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'Late Check-Out': A new way to drop in at the Hollywood Tower Hotel

September 11, 2016, 9:48 PM · Standing tall above California's famous Disneyland Resort, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is a star in its own right. Since May 5th, 2004, this building has hosted one of the most popular attractions Disney has ever created: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Soon, something is about to happen that will change that. However, before the Guardians of the Galaxy move in and the Collector takes possession of the hotel, there is one last surprise it houses for Disney California Adventure's guests.

A ride on the Tower is just as it has been since opening: Riders enter the hotel lobby and pass through the library and boiler room before coming upon a maintenance service elevator, still in operation, waiting for them. Should they dare to step aboard, they will travel in that elevator directly to the Twilight Zone. At least, that is the deal during the day. At night, however, the attraction is transformed into a new experience. Dubbed "Late Check-Out" by Disney, this attraction promises something guests have never experienced before as the ride occurs in complete darkness.

What is complete darkness? That is the question I pondered while waiting in the 75 minute line on Friday night to try this attraction for myself. When the concept was announced, I thought it sounded like a gimmick. From the queue, I could see that the doors at the top of the tower were still opening as normal, negating a rumor that they would remain closed during the experience. So, what is different about this version? My thoughts jumped to Six Flags, as they promote operating their coasters in the dark during Fright Fest. Essentially, this amounts to switching off all lights in the ride area. While it does create a different environment, the ride experience is more or less the same. As Tower of Terror has a number of lights in the drop shaft, my assumption was that these would simply be switched off, and given that the ride normally occurs in semi-darkness I wasn't sure how much of a difference it would make. Would the ride be worth the line, or would I feel disappointed that I had spent so long in line for an attraction I've ridden numerous times (and had, in fact, already experienced that day)? As I would find out, Disney was right...I've never experienced the Tower quite like I was about to.

Unlike other overlays Disney has done, there is nothing in the queue area that promotes the altered experience. All that mentions Late Check-Out is a sign in front of the attraction. The outdoor queue is normal, the lobby is normal (apart from a small stage to allow the Silver Lake Sisters to perform), and the background music is exactly the same as it has always been. Once in the Library, guests view the same Twilight Zone pre-show as always, then they wait to be seated on an elevator. If I didn't know better, I would have thought I was just going for another ride on the attraction, and it was obvious that not everyone knew about the special version.

Before continuing, I'd like to warn everyone that there are spoilers ahead. Below is a complete description of the experience, detailing what you will find inside the Tower of Terror. If you plan to experience this attraction and want to go in blind (which I recommend), skip from this paragraph to the End of Spoilers statement. The one thing I will tell you is this... Late Check-Out is a different experience, but not a more extreme one. If you are okay with the regular Tower of Terror, have no fear in this being something you can't handle. It may scare you more, but that's kind of the point.

Warning: Spoilers Below!

"You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator..." Rod Sterling begins as the elevator backs into the ride shaft. Just as in the normal Tower of Terror, a starfield appears as the room fades away. Once the narration ends, the doors close and the elevator ascends to the first show scene. Typically, the doors open here to reveal guests looking into a mirror, but this time...nothing. The elevator stops in complete darkness, so dark that those in the back will barely be able to make out the front of the elevator. Then the narration resumes, but it is not what you expect to hear...

"What happened here to dim the lights of Hollywood's brightest showplace is about to unfold once again."

As the audio track continues, the elevator moves to the second show scene and again...nothing. Complete darkness, yet with the regular audio.

"One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the doors of an elevator and into a nightmare. That door is opening once again, and this time it's opening for you."

Those who have experienced the ride know that this signals the start of the drop sequence. This time, however, just as the anticipation builds and the music swells, everything goes silent. And you wait...

And wait...

And wait...

And begin to wonder if the ride broke down...

And then you drop. I have been on numerous drop towers across the country, and I have been on Tower of Terror dozens of times. I knew what was coming, but that drop still caught me completely off guard and, from the sound of screams and words not typically heard at a Disney park, everyone else was in the same, er, elevator. On most rides, there are cues that will alert an experienced rider that something is about to happen (with a drop tower, it is usually a click or a air hiss just before the drop), but with the audio and visual cues of the ride absent and the remarkably quiet ride system of the Tower of Terror, that elevator went from stationary to full velocity almost before I realized we were dropping.

The remainder of the ride consists of the standard drop sequence, but with the exception of the doors at the top everything happens in complete darkness. If you know what is coming, a little bit of the surprise is lost, but for infrequent riders it will likely be unnerving. Robbed of any frame of reference, a 50-foot drop might as well be 500. And, due to the unique forces felt on the ride, there are moments where you may feel like you are falling while you're actually moving upward (or vice versa). Once the drop sequence ends, the doors open and the final scene of the ride plays out as normal.

End of Spoilers

So, was Late Check-Out worth the wait? After riding, I would say yes. The experience is certainly different enough that even a seasoned rider will appreciate the variation, and those who feel there aren't enough thrills at the Disneyland Resort will likely get one out of it. That said, it is not an experience that will appeal equally to everyone. Unlike Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy or Haunted Mansion Holiday (which, by the way, has something new this year...no spoilers), there are no additional story or visual elements added to the attraction. Instead, this is all about maximizing the thrill, and in this case, Disney opted for addition by subtraction.

