It’s an age-old question. Well, maybe not. But it’s a few decades old. Which is a better ride at Walt Disney World Resort, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or the Haunted Mansion?
They both attempt to scare riders through a ghostly backstory, special effects, and unsettling buildings. But let’s compare the two iconic attractions by examining the queue, pre-show, and the ride experience.
The Ride Queues
If you happen to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios at a busy time of the year, you may find yourself with the unique experience of thoroughly enjoying the Tower of Terror queue. It’s a gorgeous path that winds through a lush and overrun garden in front of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. Throughout your wait in the garden, old-time music sets the stage as you inch your way closer and closer to the hotel’s entrance. Once inside, you are presented with an abandoned hotel lobby covered in cobwebs. It provides a sense of uneasiness – the kind you’d feel walking into an abandoned building uninvited.
At Magic Kingdom, the Haunted Mansion pathway guides you through a graveyard with an interactive music wall and a bookshelf where books mysteriously jut out. It sets the stage for the classic Disney ride, combining creepy imagery and ideas with playful mischief. However, you may have a much scarier experience if you visit the queue at nighttime.
The Ride Pre-Shows
The Tower of Terror’s preshow begins as you step into the hotel library. While instructed to peruse the room, suddenly, the lights shut off, and a TV flashes on. Guests are introduced to the opening of The Twilight Zone, and the late Rod Serling introduces the Hollywood Tower Hotel. We are given the backstory of hotel guests that checked in one day and upon riding the elevator, were struck by lightning and vanished. Then BAM! The lights return, and you are instructed to head into the boiler room…where you prepare to board the ride vehicle.
The Haunted Mansion’s pre-show is classic Disney. The ghost host narration, combined with the stretching room effect, is one of the most famous introductions to a ride in all of Disney history. Like the Tower of Terror, it uses a light-cutting effect, and once the lights pop back on, you are instructed to move into another room. Although similar to the Tower of Terror, it takes you into a hallway where you are directed to your assigned Doom Buggie.
The Ride Experience
Some may consider the experience more critical than the queue or pre-show. And when it comes to most rides at your standard theme park, I may tend to agree. But when talking about Walt Disney World Resort, every moment of the experience is equally important. This element sets Disney apart from Six Flags or other standard amusement parks.
The Tower of Terror smoothly lifts you a few levels right away. The initial “lift” is a thrilling moment (despite not being a drop) because Disney has worked to perfect the art of anticipation on its rides. Following the lift, you are presented with a haunting scene of the family from the pre-show. Again, you watch lightning destroy them. Then the hallway fades away into a field of stars (from The Twilight Zone), and a shattering window reminds you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
You rise another couple of levels again, and the elevator leaves the shaft. As you move, you are presented with dozens of icons from The Twilight Zone as you move forward into absolute darkness. Then…anything can happen. You may go up, you may drop down. And whatever sequence happens after that is always a surprise!
On the other hand, the Haunted Mansion doesn’t provide you with the same pit in your stomach. Honestly, not many other Disney attractions do (maybe Space Mountain). But what the Haunted Mansion lacks in high thrills, it makes up for with a long ride time and dozens of audio-animatronics. And, of course, we cannot forget signature Disney scenes and characters like the Pepper’s Ghost effects in the ballroom, Madame Leota, the Hitchhiking Ghosts, and so much more.
All things considered, I have to go with the Tower of Terror. As soul-destroying as it is to write those words, I can’t deny that it is one of Walt Disney World’s best attractions ever built. Although a fan of both rides, I view the Tower of Terror as a “plus-ing” of the Haunted Mansion. It utilizes many of the same story-telling elements and top-of-the-line Disney Imagineering. However, I struggle to find a single component of the Haunted Mansion I don’t like. So, I could probably be pretty easily persuaded to change my mind…
What are your thoughts?