Hightower Hotel in New-York: Part 6 of our Freefall Series

Hightower Hotel in New-York: Part 6 of our Freefall Series

As we discussed in our article about Raging Spirits (that you can find here ), Oriental Land Co., owner, and operator of Tokyo Disney Resort, went with a new Tower of Terror at Tokyo DisneySea. A Mayan Temple in Tokyo: Our look at Raging Spirits

As the park does not feature a Hollywood theme or movie area, Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) created a new story that would tie in with the rest of the American Waterfront, the S.E.A. storyline and another attraction in the design phase.  A massive expansion plot had been left open in a New-York portion of the American Waterfront, and it was strategically located between a set of gothic-themed bathrooms and the Sailing Day Buffet building.  Tower of Terror was selected and began construction.

The basic layout of the attraction is similar to the Tower of Terror at Walt Disney Studios/Disney’s California Adventure) with 6 Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) in three shafts and two loading levels.  Where things differ, a lot is the content and architecture style.  WDI went away from the Spanish-revival style seen in the other attractions and went to the Gothic-Revival style.

Hotel Hightower

Gothic-Revival is used for many skyscrapers in New-York City and religious buildings around the world.  Hightower Hotel as the hotel would now be known would have an imposing presence over the park and the color tones give an impression of power and wealth.  Located at One, Park Avenue, Hightower Hotel would be the center of the new storyline, which was sourced by us from the English park information, promotional videos and another sight around the park.

Hotel Hightower at dusk and at night.

Hotel Hightower under snow.jpg

During a January visit, we captured this rare photo of Hotel Hightower covered in snow.

Hightower Hotel was owned by Harrison Hightower III, a member of the S.E.A. (Society of Explorers and Adventurers), a loose storyline tying attractions and buildings around Disney parks worldwide. Examples are as follow:

Fortress Explorations Tokyo Disneysea

Fortress Explorations (Tokyo DisneySea)

Raging Spirits (Tokyo DisneySea)

Mystic Manor (Hong Kong Disneyland)

Skipper Canteen (Magic Kingdom)

Harrison Hightower III was portrayed in the promo videos by famed Imagineer Joe Rohde, and his likeness is used throughout Hightower Hotel, showing him taking possession of artifacts around the world in the lobby and a dramatic portrait in the lobby.  On December 31st, 1899, Mr. Hightower held a press conference in his office at the Hotel where he unveiled to the world his latest acquisition, Shiriki Utundu.  Found somewhere in Congo, Shiriki Utundu was believed to have magical powers and even though Hightower claimed he acquired it “at great risks to his life” and that the local tribesmen weren’t happy to part with it, a photo shows otherwise, showing a smiling chieftain and happy tribe.

Shiriki Utundu

Bubblehead figure of Shiriki Utundu.

A journalist who had heard rumors surrounding the idol questioned Hightower about the curse surrounding the idol, but Hightower laughed and sneered at him and eventually kicked him out.  The journalist returned later and disguised as a waiter; he saw an interesting conversation between Hightower and Smelding, his assistant.  Hightower left the large party, and as he entered the elevator, Smelding asked him to be careful with the Idol… Hightower laughed and then proceeded to stub his cigar onto the head of Shiriki Utundu.

Shortly after, screams and voices were heard in the elevator and mysterious green light engulfed a time clock, the level indicator of the hotel and the lift itself.  The elevator then crashed to the ground as the party guests fled the hotel in terror.  As for Hightower?  He disappeared, and only Shiriki Utundu was left in the rubbles of the elevator.

The journalist investigated the rumors surrounding the now empty hotel, and the belief was that it was cursed.  A business rival of Hightower, Cornelius Endicott III, eventually got the city to demolish the hotel, but his daughter, Beatrice Rose Endicott, decided otherwise.  She formed the “Society of Preservation of New-York” and got a charter from the city to offer tours of the abandoned Hightower Hotel.  Now known as the “Tower of Terror,” volunteers offer tours of the hotel, culminating with a visit of Hightower penthouse at the top.  Even though the reporter warned her about the curse, she did not believe in it and still went ahead with her plan to offer tours.

It is now 1912, and this is where we come in.  The New York Society of Preservation is offering tours of the decrepit hotel, and various banners are hanging around the Hotel, teasing what we will see inside.

The outdoor waiting line.

Once inside the lobby, it was rearranged as a waiting line for the tour, and like other popular attractions, stand-by and fast pass lines are present.  Guests eventually reach the end of the line, where a portrait of Harrison Hightower III foreboding hangs in front of us, looking at us.

