- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The latest multimedia attraction to hit Walt Disney World is not really new; it debuted at Disneyland in California five years ago. Despite its technology, science themes and artistic splendor, it may leave seasoned theme-park lovers not completely buying into the experience.

Soarin’ takes 87 guests for a five-minute “hang glide” over major California landmarks, lifting and plunging them into half of a massive dome where they watch an Imax film that offers a three-dimensional feel using sensory magic.

Housed within the Land building at Disney World’s technologically rich Epcot park, two flight theaters use motion-based simulators that combine aromatic and visceral special effects to enhance the sensation.

The main ride structure, which has been patented, requires 1 million pounds of steel, 37 tons of lift and an 80-foot projection screen to position and place each audience member into the adventure.

The attraction’s impressive engineering comes from Walt Disney “imagineer” Mark Sumner, who spearheaded the delivery of Soarin’ and harnessed the ride’s magic with help from his 40-year-old erector set, which he used to build a working model.

Before entering the ride, guests get a chance to learn from quizzes and images concentrating on mountain, polar, rain-forest, desert and deciduous ecosystems shown on flat-panel screens. This two-hour learning exercise is also referred to as “waiting in a massive line.” Disney’s famed FastPass (a timed-ticket distribution system) barely cuts the wait time because of the attraction’s enormous popularity.

Once visitors are inside, a flight briefing by bumbling actor Patrick Warburton of “Seinfeld,” “Family Guy” and the Tak video-game franchise (this guy sure gets around) leads to a loading area where the audience is secured quickly in rows of seats that unroll, kind of like a ski lift. Then they are maneuvered 40 feet into the air and into the dome while a canopy is pulled over them and the film begins.

The simulation takes riders to the redwoods in Northern California (complete with the scent of pine needles), a golf course in Palm Springs (look out for that golf ball), a near landing on an aircraft carrier outside of San Diego, through an orange grove (smell the fine fruit) and over the Golden Gate Bridge, eventually ending up at Disneyland.

Folks not used to this type of attraction can get a bit queasy from the simulated movements on-screen and the seats’ real movements.

Composer Jerry Goldsmith adds an orchestral score to the final panoramic journey, which, rather than telling a story in the grandest Disney sense, is more like a series of visuals that says, “Hey, folks, look what we can do.”

Although the film is displayed through an Imax projection system using high-speed, high-definition Omni-max film projectors, it still looked grainy to me, and I swear I saw a hair floating across the screen. Disney really needs to take advantage of digital video technology to make this adventure sparkle.

Additionally, the footage could have been longer and more spectacular if it hadn’t been confined to California. How about a fly-by of Mount Rushmore, a Death Star-like run through the Grand Canyon or a visit with the Statue of Liberty?

Also, unless precisely positioned near the middle of the ride, visitors may have a hard time suspending disbelief because they will be able to see the sides of the screen.

I’m still hooked on Disney’s rocket ride to Mars, the Mission: Space attraction, which delivers an unforgettable journey into the stars, but for visitors who have never had a window seat on a bumpy airplane ride over towering mountain ranges, Soarin’ might be just the ticket.

For more information on trying the Soarin’ experience, visit www.disneyworld.com.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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