Top 4 Misconceptions About Frozen Replacing Maelstrom At Epcot

If there is one thing the internet has taught me this past week, it’s that celebrities sure do like taking naked selfies. A close second lesson is that Disney theme park fans sure are passionate about the attractions and ideals they hold near and dear to their hearts. With the recent official announcement from the Disney Parks Blog that Maelstrom at Epcot will be closing on October 5, 2014, many fans are in a frenzy.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

Most likely, with what the replacement will be, a “Frozen” themed attraction which is slated to open in early 2016.  If you’re looking for what my personal thoughts are on the matter, you’re in the wrong place. However, after asking for feedback on Facebook on what my reader’s thoughts are, I got a smattering of answers. Many of which I will address here, but first, a little history.


When World Showcase was being conceived for EPCOT Center, the idea was to find countries that would sponsor their own pavilion and pay for most, if not all, of the construction cost and even the cost to operate it. Here is an excerpt from the 1975 Walt Disney Company Annual Shareholder Report to give you an idea of how they envisioned it:


“Each participating nation will be asked to provide the capital to cover the cost of designing, developing and constructing its attraction and/or ride and all exhibits, as well as the Pavilion itself. It will also have the responsibility for funding the housing for its employees in the International Village. Its land lease will cover the cost of maintaining the attraction for a minimum of ten years.


The Disney organization will be responsible for area development, including the construction of transportation systems and utilities. We will also build and operate the internal people moving system, the Courtyard of Nations and central theater facility.”

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

World Showcase eventually grew into the entire second half of the park instead of just a large building. That entire country sponsorship deal where they basically pay for everything and Disney just takes care of utilities didn’t work out as planned. Ultimately, they couldn’t find any governments willing to plunk that kind of dough for a ten-year deal, even if it would potentially grow their tourist base.

Instead, they turned to corporations (a similar strategy that was used in Future World) to foot the bill for many of the pavilions in World Showcase. Coca Cola, American Express, Mitsukoshi, Goebel and San Angel Inn are amongst many of the sponsors that helped put down payments on pavilions with their own sponsorships.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

In 1988 when the Norway pavilion opened, 11 companies chipped in a total of $33 million, including money from the Norwegian government.  Even though the sponsorship wasn’t entirely government-funded, they did have a say in how they were represented, mostly through the film at the end of Maelstrom.


Now with a little history under your belt, here are some of the top responses I have read to Frozen taking over the Maelstrom ride in 2016.

Walt Disney's Grave

#1 I can hear Walt rolling over in his grave!!


First off, Walt was cremated, even though he has a gravesite at Forest Lawn cemetery just a few miles down the road from the Disney Studios in Burbank. I suppose the phrase, “I can hear Walt’s remains swirling around like a tornado in the urn” doesn’t have that same zing, but I digress.


Walt’s vision of Epcot was never fully realized at all. Without him at the helm, it was difficult to sell this idea of a city where people would live as well as visit never happened. That ship sailed right around 1974 when the Disney Company abandoned the idea to build “Epcot: The City” and decided to build “Epcot: The Theme Park.”  Sure, you can argue that the park kept that same “spirit” when it opened, but to say that what opened in 1982 is what Walt wanted isn’t remotely true.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

Ever since Disney officially dropped the “Center” part of EPCOT Center, that whole Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow thing was quietly shelved with it back in the mid ‘90s. According to Disney, Epcot is now simply a word to describe its second theme park in Orlando and it stands for… well… nothing. It’s no longer an acronym. Which brings me to…


#2 Characters shouldn’t be taking over World Showcase!


Before Michael Eisner took the reigns as CEO, Dreamfinder and Figment were the only two Disney characters guests could see in the park. After Eisner realized they were missing an opportunity, slowly Mickey and the gang also started making appearances in snazzy Future World costumes.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

As time marched on, guest demand for characters continues to get stronger. World Showcase became a place where you can meet Belle and the Beast in France, Snow White in Germany and Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco. While Belle’s origin is French and Snow is certainly German, Aladdin is from Agrabah… which is frankly, nowhere. Sure, it’s only a meet and greet and not a full blown attraction. Still… for some reason, this sparked very little outrage.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

Princess Storybook Dining took over Akershus nearly 15 years ago in the Norway pavilion. By far, Akershus had the hardest time filling seats out of any restaurant in Epcot due to the food being a little too out there for many Americans, especially children. Low and behold when Princesses (none of which have ties to Norway in the slightest) show up, every seat is filled often weeks in advance. Where was the cry for false authenticity then? Clearly business demand trumped trying to convince that cold fish items on a buffet are worth trying.


