In 2005, The Land Pavilion in Epcot® saw a major overhaul as the doors to an old attraction were closed and construction began on what is one of the largest attractions in WDW. Soarin’® opened its doors to guests and introduced them to an entirely new experience where they feel as though they are hang gliding high over some of the most beautiful places in California.
The concept for Soarin’® originated in California as a way for guests to be able to travel through the entire state and have an aerial glimpse of its beauty and diverse offerings. Imagineers faced an initial difficulty on how to simulate the effects of hang gliding, but the issue was solved in a rather ingenious way. Imagineer, Mark Sumner, found his old erector set in the attic of his home one weekend and returned to work Monday morning with a model that almost exactly matches what guests ride in today. Soarin’® became possible with the design of three rows for guests which then move forward and lift consecutively into the air. This design allowed for a high capacity of guests to experience the attraction at once while still simulating the experience of soaring.
Thus, Soarin’® Over California was opened in Condor Flats in Disney’s California Adventure Park February 8, 2001, and was an immediate hit. The attraction became so popular that soon plans were initiated to open another version in WDW, but some changes needed to be made. The name was changed to simply Soarin’® and guests now feel as though they are in an airplane hangar about to board a flight to California. After the necessary changes were made, Soarin’® opened to guests on May 5, 2005, replacing Kitchen Kabaret which ran from 1982 through 1994 and Food Rocks which ran from 1994 through 2004. The opening date of Soarin’® can be found on every single ride as the flight number featured is 5505 (May 5, 2005.)
As in California, Soarin’® immediately became a guest favorite, and wait times reflected its popularity. In the busy months, Soarin’® can still boast lines upwards of two hours making it a perfect attraction to get a FastPass+ for. My favorite way to experience the attraction is first thing in the morning on the Standby line – walking through the immense queue really gives you the feel of an airport. Plus, after waiting in line and experiencing the attraction you can go enjoy breakfast at Sunshine Seasons!
Regardless of when you ride, all along the queue are interactive games to keep you occupied and make the time pass more quickly. These games were installed in 2009 and require the movement of guests’ bodies to control various scenarios. Once near the loading area, Cast Members will assign guests either Row 1, 2, or 3. Those who would like the highest row with an unobstructed view can ask for Row 1; however, all three offer amazing views.
Once situated in your rows, overhead televisions advertise the destinations you will soon be soaring over. Once the preshow begins, Patrick Warburton appears and begins to describe your journey and rattles through safety measures and loading procedures. When he begins to introduce the name of the attraction, watch his mouth closely. At the end of the word soarin’, he seems to close his mouth rather abruptly, no? The footage you are watching is the original preshow from the California attraction, but in WDW the title does not include “Over California.” Thus Warburton’s speech was edited to the shorter version of the name.
Once inside and seated, guests soon find themselves being raised into the air, and the beautiful score by composer, Jerry Goldsmith, begins. California is a massive state, and this attraction covers so many of its beautiful destinations. Guests get to experience places such as San Francisco, Redwood Creek, Napa Valley, Monterey, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite Nation Park, the PGA West Palmer Golf Course, Camarillo, San Diego, Malibu, Los Angeles, and finally Disneyland®. Throughout the flight, guests are tilted to enhance the feel of flying and also experience breezes and scents. Be sure to sniff away to pick up on the delicious smells of citrus, pine, sagebrush, and ocean mist.
While every scene throughout Soarin’® is beautiful, there are several little things to look for as well. Look for a Hidden Mickey that flies past on a golf ball, and a skier who takes a little bit of a spill behind all of his friends. Also be sure to notice the progression from day to night as you glide over the scenes. By the time you reach Los Angeles, the neon lights are in full effect. The most spectacular of all scenes is the Disneyland® one, as it is set at night in the Christmas season. As you soar down Main Street, USA®, look below for the Christmas parade as well as Sleeping Beauty Castle and “it’s a small world”® decked out in holiday lights for the season. Soarin’® culminates with a fireworks display high over Sleeping Beauty Castle where a final Hidden Mickey can be found from some pretty massive bursts.
Once back on the ground, I can guarantee that you will immediately be planning your next flight over California on Soarin’®!
(Photos are from the author’s personal collection.)
What is your favorite scene and scent in Soarin’®? Do you love to sit in the top row? Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you!
Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.