We continue our discussion of Epcot’s new offerings with Soarin’ Around the World, which replaces “Just Soaring” on the lower level of the Land Pavilion. Previous discussion about the Frozen Ever After ride is available here with the Royal Sommerhus Anna/Elsa Meet and Greet post available here.
Like with the previous posts, I’ll discuss strategy and wait times before providing my own thoughts on the attraction. I will briefly say that I am not historically a Soarin’ person and it does not really matter what I think about it. You will want to experience the ride for yourself, so the fact that I don’t personally care for it has very little bearing on what you end up doing. My recommendation is also to hold off on reading my thoughts until you have the opportunity to ride yourself or some of the things that I point out will probably mar your own experience. Fortunately, with a few intelligent choices you can eliminate 75% of the potential problems you’ll face heading in.
Anyone that has entered The Land Pavilion since Original Soarin’ opened 11 years ago will recognize the setup inside, which hasn’t changed. Garden Grill and Circle of Life are located on the top floor with Soarin’, Living with the Land, and the Sunshine Seasons quick service below.
The quickest walk to Soarin’ is going to be a left and then a walk down the stairs, but this path may be blocked earlier in the morning, necessitating everyone to head right and down the stairs/escalator underneath where it says “old elevator.” Disney did install a new elevator, which should help those that need a little extra help getting down. The Land was obviously not built with a bottom floor headliner in mind.
Here’s that rope in front of Garden Grill. If this one is up then the one just inside the entrance likely will be also. There is a cast member stationed at both and they will let you through with a wheelchair/ECV etc for easier access to the elevators.
Those with pre-opening reservations at Garden Grill that are able to eat fairly quickly and be out in front of the restaurant by 8:45am do have an advantage in getting to Soarin’ first and you will be among the first to board that ride. An early reservation would have no benefit to Test Track or Frozen Ever After as both attractions are on the other side of the Park and you’d run into the same ropes/holding areas as those headed in from the main entrance or International Gateway. With the number of people arriving at Epcot’s main entrance early for Frozen, expect guests to enter the Park by 8:35am. If you have a reservation before official opening, I suggest arriving by 7:45am. Disney will let everyone with an early reservation enter the Park from the dedicated tapstiles on the far right of the main entrance or in International Gateway just before 8am.
Soarin’ is otherwise easy enough to get to first thing that a pre-opening breakfast doesn’t necessarily need to be on your radar if you choose to head there first. 250+ people will be on the ride within ten minutes of opening and then each theater will intermittently admit 85+ more every 7ish minutes. I have a review of Garden Grill breakfast in this post from last month in case you missed it. Instead of rushing through the breakfast and the character interaction, you might consider a later breakfast or a lunch when you have an opportunity to relax and take your time.
Here’s a look at wait times since Soarin’ Around the World debuted on the 17th, one day after a similar attraction opened in Shanghai:
I’ve highlighted wait times of 45 minutes or fewer in green as well as 75+ minutes in red to make it a little easier to see which times of day see the shortest and longest waits. The distribution is somewhat interesting I think with some of the longest waits of the day posted from 9:15am to 10:15am.
This makes some sense as there is an initial rush to the ride and anyone that arrives after that rush will wait behind all of those people. So if you were to start your day at Test Track from 8:55am – 9:15am and then hurry over to Soarin’ to get in line around 9:25am, then you’d be behind everyone that arrived at Soarin’ before then. With FastPass+ returners already clogging up lines, your actual wait could easily be 75 minutes with a 9:30am arrival.
Epcot also enjoys some unique traffic patterns as guests move through the various pavilions throughout the day. The Land Pavilion in particular is out of the way and Soarin’ is not a ride that you would naturally pass at some point in the day and think, “that looks fun I want to ride that” like you might with Expedition Everest, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Tower of Terror, etc. You have to specifically seek Soarin’ out. And with the majority of people moving into World Showcase in the afternoon and even more in the evening for dinner/IllumiNations, you see significant drops in wait times in the evening. And to a lesser extent, the afternoon. Obviously a 30- or 45-minute wait is not entirely ideal, but the queue is air-conditioned and offers some interactive games. There are worse places to be.
So if you have to do standby, visiting first thing is absolutely viable even if the wait is posted at 30 minutes when you arrive. (Note that the 85-minute wait at 9am on 6/23 is due to the morning extra magic hour.) As long as you move quickly, your total experience time should be 20 to 30 minutes. It still takes a while to walk the queue, wait to be placed into a hangar bay, watch the pre-show video, ride the ride, and then walk back to the attraction entrance. The second best time to ride is as late in the day as possible and ideally after 8pm. Those walking in at 8:59pm should basically experience the equivalent of a walk-on. The vast majority of people will be littered around the Lagoon for IllumiNations.
