Listen Here: Attractions Aren't Their Best Without Great Sound

May 5, 2015, 3:52 PM · Early last November, my annual trip to the Orlando parks exposed an interesting issue that easily could be overlooked by those of us who are not audiophiles, as it appears to be overlooked by the parks themselves.  As long as the animatronic moves or there is something to see, it seems that sound plays second fiddle. 

Being a former Florida resident and frequent visitor to theme parks, I was quite excited to pound the park pavement with a few green friends on their first trip to the Orlando area.  There’s an undeniable wonder that comes over people who witness Walt Disney World's sheer size and magic for the first time.  One of our first attractions was Pirates of the Caribbean, and from departure of our boat I noticed that the projection of Davy Jones on the waterfall was missing, and during the auction scene one of the bidder’s voices was significantly muffled.  These could be considered minor complaints that wouldn't be noticed unless you've gone on the ride as many times as I have. 

Davy Jones

A few attractions later, and we had made our way over to The Carousel of Progress, one of my personal favorites.  During the last scene, as we see America’s family in the house of the future, our main actor’s voice track was so much lower than every other animatronic that my friends were leaning over to me to ask what he was saying.  Again, it didn't completely ruin the fun of the experience, but it's something that was discussed later and took away a little something from what's usually one of my most satisfying Disney experiences.

A day or so later we went to see The Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the sound was significantly lower for our main character's mic. As Ariel sung "Part of Your World," her voice was completely enveloped by the backing orchestral track.  Upon exiting the show, my friends once more expressed their inability to hear certain parts of the show.  I am an audio engineer at a club by profession, so I am trained to noticed discrepancies in sound, but these things were brought up without my having to say a word. There were other little nitpicks here and there of the same nature, but I decided to not put too much thought into it. It was a light time of year for attendance and refurbishments were surely in store for the upcoming holiday season.  

Apparently not.  A last minute trip to see family during the holidays enabled me to sneak a couple days in the parks during the busiest time of year.  My nature put me on alert during the attractions that were lacking in sound presentation the previous trip.  While the projection of Davey Jones was back in place, all of the previous audio issues I noticed from each attraction were still there.  Perhaps none of these were called to  management’s attention, but that possibility seems hard to swallow for me.  I am thinking that it was seen to be a negligible issue in all cases, and just overlooked. 

Most people might not even notice these problems or will write them off as insignificant, and my guess is that’s what the parks are banking on. Their day would be just as great with or without these small quibbles fixed.  I myself still had a fantastic time, as I always do, but I would say that the audio is something that needs more attention for these reasons.  Disney is a loud place.  Its always going to be.  It’s impossible to believe that everyone’s child or friends will be quiet when they are supposed to be, whether it be in the middle of an attraction or during pre-shows.  I know I've been in The Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror many a time when guests were shooshing the people next to them so they could hear the pre-show better, and more times than not the sound on pre-shows gets completely lost on busy days.  

Some may ask, “If the ride is still fun, so what?”  Well, sound is also very closely related to memory, and a lot of people are audible learners.  I have friends that still say lines from Walter Cronkite's narration of Spaceship Earth, and could sing the old theme "Tomorrow's Child" line for line without hearing it in the past 20 years.  Certain sounds and songs will stay with you throughout your days, just ask a musical therapist.  They get to see people who show no signs of coherence suddenly come back to life, sometimes quite emotionally, upon hearing a song from their youth.  Disney and theme parks in general are magical places, and evoke that same sort of emotion in people of all ages, and should look to have the same effect on future generations.   

So how does it all get fixed?  The use of an SPL meter on their rides/shows to balance out their sound levels from attraction to attraction would be ideal, but the more obvious repairs to any broken speakers they have would be a big step in the right direction.  Finding a way to make things sound the same decibel level depending on where you sit or stand can be a tedious job, but can definitely be done or at least upgraded with the right acoustical treatment or sound systems in place.  You can't expect the crowds to always be quiet when they are supposed to be, but you should expect the audio from your favorite attractions to always be present, exciting, and most importantly, working.  

Replies (19)