The library is on the left, and the office is on the right, and before, in an antechamber, a volunteer gives us a quick rundown of the events at Hightower Hotel.  She refers to a photograph that shows when Hightower got the Idol, and then, we proceed into the room.

In both rooms, you have a stained glass portrait of Hotel Hightower with the owner in front, an elegant desk and an old phonograph on it.  Shiriki Utundu is placed on a pedestal as well.  The volunteer points out Shiriki Utundu and then, turns the lever on the phonograph, and we hear Hightower last press conference.

As we get to the moment where Hightower ridiculizes the journalist for bringing up the curse, the recording ends, and lightning hit the portrait.  It turns gray, and Hightower expression turns to one of fear as we relive his fateful last ride.  We see him enter the elevator which climbs to the top and then, crashes to the bottom, breaking the portrait.  Throughout all that, Hightower eerie voice tells us not to proceed any further and that the curse is real.

Shiriki Utundu then comes to life as its eyes open and then it grins as it sees us.  It then disappears in a starfield, leaving the visitors utterly confused as to what just happened.  The secret door to the warehouse then opens and a volunteer who has not seen what just happened ushers us toward the working elevators.

This is the most spectacular area of the Hotel, as incredible artifacts and items surround us.  A giant scary stone face hangs from the ceiling, sizeable Egyptian statue and mummy surround us are just some of the incredible sights we see.  As the ride system is the same as Paris and California, there are two levels to the warehouse and, there are six elevators.

Hightower hidden warehouse.

One significant difference here is the pre-elevator room are each themed differently.  We saw a room filled with Egyptian hieroglyph, another with armors and one filled with priceless carpets.  A tour guide assign us seats and eventually, we hear the safety video in Japanese, English, and Mandarin.

WDI here solved the incoherence where we passed an elevator door in Paris and California to pass a hallway and finally board the elevator.  At Hightower Hotel, the door is hidden among the artifacts and, then we see the actual service elevator door with the AGV beyond.

The AGV here was modified as it still features 22 seats versus 21 seats elsewhere.  Three-point seatbelts are in use, and they included a cushion for us to sit on and make the airtime moments more comfortable.  As Japanese guests are smaller, they could preserve eight seats in the back row and, so, you still have an awesome seat that faces the aisle.

After boarding, the room turns dark as Hightower’s voice resonates, asking us why we proceeded and why we are in the elevator.  Eerie green eyes stare at us while the AGV moves backward and then things turn dark.  Hightower laments that his greed destroyed him and that Shiriki Utundu doomed him to repeat his fateful elevator ride forever.  As he says that, the elevator doors open and we relive the last moments of Hightower as we see him jeering the idol in a large ballroom.  We then see him getting zapped by green lightning by the Idol which sends him back toward the elevator as the room turn to a starfield.  The elevator then plummets to the ground as Shiriki turns around and stare at us…

The elevator doors close and then we move on toward another level where we stare at the mirror scene.  Hightower tells us to wave at our selves and wave goodbye.  As we do that, our reflection disappear and then in a green aura, Shiriki appears, and we see the green eyes that terrified Hightower for eternity.  The elevator then shakes and starts ascending to the top of the Tower.  At the top, doors open and we look at the park when our picture is taken.  The elevator then teases a drop, stops and then proceed to fall to the bottom.  We then get the airtime slingshot where the elevator quickly rises, stops to send us floating out of our seat before plummeting back to the ground.

The ride then rises back to the top, and the drop sequence concludes with a full drop the whole 130 feet drop shaft length.  The ride then returns to its home position and Hightower tell us that we were saved and, we should never return to the Tower of Terror.  Shiriki Utundu still stares at us as we move forward and, then, the doors open and we exit the tour.

Tower of Terror exit.jpg

Tower of Terror exit hallway.

Tower of Terror exit shop.

The ride itself was adapted with a shorter drop cycle to boost capacity as the experience is immensely popular, more so than the original one in Florida.  For a few years, to boost attendance in the slower winter months, Tokyo DisneySea gave the Tower of Terror a temporary overlay, called Level 13.

Level 13 upgrades the effects of the attraction and extends the drop sequence, adding two drops and bringing it closer to what you experience in Paris now.  For example, in the office preshow, after Shiriki Utundu disappears, you see its shadow flying across the room.

Beyond the extended drop sequence, a new scene and an effect were added to the drop shaft.  After seeing Shiriki in the mirror scene, you then see Shiriki cutting the cable of the elevator as a shadow.  After dropping, you stop at the ballroom scene and you see a scary projection of the Idol’s face flying toward us.

It is a very popular makeover and combined with the extended ride time; lines are quite long and fast passes run out quite fast.