Here’s Why You Don’t Plunge to Your Death on Disney’s Tower of Terror Ride

Credit: Art of Engineering/Disney Parks/Canva Creation

Several safety details in the design of a popular Disney World thrill ride keep the exciting experience from causing the deaths of the more than 6 million Guests who venture on the ride every single year.

9 Chilling Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Facts - D23

Credit: D23

Since it first opened to Guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 22, 1994, the Tower of Terror attraction inside the Hollywood Tower Hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort has been both a park staple and a Guest favorite. In fact, the ride premise, the storytelling inspired by The Twilight Zone, the theming, and the attraction itself are so extremely impressive, Guests rarely stop to think about the dangers of such a ride.

That’s because regardless of the fact that the ride is located at the Most Magical Place on Earth, the truth remains that Disney’s Tower of Terror attraction is still, at its heart, a drop tower ride, and drop tower rides can easily lead to serious injury and death, were it not for the numerous safety details within the design of the ride which, by the way, are perhaps more impressive than the ride itself.

It’s easy to get lost in the amazing world inside the Hollywood Tower Hotel at Walt Disney World‘s Hollywood Studios theme park. The attention to detail in every part of the pre-ride experience is unsurpassed, and even veteran riders of the attraction find themselves believing they’re actually visiting an old hotel, frozen in time following a terrible unexplained tragedy that took place in 1939.

Disney's Tower of Terror Doesn't Actually Drop

Credit: Disney Parks

The story behind the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction is chock full of meticulous details, as Disney Imagineers endeavored to give Guests a visual, tangible experience to give credence to the vivid storyline of the experience.

The premise for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a spooky one. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Hollywood Tower Hotel was the place where the who’s who of Hollywood’s elite stayed. But on Halloween night in 1939, five guests of the hotel, including a little girl, entered an elevator and disappeared behind the sliding door of the elevator shaft as a freak storm roared outside. After a magnificent flash of lightning, the elevator door reopened on another floor, but those guests were not onboard, and they have never been seen since.

The lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel serves as part of the queue for the attraction, and as Guests’ eyes scour the lobby, they’re filled with an eerie, unsettling uncertainty: is the story of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction simply that–just a story that highlights Walt Disney Imagineers‘ prowess in storytelling, or is it an actual account of the events of that fateful Halloween night in 1939?

tower of terror lobby

Credit: Disney Parks

Two pieces of luggage sit untouched near a grand sitting chair. Dead plants abound. The Guest Registrar is still open to the page signed by the last Guest to enter the hotel on that October evening, and dominoes sit atop a dusty old table surrounded by four chairs, as if their owners stepped away from the game only moments ago. It’s all part of Walt Disney Imagineering‘s attempt to make the imagined seem real. Or perhaps it is real. The attention to detail will have you wondering.

But Imagineers’ attention to the features within the ride and the design of the ride itself won’t leave you wondering about safety.

It’s estimated that approximately 1,700 Guests experience the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios every hour, according to WDW Theme Parks. That’s about the same number of Guests who travel down the midway at Toy Story Mania every hour, but less than half the number of Guests who take the journey high above Tomorrowland at the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (3,600 Guests per hour).

That means that in an average year, around six million Guests will venture into the Hollywood Tower Hotel and make their way inside an elevator car that seems to have a mind of its own.

Guests can never be sure of what will happen once the elevator car breaks away from its shaft, but they can be absolutely sure they won’t fall to their deaths at the Tower of Terror attraction, even when a rogue car and a haunted elevator shaft are at the controls.

That’s because the genius of Walt Disney Imagineering trumps even the cleverest of ghosts and spooks inside the attraction.

Because Guests are not equipped with their own sets of wings, drop tower rides present a danger all their own. Gravity is a necessary force, but it can kill, especially in instances of falls from heights of any magnitude. But for whatever reason, even with this understanding, thrill-seekers of all ages love the feeling of falling–so long as they know they’re safe, and that someone–or something–will catch them as they go.

tower of terror elevator

Credit: YouTube/Disney Parks

The elevator cars inside the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney World are actual elevator cars built by Otis Elevator Company. And each one is outfitted with what is referred to as an “over-engineered design” and “redundant safety systems,” both of which mean exactly what they sound like they mean; Guests will not fall to their deaths in an elevator car at the Tower of Terror attraction because the very engineering of the ride goes so far above the minimum standards for safety, and because the multiple safety systems reinforce one another, so to speak.

Each of the 8 elevator cars inside the attraction features four solenoid brakes that control the speed of the car so Guests can’t race up the cables and burst through the roof and they can’t free fall down the tower shaft and crash into the ground.


Credit: Art of Engineering

In the event of a failure of the solenoid brakes, a mechanical “speed-governing” system on the elevator car itself is there to pick up the slack by activating the emergency friction brakes which would bring the elevator car to a stop, rather than allowing it to plummet to the bottom of the elevator shaft.

In a “terrible-case scenario” wherein both cables that support the elevator cars were to snap (just one of these steel cables can support the entire weight of a car full of Guests, but Disney chose to use double cables for added safety), another set of emergency brakes would be activated. These brakes would prevent the car from hurtling down the shaft toward the ground, according to Art of Engineering.


Credit: Art of Engineering

In the “worst-possible case scenario,” wherein every single one of the aforementioned safety features failed simultaneously–which has never happened in Disney Parks’ history and is as close to impossible as possible, the falling elevator car would then generate a billowy cushion of compressed air at the bottom of the elevator shaft upon which the car would land. Each shaft is also outfitted with shock absorbers on the ground floor which would aid in cushioning the fall.

In that terrible scenario–that has never happened and almost surely never will–you might walk away with a bump and a bruise, but you won’t fall to your death inside the Hollywood Tower Hotel.


Credit: Art of Engineering

Thanks to the genius minds at Walt Disney Imagineering, Guests are afforded many assurances when it comes to safety at the Tower of Terror.

The same might not be quite true for the story of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction. So you tell us: is it just an Imagineer’s affinity for storytelling, or is the attraction a tangible, visual account of that evening’s events?

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!