May 5, 2015 at 4:50 PM · Ugh... the Davy Jones projection is awful. Total budget addition. The projector light is so obvious once you past the mist.
May 5, 2015 at 4:56 PM · I noticed the same issues on Splash Mountain. Good article
May 5, 2015 at 5:21 PM · I noticed that too, and they seem to just not even turn the projection on during soft periods
May 5, 2015 at 5:36 PM · Very interesting article. Sound is such an important component to an attractions experience.
May 5, 2015 at 6:34 PM · I noticed COP audio problems last June; to me if and attraction is not 100% it should be 101 and taken offline to repair.
May 5, 2015 at 6:42 PM · I've noticed the same things! I'm usually at Disney once a year and the discrepancies are more and more Noticeable. Great article.
May 5, 2015 at 7:03 PM · Although I don't have the same job, I notice sound. As I have gotten older, I have lost some of my hearing (mainly very detailed sounds AND my husband's voice..Lol) but I do notice when things don't sound good. I have noticed some of these issues and since we are going in October, I hope many of our favorites are working well. Thank you for the article.
May 5, 2015 at 9:54 PM · It's a shame that the majority of attractions at WDW look, sound and smell like they are from the 70s or 80s. It's bad when your $30 wireless Bluetooth speaker has clearer sound quality then most rides. Maybe magicband 2.0 will have built in speakers or play the rides audio on your phone's speaker so they will not have to spend money on speakers. Disney used to be a leader in audio innovation like how the parade music was radio controlled for each float. Until they start treating rides and shows like how they treat their restaurants and gift shops I'll be at Universal.
May 5, 2015 at 9:57 PM · Meanwhile at Disneyland the audio has been turned up so loud you can't hear your neighbor on the Mark Twain. The new speakers on the Railroad are beautiful though
May 6, 2015 at 7:13 AM · I'm amazed by how frequently something isn't working at the parks. Splash Mountain goes down for refurb every year, yet something always isn't functioning right. The POTC Davy Jones effect was off in January. I assumed it was down, but I wonder if they just don't want to fix it.
May 6, 2015 at 7:29 AM · Just a theory, but I also noticed the theatre wasn't moving for Captain Eo in November but did around Christmas, it could be possible they have a short list of effects they leave off to save cash during less busy weeks. When we went on the mummy at universal as the last ride of the night none of the mummy's animatronics were working when they were early in the day. They just turned him off, nothing would happen. The audio issues were the only ones that consistently went ignored. It sounds like nickel and dime-ing your customers, but it probably adds up to a good amount of extra cash at the end of the year in their pockets.
May 6, 2015 at 7:30 AM · Who would ever guess that Disney, who has such a huge reputation for being high maintenance, would let such a minor detail slide? These are the same people who built underground corridors to hide all the break rooms, offices and waste management! I've also noticed that some of the AAs at Jungle CruIse didn't seem to be moving quite well. (I swear the arms on one of the gorillas was about to pop off!) But who knows? Maybe the imagineers are waiting to see how people respond to all of the refurbishments at Disneyland before doing something with the East Coast?
May 6, 2015 at 8:51 AM · I once went on Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom and there was no sound. Not a good experience at all, so I would agree with your comments. What was sad about my particular experience, was that our car was completely filled...and only a few of us realized there was something wrong (the rest may have been first timers?). We alerted a cast member and were put on the next ride and the sound was fine. A happy ending, but it does show the importance of having all the bells and whistles in working order.
May 6, 2015 at 10:40 AM · Universal Orlando has been dominating. They started Kong after Avatar at Disney and will have it open before it. Kong looks a lot better and more unique then the Avatar Soarin clone and the live guides will make each ride different.

Now hopefully the big fish Jaws makes a comeback somewhere. The Studios could use a water ride or I would be happy if he attacked the Resort boats from the hotels.

May 6, 2015 at 11:54 AM · Synchronization is always a big pet peeve of mine. The newer screen-based dark rides with on-vehicle speakers are amazing when everything is working in synch, but if the sounds coming out of the vehicle speakers and the room's speakers are just slightly off, it can totally ruin the experience. It can forever change the way you view an attraction. If you've ever ridden Spiderman or Transformers when the sound is just a hair off, you will come off wondering why in the world those attractions get such high ratings. It can literally be the difference in being one of the best attractions on the planet to one of the most boring. Sound and synchronizing that sound perfectly can have a HUGE effect.
May 6, 2015 at 12:42 PM · Great Article! Good sound is just as important to the overall "experience" as good visuals; neither should be neglected. It seems that fixing audio problems would be one of the LEAST expensive maintenance issues with these exhibits and rides especially when compared with mechanical type problems. Patrons are spending BIG BUCKS for tickets; they deserve a fully immersive experience...FIX IT, or hire Mike Longo to do so...
May 6, 2015 at 2:20 PM · (Sigh) well, if there's one thing that this article has taught us, it's that even someone as perfect as Disney can screw up, then again FP+ should've taught us that by now. (And before you Universal fans say something, I would like to point out that Russell and were kind enough to point out that Universal has the exact same problems, albeit a little less noticeable) So, if there's any cast members reading this and your bosses can take some constructive criticism, please show them this article.
May 6, 2015 at 7:15 PM · Quote from above: "Who would ever guess that Disney, who has such a huge reputation for being high maintenance, would let such a minor detail slide? These are the same people who built underground corridors to hide all the break rooms, offices and waste management... Maybe the imagineers are waiting to see how people respond to all of the refurbishments at Disneyland before doing something with the East Coast?"

The people who built Disney's good reputation are long gone. Walt's spirit has been replaced by the spirit of greedy Wall Street pigs. The Imagineers would love to do more, but the bean counters won't let them.

Record profits and somehow Disney can't find the resources to maintain minimum standards of quality. Disgraceful.

May 7, 2015 at 3:23 PM · I agree that those folks are gone, and it seems that their company is now, more than ever before, completely profit driven, as are most businesses I guess. The shame of it is the forward thinkers have been pushed to the wayside. The purpose for this article really wasn't just to trash Disney as it comes from a place of love that I have for it, but it seems that the soul of Disney is fainter than it's ever been and they really could use some change. It seems like a lot of us are displeased with the seeming indifference towards the heart of their product. I lived in Florida during the 90s when the world that is Disney World really took shape, and it was just so exciting. Now it seems Universal is firing all the shots. When you are number 2 I guess you really have to come out swinging at number 1 though.

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