2010 Best Theme Park Attraction nominee: Soarin' Over California at Disney's California Adventure
Published: December 24, 2009 at 10:47 AM
This was one of those judgment calls I faced in filling out the brackets: Should Soarin' Over California go in with the rides, or the shows? Essentially a travelogue, SOC continues a long theme park industry tradition with postcard-like visuals fillings an oversized screen for the entertainment of a vacationing audience. So put it in with the films, right?
But previous theme park films like America the Beautiful didn't strap people into flying hang-glider-like seats and suspend them in front of an IMAX-sized screen. Indeed, in talking with people and reading readers' reviews, it became clear that Soarin' Over California's ride element was the unique factor which distinguished it from other film attractions. So I am putting it in with the rides.
Soarin' Over California opened with the rest of Disney's California Adventure in January 2001. While the rest of the park opened to scathing reviews, most of them included some variation of "...except for Soarin' Over California. Now that was pretty cool."
The ride's popularity convinced Disney to install a duplicate at the Land pavilion in Epcot (called simply Soarin'). Even though that version stands in Florida, it retains it California theme, with the explanation that you are flying to California for your tour.
Visitors sit in long suspended benches, decorated with canopies that suggest hang gliders. When the show starts, the benches lift into the air, in front of a giant curved screen. The seats move vertically in coordination with the film, and scents pumped into the theater (orange blossoms, evergreen, etc.) complement the sensory illusion of traveling around the state.
A musical score by film composer Jerry Goldsmith accompanies the film, which, unlike other theme park travelogues, never comes in for a close-up of people of events, due to the conceit of viewers flying in the air on the hang gliders. But viewers do swoop down toward the ground from time to time, buzzing rafters on Redwood Creek as well as golfers at PGA West in La Quinta.
The film closes on a bit of an ironic note, with a fireworks display over Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty's Castle, making Soarin' Over California perhaps the only attraction to have as its emotional climax... a scene from another theme park.
As a 15-seed, SOC faces a tough road to the title. We'll see how it fares when voting begins in the Best Theme Park Attraction tournament in March. Please share your thoughts about Soarin' Over California, in the comments.