Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — Part One

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is my favorite attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In my opinion, it is one of Disney’s crowning gems and an absolute “must see” on every visit. I’d be surprised if any other attraction has more details packed into it as Tower of Terror. I’ve been on this ride dozens of times and I’m still discovering new facts. What is to follow is a brief history of how this great “hotel” came into being and then a description of the experience.

When the Disney/MGM Studios was being planned and built, the intent was that it would function as a working studio and produce movies and television shows. At the same time, Disney would offer guests a half-day experience where they could learn about the film industry while being entertained. However, things did not work out as planned. For a number of reasons, this venue was never able to take off as a real production center. And since guests were paying the same ticket price to enter the Studios as they were for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, they wanted more than a half-day experience. The park needed to be retooled and expanded.

Sunset Boulevard was the first major addition to come to the Studios. And with it came four attractions. In July, 1994, the “Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage” show was relocated from the Backlot Theater to a new 1,500-seat Theater of the Stars. At the same time, the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” opened at the end of Sunset Blvd. On October 15, 1998 “Fantasmic” opened at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater. And finally, “Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster” debuted on July 29, 1999.

Theater of the Stars

Tower of Terror

Hollywood Hills Amphitheater

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster

An interesting note: The Sunset Ranch Market, which features Catalina Eddie’s and Rosie’s All American Café, was built to be a place-holder for a future attraction. If you’ll notice, the structures are all small and simple and could easily be removed.

Sunset Ranch Market

The Imagineers knew they needed a major ride at the end of the boulevard. To employ a word that Walt often used, they needed a “weenie” to draw the guests past the shops and down the street. This would require an attraction that was not only a show stopper, but visually appealing.

During the planning stages for Sunset Blvd, a number of attractions were considered. One, to be called “Crime Stoppers,” was to be based on the Disney movie “Dick Tracy.” But the film did not meet the financial and critical expectations Disney had hoped for. In addition, Michael Eisner didn’t like the violent nature of the attraction so the idea was scrapped.

The Imagineers often say that no good idea ever goes unused. Keeping this in mind, one can’t help but wonder if part of the American Waterfront at Tokyo DisneySea was based on Crime Stoppers. Take a look at the concept drawing for this discarded attraction, then look at the very similar street at DisneySea. Hmmm.

Crime Stoppers Concept Art

American Waterfront Tokyo DisneySea

Another early idea called for a scary, yet humorous attraction based on Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” that would be housed in an elaborate castle. Mr. Brooks even sat in on some of the early brainstorming sessions. As possibilities continued to be explored, the “Young Frankenstein” idea morphed into a haunted hotel concept. Soon after, the attraction took on a more serious tone and Mr. Brooks left the project.

Tower of Terror Concept Art

Tower of Terror Concept Art

A different idea centered around the popularity of murder mysteries in the 1930’s, the same era as Sunset Blvd. In this scenario, the guests would be given a series of clues in order to solve a murder mystery. But management frowned on the idea of a ride based on homicide and nixed the idea. Another concept involved a mishap at a Hollywood wrap party. But once again, murder wasn’t the story they wanted to tell at a Disney park. Eventually the Imagineers came up with the idea of movie stars being trapped in an out-of-control elevator. And in this case, the people just “disappeared” in a supernatural way, not at the hand of man.

The Imagineers believed that linking the attraction with a recognizable movie or television show would help guests grasp the storyline more quickly and a number of properties were explored. Eventually, The Twilight Zone was selected and the Imagineers viewed all 156 episodes at least twice to make sure they captured the essence of the show in both the design of the structure and the story they would tell. However, the story they created was unique and never was part of the series.

The design of the hotel needed to be appropriate to the era and blend in with the rest of Sunset Boulevard. The Imagineers decided on architecture that was inspired by the revival styles that were popular in California during the early 20th century. The hotel is modeled after such landmarks as the Mission Inn in Riverside, the Château Marmont in Hollywood, and the Biltmore Hotel located in Downtown Los Angeles. Its fictional construction date is 1917 which can be seen on a plaque while standing in line.

