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Five Things to Know About Soarin’ Around the World

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Have you ever dreamt you could fly? Soarin’ is the closest thing you can get to hang gliding, short of actually hang gliding, which may explain why it’s been one of EPCOT’s most popular attractions since the day it opened. To make your flight more enjoyable, I’ll be pointing out a few things that help you appreciate what Soarin’ has to offer.

If you’re in a hurry and want to glide over to the nuts and bolts info like where to find it and what the height limit is, here’s your shortcut.

1. You’ll feel like you’re on cloud nine.

Soarin’ is a simulated hang-gliding experience; you’ll go on an aerial tour of some of the world’s iconic landmarks and natural wonders.

You’ll start by taking a seat and strapping in. Your seat is tilted slightly, and you’ll move forward “into” the 180-degree, 80-foot IMAX-digital projection screen. As the rows of seats swing forward, up, and out towards the huge bowl-shaped screen, you’ll feel as if the ground has dropped away. You’re suspended 30-50 feet in the air with your legs dangling. (This is why riders who wear flip-flops or other footwear without a back are instructed to leave them on the floor.) The movie begins, and you’re off around the world!

The Taj Mahal is just one of the locations you’ll visit as you’re Soarin’ Around the World

You’ll see from above the Matterhorn, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, and more. As you fly, you’ll feel the breeze and even smell some of the scents of the lands you visit. The movements of your seat are synchronized with the film’s images. The effect is entirely realistic – you’ll feel like you’re flying.

It’s worth noting that the visual can be distorted when viewed from the seats to the far left or right. For this reason, some Soarin’ aficionados like to politely ask to wait for an extra cycle for seats in row B1 or B2.

2. You used to only go Soarin’ Over California

Soarin’ made its debut on February 8, 2001, at Disney California Adventure. Titled “Soarin’ Over California,” your aerial view took your flight California landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Napa Valley, Malibu, and Los Angeles. Fans of this original version especially loved the smells of the pine tree forest and orange grove. Its popularity was instantaneous, prompting a twin to open on May 5, 2005, at EPCOT.

The original Soarin’ took place over California

Both films were replaced with a new version, Soarin’ Around the World, in 2016. Ahead of its premiere and to accommodate more guests, Disney closed the attraction at EPCOT in January of that same year to build a third theatre. Soarin’ reopened with the new film in June 2016.

There is a devoted fan base for the original version of the film. Many decry the increased use of CGI or the peripheral-view distortion issues in the newer version, while others have sentimental reasons. (The California version did use a few bits of CGI, most notably the shot of Michael Eisner hitting a golf ball with a hidden Mickey on it.) Responding to this outpouring of affection, Disney California Adventure has brought back Soarin’ Over California a few times, including the 2023 Food and Wine Festival there.

3. It’s #nuts-and-bolts that give you a lift. Literally.

It seems that figuring out how to get all of this to work took some doing. Basically, the Imagineers had to figure out how to lift every seat in the theater into the air. That’s not only a mechanical problem but consider the logistics around the weight of the seats and the audience members! If you’re looking around after you’re strapped in and thinking that it looks kind of like you’re sitting in something you could build with an Erector Set, there’s a reason for that.

Looking up at the ride mechanism might make you think of K’Nex or Erector Sets

There was discussion of suspending the seat platform with cables, but that was not only impractical but would have cost a small fortune. Then Imagineer Mark Sumner, senior technical director and project/ride engineer found a solution: an entirely unique ride vehicle. He was home one weekend and dug his old Erector set out of the attic and started tinkering. Next thing you know, he’d built a small, string-operated prototype that solved the problem.

You can watch him talk about it in his own words, and see him demonstrate his tiny prototype starting at 1:34 in the video. Turns out that when constructed for Soarin’, the entire ride mechanism comprised one million pounds of steel and can lift 37 tons. There are 3 rows, each with 7-11 seats per row allowing 87 guests per flight.

