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Does the Loss of this Ride Mean the End of Epcot as We Know It?

Image: Mark & Paul Luukkonen, Flickr (license)

Your journey through the wild waters of Maelstrom begins in the Norway pavilion under the unassuming marquee. The wooden doors that it rises above lead to an even more unassuming queue line. The ride’s queue is contained in a hallway painted a teal, lined very simply with small Norwegian flags and flanked with a large, antique-style map showcasing Milestones in Norwegian Exploration and tracing the routes of the Great Age of Vikings in 800 A.D.

One of the more memorable elements of the queue was the massive, wrapping mural painted above the loading area. The mural became a fan favorite, depicting industrial workers, Viking ships, trolls, cruise ships, and fishing villages all meant to represent the past, present, and future of Norway – just like Maelstrom itself.

Maelstrom
Image: Disney

Beneath this memorable and hearty backdrop, a conveyer belt carries a sixteen-foot Viking longboat from about the 10th century, complete with a carved dragon head bow. Once guests are comfortably seated, the conveyer belt re-engages and advances the boat into the churning waters of the flume’s river. Into a dark, rocky tunnel and around the bend, the atmosphere becomes tense as the journey begins…

Sailing into history

“You are not the first to pass this way,” – far ahead, a sliver of silver light glows. The sliver widens to reveal itself as an eye casting watery blue and white light throughout the darkness. As it undulates, it reveals ahead of you a dark waterfall – “nor shall you be the last.”

Your longboat engages with the waterfall – a conveyer belt in disguise – and begins to be hoisted up the ride’s thirty-foot tall lift hill, directly into the shimmering beam of the eye of Odin.

Image: Mark & Paul Luukkonen, Flickr (license)

“Those who seek the spirit of Norway face peril and adventure, but more often find beauty and charm.” Odin’s eye closes as the boat levels out, drifting softly into a peaceful river.

Ahead, torches signal the arrival of civilization as Odin’s voice continues. “We have always lived with the sea, so look first to the spirit of the seafarer.” Around the corner, the boat would pass through a seaside Viking village with Audio Animatronics Vikings preparing their ornate ships for exploration. Continuing on, the scene widens to reveal the ships distant at sea, setting sail for the unknown.

Troll Country

Image: Disney

“There are those who seek Norway’s spirit in the land of forests and mystery, where trolls still prowl the water’s edge.” Around another dark turn, the boat re-emerges in a dense, dark swamp. Those with watchful eyes will notice that they’re not the only ones making careful observations. The Nokken, a disguised river troll, blends effortlessly into the roots and stumps of the swamp, his glowing yellow eyes watching the boat as it passes.

Thick fog clings to the surface of the water, giving the impression that something unusual is about to happen in this mystical place.

Then comes the ride’s signature moment. The boat drifts ahead until its ornate dragon bow is face-to-face with a large forest boulder. From behind the rock rises an imposing Audio Animatronic figure: a three-headed troll, and not even one of the heads seemed pleased to see us.

“How dare you come here?”

“Invaders!”

“This is Troll Country!”

“Go away! Be gone!

“I’ll cast a spell… You’ll disappear!”

“Disappear! Disappear!”

Image: Disney

Above the boat, twinkling, sparkling lights shimmer as magic descends on the ship. “Back… back! Over the falls!”

The boat floats backwards under the twinkling stars as the trolls cackle, slipping down a churning slope backwards in a startling and laughter-inducing moment.

The Wonders of Norway

The boat continues its backwards journey past a final forest troll and the setting sun. Guests watch as sunset disappears behind them and the cool relief of dusk covers the snowy scenery and the icy walls.

Image: Disney

“Before the Odin time, Norway’s spirit roamed the seas of the far north and beyond!” Guests sail past numerous Animatronics figures of polar bears (and their adorable cubs) nestled into icy caverns and exploring against the yellow sunset. One unforgettable polar bear Animatronic stands on its hind-legs, ten feet tall, his paws swiping softly at the passing boats.

Leaving behind the frozen north, the boat retreats into a mountainous forested grotto where the sound of falling water echoes.

This elaborate room is lit by the very real light of day. In one of the ride’s more astounding moments, the longboat physically floats backwards until its rear end is positioned out of the showbuilding, exposed to the ride’s exterior.

The view from outside the ride. Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

Any guest walking around the Norway pavilion can look up and see the end of a longboat precariously perched atop a pounding waterfall... a most unsual sight!

Just when it seems that the boat may fall backwards out of the showbuilding, a large tree-stump troll ahead of guests awakens, its head lifting out of inconspicuous rockwork. It eyes guests and offers a gesture of good will: another act of magic. The boat slides to the right, aligning with a new, forward trajectory, and advances.

Image: Mark & Paul Luukkonen, Flickr (license)

Narrowly passing under a rocky outcropping and a thundering waterfall, the ship flies down the ride’s 28-foot drop, crashing with a splash in the dark North Sea where a bolt of lightning rips through the skies. The lightning strikes illuminate a massive, towering oilrig overhead.

