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.
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.
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.
"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. 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.
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.
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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]