Construction Date 1917

But the building not only needed to blend with its immediate surroundings, it also needed to blend in with World Showcase in Epcot. You see, when crossing the bridge that leads from the Disney Traders Shop to Mexico, the hotel is clearly visible behind the Morocco pavilion. So the Tower was given a slightly Moorish feel and painted a color that was not completely accurate for its era just so it would blend into the background when viewed from Epcot.

Morocco Pavilion

The Imagineers made one mistake when designing the exterior of the building. The “Hollywood Tower Hotel” sign was placed too low on the structure. In fact, the sign would have been underneath the two wings that were destroyed when hit by lightning. If you pay attention during the Library preshow, you can clearly see the sign is located above the destroyed wings, which would have been the correct placement. This mistake was corrected in the California and Paris versions of the ride. At Tokyo DisneySea the storyline is completely different and there are no wings. In fact, the hotel’s name does not appear on the building as it does on its three cousins..

Tower of Terror Incorrect Sign Placement

Here are some basic construction facts about the Tower. The structure required 1,500 tons of steel, 145,800 cubic feet of concrete, and 27,000 roof tiles. The building is 199 feet tall as FAA requirements require that all structures 200 feet or more have a flashing red light on top. The Imagineers felt that this beacon would be distracting and opted to come in under this limit. A model of the Tower, used in the planning stages of the ride, can be seen in the “One Man’s Dream” attraction on nearby Mickey Avenue.

Tower of Terror Construction Model

During construction, a billboard was strategically placed near the park’s entrance, advertising the upcoming attraction. The three construction photos were taken by our own Deb Wills.

Tower of Terror Construction Billboard

Tower of Terror Construction Photo

Tower of Terror Construction Photo

Tower of Terror Construction Photo

The Tower of Terror (TOT) opened on July 22, 1994. It beckons guests from the parking lot and tram operators point it out as you make your way to the main gate. Later, when you turn onto Sunset Boulevard, you see it sitting majestically at the end of the street. And if that’s not enough, a era-appropriate billboard can be found on the Boulevard advertising this great hotel.

Parking Lot View

Sunset Blvd. view of Tower

Tower of Terror Billboard

The stone sentries at the entrance to the attraction are close replicas of the gates found at the entrance of Hollywood’s Beachwood Drive. In our case, they mark the beginning of the Sunset Hills Estates.

Stone Entrance

Stone Entrance

Sunset Hills Estates Plaque

The stone structure on the right houses restrooms and behind the one on the left, the FastPass dispensers can be found. If you look beyond the dispensers, you’ll find a shed and gardening equipment once used by the hotel’s landscapers.

FastPass Machines

Gardener's Shack and Tools

Perched on a hill is a sign displaying the wait time for standby riders. Although numbers less than 13 are often used, this superstitious numeral is frequently present. When it is, you know that the line is very short if not nonexistent. The TOT and the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom are the only two attractions to ever use this number. The nearby landscaping is reminiscent of Griffith and Elysian Parks found in the city of Los Angeles.

Standby Rider Time Estimate

Pay attention to the hotel’s stone marquee. It eerily changes, helping set the mood for your journey into the Twilight Zone.

Tower Marquee

Next, you pass beneath an elaborate entryway where you’re greeted by one of the hotel’s staff. Make sure to notice the “Keep Out” sign posted on the left gate.

Hotel Entrance Gate

Keep Out Sign

Once past the gate look immediately to your right. A most unusual sundial can be found here. At one time, it was used as a wait-time indicator, but no more. Although difficult to make out in my picture, the words say, “YOUR NEXT STOP THE TWILIGHT ZONE 5 MINUTES FROM THIS POINT.”


From the gate, you wander through some of the long-neglected hotel grounds. More details abound such as a cracked wall from overgrown tree roots and signs marking the way to various recreational facilities. In the background, screams can be heard as you approach the building.

