the hotel in the original version. There is also a version at Tokyo DisneySea but it is simply named Tower of Terror and has no affiliation with The Twilight Zone. It is the same ride system but has a completely different story line.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! Disney California Adventure

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Walt Disney Studios Park Paris

Tower of Terror Tokyo DisneySea

Do you dare?

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the best and most thrilling rides at Walt Disney World. With its amazing queue, preshow and backstory, it is easy to feel like you were transported into an episode of The Twilight Zone. The Cast Members do an excellent job of staying in character to play the part of the spooky bellhops. The next time you find yourself at Hollywood Studios, follow the screams to the Tower of Terror and check in to the “fifth dimension”. This is a ride you will be sure not to forget. 

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