(Review and Photo Credits: Ember)
Now here’s a perfect example of something that could have been just a great freefall ride, but was made infinitely more enjoyable by its story, decoration, and other embellishments.
Quite possibly the most visible landmark in Disney’s California Adventure, as you head over towards “The Hollywood Tower Hotel” you’ll notice the blown-off look of a portion of the building. You’ll also notice, as you come closer, that there are three ‘window’-like areas that periodically open, showing you a glimpse of the ‘elevators’ as they drop.
Once you enter the ‘hotel’ lobby, take a good, long look around: the detail is incredible (the dull and old look of the wall hangings, paintings, statues, and even some neglected plants— and you haven’t seen anything yet!). When the library doors open, the ‘staff’ ask you to move all the way in (“…but stay on the carpet!”). You have only a fleeting moment to notice the again-amazing detail in here before a lightning bolt outside turns off the lights and turns on the TV, and you get to watch a very special episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Because in this episode, as Rod Serling so aptly puts it, “you are the star.”
After this you file through a bleak corridor and enter the boiler room, possibly the most detailed room in the building. Look around, and be amazed at the authenticity: water-leak streaks down the joints of a nearby boiler; rust on the machinery wheels; an old lunchbox, newspapers, and running radio at the workman’s table; rough, dirty, used cloth tying off a pipe joint; rags lying on the rungs of a ladder; a broken pipe draining real, unappealing-looking liquid into a makeshift funnel; and more. The realistic settings are truly awesome.
From there, you either stay on the lower level or are directed upstairs across the catwalks. Either way, you are led to one of the three ‘working’ service elevator shafts, directed to stand on a row number, and wait. Finally, after a few minutes, the door opens and you enter. (You’ll notice the grating in the floor of the car— you can’t see through this during the ride, but it will let fresh air through from below, heightening the falling sensation.) Once seated and buckled in, the op bids you farewell (in various different ways ), the op’s door closes, the lights go out, and then you’re off.
Your ‘elevator’ moves backwards, its doors still open, and Rod Serling’s continuing narration echoes around. The scene in front of you changes to stars and a purple swirl, then your doors close, turning everything pitch black. You rise— gently— a short way to suspenseful music, and the door then opens to a hallway with a mirror. Rod tells you to “…wave goodbye to the real world,” and as you wave (or not), your images turn swirly and many-colored. Then a blast of lightning hits. The doors close, you move (again, calmly) either up or down a floor, and they open again to a different hallway. The people who had originally vanished appear, ghost-like; then they become electrically charged and send that charge down the hall to you, jolting the car. The hallway turns to stars, and a ghostly elevator with the five phantom-ish figures inside it appears at the end of the starry hall, floating…
The image drops.
Now the ride starts in earnest: A second after the phantom image falls, so do you for a few floors, a short and fast shock. It stops, then almost immediately falls the same short distance again. After another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pause, it shoots upward at high speed, going all the way up to the top ‘window’. You can see outside, and the car pauses for a second or two while they take your photo, then drops two floors to the third outside ‘window’. After a very short pause you continue to drop fast with the lights off, then suddenly you find that you’re speeding upward once more— never having felt the transition. You’ve risen to the same height you were a few seconds ago, but this time the doors are closed, and as soon as the car loses momentum you drop again. It pauses, then rises up a bit, slowing down and speeding up slightly several times as it continues back up to the top ‘window’, now open once more. You hold there, the car shudders a few times, and then you drop one last time, back to the main floor.
After you come to a final stop, you hear the purposefully suspicious sound of some piece of machinery falling and bouncing off of the floor, and then as you move back forward to the op doors, Rod Serling gives you one last final thought to chew on.
Personally, if I had to choose to go on one Disneyland ride and one Disneyland ride only, in either California Adventure or the Magic Kingdom, I would choose The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror. This ride totally, utterly rocks— and I highly recommend it.