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Friday
Sep192014

Maelstrom, a Victim of Timing

Our wonderful and unique little boat ride through scenes of Norway is about to go the way of so many EPCOT Center favorites. It’s time to make way for ultra-popular Frozen.

Could this have been prevented? Can it still be saved? Yes and no. Or maybe yes and maybe.

Why Epcot?

Timing. And theme. Mostly timing. And only partially because of theme. And also money and urgency.

For better or worse, these are the real reasons Disney has made their decision. Consider the following.

Timing

Think about all the recent and upcoming major construction in the other three Walt Disney World parks– New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom, Avatar at Animal Kingdom, and rumored-but-pretty-much-confirmed Star Wars expansion at Hollywood Studios. Epcot hasn’t seen even semi-major changes since Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros and The Seas with Nemo and Friends. Those changes were made more than seven years ago.

Theme

"The theme is a close enough fit." Well... Frozen takes place in a country called Arendelle. This
fictional country is very Norway-esque, yes. The architecture of Epcot’s Norway Pavilion looks like something you’d find in Arendelle. So if the Norway Pavilion was on its own, and wasn’t a part of the cultural celebration that is Epcot’s World Showcase, then you'd might have a pretty sort-of okay fit. But it’s not its own entity. And let’s remember, architecture is only one of many elements of theme. The Norway Pavilion is an important piece of World Showcase and celebrates, much like the other World Showcase pavilions, the culture of the country it represents. So "theme" is not the biggest reason for a Frozen ride to go to Norway. In fact, it disrupts long-standing theme, making the foundation of this argument shaky at best.

Money

Money money money. I’m not talking only about the money a Frozen attraction will make (with merchandise, food, and increased park ticket sales), but the money Disney will save too. Reworking the existing boat ride, full-service restaurant, bakery, and string of gift shops is, of course, significantly less expensive than designing and constructing such an area from scratch. (I’m not saying it’s better and I’m not saying I agree with this. I most-often disagree with this approach.) As you might imagine, this method is pretty attractive to the shot-callers at Team Disney.

Urgency

Strike while the iron is hot, right? One could argue that the Frozen iron is extremely hot. Five-hour lines just to meet Anna and Elsa?? I wouldn’t think of waiting even one hour, but clearly there’s a large audience of “lovers of all things Frozen” that, at least for the time being, pines for such things. So it’s a matter of quick-fix vs. long-term considerations.

John Lasseter reportedly tried to convince Bob Iger, shortly after the Pixar acquisition, to open theme park rides the same day their corresponding films hit theaters. In theory, you’d be able to watch a brand new film then enter into that world (in the form of a theme park attraction) the very same day. Iger was reportedly reluctant to the strategy, fearing the parks would end up stuck with expensive rides based on unpopular films.

We continue to see rides built based on films released several years or even several decades earlier. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Sure the Little Mermaid iron wasn’t as hot in 2012 as it was in 1999. But regardless, the film and the ride seem to be very timeless and popular.

I, personally, see value in both the rush-to-market and the wait-and-see strategies. I also know both have been implemented foolishly. Tarzan’s Treehouse comes to mind. Sure it opened just five days after Tarzan released in theaters. (Did you know that??) Sure it was neat to experience that environment right after seeing it on the big screen. But perhaps the urgency to open the attraction ended up hurting the attraction, and maybe even Adventureland in one way or another, in the long run.

Why not Fantasyland?

Again, it’s timing. Had the Frozen phenomenon hit say four years ago (perhaps if it had been produced and released at the time of Tangled), can anyone doubt that New Fantasyland would have included some sort major-to-pretty-major Frozen attraction? Or even an entire Frozen mini-land?

But now with the current New Fantasyland offerings (which are fantastic, by the way), Fantasyland has very little room for expansion. There was room. There isn’t now. Or is there?

Magic Kingdom still has “the blessing of size”. They could go north into the swampy forest between Mermaid and the railroad tracks.

They could go east into Tomorrowland Speedway territory.

They could even expand northeast of that, across the tracks.

