Backstage Tour of Tower of Terror

tot (2)Caroline got to go on several backstage tours of major attractions with her friends and DAK coworkers while at WDW.  She loved them all!

Two weeks after returning home in May, her DAK coworkers got a chance to do the backstage tour of Tower of Terror.  Even though the attraction now frightens her, Caroline really, really wanted to do this tour during her DCP program! (It’s hard to work and find time to do all the fun stuff!!)

But, her coworker friend did get to go on it this week and had a blast!!!  Below is a blog from a CP who did the backstage TOT tour.

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Welcome! Will you be staying long?

A CP friend of mine was able to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Tower of Terror at WDW. I thought you all would be interested in the things she learned.

First, we went into the maintenance bay for the TOT. One of the elevator vehicles was in the bay. Apparently, all the elevator ride vehicles have wheels underneath to facilitate them moving around. Our guide told us that if a ride vehicle has a problem, the cast members can replace it with a new vehicle in four minutes.

Also, the cast member break room is between the two elevator shafts of the ride. That means that the CMs get to hear everyone’s screaming all day long while on their breaks!

The CMs in the control panel room can see everything that guests are doing on the ride.  While on the ride, if you see what looks like a broken or blown out fuse box along the way, that’s a camera that monitors you the entire time, so be sure to wave to the CMs as you go by!

Safety:  The ride is crazy safe no matter what you think!  The ride does not free fall “drop you” like it feels like it does. First, you get pulled down and then pulled back up fast. The cables which pull the vehicles up and down (yes, the vehicles do not really free fall – a cable is there to pull the vehicles down) are replaced every ten months regardless of condition. Next, there are seat sensors so the ride can tell if there is anyone sitting in their seat not buckled in. The door can’t close unless everyone is buckled. Once buckled, there is no way to unbuckle the seatbelt until the car (elevator) is back at base.

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Come on in!

The TOT lobby is incredible. It’s hard to know where to begin!

As soon as you enter the right you will see a plaque. It is a 13 diamond plaque award from AAA and in real life, the highest this award can go is Five Diamonds. When they awarded the plaque for Tower of Terror, it was actually nice and shiny. That is until the design team took it and decided to make it look old like the rest of the hotel.

The TOT lobby.

The TOT lobby.

When you first walk in and look to your left, you will see a game going on. It kind of looks like dominoes but the game is called Mahjong. If someone knows how to play the game well, they can actually see that the game was pretty intense and during this time period people would not leave the game for anything at all because of heavy betting. The designer actually played the game by himself but made moves for all four players. He went around and around and then he told someone to glue the pieces down and that is why the game pieces are in the places they are.  Forever.

The luggage in the lobby belongs to the missing guest. The luggage is an actual luggage set and is made out of alligator skin, which was very popular at the time (1930s).

The majority of stuff in the lobby is real and was brought by Disney, not made. Some of the items are from actual celebrities though they didn’t specify which ones.

The two couches in the lobby are less than 20 years old and you can sit on them. They are the only things in the lobby that you are allowed to sit on.

There’s a set of six chairs in the lobby, these are to NOT be sat on. They are 17th century Portuguese chairs. They are an antique and rumor has it that Disney got them for dirt cheap because the auctioneer did not know that they were valuable.

Even though the rumor is that the CMs are not supposed to smile at Tower of Terror guests, they actually are supposed to smile sometimes. Because bell men are supposed to be friendly. However, the CMs are supposed to give a smirking or leering-type smile to guests.

My favorite story was when Tower of Terror first opened, there was a family who loved that ride. They got to know the CMs of the attraction very well and always looked forward to seeing them. They came back year after year, but one year they didn’t come. Disney received a letter in the mail saying that the granddad had passed away and the family wanted to thank the cast members for all that they did for the family. The family also sent a photo of the man.  This photo is now in the lobby check in, in the mail box for Room 1207. I love how guests can be a part of an attraction; its families like that who make working at Disney worthwhile!

Once you finish the ride, right before the door opens you notice the elevator door has a B for basement but when the doors open it turns into 13 for the 13th floor.


Whee! That’s my dad, my brother (note his smile!), and my boyfriend in the 2nd row on the right.

The current slogan for the TOT ride is “Never the Same Fear Twice!!”

Hidden Mickeys (HMs): There are no Hidden Mickey’s in the lobby. The first HM is in the library.  The sheet music is called “What! No Mickey Mouse?” and it can actually be played on a piano. The second HM is also in the library, in the video before the ride you see the family, and the little girl is holding a plush Mickey Mouse. The third HM is in the broiler room, in the line right before going on the attraction, there is an oil stain shaped of Mickey Mouse on the wall. Look for the 4th HM while on the ride as the car takes you to the front of the ride you see lights right before the door opens for the actual dropping. If you look at the lights it forms a mickey head. And last, when you go to look at your picture, look into the room down and left there are clocks in the shape of a Mickey head. There are a lot of rumors of other Hidden Mickey’s but according to our guide those are the only ones. (The attraction has a ton of twilight zone references if you have seen the TV show.)


The TOT Back Story:

tot2 (2)The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, commonly referred to as The Tower of Terror, or even sometimes Twilight Zone: The Ride, is a simulated freefall drop tower thrill ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It is based on the classic science-fiction anthology television series The Twilight Zone and is hosted by the series’ creator and host, Rod Sterling.

In the attraction’s premise, adapted from elements of the television series, guests enter the legendary Hollywood Tower Hotel. Once a lively resort for the Hollywood elite, it closed after a disastrous accident where lightning had struck the building, causing several wings of the hotel to mysteriously vanish and kill five people in an elevator on October 31st, 1939. The hotel, now dilapidated and haunted, beckons guests to relive the events of that fateful night aboard one of the basement freight elevators and take their own bizarre journey through The Twilight Zone.

