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Dropping in on DCA's "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror"

Dropping in on DCA's "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror"

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We got the opportunity to try out the new version of the Tower of Terror on Tuesday, April 27th. It was one of the days for the Annual Passholders Sneak Preview, prior to the attraction opening up to the public.

Originally, it was to be my whole family of 5 to attend, but due to school/music lessons, commitments ... only my 15-year-old son and myself actually made it (honestly, I believe that my wife and daughters really didn't want to go ... i.e. chickened out). This is not the first ToT we've been on. The last time we had the pleasure of riding the WDW version was back in 2000, so we were looking forward to comparing the two of them. Keep in mind that a lot of my comparisons are based on the memory of that ride 4 years ago ... I understand that there are/were changes to the WDW ToT since then.

Our scheduled time to arrive was around 3-4pm. We barely got there in time due to the horrible traffic that is famous around here. To get checked in, they had set up the former "Hollywood and Dine" food court area to process all the AP fast passes to get on the ride. Never been in there before, they shuttered the area not too long after the opening of the park and never re-opened it. A mistake in my opinion, but I digress. After we got our passes to get on the ride, we noticed that the time on the passes allow us to show up between 4-5pm. This was good, because the line to go through the barriers, wrapped down to the Animation Building. After getting a bit of food and drink, we were please to see that the line had virtually disappeared and headed over.

Regardless how well they did with the theming, I had to admit that the surrounding area does not lend itself well to the atmosphere of the ride. It felt like an "afterthought", very much like going to a backlot set instead of going to a hotel. I guess there really was no way to prevent the bad transition from the Hyperion Theater. At Disney-MGM Studios, I remember the way you would go down the street, see the hotel up on the hill, and consider for a moment that it really could have been a "real" hotel that fell into disrepair. Here, it kind of just sits there, at the side of the theater, almost feeling out of place. Mind you, this does nothing to detract from the ride (more on that soon) it just doesn't feel the same.

The actual area that the ToT occupies IS done very well. The look of the building, courtyard, even the fastpass distribution area looks top rate. I pointed out to my son; the attention to detail that was spent to make sure that it was made to look like a top-notch hotel, which suddenly was abandoned. As we worked our way to the entrance, a Bell Hop smiled and told us that our room was ready for us on the thirteenth floor, and to have a pleasant stay.

The Mission style carries across in the entrance lobby, with the large expansive doors. Definitely has a more western feel to the place versus the east coast version. More in tune with "Hollywood" theming. The cobwebs were placed perfectly around the lobby. Many items looked like they were left in a hurry ... a doll on the couch, a book left open next to it. All the plants were delightfully "dead", and fit well in the scene.

There is a second "Bell Hop" station just to the right of the Lobby desk. There your bellhop will direct you to either of the 2 libraries that this ToT has (as oppose to the one at WDW). If you go to the right, you go to the lower level of the boiler room; the left will take you to the second story of the boiler room. The Library looks wonderful and surreal. One thing that I immediately noticed was the floor seemed to have a speaker system built into it; as the floor vibrated and you could actually hear the thunder crash from all around you. The TV comes to life and play the Rod Serling piece just as the WDW version; only the exterior shot of the hotel is of the DCA tower.

I have to mention that the Bellhops all put on a terrific show, as they get into their roles completely. Once you find your way down to the boiler room, you get a chance to see the theming touches here and there. There is a radio struggling to life on a workers desk, and the main boiler unit looks like something's or someone's face. There are 3 elevator shafts. Another bellhop point for you to go to a row, and then you wait for your "car".

The thing that I like about these elevators is that they seemed much more open than the ones back east. The floor had a lot of steel mesh, instead of a solid floor. And the walls and ceiling was just as open as the floor. I don't recall this at WDW, I thought that they were more of a true elevator box style. This is a great touch. The more openness gives you a more "unsecured" feeling to the unit. Also, it allows for more air movement, so that you get more of a sensation of motion. Now when I was at WDW 4 years ago, they used a bar that came down on your lap. I understand that that has now changed to seatbelts. That's what they are using over here, and I really prefer them to the bar. After the bellhop check to make sure that all is a go, he smiles and says that our rooms are waiting for us on the 13th floor, and please have a nice day. With that, the door is shut and the ride starts.

The first motion that you get is that you're going backwards. This is set you up in the "drop shaft". As you are moving there is a flash of lighting, and a star field pops up all around you. Once you reach the shaft, another set of doors close, and you immediately rise up the shaft. Now I didn't remember the going up at WDW being as far as this one, but when you stop, you get to one of 2 hallways that I understand can happen in different order. For us the first room was a hallway with a big, long mirror in front of you. In the mirror you all see yourselves in the car waving back, when all of a sudden..the images start to flickers and turn into some "ghost effect". The effect ends with your image completely gone, except for your car ... really spooky effect and it comes off great!

At the next floor was kind of a surprise. Instead of going up again, we went down a floor. This is where the same hallway effect that WDW has is played. It's basically the same, with a few exceptions. The ghost seem to materialize a lot closer to the car, and when the star field kicks in, the window at the end of the hall turns into the elevator car that the poor ghosts were riding in, and it drops down and out of view. After the doors closed, the unexpected happened.

Instead of shooting to the top floor, we dropped. I mean that I expected to go up to drop, but apparently we were high enough for a "quickie" that caught everyone by surprise. Then it was a series of 3 rocket ups, and sudden drops. The last rise up, the car makes screeching noises, and the car shakes around a lot (more fun!), and it seems to stop at the top for at least 2 seconds or more before your last drop to the bottom. There, you start moving forward, back to your original place, and they let you out with a humble..."thanks for dropping in!" Everyone applauded and thanked the bellhop for a great ride.

Was it shorter than the WDW versions I have heard other say...well maybe just a little bit. But not enough to make it worse. Infact, I would have to say that this version was more fun than WDW. I really like the theming and build up inside the hotel, much more than WDW's. The bellhops were fantastic, and really added to the atmosphere of the ride. The different touches to the ride, I really like, and don't miss the forward motion at the top of WDW's. I do think that they should incorporate the lighting flashes in the shaft, just like at WDW. Otherwise, I believe that Disney got a winner here. Much, much needed at this park, and I'm sure that it will bring in more paying customers.

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