And what if? Would it be worth sacrificing Speedway to save Maelstrom? It’s in that sort of outer darkness area of Tomorrowland. It’s “not that popular” (if you want to go with that mostly-silly argument). I happen to love riding Tomorrowland Speedway. Always have. I’m most-often in support of keeping it (and its older sister, Disneyland’s Autopia). You could potentially include Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant in the expansion. That might not be the worst thing to happen to that area. Think about it.

Why not Studios?

Why not? Sort of hard to disrupt the theme of that park, especially when basing an attraction on a film. Free up some space somewhere and go nuts.

Can Maelstrom still be saved?

Is it too late to save Maelstrom? Is it too late to spare Epcot and World Showcase of something that just doesn’t fit? Is it too late to build the Kingdom of Arendelle in a Magic Kingdom full of little kingdoms? Have WDI and management gone too far down the path of reworking the Norway space? Would adoring Frozen fans worldwide be outraged if newer, better, bigger Frozen plans were announced? Wouldn’t the delay be worth it?

I’m not, by any means, a Frozen freak. I liked the movie, but let’s just say I’m not wearing Frozen apparel anytime soon. But I vote to give this big film bigger treatment. I spoke with my good pal, Hoot Gibson, the other day. He brought up good points about the Maelstrom space. He said he always thought Maelstrom was too short. Why not give the hit film a bigger space? It is a pretty short ride. A capacity nightmare in the making, at least for a while.

Can we #savemaelstrom? A hashtag is yet to save anything at a theme park. But perhaps the idea of a bigger, better, more lucrative, Harry Potter-challenging mini-land, complete with restaurants, high-capacity ride (or rides!), merch merch merch, and lots and lots of Olaf jokes (keep these to a minimum, please) would appeal to the decision-makers in Orlando and Burbank.

 

Related posts:

Rhine River Cruise Mysteries
EPCOT
 Construction from the Air
EPCOT 30TH: A Photo Tour of the Past [Part 1]
EPCOT 30TH: A Photo Tour of the Past [Part 2]
EPCOT 30TH: A Photo Tour of the Past [Part 3]
THEN AND NOW: Epcot World Showcase [Part 1]
THEN AND NOW: Epcot World Showcase [Part 2]

 

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (26)

Hi there --
Just a note on this. I always loved this attraction, and loved how well it kept with the theming of Epcot. I will miss it, too. One of the points you forgot to mention, which touches on all of them as well, is ridership numbers. There is a coast vs. ridership calculation involved. I can't tell you how I know this is so, but I assure you that for this attraction the ridership/cost ratio is not a very good one. Naturally the thinking is that the association with Frozen (ugh) and the assorted tchochkes they'll be able to peddle will make that problem disappear. Sad but true. And yes, it is too late to save it.

September 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Happy

It would be worth losing Speedway. IF that was the only compromise that would save Norway.

September 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Regarding Tarzan's Treehouse - According to Tony Baxter the Tarzan change was made to actually save the tree as opposed to promote Tarzan. Apparently there was a move to remove it all together since it was drawing very little traffic.

September 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterThe Mur

The one thing no one seems to be mentioning about Epcot and recent updates is what about Test Track? It got a major refresh and update at least on par with what happened in Mexico and Gran Fiesta Tour. Both kept the same footprint with some retheming. And yes I realize I'm nitpicking. I'm just trying to figure out why everything I read about Epcot receiving no real attraction attention in seven years seem to overlook this!

September 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

So here's a question I haven't seen anyone address (though I haven't read every online discussion on the Maelstrom topic, so it may have come up elsewhere): My understanding (which might be no more than a folk belief) was that the World Showcase Pavilions were maintained in partnership with the countries being represented; maybe via some sort of official tourism board? And that they facilitated the exchange program bringing cast members from those countries, and provided some of the funding. So what is the opinion of the Norway partners in this situation? Are they all-in for the money, or is it part of the agreement that they don't get a say in creative decisions like this? Might they pull out if they weren't happy with how their country was being represented? I just haven't even seen this mentioned, so if anyone knows or has a link to an article, I'd be much obliged.

