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"Faster than the Speed of Gravity" - A Tower of Terror Review

"Faster than the Speed of Gravity" - A Tower of Terror Review

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When Disney's California Adventure (DCA) opened in February, 2001, I remember the rumors on the Internet that The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror would be a part of the first phase of new construction on the agenda for the new park.

It made total sense; the Hollywood Picture Backlot (HPB) screamed for an E-ticket attraction. While HPB was one of the more highly themed and interesting areas of the park, it seriously lacked a strong central icon.

Disney Animation was featured as the premier attraction in HPB, but Animation never drew in the crowds that a ride like California Screamin' or Grizzly River Run did. I've never seen a huge number of people standing around waiting for Animation. Don't get me wrong, I love Disney Animation but it's a bit slow for my tastes (it's a great place to kick back in the air conditioning).

It was in January 2002, Disney's Annual Report included Michael Eisner's announcement that DCA was going to be the home of a second generation Tower of Terror attraction. This was really great news for all the west coast people like myself (even though I live in Phoenix, AZ) who loved Tower of Terror but rarely had the time and money to travel to Orlando to go on it.

The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror at DCA is based on the popular Disney attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida, which opened on July 22, 1994. The Tower of Terror is themed after a "lost" episode of the Twilight Zone in which five people entered an elevator on a dark and stormy night only to have the building struck by lightning. Part of the building disappeared along with the guests, never to be heard from again.

DCA Central.com's Tower of Terror Ride Review (Spoilers Included!)
As guests walk up to the Tower they realize just how immense the building is. I have to admit I was really surprised since I'd always been at a distance from the building. The 183-feet tower sports the Pueblo Deco style, popular in the Los Angeles area during the 1920s.

"Pueblo Deco, popular when the hotel was built in the 1920's, is characterized by the clean, geometric shapes common to the Art Deco style. However, from southwestern Native American art, it borrows elements such as radial sunbursts, arrowhead shapes, and simplified thunderbird motifs.A prime southern California landmark in the Pueblo Deco style is the L.A. City Hall Building."

The building is properly detailed to be both timeless and haunting, which is wonderful for the setting of a "lost" Twilight Zone episode.

The overall impression of the tower is creepy and imposing. When guests look up at the crumbling "Hollywood Tower Hotel" signage, which part of flickers at night, hearing the other guests screaming out at the top of the elevator shafts, and you really start to think one of two things: "What have I got myself into?!" or "Oh, yeah!"

At the base of the Tower is a dry water fountain with a huge plaque inscribed with "Hollywood Tower Hotel". As you stand there for a couple seconds the plaque starts to flicker with little fiber optic lights from behind with the words, "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror".

To the left of the fountain and around the corner is the Tower Hotel Gifts, and to the right is the main entrance and FASTPASS distribution center for the attraction. The main entrance is a gold metal gate with Standby line on the left and FASTPASS return on the right. If you look around at the queue space what you notice is the FASTPASS guests have their own personal little queue space on the west side of the building which goes around another dry water fountain and a small angel statue. The Standby guests have a much larger queue space, with a good amount of overhead cover to keep guest shaded on those hot summer days.

Inside the Tower
The two queue lines converge on the main entrance of the hotel, and the lobby is really the beginning of the Tower of Terror experience. Guests come into a excellent lobby, ripe with period furniture in yellows, reds, and wood.

Everywhere in the lobby are spider webs and layers of dust. Around the lobby are indications that guests at the hotel just disappeared in quite a hurry on the night of the accident: a newspaper sits on the arm of a chair, a little girl's doll lies on the couch, and a set of luggage waits at the front desk. As guests look around the room, they notice a card game at one table waiting for the next move, for a late night snack set at another table, and a large, dust and cobweb covered owl sitting on a perch at a center table.

A bellhop stands behind a podium taking "guest reservations" in parties of ones, twos, or fours. Guests are moved into another holding area on either side of the lobby on the other side of the front desk. If they get sent to the left, guests have to cross in front of the two (oddly not three) original guest elevators, which plummeted to the bottom on the fateful night of October 31, 1939. The two elevator doors are detailed with twisted metal and the walls look like they had experienced a huge amount of stress.

At opposite ends of this area are two paintings, portraits of Louis Napoleon and Eugenie hanging at opposite ends of the area behind the front desk. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was the nephew of Napoleon I. He ruled as emperor of France from 1848 to 1870. What they're doing at the Hollywood Tower Hotel, I don't know.

Around the corner guests enter a small library filled with tall bookcases, a window on one side, an armchair, and an old-fashioned black-and-white television set placed high up atop a bookcase. Numerous trinkets and collectibles are placed around the room, many representing different stories from the "Twilight Zone" television series that originally ran for five years on CBS, from 1959 to 1964. One of the noticeable items in the room is a miniature spaceman from the episode "The Invaders," featuring Agnes Moorhead, who played Endora on the television show, "Bewitched"

The doors shut behind and the lights go out, a flash of lightning and thunder comes from the window. The original "Twilight Zone" music starts up, and the television flickers to life, directing guest's attention. Guests hear the voice of Rod Serling, the Twilight Zone's creator and host, start the show.