4. There’s a queue quiz (and other bonus facts).

The Soarin’ queue is a long, long path designed to feel like a modern, minimalist airport terminal. While you wait and walk and wait and walk, large screens mounted overhead encourage you to take “The Soarin’ Challenge” using your mobile device. Our group of 7 divided into two teams to play this travel-themed trivia game. (The grandsons won.)

You might want to use Genie+ if you aren’t like this cool kid merrily skipping all of the way to the pre-show

At the end of the main queue, you’re sent to a short queue for one of three different theatres. Once you reach the front, you’ll watch a pre-boarding hosted by Patrick Warburton (Puddy from Seinfeld for those of you old enough to remember). This is one of my favorite parts of the whole thing, to be honest.

Bonus fact #1: For filming, a camera was suspended from a plane, and filming required more than a year to get the right location shots. But Disney also used a lot of CGI in the film. The transitions between scenes, the animals, and even the Taj Mahal were digitally created or enhanced. All of which has been a topic of discussion since the movie was first shown. Personally, I don’t feel like it detracted from the enjoyment of flying!

Bonus fact #2: There are Easter eggs on your flight! The flight number for every ride guests take on Soarin’ is 5505. This stands for May 5, 2005, the date Soarin’ debuted EPCOT. Your flight takes you over Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, which inspired the look of Cinderella Castle. And watch for the hidden Mickeys in the hot air balloon and fireworks scenes.

Bonus fact #3: The amazing musical score was adapted by composer Bruce Broughton from the original score written by Academy Award-winner Jerry Goldsmith. Mr. Goldsmith also scored Mulan among other films.

5. The Nuts and Bolts.

Soarin’ Around the World is located inside The Land pavilion at Epcot in the World Nature neighborhood. Once inside, go down to the first floor where you’ll see the Soarin’ marquee.

The Soarin’ ride vehicle is a row of attached seats with storage pouches beneath. If your stuff won’t fit, ask a Cast Member – they’ll direct you where to leave it on the floor. Guests must transfer from a wheelchair or ECV to ride.

Soarin’ ride vehicle with storage pouches below

Disney warns that those who have a fear of heights or are prone to motion sickness should not ride. The motion of the ride vehicles themselves is very gentle, but the screen effects can still cause nausea for some riders. See A Ride Wimp’s Review of Soarin’ for more details.

Service animals are not permitted, and guests must be 40 inches or taller to ride. As with all rides that have a height requirement, Soarin’ offers Rider Switch. Audio description devices and video captioning are available as well.

Soarin’ remains one of the most popular rides in EPCOT, so it’s open for Early Theme Park Entry (also for Extended Evening Theme Park hours if you’re staying in a qualifying hotel). It’s best to visit early in the day or nearer park closing time. Alternatively, you can purchase Lightning Lane entry via Genie+.

The Bottom Line.

We rate Soarin’ Around the World as not to be missed. I’m prone to motion sickness and don’t like heights. But my wife and I ride Soarin’ every visit. The ride itself lasts about five minutes, so we just close our eyes or look at the dangling feet above us when things get a little beyond our comfort zone. And when the ride ends, I feel like Tony Stark after trying out his first Iron Man suit, saying, “Yeah. I can fly.” And you can, too!

Do you love Soarin’ Around the World or do you skip it? Let us know in the comments.

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Bob Jacobs

Bob Jacobs lives in Wisconsin where he retired as Editorial Director for a well-known catalog company. He and his wife Cristie have four children, seven grandchildren and a cocker spaniel named Penny the Dog. They’ve visited Walt Disney World regularly since 1992.

2 thoughts on “Five Things to Know About Soarin’ Around the World

  • I too am prone to motion sickness, and I’m afraid of heights. But after a few, shall we say, pharmaceutically shielded rides, I now happily ride free of support. I have a poor sense of smell, however, and have never noticed any odors.

    Curious that the California version, which I never saw, did not have peripheral distortion. I figured that’s an unavoidable result of the curved screen.

  • Have loved that ride since the first time I tried it. When we used to be able to afford Disneyworld I never missed it.


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