I don’t like vertical drop rides. I don’t like the way your stomach feels like it is sliding up into your mouth. I don’t like the sensation of falling. I don’t like heights. Vertical drop rides are the sauerkraut pizza of amusement parks. I don’t understand why someone came up with the idea in the first place or why anyone else decided to try it.
However, I’ve eaten sauerkraut pizza. The first time I had it, I discovered I actually liked sauerkraut pizza. I can’t tell you the name of the pizza place that produced the sauerkraut pizza I liked but I can tell you I’ve never been there again and any other time I’ve tried sauerkraut pizza, it was terrible.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, then, is the version of sauerkraut pizza that I like.
Disney World has managed to make me try all kinds of rides I thought I hated. I thought I hated roller coasters. I was wrong. I thought I hated log flumes. I was wrong. I thought I hated haunted house rides. I was wrong.
I also thought I hated vertical drop rides. I’m still right about that one, actually. But I love the Tower of Terror.
The queue for Tower of Terror is easily one of the ten best queues at Walt Disney World. You step into a garden on the grounds of a 1940s era hotel, the Hollywood Towers. It looks like it was once opulent but everything has fallen into disrepair. The plants are the kinds of plants you’d seen in a well kept garden but they are overgrown. There are even weeds. At Walt Disney World. Weeds!
You wind your way to an decorative pool with no water in it. I imagine Disney wanted to create something with brown standing water but someone reminded the Imagineers that such a feature would breed mosquitos and you can’t have your guests getting bitten by bugs while standing in line. So the pool has cracks in the bottom where the water apparently drained away some years prior. Oxidizing copper lily pads sit atop twisted posts. They would look to be floating on top of the water if there was any water left. Now they look kind of lonely and tired.
Lights are still in the pool. Some of them work. Others are broken or just flicker. You can hear some ethereal music playing that sounds vaguely of the 40s but has lyrics you can’t make out and sounds as if it is coming from underwater even though the water is gone.
From there, you enter the lobby of an old hotel. It is covered in cobwebs and filled with creepy touches like a stuffed bird in the corner. A hotel bell person stands at a counter and shuffles you to a door where you wait to be shown into the library. Behind them is an elevator door but it is most definitely out of order.
When the library door opens, you enter into a room filled with so many objects, it would take years to catalog them all. There are books everywhere as well as any number of apparent souvenirs from trips to flea markets. All seeming to suggest the owners of the hotel were well travelled but looking more like they were just trying to cover every inch of the room with random weird stuff.
The doors close and the lights immediately go out. A television you probably didn’t notice begins an introduction video featuring a very good Rod Serling impersonator in which you learn that many years ago, five people stepped on to an elevator in the middle of a thunderstorm. Lightning struck the Hollywood Towers and, apparently, transported those five people into the Twilight Zone.
Fake Rod tells us that we now get to ride a maintenance elevator, which doesn’t seem like a very good idea but we have no choice. A secret door opens and we are ushered into the boiler room.
The room is noticeably hotter than where we just were. It isn’t like being outside in the heat of a Florida summer, but it is warm. There’s the low hum of machinery and every now and again we can hear some ancient electrical equipment spark. We move past rusted pipes to another bell person who shows us to a number on the floor in front of the doors of an elevator we are assured is actually in working order.
Soon, the doors open and we step into the elevator. We are shown to our seats and instructed to put on our seat belts. Then we have to pull up on a yellow strap to make sure they work. Then we are given safety instructions and the doors close. We are alone. With twenty other people.
The elevator rises a few floors and we see a hallway. I don’t really know how to describe what happens here except to say the special effects are remarkable. We get a little more exposition telling us that, yes, we are now in the Twilight Zone and we have probably made a very bad choice. It is at this point someone who is on the ride for the first time starts to low key freak out.
At one time, this person was me. I knew we were on a vertical drop ride. I hated vertical drop rides. I was anxious and every time the elevator went up, I knew it would, at some point, have to come back down.
The doors close again and we go up a few more floors. The doors open and the elevator starts to move forward.
Not up or down. Forward. This is not how we’ve been led to believe elevator cars work.
We glide past some dimly lit figures of those five people who were transported to the Twilight Zone all those years ago. So far, things seem creepy but…not so bad…
In front of us, a vertical line of light appears and then splits as another unseen door opens. We move forward and then we stop in total darkness.
Those people who were low key freaking out before are no longer so low key about it.
Again, this was me. I guess I was more low key than most as I grabbed my wife’s hand and squeezed it super hard. I was pretty sure they had put off the drop as long as they could and I was definitely getting to the part I was going to hate.
Then the elevator drops suddenly. Or it shoots up suddenly. You don’t actually know what is going to happen because every ride is different. You find yourself shooting up and then plummeting back down for several seconds. At some point, you are high enough that doors open in the wall and you can briefly look out over the grounds of Hollywood Studios before you fall again.
It’s a vertical drop ride with character. You aren’t just lifted and dropped. You are told that you are about to get onto an elevator you shouldn’t get on. You are immersed into the story. And when the drop comes, it might even be a bit unexpected.
Instead of hating the sensation, I loved it. Maybe it was being in the dark that erased my anxiety of heights. Maybe it was the uncertainty of the rise and drop. Or maybe it was just the fact that they had set up the ride to be about so much more than just the cheap thrill of bouncing up and down.
When it is over, your elevator door opens and fake Rod welcomes back everyone who made it. I’ve always made it. But someday I might not. Fake Rod suggests that is a possibility.
And if that’s how I’m going to go, I’d be happy to sign up for the experience one more time.