The story begins at the Hollywood Tower Hotel in 1939, amidst the "glitz and glamour" of Hollywood's premier hot spot for the famous and the well-to-do, all until one dark and stormy night something happened. Five people (four guests and a bellhop) entered the guest elevator, and the building was struck by lightning. The front of the building disappeared, along with the guests on the elevators.

The show cuts to back to a clip of Rod Serling in front of a service elevator in the basement of the hotel. The service elevator is still in operation and is "waiting" for you to recreate the accident on that stormy night.

"The episode from which Rod Serling's appearance was taken is entitled 'It's A Good Life,' written by Rod Serling. This episode tells the story of a little boy who can read minds and control people."

Rod invites you to experience what those five people experienced that night. A door in the back of the room opens, guests file out of the room and around the corner into a huge, two-story working boiler room overflowing with details. The boiler room contains six loading areas, three on each floor.

The room has hanging chains, gauges, and pipes all over. Creaks and noises come from all directions. There are several areas around the room where workers had set up their workstations, with notes, pictures, and personal items. On the second floor is a chalk drawing of a doorway from the episode, "Little Girl Lost", which included a doorway into another dimension. A huge boiler sits at the end of the room with what appears to be a giant face.

Guests come around the corner of the walkways to a cast member who assigns them to an elevator. The guests are queued into one of six lines on the floor, representing which row of the elevator they'll ride in during the show.

"Faster Then The Speed of Gravity"
The elevator door opens and guests are led to the waiting service elevator car with three rows of four and three rows of three, for a total of 21 people per car. Guests have a seat in their pre-assigned rows, and fasten their seat beats with a large yellow strap. The bellhop cast member reminds guests to keep their personal items like hats and glasses safely in hand or secured. They then process to ask everyone to put their hands up and then pull on the yellow seat belt strap.

With that said, the cast member retreats and wishes everyone a safe ride. The doors shut and the fun begins.

The lights go out, stars come out and Rod Serling's voice fills the room, talking about the night of the accident when the hotel entered the Twilight Zone. The car begins to move backwards into the drop shaft. The car then quickly moves up the tube to the first show scene.

The doors open to a hallway with a large wooden table and huge oval mirror, and a voice tells you to wave good-bye to the people in the mirror, because they're about to enter the "Twilight Zone".

The door snaps shut and the elevator falls a floor the second show scene. The doors open to a long hallway with doors all down the way to a window at the end. As guests look down the hall, the five people who disappeared on the night of the accident appear as ghosts all translucent and blue. As they beckon guests to join them, the room appears to be struck by lightning and the ghosts disappear again. The walls display electricity running through them and the hallway fades to black with stars. At the end of the hallway, guests can see the a little image of an elevator with the five ghosts open and drop out of sight.

And then BOOM! The elevator drops! The elevator goes thought several up and down drops, finally rising all the way to the top of the shaft over looking the Disneyland Resort. A huge flash and the car plummets down the shaft. About half way down, the elevator stops, drops again, goes all the way back up and drops for the final time to the bottom of the shaft.

The doors open back up with Rod Serling giving you advice that the next time you "check into a haunted hotel" you better make sure you check the reservation, or you may become a permanent resident of the "Twilight Zone".

After The Terror...

The exit from the elevator goes directly through the same area where you loaded up, but you typically exit around the corner, down the stairs if you where on the second floor of the boiler room, and around into a long hallway that goes behind the back of the boiler room to the exit. At the exit you're dropped into the image capture area, where you can view you reaction to the drop. The Tower Hotel Gift shop is quite nice with lots of cool Tower of Terror specific merchandise, like "Hollywood Tower Hotel" bathrobes and towels. There are plenty of shirts, coffee cups, and some stranger stuff like swishy eyeballs.

At the "Picture If You Will..." area of the gift shop is where you may purchase the image captured from the top of the first large drop. The quality has improved quite a bit since Disney first started using digital images year ago that even I purchased a copy. Guests have a choice between 5x7 and 8x10s for around $15 each.

At the exit to the Tower Hotel Gift shop you exit to the outside on the east side of the building looking out at the side of the Hyperion Theater and a huge wall with trees and bushes.

Conclusion
Disney's California Adventure's latest edition is a much-welcomed attraction to the park. The theming around the attraction could have used a little bit more time and effort on the part of Disney before the park originally opened in February 2001.

The Tower of Terror team apparently was aware of that fact because they spent some time and money re-theming the side of the Animation building to look like a 1930s version of the Walt Disney Animation Studio with a large Mickey Mouse billboard along the side, and working lights in the windows.

But, given the fact that the Tower of Terror wasn't going to be installed so quickly, I guess who knew that the theming back there wouldn't have been conducive to the attraction. The theming behind the gate was done really well. The FASTPASS area and queue line look great. The trees and shrubs will look much better once they've had a chance to grow and get more "unkempt" with time.

The attraction ride itself is very enjoyable and thrilling. The attraction was designed with newer technology that is more reliable, but also re-programmable just like the original in Orlando.

Overall, if you're into thrill rides at all, guests would be advised to go on Tower of Terror.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror officially opens May 5, 2004.

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