The Soarin' flight simulator rides at Disney California Adventure and Epcot have traded the California-centric scenes of the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite and Malibu for an international itinerary that spans six continents.
I recently rode the updated Soarin' Around the World three times and found the journey a fun globe-trotting travelogue.
The hang-gliding flight simulator ride combines a mechanical lift system with three rows of seats and an 80-foot-tall concave domed movie screen. The new five-minute IMAX film has been playing for several weeks in China during "soft opening" previews at Shanghai Disneyland in advance of the new park's official grand opening.
The Soarin' rides in Florida and California debuted Friday, a day after the attraction officially opened in Shanghai Disneyland's Adventure Isle, its version of Adventureland..
The new scenes include a flight over Switzerland's Matterhorn, the Arctic Ocean with a leaping whale, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Germany's Neuschwanstein castle, a herd of African elephants, the Great Wall of China, Egyptian pyramids, India's Taj Mahal, hot air balloons in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, outrigger boats off Fiji, the Iguazu waterfalls on the Argentina-Brazil border and France's Eiffel Tower. The Chinese version of the movie concludes with nighttime fireworks over Shanghai's skyline, but the California version ends at Disneyland.
Gone are the artificial scents of lemon blossom, evergreen and sagebrush that used to simulate a hang-gliding flight over California. The new international scent effects include grass over Africa, an ocean breeze over the South Pacific and roses over India.
A new soundtrack performed by the London Studio Orchestra is based on the original Soarin' score. Patrick Warburton, best known as Elaine's on-again, off-again boyfriend Puddy on "Seinfeld," returns as chief flight attendant and the host of Soarin'.
I was disappointed to learn that Soarin' no longer has a single-rider line, although employees do ask for solo riders to fill in random spots, but only after you've waited in line.
Another bummer: Disney Imagineering didn't update the Soarin' queue to the new international storyline, leaving the entry area dedicated to California aviators.
One of my favorite parts of Soarin' is seeing the feet of the children in the row above kicking back and forth as riders fly above the clouds. What I love most about Soarin' are the memories the ride conjures up of Disneyland's old Circle-Vision attraction, a circular movie theater with nine screens that put viewers in the middle of the action. My favorite scene in the new film: The panoramic view of water surging over the majestic Iguazu waterfalls.
The movie visits 13 places around the globe, flying so close you wonder how the filmmakers got permission to capture the footage. The camera flies through towering buttes in Monument Valley and within feet of the Eiffel Tower. "Making of" videos released by the Disney publicity department show a camera-equipped helicopter repeatedly buzzing over the Great Wall of China during filming.
Several instantly recognizable landmarks didn't make the cut, including Italy's Colosseum and Leaning Tower of Pisa, England's Stonehenge and Big Ben and Russia's Red Square.
The short film makes many subtle nods to Disney films and history, including "Cars" (Monument Valley), "Ratatouille" (Paris), "Finding Nemo" (Sydney Harbour), the upcoming "Moana" (set in the South Pacific), Disneyland's castle (based on Neuschwanstein) and the park's Matterhorn bobsled coaster (Switzerland).
The film employs several clever transitions from scene to scene, including a scary seaplane barreling toward you, a playful kite that swoops across the screen and an eagle with wings spread that briefly frightened the little girl sitting next to me. My favorite transition morphed the dome of the Taj Mahal into a hot air balloon over Monument Valley.
Soarin' Over California debuted at Disney California Adventure when the park opened in 2001. Soarin' opened at Epcot in 2005 with less emphasis on the film's California locales. Soaring Over the Horizon officially opened Thursday at Shanghai Disneyland with a properly spelled name that translates more easily for the Chinese audience. Tokyo DisneySea plans to add a Soarin' attraction in 2019 with Renaissance-era flight simulators evocative of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machines.
DCA upgraded the screens and projection systems in the twin Soarin' theaters last year in anticipation of the new film. Epcot just completed construction on a third Soarin' theater ahead of the reboot.