EDITORIAL: Why Tower of Terror Closing at California Adventure Really Doesn’t Matter

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When we first heard about a Guardians of the Galaxy overlay for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, most thought the idea to be contrived. How does that even make sense? Honestly, I was in that group, but then the announcement came out and Disney did a pretty good job creating a concept that might actually make more sense than the Tower of Terror at California Adventure ever did. Now, before you starting throwing rotten fruit at your computer screen, let me explain…

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When California Adventure opened to the public in 2001, it was a complete failure. Attendance projections were missed by 5 digit numbers, restaurants were closed, attractions made “seasonally operational” and the Electrical Parade rushed back to try to save the first summer of the park’s existence. Leading up to the massive 50th anniversary celebration of the Disneyland Resort, Disney made a budget-conscious decision to save the park with just one attraction – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It saved the Disney-MGM Studios, right? Wrong.

Disney-MGM Studios was developed as a half-day experience consisting primarily of a tour and a handful of shows and other attractions, but it burst through the gates in May 1989 and broke all expected attendance projections at the time. More attractions were developed to meet the demand being placed on the park, and Tower of Terror was the culmination of a 5-year expansion plan. In a very short amount of time after opening in 1994, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror became one-of, if not THE headlining attraction in Orlando. With this reputation, it seemed like a clone could easily save California Adventure. It didn’t.

While attendance did rise when the Tower of Terror opened in California, it again was not near any projections made internally by the Walt Disney Company. It didn’t do the trick, and so Bob Iger approved a massive overhaul of the park in the years that followed, which finally did fix the park. Historically, it would be hard to attribute the park’s later success to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. While it certainly wasn’t a bad idea, the execution was not near the level of the original and the level of care from most guests showed it. No self-respecting Disney fan clamored for Tower of Terror at DCA, but it did well enough in Southern California with a steady diet of thrill-seeking everyday guests.

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Disney claimed they didn’t have the space to build the Florida version of the ride in California (meanwhile, the land around the Tower will now become a MARVEL themed area in the years to come). The architectural design in California is less menacing and the queue was significantly shorter outside, leaving none of the build-up to the interior queue that guests enjoy at Hollywood Studios. Inside, a boiler room multiple stories tall somehow made for a new load area, even though it made little sense that a boiler room would be so tall and clearly go so high up into the main hotel building. Besides that, when the elevator does arrive, the doors don’t even open to the elevator, they open to a strange in-between hallway that surely does not exist for any real elevator. Only once passing through elevator doors into this hallway can guests then board the actual elevator, which begins the ride by going backwards, not up and down like the real thing. Rather than an ominous build-up to the elevator lunging forward through the 5th dimension, this version of the ride simply tried to take guests into the main portion of the ride as cheaply as possible, cutting away the 5th dimension scene and a separate unload area for elevators. While the California attraction did have a unique mirror effect to showcase, it otherwise lacked randomized drop sequences and most of the elements which made the attraction in Florida an instant classic. It also features an exit hallway which is pretty much the least-themed portion of any Disney theme park attraction ever conceived. In my opinion, it was a disgrace to the original that lacked any of the effort and ingenuity employed in 1994 to make something the likes of which the theme park world has never experienced before. It was a cheap knock-off intended to be a temporary band-aid.

Clearly, there is no way to add the missing elements from Walt Disney World after the fact, so why not keep what works and reinvent the rest? Why not put a powerhouse franchise in to anchor all of the MARVEL additions on the way?

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Joe Rohde is the Imagineer in charge of all of the MARVEL projects for the Disney Parks and he is man with a resume few can ever aspire to assemble. With Joe at the helm, I have great faith that Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout will be a huge success (despite its rather lackluster name). The elevators that begin their journey by going backwards are far better suited for a life as a containment unit for the valuable assets of The Collector, and the concept art showcased thus far appears to be as enthralling as the Twilight Zone material ever was.

Guardians of the Galaxy do not belong in Epcot and they sure as hell should never replace the original Tower of Terror, but this Disneyland Resort overlay is likely the right move to fix the inferior Tower and to begin the MARVEL themed land at California Adventure. Hollywood Land is a disaster of an area, doing little to further the grandeur and ingenious design of the nearby Buena Vista Street, but this new direction could finally be the answer to the problematic former Hollywood Pictures Backlot area which has struggled to keep up withe the rest of the park in its expansion era. Those who claim that the Guardians attraction will ruin the area should probably evaluate what it looks like today. Most of the facades are hollow, the animation building does little to evoke 1930’s Hollywood, and underneath a nighttime party setup lies a cobbled together collection of items that still just don’t work together in harmony. It’s the one section of the park that is a unmitigated disaster.