Here’s what Test Track has looked like over the last few days:
It’s worth noting that Test Track never posts a wait under 30 minutes first thing in the morning. And it also looks like waits take off slower as the first hour of operation progresses. The pattern is otherwise somewhat similar to Soarin’ with the longest waits of the day in the late morning and early afternoon. Guests arrive at the main entrance and wait in lines that are much longer than they probably want to wait before moving up through World Showcase.
But with the maximum number of possible FastPass+ users arriving in the first hour of operation, in addition to those headed here first over Frozen or Soarin’, long waits do materialize at Test Track relatively quickly. This is before 9:40am this past Wednesday and the standby queue is already snaking around outside into the extended queue. So if you were to ride Frozen Ever After in standby first thing and manage to be among the first handful of people on-ride, you’d arrive at Test Track around 9:25am to an actual wait that is already at least 40 minutes. It’s not exactly ideal.
Those willing to split up at Test Track are in business via single rider, which will see waits under 20 minutes for most, if not all, of the day. While you won’t know how many people are in front of you until you work your way much further into the queue, the seating arrangement greatly benefits single riders with each vehicle seating two rows of three people. Since two- and four-person parties are the most common, groups of two will be placed with one single rider and groups of four will be placed with two single riders. On Wednesday 6/22, I got in the single rider line at 9:41am and was on-ride at 9:53am. So if you want to start at Soarin’ or Frozen Ever After and don’t mind single rider at Test Track, then you’re in good shape.
So what does this all mean….
You’re still in business if you’re visiting Epcot over two days and able to secure FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After on at least one day. If you’re rope dropping both days, start on the Test Track side one day with that first, followed by Sum of All Thrills, Mission: SPACE, and perhaps Spaceship Earth with FastPass+ and Character Spot with FastPass+. On day two, begin with Soarin’ followed by Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo, Turtle Talk, and Journey into Imagination. Use the Frozen FastPass+ whenever you can get it and visit the Royal Sommerhus Anna/Elsa Meet and Greet either before or after riding depending on the line. You could use your second Tier 1 FastPass+ to re-ride Soarin’, Test Track, or Frozen depending on what you think you’ll like best or are otherwise able to secure.
If you’re doing one or two late arrivals, then you’d want to use your Tier 1 FastPass+ at Frozen Ever After on one day and Test Track on the other. Ride Soarin’ late in the evening on one day and see IllumiNations on the other. Soarin’ is the least likely to be down at close since it operates with three independent theaters and doesn’t close for inclement weather, so using FP+ at Frozen and Test Track should guarantee relatively short waits at both when they are operating. Use Tier 2 FastPass+ where it makes sense – likely Mission: SPACE, Character Spot, Spaceship Earth, and one more selection.
With one day, you’re likely going to have to make some choices. If you can secure FastPass+ for Frozen then you’re in good shape. I would start with Test Track -> Sum of All Thrills -> Mission: SPACE -> Spaceship Earth with FastPass+ -> Mexico -> Frozen with FastPass+ -> Royal Sommerhus. Then return to Future World at 5pm to experience the attractions on the other side of Future World. If you want to see IllumiNations then you’d want to be in line for Soarin’ by 7:30pm. If you don’t care about IllumiNations then you could hold off on getting in line for Soarin’ until after 8:45pm.
If you have one day to visit Epcot and are unable to secure FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After (which is extremely likely unless you book 60+ days out and even then…) and “must” ride Frozen, Soarin’, and Test Track then you’ve got some problems. There is no great time to ride Frozen with the mess that is rope drop and the likelihood that the ride will see downtime. The best time to ride Frozen remains first thing in the morning pending you can arrive by 7:45am and hurry quickly to the ride in order to move through it quickly. If you can’t, then you’ll want to start at either Test Track or Soarin’ and use FastPass+ at the other. Single rider at Test Track remains viable. While Frozen Ever After likely won’t drop its posted wait after 8:30pm to something reasonable, the wait should be in the 25 to 45 minute range assuming it’s operating. With one day and plans to ride Frozen last, you do run into the possibility that the ride won’t be operational and you’ll be out of luck. It’s a relatively small possibility, but it is a possibility nonetheless.
So if you have one day and can’t FP+ Frozen, head there first if you think you can beat the masses. Grin and bear the afternoon wait if you absolutely have to ride. If you’d like to ride but won’t be heartbroken if you don’t, consider riding absolute last thing. Of course the latter assumes that you don’t want to see IllumiNations.
