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Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0
Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

13 Freaky Facts About Disney's Tower of Terror Ride

Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0
Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

On October 31, 1939, five people met their fates when lightning struck the elevator shaft of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

At least, that's what Disney would have you believe. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a drop ride at four Disney theme parks, takes guests on a terrifying trip through time to discover what happened to those unsuspecting passengers in 1939. It has since become a cult hit, even making famous guests like Mariah Carey scream for more. Here are 13 facts about Disney's Tower of Terror. 

1. IT COULD HAVE BEEN BASED ON THE WORKS OF STEPHEN KING.

After Disney’s movie-themed MGM Studios opened in 1989, Imagineers made plans to add an attraction that would appeal to fans of horror movies. They kicked around a variety of ideas, including a ride based around Stephen King’s many terrifying tales. Also considered was a faux ghost tour featuring Vincent Price, an amusingly horrifying ride hosted by Mel Brooks, or an actual hotel inside of the park that would have had a haunted theme.

2. CREATING THE RIDE INVOLVED A LOT OF TWILIGHT ZONE RESEARCH.

Known for their immersive research, Disney Imagineers watched 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone in order to perfect the ride's aesthetic and tone. Fans of the Rod Serling classic have picked up on the many references to classic episodes, including an appearance from the infamous Talky Tina doll.

3. THERE ARE ALSO SUBTLE DISNEY REFERENCES.

In addition to the many nods to The Twilight Zone, there are plenty of sly references to Disney as well. For starters, there’s sheet music in the library titled “What! No Mickey Mouse?” and a Photoplay magazine featuring a four-page spread of Walt Disney-designed caricatures in the lobby.

4. THERE WAS ONCE A SECRET MESSAGE IN ONE OF THE NOTICE BOARDS.

Michael Gray via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

The spirits at the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror sometimes try to help guests avoid their fates. Inquisitive guests who peer inside an old notice board in the lobby may find that the fallen letters accumulated at the bottom spell out a warning: “EVIL TOWER UR DOOMED.” The warning has come and gone over the years.

5. GREMLINS DIRECTOR JOE DANTE DIRECTED THE PRE-RIDE VIDEO.

Before guests board the ride, they’re taken into a dusty old library, where Rod Serling tells the tale of the tragedy that changed the hotel on October 31, 1939. That’s really Rod Serling, by the way; Imagineers were able to take clips from The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” that matched up with the story they wanted to tell. That pre-ride video was directed by Joe Dante, who also directed Gremlins.

6. ROD SERLING'S WIFE CHOSE THE VOICEOVER ARTIST.

Though it’s Rod Serling’s image in the video, it’s not all his voice. Voice impersonator Mark Silverman’s ability to match Serling’s famous cadence was so impressive that he was chosen for the job by Rod’s widow, Carol Serling.

7. GUESTS DON’T ACTUALLY DROP.

Tower of Terror guests may feel like they're free-falling, but they're not—they’re being pulled. Ride technology pulls the elevator car down faster than gravity, which is what results in that amazing butts-off-the-seat levitation effect. (Don’t forego the seat belts on this one, kids.)

8. THE DROPS ARE RANDOMIZED.

Guests can't prepare themselves for the exact level of terror they'll experience on the ride. In 2002, Disney upgraded the Tower of Terror with computer-randomized drop sequences for each individual experience, so riders don't know how many times they'll drop or from what heights. 

9. THE EXTERIOR WAS DESIGNED TO BLEND IN WITH MOROCCO.

The Florida ride is the second-tallest attraction at the resort, second only to the Expedition Everest roller coaster and the Animal Kingdom. In fact, it's so tall that the upper half of it is visible from Epcot—it can be seen just behind the Morocco pavilion. Because Disney is so invested in making guest experiences completely immersive, they designed the exterior of the fake hotel to blend right into the Morocco skyline. Check it out:

10. OTIS ELEVATORS WAS INVOLVED IN THE RIDE'S CREATION.

Disney called in the elevator experts to help create the attraction. Otis Elevators has been outfitting buildings across the world since 1853—and with a price tag of $8 million, the Tower of Terror is the company's most expensive sale ever.