Is it better than the regular ride? No, but I wasn't expecting it to be. It is instead an alternate version that, while not something I would purchase a ticket just to try, is still well worth checking out for anyone visiting the resort between now and the end of the year.

If you will be visiting Disney California Adventure in the near future, note that the impending closure of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has caused lines to swell significantly (on my visit, it was consistently the longest line at the park...yes, longer than Radiator Springs Racers), so for the regular version of the attraction I recommend grabbing your first Fastpass (Racers or Soarin') at opening and then heading directly to the ride. If you're relying on Fastpass, secure one by 1pm. For Late Check-Out, keep an eye on the Disneyland app and try to snag a Fastpass for 7pm or later (I'm not sure what time it begins, but I'm guessing it should be running by then). If you can't get one, I suggest making it your last ride of the day, as the line will double in speed once the Fastpass queue closes at park closing. Even if the wait is an hour or more, it is worth it for the experience as, after all, there will probably never be a chance to do this again.

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Replies (15)

September 11, 2016 at 10:35 PM · Wish I had the money to go back to DCA one last time to do this. This sounds AWESOME.
September 12, 2016 at 3:53 AM · Terrific review, AJ! From what you have described (and described amazingly well, I might add), it sounds like Disney has a real hit on their hands - at least for a little while.

Also, one would think that Disney could still bring in this "Late Night" version once the re-imagining of the current attraction to the Guardians of the Galaxy theme is complete. So maybe it will become a Halloween staple at some point in the future?

September 12, 2016 at 4:25 AM · I don't know... seems a little "Superman The Ride has flamethrowers" promotion to me...
September 12, 2016 at 8:07 AM · Soarin Over California gone. Aladdin gone. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror soon to be gone.

No reason to go back to California Adventure ever again. Way to go Di$ney Beancounters.

September 12, 2016 at 8:28 AM · Only Disney could figure out a way to save electricity and pass it off as an "alternate experience!" LOL
September 12, 2016 at 8:56 AM · Good description, but it sounds very gimmicky
September 12, 2016 at 9:16 AM · If I remember right the one in WDW was for a long time dark (when you moved into the second lift shaft). Then they introduced the random drops and it improved the ride a lot.
After that they had the somewhat ugly special lit elements in that drop shaft who spoiled the ride a lot for me because in the dark you had no way to know how fast or how deep or high =you where going.
September 12, 2016 at 9:43 AM · Thanks for the report AJ. Question. I Usually shoot for this time of year (but during the week) to go to DLR as it isn't as busy. You make it sound as though that's not the case. Was this the weekend with a good amount of AP holders? Or maybe the newer pricing structure has spread the crowds to slower time periods.

My next trip will be during March for my first time, which I know is busy. But I couldn't pass up a free stay at the DL hotel. Lol.

September 12, 2016 at 2:14 PM · James, that is definitely possible, but I've got a feeling that a portion of the Guardians ride may occur in complete darkness normally instead. After all, space is very dark. However, I would not object to this being an annual overlay during the Halloween season, especially since the normal version would still be available to those who prefer it.

David, my visit was on Friday, September 9th, and I would rate the crowd level as "moderate." The headliners were mostly 20-30 minutes, with a few slightly outside that range. However, a lot of locals came in the evening and the parks felt really busy from about 7 P.M. onward. I suspect this was partly due to Friday patterns and partly because it was the opening night for the Halloween attractions, which had the longest waits by far (Haunted Mansion Holiday actually hit two hours at one point...so glad I got a Fastpass in the afternoon). Total, I was able to do 26 attractions during my 15 hour day, even with spending over an hour on the Frozen show (which ultimately got cancelled due to technical difficulties).

If you can go on weekdays, September and October are a great time to go in my opinion. Weekends during that period, however, can get crazy, so I would avoid those at all costs. I'm not sure when you'll be visiting in March, but early March is generally a great time as well. Mid/Late March is spring break season and it will therefore be busier, though with a good strategy it should be manageable.

September 12, 2016 at 2:02 PM · My favorite way to send off a Disney attraction is to turn all the show lights and audio off and stare into a pitch-black void.
September 12, 2016 at 3:01 PM · I hope that wasn't a spoiler Matthew!

I skipped the paragraph that AJ suggested because I think I actually do want to do with knowing anything. Going to check it out this week.

September 12, 2016 at 8:01 PM · Nicely written, but quite a disappointing end to a fantastic ride. I can't believe that Disney still hasn't learned their lesson from the Tiki Room under New Management.
September 12, 2016 at 8:10 PM · I read recently that they don't offer a fast pass for late checkout
September 13, 2016 at 8:11 AM · I haven't been there for 10 years. Always thought DCA's Tower of Terror to be a waste of time. Fast and forgettable. I'm actually looking forward to the Guardians makeover. Sounds like the improvements will be worth the wait. The Late Check-Out sounds like a bore. Those special effects were actually pretty good, but seeing them once is quite enough. They should increase the scares. Turn it into a haunted version with ghosts close up.
September 14, 2016 at 3:43 PM · This “Late Checkout” iteration of ToT is disappointing not only in that it sacrifices narrative in favor of thrills—even if only on a visual level—but that the regular version of ToT is best at night because that’s when the story (and queue) of the ride take place, and now the option to even have that experience during the short remainder of ToT’s run at DCA no longer exists…

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