Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World: Tower of Terror

Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World:
Tower of Terror

Battle of the Parks: Tower of Terror

The Tower of Terror — a ghoulish delight nestled at the end of Sunset boulevard. I flat out refused go on this attraction before the age of 13. I think it was a combination of great/terrifying themeing and a very sheltered upbringing. It is undeniably one of the best themed attractions on property.
It is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s California Adventure. It is fair to say that these two attractions are extremely similar, but as Disney will be the first to admit, the devil is in the details. I am going to compare them side-by-side to see which one comes out on top(see what I did there?).

The original queue

Established in 1994, the Tower of Terror has long been a staple of Hollywood Studios. Although the sorcerer’s hat is the landmark of record, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is the tallest and most instantly recognizable structure from outside the park. The themeing really starts at the beginning of Sunset Boulevard with period shops, streetmosphere characters, and the ominous outline of the grand hotel in the distance. Disney is great at pacing an attraction of this scale, for example look at Expedition Everest. Mount Everest is there taunting you for almost the entire walk to the attraction. From a distance the hotel looks beautiful, but the plot thickens as you get closer and see the state of disarray the place is in.

The mood is solidified with the queue. — overgrown plants and the dilapidated motifs of a once great structure surround you. While this queue isn’t interactive like WDW’s Haunted Mansion or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I believe it is crucial to story building, I am always slightly disappointed when I don’t get a chance to really take in the dried up fountain or moody vintage Hollywood music. Of course I don’t completely resent the opportunity to wait just 13 minutes during extra magic hours. :)

DCA queue

DCA’s Tower of Terror opened just 3 year after DCA first opened, it was a staple to any guest’s trip. As many of you know DCA wasn’t a great park when it opened. During that time, I felt that Tower of Terror was something that was keeping Disney in a park that was almost devoid of it. But the park has completely changed over the past 5 years, essentially relegating the Tower of Terror into a small (almost) pointless corner of the park.
Similarly to the WDW version, It is located at the end of a Hollywood themed street, Hollywood Picture Backlot. Hollywood Picture Backlot is a beautiful land, with some heavy hitting attractions, i.e., Monters Inc., Muppets 3D, well at least I am a fan. One of the main differences between WDW and DCA is the location within the park. Sunset Boulevard’s themeing leads right up to the attraction, but in DCA a giant queue area for the Aladdin show is the only “story building” you get. The attraction is also located right next to A Bug Land, which only adds to the attractions weak themeing.

The queue at DCA’s Tower of Terror isn’t very inspired. You can tell that the Disneyland imagineers were under space constraints. Space was taken away from the most likely category, the queue. The long windy gardens of the original Tower of Terror were traded down for a space-saving chained queue area. You can also clearly see people exiting the attraction while you are waiting. This might be a little juvenile, but I actually dig not seeing the previous guests exit the scarier attractions, as it adds a little mystery.

The original pre-show and ride

You walk into the Hollywood Tower Hotel’s lobby, and it is just like the day it was abandoned. A few guests were in the middle of a Mah Jongg game, room keys are still hung up, and the hotel’s ornate details are still intact. The only difference is the dust and cobwebs, which have overrun this beautiful space. Bell hops great you, and lead you into the library/study. This library doubles as a pre show, and immerses you further into the story that has been building. I won’t go into detail about the ride video, I am sure you can find a copy on Youtube. After you exit the library, you enter the basement. It is a creepy industrial space, with oversized control boxes and piping. Exposed hot coals lay on the ground below you. This leads you up into the loading area, where you wait to climb aboard the service elevator.

DCA pre-show and ride

This is where the two attractions sync up. The interiors are incredibly similar which is disappointing. I wish that the California Adventure version, had different scenes, or just had some point of being different. Just like the haunted mansion in DL and WDW are different but maintain the same underlying concept. Seeing some variation would be nice.

The DCA ride is different, though. In the Walt Disney World version you start off in an elevator shaft that rises up, and during the rise up you see some amazing effects. Once you are at the top of the shaft, you move forward, going down a corridor. Eventually you reach the other elevator shaft, this is where the terror comes into play. In the Disneyland version, you remain in the same shaft the entire time, cutting down on ride time, and the quality of the experience.


I love the Tower of Terror, it is definitely one of my favorite attractions in the studios, but it doesn’t make my top 5 at Disney’s California adventure. I really feel that the ride was watered down for California, leaving out many of details I love about the original attraction. With the overhaul of California Adventure, the Tower of Terror was left in the dust.

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