Tower of Terror updates for Walt Disney World’s Summer Nightastic debut to mixed reactions

in Disney, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

As part of Walt Disney World’s Summer Nightastic promotion, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park has received an update that promised to incorporate enhance the classic ride with new visuals and sounds. But after visiting the updated version of the popular attraction last night, it’s apparent that many of its fans have left feeling a bit underwhelmed by the changes.

Before I elaborate, see if you can spot the changes in this video:

The average theme park guest visiting the Tower of Terror may not even realize anything is different. But plenty has changed within the eerie ride’s walls – and not all for the better.

When we spoke with Walt Disney Imagineer Jason Roberts last week about the pending updates, he wasn’t able to reveal specifics about what would be coming to the Tower of Terror, but did say that Imagineers from several different fields were involved, including those responsible for visuals, sounds, and even ride programming. So what was achieved by all of these talented Disney employees?

On the outside, in honor of Summer Nighttastic, guests are promised that the Tower of Terror would have a new “glow” to it. It turns out that the attraction’s two elevator shafts now emanate a bright green color whenever their doors open. It’s a perfect color to combine with the everyday deep purple color of the rest of the building, but I’m not sure I’d call it “glowing.” I’ve been told that plans also involved enhancing the Hollywood Tower Hotel sign with some kind of lightning/electricity effect, but it never quite worked properly.

On the inside, not much has changed until you step foot into one of the ride’s “maintenance service elevators” to begin your ascent into the Twilight Zone. The first scene, during which a group of hotel guests materialize and disappear, features new bright flashes of light at the beginning, timed with an audible crash of thunder. These added flashes don’t add anything to this scene, but are presumably necessary for what’s to come.

In the final scene before the big drop (commonly known as the “5th dimension” scene), elevator doors open to reveal sweeping changes. The visuals that normally flank the elevator car as it moves forward have been completely covered by a star field, created simply by black fabric and tiny lights. Normally familiar Twilight Zone-inspired images like a ticking clock and a giant eyeball are present here, but instead all that is immediately seen are stars. Moving forward in the scene, passengers suddenly realize that straight ahead, their own image is being projected onto a wall in front. It’s a photo that was taken during the new flashes of light in the previous scene. Within a few seconds of recognizing themselves, guests witness their images dissolving to blue and then disappearing from the image altogether, leaving only a photo of an empty elevator car behind.

It is this scene that has Tower of Terror fans disappointed by the Summer Nightastic update, as it appears to have been hastily assembled. The scene itself is quite reminiscent of a unique scene present in the Tower of Terror found at the Disney California Adventure theme park in Anaheim. There, instead of the “5th dimension” scene, guests are presented with what appears to be a huge mirror. But shortly after seeing their own faces smiling back at them, guests witness themselves fade into the Twilight Zone. It’s a great effect that unfortunately has been poorly transported to the Orlando version of the attraction.

Rather than an impressive, real-time, full-motion effect as is since in the California Adventure version, this new addition simply fades one photograph into another. The image is obviously nothing more than a quick video projection, added to an existing wall, and not large or clear enough to be impressive. While it is fun to see yourself inside the Tower of Terror, the effect itself is largely a failure.

Fortunately, the changes that ensue following that effect are improvements. Crackly ’20s-style music has subtly been added as guests pass into the final elevator shaft, preparing for the drop. New sound effects accompany the ride’s famous drop, which has also been re-programmed. The new drop sequence appears to utilize the entire shaft, allowing plenty of out-of-your-seat air time at the top, push-into-your-seat G-forces at the bottom, and unexpected ups-and-downs in between. It appears that this is the only drop profile that will be active during Summer Nightastic, replacing multiple randomized sequences.

Overall, the average theme park guest will still find the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to be an exciting, immersive, and thrilling ride. The subtly-enhanced audio, new drop sequence, and overall eeriness of the outside of the Hollywood Tower Hotel are all welcome additions. But die-hard fans of the ride will almost certainly find themselves wishing that the lackluster “enhancements” to the pre-drop scene would themselves disappear into the Twilight Zone, never to be seen again.

Summer Nightastic continues through Aug. 14, 2010, at which point we’ve been told that the Tower of Terror would return to its non-Nightastic state.


  1. Alan

    Hopefully some of the changes from this new version will be kept and integrated into the normal ride, such as the lighting effects. But they really killed the ride’s soundtrack, which seems to have been silenced. And that crackly ’20s music isn’t at all eerie or spooky; it sounds too happy and comical.

    1. Ricky Brigante

      These are definitely changes for the sake of change. The new drop profile is fun and I’d like to see it added to the randomized sequence, but everything else can go.

  2. Maybe these changes explain why we experienced so much down time over the last few days? We were there late last week and it was down quite a bit–sometimes the whole ride and sometimes only half of it. We noticed the second time that we rode it there was black covering the walls instead of the normal stuff. But we didn’t see the image in front of us. It was actually pretty dull because of that. We must have ridden at some point in the middle of when they were making the changes.

    1. Ricky Brigante

      Yes, that’s definitely the case. The majority of the changes did not show up at Tower until last week.

  3. Christopher

    WDW took your picture when ToT first opened. It would then place the elevator in the eye as you drove past. Not sure why they took that out (replaced it with a staged photo that never changed). I assumed that the camera broke but it might have been that no one ever noticed it.

    1. Ricky Brigante

      I remember that as well. It’s unfortunate that element went away.

      1. Michael Good

        I though that they got rid of that because of people flipping/flicking(sorry it escaped my memory right now) off the camera. I could be wrong though.

  4. mark sonnenberg

    I never really liked the “objects” in the glass rooms that you drive past headed to the drop, but the “drive” is what makes our tower better than california’s so they need to make it awesome, not just more stars. now if we went driving down a spooky hallway with open doors on the sides with ghostly projected twilight zone images in them, and ended up in front of a large mirror with our live projection in it like california’s then it could be really cool

  5. James Tailor

    I’d love to see a live projector realtime image as in California, but I see the problem they have here is that the veichle is constantly moving which would require a moving camera or something to that effect which could then play havoc into the morphing image if the camera is moving…

  6. Chris

    when was that video the new version or the old version

    1. Ricky Brigante

      This video is the new Summer Nightastic version, which has its last day on August 14.


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