Disney’s California Adventure Park opened right next to Disneyland Park in February 2001. It was supposed to be the grand finale of the series of new Disney Parks around the world. At the time, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner was trying to expand the company all over the world. He expanded Walt Disney World with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom Park. Those parks–especially Animal Kingdom–were not unsuccessful necessarily. But the same cannot be said about some of the other new Disney Parks like Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) and Hong Kong Disneyland.

The result of the underwhelming openings of these parks was budget cuts. Particularly, Disney’s California Adventure suffered the most. And with the budget cuts came lower quality for basically everything. Then, the park basically flopped. It is generally believed that if it weren’t located right next to Disneyland Park, California Adventure would have likely been abandoned several years ago. Basically, the success of Disney’s California Adventure was carried on the back of Disneyland Park. And that was the most true until 2012, but especially the first few years. Carsland is often seen as the main saviour for the park, but it did not open until the year 2012. If it were not for the Tower of Terror, the park might not have made it that far anyway.

Tower of Terror

When Imagineers were planning Disney’s Hollywood Studios (originally Disney MGM Studios), drop rides were a new and popular thing. Six Flags had one or two rides like this that were taking off (literally). Disney wanted to do a cool new drop ride of their own, but better. The initial plan was to create a roller coaster drop ride hybrid attraction in Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris). However, that idea was eventually scratched. But as the saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens”. Imagineers instead decided to try building a new drop ride for the new Disney MGM Studios.

Along with wanting a new style of free fall ride, Imagineers also liked the idea of another haunted attraction. There were several ideas proposed. Some of these included: “Hotel Mel” which would have been a hotel-themed drop ride narrated by Mel Brooks. Other ideas were a murder mystery, a ghost tour, and a ride based on Stephen King’s novels. But nothing really seemed to stick. But then it was proposed that they based the ride off of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone series. Finally, something had clicked.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney MGM Studios on July 22, 1994. It was an immediate hit and remains extremely popular 25 years later. It was obvious that a new thrill ride was necessary to keep Disney’s California Adventure afloat. As soon as the budget was available for California Adventure, Imagineers brainstormed ideas. The main candidates for a duplicate attraction from Disney World for the park were The Great Movie Ride, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror. Eventually, the Tower of Terror was chosen and greenlit. DCA’s version of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened on May 5, 2004.

Queue and Pre-Show

Guests started in the outdoor queue (unless they were lucky enough to catch a short enough line). Old-fashioned jazz music played both outside and in the lobby portion of the queue. The plants outside were all dying or dead. There were cracks in the walls and the paint was chipped. Once inside the lobby guests witnessed a place that had been frozen in time. Cobwebs filled the area. There were still guests’ luggage, hats, canes, etc. unceremoniously left behind. The mailboxes still had mail in them. An unopened wine bottle sat in long melted ice. A mahjong board game was left unfinished at one of the tables.

You then entered the library for the pre-show. This is where we learn why the building had become so dilapidated. Our bellhop takes us to the library to wait for our “rooms to be ready.” Once the doors closed, lightning flashed, thunder clapped, and the lights went out. But the television mysteriously turned on.

It started out like a classic episode of The Twilight Zone with Rod Serling’s narration over eerie imagery. He tells the story of a Halloween night at the hotel in 1939. Five people were inside the now-defunct service elevator when it was struck by lightning. Those five people were never seen again, supposedly only appearing in another dimension–or the Twilight Zone. We then learned that we were about to embark on the same service elevator directly to the Twilight Zone. All of a sudden the doors open, the lights come on, and the television turns off. The bellhop informs us our rooms are ready and it’s time to head to the elevator. While waiting in the basement, vague screams can be occasionally heard. There are also several nods to episodes of The Twilight Zone.

The Ride

Guests were loaded onto the elevator and strapped in. As soon as the doors closed, the famous theme song played as Rod Serling continued to narrate. Well, technically it was a really talented Rod Serling impersonator since the real Rod Serling had long passed away. But that is neither here nor there. We visited a few different floors in the hotel. On the first, we were shown a mirror that turns us into ghost-looking beings. The second, we see the “ghosts” of the five people who disappeared in 1939. Suddenly the elevator dropped faster than the speed of gravity. It went up and down thrillingly fast a few times before the ride ended.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was easily the most popular ride in Disney’s California Adventure until Radiator Springs Racers opened in 2012. So the decision to close it in favour of a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed attraction was confusing, to say the least. However, the result was still really awesome.

Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: BREAKOUT!

It started out as a normal day at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con until it was announced that a new ride called Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: BREAKOUT! is coming to Disney. The new ride would be based on the Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy movies. What cool, exciting news! Where would the new ride go, though? Well, it would replace the beloved Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction in Disney’s California Adventure. Okay, here comes the controversy and uproar. The big debate began: Tower of Terror vs. Guardians of the Galaxy. It became such a big deal that several petitions were created and got a good amount of signatures. But they obviously had no success.

Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: BREAKOUT! officially opened on May 27, 2017. It uses the same ride system and infrastructure as the former Tower of Terror did. The only difference, besides the theming, is the randomized drop sequences that were added with the new ride replacement.

Queue and Pre-Show

Just like before, guests start out by waiting in the outdoor queue. Nothing really stands out here, except a few minor details like a random garden gnome on the right side of the queue. You’ll most likely spot it if you are in the Fastpass line. In the front of the building stands a golden statue of “The Collector,” who is the main villain in this story. Once inside the lobby (I am not sure what else to call it…it is still a lobby to me), guests are overwhelmed with the sights and sounds. There are tons of creatures on display both around and above you.

The main attention-grabber in this room is the large projection on the back wall, which is a video of The Collector introducing his newest collection: the Guardians of the Galaxy. Each member of the team is locked inside a transparent, floating prison cell. We see them trying to get out as well as arguing with their descriptions on display for the audience. For example, Star-Lord is upset they called him a human. And Gamora is mad that they said she is the daughter of Thanos.

This is the spot where guests will first notice the biggest differences between the Tower of Terror vs. Guardians. While the Tower lobby was sombre and quiet, the Guardian's lobby was far from reverent.

Then guests enter The Collector’s private office, where it is revealed that Rocket has escaped and needs our help getting everyone else out. As humans, our hands get clearance in the museum system. So he asks that we raise our hands to help free the Guardians of the Galaxy once we are on the gantry lift. Rocket is portrayed by an animatronic in this scene.

The Ride

Once aboard the gantry lift, the doors close, and The Collector’s narration begins. But Rocket, who is apparently on top of the lift, unplugs the narration and plays Star-Lord’s Walkman. There are six different sequences you can get here, and each depends on the song that plays once the Walkman is plugged in. Each song is paired with a different drop sequence and show that is projected in front of guests in between drops. The sequences are:

Each is a variation of different scenes where the Guardians characters are escaping while also fighting the other monsters, who have also escaped. Finally, we say goodbye as we see the Guardians boarding their getaway ship. Then there is one last drop before the ride ends.

Which is Better?

This is the moment you have been waiting for (…if you did not catch that, it is a direct Collector quote from the Guardians ride…anyway). Let’s decide once and for all: Tower of Terror vs. Guardians, which is better?

Competition Categories:

  • Atmosphere: The “atmosphere” category encompasses the overall feeling of the attraction based on the music, decorations, etc. and how immersive they are. As far as music goes, Guardians wins. However, everything else about the atmosphere of the attraction feels chaotic. Every time we first step inside we feel too overwhelmed. It feels like clutter. The exterior of the attraction feels the same way. The Tower of Terror felt more relatable and realistic. For that, the Tower of Terror takes this category.
  • Story: The “story” category is pretty self-explanatory. How creative is the story? Is it interesting enough? Both attraction stories were tweaked from a previously existing IP and overall story. And both of them were done really well and make sense. But since there are multiple possible storylines to experience on Guardians, it wins.
  • Experience: For the “experience” category, we look at how people react to the attraction and whether it is generally liked. This is a tough decision as well. Even though the experiences are pretty different for each ride, they are both almost equally great. However, since Guardians of the Galaxy brings more laughs and smiles than Tower of Terror did, it wins.
  • Thrill: The “thrill” category is self-explanatory. Which version of the ride was the most exciting? Since the ride system is the same for both, it is hard to decide this one. However, since the Tower of Terror had the added element of spookiness, we give this category to that ride.
  • Technology: The “technology” category covers how up-to-date and innovative the technical elements of the ride are: the projections, the ride system, etc. This category is pretty easy. Since any new attraction will probably have better technology than its predecessor, it is usually safe to assume the newer one will be the winner. In this case, it is still true. We chose Guardians of the Galaxy as the winner of this category, due mainly to the addition of randomized drop sequences and the use of an audio-animatronic for Rocket.
  • Show: “Show” is all about the literal show itself–including the queue, pre-show, and ride show. Even though Guardians utilizes different sequences and animatronics, the show itself is still so chaotic. Throughout the entire queue and ride, it constantly feels like they placed so much on top of what is still the Tower of Terror. And they seemed to have tried doing this in the cheapest way possible and Disney fans can tell. For that reason, the Tower of Terror wins.
  • Longevity: For this category, we look at how well the attraction has or will age after several years. The Twilight Zone has already proven itself to be timeless. While Guardians of the Galaxy is still relatively new. And there was more CGI used in the Guardians film franchise, which never ages well. We believe the Tower of Terror wins this category.