Maelstrom will close forever on October 5, 2014. If you missed the news, this short boat ride, located in the Norway pavilion at Epcot, will be completely reimagined and themed after the highest-grossing animated movie of all time: "Frozen." While many websites and blogs have already explained time and again why the theme does not fit in this particular themed area of the park, we will focus on another subject - how to make the new ride more... acceptable.
In fact, this morning we will consider some improvements that we, the Orlando Theme Park News Team, think would greatly enhance the overall experience, transforming a potentially negative news into a welcomed change. So, let us start to virtually walk through the attraction together, shall we?
This cannot be changed. Walt Disney World Resort Representatives stated that the attraction will go into the showbuilding that currently houses Maelstrom. As stated before, we are not going to argue about this specific point. There have been countless other articles around the web explaining why an animated movie is definitely not the best way to represent a country with such a reach culture as Norway.
This is another thing that will very likely not change, and that's fine. Rumors say that, while all (or most) of its themed props and Audio-Animatronic figures will be removed and replaced, the ride system itself will remain. What has not yet been confirmed is whether the layout can be slightly changed to make the experience last longer and if the boats will be replaced (we hope so, because despite their nice look, the front of the viking boats obstructs the view of Guests, especially children.
Regarding the theming of the exterior, we wouldn't mind if something similar to this were to be added:
Before getting upset about this, make sure you understand our reasons behind this choice. All major attractions need something on the outside to catch the attention of Guests. For example, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has a beautiful mountain range that can be seen right behind the entrance (and from all around the park), just like Radiator Springs Racers in California. The Tower of Terror has a massive facade, while Rock 'n' Roller Coaster has a huge coaster car riding on a guitar above Guests.
At the Norway pavilion, having a condensed and modest version of the castle in Arendelle would definitely help Guests appreciate the ride even more despite its unfortunate location, while not completely destroying the actual Norwegian theming that was completed back in the 1980's. The pavilion already has the Akershus castle nearby, so adding another castle wouldn't be such an unusual move (granted, Akershus is an actual place in Norway, while Arendelle and its castle are fictional).
If we were in charge of this project, we would have the stand-by queue still have its entrance in the location it is found today (with a completely different queue layout, of course), while having the FastPass+ entrance located in the former FASTPASS distribution area (do you remember the area where you used to be able to get a FASTPASS ticket for Maelstrom? Yes, that one). Having some distance between the stand-by and FastPass+ entrances will help in avoiding overcrowding the entrance area, which happens constantly today. Imagine what could happen with a Frozen-themed attraction...
The queue area would be totally different. Gone is the long, unthemed corridor leading to a barely-themed loading dock (yes, the beautiful mural makes a difference, as well as the map on the opposite side of the room, but Maelstrom's queue has constantly been rated as one of the most unappealing waiting areas in the Walt Disney World Resort). We will definitely not miss that cramped space.
The new stand-by queue would be redirected to the area currently occupied by the theater, which now shows a nice-but-extremely-dated movie about Norway. The theater is quite large, and would be able to accommodate at least a thirty-minute wait time in itself (switchbacks will still be needed, sadly). The FastPass+ queue would just be a single line that would follow the walls (the back of the current theater). Both queues would then merge in the current village/unload area. After that, there would be just a five-minute wait before loading the boat.
Here is where it gets really interesting. First of all, let us consider the current duration of the existing ride. Maelstrom lasts a little more than 4 minutes, which is not really that bad, as many of the newest rides that are not omnimovers last around 4-6 minutes. That said, why not taking advantage of the 18-month closure to lengthen the duration of the ride? Don't you think that Guests waiting for more than 90 minutes would leave more satisfied if they experienced an 8-minute attraction instead of a 4-minute one? Also, this ride would finally be able to fit in the Pirates of the Caribbean category, despite the lack of massive show scenes.
Now, let us take a look at the CURRENT ride layout of Maelstrom (fan-made blueprints courtesy of Enfilm on Flickr, via WDWThemeParks.com. We thank both of them for providing these tools):
As you can see, the layout of the ride is very cramped but makes the best use of the somewhat limited amount of space. That is the same method Walt Disney himself used when building all of the Fantasyland dark rides at Disneyland in California. Using all the available space allowed Imagineers (then part of WED Enterprises) to create immersive environments while saving space (and money!) at the same time. While Epcot definitely has all the space available to build at least fifteen more major rides, we have to remember that nowadays everything revolves around one thing: Guests? No, it's money.
So, how can they make an even better use of the space available? Here you are just some of our ideas:
1. First of all, the loading area should be relocated to the current unloading area. That would give them the ability to make use of an entire additional show scene, which would also have a very high ceiling. That's perfect for creating a stunning beginning for the ride.
2. The unloading area should be placed right before the loading dock, leaving only the space of one single boat between load and unload. This could be tricky, though, and could create capacity issues if the ride operators are not efficient or fast enough to load and unload boats.