11. PART OF THE RIDE IS A SELF-DRIVING CAR.

If you’ve been on the Florida version of the ride, you probably recall a moment where the elevator car seems to leave the shaft to take you through a very Twilight Zone-esque "Fifth Dimension." That’s because it does! The car is actually an AGV, or an autonomous-guided vehicle, that moves without tracks or rails.

If you don’t mind ruining some of the mystery, you can see exactly how it works on this clip from Modern Marvels:

12. THE VERSION AT DISNEY’S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE IS GETTING RE-THEMED.

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The California Adventure version of the Tower of Terror opened on May 5, 2004, 10 years after the Orlando version made its debut. Unless fan petitions manage to get through to the powers that be, the elevator doors at the California Adventure Tower of Terror will close for the last time on January 2, 2017, to make way for a Guardians of the Galaxy makeover.

13. THERE MAY BE A MOVIE ON THE WAY.

The Tower of Terror first received a movie treatment in 1997, with a made-for-TV film starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst.

But there may be a big-budget revamp in the works as well. Big Fish screenwriter John August turned in a treatment last year, with direction from producer Jim Whitaker. Stay tuned!

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The Princess Ride: Here's What a Princess Bride Theme Park Attraction Might Look Like
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Do you fight the urge to say “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” when introducing yourself? Have you spent the past 30 years mispronouncing the word “marriage”? If so, you may be a diehard fan of The Princess Bride. The cult film (and the book on which it’s based) has inspired board games, merchandise, and countless pop culture references. Now, two theme park designers from Universal have conceived the inconceivable. As Nerdist reports, Jon Plsek and Olivia West have designed the plans for a hypothetical attraction called “The Princess Ride.

Their idea follows the classic river boat ride structure and adds highlights from the movie around each corner. After watching Buttercup and Wesley’s love story unfold, riders are taken past the Cliffs of Insanity, through the Fire Swamp, and into the Pit of Despair. The climax unfolds at Prince Humperdinck’s castle and leads up to the two protagonists riding off into the sunset. The last thing the passengers see is Miracle Max and Valerie waving goodbye saying, “Hope ya had fun stormin’ the castle!”

The ride’s designers make a living turning stories into thrilling attractions. Plsek works as a concept artist for Universal Creative, the group behind Universal’s theme parks, and West works there as a concept writer. While The Princess Ride was just a fun side project for the pair, it isn’t hard to imagine their ride bringing Princess Bride fans to the parks in real life.

For more of Jon Plesk’s concept rides inspired by classics like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), check out his website.

[h/t Nerdist]

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32 Things You Should Know About Epcot
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Happy Birthday to Epcot, the only place where you can drink in 11 countries without ever leaving Florida. In honor of its 35th birthday, we've rounded up some facts about Walt Disney’s vision for the future.

1. EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

2. Epcot turned out much differently than Walt had originally imagined it. Before Disney’s death in 1966, EPCOT was actually intended to be a real community where people would live, work, and play. See his intentions here:

3. To build the park, more than 54 million cubic feet of dirt had to be excavated.

4. With its two distinct halves—Future World and the World Showcase—it may seem like two different theme parks smushed together. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. When plans for the park changed after Walt’s death, some Imagineers wanted to go with a World’s Fair theme while others were pushing for a futuristic park. Two Imagineers put their models up against each other, and Epcot as we know it was born.

5. With 11.25 million visitors every year, Epcot is the world’s fifth most-popular theme park—right behind the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland, and Tokyo DisneySea.

6. In 1991, Disney announced plans to build WestCot in Disneyland’s parking lot in Anaheim. Michael Eisner put a halt to those plans when Disneyland Paris flopped. California Adventure later opened on that spot instead.