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Let the hate mail flow, but I refuse to live in a world where the California Adventure of Tower of Terror is spoken of in the same breath as the Hollywood Studios original, or even Ellen’s Energy Adventure for that matter. It isn’t good, it never was good, but it can be good. If you want to see the Tower of Terror, just come to Orlando. We here in central Florida have to travel cross-country for the Indiana Jones Adventure and Cars Land, you can certainly hop on a plane to visit the Twilight Zone in our neck of the woods if you wish. Please, drop in anytime.

About the author

Tom Corless

Tom has been regularly visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort from the time he was 4 months old. While he has made countless visits in the last 28 years, he did not become a truly active member in the Disney fan community until the summer of 2007, when he decided to launch the WDW News Today website and podcast. Tom has since become an Orlando-local and is a published author on Walt Disney World.
Contact Tom at [email protected]

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Ben P
Guest
Ben P

The theme parks should never be copies of each other. What Disney needs to do, is use the technology/theming to create unique experiences at different parks to force people to want to visit more than 1 location. For example, big fan that Dinosaur/Indiana Jones use the same technology, but the rides are very different. Hoping they do more of that going forward.

Mike Pinault
Guest
Mike Pinault

Universe of energy at epcot will replace by the guardian of the galaxy ride? I know it is going to be a different attractions at DCA and at epcot.

JimV
Guest
JimV

A well written article. You covered all the points I considered. I expect the Hollywood section to go away eventually. It will be interesting to see how every scene is redone to fit the new storyline of the ride.

Mike Pinault
Guest
Mike Pinault

For the marvel land at DCA, I would like to have iron man experience that was coming to Hong Kong disneyland.

Benjamin David Englesmith
Guest
Benjamin David Englesmith

So if Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t belong in Epcot I can only assume that it’s because it doesn’t fit the theme of that park. If that’s the case then in what reality does the property fit the theme of a park that’s supposed to be about the state of California?

Lucy
Guest
Lucy

Nope. This is seriously disrespectful to every DCA fan. I have never been to WDW and therefore have no opinion on the original TOT, but you saying that ours isn’t worth saving is just rude. This doesn’t make you cool, this makes you a snob

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Well it isn’t rude but I see what your are saying. This by it’s title an editorial piece meaning it is an opinion article. The DCA ToT was done on the cheap. It is not to say that it is not allowed to be your favorite ride or a cherished memory. I’m a WDW local and I saw my two favorite rides disappear many years ago in 20,000 leagues and Mr. Toads Wild ride but I can still find them on my trips to Disneyland. If you like the ride it still is going to be there with an enhanced… Read more »

Mitch
Guest
Mitch

Yes because nobody from CA EVER says that their Space Mountain is superior to the Florida one etc etc and so on. It’s not like you’re actually losing the ride – you’re losing the mediocre theming that was done in CA. I’ve ridden both and I can assure you, the CA TOT is absolutely lacking all of the things that make the Florida one as fantastic as it is. Instead of an immersive experience, you basically wait on line for a standard drop ride…with twilight zone added as an afterthought. While that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s… Read more »

Darth Bane
Guest
Darth Bane

I agree with you 100 percent. I should start writing articles about WDW which I have been to twice and didn’t like the feel of and act like I know what the locals like. I can’t believe they are going to change this ride having seen the ride as they built from the monorail until now. I did read below where some one said it was ToT was a cheap addition and rushed and nothing like the Orlando one so this will fix it and make it better. Really? A 5 month face lift is going to fix the fact… Read more »

Philip N
Guest
Philip N

OKAY!!!! WE GET IT DCA IS BETTER THAN WDW! I personally like WDW Way better than DCA! But im from East Coast. We all have different preferences.

Ken
Guest
Ken

I have never been to Disneyland, so I will take this change at face value and say “Great, go for it!” But to any and all Disney execs that may be reading this article, Please, in the name of all that is sacred, DO NOT mess with the TOT at WDW!

