Disney’s Tower of Terror Doesn’t Actually Drop

in Park Secrets, Technology, Updates, Walt Disney World

An image of the Tower of Terror, a gloomy, haunted-looking building, illuminated by a neon sign under a stormy sky with a lightning bolt striking.

Credit: Disney

If you’ve ever visited Walt Disney World Resort’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, you’ve undoubtedly seen the eerie Hollywood Tower Hotel that houses the popular The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction.

Tower of Terror stormy sky
Credit: Disney

Related: Beloved Tower of Terror Sign Demolished Overnight

The Hotel, themed to look like a relic from Hollywood’s Golden Age, has a rich backstory and offers one of the most thrilling experiences of any Disney Parks ride — a free fall drop from 13 stories in the air!

However, would you believe us if we told you that you’re not actually falling when you ride Tower of Terror? It’s true! The exhilarating — and slightly terrifying — Disney Parks icon makes use of special technology to keep Guests safe and ensure they aren’t really falling through an elevator shaft into a dark abyss below.

tower of terror interior
Credit: Disney

Related: Fan Designs the Tip Top Club, a Tower of Terror Bar

Here, we dive into exactly how the mechanics behind The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror operate.

Tower of Terror Physics

Popular Mechanics addressed how exactly the Tower of Terror functions. And, as it turns out, the “service elevators” Guests ride in are pulled by a complex system of pulleys, brakes, and motors. The ride vehicle is not actually falling at all!

The Popular Mechanics article noted:

The dropping elevator was made by a real elevator company and is basically an operating elevator with a differently programmed routine. It still operates with motors and pulleys, and the car stops and starts at specified points. For safety, the “fall height” of the ride is just 90 feet out of the building’s entire 200-foot height.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney World
Credit: Chad Sparkes via Flickr

Related: Family Alleges Disney World “Forced” Them Into “Traumatic” Ride Experience

A Penn State University report outlined additional safety measures that were taken when the Tower of Terror was being designed. The Tower of Terror ride system itself was designed by the respected Otis Elevator Company, which was founded on September 20, 1853 in Yonkers, New York:

Two large induction motors positioned in a mechanical room above the shafts accelerate riders up and down.  Each motor is connected to two cable drums with solenoid brakes on the end of each drum.  The first drum holds two cables which support the elevator car from above.  While a single cable would be more than sufficient for this job, two are used for precautionary reasons.

The aforementioned Popular Mechanics report is based on an Art of Engineering video that goes into great depth regarding how Disney Imagineers used science to keep Guests safe at all times while they enjoy a spectacular fright every time they enter the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!

You can watch the full video below:

Related:Virtually Ride a Guest-Favorite Version of the Haunted Mansion

Even Disney Parks Blog has shared fun details about Tower of Terror, specifically the version at Disneyland Resort’s California Adventure Park:

Tower of Terror is made of more than 900 tons of steel, 1,600 cubic yards of concrete, 50,000 square feet of exterior plaster and about two miles of HV DC power cable.

DPB also noted that the service elevators travel “faster than the speed of gravity”!

This iteration of the ride is known as Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! and features Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), and other characters from Marvel’s Guardians franchise:

Disney California Adventure Guardians of the Galaxy Ride
Credit: Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

Related: Big Upgrades Confirmed for Tower of Terror at Disneyland Paris

More About the Tower of Terror

The Walt Disney World website officially describes The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as:

Step uneasily inside the infamous Hollywood Tower Hotel and find a dusty lobby frozen in time. Even the subdued hotel staff seems strangely out of another era. 

Suddenly a television set springs to life and Rod Serling welcomes you on a journey into the Twilight Zone. He reveals that on a gloomy Halloween night in 1939, some hotel patrons were riding the elevator when a violent storm struck the building… and they were never seen again. The hotel closed down and has stood empty ever since. 

Going Up? 

Enter the rickety, elevator-style lift, strap yourself in and prepare to discover what lies beyond the darkest corner of your imagination. 

Shriek in terror as you’re suddenly propelled up and down the abandoned shaft—unexpectedly dropping and rising—as you hear the sound of cables snapping and metal clanging overhead. 

Will you make it back to the real world… or will you become a permanent resident of the Twilight Zone?

tower of terror service elevator hallway
Credit: Disney

Are you ready to enter the Fifth Dimension?

What do you think about the mechanics behind the Tower of Terror? Are you amazed that it feels like you’re dropping even though you’re actually being pulled? Let us know in the comments. 

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