When Soarin’ Over California opened at Disney’s California Adventure in the Fall of 2001, it was a game changer in the industry. For the first time, guests could enjoy a thrill ride that was gentle and had a very low height requirement. During the first few years, Soarin’ stood out as the breakout attraction in the park for its completely unique ride system and it also represented the park’s theme at the time – a tribute to all things California.
Twelve years later and about a thousand miles north of Anaheim, another company called Soaring Attractions LP is taking Disney’s original successful formula and creating its own unique standalone attractions. FlyOver Canada, Soaring’s first venture and a $16 million investment, opened in the summer of 2013 just outside of Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal in a multi-purpose complex called Canada Place.
When I spoke with President of Soaring Attractions LP Stephen Geddess last week about FlyOver Canada, he mentioned that this location is key to the ride’s success. Not only is it accessible to those coming off cruise ships, but it’s also a perfect spot that locals have easy access to as well. It just so happened that an IMAX theater in the complex was nearing the end of its lease with no intentions to renew. Stephen saw this as the perfect location for a Soaring ride with its already high ceilings and enough room for a ride system.
For the next year, Stephen and his team took trips around the world to explore different styles of Soaring rides all over the world. Ultimately, his team loved E-Da Park in Taiwan which has a similar attraction called Soaring Over Taiwan. Brogent Technlogies, based out of Taiwan, offers a ride system extremely similar to Disney’s Soarin Over California, with some noticeable differences.
The ride system is controlled by electric actuators instead of hydraulics. This gives the ride a more varied range of motion and also costs a lot less in manual upkeep. Also instead of lifting all three rows of riders off the ground from one loading platform, guests load from three different levels and each hang glider simply pushes forward towards the screen. While Disney’s version of Soarin has 87 seats, FlyOver Canada uses only 61 providing a slightly more intimate experience.
The length of the movie is just over eight minutes, nearly double the length of Disney’s Soarin’ attraction. Instead of using film, which can look extremely worn after running an attraction for over 12 hours a day, FlyOver Canada uses 4K digital projection with a frame rate of 60 fps. The final result is a picture that is sharp, crisp and feels extremely real.
Creating a film that was digital also allowed the film makers, which included Rick Rothschild who helped create Disney’s Soarin attraction, as well as Star Tours, to go in and digitally enhance certain scenes as well as be able to change out the film for seasonal overlays.
Even in its first year of operation, FlyOver Canada is doing a seasonal version of the attraction. In its first Halloween season, they substituted their standard pre-show, UpLift, which uses projections on all four walls of a room, and changed the theme of the entire attraction to a story about a witch that flies over Canada on Halloween night. The witch even appears in the safety video just before boarding several times, as she flies her broomstick alongside riders throughout the film. She reappears at the exit of the attraction to take pictures with younger riders, as well as issue them an official “Broomstick Flying License.”
This Christmas season will see a similar makeover for FlyOver Canada, this time as Santa Claus prepares for his annual flight on Christmas Eve. Guests will see him several times throughout the film as well as at the exit of the attraction to get their very own “Sleigh License” and candy.
It’s this customization that truly impresses me about FlyOver Canada. Geddess told me that in the not-so-distant future, they plan to offer a more intense version of the ride that is geared towards a younger crowd that can handle a more thrilling version of the ride with more drops and dips programmed in. Stephen said that the plan is to change certain scenes in the film by 2016 to encourage repeat business. In addition, the ride can be customized to certain conventions who wish to use it for the evening and entertain their clients in a completely unique way not found anywhere else in the world.
Easily the most amazing part of my interview with the Stephen was his overall business plan for Soaring Attractions LP. FlyOver Canada is just the beginning, as they are currently surveying other cities around North America and beyond to open standalone attractions just like the one in Vancouver, but customized to the new cities.
Stephen feels that there is potentially a huge market for this type of attraction to pop up all over the world with unique films that help showcase the beauty of each city they set up shop in. Soaring Attractions is currently in negotiations with three different cities to open their own Soarin Attractions within the next three years. The first should be announced by the end of 2013, while the second is scheduled to be revealed in early 2014 if all goes well.
With any luck at all, within 10 years, guests can go virtual hang gliding at standalone attractions like FlyOver Canada in cities all over the world thanks to Soarin Attractions LP. To get more information, visit www.FlyOverCanada.com.