In the distance, other rigs can be seen burning fuels into plumes of fire, the night sky filled with clouds. This striking finale room is of significant scale and impressive size, even if its atmosphere and message is unlikely to jive with modern audiences... 

Exiting the North Sea, the long boats make one final turn, revealing a life-sized Norwegian fishing village easily on the scale and detail of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. The charming nighttime village might feel like the beginning of the meat of the ride, but the voice of Odin signals otherwise: “Norway’s spirit has always been – always will be – adventure.”

To the sound of seagulls and clanging buoy bells, the boat drifts forward to dock. 

As always, we'll leave you with an on-board point-of-view video that makes a great companion to the recollections above. We invite you to watch through the video if you'd like a visual reminder of the ride:

The post-show

After exiting the boat, guests could linger for a moment in the warmly-lit seaside village, perhaps admiring clever nods to the Norwegian companies who'd sponsored the rides so many years ago. At most, you might be trapped at the seaside dock for five minutes. It's likely to feel a lot longer given that there's not much to do. Finally, after a few minutes, the town’s doors would open, revealing a large theater beyond.

Image: Mark & Paul Luukkonen, Flickr (license)

This is Maelstrom's true finale: a chance to see the wonders of Norway via a 70mm film from the ride's opening year. Inside the theater, guests would sit in ornately carved wooden seats and watch The Spirit of Norway, a six-minute film that shares some of the industry, entertainment, and natural wonders of Norway that the brief, three-and-a-half minute ride was unable to convey. 

For most of Maelstrom’s life, guests exiting the ride accumulated in the fishing village until the theater doors swung open automatically. By 2008, the doors into – and out of – the theater remained open permanently, allowing guests to enter the continuous showing at any time, or opt to step through the theater and skip it altogether. By 2008, the twenty-year-old film had been seen by more than enough people to please the pavilion’s sponsors, and its information was far from current anyway. 

The end

Despite the ride’s brief runtime and its disjointed story, Maelstrom was a key addition to Epcot. Even if it didn’t require “the guts of a Viking,” it was Epcot’s first certifiable thrill and a turning point for World Showcase. While it spent most of its life slightly outdated, it was a brave effort: to create a classic-style dark ride using cutting edge technology given very strict story elements. And based on the reaction to the announcement of its removal, Maelstrom succeeded in making fans the world over.

But as we know, nothing good can stay (especially, evidence suggests, at Epcot). Maelstrom closed forever on October 5, 2014 despite protest from die-hard fans. Something tells us that you already know what’s due to replace it, but for the sake of keeping a complete record, read on the learn more about the fate that will soon befall Epcot’s Norway pavilion… or should we say, Arendelle?

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There are 9 comments.

Would some of the same people protesting Frozen Ever After not care if the Paris Ratatouille ride was placed in Epcot? Yes. In fairness, though, that ride (and movie) are at least set in France instead of a fictional location based on France. I think DisneySea is doing the right thing by placing Frozen in a Scandinavian land instead of one specific to one country. By doing that, they can play it off as a part of their fantasy "Disney-fied" version of a region that includes Norway AND Frozen instead of trying to make Frozen part of a real country. I'm not saying the ride will be bad and I understand that Epcot probably needs the boost it will provide. But doesn't a ride based on a fantasy movie set in a fictional place belong in the Magic Kingdom?

I actually think Disney would be smart to rebrand the pavilion "Scandinavia." I understand that that's out-of-sync with the rest of the pavilions representing specific, single countries, but it's no different from the "Equatorial Africa" pavilion that was announced but never built. It would certainly help excuse the presence of Frozen. And Norway is no longer providing financial assistance, so there's no requirement that it stays Norway.

As a little kid I remember seeing the concept art on the barricade wall while it was being built. It depicted the boat going over the waterfall backwards with all the riders. I remember it being a lot more frightening than the picture that is in the article. I was terrified of it when I first rode it because I thought the ride would be just like the picture showed.

I have been to Epcot 4 times and only as an adult/parent. I discovered Marlstrom by accident, but it was a happy accident. My first emotion at finding the ride was elation, as there are so few in Epcot, and waiting in line I kept looking at my husband and saying "this looks mighty different from home" (we are passholders for Disneyland CA).

My first thought after the ride was that everyone in Norway was on drugs. It was seriously the weirdest ride I had ever been on. But I loved it! Our last visit to Epcot was with another family in 2012, and I had talked up the ride so much they thought a) it can't POSSIBLY be as weird as I had made it out to be, and b) they couldn't WAIT to ride it.

I loved your article as I was so sad to hear the ride was closing. It truly was an oddity for Disney, but a quirky and welcome one. In addition, you validated all my thoughts and feelings on the ride!!!!!

Please do one of these articles on Adventure Through Inner Space!!!