Hotel Pathway

Recreational Sign

Broken Wall and Tree Roots

As you continue your walk, you come to an arbor and a long-dry fountain. Notice the vines that have encased some of the pillars over the years. And the bottom of the fountain has accumulated numerous cracks as time has passed. At one time, the fountain had a water-ring visible on the tiles, but for some reason, this has been removed. To the left of the arbor are statues of two lovely ladies.

Arbor and Vines

Dry Fountain


As you approach the arbor, music can be heard in the background. If you listen closely, you’ll notice it has a far-away, echoey quality. This was done intentionally to invoke a ghost-like feel of a bygone era. The songs played are as follows:

“Alabamy Home” By Gotham Stompers
“Another World” By Johnny Hodges
“Can’t Get Started” By Benny Berigan
“Dear Old Southland” By Noble Sissle
“Deep Purple” By Turner Layton
“Delta Mood” By Cootie Williams
“Inside” By Fats Waller
“Jeep’s Blues” By Johnny Hodges
“Jitterbug” By Johnny Hodges
“Jungle Drums” By Sidney Bechet
“Mood Indigo” By Duke Ellington
“Pyramid” By Johnny Hodges
“Remember” By Red Norvo
“Sleepy Time Gal” By Glenn Miller
“There’s a House” By Henry Allen
“There’s No Two” By Frankie Newton
“Uptown Blues” By Jimmy Lunceford
“We’ll Meet Again” By Vera Lynn
“When the Sun Sets” By Nobles Singers
“Wishing” By Vera Lynn

At last you come to the main entrance of the hotel and step inside. It’s here that the details become too numerous to count.

Hotel Entrance

To the left side of the lobby is a small table. On it we see a game a mahjong was in progress on that fateful Halloween night when disaster struck. The tiles are accurately placed so that guests who know the game will see that it is a faithful recreation. Alongside the table is a tea cart, which would be appropriate in any fine hotel of the era.

Mahjong Game

Tea Service

Further along the same wall is another table. Here, a young couple was celebrating their engagement with a glass of champagne when lightning struck the hotel. Lipstick can be seen on one of the glasses and a diamond ring can be found on a white glove sitting on the table.

Engagement Table

To the left side of the entrance is the concierge desk. Like everything else in the hotel, it has been left untouched since October 31, 1939. On the wall next to the desk is a plaque honoring the hotel with AAA’s prestigious 13-diamond award. In reality, 5 diamonds is the maximum.

Concierge Desk

AAA Award

Beside the concierge desk is a poster advertising the Tip Top Club located on the top floor of the hotel. The orchestra leader is Anthony Fremont. If you remember your Twilight Zone episodes, you might recollect a show titled “It’s a Good Life.” In this story, a young boy, named Anthony Fremont, could make people disappear into the cornfield.

Tip Top Club Poster

The main lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel is stunning. Some of the chairs were secured from the exclusive Jonathan Club, a well-known Los Angeles landmark built in the 1920’s. Other leather chairs are authentic Renaissance antiques. And a set of luggage near the front desk is made from genuine alligator skin, a popular fashion of the time. This same set of luggage can be seen later in the library TV presentation as the bellman carries them onto the doomed elevator.

Hotel Lobby


Be sure to check out the ceiling and light fixtures. They are truly amazing works of art.


Light Fixture

A number of French and American bronze pieces are scattered around the hotel lobby. Some are recreations and others are real, crafted by the famous 19th century artist Moreau, whose work graced many of the best hotels of the era.

Bronze Bust

Located between the two guest elevators is the hotel’s directory. Listed here are various facilities and their location. For example, the Tip Top Club, mentioned earlier, can be found on the TOP OF THE TOWER. Also mentioned are the Sunset, Beverly, and Fountain Rooms, which can be found on the LOWER LEVEL. I’ll discuss these three rooms in more detail later.