John
Guest
John

TOT in Florida will eventually be changed. Disney doesn’t want to pay CBS to use the IP anymore, so they might just remove all aspects of TZ and make up an original story line. Although, there’s almost no chance Disney will make an original story line because that’s not the Eisner Way™. The Eisner Way™ is just slapping a popular movie IP on a classic ride, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the land/park it is in (case in point Tower of Terror in DCA being replaced by GOTG.)

Tommy Wood
Guest
Tommy Wood

The one in Japan doesn’t have a twilight zone theme and it is still awesome. They could just use that instead.

Greg
Guest
Greg

I have read the Tower of Terror in Disney World is getting a new movie, right now it is going through screen writing and should be out in a few years. we think this one will be a theatre movie and not a tv movie like the 1997 one. they could rebrand the Tower of Terror to its new movie when it comes out.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

I hope Marvel Land doesn’t happen! That would mean no more Monsters Inc and no more Animation Academy. Two exclusive rides in DCA

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Those are not affected.

MegaZone
Guest
MegaZone

Yet. Not affected – yet. There are indications that the GotG re-theme of ToT is just the first step in a plan to re-theme that end of DCA as a Marvel area. It is likely that everything in that end of DCA will end up affected.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

You’re incorrect. Marvel land will only be built on what’s left of the former Timon parking lot.

B
Guest
B

The area of what is left of the Timon parking lot is only enough to fit one ride and a few shops, and it would still be very crowded. Disney wants to slap as many popular IPs in as possible so they’re going to take over all of Hollywood Land and Bugs Land. Hell, they might even replace Grizzly Peak with a popular IP.

James Miller
Guest
James Miller

No disrespect to “Anonymous” but you are also incorrect. Once the Eastern Gateway project and elevated pedestrian bridge is completed, the current transportation area will be obsolete. There are plans to spend tens of millions of dollars just to re-route monorail alone, and it’s not just because of the pedestrian bridge, there’s a lot more to that project. Whatever expansion is planned will certainly involve both north, and south GotG.

Danny
Guest
Danny

GOTG sucks. I love Tower of Terror. It’s a fantastic ride and my favorite at DCA. Disney needs to remove it’s head from its rear end. I’m sick of all of this buying up existing crap. Twilight Zone was a classic and very different from what Disney has done with Marvel. I’m old enough to remember when Disney created things. I guess those days are over.

ZBocephus
Guest
ZBocephus

Disney didn’t create Twilight Zone, it was an existing property which Disney paid for. Your “logic” is flawed.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Disney didn’t create the Twilight Zone IP though. …….they made the ride system, which is staying. However, they did buy Marvel and though they did not originally create the GOTG they did create this version of these characters. Not sure what you mean by buying up this crap if you mean Marvel in 2009 than ok. Last I checked Marvel has brought them nearly $10 billion in revenue since then so they probably want to get those characters in the parks. As for creating things, WDI designed Mystic Manor and that is a phenomenal ride so they still are creating… Read more »

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

The ride system isn’t what made The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror a great attraction. It was a great attraction IN SPITE of the ride system. And no, “you can always visit Florida” is not really an option. My favourite Disney attractions are 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth in Tokyo Disneysea. I can’t “always visit Japan.” It sucks.

DDLH
Guest
DDLH

This may be my favorite editorial written on this site. I’m hoping you guys discuss in depth on the podcast too. I have no love for the California Tower!!! I feel like ours in Florida should not be touched. I just think it’s fine for each coast to have different attractions.

MARK JR
Guest
MARK JR

their was talk that a bar was being built across from where you can buy on ride photo for tot in dhs, so im hoping they are going make this tot even more themed and make it more unique where it would totally embarass the dca verision which is why they had to re theme it completley, coupled with the licensing fees for twilight zone or the fact they have to pay double making it more enticing to make this the lead in what will become Marvel Studios land.

B
Guest
B

Florida’s TOT may not be going this year, but it eventually will. They don’t want to pay CBS to use the Twilight Zone IP anymore. Also, your whole DHS park has nothing to do with Florida and a state on the other side of the nation.