#3 “The lines for Maelstrom are long, so why replace a popular attraction?”


Indeed, it’s a rare day when seats on a viking boat go empty on the ride. However, is this due to the ride’s popularity or to fill a void? Considering there are only two rides in World Showcase and Maelstrom has the “drop,” it makes sense why guests are willing to queue up for about an hour during the busy seasons and FastPasses often are snatched up early on during the day.


However, how many people book a trip to Walt Disney World just to experience Maelstrom? Is it really a driver to get people to visit the Vacation Kingdom anymore… or is it an added bonus? Now consider how many families would book an entire vacation around not only getting to meet Anna and Elsa, but being able to go on the world’s (currently) only Frozen-themed ride. It just makes sense doesn’t it?


#4 “A Frozen ride doesn’t belong in World Showcase, it belongs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Magic Kingdom!”

Copyright Visit Orlando

Copyright Visit Orlando

Perhaps this is the strongest argument of all, as the movie doesn’t take place in actual Norway, but a fictional town that is inspired by the country at best.  However, the theming that already exists in the Norway pavilion does already lend itself to an Arendelle theme.


While Disney hasn’t officially confirmed that the boat ride is staying or an entirely new ride system is being built… It’s safe to assume that they will use what is already in place.

Maelstrom Construction

Building on virgin land or gutting an entire building for a new attraction is expensive. Theme parks, including Disney, always have budgetary concerns. I know many many, many people think Disney can just spend millions and the more money they spend, the better the ride and the more people will come and spend their money, right? Not exactly.


At some point, budgets have to be compromised and in today’s way of doing finance, numbers crunched. No matter what you think, people will still come to a Frozen ride if it’s in World Showcase, Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. It will be no less popular.  There is no need to spend the extra dough on an attraction that will get the same return on investment (ROI) as if it were built from scratch if a ride system already exists that doesn’t need to be designed and constructed. And that’s the reality.


Another thing to keep in mind, the sweeping success of Frozen took everyone in the industry by surprise, including Disney. No one knew that the film would make over $1 billion in ticket sales and become the top animated film of all time. Also, every park in the United States has a budget. That budget accounts for this year, five years and in some cases ten years down the line.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

Because of the runaway success of Frozen, there was no money budgeted for this new attraction at all, much less building one from scratch. In this case, a lot of meetings and a lot of approvals of many departments have to buy off on it. Essentially, for a project like this, you have to find and justify the money. Sometimes budgets for other improvements and new offerings get slashed or cut completely.


Other times, the bigger umbrella of the Walt Disney Company gives Walt Disney World extra capital out of the sky as long as they can justify that ROI. While it may sound like a slam dunk to you sitting at home in your easy chair, spending millions to make millions isn’t a decision that’s made lightly. These things take time (often too much time) to get the final green light.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

What it boils down to is: Will the new Frozen ride make enough money for Walt Disney World to justify the cost? Clearly, the executives think that answer is yes. Sure, a pavilion (while still retaining the name Norway) will have the majority of its real estate dedicated to a popular film that has very little to do with the culture, history or heritage of the country.


However, neither do any of the princesses who take dozens of photographs in the Princess Storybook Dining.  You have every right to feel passionate about Disney or the decision. Just understand that blurring the lines between culture and characters has been going on for years now and this is the latest evolution of that concept. Your thoughts?


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  1. stephenkg
    Posted September 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic article! Thank you for this excellent EPCOT history lesson that gives an insightful perspective on the Frozen Maelstrom takeover. Here are my thoughts…

  2. fan51
    Posted September 15, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Are they misconceptions or just arguments? They are arguments that the Disney fans (on one side) do not want the Norway pavilion to be changed to Frozen. I believe the arguments are false as you have stated.

    Addressing #3, Maelstrom is well overdue for a makeover. This ride is not popular by any definition, but people still ride it. There is nothing note-worthy about the ride. It is a short ride with a bad story. People largely don’t stay for the travelogue video. My hope is they change the ride profile so it doesn’t go backwards and the ending drop is removed. The ride should be lengthened by 2 minutes.