I am thoroughly enjoying your lost attractions series. Maelstrom is the only one of these I was able to experience. On the trips when my family visited Epcot, we inevitably spent the majority of the day in Future World, racing over to the World Showcase to try to do everything (which wasn't a whole lot) before the park closed. I remember being amazed at Maelstrom and I considered it on par with Pirates of the Caribbean. Even though I knew we weren't going to fall backwards down a waterfall, it really felt as if we could go over any minute. Maelstrom was a valuable addition to the World Showcase, which is dominated by shops and movies, which aren't huge pulls. While I'm sure the coming Frozen ride will boost Epcot's attendance, Maelstrom was a great dark ride and I'll miss it on future trips.

As a kid, I didn't like Epcot because it didn't have all the cool rides the Magic Kingdom did. We only went because my parents loved to eat at Cafe Marakesh.

Somewhere in my late teens/early 20s, I realized I preferred Epcot and its laid back, grown up crowd to all the kids in MK. It was fun to wander through the shops and eat food from all over.

I understand that it makes more sense to make all the parks kid-friendly and even out attendance. I do. But I'm really going to miss the atmosphere of a "for adults" Epcot.

I loved Maelstrom as a child first and then still as an adult. I can easily recall the troll my brother brought home and perched on his dresser to keep me out of his room. :) He still has it all these years later.

I just spent a long weekend at WDW with other childless adults. We noted how calming it was to walk around Epcot, how quiet, how peaceful. An escape from the full-on family feel. So I'm not only sad to lose Maelstrom; I fear for the loss of serenity as well. I'm picturing a line of girls invading my adult escape to get a bit of their Anna and Elsa. Not that they don't deserve it, but I wish they could have it elsewhere and leave my trolls alone.

Ah well, I guess I'll just go to France for some champagne and macarons.

Does Frozen REALLY deserve a ride? In my opinion, no. Why is my opinion so harsh? Well, I don't really feel like Frozen has earned the right to cement itself into a major WDW attraction. Frozen hasn't even been out 3 years yet, how do we know for sure that Frozen will, permanently, cement itself into pop culture and into the subconscious of the population? We can't know that for sure, it hasn't been long enough. For goodness sake, The Little Mermaid just recently got itself a ride and it had to wait more than 20 years to get that honor. So why Frozen and why so soon?

I'll tell you why. It's very simple...money, money, and more money. That's it. That's the three simple reason Frozen got a ride in under 3 years. Disney is milking the Frozen cash cow so dry, they won't have a cow left if they don't let go of the utters pretty soon. From the get go, they've seen Frozen as an easy marketing tool - it really is like printing their own money. And because of this, they're going to go to the extreme. They're going to look for ways to cash in on this deal and draw more people out and nickel and dime them all in the name of Frozen.

Is the Frozen train still chugging along those tracks at tremendous speeds, or is it starting to slow down. In my opinion? It's definitely slowing down. I talked to my neighbor the other day about the new Frozen ride. She's got a little girl who's around 5 or 6 and they're wanting to go to Disney soon. When I mentioned the new Frozen ride, her response? "Oh, my daughter is finally over the whole 'Frozen' thing." Over the whole Frozen thing? Yep. However, we no Disney will never let anyone be "over the whole Frozen thing" will they? Not a chance. Now that they've made a major commitment with a permanent attraction, they'll have to keep Frozen in the front of the consumers' minds. And how will they do that? Well, they just announced a line of Frozen books, new animated shorts, and of course the Frozen sequel coming out in a few years. So will all this work? Possibly, but ask yourself. Should you make something remain relevant by pounding your audience with constant reminders and new merchandise to keep something popular? I don't know, you tell me. How many new Beauty and the Beast cartoons, shorts, or books have we gotten recently. What about The Little Mermaid, Lion King, Aladdin, Snow White, etc.? These movies remain relevant because they've proven themselves timeless. Against all odds they've remained relevant to audiences over decades and decades. They don't need constant pounding by Disney to remain popular, they just are. They are popular because they are timeless and magical. Frozen, unfortunately, has yet to prove that it has that kind of staying power.

To Disney though, everything is about the almighty dollar. We've seen the greed rise up lately in every fashion. From raising ticket prices, to shamelessly remaking all of their animated films into live-action movies just to be able to cash in on their success. Heck, they've even announced that they'll continue to make Star Wars movies until the end of time. Why? Was this decision based on the artistic integrity of the movies? No, the decision was made because the big bosses in suits heard "Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching" sounds in their heads.

It seems to me that most of their decisions are based on money. Frozen has always been seen as a money-making venture and nothing else. They have no respect for the film itself, all they see is more marketing opportunities, more merchandising, and of course more cash rolling in. I hope the new Frozen ride does prove to be a success in the future, but only time will tell. Until then, we'll just have to wait and see.

I am really enjoying your Lost Legends series. It is bringing back so many memories. I have always loved Maelstrom. It was one of the few rides over on the lagoon side and it was always so wonderfully weird. The story line made very little sense but it didn't matter because of the immersive quality it had. It transported the rider to a different, beautifully imagined world. I think the Frozen ride would have been better suited to the Magic Kingdom.

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