Written by Joe Lane
Published: May 2, 2005 at 9:39 PM
The newest addition to The Land pavilion at Epcot is Soarin', implanted from DCA as a part of Disneyland's 50th Anniversary, "The Happiest Celebration on Earth."
Guests are lifted 40 feet in the air over an 80-foot domed projection screen. Wind effects and gentle tilting of the seats create a simulated flying sensation totally unique to Disney. Scents released at key points during the five minute presentation enhance the experience.
Eighty-seven guests can fly at a time. Two theaters double the capacity. The three rows are designed to hang in a reverse stadium seating fashion, allowing each row to get a clear view ahead and below. Some fans will argue that for the purest, unadulterated soaring experience, the front row is absolutely necessary.
The attraction is a testament to the creative powers of Disney Imagineering. The ride system itself was a unique creation by Imagineer Mark Sumner, who developed the design by experimenting with his old erector set.
To welcome the new ride, The Land pavilion received a major face-lift both inside and out. The new walk-up entrance features a wilderness-like design that reflects the environment theme. Inside, while the balloons still hang from the ceiling, the fountain that used to dominate the center of the floor has been removed.
The biggest change is the restructuring of the Sunshine Seasons food court. New technology in the kitchens and new seating areas in the atrium gives the entire pavilion a feeling similar to that of an airport food court.
In fact, most of The Land's interior rethemeing incorporated the terminal concept to reflect the flight theme behind Soarin'. The attraction entrance looks like a terminal gate entrance, complete with check-in desk. The Cast Members wear sharp red, white and blue pilot outfits. The pre-show video (featuring Patrick Warbuton) even reiterates the airline concept. Everything is themed to inspire the mind to think of traditional flight--only to totally blow away ones expectations once they finally board--and in a good way.
In terms of entertainment value, Soarin' is just what Epcot's west side has been needing since Honey, I Shrunk the Audience debuted in 1994. It's an attraction the whole family can enjoy (so long as your family includes children over 40 inches tall and people without a fear of heights), inviting gentle thrills and some genuine awe-inspiring moments.
Unfortunately, being a direct clone, Soarin' suffers from the same problems its parent attraction experiences, specifically the abrupt cuts between scenes. One minute you're soaring over the Golden Gate Bridge. The next minute, you're flying over a river in Yosemite National Park. The variety of scenery makes the attraction fun, but the cuts nearly interrupt the flow of the experience.
A solution to this problem could be the addition of digital cloud cover between scenes. The clouds are used at the very beginning, right before the reveal of the Golden Gate Bridge. Such an addition could possibly help make the transitions less disruptive.
While many east coast Disney fans will probably be ecstatic over the new attraction, there is some frustration in Disney using the same footage from Soarin' Over California in this WDW version. There are two possible reasons for this. One is money: the aspect which seems to determine every decision made by the Disney company. The other is time.
It took nearly a year to gain permission and permits for filming portions of the Soarin' Over California film. A new version will likely include the same legal procedures, and time, apparently, wasn't on Disney's side to be ready for the May 5 debut (although construction started back in 2003).
Soarin' will run the California video for the duration of the 18-month Disneyland celebration. Rumor has it that a new video will probably be introduced at the conclusion of the celebration sometime in Fall next year.
There's a method to Disney's madness. Your average, uneducated Guest will be amazed by the Soarin' attraction in its current state, likely unawares that the movie they're watching is a direct copy of the original in California. When, and if, Disney introduces a new film for Soarin', Mr. Average Guest might be fooled into believing that Disney spares no expense in keeping their parks fresh and updated on a regular basis.
Assuming Disney does introduce a new film for Soarin', don't expect it to feature the natural wonders of Florida (glorious swampland for miles and miles). The concept worked well for a state like California, whose large size and geographical location gives it a wide variety of different scenes, from snow-capped mountains to dusty deserts. A flatland state like Florida doesn't have that kind of diversity (and besides, our only mountains are Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain--good news for Disney, eh?).
That's why, odds are, we might see a Soarin' Over America in the next Soarin' incarnation--and maybe even a Soarin' Over The World.
Wait times during the soft opening have run upwards of 75 minutes. Getting a FASTPASS first thing in the morning in strongly advised, although this trip will send you to the west side of Future World, far across from Mission: Space and Test Track.
Soarin' will also feature a single riders entrance. Never underestimate the advantage of the single riders line, as long as you can bear to part with your loved ones.
Still present in The Land pavilion is the Garden Grill character dining, the Living With The Land greenhouse boat tour, and the Circle of Life movie.
Soarin' will be declared officially open May 5, along with Cinderellabration at the Magic Kingdom and Lights! Motors! Action! at the Disney-MGM Studios.