    As for #4, this deserves a LOL moment. Why put Frozen in DHS when Norway is the perfect confluence of box office success and sponsorship neglect? DHS is already slated for the possible Star Wars and/or Carsland remodel. Putting Frozen in DHS will derail those plans. Now, Disney World finds itself with a perfect way to address EPCOT’s shortcomings.

    It seems like Disney fans is always falling into a “put something/anything into DHS” when it doesn’t fit the purity of EPCOT and Animal Kingdom’s mission. That’s why they argue that Avatar should be in DHS too when the theming of Avatar is better suited for Animal Kingdom AND fulfills the original mission that Animal Kingdom should have fantasy animals (Avatar’s dragons).

    The discussion of how much money Disney should spend on it should be an issue of how Disney can market the heck out of it. Thus, budgets for a mere ride change is not merely about the ride, but the whole package of marketing EPCOT. While Disney could go cheap with a Maelstrom name change and character insertion, I don’t think it will be that easily done. They will introduce the ride in 2016. That’s a long time for a mere makeover. I think they will add some new technology like what they did with the 7 dwarfs ride and the Disneyland’s Alice in Wonderland ride. They should add a snow storm and Elsa doing her amazing ice tricks.

    There will be new meet and greets so Anna and Elsa will return to the Norway pavilion. I hope they add an appearance of Anna and Elsa at the Princess Storybook Dining at Akersus to alleviate the high demand for photos. (I actually enjoyed eating at Akersus before the Princess Storybook Dining.)

    They can incorporate the Frozen characters in the evening show and add special desert events at the Akersus. The possibilities are endless.

  3. Digital Jedi
    Posted September 16, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I always took issue with characters in EPCOT. Some smattering never bothered me, such as Mulan wandering China, Mickey and the gang in space suits in Future World or the themed trinkets here and there. But the meet-n-greets always felt out of place. I’d say no one minded the character dining at Akershus, because no one really likes Akershus, but I digress.

    I’m wondering just how many Guests actually clamored for more characters ops at EPCOT. Either way, I think people are lamenting the passing of one of the last vestiges of classic EPCOT. The Maelstrom was by no means the best EPCOT attraction, but it was the last of the World Showcase classic attractions. And after Eisner nerfed, rather than refurbished, the really great rides, seeing the few classic ones go touches a sore spot. Seeing EPCOT “characterized” (and in some cases, in direct contradiction to its theming) makes the park seem like a hodgepodge of theming. Like it has no identity. Studios suffers from this to a degree as well, but one could argue, it did from the outset. EPCOT, on the other hand, started with solid theming.

    With that said, the park could get its identity back (or get a new one) over time. Maybe that’s even where they’re going, eventually. But the outrage is really just inarticulate reactions to the previous gradual abandonment of EPCOT’s theming. We really liked the idea that we had stepped through a portal and entered into a new country. The Disney characters sort of serve to remind us that we were never really there, and are, in fact, in a Disney Theme Park. A Frozen attraction will probably be great. And they’ll probably even make it fit thematically. It will no doubt be a better attraction than Maelstrom. But that little bit of loss of feeling like you’re genuinely in another, real world country, well, that’s just too bad. It’ll be missed.

  4. stephenkg
    Posted September 16, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Digital Jedi: I love your explanation of the outrage many have expressed over Frozen replacing the Maelstrom. Honestly, yours is the first explanation that has actually made sense to me. I too love that magical feeling of suddenly being in another country and then minutes later being transported to yet another. With your comments, I get that the “characterization” takes away from that effect. I have been quite surprised with the uproar over this. Some of it is from people who don’t like Frozen or who feel , “Enough with the Frozen already!” and I get that. However, there is another camp, as you expressed, that mourns the loss of the World Showcase as an interactive museum or travelogue of sorts.

    As you said, Maelstrom is not EPCOT’s best. I am hoping Disney creates a state-of-the-art attraction that will reinvigorate EPCOT.

  5. Brad Bishop
    Posted September 16, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    I think that the problem revolves around the identity of Epcot. Before it was considered a “World’s Fair” of sorts with technology and industry playing their part in Future World and culture playing it’s part in World Showcase.

    Over the years a few things have happened:
    – Future World attractions have been replaced with less educational/informative attractions
    – World Showcase has remained largely stale
    – Attractions are getting a “retread” – and that’s about it.

    So Test Track comes in as a “thrill” ride. You travel slightly slower than on your trip down to WDW but it tries to be informative with you being the Test Dummy. Then it gets “Tronized” and it’s more about looking like Tron than anything about informing you.