FUTURE WORLD

7. Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the giant golf ball, weighs 16 million pounds, is 165 feet in diameter and takes up 2.2 million cubic feet of space. The geodesic sphere is made from 11,324 aluminum and plastic-alloy triangles.

8. The term “Spaceship Earth” was coined by famous futurist and theorist Buckminster Fuller, who wrote a book called Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth in 1968.

9. Ray Bradbury conceived the original storyline and penned the original script for the Spaceship Earth ride.

10. The 5.7 million-gallon body of water at The Seas with Nemo & Friends is home to more than 3000 fish and other sea creatures. The sheer size makes it one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world.

11. Captain EO cost an estimated $30 million to make. At just 17 minutes, that makes the film $1.76 million per minute.

12. The “Living with the Land” attraction is home to a Guinness World Record—the most tomatoes harvested from a single plant in one year (1151.84 pounds).

13. The food grown in Epcot greenhouses is actually used in the restaurants there, including the Garden Grill.

14. The Sea has a panel of experts that they use for consulting purposes. The panel has included Robert Ballard, most famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic; Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Gilbert Grosvenor, a former president and chief executive of the National Geographic Society.

15. Two people have died after riding Mission: SPACE. One was a four-year-old with an undiagnosed heart condition, and the other was a woman who suffered a stroke due to high blood pressure.

16. Leonard Nimoy directed the popular Body Wars movie at the Wonders of Life pavilion.

17. The score for Soarin’ Over California was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who said that he loved the project so much, he would have done it for free. Goldsmith’s many noteworthy scores include The Omen, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Poltergeist, Patton, and Rudy.

18. The Wonders of Life pavilion once contained a film where Martin Short explained how babies were made. Really.

THE WORLD SHOWCASE

19. The World Showcase promenade is 1.2 miles long.

20. The World Showcase lagoon spans 40 acres.

21. The Rose and Crown pub in the U.K. has a special machine that can cool your Guinness to exactly 55 degrees, the temperature recommended by the company.

22. Russia, Switzerland, Spain, Venezuela, United Arab Emirates, and Israel have all been mentioned as additions to the World Showcase side of Epcot at one point or another.

23. There were once plans for a boat ride called The Rhine River Cruise in the Germany pavilion. The show building was partially constructed, but the rest of the ride was trashed shortly after Epcot opened.

24. Contrary to popular belief, for the most part, the countries in the World Showcase are not funded by that country’s government. There’s one exception: Morocco.

25. Morocco’s King Hassan II reviewed a detailed scale model of the Morocco Pavilion for "authenticity and artistic effect." 

26. Imagineers have long considered a roller coaster inside of the Japan pavilion. It would be similar to the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, but would instead revolve around Mount Fuji.

27. The American pavilion is built at a slightly higher elevation than all of the other countries'. This is to show that it's a host country to all of the other pavilions, and also to help it stand out as the centerpiece.

28. For 17 years, Epcot’s Japan pavilion was home to Miyuki, the world’s only female amezaiku artist. She learned the art of creating small, edible animal sculptures out of brown rice toffee from her grandfather. Miyuki retired in November 2013.

SPECIAL EVENTS

29. More than 30 million blooms fill the park during the Flower and Garden Festival every spring.

30. The Food and Wine Festival in the fall represents 25 nations with 1.5 million food samplings, 300,000 wine pours, 360,000 beer servings, and 100,000 dessert portions.

PARADES AND FIREWORKS

31. The puppets for the now-defunct “Tapestry of Nations” parade were designed by Michael Curry, the same man who designed the puppets for the Broadway production of The Lion King. He has also worked on five Cirque du Soleil shows and multiple opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics.

32. Jim Cummings is the man who provides the voiceover at the beginning of “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.” You may know him better as the voice of Darkwing Duck. He’s currently the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Pete. Listen to the first 30 seconds of this video—you can probably hear a little bit of each of those characters.

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