We’ll go over some detailed touring plan possibilities in the coming days. But those planning on spending 2+ days at Epcot and able to secure FastPass+ at Frozen Ever After will have the easiest time. That gives you at least two Tier 1 FastPass+ experiences and four Tier 2 FastPass+ experiences, in addition to lucking into any cancellations as 4th FP+ opportunities. Those spending one day can get through the three headliners with a Frozen FP+ in hand, but those unable to secure FP+ are going to have some problems getting on Frozen, Soarin’, and Test Track without a bit of hassle or careful planning/luck.
Speaking of FastPass+, one of the reasons why Soarin’ hasn’t seen longer standby waits so far is that Disney has not increased the number of FP+ experiences distributed. So standby capacity has basically doubled there.
Of course, much of the ride’s downtime over the first half of the year was due to the addition of a third theater in Concourse C, effectively increasing the ride’s capacity by 50%. There is no real reason to request the new theater I don’t think. It looks the same as the others.
I would however implore you to at a minimum request hangar B before loading. Unlike First Soarin’, Around the World suffers from a great amount of image distortion for those seated on the sides. You will have the best view from the center section and any other placement will be detrimental to your overall experience.
So what have we learned…
- Soarin’ wait times have been reduced with the increase in capacity.
- FastPass+ distribution has not been appreciably increased, however, making it unlikely that the ride will be available as a 4th FastPass+ unless you luck into a rare cancellation.
- Those that arrive between 9:15am and 10:15am are likely to wait longer than those that visit later in the day.
- Soarin’ is the least likely to be down at Park close and your best bet for a short wait in the evening. If you’d like to see IllumiNations, consider getting in line around 7pm. If you don’t care, consider getting in line about five minutes prior to official Park close. Disney will let you ride as long as you pass the threshold into the queue at least a minute before close.
- The entire queue is air-conditioned and it provides some interactive elements, including a game you can play on your phone. It’s not the worst place to spend 45 minutes in the late afternoon.
- Absolutely request the center “B” section. Consider requesting row one, which will put you at the top without somebody else’s feet dangling in your face.
- Soarin’ Around the World will still take about 25 minutes to experience with FastPass+ or first thing in the morning.
With that, I will briefly discuss my thoughts about the ride. Like I said in the opening, I suggest CLOSING THIS REVIEW NOW if you have not yet experienced the ride. You still want to ride even if I have some problems with it. My other suggestion is to not watch any videos of the ride. It will only spoil what you’ll see.
Most people will be happy to find out that the original pre-show safety video is still shown before every ride.
Though I will mention as a rapidly balding male that I FIND THIS SCENE INCREDIBLY OFFENSIVE.
My biggest problem with New Soarin’ is the exact same as I had with Old Soarin’. The ride system in no way resembles the hang gliding experience.
This is hang gliding. Note that the person in this picture is not seated upright in a row with ten other people with somebody else’s feet dangling in front of their face. Soarin’ fails to reproduce any part of the hang gliding experience. And with the scenes changing every ten seconds, so if by some miracle you actually think that you’re hang gliding over the Taj Mahal for a moment, that suspension of disbelief is almost instantaneously ruined by an immediate change in scenery. Imagine what it would be like to fly over Paris and into the French countryside over the course of five uninterrupted minutes instead.
With Around the World, my biggest problem is the heavy handed use of computer animation. The Taj Mahal scene is 100% computer rendered. The building is fake. The people are fake. The sky is fake. The trees are fake. The water is fake. And why? Is the Taj Mahal not spectacular enough that we can’t actually fly over the real thing?
You might also notice how much distortion there is in the image. Soarin’s screen is concave and Disney did not apparently plan for that, which means those seated in the “A” and “C” sections of the ride vehicle will be looking at the screen from the sides, which in turn makes the image look like it’s bending left or right.
This phenomenon wasn’t as prevalent in the original because there were few upright buildings, probably by design. The Eiffel Tower from the far right seats bends so far to the left that it’s almost comical. And like the Taj Mahal, it’s all computer rendered.
All of the wildlife is computer generated. The whales, polar bears, elephants, etc. are all fake. And while there was some computer animation in the original, it wasn’t so heavy handed that it felt out of place or altogether obvious.
The natural world is spectacular enough that I’m not sure why Disney felt it was necessary to take that away from us. Show me the Grand Canyon. Let me see the Dome of the Rock. Give me the real St. Basil’s Cathedral. Fly me over Dubai. You exit Soarin’ Around the World seeing virtually none of it.
A lot of people really like it though.
We’ll continue with a look at the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular over at Hollywood Studios.