The Theme Park Insider team is in Seattle this week, but just because there's no major theme park in the Emerald City doesn't mean we have to spend the week without themed entertainment.
Take a short walk down from the city's famed Pike Place Market toward the Puget Sound waterfront to find a flying theater ride that does some things even better than Disney. With creative direction from Los Angeles' Super 78 and a Dynamic Flying Theater from Dynamic Attractions, Wings Over Washington plusses the Soarin' formula with a better story and decoration, giving Seattle visitors a literal overview of one of the most beautiful states in the nation.
You will find the show next to The Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57 - Miner's Landing on the waterfront. Riders must be between 40 and 76 inches tall and under 300 pounds. Tickets are $17 for adults (that's $19.57 after tax), with two bucks off for seniors (ages 65+) and another two bucks off for children 11 and under. That puts the $104-149 for a day's ticket to Disneyland into some perspective, doesn't it?
It's a valid comparison because, as I said before, this is a Disney-quality attraction, even surpassing it in some ways. Granted, Wings Over Washington plays on a much smaller scale than Soarin'. You might feel some claustrophobia in the 40-person interior waiting area if you go in expecting a Disney-style queue. But once you get over that, you will notice the thoughtful decoration that Wings Over Washington offers throughout the experience, most notably here with a detailed, illustrated, carved topo map of the state along the far wall.
With just one 30-some-seat theater here, you will wait here for the length of one show before heading upstairs for the official pre-show. Themed to a Pacific Northwest cabin, three animated "posters" at the front of the room open as "windows" through which you will watch a Washington State park ranger set up our story.
And there is a story here. We are heading up to a tree house for an evening of stargazing. But another of the sights we will see from the treehouse is a Native totem, topped with a traditional Thunderbird. As the ranger describes it, Native legend says that one some nights, the Thunderbird's spirit will take off from the totem, leading those who watch on a fantastic tour of the land.
Animated totem heads on the walls add to the preshow, after which we walk through a portal of mist upstairs again into the theater.
What a delight. Wings Over Washington has fashioned its theater as that promised treehouse, with an owl perched in the trees on one side and a raccoon watching over us on the other. This is no spare industrial space, facing a blank screen. We see the trees and the totem in front of us as we enter, with the stars emerging in the twilight. It's a beautiful scene that far exceeds any flying theater installation I've seen before.
As the show begins, the floor appears to drop away as we lift forward toward the totem (and the screen). In reality is the floor is rotating toward vertical as our seats pivot to remain forward-facing. It's not the same "hang glider" system as on Soarin', but this configuration means there are no feet dangling in your view, either, no matter where you sit in the theater.
The eagle guides us around the state, where we smell the pine forests of the Cascades and tulips of the Skagit Valley. We fly over an aggressively smoldering Mount St. Helens and even see a few sights familiar to fans of that other big flying theater ride, including tourists rafting on a mountain river.
An original musical score by Antonio Di Iorio accompanies our journey. Eventually, we end up flying over Seattle, including an aerial return to Pier 57.
But the show isn't over until we fly back to our treehouse, watching the spirit of the Thunderbird return to its totem home as our seats return to the unload position. It's a perfect bookend to the experience, providing a welcome narrative structure for our trip around the state.
Sure, there's a fair amount of CG imagery here, used to animate several scenes including for our eagle guide. But the landscapes and seascapes here appear as live-action videography, again moving this production ahead of Disney's recent Soarin' Over the World CGI-driven spectacle.
It might be tempting for cynical travelers to write off the spread of flying theater attractions as a fad, echoing the proliferation of motion simulators in the late 20th century. And perhaps most of these shows might not last. To endure in themed entertainment, after all, attractions must deliver compelling story and placemaking — not just a hot ride system. Fortunately for visitors to Seattle's waterfront, however, Wings Over Washington delivers the complete package.Tweet
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