Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — Part Three

In Part One and Two of this blog series, I discussed in detail the Tower of Terror (TOT) attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In Part Three, I’m going to give you an overview of the other three TOT’s around the world. Let’s start with the second tower to be built.

Disney’s California Adventure

Disney’s California Adventure (DCA) did not open to the rave reviews Disney had hoped for. Beginning operation on February 8, 2001, it struggled for an audience. Guests continually compared it to Disneyland next store — and there was no comparison. Something needed to be done. DCA needed more “E” attractions.

Since DCA has a “land” known as Hollywood Pictures Backlot, similar in concept to Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Imagineers looked to Florida to see what could be copied and brought to Anaheim. It didn’t take too much thought to realize that the highly successful TOT would be a natural at the California park. However, there wasn’t as much land in California as there is in Florida and the bean-counters wanted to spend less building the second tower. To accomplish this, the attraction would need to be redesigned significantly.

Hollywood PIctures Backlot

In Florida, guests board the elevators in four loading zones. Each elevator has its own ascent shaft and looks into its own, separate “hallway” sequence. Once the elevators reach the Fifth Dimension Room, two vehicles merge and share a single track and move toward one of the two drop shafts. Once the elevator finishes its ride and unloads its passengers, it completes the circuit and returns to the loading dock.

This configuration required a significant amount of land, something that was at a premium in California. Also, if one of the shafts was out of service, the ride’s capacity was cut in half. In addition, the Fifth Dimension Room was prone to breakdowns. It was decided that a fresh look and redesign of the attraction could possibly remedy some of these problems and bring construction costs down.

First, the Imagineers eliminated the Fifth Dimension Room. Without this section of the ride, the elevators would not need to make a complete “circle” for each cycle. This would significantly reduce the footprint of the building. Now, loading and unloading would take place at the same location. However, to increase capacity, each shaft would load from one of two floors in the boiler room. As car “A” was loading on the ground floor, car “B”, which had loaded from the second floor, was experiencing the ride. But since two cars cannot occupy the same shaft at the same time, the elevators travel horizontally between the shaft and loading platforms. And finally, a third drop-shaft was added to increase capacity. Now, if a problem occurs, only one third of the attraction is out of service while repairs are being made.

DCA Tower of Terror

DCA Tower of Terror

DCA Tower of Terror

It is interesting to note how similar, yet different the attractions are from one another. Take for instance the lobby. At a first glance, the DCA version looks just like the reception area in Florida, but upon closer inspection, you can see a number of subtle differences.

DCA Tower of Terro Lobby

The Imagineers felt bad about eliminating the popular Fifth Dimension Room. To make up for this, they added a new effect. Now the elevator makes a second stop on its journey to the top of the hotel. At this floor, the elevator doors open and you see a reflection of the car’s inhabitants in a mirror hanging on the wall. Rod Serling tells us to “wave goodbye to the real world.” A moment later, lightning strikes and electricity arcs around the mirror and everyone’s face morphs into a ghostly green and eventually fades into nothingness. In the end, the mirror’s reflection reveals only empty seats in your elevator.

Another change involved the hallway scene. In Florida, we see a window at the end of the hallway that eventually floats and breaks before us. But in California, we see an open elevator at the end of the hall. When you arrive at this floor, the narration says, “What happened here to dim the lights of Hollywood’s brightest showplace is about to unfold once again.” Then we see the doomed five appear then disappear, in the same manner as in Florida. But in California, they reappear in the open elevator at the end of the hall, which eventually drops out of sight, taking its passengers with it. A moment later, the elevator you are riding in also drops before making its numerous ascents and descents.

Tower of Terror opened at Disney’s California Adventure on May 5, 2004. It is 183 feet tall, making it shorter than the Florida tower which is 199 feet in height. However, the California version extends 40 feet underground. Unofficial sources put the construction cost at $90M, $50M less than its cousin in Florida.

Tower of Terror is one of DCA’s more popular attractions. And like all of its cousins around the world, the view from the top is fantastic. From here you can see the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and much of Disneyland.

Walt Disney Studios Paris

Like Disney’s California Adventure, The Walt Disney Studios in Paris was also suffering “theme park envy” when compared to Disneyland Paris next door. And once again, TOT came to the rescue. But unlike Florida and California, the Paris park did not have a comparable Hollywood street. One would have to be created to surround the tower.

Walt Disney Studios Hollywood Section

The Paris version of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is an extremely close copy of its cousin at Disney’s California Adventure. Both were designed in the “Pueblo Deco” style of architecture which is the blending of Art Deco and Native American art from the Southwest U.S. In addition, it uses the same loading system as California and has no Fifth Dimension Room, but features the mirror effect.