The hotel’s exterior features a big, blackened scorch mark across the front of the facade where lightning had struck, and it glows purple at night. Elevator doors leading to the missing floors of the building are exposed, opening and closing upon the arrival of screaming riders. All of the cast members wear a costume that resembles a 1930s bellhop. At over one thousand (US) dollars per uniform, it is the most expensive costume in the entire chain.

At 199 feet, it is the second tallest attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort, shorter only than Expedition: Everest’s 199.5 feet. The Tower of Terror is 199 feet high at Walt Disney World because of FAA regulations that require a fixed red light beacon to be added to the top of any 200-foot or taller building. Imagineers thought that the beacon would take away from the hotel’s 1939 theme, but still wanted to make the tower as tall as possible

Attraction storyline and description

Queue & Pre-Show

In the attraction, guests enter the once-luxurious Hollywood Tower Hotel through its main entrance gate. The outdoor queue winds itself through the hotel’s overgrown gardens, where ghostly 1930s jazz music is playing, and enters the lobby. The lobby is filled with decade’s worth of dust, cobwebs and various items left by guests from the night of the incident.

From this point, guests are lead into the hotel’s library to wait as their “rooms are still being prepped”. Through the window, guests can observe that there is a thunderstorm going on outside. Lightning strikes and the television set comes on, apparently of its own accord.

The opening sequence from Seasons 4 and 5 of The Twilight Zone plays, followed by an explanation of the events hosted by Rod Sterling: the story of how one of the main lobby elevators plummeted after being struck by lightning, causing the five people inside (Claire Poulet, Gilbert London, Dewey Todd, Sally Shine and Emeline Partridge) to vanish into the Twilight Zone. He then invites the guests to step aboard the maintenance service elevators, which are still in operation.

With that, the TV abruptly shuts off and a sliding wall in the back of the library opens. The guests exit the library and enter the boiler room, where they wait until their elevator is ready.


Once on board, the elevator ascends to various show floors while the voice of Rod Sterling provides narration. Riders witness the bizarre, unsettling nature of the hotel as they travel beyond the realm of the real world and further into the “5th Dimension”. At some point, Sterling informs the guests that they’re now about to experience what had happened to those 5 people all those years ago and the ride’s drop sequence begins.

Although it is designed to feel like a freefall, the elevator is actually accelerated downward faster than the pull of gravity, making guests levitate out of their seats for extra thrills. Once the ride has finished, the guests exit the hotel, via passageways in the basement, into the ride photo viewing area and the hotel gift shop.

Hotel library

The ride system employs specialized technology developed specifically for Disney, particularly the ability to move the vehicle in and out of the vertical motion shaft. The elevator cars are self-propelled, automated vehicles which lock into the vertical motion cabs. The cabs move into and out of the elevators horizontally, move through the “Fifth Dimension” scene and into the drop shaft.

After the vehicle has completed its drop profile, the vehicle propels itself to the unload area and then back to the show shaft. The Floridian ride system runs on a loop, though it’s not as efficient as the newer “franchise” versions used in California, Paris and Tokyo. The self-propulsion system used in the vehicles often causes some long and complicated downtimes which are, of course, frustrating to cast members and guests.

In this version of the attraction, the voice of Rod Sterling greets the now-seated passengers the moment the elevator doors close, saying “You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator about to ascend into your very own episode of The Twilight Zone”. The elevator rises for a few seconds before coming to a stop.

The hotel’s permanent guests

The doors open to reveal a corridor populated by the five lost ghostly occupants from 1939, who then disappear. The corridor fades to a starlit night sky, except the window at the end of the corridor. The window then morphs into a more ghostly black-and-white version and shatters (like in the opening sequence of each episode).

The elevator doors close again and the car continues ascending. Sterling’s voice continues: “One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare. That door is opening once again, and this time, it’s opening for you”.

Service elevator

At the top, the doors open again and the car mysteriously moves forward out of the shaft, through a section of the ride called The Fifth Dimension: a surreal collection of objects and sights, once again in the style of the television shows opening sequence. A field of stars appear at the end of the corridor. After the segment is done, the stars fade, forming a hidden Mickey right before disappearing, then reveals a vertical line, which splits in half and opens like elevator doors. Sterling’s voice is heard again, saying “You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination, in the Tower of Terror”.

After the elevator moves into the shaft, the randomly-selected drop sequence begins. At one point, doors in front of the riders open to reveal a view of the park from a height of 13 stories. In the years since the attraction’s initial opening, a randomized pattern of drops and lifts have been added, where the ride vehicle will drop or rise various distances at different intervals. Other effects were also added, including new projection images of the breaking window, wind effects, ominous black-lit figures of the five ghostly original riders and even fake endings. These changes were made to make every trip to the Twilight Zone a different experience.

After a series of these drops have been made, the opening sequence of the show’s third season plays (showing images of the objects from Season 5’s opening, the lost passengers and Sterling) as the vehicle enters the hotel’s basement. Then Rod Sterling’s voice says “A warm welcome back to those of you who made it and a friendly word of warning; something you won’t find in any guidebook. The next time you check into a deserted hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know just what kind of vacancy you’re filling or you may find yourself a permanent resident…of The Twilight Zone.” The elevator doors reopen for the last time and the guests disembark, making their way into the hotel’s gift shop, Tower Hotel Gifts.

We worked at WDW for a year in the Disney College Program (Fall 2013/Spring 2014) and have written a book about what it’s like to be a cast member working for Disney.
We included advice on how to successfully get into the DCP program, including some of the actual phone interview questions, how to have a successful internship, and how not self-term before your program ends. Our book is filled with lots of behind-the-scene stories of the magic of Disney.
Available now at in paperback and Kindle formats. Published by Theme Park Press.

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