Soarin’ Around the World Is One of Disney's Best Rides

You'll Believe You Can Fly at Disney California Adventure and Epcot

Soarin' around the World Disney ride
 Disney

An instant classic and among Imagineering's best achievements, Soarin' Around the World is a giddy adventure that engages your senses and figuratively, if not damn near literally, sends you, well, soarin'. It debuted at the Disneyland Resort as Soarin' Over California and proved so popular that Disney cloned the ride at Walt Disney World's Epcot. Through the years, it has upgraded the attraction and, in 2016, introduced entirely new content with new airborne destinations. The Mouse also added an additional version of the ride at Shanghai Disneyland

  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 2.5 Gentle motion simulation, moderate height and "soaring" simulation.
  • Attraction Type: Flying theater, a type of motion simulator attraction
  • Height Requirement: 40 inches (102 cm)
  • Location: Inside Epcot's The Land pavilion in Future World at Disney World and at Grizzly Peak in Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort
  • Uses Fastpass at Disney California Adventure. For Epcot, discover how to use MyMagic+ and Fastpass+.

The vintage aviation hangar at Disney California Adventure belies the high-tech attraction within. Epcot's The Land is the place to go Soarin' at Walt Disney World. Sharing the bottom floor with the huge Sunshine Seasons food court (where you can find some unique and delicious "fast-casual" fare), the entrance and queue area for the ride looks like a bustling modern-day airport terminal.

In both locations, Patrick Warburton ("Seinfeld's" Puddy) delivers a brief pre-flight video. Passengers enter one of the identical theaters that each contain nine motion base units with ten seats. The units have no floors, allowing passengers' legs to dangle. After riders secure their seat belts, a roof swings down over each unit to both provide the illusion of a hang glider and to focus passengers' field of vision on the huge, domed Ominmax screen ahead. (Universal Studio's more intense Simpsons ride also uses an Omnimax screen.)

Would You Be Able to Handle Soarin'?

The, um, soaring soundtrack begins, the motion units rise up and toward the screen, and riders are gliding through the air. The illusion is stunning. The banks of seats have a fairly limited range of motion, but they sure make passengers feel like they're airborne.

If heights make you a bit queasy, let alone the thought of an actual hang gliding ride, don't necessarily dismiss Soarin's virtual hang gliding attraction. While the overall ride is exhilarating—thrilling even—the ride experience is quite gentle and doesn't contain any typical thrill ride gotchas. Once riders get past the initial sensation, it's generally smooth sailing. Very young riders might find the attraction a bit overwhelming, but the 40-inch height restriction would prevent them from riding anyways.

If you're on the line, I'd say go for it; if you start feeling uncomfortable, close your eyes and the sensation should subside. (If you are something of a scaredey cat, see more Walt Disney World for Wimps tips about Soarin' and the theme park resort's other attractions.)

Most riders will want to keep their eyes wide open for Soarin's journey. The adventure includes dramatic swoops above the South Pacific, the Great Wall of China, Sydney Harbor, and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

The transitions from scene to scene—clouds and fog momentarily obscure the view and set the stage for the next vista—are a bit perplexing. At some level, Soarin' demands a suspension of reality, but no amount of pixie dust can justify shifting from the desert to crashing waves in the blink of an eye. Also, unlike most vaunted Disney attractions, Soarin' doesn't tell a linear story; it's a bunch of wordless scenes mashed together into a grand travelogue.

Other distractions include breaching whales that have been too obviously rendered using computer animation. And, depending on how far you are located from the center of the theater, you may see a severely distorted Eiffel Tower in the Paris scene.

Hangin' Around the World

But these seem like petty quibbles for such a wildly unique attraction. A multi-modal ride, Soarin' incorporates sensory effects such as fans to lightly muss riders' hair and enhance the flying fantasy. The sense of smell even plays a role as the unmistakable aroma of flowers accompanies a pass above India. It's the kinetic and perceived sensation of motion, however, that's most remarkable. Soarin' takes the concept of a flight simulator attraction, pioneered in rides such as Disney's Star Tours, and gooses it to a new level by using its innovative flying motion bases to conjure hang gliding.

While it represents a next-generation Imagineering feat, Soarin' also borrows from "speed room" technology used in past Disney attractions such as Disneyland's PeopleMover and Epcot's Horizons and World of Motion. In those relatively low-tech rides, vehicles on a track would travel toward a screen projecting images that suggested forward movement. Riders felt as if they were accelerating into the screens. The only remaining Disney speed room, I believe, is in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

It holds over the effect from If You had Wings, the attraction that once occupied its Tomorrowland building.

Soarin's motion bases, however, offer greater freedom of movement than speed room vehicles and are more adept at tricking passengers into believing they are immersed in the screened imagery. The IMAX film is projected at a higher frame rate than a conventional movie, which renders it lifelike and helps reinforce the illusion.

The concept that Disney introduced has been adopted by other ride manufacturers and parks. In the industry, the copycat rides are known generically as "flying theaters." Disney's Soarin', however, remains the best of the bunch.