Paris’ TOT is also the only tower to present Rod Serling’s introduction in a language other than English. As the library fills, the bellboy can change from the original English recording to a French narration. Serling’s voice in the French version was dubbed by a vocal artist whose voice resembled the original dubbing of the “La Quatrième Dimension” when the Twilight Zone TV show was shown in France. Both recordings feature subtitles in the opposite language.

The attraction opened on December 22, 2007. Here are a few pictures of it taken by my friend TDLFAN. Compare these to the pictures of the Disney’s California Adventure tower and you can see they are practically twins.

Paris Tower of Terror

Paris Tower of Terror

Paris Tower of Terror

Paris Tower of Terror Lobby

This picture is from a Paris ad campaign.

Paris TOT Ad Campaign

Tokyo DisneySea

One of the “lands” at Tokyo DisneySea is called the American Waterfront. This section of the park is divided into three areas, New York City, New York Harbor, and Cape Cod. The time? Just after the turn of the 20th century.

One of the most recent additions to Tokyo DisneySea and the New York City section is the Tower of Terror. However, this tower varies in several ways from its cousins in the other Disney parks. In Paris and California, the exterior of the buildings have a Southwestern motif while in Florida the building has a Moroccan flavor. The Tower in Tokyo is built of red brick and has a gothic feel. To me, the Tokyo tower is the most elaborate and beautiful of the four.

Tokyo DisneySea TOT

Tokyo DisneySea TOT

Another change to the Tokyo attraction was necessitated because the Japanese are not familiar with the Twilight Zone television series. To remedy this, the Imagineers came up with a completely new storyline. Since the tours of the hotel are presented in Japanese, English speaking guests are given a handout explaining the storyline. The following five paragraphs are a direct quote from that handout.

“Welcome to the ‘Tower of Terror’ tour, presented by The New York City Preservation Society. On New Year’s Eve in 1899, explorer, antiquities collector and multi-millionaire Harrison Hightower III held a press conference in the luxurious Hotel Hightower to announce his latest find – a statue called ‘Shiriki Utundu’ which he had acquired in a remote region of Africa.

Shiriki Utundu

That very night, the hotel’s main elevator crashed to the ground with Hightower and the idol inside! Shiriki Utundu was recovered from the shattered elevator, but of Harrison Hightower III there was no sign. He had vanished. After his disappearance, Hotel Hightower was closed. People began calling it the ‘Tower of Terror.’

Rumor has it that Shiriki Utundu is a cursed statue, and that it may have something to do with the disappearance of Mr. Hightower.

As you tour this magnificent building and view Harrison Hightower’s collection of rare art from across the globe, you will also hear about the mystery of his disappearance.

The tour climaxes with a ride on the service elevator up to the top floor to see Mr. Hightower’s penthouse. Please enjoy the ride.”

Tour Sign in Queue

Unlike the other three towers, the queue for the Tokyo version actually christcrosses its way through the lobby.

TOT DisneySea Lobby

In the pre-show room, we see a stained-glass likeness of Harrison Hightower and a statue of Shiriki Utundu sitting on a pedestal. As the story unfolds Mr. Hightower’s image changes from an arrogant robber-baron to a very fearful man. Then the lights dim and Shiriki Utundu disappears from sight. The effects are excellent and sets the stage for the terror to come.

Stained-Glass Window

From here we enter the storerooms that house Mr. Hightower’s vast collection of art that he’s commandeered from around the world. Eventually, we’re taken to an elevator for our journey to the penthouse. An interesting note, the elevators in Tokyo’s tower have shoulder harnesses as well as lap restraints. Shiriki Utundu continues to play a major roll during your rise and fall and appears over and over again.

TOT Storeroom

The exterior of the building also adds a bit of excitement to the show. Before each elevator drops, a flash of green light erupts from Mr. Hightower’s penthouse and then the light travels to the window of the next elevator to fall.

Photographs of Harrison Hightower can be seen throughout the attraction. A keen eye will notice that Mr. Hightower bears a striking resemblance to Joe Rohde, designer of the Animal Kingdom.

Harrison Hightower

TOT opened at Tokyo DisneySea on September 4, 2006. I can’t say that the Tokyo version of this attraction is better than the other Towers around the world. But with the storyline being so different, it does add a new excitement level. The Tokyo attraction does not have the 4th dimension room like the one in Florida. Instead, the elevator makes a second stop on its way to the top as do the Towers in California and Paris.

This completes my blog series about the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I think the Imagineers outdid themselves when dreaming up this magnificent attraction. No matter how many times I ride, I keep discovering new details.

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16 Replies to “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — Part Three”

  1. It was cool learning about the ride variations between parks. The Japanese building looks very cool, especially the sections at the top that jut out to the side.

  2. Hey Jack!

    I’ve been reading all 3 parts of the ToT blog, and I have to say, this has been my favorite attraction you have covered. It was enthralling to learn some history, all the details about the WDW version and then the Towers around the world. Thanks for the queue song list in Part 2. I looked up some of those songs on YouTube and played them while reading this. It added to the creepy factor. Your video was so well done, too! As many have said, it really felt like I was riding alongside you.

