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How the Tower of Terror changed the world

Tomorrow will mark the 16th anniversary of the Tower of Terror opening at the then Disney-MGM Studios on July 22, 1994.  To this day, the Tower of Terror is still one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World and rightfully so. It's in my opinion the best attraction in all of Walt Disney World, given it's deep theme, exhilarating ride sequence and great back story.  I'm not the only one who seems to think so highly of the Tower of Terror given it's been copied to every single Disney resort around the world with the exception of Hong Kong Disneyland.  Why has this one attraction resonated so much with Walt Disney World guests?

To understand the appeal of the Tower of Terror, you have to look at what the attraction is comprised of.  We start with classic Disney Imagineering, with a ride system that isn't anything new (drop ride) and then layer on top of it theme and story to give it that "Disney Difference" and separate it from most other kinds of drop rides.  Just like Pirates of the Caribbean is more than a boat ride or Haunted Mansion is more than a dark ride, the Tower of Terror is more than sum of its parts.  The combined story, theme and ride make it so darn unique that it serves so well that sense of suspending disbelief and allowing guests to believe more than ever, that they are indeed living out a Twilight Zone episode.

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then the Tower of Terror should be blushing all over.  The first copy went to Disneyland in California where they used the Tower of Terror to boost attendance in the park.  What Disney discovered was the Tower of Terror was a huge boon for attendance figures and guests were flocking to try it out more so than other copied attractions.  Lightning struck again (okay, pun intended) in Disneyland Paris when they added a Tower of Terror to their park and saw an incredible attendance increase.  In Tokyo Disneyland, we find a completely different Tower of Terror without a Twilight Zone theme, but still very popular and continuing the legacy of this now classic Disney attraction.

Often we ask ourselves what are the new classic Disney attractions and the Tower of Terror has to be on the top of the list.  The Tower of Terror offers everything you expect from a great experience in a Disney park: great story, attention to detail and a fun time.  With the Tower of Terror, Disney took the idea of a thrill ride, something that will tantalize you in the experience, and made it something that is very family friendly.  Aside from the height requirement, the Tower of Terror doesn't have evoke that sense that it's something just for thrill seekers.  Like Splash Mountain before it, it makes what could be a scary ride into something enjoyable for everyone who can ride it. 

At Disney parks around the world, the Tower of Terror has become synonymous with these parks, just like other classic attractions we think about.  Given that reality, the Tower of Terror is in unique company a top the best Disney attractions list.  To me, the Tower of Terror is a testament to the Imagineers of the modern era who have been looking to the Imagineers of Disneyland and early Walt Disney World as their inspiration for projects today.  It's not uncommon to ponder what Walt Disney would think of the parks we have today, and I really believe he would be proud of the Tower of Terror for carrying on the tradition of innovating rides to make them truly unique experiences.

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A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 by