William West
Guest
William West

If you’re talking about the actual ride that’s not true at all…Disney pays for IPs for almost every ride and has a stupid amount of money. It has nothing with them wanting to not pay rights for for the attraction. The obvious reason they’re changing the one in Cali is because the tower is located in an area where they can make a Marvel universe and they just can’t pick up the massive structure and move it somewhere else….next best thing is to convert it. The one in Florida is way better and they MAY update the ride to a… Read more »

Echo
Guest
Echo

I don’t disagree with this article, my only concern is sight lines and the interface with Buena Vista Street.

Seeing the tower from Cars Land at least made a modicum of sense, as did having the Red Car Trolley roll by.

How space warehouse tower will work with that will certainly be a challenge.

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

This apologia seems oddly embittered for someone asserting the superiority of “their version” of the Tower of Terror… For the decade between my first visit to Disneyland (2005) and my first visit to WDW (2014), the DCA version of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was the only one I knew. Without the WDW version to compare it to or feel like I have to defend the honour of, I can say that no Disney attraction has won me over in quite the way that DCA’s Tower of Terror did. I probably don’t have to expound on the virtues its shares… Read more »

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I’m glad you have such an attachment to that theme that is awesome and Disney did their job to pull you in. This version of Tower was light on theming so I’m glad you still got that great sense of depth from story. Sorry it cost a lot to cross the country, I know that so I save and I plan so I can visit DLR once a year. I love the DLR parks and attractions so I make sure I see them. The sight line issue only applies to people who love Tower. I say that because the sight… Read more »

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

I didn’t notice that it was light on theming. It had a slightly different setting (Spanish Revival-style hotel vs. a Moorish Revival-style) but it didn’t seem lighter to me. As for sight lines, Tower of Terror still worked from any viewpoint because it was still a distinctively Californian style of architecture. It’s presence communicated the theme of California and its romance. Henceforth, the Collector’s space station thing will communicate the same thing as seeing Hogwarts through the gate of Jurassic Park: a mish-mash of random IP’s all squeezed in together to make a buck.

MegaZone
Guest
MegaZone

I fully agree. I visit WDW several times a year and Disneyland maybe once a year. The ToT at DCA was always a cheaper version of the one in DHS. I’d rather see unique rides at the parks and not have the same ride cloned (sometimes poorly) to multiple parks (though I understand the economic reasons they do it). It is no surprise that Disney is going to look to cash in on Marvel in the parks. The MCU is a juggernaut and the missing link is a park tie in. That end of DCA is pretty sparse and it… Read more »

Randy
Guest
Randy

Westside! If Disney is removing TOT from CA, seems only fair to remove Pirates, Haunted mansion, Small World, Space Mountain and every other duplicated ride from Florida. Let FL have their tacky Marvel in all it’s faddish glory. “Yes waiter, i’ll take some Marvel along with some Gloria Estefan, and a side of Orlando magic.”

Standard Staples
Guest
Standard Staples

If they had viable replacements that would generate interest and profit, they would certainly consider it. Then again, you’re mentioning beloved multi-decade attractions. These are the kind of attractions that are demanded at every park, as Pirates was when it didn’t open with WDW. Tower doesn’t necessarily fall in that bucket anywhere but WDW.

Might want to brush up on what Disneyland was the first to, though… Space definitely opened at WDW two years before DL.

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

Tower of Terror in Disneyland has been around for over a decade, and there is a duplicate in Paris. There is also a non-Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Tokyo. You also have fans of the Disneyland version telling you all over this comment section how much they love and demand it.

eastyorkdisneyfan
Guest
eastyorkdisneyfan

I’ve said it a few times and I will, say it her Marvel does not belong in the Disney parkas and I don’t care if they own it or not. It belong in six flags just like all the other cheesy comic book rides. If Disney really wants to shove marvel into the parks then they should sell them to Six flags first.

Not ignorant
Guest
Not ignorant

It is a profitable branch of the company, want them to dump Pixar too as that wasn’t theirs either? Sure lets take Toy Story Midway Mania out as it’s a cheesy midway game. Sounds silly when you try to compare it. Six Flags builds off the shelf coasters and adds a comic character’s name to the ride. This is going to be standard Disney Imagineering with the theming we know and love from WDI, ok we don’t love all of it. Marvel does have a place in the parks as the Disney company always tries to immerse you into the… Read more »

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

I’m not a big fan of Pixar in the parks either, and Toy Story is just a video game that you can, literally, buy for the Wii. Some of us go to Disney because we want a Disney experience.

