My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Soarin' Around the Worldby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all safe and healthy out there.
By the time you read this, Spring should officially be here and not a moment too soon. Here in New York, we're going through our typical "March tease." Last week we had a couple of 60 degree days in a row. I dug out my shorts and thoroughly enjoyed some of the warmer great outdoors. Of course this week, we had wind chills in the teens and twenties. Every year, we get teased and then Mother Nature harshly says, "Not so fast!" Still, the warm weather means summer will be here before you know it, and for someone in the teaching profession like me that means just one thing…lots of time off coming soon!
Naturally, when I think of time off, I think of Walt Disney World. Actually, I'm pretty much always thinking about Walt Disney World. It is, after all, like a second profession for me. As the current situation seems to be unveiling a potential light at the end of the tunnel, I'm starting to realistically think that I just might get to Walt Disney World in 2021. In fact, there's talk amongst the MousePlanet crew, if all things go well enough, about all meeting down there together in October. For a big chunk of the pandemic, we spent our Wednesday nights coming to you live from our basements and home offices on the MousePlanet Live: Fun From Home shows, bringing you some much needed magic and discussion about, what else, all things Disney. The result of those weekly online jaunts was a further cementing of the bond that all of the writers here on MousePlanet share. So much so, that we're all talking about spending some much needed time in person rather than online at the Most Magical Place on Earth. Only time will tell, of course, but we'll keep you posted. I'm sure there will be several articles both pre and post trip if it all comes together.
When I think about planning a trip to Walt Disney World, I think of so many things, but of course I think of my favorite attractions and the things that I can't wait to experience again as soon as I return. One of those attractions that I simply can't wait to get back to is the subject of this week's Top 5 list. We're back in Epcot again for my ongoing series counting down the very best of each and every Walt Disney World attraction. Last time we were under the seas with Nemo. This time we're headed to the skies with Soarin' Around the World.
I mentioned in my Nemo article that this side of Future World is one of my favorite areas on property. It has great attractions, great dining options and just a wonderfully unique aesthetic. The ponds, the landscapes, the trees and some unique structures all combine to create such a pleasing area to stroll around. We end up spending a lot of time in this area which, at least for the time being, is still referred to as Future World West. The centerpiece of this section of Epcot has long been a favorite of many Walt Disney World visitors, the pavilion simply known as The Land. Within The Land, you'll find a classic Disney boat ride, some fascinating greenhouses, plenty of great food and one of Disney's all time best attractions: Soarin' Around the World. What do I love most about this modern Disney classic? Let's find out with my Top 5 things to love about Soarin' Around he World.
5 - Kronk
"Daddy…that sounds like Kronk." How many times did I hear that statement uttered by my kids as we waited and listened to the Soarin' pre-show video. I realize this is a minor detail but I've always loved he fact that Patrick Warburton is your guide as you prepare to take off into the skies on Soarin'. It's the kind of Disney thing I've always loved; when they get just the right celebrity to "host" their attractions.
I've long been a supporter of The Emperor's New Groove and will steadfastly argue that it's one of Disney's most underrated and least utilized films. I can't think of anyplace else on Disney property where I can even get a small taste of this hysterical film, so the voice of Kronk will just have to suffice. Of course, now that my sons are teenagers they are more likely to know Mr. Warburton as the voice of Joe Swanson on Family Guy. I'm also well aware that he's David Puddy from Seinfeld and starred in one of the more bizarre things I've ever witnessed on television, The Tick. Bottom line? It just wouldn't be Soarin' without Kronk.
4 - Sights and Smells
Disney has a long history with not just making you see amazing things, but fully enveloping you in the experience with the scents that accompany those moments. We've all smelled the apple pie in Mickey's Philharmagic. How about Rome burning in Spaceship Earth? And haven't we all been lured into the Main Street Bakery with the smell of fresh cookies? Nowhere has Disney's Smellitzer technology been put to better use than in the two Soarin' films that have been in The Land over the last 15 years. I used to love the smell of the orange groves in the original Soarin' Over California film, but with the attraction's upgrade in 2016, the scents have just gotten better.
My favorite is the smell of the grass as you swoop down over the African plain. I'm guessing that trailing behind an actual herd of elephants wouldn't smell quite as good, but through the magic of the Imagineers, we all smell fresh grass. It's a very cool effect and helps with the whole immersive experience that is Soarin' Around the World.