3. The flume itself could be elongated and expanded in the very first section of the ride, currently the main queuing area for the attraction. This change could add an additional minute to the ride's duration. Also, slowing down the speed of the pumps would create a more leisurely experience and would give Guests the chance to take a close look at the sets and Audio-Animatronic figures.
4. The lifting mechanism on the ramp (which takes the boats to the second level of the building) would also need to be adjusted, as it is very bumpy, especially toward the very top, making it a distraction. Believe it or not, removing that small issue would also help in creating a more pleasant experience for Guests (that said, we always chuckle when the boat starts shaking up and down).
5. One of the most important (and less likely to happen) changes is the removal of the backward sequence. I am sure many of our Readers will not agree with us on this matter (we are aware that this is one of the few features that made Maelstrom a unique attraction), but consider this: the backward section does not add anything to the ride time, and actually forces the boat to go faster, especially since there is currently very little to see in this section of the ride. Going backwards is also going to make it quite difficult to follow the story. That said, we know this is not going to happen, as it would require major changes not only to the flume itself, but also to the building housing the attraction, as it would have to be modified in the area where there's currently an opening (right above the waterfall).
6. The first, small waterfall would be completely removed. That is another reason why the backward section goes by so quickly. In the new version, Guests would always face forward, and without this waterfall, the experience would last longer (of course, numerous special effects and Audio-Animatronic figures are expected to fill all the rooms, otherwise it would be pointless to do all that).
7. The final, "big" drop would remain as it is, maybe with some additional special effects and an-on-ride photo-opportunity ($$$). The drop itself is extremely gentle, so this would not pose a serious problem, even if the ride will become even more geared toward children.
8. After unloading the boat, Guests would now go through a narrow corridor (remember that the building itself would not be modified too much to accommodate this new attraction, so we have to work with what we have) showcasing the real Norway. This includes photos of actual places found around that beautiful European country, which should not be forgotten, even with Frozen in the way.
9. Following the long corridor, Guests would still exit in the current gift shop, which would still offer typical Norwegian items, in addition to Frozen merchandise.
10. Last but not least, Guests would have to exit the shop to get to the meet-and-greet. We would never place the Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet inside the same building, as that would created an incredible mess. Crowds would completely overtake the entire exit area, making it impossible for other Guests to exit safely (and in a timely fashion). Unfortunately, we have no idea where the meet-and-greet would be placed. Will they make the same mistake and have the meet-and-greet go back to its original location, in the Puffin's Roost store? We certainly hope not.
After taking into consideration all of the above, here's how the FUTURE layout would look like:
Possibly the most important part of the ride, show scenes have to be stunning for this attraction to work. People love Frozen (some more than others), but no matter how much they love it, they will notice if something is done "on the cheap." Let's be serious, if the ride consists of cutouts and a few, sparse animated figures and screens, people will be furious (especially fans), and even everyday Guests will agree that the whole experience was a disappointment. Disney knows how powerful Frozen is, so we are sure they will do an amazing job in recreating some of best scenes from the movie.
Here you are our ideal storyline for the attraction (be aware that there could be movie spoilers!):
SCENE 1 (Loading area): The village of Arendelle, with the castle seen in the distance.
SCENE 2 (Tunnel): The boat would go under a faux bridge, directed toward Anna and Elsa's castle.
SCENE 3 (Old loading area): Guests would explore the castle, seeing Anna and Elsa.
SCENE 4 (Ascent): The ramp going up would include special effects, with Elsa creating an icy path.
SCENE 5 (Seafarers): Here, Guests would find themselves in a mysterious icy cave.
SCENE 6 (Troll Country): Here, Guests would have their first encounter with Olaf.
SCENE 7 (Backward sequence): Icy land, with Anna, Kritstoff, and Olaf escaping from a monster.
SCENE 8 (Polar bears): Face-to-face encounter with the icy monster.
SCENE 9 (Empty hallway): Elsa reverts everything back to normal. Snow starts melting.
SCENE 10 (Forest): Snow continues to melt and we meet Olaf again, telling us to be careful.
SCENE 11 (Drop): Drop, with special effects, on-ride photo.
SCENE 12 (Oil Rig): Water all around us (melted snow), all the friends reunite.
SCENE 13 (Village): Back to the village of Arendelle.
SCENE 14 (Holding area): Unload.
Of course, this is a very condensed and rough storyline, but you can at least get a general idea about the theming and characters we expect to see throughout the ride, as well as the placement of key scenes in certain areas of the building, making full use of the space available.
That is all we have for now. Please, make sure to note that none of these changes may take place. These are completely personal ideas that we have, and we do not have any actual knowledge about the actual plans for this new ride. Why, we don't even know the name for this addition to the pavilion!
Now it's your turn. What do you think about our ideas? Please, feel free to tell us how you feel, being as honest as possible (still being respectful and considerate of other people's opinions). Thank you!