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---- THE LATEST BUZZ ----
(1/16/15) New Frozen Meet & Greet Permit (MORE...)
(12/19/14) Soarin’ Expansion Rumor Update / A Peek At Maelstrom Demolition
(12/11/14) Revisiting The Swiss Pavilion (MORE...)
(10/8/14) Epcot has Failed
Ride Rehabs - The following information is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.
Maelstrom - CLOSED FOREVER
General Park News - (12/11/14) The Swiss Pavilion… a topic of EPCOT lore, said to have been fully designed for EPCOT at one point and would feature a Swiss village as well as a giant Matterhorn Mountain roller coaster at the back. Those in the know will tell you that it was all true at one point, and now we can get a view of how this amazing looking pavilion once planned for Epcot would have looked, thanks to a photo report at WDWNT as they go through a book of official concept artwork for the project they obtained. This includes a layout of the proposed coaster through the mountain.
It is also worth mentioning that the coaster concept was revived twice in two other proposals... once for a proposed Russian pavilion where it would have taken on the theme of an Olympic Bobsled track and again as a proposed ride expansion for the existing Japan pavilion where the mountain would have been themed to Mt. Fuji, though that proposal was met with less than a positive response from then park sponsor, Kodak. The spirit of the Matterhorn coaster lived on however, and was eventually retooled one final time and moved to Animal Kingdom where the concept evolved into Expedition Everest.
(10/14/14) Off Kilter may be gone from Epcot, but I’m told that the group has been tapped to perform at the British Bonfire event in Kissimmee on November 8th. Visit Attractions Magazine for details!
(10/8/14) I’m going to throw this right out there first so it has time to sink in…
Epcot has Failed.
There, I said it. It is worth noting that I actually wrote most of this piece way back in July… long before it was ever confirmed that Maelstrom was going to close down to make way for a Frozen themed makeover, but for whatever reason, I just wasn't ready to finish it until now.
So what’s wrong with Epcot you ask? Historically, Epcot was Disney’s big experiment, opened in 1982 by Disney management after Walt’s death, to create a permanent World’s Fair style theme park environment, with a unique sponsorship focused business plan concept. To this day Epcot is a theme park like no other, and is often cited as the favorite park for many Walt Disney World fans.
But I tell you that Epcot has failed… or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the business model created for it has failed.
While the Magic Kingdom (and Disneyland before it) were designed to run as huge cross-promotional marketing machines, sharing and promoting the various Walt Disney Studios films, TV shows, and characters, Epcot was designed to be a different kind of beast. Inspired by the temporary World’s Fair / Expo events that took place across North America during most of the 20th century, Epcot was designed to run under a similar business model, with each pavilion being sponsored by a company, or approved along with a similar co-sponsorship deal by the world nation it represented. In the case of the later, the staff of the World Showcase pavilions are part of a Cultural Representative Program, where natives of that country agree to come work at Walt Disney World for a year at a time and represent their native homeland. Some are sponsored directly by their governments, while most use a mixture of private funding from select native corporate entities.
The business model worked at first. Each pavilion was built and later maintained through various sponsorship deals and for many years Epcot worked like a well oiled machine, with guests traveling from across the globe to visit, inspired by the messages of global unity, great technological progress, and the overall concept of “If you can dream it, you can do it.” It wasn’t until the 90’s when the first signs of trouble started, and the problem only got worse as we crossed through the waves of financial and political turmoil of early 21s century.
Like many deep set problems, the first signs of change started to bubble up from the core… CommuniCore. In the early 90’s, it became clear that the now decade old futuristic technology on display within CommuniCore was starting to show it’s age.
The huge costs of a full pavilion sponsorship made it difficult for many early technology companies to justify the cost to buy their way into Epcot, so the old CommuniCore was removed to make way for Innoventions, a midway of small sponsorship opportunities that could be changed out as quickly as needed. Innoventions had the right idea at heart, but the cheaply made temporary display areas were a turn off to many guests. The American public too had begun to wise-up and sour on the idea of having too much corporate sponsorship.
