by Kevin Klose
Tonight marks the end of the press event for the kick off of the Happiest Celebration on Earth. The final event is a HUGE party held at Epcot to introduce, dedicate and officially open their newest (and most awesome) attraction, SOARIN’.
The weather in Florida has been erratic for the last two days. The folks attending these events had to be prepared for everything and anything. In my backpack alone I had sunscreen, a fan, a sweatshirt, an umbrella and a raincoat. And I used all of the above today.
With my bag prepared for everything short of a snowstorm, we headed to Epcot. This year’s party had the theme of “A Taste of California”. This is apropos as SOARIN’ comes to Epcot from Disney’s California Adventure and features the diverse regions of that state.
As we entered the park, we were offered a choice of red or white wine and a plate of appetizers. There were two cheese / flatbread type things and the most unappetizing thing I have seen in a while. It looked like a large pink tongue lying on the plate. The cast member handing the appetizers to guests kept telling people that it was indeed not tongue but a slice of wine poached pear. It tasted as bad as it looked. The flatbreads and cheese were OK, but suspecting what might be available later I opted to taste and move on.
As we progressed further into Epcot, we were directed to the stage at the rear of the central fountain adjacent to Spaceship Earth,. The stage was blank save for a large placard with the SOARIN’ logo. A conspicuous plane circled high over head as we waited. This had everyone’s attention as this was an unusual site to see. We all suspected something cool was going to happen.
Shortly after arriving, the music started and Patrick Warburton was introduced as the emcee for the evening. Patrick Warburton is the onscreen narrator for the introduction of the SOARIN’ attraction. You may remember him as Puddy in Seinfeld, the voice of the Tick or as Kronk from the Emperor’s New Groove. He told us of his childhood dreams to be able to fly and asked us to think about the almost universal fantasy of being able to take wing.
After this short intro, a small person (we think it was a female portraying a young male) walked to center stage as white doves flew out from under the stage. As this actor stood there, a mechanism of some sort lifted her into the air as the stage filled with large white bags of air, meant to symbolize clouds. The person swayed back and forth, new age music played as large white wings billowed out from the cloud-like material and the doves flew back and landed on his sleeve. As he descended, cast members in white jumpsuits helped deflate the large white airbags.
At that moment a small round of fireworks burst from behind the stage and sent the crowds eyes upwards. The plane that had all of our attention earlier released the United States Army Golden Knights Parachute Team. There were eight skydivers who performed spectacular aerial stunts. Each one trailed colored smoke that crisscrossed the sky in beautiful streams. They descended slowly as the music played – it was an incredible sight.
As the last skydiver descend behind the tree line and the colorful streams of smoke faded, Mr. Warburton thanked everyone for coming and invited us to go ride SOARIN’!!
As those who have ridden this unique attraction already at Disney's California Adventure can attest, this is not your typical motion simulator type ride. Soarin' at Epcot uses the concept that was a smash hit on the West Coast, and brings it here to add to an ever growing list of impressive new attractions in Orlando.
I experienced Soarin' for the first time at Epcot, so I will not attempt to compare the attraction to the Anaheim original.
The ride building is attached to The Land Pavillion in Future World, with the ride entrance accessible through the former Food Rocks attraction. The building itself is shaped like a huge, truncated hangar, simillar to what you might find at a medium sized municipal airfield. The interior is also reminiscent of a municipal airfield, with chain link fencing in places. There is no seperate pre-show to speak of. However, when you are ready to load up into your moving theater, you are treated to a short safety spiel type video on an overhead monitor.
Inside the theater, you will be guided to one of three large ride vehicles. Each has three rows of seating, with the most desirable being the front row, closest to the screen. When the ride begins, the front row winds up being the highest in the air, and none of the other rows are visible, as they go below and slightly to the rear of the row in front. I rode in the middle row, which still offers a fairly immersive experience.
The theater seats, quite honestly are the most comfortable ride vehicle seats I've ever seen in any attraction, anywhere. They are very similar to slightly reclined lawn chairs, with a mesh seat and back, and are perfect for this attraction. They are also somewhat wider and larger than ride seating in most amusement park attractions. Safety is provided by a simple lap belt restraint, leaving you with a comfortable, free feeling as the ride begins.
At the start, your ride vehicle is lifted swiftly and smoothly forward and up, with each row stacking vertically above the other, right in front of a massive theater screen. And then you begin to "fly" through stunning scenes filmed over the California landscape. You are swept over snow capped ridges, desert canyons, rocky seashores, and gorgeous beaches. The whole experience culminates with a swooping run up Main Street USA to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, ending among the evening fireworks display.
As the camera banks and turns through the scenery, your moving theater also banks and turns...In fact, each individual seat moves, banking you left and right, and angling up and down, in perfect synchronization with the camera angle on the screen. It truly does leave you feeling as though you were hang gliding over California's most breathtaking vistas.
The overall ride experience of Soarin' is certainly not to be missed. However, there were a few negatives that I also felt worthy of noting...At times, the picture quality of the film appeared to be a bit on the grainy side, and some of the cuts between scenery footage were a bit abrupt. During the ride, you are treated to the feeling of wind blowing in your face...I loved this part of the attraction, but I would have liked the wind to have varied a bit...I thought the ride could be enhanced by having the wind occasionally "gust" or lessen a bit as you banked through a turn. Lastly, on the negative front, guests who use wheelchairs and cannot transfer to a ride vehicle seat will not be able to experience this attraction, as there is no way to accommodate a wheelchair on the ride vehicles. disAbled access to the attraction, however, is good, with wide, gently sloping ramps throughout the queue area, and ample room to maneuver a wheelchair inside the ride theater. You just have to be able to get into the theater seats once you're inside.
This attraction earned a tremendous amount of hype while it was in operation in Anaheim. Most of that hype has been very well earned. There is very little not to like about Soarn' at Epcot, and a lot of reasons to make sure that this is one ride you don't want to miss on your next trip to the World. I give Soarin' at Epcot a grand total of 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars. A definite hit.
Back to Top | Back to Main Press Event Page