Soarin’ Over California Ending at EPCOT in Florida

Soarin’ Over California is back at EPCOT in Walt Disney World for a limited run, replacing the ‘Around the World version of the ride temporarily. This occurred with the company’s 100th Anniversary celebration, which concluded its run at the end of last year. (Updated February 21, 2024.)

EPCOT was the center of the Disney100 celebration at Walt Disney World, which began last fall. The event nominally celebrated a century of magic and innovation, while also ushering in the future as the multi-year transformation of EPCOT wraps up. The 100 Years of Wonder festivities finished at the end of last year. All signs and such have been removed over the course of the last month.

For its part, Soarin’ Over California returned on September 22 with the start of Disney100 at EPCOT. At the time, Walt Disney World did not announce an end date, so we speculated that it could discontinue service on a few different dates. Perhaps New Year’s Eve, at the end of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, or after the finale of the 2024 EPCOT Festival of the Arts. All of those dates came and went, and Soarin’ Over California continues to take flight.

Walt Disney World has announced today (February 21) that Soarin’ Over California will once again be grounded after a few months of flights. Here’s the official announcement from Walt Disney World:

Soarin’ Over California – Closing Soon

Glide through the air on Soarin’ Over California through February 27, 2024. Then, enjoy Soarin’ Around the World—returning on February 28, 2024!

If you’re a diehard Walt Disney World fan who’s sad to see Soarin’ Over California go or disappointed that you missed this service, there’s a decent possibility that departures from EPCOT to the Golden State resume again in the future. The OG Soarin’ has returned to Disney California Adventure a few times.

It’s pretty much always been in an effort to draw people away from Disneyland–the first time was during the opening season of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, then when Magic Happens debuted. It now occurs annually for DCA’s Food & Wine Festival, which coincides with spring break.

It usually works. Locals love Soarin’ Over California–probably because it’s better. Trotting out the superior, Golden State-centric version of Soarin’ is the modern day version of bringing back the Main Street Electrical Parade, a time-tested tactic. I’m relieved that we’ll be able to experience it again, and that the strategy is finally being piloted in Florida.

As for when Soarin’ Over California could return to Walt Disney World again, the most obvious possibility in my view is during the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival. Disney could do a California-themed booth over by the Land pavilion, tie that with Soarin’ Over California, and have a nice draw for fans during the slower months of August and September.

For what it’s worth, such a scenario wouldn’t be a first for EPCOT. Back before work on the now-paused Play Pavilion began, the former Wonders of Life pavilion served as a festival center and showed the film ‘Seasons of the Vine,’ which was a film originally made for Disney California Adventure (the theater was converted to Blue Sky Cellar).

However, we wouldn’t expect this to occur for the 2024 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival. It’s probably too soon to bring Soarin’ Over California back again, and wouldn’t really move the needle as a draw. It’s also possible that Walt Disney World won’t ever bring it back, if guest satisfaction scores were markedly lower for the Golden State version. However, we doubt that’s the case–if it were, Walt Disney World would’ve ended Soarin’ Over California’s run on December 31 with all the other Disney100 stuff, not extended it until February 27, 2024.

(What follows is my standard commentary about why this is a good idea, even for Walt Disney World…)

This might seem silly. After all, the original is Soarin’ Over California and Walt Disney World is located in Florida. Moreover, Epcot is a park celebrating the various cultures of the world, not a particular state. Fair points, but I think there are a couple of worthwhile counterpoints.

First, Soarin’ at Epcot is located in World Nature/Future World, not World Showcase. Moreover, it’s shoehorned into the Land, a pavilion that is ostensibly dedicated to human civilization’s interaction with the Earth. California is not just the most biodiverse state, it’s one of the most biodiverse places in the world. With such a range of ecosystems, it’s hard to believe California is a single state. (What a place!)

This range of ecosystems is on full display in Soarin’ Over California, which primarily highlights the Golden State’s natural wonders (few of which scream “this is in California!”). This is what made Soarin’ a sensible location for the Land pavilion in the first place. Its farm, desert, coastal, mountain, etc. scenery makes it a natural counterpart to Living with the Land.

On this note, it’s worth pointing out that most guests visiting Epcot during the time it ran the original Soarin’ (with “Over California” dropped from the name) didn’t even realize the locations were exclusively in California. Unless you’ve visited Anza-Borrego, Yosemite National Park, Tahoe, Malibu, Camarillo, etc., you probably couldn’t identify where the footage was shot. You might’ve just assumed the desert, waterfall, rushing rapids, ocean, orange groves, etc. were simply generic–but stunning–locations.

Most of the places in Soarin’ Over California are not as readily identifiable as those in Soarin’ Around the World. Orange groves and coastline tend to blend together. The Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, and Great Wall of China…not so much. If Soarin’ returned to Epcot in exactly the same presentation as when it left, the overwhelming majority of first-time guests would simply assume it’s a flyover of the United States.

While Soarin’ Around the World highlights the natural world (or rather, a version of nature created by a computer), it focuses more on landmarks. There’s a reason distortion isn’t as pronounced in the original Soarin–because instead of architecture and linear elements, the attraction primarily features geography that can mask distortion better.

I’m not particularly averse to Soarin’ Around the World, but the CGI, cheesy animals, and distortion has worn on me over time. Moreover, I think Soarin’ Over California is not showing its age at all. If anything, it benefits from its footage being real, whereas the extensive CGI of the new version will inevitably date itself much sooner.

In addition, the return of OG Soarin’ to Epcot is a great “throwback” at Walt Disney World. Outside of merchandise and food, Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration didn’t contain nearly enough nods to the past. While this particular one would be the not-so-distant past (~5 years ago), it would likely be appreciated by many longtime Walt Disney World fans who still miss the original Soarin. It’s a great move to showcase the past, present, and future of EPCOT during Disney100.

That’s pretty much my ‘case’ for bringing OG Soarin’ back to Epcot. (There’s also the third option of running Soarin’ Over California in one theater, and figuring out a logistical way to let people choose.) Okay, let’s review: that is more on-theme to the Land pavilion, less distortion, no CGI, California > the World…anything else? Oh yeah, have a nice flight!

Personally, I hope Soarin’ Over California returns to EPCOT again in the future. The attraction itself is largely unchanged and still looks modern. The film was updated to a digital projection shortly before being retired, and it still looks crisp and clean. The scents, including a new one, are as delightful as ever.

The original Soarin’ is one film that stands the test of time, just like Impressions de France, which is still shown in Epcot 30+ years later. Actually, unlike Impressions de France, you never get an up-close look at any people (and their dated attire), so there’s not much to date the footage. Basically just the Los Angeles skyline, which has grown tremendously since ~2000. To my knowledge, almost everything else is virtually unchanged (actually, I think the particular orange grove is now a housing development–but you wouldn’t know from looking at it), which is the beauty of filming the natural world.

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Your Thoughts

Are you excited about the return of Soarin’ Over California at EPCOT? Do you hope that it returns indefinitely? Would you prefer to see Soarin’ or Soarin’ Around the World…or both? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

72 Responses to “Soarin’ Over California Ending at EPCOT in Florida”
  1. katie breen February 23, 2024
  2. Papa T February 23, 2024
  3. Maria Taylor February 22, 2024
  4. Maria February 22, 2024
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  13. Wes February 21, 2024
    • Soarin around the world is awful February 22, 2024
  14. Htk February 21, 2024
    • Amanda Aileen Achtymichuk February 21, 2024
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