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Disney From The Twenty-Something: “Maelstrom”

Caitlin CorselloTucked in the back of the Norway Pavilion in Epcot®’s World Showcase is a ride that captures the country’s spirit through a thrilling water based attraction. Maelstrom takes guests on a journey through time and to all corners of Norway to demonstrate its history, culture, and beauty.

Maelstrom opened on July 5, 1988, and is the name of the chaos of whirlpools that form after a tsunami when currents collide. Imagineers Mark Rhodes and Joe Rhode contributed writing and art design to the attraction, and the end result focused on a fusion of time and culture. Viking boats were chosen as the attraction’s vehicles, and they were sculpted in a tenth century Viking style by Jack Ferges.

Guests enter the attraction at the rear of the pavilion and can observe flags and various maps of Norway as they progress towards the loading dock. Located directly behind where guests load, there is a massive mural depicting many different aspects of Norway including Vikings and trolls. There are also two Hidden Mickeys to be found in the massive display. Look on the left side of the mural for a Viking ship where one of the passengers has some pretty iconic headgear on. The second Hidden Mickey can be found near the top of the cruise director’s clipboard.

Once seated inside the Viking boats, guests come face to face with Odin, who sacrificed his eye to gain the wisdom of the ages. As one eye shines mysteriously, the opening narration reads “You are not the first to pass this way, nor shall you be the last. Those who seek the spirit of Norway face peril and adventure, but more often find beauty and charm.”

Guests then find themselves magically back in the times of the Vikings and watch as they gather around fires and set their ships out to sea. Some of these Viking audio-animatronics were made by using molds from Spaceship Earth and, the now defunct, World of Motion. Set to a score of beating drums, this scene really captures the spirit and history of the Vikings.

After experiencing the sea, Maelstrom also introduces the mythical Norway legend of trolls. In a dark and rather ominous forest scene, a three headed troll sculpted by Peter Kermode appears and curses guests “back, back over the falls!” The boat then suddenly shifts and begins moving backwards down a twenty eight foot drop. To accomplish this switch in direction, a turntable was engineered by Dave Van Wyk.

Suddenly guests find themselves sweeping backwards through a dark icy scene featuring polar bears and penguins. One polar bear is standing on his hind legs looming over the boat and makes for a fun photo challenge (but please, no flash photography!). As the boat starts to slow down after the backwards drop, there is another change of scenery.

Caitlin CorselloGuests find themselves back in a forest, however this one is lit with daylight and the sounds of running water can be heard. If guests look out behind them, they will realize that they are jutting out over the falls into the pavilion’s courtyard! In front of the boat, another large troll appears out of the rockwork and banishes guests down into the North Sea. As the troll appears, the boat switches its orientation again and guests find themselves traveling down a small hill into the dark and stormy North Sea. Surrounding them are oil rigs, massive waves, and strong winds.

Finally, guests enter a calm and picturesque modern day fishing village where they disembark. They are then presented with the option to watch a short five minute long video titled “Norway – The Film.” The film was directed by Paul Gerber who also directed Epcot®’s “Symbiosis” and “The Seas.” Guests can either pass directly through the theater and back out into the pavilion, or take the few minutes to watch the film which depicts the diversity and beauty of Norway, but I would recommend staying and watching. At the end of the film a Hidden Mickey can also be found in the form of a red Mickey balloon on the right side of the screen during the parade scene.

Maelstrom, to me, perfectly captures the spirit of Norway by taking guests on a journey across the country and across time. From Vikings, to mythical trolls, to dark stormy seas, Maelstrom offers a unique glimpse into Norway without leaving Central Florida!

(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)

Do you enjoy experiencing Maelstrom? What do you think about the rumors of a Frozen attraction replacing it? 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.