Terrific Tower of Terror

As soon as we decided that we were going to go to Disneyland this summer, our two teenage daughters immediately began talking about the rides they were looking forward to; it has been three years since our last trip to “the happiest place on earth.” Although Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and the Jungle Cruise were all “must do’s,” it was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at the California Adventure side of Disneyland that they were really excited about.

Steve and I were charmed ““ and a little surprised ““ by our daughters’ eagerness to go on Tower of Terror. Because it’s the tallest structure at Disneyland, it was the first ride we spotted on the shuttle bus ride from the hotel. Valerie and Jennifer sounded more like little kids seeing Santa Claus than cynical teenagers when it came into view. “There’s Tower of Terror! Isn’t it so cool the way they made the “˜W’ in the neon sign flicker. I really want to go on it at night. My friend said that it is so cool when the doors open and you look out over Disneyland when it’s all lit up.”

If you haven’t been to Disneyland since 2004 when the Tower of Terror ride opened”¦and based on the crowds when we were there in July, there are probably only two people in the world who haven’t”¦Tower of Terror takes place in a glamorous Hollywood hotel in the 1930’s that looks like it was partially destroyed by lightening so the façade is singed and crumbling.

It’s a vertical drop thrill ride but the sensation of being weightless for a split second is secondary to the whole experience of the ride. Like all the best rides at Disneyland, Tower of Terror puts you in a story. Every detail is expertly crafted to add to the atmosphere, anticipation and fun.

Waiting for the ride is like stepping into what I imagine a well art-directed Hollywood set would look like. At Tower of Terror, you’re standing in the lobby of a hotel that is frozen in time in 1939. There are dusty banners hanging above the fireplace with the “Hollywood Tower Hotel” logo woven into them. Artfully arranged cobwebs cover the trench coat draped over the registration desk. You can catch a glimpse of an old newspaper resting next to a teacup and a game of cards. We enjoyed looking at all the atmospheric details so much that we decided it was more fun to wait in line rather than zip to the front with a Fast Pass.

From the hotel lobby, you’re ushered into the library. Once the doors slide shut, the power immediately goes out and the black and white TV comes on. Our younger daughter, Jennifer, hadn’t really understood the Twilight Zone story that surrounds the ride when she went on three years ago. However, watching a few episodes in her English class last year and a Twilight Zone marathon on the SciFi channel, had conditioned her to expect creepy things as soon as she heard the recognizable “do-do do-do” of the theme music.

Through some convincing special effects, Rod Serling appears on the TV and introduces us in his distinctive way to the story that we are about to experience. “One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare….”

After the introduction, we move into the boiler room of the hotel where a maintenance elevator is waiting to take us, as Rod says, “on the strangest journey of our lives.” It may be strange but it’s also quite short; the ride probably doesn’t last more than 30 seconds. But it’s a really, really fun 30 seconds.

Steve went on the ride once to share the experience with us and then he was happy to sit in the shade with a Diet Coke. The girls and I went on it four more times. It was the last ride of our last day in Disneyland and we were in the last group that they let on the ride. The “cast members” in their Hollywood Tower Hotel bellhop uniforms were high-fiving each other with relief that they had made it through another summer day of Tower of Tourists.

When we walked out of California Adventure an hour after it closed, the park was almost empty. You know how you can be sure that you’ve had a really good time? We would have gladly done it all over again the next day.

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