Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th and the witching season fast approaching.  I thought today would be appropriate to revisit my favorite queue at Walt Disney World -- Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The story of the hotel, adapted from elements of the Twilight Zone television series, includes the hotel being struck by lightning on October 31, 1939, mysteriously transporting an elevator car full of passengers to the Twilight Zone and causing an entire wing of the building to disappear.  Disney Imagineers create an atmosphere that transports the guest from the hustle and bustle of Sunset Boulevard to the eerily abandoned Hollywood Tower Hotel in the Hollywood Hills.
According to Disney lore, the Hollywood Hotel opened in 1919.  It became a famous place for Hollywood and film star elite.  One day, on Halloween in 1939, the hotel was struck by lightning.  Part of the building was destroyed and 5 guests who had just entered the elevator disappeared.  All of the other guests ran out of the building in terror leaving all of their belongings behind. The Tower of Terror is left empty until 1994 when it mysteriously re-opens. To the bellhops and porters that work the hotel, it’s as if the hotel never closed.  While all this is never thoroughly explained during the attraction, you can easily see how the queue and pre-show ties itself into the backstory behind the Hollywood Hotel.  It’s quite an eerie atmosphere.
Guests enter the Hollywood Tower Hotel though the main entrance gate. The outdoor queue winds through the overgrown gardens of the hotel.  The outdoor queue takes you through gardens of broken stoneware and decaying plants.  

An empty fountain and cracked fountain awaits you at the entrance to the hotel. In the background you're listening to haunting melodies from the past by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Vera Lynn, and other notables from that era.  And your eyes haven’t deceived you, that is fog rolling through the gardens.  Once inside the lobby, it is dimly-lit and covered in cobwebs and dust. There is a yellowing copy of the Los Angeles Examiner dated October 31, 1939, a table set with tea and stale pastries, several suitcases, and a cobwebbed owl sculpture surrounded by a circle of dead flowers that appears to be the centerpiece of the room.

Behind the front desk is a broken elevator, a sign still reads "Out of Order". Everything in the hotel has apparently been left undisturbed ever since it mysteriously closed decades ago. Guests are informed that their rooms are not quite ready yet. For the time being, guests are asked to simply enjoy themselves in the hotel's library. The library is full of not only books, but exotic antiques, a television, and plenty of Twilight Zone memorabilia. Through the window, you observe that there is a thunderstorm going on outside.  At this point, the pre-show starts with a lightning strike and the television coming on, apparently of its own accord.  The opening sequence of The Twilight Zone plays, followed by a supposedly "lost" episode. 
The attention to detail throughout the queue is amazing here.  Even if you can’t or don’t want to ride the attraction, please take time to traverse the queue and watch the pre-show.  Don’t worry, there is a chicken-out door for you.  Just ask any cast member.  As you travel the queue, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered into a hotel that was long since abandoned.  

Do you dare?

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Rest of the Railroads in the World

Wrapping his 3 part series about Railroads in Walt Disney World….

Howdy again all, this is League City Mouse’s brother with part three of my guest post series.  

Where else can you find railroads and references to railroads in Walt Disney World?


The Main Street USA railroad station has a nice collection of railroading memorabilia.  It is located under the station off the tunnel to the right as you enter the park.  In my opinion the paintings are the highlight of the exhibit.

Now on to “the rip roarinist ride in the west,” Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  So hang on to your hats and glasses folks as this train takes you on a ride at break neck speeds around and through Big Thunder Mountain and the town of Tumbleweed.  It is “pulled” by a replica engine, just for show, and guests ride in mine carts on this steel roller coaster ride.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

When you are in Fantasyland check out Casey Jr.’s circus train, but don’t get to close or you might just get wet.

Staying in Fantasyland there is the new Seven Dwarfs Mine.  No engine, but guests ride this roller coaster in replica mine carts that swing back and forth.  It promises to be tamer than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but more adventurous than Goofy’s Barnstormer when it comes to the thrill factor.

Last, but definitely not least, is the “Behind The Steam” tour where you get to visit the roundhouse, hear stories about the WDW railroad and see the engines being prepped for the day, finally taking a private guided ride, all before the park opens.  Something that should be near the top of every Disney railfan’s bucket list, I know it is on mine.

This is not a good sign!

At the Animal Kingdom you will find 2 different railroads.

First is the Wildlife Express Train, the Eastern Star Railway, that works its way through the Africa section on a 1.2 mile 7-minute ride.  The engines are narrow gauge 2-4-2 and designed to look like engines built for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway of England in 1898.  But these engines are diesel hydraulic, not steam.  A diesel hydraulic engine uses a diesel engine to run a hydraulic pump and it is the hydraulic fluid that drives the train.

The second is Expedition Everest, a rollercoaster ride like Big thunder Mountain Railroad, where on the Anandapur Rail Service riders race through and around the mountain and come face to face with the infamous Yeti.


EPCOT only has one real railroading feature and that is the LGB G scale model garden train between the German Pavilion and the Italian Pavilion.


Again not much railroading or railroading references in the Studios.  The only one I can think of is a kiosk on Sunset Blvd designed to look like an old Los Angeles Red Line Trolley. 


Railroading references can also be found at several of the resorts.

Let’s start with the Carolwood Pacific room at the Wilderness Villas.  In this room on the main floor you will find a replica of Walt’s original Lilly Belle, with other Carolwood Pacific memorabilia.

Right next door at the Wilderness Lodge one will find a replica hand cart that is being used to hold fire wood for the amazing Grand Canyon fireplace, a whole another blog post in itself.

And who can forget the monorail system?


Probably the most notable and infamous extinct railroad at Walt Disney World is the Fort Wilderness Railroad.  Built by Disney, this scaled down real steam railroad ran on a loop through the Fort Wilderness Campground.  Designed and built by MAPO, the railroad had rough life.  Those that designed and built the train were apparently not real versed in railroads for the design was plagued with several issues that eventually spelled its demise.  Those issues were: barely sufficient water for a round trip, too many grade (street) crossings, a track bed set on the soil that lead to the rails shifting causing derailments and using inexperienced cast members to operate the train.  All of these were too much to overcome.

As far as other extinct railroad references when the World of Motion in EPCOT was a first opened it was a tame ride through, not the pedal to the metal Test Track it is now, it took the riders through the history of transportation.  In one scene a train in the old west is being held up by bandits.

And one of my personal favorite railroad encounters in the Magic Kingdom was in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride where after breaking through the crossing arms and turning onto the tack the train “hits” you and you go straight to he…, well you know where.


When at Walt Disney World look high and look low and you can find many references to railroading, one of Walt’s favorite hobbies.

And if you wish to learn more you can seek out Michael Broggie’s book “Walt Disney's Railroad Story: The Small-Scale Fascination That Led to a Full-Scale Kingdom.”

Thanks all for reading this and thanks for letting me share some of this knowledge with your readers League City Mouse!

Till next time.