By ATD’s Orlando Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
This summer is a great time to be visiting Walt Disney World’s Epcot park, with a raft of new attractions and features that give zest and life to the existing rides and shows, and it all starts with a whole new way to see the world…
Soarin’ Around the World: When Soarin’ opened in The Land pavilion at Epcot in 2005, the attraction became an instant hit with all ages, and queues remained long right up until its closing for refurbishment earlier this year. It was a sought-after FastPass (and later, FastPass+) to avoid the often 2-hour queues, but now, with the addition of a third theatre, wait times for the brand new Soarin’ Around the World are tolerable. And that’s good news for everyone, since the attraction is once again a serious crowd-puller.
Disney purists were delighted to see that Patrick Warburton, chief flight attendant, still delivers the safety spiel (so you can still repeat the lines “and of course, these little beauties” and “Nice work, pal” along with him), but beyond that, and the ride vehicles which give the sensation of flying in a hang-glider, the experience is entirely new.
Yes, there are still scents as you glide over certain landscapes, but the experience is even more vivid and your flight comes much closer to the icons of some of the world’s greatest locals (think Taj Mahal, Egypt’s pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Kilimanjaro National Park, and in a memorable opening scene, Switzerland’s Matterhorn). Remember that golf ball that came whizzing at you in the original Soarin’? There are several near-miss encounters in this version, too, and while many of its key elements are CGI, the visual impact is immense and undeniable. Besides, the new landing point—Epcot—is such a delight we’re prepared to forgive any little ‘reality niggles’.
We will admit we waited for this one eagerly, though we loved Soarin’ as well, and the new version did not disappoint. While the visual ‘surprises’ are only surprises the first time, the overall impact of seeing some of nature’s – and mankind’s – greatest creations is so utterly captivating and exciting, we think this has the same long-lasting appeal and repeat factor of the original. Frankly, once we disembarked we were ready to hop right on and ride again!
Arendelle: This pretty little village in Norway doubles the size of the original World Showcase pavilion and is home to the Royal Sommerhus, the summertime residence of Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, bringing the duo to Epcot from their temporary home at Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom. The queue for this meet-and-greet is themed, but with no interactive elements to while away the time, and although the cottage was built for royalty it’s surprisingly simple in its design and spare in its accoutrement. Even so, there are some charming photo ops—including a few references to the former Maelstrom ride that used to make its home here—and you’ll have plenty of time to snap some pictures while you wait.
Like Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom, the resident royalty greet guests in one room, with separate opportunities to meet each of them. And as homely as the interior of their summer house is, the backdrop for the meet-and-greet offers a spectacular view over Arendelle to the North Mountain, with Elsa’s grand ice palace in the background.
To the right of the Sommerhus is The Wandering Reindeer gift shop, an Aladdin’s cave (Sorry! Wrong movie!) of all things Frozen. Find dress-up wear, dolls, plush toys, tee-shirts and more here. New restrooms round out the expansion.
The Stave Church at the front of the pavilion is now home to the exhibit Creating the World of Frozen, which ties real Nordic culture to the art and design of the movie Frozen.
The rest of the original pavilion is exactly as it was pre-Frozen, with The Puffin’s Roost gift shop, plus Restaurant Akershus and Kringla Bakeri og Café.
Frozen Ever After: Anna, Elsa and their friends have taken over the former Maelstrom attraction, bringing the kingdom of Arendelle to Norway. There are some growing pains with keeping the ride open, so if you’re visiting soon bring along your patience. No matter when you visit, it’s wise to schedule a FastPass+ for the ride, and we suggest doing it the moment FP+ bookings open for your travel dates (30 days before your visit if you’re offsite, 60 days before if you’re staying at a Disney resort).
While the queue here is also themed, once again there is nothing interactive about it to keep guests occupied while they wait. There is one short entertainment element at Oaken’s Tokens and Sauna, when Oaken (who is, apparently, hanging out in the sauna) draws characters on the steamed-up window with his finger.
Like the remake of Test Track, there is a lot of blue going on in the Frozen Ever After attraction, but the storyline indicates you’re in an icy world as Queen Elsa has created winter in summertime celebrating with a Summer Snow Day.
The first character to greet you is Olaf, singing about building a snowman. While that song from the movie originally belonged to Anna, Olaf’s character is so charming you may find it easy to forgive the change. As you pass by, he and the trolls of Troll Valley inform you you’re going to Elsa’s Ice Palace, and once you get there you encounter Anna and Kristoff singing For the First Time in Forever while Sven, nearby, wrestles with a little problem he’s having (remember your mother’s warning not to lick the flagpole in winter?). And then the magic happens. Elsa, singing the song that made the movie a blockbuster hit, creates an icy wonderland all around you.
It’s over almost as quickly as it starts, but the visuals are magnificent and the attraction will surely draw long queues for some time to come, making that FastPass+ an important addition to your day if Frozen Ever After is on your ‘Must See’ list.
And finally, Vikings!: When you visit the Norway pavilion you may come across a roaming Viking or two. And they’ve got something to tell you. Of course, they speak limited English, so it may take a moment to figure out what they’re on about, but they’re delightful characters (as Vikings go), so stick with it. (We’ll give you a hint: there’s a problem—a big problem!—with their boat.) Don’t be afraid to ask for a photo if you meet them!
One last thing for film-fans – the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival has temporarily moved into the old Magic Eye Theatre formerly occupied by Captain EO, and here you can see a special 18-minute presentation of three classic Disney short films, all given an extra 3-D overlay. It’s a new way of seeing something you may already have seen before, and it’s also a FastPass+ option at the moment. Well worth a chance to get off your feet and cool down, as this summer is already proving a real scorcher!
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