2010 Best Theme Park Attraction nominee: Soarin' Over California at Disney's California Adventure

December 24, 2009, 10:47 AM · Soarin' Over California from Disney's California Adventure joins the 2010 Best Theme Park Attraction tournament as the 15th seed in the Best Themed Ride bracket.

Soarin' Over California at Disney's Californi Adventure

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.

Replies (6)

December 24, 2009 at 10:59 AM · I like it.

Its fun and Disney could always make new movies.

What I do not like is the transplant to EPCOT of the exact same thing. Why not Soarin the World? We can use the same music(which I like) and we can fly over Paris, Casablanca, the Great Wall, London, Venice, etc.

December 24, 2009 at 2:30 PM · I'm a big Soarin' fan. Love the combination of visuals, music, and the sensation the ride gives. Should give the 2 seed a run for its money.
December 24, 2009 at 9:23 PM · Soaring is agreat ride. It needs some refurb (screen cleaning) and it would be nice if they could find a way so you do not see the legs of the riders above you. IMAX is such a great venue, the ride just adds to the experience. Plus "smell-O-vision" is another plus, when it works. I agree that WDW should be unique, more on the lines of the old 360 vision film.
December 24, 2009 at 10:08 PM · Soaring is a great movie. IMO, its the best attraction at California Adventure. However, it loses a lot after the first viewing.
December 25, 2009 at 2:02 PM · Robert -
As I read your comments above, I could actually feel your restraint from posting your opinion on the attraction as you wrote. Good for you for holding back.

This attraction holds a special place for me since it is my mother's favorite ride. She loves it. It may not be the most innovative concept, and its flaws may seem to outweigh its advantages, but it's one of the few thrilling (in its most liberal sense) attractions that my whole family can enjoy.

December 28, 2009 at 9:20 AM · My view and experience of Soarin' will ever be marred by my son's threatening to kick off his sandals and shaking his feet in the middle of the ride. No more stress than hoping you don't have to call out "heads up!" in the middle of the ride. When we did SOC a year later, I took his shoes from him.

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