Standard Staples
Guest
Standard Staples

I was going to make a semi-snarky comment about using Disney created IP and ask you if they should have rethemed Tower to Wreck-It-Ralph. Then I realized how amazing that would actually be.

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

Which would actually be fair, and which is why I haven’t used the “Disney only!” argument against changing TOT. I think what made TOT work was the same thing that made Mysterious Island work in Tokyo Disneysea. Namely, both franchises – Twilight Zone (non-Disney) and 20,000 Leagues (Disney) – were already long past their shelf-life when the attractions were built. Imagineers specifically chose them because they recognized that they could make really good attractions with them. That is different from having to force something in because the parent company bought a new IP and needs to cross-market it (or parent… Read more »

Standard Staples
Guest
Standard Staples

That’s a very fair thought, but I think this is one of those situations where we should reserve judgment and trust the long term vision. It does seem a bit odd to put a space themed tower in the middle of DCA, but in the context of an overall Marvel land, it may/should feel a bit more logical. The best part is they aren’t tearing it down to put in something brand new. The ride system is still there, the construction will be swift, and we get a new idea on that type of attraction. Look at Dinosaur and Indy…… Read more »

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

The ride system isn’t what made Tower of Terror a great attraction. In fact, I HATE drop rides and would ordinarily never go near one. Tower of Terror got me loving a drop ride because it was so perfectly themed to the romance, mystique, and passage of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It has an engaging story of its own that draws the guest in as the centre of the action and is perfectly suited to its setting in the Hollywood section of a park attempting to recreate the romantic past of California. We can say “give it a chance” but the… Read more »

Brian Bauer
Guest
Brian Bauer

On one hand, I don’t care about the change because I don’t often go to DIsneyland. But on the other hand (and using the logic in the editorial) I think about how I would feel if WDW replaced Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s one of my favorite rides but it’s greatly inferior to the DLR version.

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

If one followed through with the logic “it’s okay to replace something because it’s the inferior version”, then WDW would stand to lose Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, Enchanted Tiki Room, Space Mountain, and Winnie the Pooh from just the Magic Kingdom.

Brian Bauer
Guest
Brian Bauer

My thoughts, exactly.

TheBody01
Guest
TheBody01

WDW had Space Mountain first, not DL. And while you list rides that offer slight differences, I would argue they’re all equal in quality to DL’s with the exception of possibly PPF

Cory Gross
Guest
Cory Gross

One could certainly go through debating which WDW rides are better, which are worse, and which are merely different. But most of those I mentioned were unequivocally worse, from being physically painful (Space Mountain) to missing whole parts of the show (Enchanted Tiki Room) and so on.

Mike Eastman
Guest
Mike Eastman

And Pirates. Disneyland’s Pirates is vastly superior. I say get rid of WDW’s Pirates and put in an Inside Out overlay on the attraction. If people still want to ride Pirates, they can go to Disneyland’s.

Philip
Guest
Philip

Shut up and stop being wrong, Cory Disgusting! ?

Simone
Guest
Simone

I think the new ride will be very nice. But nobody remembers what was the original theme of the California Adventure Park: the CALIFORNIA! The lands must represent different places of the State, like Hollywood, and even Cars Land, despite its ispiration from Pixar, fits with the Park. The Guardians of the Galaxy… no. The Marvel Superheroes…no. I know you have the worst version of ToT, but I think it fits better at DCA rather than at Hollywood Studios. And it’s not even convincing the outward appearance. If you go to a Disney park themed on California, do you prefer… Read more »

T.J. Burzynski II
Guest
T.J. Burzynski II

The Tower at DCA was the first one I experienced and I LOVED it. Then I went to WDW and went on the Orlando version. Loved it even more. I love the themes of both rides and I adore the queues at both places. the queue at DCA is a little lacking, but it still pulled me in with the Set Dec and little touches. I loved walking through the Boiler Room on the way to the elevators. I am very upset that they will be taking one of the two rides that I go to DCA for (the other… Read more »

andrew
Guest
andrew

The ride will still be there in November so you’ll get that chance to experience it one last time.

Roy
Guest
Roy

They are taking out animation for meet and greets marvel

Philip
Guest
Philip

No, they’re not, Roy. Don’t create lies. ?

David B Conway
Guest
David B Conway

h,i im going to give my self a title how can i help you fan,s some time