    Mission: Space is a new attraction that replace Horizons, if I’m not mistaken. It’s about crashing on Mars. That’s about it.

    Ellen’s Adventure is actually informative/educational but people go to it for a nap or they fall asleep on the ride. That’s, unfortunately, telling of the ride.

    On the other side you have The Living Seas which is Sealab 1980 and they took what used to be somewhat informative and said, “Nemo’s cool! Let’s do Nemo!” and crammed Nemo into it. There’s no story (well, maybe, but it’s incredibly thin) and mostly it’s about seeing Nemo characters in various forms. It’s not a good attraction and is obviously a retread. Worse, the rest of the aquarium looks like Sealab 1980 and I think that the most I’ve seen in it is 2 dolphins and a manatee (separate tank – upstairs). This isn’t a good pavilion and it’s location is pretty crappy.

    Imagination was reworked and it’s equally crappy. Of all of the things it could be it’s none of them. A few parlor tricks and that’s about it.

    The Land and Spaceship Earth are largely the same and they’re really good. I love hitting both of those each time I hit Epcot. The rest, including Mission: Space and Test Track I could skip.

    Oh, I forgot about Soarin’. It’s not bad but it lacks depth. People love it, though.

    With World Showcase, it’s actually a little worse off. Mexico was made into the Three Caballeros. China and France each have their original movies, from what I can tell. Germany was never finished. Something could be in Italy, Japan, and Morocco but isn’t. Canada has a refreshed (now I think 10+ year old) CircleVision film featuring Martin Short and the UK has World Showcase Players (well, for 10 more days).

    So, with everything that they could fix or update what do they do? Toss Frozen into Norway. It’ll be a retread. Maybe it’ll be OK like Mexico (I’m saying “OK”, not great) or maybe it’ll suck like Nemo, but it’ll be a retread. This is for a park that commands premium prices.

    So that leaves me with. What is Epcot supposed to be. If it wasn’t a World’s Fair of sorts, then that’s fine. As it is, it looks like it’s a collection of poorly retreaded rides. It could be a great park. I think of World Showcase and I want to see a little slice of each country in a unique attraction (more than just a restaurant and shops). As it is, it’s kind of piss poor, in that regard. If it’s supposed to be a more realistic Fantasyland then, that’s fine, don’t just retread rides but gut them and make some unique experience.

    Epcot had it’s 30th birthday a few years back and it could use some love. Instead the powers that be seem to think, “How can we reuse this building or ride for some special event or movie that surprised us and is selling well??” That’s not long term planning. That’s grasping at straws.

    By the time Frozen is up and running in Norway, it may well be a distant memory.

    I will agree with stephenkg in that Maelstrom is a bizarre ride with it’s:
    – Vikings
    – Trolls
    – Polar Bears
    – Puffins
    – Oil Derrick
    – seaside town

    It’s very much a WTF? ride when you think about it.

    • stephenkg
      Posted September 16, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      I agree with you Brad that EPCOT is evolving and moving away from the World’s Fair that never ends concept. I have a difference of opinion regarding the new Test Track. In addition to the “cool factor” it has taught me a lot about the elements of car design for efficiency, speed, etc. I really like the new interactive elements before the show and I think these personalize the experience.

      I pretty much agree with your other observations, but I don’t think Frozen will be a “distant memory” when the ride opens in 2016. For whatever reasons, this story and these characters really seem to resonate with many people. For what other characters would people be willing to stand in line for 6 hours just for a quick meet and greet? There will be staying power there. And they have already confirmed they are working on a stage version. Frozen 2: The Sequel cannot be far behind.

      EPCOT needs to be revitalized and I hope that Frozen can help accomplish that.

    • fan51
      Posted September 17, 2014 at 12:12 am | Permalink

      I happen to think the makeover of Test Track and Living Seas are largely successful. I felt the Ellen’s Adventure was a successful reinvention of the old Energy pavilion, but it is long overdo for a new makeover. Some retreads are better than others.

      The Imagination pavilion was a big failure. It is a major exception to makeover success rate and it is partial gut, not a mere retread. The Imagination tracks was shortened by a third and all show scenes destroyed and replaced. Space is a total gut, but few seem to want to ride it. Did you realize that Test Track was a total gut of the original World of Motion pavilion?

      In conclusion, I expect Frozen to work well as the primary vehicle to update the Norway pavilion and the Maelstrom ride. There is no way they can fail.

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