It wasn’t long before many of the Future World pavilions began to lose their sponsorships as previous deals expired and the sponsors would opt out of renewing. While the exact details of these deals are closely guarded secrets, I’ve been told that sponsorship length is typically for a 10 year term. Currently however, there are more pavilions without official sponsorship than those with, and some of the current deals are estimated to be approaching the end of their terms very soon.
- Horizons, while no longer in the park, was the first to lose a sponsor, seeing the relationship with General Electric go dark in 1993 as soon as the 10 year deal came to an end. Horizon stayed open for a time without a sponsor, closed down, only to reopen while Test Track was under construction next door, then close again for good in 1999. It was replaced by Mission: Space in 2003 which was sponsored by Compaq, who was purchased by rival HP (Hewlett Packard) before the attraction even opened. I’m actually not sure of the attraction’s current status to know if they have signed an extension of some kind, or if the terms of a new deal are actively under negotiations.
- The Wonders of Life pavilion which opened in 1989 with a sponsorship from Met Life, also lost their deal at the end of the first term. Before long it too would experience a sporadic operational schedule, opening in the busy months, before it was closed entirely in early 2007.
- Universe of Energy was sponsored by Exxon (later ExxonMoble) up through 2004, and while it hasn’t closed down, it has remained sponsor-less ever since.
- Imagination’s longtime sponsor, Kodak, ended their relationship with the attraction in 2010, and it has thus far remained open and sponsor free.
- World of Motion is one of the big success stories, as it started out with a sponsorship by GM (General Motors) who has managed to maintain their sponsorship with the attraction through the transformation into Test Track, and even through their own bankruptcy problems, renewing the deal again with the latest update to the Test Track attraction (Version 2.0) just a few years ago.
- Spaceship Earth has gone through a series of sponsors over the years (BELL, to AT&T and then Siemens in 2005) but as the icon of the park itself, it has been lucky enough to be a popular sponsorship opportunity. But the question is, will Seimens stay on beyond 2015?
- The Land has also had a number of sponsors over the years: Kraft from 82-92 and Nestle from 93 to 2009. Nestle dropped out however, and it wasn’t until 2011 when Chiquita signed a larger deal with the entire resort and cruise line, that they became the sponsor of the Living with the Land ride.
- The Living Seas opened in 1986 and was sponsored by United Technology up through 1998, but this is where things get interesting however. Unlike the other pavilions which could be closed down if Disney chose to do so, The Living Seas is inhabited by a large number of marine animals ranging from fish to dolphins to protected manatees. Closing down the pavilion was not an option as the pavilion would still have to be staffed and the animals fed and taken care of, regardless of sponsorship status. It also helped by the pavilion is home to the popular Coral Reef Restaurant, which offers underwater viewing into the main exhibit tank. Unable to find a new sponsor, Disney cut the pavilion’s budget where they could for a few years… axing the preshow film as well as closing the “Seacab” omni-mover ride in 2001 when it started to fall into disrepair.
What happened next with The Living Seas pavilion may be paving the way for the future however. Disney found themselves with a huge hit on their hands, thanks to Pixar’s Finding Nemo film hitting theaters in Summer 2003, reeling in the second highest gross for the year at $936 million world-wide. The marine life themed film was the perfect fit for The Living Seas pavilion and Disney began to experiment by adding Finding Nemo themed decorative elements to the pavilion starting in late 2003 and by late 2004 they opened the first Nemo themed attraction within, “Turtle Talk with Crush”. The mini attraction was a smash hit with guests who overwhelmed the limited capacity of the theater it was in, which led not only to it’s own expansion, but the transformation of the entire pavilion into “The Seas with Nemo & Friends” by late 2005. At this point Disney opted to go all in here, and began work transforming the attraction’s old entrance, pre-show theaters, hydrolators and the closed Seacab ride into a new Nemo themed dark ride experience that opened in early 2007.
While this was the first time that an Epcot pavilion has been entirely re-themed to tie into a Disney or Pixar animated films, this was not the first time that a Disney film has been brought to life in Epcot.. that honor would go to the 4D “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” attraction at the Imagination pavilion that opened in 1994 and closed in 2010, with the theme of the 4D film’s “Imagination Institute” was used as the theme for the 1999 version of the revamped dark ride experience.