September 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterheartbeast

Heartbeast: I read somewhere (I wish I could remember the article to reference it) that Disney approached both the Norwegian government and some corporate sponsors from Norway, asking for $9 million in financial contributions to update and refresh the pavilion, which does certainly need it. Their contribution would have allowed them a say in any changes made. They either declined or failed to respond, according to the article. That gave Disney free license to do as they wish, since they are footing the bill, although I read somewhere else there was some speculation that Norway is perfectly fine with the Frozen re-theming. I take all that with a grain of salt, just like I do everything I read online, though. ;-)

September 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

I appreciate the thoughtful article. You really got me wondering now what Disney might actually do to make this Frozen attraction come to reality. I honestly wouldn't put it past them to pass-off Frozen as a tale from Norway. As creepy as it sounds, Frozen could actually become (in the minds of many people) part of Norway's culture! And it would all be the result of a mega-media company wanting to take advantage of a successful movie. But since "money, money, money" is such a huge factor here, we have to keep in mind Disney's misguided unwillingness to properly reinvest in their parks. Would any of us really be surprised if 80% of Maelstrom is left unchanged and all that is really added is a few snow scenes and some characters placed throughout?

September 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterOmnispace

The 2nd ride picture (3rd overall pic) is the one used in the cover of the 1989 park map (only flipped) I picked up on my first ever trip to Disney World. The park and the rides had such an atmosphere about it, though how much of it was down to being so young I don't know.
Loved the booklets produced through the years and have kept many of them, I even have a Boardwalk and Baseball park map :D

Sadly it seemed to lose that excitement for the future over the years and as each of the various pavilions shut down or was replaced with rides that never quite captured the same passion or creative spark the sadder I felt.
I haven't even been to Epcot since they were building test track (scary to think the last time I went to that park it was still the 20th century!).

Would love to see an Epcot renaissance with exciting dark rides and brilliant creations which don't rely on slapping a thin veneer of a popular movie over it to draw people in. A little old fashioned imagineering is what the park needs, maybe used as a means of trying experimental ideas be they creations which interact on the street or a ride which can be easily gutted and replaced with a new idea and experience without costing tens to hundreds of millions.
Epcot was always about ideas to me, about how we could mold the future and the possibilities we could fashion for ourselves if we dared to imagine, along the way I feel it lost that and tried to appeal to thrill ride seekers (I'm one myself, but I still love a well made dark ride) and ROI figures.

With regards to the speedway, I'm surprised they haven't come up with a cost effective means of using electric cars in order to reduce the sheer noise of the ride and to make it seem a little more futuristic, in keeping with the theme of the land.

September 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteralphaxion

Good article!!!

Too bad Mr. Iger is more of a Wall Street person then a Main Street person like Walt was. Although money is important, lets not forget the whole premise of Walt's EPCOT. Change is needed, but change for the sake of making MORE money...........I'm not so sure.

September 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDanea Ritchie

Money (the saving of) is the only factor that really matters. All the other ones argue for putting the attraction somewhere else.

I was just thinking the other day that almost everything I've truly disliked at a Disney park is the result of something that was hastily tacked onto something else to save money instead of building something new from the ground up.

September 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Spelling error in title? Mailstrom --> Maelstrom?

September 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterScott

@ Scott-

Ummm. HOW did I miss that. Just fixed it. THANK YOU.

September 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterMitch

Lasseteer's idea would be iffy. Some movies would be cool to have a ride for others not do much. Pixars upcoming movie Inside Out could spark a brand new Health and Body Pavillion for EPCOT. Just from the concept of the movie. Magic Kingdom has the blessing of size. Hollywood Studios has many options for a Frozen land. Disney most grossing animated movie of all time should get a land in there Hollywood Studios where it's dedicated to movies. I would get rid of the speedway any day. For that space could be used way better. The attraction Is overrated and has long waits. If you would take out the speedway in tomorrow land. Then tomorrow land would have to get a reboot.

October 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTripleZ

I do like Maelstrom, but I remember being very disappointed with how short it was the first time I rode it. Does anyone know if there are plans to extend the boat ride for the Frozen redo? Is that a stupid question? Would Disney spend any additional money to add on to the existing show building? I know the answer is most likely, "no." If this is the case, then I think there will be a lot of disapointed Frozen fans that will have to wait in a HUGE line for a VERY short attraction.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTokyoMagic!

