Disney, P.I.

About the Column

As a Disney detective, Debra Peterson always packs her 'mickifying' glass. Her cases often take her to poorly lit, sparsely peopled, but still well-themed areas of Disney World, where she counters shenanigans with snark, and sometimes silliness, but most of all with keen insight and insouciant style. You're invited to accompany Debra each week as she solve baffling mysteries and pursues adventure. Quick, now, the Mouse is afoot!

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FROM: Disney P.I. Published As Uncovered

Epcot's Soarin' - Flying Free at Disney World

For many, a trip to California, starts (and ends) in Orlando. Join the Disney P.I. as she boards Soarin', my personal favorite "thrill" ride at Epcot, and takes note in her trusty notebook a few details you don't want to miss during your flight.

Sometimes even a detective has to take a flight of fancy during her job. For me, there is none more fanciful at Walt Disney World than the hang glider flights at Soarin'. This gentle flight simulation ride in Epcot takes guests on an airborne tour of California.

Most of the time, I just let Soarin' sweep me into the clouds as I enjoy the multiple sensations that make up the ride. I don't concentrate on the details of the almost 5 minute experience. I don't focus on being lifted 10 - 40 feet in the air as I watch a panoramic view of California vistas on an IMAX projection screen. I don't note how the multi-passenger ride vehicle seems to tilt and bank to evoke a hang glider or how the sounds and even smells complement the sights.

No, most of the time I am simply in the moment, along for the ride.

Still, when I turn my Mickeyfying glass on Soarin', I can't help but be impressed by how the details make the difference. I invite you along me on a virtual Soarin' ride to see some of those details.

Queuing up for Soarin' at Walt Disney World

Soarin' is always my first attraction of an Epcot Future World day. If possible, I like to make the first flight just after Disney rope drop. That's not only because Soarin' is a personal favorite, but it's not unusual for stand-by lines to reach over two hours. If I can't make rope drop, such as when I'm tailing a suspect, I use FASTPASS. As with airline flights, I try to avoid flying stand-by.

When I queue up for Soarin' at one of the three boarding gates, I ask the Cast Member - er, flight attendant - if I might wait for a seat in the front row. Although other attractions have good sightlines for all seats, Soarin' has the best experience in the first row. It's also the highest of the three rows, reaching 40 feet (though it doesn't feel so high).

I then amuse myself with the brief pre-show video, watching the glimpses of California sights to be seen and noting small Disney touches. Wait, isn't that Patrick Warburton, voice of The Tick and Kronk in Emperor's New Groove? Aw, check out the Mickey ears.

Once boarding for Flight 5505 begins - an odd theming which doesn't quite mesh with the overall idea of a hang glider experience - guests file inside to their assigned ride vehicles. Each of the three vehicles has three rows: two with 10 riders and one with 9 riders for a total of 87 guests per glide.

Before being seated, I store my trusty trenchcoat, notebook, and Mickeyfing glass in a mesh bag underneath the seat. I leave my flip-flips (tourist disguise!) on the floor, as I don't want to lose them once we become airborne. My legs and toes are now free to dangle in the breeze. I fasten my seat belt as the overhead canopy lowers. We're almost ready for take-off.

Soarin' Over Epcot's California Sights

Once the flight begins, the vehicle moves upwards and the IMAX screen parts white clouds to reveal vivid blue skies. This marks the flight's take-off through some of California's iconic sights.

The journey starts at San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and a postcard-perfect skyline. The scene quickly shifts to showcase the natural beauty of Redwood Creek. With my feet dangling free, I almost feel as if I can tickle the kayakers "below". Then we move to Napa Valley, where our hang-glider craft joins hot-air balloons in exploring the vineyards of Californian wine country.

From there, I glimpse the Pacific Ocean's Monterey Bay, where the coastline comes alive with the sound of the sea and its waterbirds. The ocean cuts to Lake Tahoe, its snowy mountainside dotted with enthusiastic skiers.

Continuing with its exploration of the region's geographical and climactic diversity, Soarin' moves to Yosemite National Park. At Bridalveil Fall, I smile to see a hang glider join us as we bank toward Half Dome.

But no time to chat with the person flying our ride's inspiration. The scene shifts to La Quinta and the PGA West golf course. Intellectually I know it's a film image, but I still duck every time a golf ball comes whizzing at my head.

After flying over Camarillo orange groves - I can smell the citrus - the rich agrarian ground gives way to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park of Southern California. I tip my hat to the cowboys riding the range before the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds shake me in my seat.

The planes' passing neatly transitions to San Diego, where an aircraft carrier awaits at the Naval Air Station North Island.

As dusk becomes night, we glide over surfers at Malibu enjoying a leisurely ride. We then head to Los Angeles, following the freeways at night. LA.'s twinkling traffic and urban lights segue nicely to Anaheim, the final scene.

We fly over Disneyland and its Main Street in time for the night parade. After a special Disney character greets us, the fireworks go off over Sleeping Beauty Castle. Their felt bursts are the climax of our whirlwind tour.

The flight vehicle gently returns us to the ground though not quite back to reality.

Turning the Mickeyfying Glass on Epcot's Soarin'

While Soarin' sights are impressive enough on their own, making an effective case for a real-world tour of California, it's the execution that makes a case for the attraction's position as an E-ticket ride.

Disney bills Soarin' as a multi-sensory experience. And its combination of an IMAX film with 180-degree projection and a ride placing guests in the middle of the action - and up in the air - is memorable.

Adding to the immersive experience is a ride vehicle that moves, responding to the images turns or on-screen stimuli; a rousing orchestral score by Jerry Goldsmith (Mulan, Star Trek: The Next Generation); and imported scents.

Then there are these small details worth noting in your own Disney detective notebook:

  • All the scenes reveal the presence of humans, if not human figures themselves. People are participating in outdoor recreation in many scenes, for instance, and architecture and urban environments are included.
  • The ride vehicle's movement matches sound cues from some scenes.
  • At Lake Tahoe, look for the spill of an enthusiastic skier.
  • Pay attention to the breeze and smells during the ride. You should be able to identify the scent of oranges, evergreens, and sea breeze.
  • Even though you'll duck, watch the golf ball at La Quinta's golf course for a not-so Hidden Mickey.
  • Disneyland fans will enjoy some of the attractions in the concluding scene, and all can take note of the special fireworks finale.

I have a soft spot Epcot's Soarin'. Maybe it's because I spend so much time with my eye on the ground, pounding the pavement in search of pixie dust. On Soarin', I get the chance to fly free and weightless, taking in the Disney details that come from seeing things from a bird's eye view. A Maltese falcon, naturally.

And that's no mystery - it's an experience worth having.

Until next time, consider me on the case.

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