With the Grand Opening of Shanghai Disneyland, you literally can ride Soarin’ around the world. From Disneyland to Disney World and now to Shanghai Disneyland, we compare the three versions of this attraction:
The Original Soarin’ Over California at Disneyland Resort
Soarin’ Over California debuted on February 8, 2001 with the grand opening of Disney California Adventure (DCA). The unique ride system, designed by Imagineer Mark Sumner, was inspired by an Erector toy set. It was an immediate success.
Guests love the sensation of flight as they are raised skyward into the 80-foot domed projection screen, while safely seated in a theater. The original attraction highlighted California landmarks such as the Golden Gate bridge and Yosemite National Park.
Soarin’ Over California ran on IMAX HD film until its refurbishment in 2015 with digital projectors. The attraction building resembles a large aircraft hangar, built in homage to California’s record-setting aviation history. As you enter, you pass commemorations of historic aircraft — the SR-71 Blackbird, the Bell X-1 — and notable aviators including Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager, and Amelia Earhart.
The pre-flight safety video has Patrick Warburton instructing smaller aviators to strap in the center loop with their seatbelts. Of course, all loose items must be stowed in the under-seat storage compartment (cue bald joke).
Guests get to “feel, smell and hear the world” during their Soarin’ experience. The musical score made this sensation of freedom take flight, composed by the late Jerry Goldsmith (Mulan, Star Trek).
Even More Popular at Epcot
While Soarin’ Over California remains a top attraction at DCA, Soarin’ achieved a popularity of stellar proportions since opening at Epcot on May 5, 2005. (Hence, “Flight 5505”)
Soarin’ gave new life to “The Land” Pavilion in Future World. While the name was shortened, the wait times were not. The attraction was so popular, queues often logged over 100 minutes. FastPasses were notoriously hard to come by (just ask Martin Short).
This prompted construction to build a third theater that it opened May 27, 2016. Wait times were measurably improved after adding this extra capacity, even a few days after the new film debuted. Even the carpets smell new!
The ride entrance is on the lower level of The Land with an extensive indoor queue, compared with California’s largely outdoor queue. Of note, the restrooms next door also got a facelift. Ladies, don’t enter the doorway on the left — that’s now the men’s room. The women’s restrooms gained about 50% more real estate in this remodel.
The same pre-flight safety video plays at Epcot. In contrast, cast member costumes are more formal than in California, resembling flight attendant uniforms.
Premiering at Shanghai Disneyland: Soaring Over the Horizon
Making its debut at Shanghai Disneyland, Soaring Over the Horizon showcases an entirely new flight plan that has been delighting audiences since previews began in May.
Disney explains the name difference is “to better fit its location in Adventure Isle at Shanghai Disneyland because of its spirit of exploration and discovery.”
The entrance is inspired by Monument Valley, Utah. You wind through an extensive indoor maze of rock walls reminiscent of Indiana Jones: Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Queues at Shanghai Disneyland have been solidly built to deter line-jumping, and thus, encourage good behavior.
Then, the heavens open up. Literally, you are seeing the night sky with twinkling constellations overhead. The feeling is mystical, as you journey to an enchanted observatory of the Arbori tribe (the indigenous peoples of Adventure Isle). Cast members are dressed in tribal garb.
The warning signage explains that you will “Soar like a thunderbird on an exhilarating flight around the world.” And “You should be sober and in good health to ride.”
An Asian-influenced soundtrack accompanies the introduction video, highlighting sights on your worldwide tour. A bird transforms into a woman. She is a shaman of the indigenous tribe, and presents your pre-flight safety instructions in a Mandarin-Chinese dubbed voice.
It is amusing how this safety video mirrors the original very closely, including a bald joke and the ‘thumbs up’ for the little aviator.
Sweeping digital projections transport you to:
- The Matterhorn, Switzerland
- Polar bears and calving glaciers in Greenland
- Racing yachts in Sydney Harbour, Australia
- Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany (Walt’s inspiration for Disneyland’s castle)
- Elephant herd in Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania
- The Great Wall of China
- The Great Pyramids, Egypt
- The Taj Mahal, India
- Monument Valley, Utah (look for the hidden Mickey)
- Islands of Fiji
- Iguazu Falls, Argentina / Brazil
- Eiffel Tower, Paris
The last site in the experience is specific to each Park. In a departure from tradition, Shanghai’s Soarin’ has Mickey-shaped fireworks over Shanghai’s modern city skyline (with the ‘bottle opener’ building); it does not end in a Disney park.
You are enveloped by new scents that include grass (elephants in Kilimanjaro), roses (Taj Mahal), and sea spray (Fiji). I have to admit I was relieved that the elephant scent was ‘grass’ and not something else…
Concerns about the new soundtrack? The musical score by Bruce Broughton (performed by the London Studio Orchestra) incorporates familiar Soarin’ themes we love to fly with.
Disneyland and Epcot Updates
Soarin’ Over the Horizon debuted in Shanghai on June 16, 2016. Soarin’ Around the World opened stateside the next day, on June 17, 2016.
The queue videos now show a flat map of the world with a moving red line connecting global cities you will visit. It’s a good geography lesson.
Patrick Warburton still does the safety video. He now welcomes you to Soarin’ (edited to remove the “over California” part). The Soarin’ Over California logo over his right shoulder was digitally removed, which is why he is slightly off-center in the current shot.
New protocols in all 3 parks use blue screen lighting (instead of total blackness) when raising and lowering the glider seats. Flight attendants now board with Row 3 (back row) first, improving loading efficiency.
The final scene at California Adventure is an update of the fireworks over Disneyland castle (sans the Christmas parade), whereas Disney World shows Mickey fireworks over Epcot’s Spaceship Earth.
Soarin’ Around the World seeks to amaze and enthrall. It is visually beautiful, with crisp laser projections and abundant CG imagery. However, due to the concave nature of the projection dome, tall structures such as the Eiffel tower and the Taj Mahal appear to curve inward if you are seated towards the edges of the theater. This was much less noticeable in the original film with nature scenes lower on the viewing horizon.
Overall, the crowd reception has been overwhelmingly positive. What do you think of the new film? Where is your favorite version of Soarin’? I’m certainly inspired to see more of these landmark sights around the world.
Gloria Hasler is a freelance travel writer and photographer. She is a professional travel consultant, owner of Chrysalis Travel, and – together with her husband – co-founder of the Six Castles Club.