At one time, the missing letters that had fallen from the directory spelled “EVIL TOWER U R DOOMED” at the bottom of the case. However, the letters were removed some time ago. Although I have never been given a reason for the disappearance, I suspect it was out of deference for the Twin Towers after the 9/11 tragedy.

Hotel Directory

Take a look at the two elevators to either side of the Directory. There are “Out of Order” signs in front of them and their doors have fallen off their tracks.

Out of Order Elevator

That’s it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two and more interesting facts about The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

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36 Replies to “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — Part One”

  1. on the 29 november 2004 my mate went on the tower of terror all day none stop from 10 am until close . he said none of the rides were the same, wot a way 2 spend your 40th birthday !!!kev blackpool england

  2. Hey there, Jack. Coming into this a bit late, but in regards to your comment about the Hollywood Tower Hotel sign being too low, it’s my understanding that the Imagineers intended it took look like the sign was in the process of falling off the front of the building.

    In the (fake) original position it was higher up. You can see how the upper-left part of the facade is a little different than the right side, showing where the word “The” on the sign would fit in.

    When the front wings disappeared, the sign’s support was weakened and it has since fallen lower, possibly meant to have gotten “stuck” where it crashed through the top peaks of the roofs of the two missing wings.

    Jack’s Comment:

    I’ve never heard this explanation. And it very well may be true. However, on the TOT’s in both California and Paris, the sign is above the wings. Why did the Imagineers change the “story.”

  3. So, the missing letters that were at the bottom of the directory sign…I know you said that they are now gone but, do the current missing letters spell out anything? The letters I saw missing are:

    T C G R R N O O C E L O W L V

    I can’t make anything out of it.


    ~ Matt

  4. Hey Jack! i enjoy the colimns and find them very intersesting ad fun to read! My question is, I want to ride TOT, but im 6’6″ and 315 lbs. Is the seating “big” enough or should i sit this one out?

    Jack’s Answer:

    I don’t really have an answer for you. I doubt that your weight is a problem as much as your size. In other words, can you sit in the seat? A short person who weighs 315 pounds will be broader than a tall person like yourself, thus making it more difficult to squeeze into a small space. Unlike other attractions, where a broad person can straddle two seats, you can’t do that on TOT as the seatbelt apparatus create dividers.

    There is always a cast member at the entrance to the attraction. Ask them before you stand in line. They’ll do their best to accommodate you if they can.

    Good luck,


  5. Jack,

    You commented, “I did a little research and found that the song was released in 1939, but I couldn’t find an exact date. The Hollywood Tower Hotel closed on October 31, 1939. So unless it was released in November of December of that year, the Imagineers are safe. :-)”.

    However, Vera Lynn didn’t record the song until 1942 (as part of the film “We’ll meet again”). I think the song was also released in the USA in 1954.

    ……could we be entering the Twilight Zone?

    do do do do
    do do do do…..

    Jack’s Comment:

    I did a little more research, and this is what I found:

    Vera Lynn’s most famous song must be “We’ll meet again”, which was written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles in 1939 and sung in the movie of the same name, in which Vera starred in 1942. She first sang the song in 1939 while touring with the Ambrose Orchestra. The movie was produced by Ben Henry and his associate, George Formby, pictured on the right. George was a singer and movie actor and comedian in his own right.

    So she did sing the song in 1939, but you’re right, the recording we hear at TOT is from the 1942 movie.

  6. TOT on Halloween twice and it was a different ride each time. Well worth the wait after being talked into it by my girlfriends daughter.

    Jack’s Comment:

    From what I’ve read, the California, Tokyo, and Paris versions of TOT add some “extras” for Halloween. I’ll have to check them out sometime.