Oops, I forgot to mention that I do NOT agree with the shoehorning of film-based attractions into World Showcase, or Future World for that matter. But at this point, I've come to accept the fact that those in charge at Disney do not care about quailty or themeing. They are going to do whatever they want as long as they think it will bring in more money.

October 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTokyoMagic!

Great article, Mitch! Disney has certainly done a lot of great things in recent years, but resisting the temptation to make every attraction tie to a movie or IP isn't one of them. Maelstrom is great, and I would love to see that space in Epcot continue to pay tribute to Norway. If a new Frozen attraction is really needed at this point, they should probably figure out a way to do it in Fantasy land. Perhaps where the new meet and greet is (formerly Snow Whites Scary Adventure) or the numerous other areas you mentioned. They really need to keep Epcot focused on the "future of mankind" and honoring various nations of the world imho.

October 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

To me the biggest problem with retheaming rides is that it does not add to the number of rides, nor does it replace a ride with a bigger, better ride.

I wonder if the Frozen retheme will involve lots of video projection (and very little real scenery)?

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

This is a late comment, but MAELSTROM attraction was already to be replaced with a all-viking based attraction before FROZEN became so popular. around 2010 this new Viking based attraction was well under development. It would have used the same boat layout for the most part, but one of the "BIG" scenes was to have been when the guests boat is 'Rammed" by another ship. When FROZEN became such a hit, the Viking project team was disbanded and the the project was placed on hold. I wonder what would have happened if the Viking attraction had already gone into construction.........If a FROZEN attraction would have found a different home in Walt Disney World. As part of a New Fantasyland phase two proposal, The original intention in tearing down the vacant Fantasyland Skyway Chalet, was to make room for a small indoor night time boat ride (ala Blue Bayou Disneyland) based on TANGLED...hence the the TANGLED tower in that area. Eventually the TANGLED attraction was scrapped since it wasn't a huge success..........so the area was used as new TANGLED themed area restroom. -Mike

November 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike Cozart

I too did an article on this. If you would like to check it out see: http://imagineerboy.weebly.com/imagineering-blog/last-maelstrom-voyage-destination-frozen

I am really going to miss the Maelstrom. The saddening part is I went on this attraction right before the news was released (or at least somewhat widely), but I didn't really record anything about it. I can remember the experience quite vividly. If only I had known what would was going to happen to it. But, I am excited to see what the Imagineers have in store for it! It'll be good. I do agree that it would have been nice to have preserved this attraction, though.

November 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterImagineer Boy

what happened to the forums?

February 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterhatboxghost

by the way......the hatbox ghost is coming back!

February 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterhatboxghost

I'm wondering the same Hatbox Ghost! I love this site. Wish he would keep writing articles like this!!!

February 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTriple Z

i do not know if you are allowed to change your user name so if you want me to change my name back fine.

by the way, i miss the malestrom

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterpiano phantom

changed it back! :)

February 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterhatboxghost

Another timing issue was that the country of Norway was no longer willing to financially support the Epcot pavilion. Therefore I think Disney felt that if they were footing the bill they might as well change it to something that benefits them further.

May 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJon

My concern is multi-facetted. One, Epcot is slowly moving away from Disney's vision and dream - the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Disney loved America and he loved progress. One of the things that was great about Speedway was that it taught while it entertained, like the best of Disney Imagineering always did. The same was true with Maelstrom.

I have to wonder how the government of Norway felt when executives told them that they were going to butcher their culture in the name of money. Frozen catered to a very specific audience that is already phasing out of it. What I liked about the International Showcase was that it highlighted the actually culture of the country it strove to represent - and as you've already pointed out, Frozen doesn't take place in Norway, and was based on a story written by a Dutchman. Pretty loose premise for Norway, if you ask me.

My mom went on the new ride and HATED it. It has ruined Norway for her, which was always her favorite country. This change was a huge mistake on Disney's part and I think they will wind up regretting it and losing a lot of money to change it back.

July 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKatie H.

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