Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tower of Terror

The queue winds through the neglected gardens of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

Brandon and I fill in my parents on the back-story of the hotel – how it was once the place to be for Hollywood stars, but since the lightning strike that caused five people to disappear off an elevator decades ago, it has been left vacant. With that in mind, we have fun all the more looking around the queue and the exterior of the hotel to see how the Imagineers have put in touches, some subtle, some not, of aging and neglect. Everything is perfectly run-down.

We even notice that the palm trees here – which are so neatly kept elsewhere in the parks – have accumulations of dead leaves. Nice touch.

The queue winds in and out of a shaded portico. The air temperature’s not too high, at least compared to Texas, but being in direct sunlight heats us up quickly, so I’m always grateful when I’m able to move back into the shade.

The line is long but is almost constantly moving, which I can handle better than standing in one place for a long time. Within the predicted half-hour wait time we’re entering the hotel lobby – itself remarkably preserved in a state of perpetual decay and neglect. Creepy and cool.

We’re directed into a study for the preshow with Rod Serling. It was this preshow that scared Brandon six years ago. At age 14 he’s handling it much better!

Time for us to become the “stars of tonight’s episode” of the Twilight Zone! Out of the study we file. Apparently there are two levels of ride elevator loading here, one at the level we’re on and one up a set of stairs. We don’t have to take the stairs, thankfully.

The line moves quickly and suddenly we are being shown to specific marks for us to stand on for fast loading when the elevator arrives. Yikes! The elevator is here! Too late to back out now. I’m getting nervous.

After we’re strapped into our seats, the CM loading us asks if there are any questions – and then lets the doors close in front of him before we can think of any!

The ride surprises me from the very first. I knew there would be a narration as we rode, but I did not expect that our first move would be backwards, not up! We glide back from the loading door, and suddenly everything but that door disappears into a star field, and then the door itself is gone. Again, cool and creepy!

We ascend a certain distance and are suddenly confronted with a mirror image of ourselves sitting in the elevator – then we are “zapped” and only a ghostly outline of our former image remains! Another vertical move of the elevator, and we’re stopped looking down a hallway. The five people who disappeared so many years ago now re-appear in ghostly form, beckoning us to join them. The hallway disappears – we’re in space again, leaving only the unfortunate five spinning off into infinity. The narration informs us that we have now crossed over… into the Twilight Zone.

Whoosh! We are pulled down, faster than being dropped. It’s impossible to judge distances in the darkness, but we’re pulled down at least several stories. I’m caught completely off-guard. Yes, I knew the drop was coming, but somehow I thought there would be some more movement, or a pause after the last special effect – perhaps lulled by the knowledge of the different ride setup at Walt Disney World where the vehicle leaves the initial elevator shaft and travels to the drop shaft. I was not expecting the drop – and it makes me laugh with surprise.

Whoosh! We zoom upwards, and doors open so that we are looking out over the parks. We are really high up. Whoosh! We go higher. Then we’re pulled down a long way – my pin lanyard is floating up around the level of my eyes. Up. Down. Down again. Up. Up again. Doooown… and Rod Serling comes on again to congratulate us on our survival, and to caution us about our choice of hotels in the future, or we just might end up checking into… the Twilight Zone.

I loved it. Loved it. Looooooooved this ride. I want to buy this ride flowers and have its babies. I enjoyed it that much – I’m smiling ear to ear and laughing my head off as we exit.

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