  7. Oh this was super fun! I can’t ride this ride due to a weak stomach, so I’ve never been through the queue. I have heard that it is one of the best queues at WDW, but I’ve never seen pictures or heard the story. Very cool. Thanks for the insight. I’ll definitely go through the queue next time I’m with someone who can ride 🙂

    Also, the detail about being about to see ToT from the path to Mexico at Epcot? That is one of my favourite hidden details at WDW.

  8. Wow, Wow, WOW! I love TOT! I also want to say that this is your best post yet! I remember that bronze bust of the guy gripping his sword because my wife and I thought that the eyes in that piece would move when we moved in the que. We were so intrigued by the themeing that we started imagining things.

  9. Always like to hear Vera Lynn’s “We’ll meet again” especially as she was the forces sweetheart to the British Troops in WWII. Interestingly, the song was released after the “closing” of the Hotel……I wonder how they got their hands on the recording?

    Jack’s Comment:

    Vera Lynn’s rendition of this song is available on Amazon if you’re interested.

    I did a little research and found that the song was released in 1939, but I couldn’t find an exact date. The Hollywood Tower Hotel closed on October 31, 1939. So unless it was released in November of December of that year, the Imagineers are safe. 🙂

  10. Great article! I have yet to get the courage to ride ToT yet (maybe one day), but I loved reading about the details of the attraction. I can’t wait for Part 2!

  11. Thanks so much for the detailed walk through. It always gives me that little taste I need to get me to my next trip. What is it about Disney that becomes an addiction or obsession? It just doesn’t happen with other theme parks or even other places in general. I can go about a month thinking I’ve gotten my Disney fix and then I start wishing I was there again and that leads to planning another trip. I can’t imagine life without a Disney trip in my future!

  12. I loved the pictures! It’s amazing the detail Disney puts into the queue for each attraction. We are so trained to blitz that we miss those details. I’ll admit, sometimes its nice to have a line (not too long of course!) so you get the time to appreciate the work of art leading to the attraction!

  13. hey jack
    thanks for the first part of the TOT. It is my favorite ride at hollywood studios. It was so cool learning about all the past history about the ride. There was a lot of facts I didn’t know before reading this and now that I do I can share them with my family members. can’t wait to read part two. Keep up the great work.

  14. Hey Jack,

    GREAT article! This is one of the best “hidden secret” attractions, as it has so much to “find.”

    Here are few more details about some of the things you mentioned above:

    (1)As you walk through the lobby, you will see a pair of glasses with the lenses broken. This honors the Twilight Zone’s episode with Burgess Meredith: The last man on earth after an atomic blast who LOVES to read. He finds the remnants of a library and is all set to finally read to his heart’s content, when he accidentally breaks his glasses!! (The glasses also make a HM.)

    (2) The luggage in the lobby is a complete set made from genuine alligator skin. While looking through a 1930s furniture catalog, Imagineers decided to call the company to see if they were still in business. They were, and Walt Disney Imagineering had them reproduce two settees for the lobby.

    (3)It is said that Imagineers had mahjongg players set up the game in the lobby so that guests who know how to play the game can see that it is authentic.

    (4) When you board the elevator, on the left side, outside of the elevator itself, is an inspection certificate that’s dated Oct. 31, 1939 and signed by “Cadwallader.” Cadwallader was a character in the sixth Twilight Zone episode, “Escape Clause,” who actually turned out to be the Devil himself. The inspection certificate number is 10259, which is cool because The Twilight Zone’s first episode (“Where Is Everybody”) premiered on Oct. 2, 1959.

    Neat, huh?

  15. Jack,

    I always enjoy your extended, detailed posts. This one is the best yet – and it’s only the first half. Can’t wait for the conclusion!



  16. Jack,

    Thank you again for paying attention to the details when so many of us do not. I cannot believe that some of the furniture is authentic Renaissance-era! And I did not know about the table with the engagement ring; what a cool back-story. Looking forward to the next part!

