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.
"Chief Flight Attendant" Patrick Warburton prepares us to go Soarin' Around the World. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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.
You smell the grass as you approach Mt. Kilimanjaro. Photo by Chris Barry.
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.
A glimpse of the incredible Soarin' ride mechanism. Photo by Donald Fink.
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.
Neuschwanstein Castle in all its majesty as seen in Soarin' Around the World. Photo by Chris Barry.
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.
I'm already hearing the music in my subconscious as I approach Soarin'. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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.
Definitely an attraction worth of a "Top 5"!
Briefly, re: the opening mention of considering an October trip... I'm feeling similar to you and the other MP staff. Even though 10/1 is now full for Park Reservations for current capacity limits for MK (I thought I had read EPC filled up as well after the Remy announcement, but it showed green when I just looked), I'm half considering a trip including that date in hopes capacity will open up and many (probably not all, I realize) things could start returning to normal by then. It's been way too long... but I'm still just thinking, not yet committed. I think I'll keep an eye on the news watching for any possible bad COVID spikes after the spring break events that have been happening in FL over the last few weeks. If those don't cause spikes, maybe it's a sign we can start safely returning to normal for more things over the next 6 months, with more and more people being vaccinated by then.
So now, back to the Top 5 content :
1) Agree on Patrick being a great narrator (though I need to admit I've never seen The Emperor's New Groove - I probably should check it out one of these days) You left out "Rules of Engagement" as one of his works. He was pretty funny in that show most times. But yes, he's a great narrator for Soarin'. Glad they kept him with the change in 2016.
2) Smells - 1st thing in my mind every time is "that's not what elephants smell like!" (not that I really wish they had done that.... eewww ). The grass effect is good, but I think I may prefer the roses during the Taj Mahal scene. The scent when you fly over the Fiji island scene isn't bad either. I do miss the orange groves smell of the original though (I would probably call that my favorite smell effect from either version of Soarin').
3) I can't add much but to say I fully agree the mechanism is cool, especially the erector set back story.
4) I wouldn't say the Castle scene is my favorite, but I do think it is a good one. While it's not as much of a "big" visual effect, I like the detail of the people walking on the bridge as you turn away. Not sure why that sticks with me, but it does. I think my favorite scene may be the waterfalls. The rumbling of the water as you glide into the area is a great audible effect, IMO (feeling the rumbling of the bass helps it too! ). I also like the Taj Mahal scene, but for almost the opposite reason of it being so tranquil and just enjoying the calmness of it with the visual and the rose smell previously mentioned.
5) Fully agree on the soundtrack. It would not be the ride we all know and love with any other soundtrack.
So for the "which is better?" part.... I think I have to go with original. (not that I don't enjoy the new, I do, especially if I can ask to wait for the midle section - see below )
The main reason being the "elephant in the room" of the much more obvious curvature present in certain scenes as we all have noticed. As well documented in discussions here on MP and elsewhere, it's much more extreme in the new version (at least for most seats). I'm not sure if the filming technique was different to make it more noticeable, or if the scenes in the original just did not have as many elements that we would all immediately notice as curved more than they should be. But once you've seen the Eiffel Hockey Stick effect, it's something you can't un-see, and it causes my eye to look for similar effects in all the scenes. In my mind, the Monument Valley scene with the red rock towers also shows it a bit (though I'm not sure I ever would have noticed without the Eiffel), and the Taj Mahal is pretty badly curved in ways it should not be from many seats as well. I notice it for the Pyramids and Matterhorn also. Of course, asking to sit in the middle section (when that's possible) can make this significantly less noticeable.
There are a few scenes from the original I miss as well. The scene with the Thunderbirds was great and I miss that. Also the golf ball effect (though I'll give props to the sea plane effect in the new version being close to the same feeling).
I guess the changeover from the original to the new now puts the shoe on the other foot for which visitors to the American parks wonder what the connection is. All those years of ending in DL for FL park goers now flips around for all the CA park visitors wondering why the ride ends at Epcot . At least I'm pretty certain it ends at Epcot in DCA's version as well (I am pretty sure I went on Soarin' at DCA in early 2018 and thought it was the same as EPC)... I saw one on-line reference to the ending being different at different sites, but that might have been just for the international park versions.
DCA's version still ends at Disneyland. You can spot the Matterhorn in the background. But, Tinkerbell has been upgraded via computer graphics. She looks out of place because she's almost 3D now. LOL.
I far prefer the original Soarin over CA than the World. The CGI and distorted world landmarks ruin the World version. I loved the nature scenes in the CA version. I never felt the CA version was out of place at Epcot and I felt it tied in well with the Land theme. I did the CA version almost every time I visited Epcot or DCA but I generally skip the World version unless it has a short wait. I agree with almost all the items in your Top 5. I liked the Neuschwanstein scene but I haven't been on it enough to call it my favorite scene. My 5:
1. Soundtrack – I love the soundtrack, especially the CA version.
2. Ride Mechanism – the soundtrack and the mechanism propel Soarin from just an ordinary Imax movie/screen-based ride
3. Scenes – I like the scenes but I haven't determined my favorite one yet.
4. Sights and smells
5. Patrick Warburton
For me, the Fast Pass system made Soarin better. And good for them for expanding the bays too. I laugh and laugh about the distortion. A multi billion dollar company and the Eiffel Tower looks like it is trying to touch it's toes.
My top 5 is Fast Pass, Fast Pass, Fast Pass, David Puddy, Fast Pass.
I'll take Section B, row 2 seat 4 or 5 please..... (OK, maybe row 1 is better for people with the dislike of seeing dangling feet - that never bothered me much) The Eiffel Tower looks fairly reasonable from those 2 seats. Progressively worse as you work your way out to the edges where it turns into the "touch it's toes" view.....
More seriously, I'm never that specific. I will politely request waiting for Section B, but I don't really care much about it beyond that. I would consider asking more specifically than that making more of a PITA of myself to the cast members than I am comfortable with.
I may have scored the specific "dead center" seats I called out by luck once though... but then there was the time I did not ask for B and was on the wall edge seat on Section A or C. That might be where I was sitting the first time I noticed the Taj Mahal trying to bend also.
And also, yes on the FP. I also found it a great ride for multiples during real Extra Magic Hours in the evening on at least one occasion. I think during a family trip a few years ago I took my mom on the ride twice in a row within less than a half an hour right near the time when regular hours turned into EMH time.
Consider me part of the crowd that liked Soarin over California more than the World version because it felt more "normal" to me. I find the blends between one place and the next are a lot of "jump scare" with a whale jumping at me, a plane flying at me, fireworks shooting at me, etc that is more jarring than I remember with the original (i only can remember the golf ball one). I noticed also that there was less distortion on it than there was on the new ride as well- as many people have said the curvature of Icons is a bit distracting. Don't get me wrong, this is easily a top 5 attraction for the entire resort, it's just I preferred the original one a bit better. Also, it was pretty cool that due to pure dumb luck and the arrival of various friends I got to see the California on it's last week of operation and then was immediately back for the first week of the World.
Moving forward, I think there's a lot of opportunity, assuming they can resolve the bending issue for locations. There's no reason I can tell that they couldn't randomize a la Star Tours so that each experience was a new one. However, with the current financial situation, Iwouldn't expect Soarin to be updated anytime this decade.