The Hollywood Tower Hotel branches out to Paris and California: Part 5 of our Freefall Series

The Hollywood Tower Hotel branches out to Paris and California: Part 5 of our Freefall Series


Disney’s California Adventure (Anaheim, California) and Walt Disney Studios (Chessy, France) were both planned and constructed around the same time.  Disney’s California Adventure opened in February 2001 and the Walt Disney Studios opened in April 2002.  For the Walt Disney Studios park located next to Disneyland Paris, things were problematic from the get-go as funding was limited and the choice was made to open with only one thrilling attraction, Rock n Roller Coaster.  The reception was quite lukewarm as the park’s plain appearance along with the limited number of attractions did not bring the crowd to the park as management was expecting.  One curious thing did open with the park: a terrace featuring the same Spanish revival architecture along with the HTH logo was present in the center of the park.  A large empty plot of land adjacent to it was a sign of things to come for the park.

Over in California, similar issues plagued Disney’s California Adventure as the choice of using a lot of spinning rides and visible attractions combined with uneven design throughout the park lead to attendance woes.  Plans for a new version of the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror for the Parisian Studios park had already been created, and when Walt Disney Studios went with Rock n Roller Coaster, those were set aside at Walt Disney Imagineering.  In 2002, to improve the image of the park, Disney greenlighted the Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure, using the Paris plans.

Those would require massive modifications to the building plans itself as the building codes and laws in France and California are radically different.  For example, the Paris Tower of Terror was to be constructed of concrete while the California Hollywood Tower Hotel would be built like the one in Florida, using steel girders covered in concrete for the show façade.  Also, California construction requires the building to have sturdy foundations and design to resist severe earthquakes, a concern not present in Paris.

Construction began in 2002 on the Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure using part of the remaining parking lot located behind the park.  It would be found in the Hollywood Backlot District and help bring focus and a high capacity attraction to that side of the park.

When the ride opened in 2004, things were quite different compared to the one in Florida.  The building itself was reversed; the tower portion of the Hotel is behind the show building, and the boiler room is quite massive.  The dramatic location on a hill replaced by a standard entrance and small queue line in a garden to the left of the hotel.

TOT Flex DCA 2

Our friend Flex provided us with this picture of the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure.   The small garden waiting line is behind the fence we see.

The lobby is quite similar at first until one realizes one critical design mistake: the library is in the same location as in Florida, which is correct since the crashed elevator would line up under the tower portion.  Over in California, the crashed elevators are positioned on the right of the building and effectively lead nowhere.  The libraries are the same, and it is after that things get completely different.

The Boiler Room is now a huge two stories mass of steel, and the left library now heads upstairs up some stairs to the second level.  The right library path stays on the ground, and each queue leads to three service elevators.  Once the service elevator doors open, guests walk across a hallway and into the elevator, which was equipped from the start with seatbelts and twenty-one riders per vehicle.

Once the ride gets underway, Rod Sterling talks to us and informs us that we are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator and that a reservation in our name has been made.  At the same time, the elevator rolls backward and enters the ride shaft.  Projections on the doors appear in a star field and, then the elevator quickly rise in darkness.

A new mirror hall replaced the Fifth Dimension scene.  We are at the top of the Tower at the famed Tip Top Club, and we are encouraged to wave at our projection…. which turns into ghosts and then violently disappears.  Rod Sterling then informs us that we have just entered the Twilight Zone.

The elevator moves to the Hallway scene and the five ghosts wave at us to join them in their eternal prison.  The Hallway disappears into a star field, and the Ghosts now appear in the doomed elevator that caused them to disappear all those years ago.  Suddenly, their elevator cabin crashes down to the ground, and at the same time, our elevator drops down as well.

The drop sequence is very similar to the extended profile that appeared in 1999 at Walt Disney World and notably features an intense negative-G slingshot that lifts riders off their seat for an extended time.  The ride concludes with a similar video as the elevator moves forward into its home position for unloading.

Mechanically, the ride was simplified and streamlined when you compare to the Tower of Terror in Florida.  The Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) is now much simpler mechanically and has no onboard motor.  A harpoon-like hydraulic plunger moves the AGV in and out of the drop shaft, and the ride has the following configuration:  three drop shafts each equipped with two AGV.  Each drop shaft has a load position on the bottom and upper floor of the boiler room.  While one AGV load, the other AGV does the ride profile.  Vehicle transfers and inspection is done in the basement of the attraction in a specially constructed maintenance area.

Over in Paris, financing was arranged, and the Tower of Terror greenlighted in 2005.  Construction began as soon as the construction permits cleared with the local authorities and soon, a giant cement building was rising above the park.  The new Tower is a little shorter at 183 feet than the original one in Florida and, amazingly, due to the nature of the primary construction material, cost more than the original.  Due to the cement construction in Paris, costs rose to 180 million euros.

At the same time that the Hotel was built, important theming was added around it with facades of Hollywood covering up some of the utilitarian looking buildings and adding more substance to the park.  The ride finally opened in soft openings just in time for the Christmas season of 2007 on December 22nd, 2007 and was officially opened in April 2008.

Aesthetically and mechanically, the Paris Hollywood Tower Hotel was the same as the one in California with one significant change language-wise.  The California Preshow and onboard narration were translated to French and, interestingly, the groom in the library and at load can select either French or English as the language that will play there for that group.  The idea is that if he hears a lot of English or other languages, he selects English with French subtitles.  Else, French is played by default.

TOT logo Paris

Logo of the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror.

The Walt Disney Studios Twilight Zone Tower of Terror had a spectacular projection show on its inauguration night and, that projection show became permanent after.  The Hollywood Tower Hotel is used for nighttime shows, like at Christmas time and for Star Wars.

There was a significant construction issue with the finish of the Tower of Terror in Paris leading to the appearance degrading quickly after opening.  Issues were settled between Disneyland Paris and that company and, in 2018, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is behind themed scaffolding so that the company can solve that issue.