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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This picture is from a Paris ad campaign.
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.
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.
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.”
Unlike the other three towers, the queue for the Tokyo version actually christcrosses its way through the 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.
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.
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.
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.