While Future World has thus far received most of the attention in terms of sponsorship and new attractions, the World Showcase pavilions are aging. They have been quietly getting small updates when they can get the countries to agree to help pay for them, but none seem very eager to do so anymore. The last World Showcase pavilion to be added to the park was Norway which opened in 1988 and all negotiations to design and build new country pavilions have failed since then due to disagreeable financial terms for both the building of the pavilion as well as ongoing annual operating expense payments. For example, until the government of Norway opted to step away from their deal with Disney, they were said to have paid $200,000 a year to keep the Norway pavilion running.
While Canada and China have all received new films for their show theaters, and Mexico revamped their boat ride about five years ago as well, which saw the introduction of the Three Caballeros characters to lighten the mood and bring a little more entertainment to the experience. However, their presence is said to be scaled back quite a bit from the initial proposal, as the Mexican government resigned a new deal with Disney and asked to keep more of the cultural information in the attraction intact.
Norway however, found themselves on the block as the last untouched major attraction in World Showcase, but as the government opted out several years ago and Disney found themselves sitting on top of another runaway animated hit in the form of Frozen this past year. They tested the waters with something small (Anna & Elsa character Meet & Greet in Norway) in much the same way they did with Finding Nemo at The Living Seas, and the response was huge… and now the rest is history as Maelstrom has now closed and a new large Frozen themed attraction will open in 2016.
It is with this in mind that I say that Epcot has failed… but it is fixable. The old business model isn’t working anymore as we’ve seen Disney forced to take over more and more pavilions… and this isn’t a bad thing, as otherwise I think Epcot would sit stagnant. So while there are those who are upset at Frozen coming to Norway… I’m not one of them and I’m looking forward to it. I look at it with the eyes who remember what happened over at The Living Seas and that pavilion is not only better for it, but I’m hoping we see Disney start to take more of a creative role throughout Epcot, especially in World Showcase, where it would only make sense to add a copy of the new Ratatouille dark ride that just opened at the Paris resort as a starting point, and then look how they can expand into the other World Showcase pavilions as well to breathe some new life into the park.
Because Epcot IS a great park… it just needs to evolve and grow to realize it’s true potential.
2016 - Frozen Attraction - Confirmed - (1/16/15) Disney has filed a new building permit for Epcot to build "Epcot Meet & Greet", a 13,000 sqft building that appears designed for a new Anna & Elsa character area as well as a new women's restroom. According to the local news, this will mostly fill up the space between the Mexico and Norway Pavilions.
(12/19/14) A pair of pictures shot peeking under the old entrance door to Maelstrom posted to Twitter show off how the crews have already gutted much of the interior of this area just inside the attraction door. If I'm looking at it right, I believe the ramp up to the loading station curves off the right here, which makes me wonder if the open space to the left side of the photo is the old post-ride theater room perhaps.
(10/29/14) According to a report posted to OrlandoParkNews, the ride system to be put to use for the new Frozen themed attraction replacing Maelstrom will apparently still be a boat / flume system. It isn’t known if they will try to expand the building structure to make a longer attraction or not, as Maelstrom was rather short in terms of Disney flume rides.
(9/16/14) Disney has confirmed that Maelstrom is leaving and will be replaced by a new Frozen themed attraction. Few details were given about the new ride, and according to Screamscape sources, this is because they still haven’t fully determined the budget for the new attraction. As we had reported back in January, they were rumored to have come up with three proposals at different budget levels: a cheaper re-theme of the existing ride system, the installation of a new modern flume system with a high-tech twist, possibly similar to the Shanghai version of Pirates under construction, or they could go for something land-based and use modern trackless dark ride cars, similar to Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Keep in mind that the pavilion itself will remain the Norway Pavilion, but it will also become home to a new “royal greeting location” where you can meet Anna and Elsa. Another factoid not put into the public press release, but was mentioned in the one sent to travel and tour booking agents is that the new Frozen attraction will not be ready to open until sometime in 2016.