3 - The Ride Mechanism
One of the coolest things about Soarin' from the very beginning is just how they lift you off and propel you towards the giant IMAX screen. It's truly one of the most innovative ride mechanisms in the company's history and probably one of the most unique ride mechanisms in any theme park anywhere.
The story goes that Imagineer Mark Sumner went back to his childhood home for a visit around the time that Soarin' was in the brainstorming phase and he stumbled across his old Erector set. Divine intervention struck and using that old toy building set, he constructed a crude model of what would eventually be the Soarin' ride mechanism. It's the actions on the screen that really trick your brain into thinking that you're flying, but the subtlety of the ride mechanism's movements truly bring home the effect. You don't move all that much and you're really not that high off the ground, but you'd never know it once you're "airborne." The combination results in one of Disney's best and most effective special effects.
2 - Flying Over Neuschwanstein
Right off the bat, I'd have to say that I'm a slightly bigger fan of the original version of the ride. That said, I'm not to far behind in my love and appreciation for the newer film and its locales. I loved the skiers and surfers in the California version of the film. Those are just some of my passions and mixing them into Disney is always a treat. But if I had to pick a moment in the newer film that is my favorite, it would have to be soaring over Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.
There's a few reasons for this. First of all, my wife's family hails from Bavaria, so watching her light up as she flies over one of her homeland's most extraordinary castles is always a treat. Second, it's a little sad to say but aside from Epcot at the end of the film, Neuschwanstein is the only location in Soarin' Around the World that I've actually been to. So, until I get to Fiji, Giza, Greenland or any of the other beautiful locations in the film, King Ludwig's castle in Bavaria stands as the one Soarin' spot that I've visited in person. And lastly, and I imagine this fact will ring true to many of you readers out there, Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration for Walt's original Magic Kingdom castle, Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. My guess is that's why the Imagineers chose it for inclusion in this film and for that reason, and the other reasons listed here, I get a little choked up when we fly over those majestic spires set into the breathtaking mountains of southern Germany.
1- The Soundtrack
As any fan of Walt Disney World and Disneyland will attest to, sometimes it's the music that makes all the difference. Music is such a crucial element to the feel of every Disney attraction. Take the music out of them and the attraction is forever altered and, almost always, not for the better. One thing was certain when the Imagineers were designing Soarin': a truly sweeping soundtrack was needed to encapsulate the feeling they were going for. That feeling was perfectly delivered by legendary Oscar and Emmy winning composer Jerry Goldsmith. You've heard his scores in dozens of films including Chinatown, Planet of the Apes, Alien, The Omen, Poltergeist, Star Trek:The Motion Picture, Mulan and, trust me, that's barely scratching the surface of his legendary career composing music for television and films. Legend has it that he left his first ride on Soarin' in tears overwhelmed by the experience he helped create.
When the ride was updated in 2016, Goldsmith had since passed away and composer Bruce Broughton had the unenviable task of updating the music. Thankfully, Jerry Goldsmith's main themes were kept and Broughton simply embellished the soundtrack to fit the different locales in the new film leaving that striking underlying melody unchanged. The Soarin' soundtrack feels exactly how you want it to feel. It's sweeping. It's epic. It's emotional. It takes you on a journey and leaves you feeling emotionally satisfied as if you actually have been flying over majestic locations throughout California in the original version and around the world in the newer version. It's as pure Disney magic as music can get.
Much has been argued out here in the Disney fan circles about which version of Soarin' is the better. That's a tough call. I'm a big fan of the new version for its global locales. I never did understand why I was soaring over California in a Florida theme park, so I understand the reason behind the change. But there was something just a bit more magical about the original. There are a lot of adjectives that come to mind when describing the various Disney attractions. Magical. Thrilling. Heartwarming. But, in my opinion, there's only ever been one Disney attraction worthy of the term breathtaking and that's Soarin'. And that goes for either version of the ride. Soarin' Over California and Soarin' Around the World have quite honestly and quite simply taken my breath away each time I experience them. I can't ask for much more than that. I'll take breathtaking as often as I can these days.
That's all for this time. As usual, I'd love to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below and share you thoughts on Soarin' Around the World. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.