Soarin’ Over California Returns to EPCOT in Florida!

Soarin’ Over California is returning to EPCOT at Walt Disney World in Florida for a limited run. This occurs simultaneously with the start of the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration, which runs through the end of 2023. However, an end date for the OG Soarin’ attraction has not yet been announced–meaning it could run through 2024, or even forever.

EPCOT will be the center of the Disney100 celebration at Walt Disney World, starting on September 22, 2023. This marks not only a century of magic and innovation, but also ushering in the future as the multi-year transformation of the park wraps up. The 100 Years of Wonder festivities will wrap up on December 31, 2023.

Soarin’ Over California will return on September 22, 2023 with the start of Disney100 at EPCOT. No word yet on whether it’ll also discontinue service on New Year’s Eve. Let’s hope not, but in the past, Soarin’ Over California’s has ended up being grounded after a few months of flights resuming at DCA.

At absolute minimum, OG Soarin’ will run through December 31, 2023 along with the rest of Disney100 at EPCOT. However, since this is a nostalgia play that’ll appeal to longtime guests, I could see it running a little long, perhaps past the Walt Disney World Marathon or even though the 2024 EPCOT International Festival of the Arts.

Both of those are incredibly popular with repeat Walt Disney World visitors. Plus, January and February are two of the slowest months of the year, so it’d be a good way to draw locals and Annual Passholders to EPCOT. But these are just guesses on my part. Unfortunately, I think the most likely scenario is OG Soarin’ ending on December 31, 2023.

For what it’s worth, 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’s also happened again 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.

(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” for Disney100 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!

Wait times for Soarin’ Over California spiked when the attraction last returned to DCA, which was an anomaly as compared to the rest of the attractions at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. The local audience went wild for the return of the OG Soarin’, with applause upon seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and at the end of the Disneyland flyover.

I wouldn’t expect that kind of thunderous reception for the return of OG Soarin’ to Epcot, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see increased demand. It might also be good counter-programming within Epcot once Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind debuts in Summer 2022.

Personally, I hope the run of Soarin’ Over California at EPCOT continues indefinitely (and also returns once again to DCA). 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!

34 Responses to “Soarin’ Over California Returns to EPCOT in Florida!”
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