  17. After reading your blog for quite some time, I want to say thanks. The Tower of Terror is one of my favourite attractions at WDW and I’m so glad you did an in-depth post about this attraction. Just a quick question: How did you manage to get the stunning photos without anyone in them? Every time I’m there the queue seems to be overflowing with guests. Thanks so much

    Jack’s Answer:

    In anticipation of your question “Where were all the people?” I posted an answer in Part Two. You’ll just have to check back tomorrow to find out.

  18. As many times as I’ve been on Tower of Terror,and noticed many of the “inside” details you’ve mentioned, I have not noticed the changing hotel stone marquee! How is that??? I guess that’s when I’m in my “let’s get in the line” mode. I will definitely take time to notice the outdoor details next time. Thanks!

  19. Terrific article on one of my favorite attractions. I think it is one of the most creative ever developed. Hard to believe it has been with us since the early 90’s, it is still at the very top of the list of best attractions. As usual, you provided a wealth of facinating detail – I had never noticed the 13 Diamond AAA Award! Thanks for all of your blogs!

  20. Jack great article. I always enjoy reading your deep dives on the attractions. And this one is probably my favorite. I am sure you could write a book on this attraction’s details. I was needing a good WDW fix today and this really helped me get a bit of the magic. Can’t wait to read part 2 tomorrow. I appreciate all of the work that you put into these. Keep up the great work.

  21. Wow, an awesome blog. The line moves so fast in this attraction I hardly have time to look at all the little things that make this queue so detailed.
    And I might be imagining this, but I could have sworn that when my family was there a year ago, the letters were still there in the bottom of the tray – I always make a point of looking. Maybe I was wrong – I see why they would have taken them down in response to 9/11.
    Can’t wait for part two!

  22. Oh wow, there is so much detail to look at on this thrill ride, which I never went near, alittle thrilling of a ride for me! haha
    Loved looking at your pictures, I can’t get over all the detail! I might have to walk through it then take the chicken exit on my next trip! haha
    Thanks for sharing Jack!!!

  23. Great article! This is by far my favorite attraction in all WDW. I just love it. In fact, my idea of a perfect day would be to to ride ToT over and over!

  24. Aside from Expedition Everest (and maybe not even that!) this ride has the best detailing in all of WDW. I absolutely love this ride; I flip-flop between this and Everest as my favorite.

    Another wonderful article, Jack. Thanks for keeping these coming! I’m on tenterhooks for tomorrow’s entry!

  25. Thanks for another great article! The first time I was at Disney my friends and I got to ride it about three times in a row with no wait. I wanted to look around a little more, but they weren’t as patient 🙁 This time around I’ll be with my mom, so I’ll be able to take my time and look at all the detail. At what point do those who choose not to ride separate from the others? I know she won’t want to ride the actual ride, but the theming can’t be missed!

    Jack’s Answer:

    I cover the “chicken” exit in part two, but guests can stay in line all the way to just before boarding the service elevator. Make sure your mom stays with you until this point. She’ll be glad she did.

  26. Hey Jack, Im the thrill junkie in my family. My mom doesnt like the thrill rides so I use the Single Rider line. Im hoping to go on TOT the next time we go. If I use the Single Rider Line will I be able to see all of the great details or would I have to use the normal line as I know I have to with Rock n Rollercoaster. Great Job cant wait til tomorrow.

    Jack’s Answer:

    Sorry to tell you this, but TOT does not have a single rider line, only FastPass. However, you can see all the details from the FastPass line if you’ll slow down and let a few people pass you while you study them.

  27. I was going to wait until the final installment to post, but couldn’t help myself. Great article Jack. Can’t wait till tomorrow!

  28. Fantastic article so far!

    Definitely one of my favourite attractions at WDW – everything is so well themed 🙂

    Looking forward to the next part

  29. Thanks for such a great article! This is my favorite attraction not just because it’s such a great thrill ride, but also because of all the details in it. One of the best parts of TOT, in my opinion, is walking up through the grounds and listening to the music that is playing. I think it totally sets the mood for the whole attraction.