    I have a love/hate relationship with ToT. I finally faced my fear of this ride last year and, while I don’t regret it, this ride really creeps me out. But, yet again, it’s a testimony to the brilliant work done by Imagineers. And, kudos to you. There’s no way I would EVER ride this ride alone!

    I’m looking forward to reading about all the lights around the World!


  3. Jack-I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to reading all your blogs. The TOT series was terrific as it’s one of my favorite rides at DHS. I will pay extra close attention to all the details when I ride TOT next time. Keep up the Great work!!

  4. Great write ups on all 3 parts. I been on both in California & Florida & I would honestly say California’s is, by far, better then Florida’s! I love it because everything is so closer together & it just feels so sudden when ya do it! I actually got to ride California’s on Halloween night in my Halloween costume in 2009 & that was INCREDIBLE!!! Just to be able to say ya did it on Halloween makes thye ride so much cooler!

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Hi Jack,
    I am a very big fan of TOT and Haunted Mansion, I was going througgh your archives and I found the blog on the Haunted Mansion and the atic and when I was reading it I realized that the brides last wife. Her last wife had the last name of Hightower, is there any coincidence? Thanks and I am a Huge fan of You!

  6. Hi Jack,

    I really enjoyed learning about all 4 Tower Of Terrors, especially the one in Tokyo. I don’t think we will ever get there, so thanks for the interesting pictures.


  7. Jack – I hope you always remember how much you brighten up our lives, especially as we dig out from another monster mid-atlantic snowstorm in preparation for yet more snow. Your wonderful blogs help us escape the realities of winter and dream, even for just a short time, of being down in the happiest place on earth!

  8. Jack, you are so awesome!! I love what you do here; all these nifty details about so many things. Please keep it up!

  9. Jack,

    Before Beauty and the Beast was at the Backlot Theatre, I remember a simple theatre area, seating uncovered I believe, with seating, palm trees and stage, in the area of Sunset Boulevard sort of next to the Brown Derby. This staging area existed when the Studios opened in Florida into the very early nineties.

    In fact, I think I saw “Beauty and the Beast” at this location, before it moved to the Backlot Theatre, once the expansion of Sunset Boulevard commenced.

    Do you remember this location?

    Jack’s Answer:

    The stage had uncovered seating and sat to the right of the Brown Derby before Sunset Blvd was built. It looked like the Hollywood Bowl.

  10. Jack,
    Thanks again for great blog. We missed this attraction on our first trip to The World, as our children were both to short to ride. But on our second trip, we made sure enjoy the TOT. I would say this attraction is more thrilling than Rockin Roller coaster. And as always, the beauty is in the details. I also found it interesting that the California TOT has part of the shafts underground to compensate for the height. Imagine if they had thought of this for the WDW version. That could have been a huge drop! Don’t see us ever making it out to Paris or Tokyo, so at least I was able to see those attractions in your blog. Great job as always.

    Jack’s Comment:

    There is a reason the Florida TOT doesn’t go underground. The water table is too high. This prohibits many underground facilities in Florida. The Untilidors beneath the Magic Kingdom are actually built on the ground floor, covered with dirt, and the Magic Kingdom is a on the “2nd” floor.

  11. Thanks for this great piece on my all time favorite ride. I always walk through VERY slowing trying to absorb all of the details. The background and info give me so much to look for and understand when I go back. Your video,as always, is amazing. I love watching these to give me a little Disney until I return. Thanks again for doing such a great job.

  12. Really interesting article! In regards to TOT Tokyo, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the image of Harrison Hightower was made to resemble an Imagineer…perhaps the one who I remember from a behind-the-scenes Animal Kingdom show(on the Travel Channel)- you know, the guy with the long, dangly earring. Do you know if this is true?

    Jack’s Answer:

    Harrison Hightower is Joe Rhode, the Imagineer who designed the Animal Kingdom. His picture is everywhere at the Tokyo Tower of Terror.

  13. hey jack
    thanks for the great blog on the other TOT rides. it was very interesting to see all the other different rides and the different story line for the one in tokyo. please keep me posted if you can on what you will be writing about for your next attraction. once again great job

  14. Jack – This and all of your other Blogs are wonderful. I am jealous that I am not doing what you get to do. In fact I would think you should consolidate all your material and put it into book form. Even a PDF file sold though Amazons Kindle (this would allow you to keep all those pictures in it at lower cost). I feel guilty reading your blogs for free. Your style beats out the books about Disney World that I have read because it combines history, facts, and the experience in a most natural narrative form. Please let me know when book is coming.

  15. Great blog on the TOT. I enjoyed learning about the ride at other parks. My daughter loves this ride and she really enjoyed watching the video to relive our experience. Thank you for all your efforts to bring us disney magic at home!