Overcoming the Drop

by Abigail Hartlein
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the October 22, 2013 Issue #735 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

Tower of Terror Picture this. On a night much like tonight, you find yourself waiting anxiously in line for the Tower of Terror, asking yourself, "Why am I doing this? Am I crazy?" No, no, no — maybe you can't picture yourself in line for the Tower, or even within 50 feet of it. So, rewind: you're surfing the web the night before you leave for the World. You are overflowing with excitement, pure joy, except for one small, insignificant little detail: you're too afraid to ride every single ride with your traveling companions. There's no way you're getting on the Tower of Terror.

As an avid teenage Disney fanatic, I found myself aggravated at the one ride out of all four Walt Disney World theme parks that I simply could not ride: the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The Tower is a truly spectacular ride — it incorporates intricate theming and an incredible storyline, based on the hit series, The Twilight Zone, with narrations by a very believable "Rod Serling." It is definitely an Imagineering feat, and an unforgettable experience. I wanted to appreciate the ride in all of its glory, but first I had to overcome a little fear of mine.

Am I scared of heights? No. Am I scared of ghosts? Not really. Am I scared of the dark? Not to the extent that I would skip out on a ride. I was, however, scared of the general idea of the Tower of Terror — it's scary, right? — not to mention that thrilling feeling you catch in your stomach. However, in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn't about to leave Walt Disney World without saying that I had conquered the Tower.

Yes, I had ridden it before, several times. It was usually my goal to conquer the Tower at least once every trip. Each and every time I would find that its bark was much, much worse than its bite. Tower of Terror is a prime example of "mind over matter." The ride itself is not as intimidating as the hype built up around it. However, I could never get over the pre-show jitters I felt in line, and eventually I decided to opt out, spending my time in the gift shop, gazing dreamily at Disney merchandise. Before and even during trips, I always found myself wishing there was something online that I could read to comfort myself. Reading about others' experiences can help you shape your own. But after spending hours searching the web for some sort of reassurance, I realized instead of reading about the opinions of other daring riders, I needed to form my own opinion. To do that, I needed to ride one last time.

We were walking down Sunset Boulevard one hour before park opening, many thanks to Extra Magic Hours, and that's when I saw it. The Hollywood Tower Hotel was illuminated by the morning sun; it overpowered the rest of the street. It demanded your attention. I knew right then that I was going to ride it. I walked briskly ahead to snag a few FastPasses, pausing right in front of it, looking up. I was about to be another one of those screaming faces in the elevator. I inserted the tickets into the FastPass machine, avoiding eye contact with the bellhop stationed there, asking myself, "Why am I doing this? Why?" Yet, I continued anyway. FastPasses in hand, we went on with our morning with the prospect of the Tower on the horizon. I wasn't sure whether to be afraid or excited, so I shoved the thought aside in order to enjoy a thrilling limo ride on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. We meandered back behind the coaster and in front of Darth's Mall, where PhotoPass snapped our pictures with light sabers. I kept glancing up nervously at the Tower, but I was feeling optimistic; I finally had the courage to enjoy this marvel of a ride. All I had to do was make it through the lobby, the pre-show, and the boiler room. And get on the "maintenance elevator" without utilizing the so-called "chicken" exit.

The key to overcoming the drop is boarding the elevator. It sounds silly, I know, but once you buckle yourself in, you're going to go through with it, like it or not. Once the ride starts moving, it becomes obvious that the only way out is down, and at that point, you might as well attempt to have fun with it. I was close to tears when I boarded the elevator, but halfway through the drop sequence, I turned to my parents, shouting, "This… is… so… fun!" I disembarked and wondered why I had been so afraid.

You have to remember that anything you ride at Disney is created for you to make your own magical memories. The Parks are the safest in the world; the worst that could possibly happen is that you make your own educated decision that you would prefer not to ride again. However, you can't make that decision without giving the ride a chance. The Tower of Terror is a ride created for nearly all ages — I know you've looked at the little girl holding her mother's hand through jealous eyes as she jumps up and down, excitedly awaiting a ride that you look at in fear. If she can ride it, you've thought, so can you.

To spice things up a little, try to have some interaction with the bellhops. They serve as the comic relief; it is a part of their job description to keep a very stern, serious, foreboding aura about them, and they are good for a laugh or distraction. While waiting in line, a cast member came up to me and said, "Could you tone it down a bit? Your enthusiasm is overwhelming." I had been standing there with a plain expression, scared out of my mind, worried that we wouldn't get the row we had requested. My mom and I laughed at his sarcastic remark, only to find ourselves being mocked an octave higher. We were able to calm down and breathe, and the cast member's true dedication to his role really showed. He was able to relieve us and add in a bit of laughter here and there, all the while not coming out of character in the slightest. The cast members aren't there to scare you, they're there to improve the show. Don't hesitate to start up a conversation; you never know what they have up their sleeve!

Now, once you've convinced yourself to try it, whether for the first time or the second or the 10th, accept the fact that you will more than likely have nerves as you anxiously wait in line, craning your head, watching others board the "haunted" elevator. I've learned from my own experiences that the back corner tends to feel safest — ask the cast member and they will be more than happy to accommodate your request. The end seats also have access to a handlebar on the wall, so rather than the two on the seat, you have one next to you and one on the seat to grip. This has always made me feel more comfortable. Some may tell you otherwise, but I prefer not to lock arms or hold hands with the person next to me — they're falling, too. You're much more stable hanging onto the vehicle itself — in this case, the handlebars. Still afraid? Consider this: You're not really falling. You're being pushed and pulled by a computer-controlled magnetic system so huge that it requires its own power source to avoid causing a park-wide power outage. Disney has everything under control; you're just along for the ride.

One last thing: remember that it is 100 percent fine if you find you are not a fan of the Tower of Terror. It's impossible to please everyone, and for whatever reason, whether you have a fear of heights or the dark or simply dislike thrill rides, don't feel like you have to enjoy a particular ride to be a fan of Disney. You don't. It's all about the magic, and if a ride isn't fun for you anymore, then it isn't helping to make your trip the most magical yet. Don't let it bring you down, and if you find that you're happier and better off browsing through shops or snacking on a cupcake at Starring Rolls while your party rides, then that is what you should do. Have a sense of pride that comes from simply riding it once, or even considering to ride it once. While the Tower of Terror is one of Disney's most popular thrill rides, it's not for everyone. Remember that there are exits just before you board the ride as well; they serve as a perfect opportunity to see the spectacular show Disney has put together without actually riding. Don't be surprised, though, when you are taken to board an actual elevator! Don't worry, these are normal elevators — they'll take you to the exit. And finally, whether you're just wandering the queue or planning to drop on in…

"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."



Walt Disney World Tower of Terror page:

Disney California Adventure Tower of Terror page:

Jack Spence's three-part, in-depth look at the Tower of Terror:

Fun without the Thrills:

Just Say No… to Thrill Rides:



Abigail Hartlein, 15, has been immersed in Disney since before she was born. With 17 trips to Walt Disney World and three sailings on the Disney Cruise Line in her touring repertoire, she loves to learn about the history, details, and magic that is Disney. When she's not in the World, watching the classics, or surfing through AllEars® archives, she loves ballet and musical theater.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.