Sadly, it’s time for Maelstrom to go. While it is always sad to see a ride leave, in this case Maelstrom always felt like kind of a half-hearted attraction. The second half of the ride with the trolls was always the best part and the rest was always kind of iffy at best, so it will be nice to see a big budget, top shelf attraction come to Epcot. Plus 2016 just might be a really great year for Epcot, if the rumored new extra theaters and ride-film for Soarin’ also comes true.
(7/15/14) Screamscape sources tell us that there is a good chance that the rumored plans to remove Maelstrom and replace it with a new attraction themed to Frozen at Epcot will come to pass. In fact, a news report from Norway has some people quite upset about the idea. If you watch the video below, with English Closed Captions on so you can understand what is being said, they confirm that Disney came to Norway with an offer to either invest $9 million towards a new Norway themed attraction at the World Showcase pavilion, or else Disney will be taking it over to transform the entire area into a Frozen themed area with a new attraction.
There are those in Norway urging the government to work with Disney to ensure Norway’s continued existence at Epcot, rather than be given a Frozen makeover. At one point they interview a man who worked at the Pavilion who says that all big budget refurbishment funds for the Maelstrom ride have already been stopped, and that they expect to see the ride close down sometime between October 2014 and January 2015 to make way for the new Frozen themed ride. He also stated that about 70% of the retail space in the store will be reallocated for Disney’s Frozen themed merchandise, and that some of the buildings in the land have started to get repainted into new colors that will fit in with the new theme.
As the world of Frozen takes place in the fictional world of “Arendelle” and not in Norway, it does make sense why proud Norwegian people might be more than a little irritated is Disney decides to push aside an exhibit based on their true culture in favor of a fictional one.
(6/16/14) I’d take this with a grain of salt for now, but I’m told that those with WDW reservations who try to book a FastPass+ for Maelstrom in mid August or later have been unable to do so, as the system says that the ride is unavailable.
So is it simply time for Maelstrom to undergo an annual rehab (common for water rides due to the excessive wear they see) or could this possibly be a sign of a Frozen themed make-over project? We’ll have to wait and see.
(1/3/14) This could just be a fanboy rumor, but according to an email sent my way, WDI has been given the initial nod to do a little Blue Sky dreaming to determine just how they could transform the Maelstrom ride in the Norway Pavilion into a new Frozen themed attraction concept. (Credit to “Allen W” for the tip…)
Since this is Blue Sky phase, they are looking at all budget levels here, from a simple rethemed of the existing boat ride system and layout, to the installation of a new kind of flume ride system, possibly the one rumored to be put to use on the Pirates ride at Shanghai Disneyland. Given a big enough budget, the entire current ride structure could be demolished to make way for a new trackless ride system concept. Given the cold snow and ice theme of frozen, I would love to see trackless ride cars used, themed as a sleigh ride through the wilderness, scooting across the frozen landscape.
Just remember… a new ride has not been approved. WDI was only approved to do some initial Blue Sky dreaming to see what might work best in response to the stellar box office results Frozen has been bringing in, as well as guest reactions to the Frozen character meet & greet already in Epcot.
2016 - Soarin’ Over The Horizon - Rumor - (12/19/14) In the latest report at OrlandoParksNews, they mention that a large crane has appeared backstage behind The Land pavilion, as well as the addition of a new work trailer next to the site where the new expanded theater might be built. It seems a bit early to bring a crane on site to me for this however, as there is much ground work to be done first I would think, so I’m thinking the crane isn’t part of this. They do mention that if the attraction added a 3rd (or 4th) theater to the mix, we can also expect to see the queue redone, and hopefully given a more comfortable theme and look than the long cavernous hallway theme it currently has.
(11/17/14) Great news for Epcot, as OrlandoParksNews has posted that work for the rumored Soarin’ expansion may have finally begun. A fence is now said to be in place around the backstage area of the ride building, old concrete busted up for removal and more. Sounds like final site-prep is under way and full scale construction is starting.
(9/16/14) OrlandoParksNews has a great new update showing off improvements that have been made to The Land pavilion lately, as well as an update as to what is taking place behind the pavilion to prepare the site for the rumored new Soarin’ theaters for added capacity. Now in addition all those containers being removed, the office trailers have now been divided up and wrapped up, ready for transport to a new home. With the trailers ready to be moved any day now, it sounds like the site will be ready for ground-breaking to take place within the next couple months.
