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Lost Legends: How California Adventure's One Soarin' Success Spread Around The World

The Queue

Image: Disney

Standing tall over the desert rocks and wide runways of Condor Flats, a towering airplane hangar lies amongst a metallic network of overhangs, lamp posts, and rocket engines. Red rotating "warning" lights, black-and-yellow warning stripes, and arid vegetation signal that this desert landing strip is active. It might even give the impression that the looming hangar houses a white-knuckle thrill like Mission: SPACE.

While Soarin' Over California isn't a thrill ride, it is among the park's best – a gentle, thoughtful, and (dare we say?) beautiful ride that will whisk you around the natural and manmade wonders of California too grand for the budget-conscious park to recreate in person. 

Image: Theme Park Tourist

For fans of aviatian or Californian history, the queue for Soarin' could be an attraction itself. The "Wings of Fame" exhibition you pass through is an homage to the most well-known aircrafts and aviators sfrom Californian history, like the Bell X-1 (the first manned airplane to ever break the sound barrier, also recreated in comic-book style on the exterior of Condor Flats' Taste Pilots Grill).

As you look across the artifacts and photos, you'll also notice that the queue music is ambitious and exciting, perhaps conjuring images of free flight. That's because the music is all from aviation-themed filmed like Air Force One, Patton, or MacArthur (all, coincidentally, scored by Jerry Goldmith, who composed Soarin's ride music).

At the farthest end of the descent, the path splits to the left and right, leading to Concourse 1 and Concourse 2 – two identical mirror-imaged theaters. Each can hold 83 passengers, but your wait is still likely to be long. While California Adventure wasn't attracting many people in its earliest years, the people who did visit didn't find many things to do, leading to some pretty long waits.

Image: Disney

As a flight attendant directs your party toward either Concourse, you'll walk along the back spine of the building to loading Gates at either extreme end – Gate A, Gate B, and Gate C. Cast members will meticulously count and sort guests to ensure all three Gates are filled. While that takes place, those already positioned in their Gate watch a screen overhead where the names of today's destinations zoom past. Once everyone's sorted, a pre-show begins.

The pre-show video stars Patrick Warburton (the voice of Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove and Joe Swanson in Family Guy to name a few) as our chief flight attendant. A true remnant of the original California Adventure, the thorough and comical pre-show transcended its origins and became a fan-favorite for Patrick's thorough, dry, and winking performance... But as the safety video finished, the screen begins to ding: "NOW BOARDING." It's time! All three gates' doors pop open at once as flight attendants usher guests in for their first view of the ride. 

Take Flight

Image: Cory Doctorow, Flickr (license)

Three rows deep and three rows across, each row with a metallic canopy overhead. First-time riders might step into the hangar, take a look at the hang-gliders parked before them, and wonder to themselves, "What is this ride? What does it do?" (It's an ingenious and somewhat unsettling feeling that powered another Lost Legend: TOMB RAIDER - The Ride.) In any case, guests simply move to the end of their row and strap into the hang-glider as twinkling, light music in the background signals something astounding is about to happen.

And it does. Once everyone's strapped in, a crescendo of low strings and the hiss of a pneumatic compressor signal the room's lights to dim. As they fade away, you might encounter the sensation that you're lifting while swinging foward in the dark. The truth is, your hang-glider is being hoisted high up into a massive, tilted dome OMNIMAX screen that's been concealed by the darkness. But now, as the projectors spring to life, you find yourself dozens of feet in the air, gliding through endless white clouds, encompassed by the oversized screen that fills your view by curving around you.

Image: Disney

As Goldsmith's score trumpets to life, the Golden Gate Bridge appears before you. This first view alone, accompanied by the elegant and... well... soaring score may be enough to make some riders a little misty. As the glider approaches the bridge, it banks right with motors supporting each row helping to add just enough pitching motion to combine with the on-screen effect to make your flight totally believable.

The frame cuts to the gorgeous Redwood Creek in Humboldt County, gliding over the waterway where rafters and kayakers paddle. You might even get the impression that your feet are about to dip into the water. Rounding a turn in the river, the frame cuts again as the music builds. Now you're in Napa Valley. A gust of wind seems to propel you over a bank of trees and up to join a festival of hot air balloons. Hovering for a moment with them, you're suddenly gliding over the Monterey Bay Sanctuary as waves crest against a rocky shore with seagulls calling all around. Here you may also notice the ride's next trick: each canopy is filled with air tanks and a variety of scents. Breathe it in... do you smell the salty sea air?

Image: Disney

Next it's to the frosted heights of Lake Tahoe with your toes mere feet above evergreen trees as skiiers slalom down the mountainside with the smell of pine all around. As you crest the summit, the glider pulls back and offers a stunning aerial view of the endless mists nestled atop the water with mountains all around.

Then, you're hovering before Yosemite Falls as it crashes, following a hang-glider to the Half Dome. The scene flashes now to La Quinta (near Palm Springs) and the PGA West Palmer Course where a wayward golfball provides one of the ride's most well-known hidden Mickeys. In a moment, you're over Camarillo in Ventura County passing orange groves (breathe it in!) then to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a rendezvous with some equestrians. Then, the glider stalls and the music quiets as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds jet past.

Now we're at the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego Bay, then sunset at Malibu, gliding over the surf. As the music builds and the sun sets, we're soaring over Los Angeles and its roadways with the city alight. But there can only be one finale, and we all know what it will be.

There it is ahead: the Main Street Train Station. Our adventure can only end back at home as we glide over Disneyland at Christmas. With the castle ahead, Tinkerbell appears and, in a burst of pixie dust, races into the castle as fireworks launch out. The glider pulls up, soaring into the booming and crashing explosions of color! As the music crescendos, the gliders retreat and the screen disappears once again. With riders safety returned to Condor Flats, Soarin' Over California is over. It's the rare kind of attraction that earns applause from riders upon completion, and might just have inspired a tear or two from some.

We always conclude our Lost Legends ride-throughs with a point-of-view video that can truly bring the experience to life. Whether you had the chance to soar over California or not, do yourself the favor of experiencing the attraction with its stunning visuals and moving score one more time:

Behind-the-Flight

A wonder of Imagineering and truly breathtaking entry in Disney's newest generation of rides, Soarin' Over California was a wonder! On the next page, we'll explore its creation by going behind-the-scenes, then we'll go to to see how it was duplicated in many forms around the globe... and why this stunning E-Ticket closed forever just 15 years after its monumental debut. Read on...

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There is 1 comment.

This is a good example of where I think Disney has proven to not listen to it's core fan base when it comes to theme park attractions. There is absolutely no reason that they can't at least show both films and have Soarin' be Soarin' over California and/or Soarin' around the world. I think it would be a good way to appeal to fans of both versions of the ride. And it would add rerideability to this attraction.

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