(9/1/14) According to a report posted to OrlandoParksNews that backs up what I’ve been hearing since July, the backstage area behind the Soarin’ theater structure has been cleared out except for the trailers. There are also many survey markings on the ground and utility flags marking locations in the area that indicate that something is indeed in the works for the site. With the all new version of Soarin’ expected to open in 2016, if they are going to add extra capacity to the site, they would have to get started on it in the next few months.
(7/10/14) Screamscape sources tell us that the office trailers behind Soarin’ have been emptied out and the loading / storage area behind the ride is currently in the process of being cleared out as well. Another rumor going around the park now is that there are two expansion plans, one which would add a 3rd theater to the attraction and a second more expensive option that would add two new theaters to the attraction instead. The later plan would take up much more room however, and require more changes to be made to the backstage infrastructure to accommodate it.
(7/8/14) According to the latest post at DisneyAtWork.com, Soarin’ at Epcot may be ready to begin construction on a third theater that would open by 2016, just in time to launch the new Soarin’ over the World ride film. This isn’t the first time a pitch to add a 3rd theater has come up... it was even said to be brought up and VETOd by Paul Pressler back when it was first built at Epcot. But there is no denying it... Soarin’ could certainly use one as it always has very long lines.
(7/26/13) I’m not quite sure how true this is, but according to one possible source the new Soarin’ 2 ride (aka: Soarin’ Over The Horizon) may borrow a little technology from the Star Tours 2 project. This would be more than the switch over from Imax film to Digital (each has it’s own merit), but a switch to digital would also allow for the possibility of using a randomizer to include different possible ride scenes to be shown during each visit.
Now while I can’ verify that this will happen, the simple fact that there are really far too many incredible places in the world worth Soarin’ over, more than would easily fit into a quick 5-6 minute ride film, this would be a great way to add them all into the mix of possible locations. In fact… they could even incorporate some of the great scenes from Soarin’ over California into the mix, ensuring that some of the existing ride lives on into the next generation.
However, I’ve always have one major complaint about the Soarin’ ride setups in California and especially in Florida at Epcot. The line is always… ALWAYS… way to friggin’ long! This is because Soarin’ only has two theaters, and I think it really should have had 3 or 4 to keep the line moving. If they do add this random scene concept, creating an even bigger urge for guests to ride this over and over they are really going to need to add two more theaters somehow. Lets hope they are looking into it at least in Florida because I don’t think they have the room to do anything in California.
(7/17/13) According to what I’ve been told, if Disney were up “upgrade” the Soarin’ ride system to use a 4K style digital projection system, it would actually be a downgrade from the current resolution achieved with the current IMAX film system used for Soarin’. From what I’m told, there really is no digital projection format yet that could replace the image quality achieved from IMAX.
(7/14/13) Disney and More has posted some great news this week about the future of the Soarin’ rides at California Adventure and Epcot. While the new Soarin’ Over The Horizon ridefilm is still expected to launch at both parks in 2016, they report that both of the US Soarin’ ride systems will receive projector system updates in 2014 that will bring the ride to life in new vivid HD style clarity. I’m guessing they’ll be upgrading the system up to the new 4K style projection systems.
As for the new ride film coming in 2016… while there will probably be a few more changes this new global Soarin’ concept is expected to shoot new aerial scenes in England, France, Italy, Egypt, India, China, Japan as well as in new locations in the USA like New York City and in the Grand Canyon.
Disney and More goes on to guess about the possible filming locations, but that is all just speculation. Some are obvious as any filming in India would likely involve the Taj Mahal and any footage of Egypt would have to include the massive Pyramids. Make the jump to see what world icon’s they think would be ideal in each location.
(5/20/13) Disney & More reports that the top secret new version of Soarin’ opening at Shanghai Disneyland in 2015 is expected to be called Soarin’ Over The Horizon, essentially a Global version of the Soarin’ concept featuring famous icons and landcapes from around the world. This same new ride will also come as an update to the existing Soarin’ rides at Epcot in Walt Disney World and to Disney’s California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort in 2016.