By Jayship Earth
With the immense popularity of the film “Frozen” and the 5+ hour waits to meet and greet with Anna and Elsa in the Disney parks, it was inevitable that Disney would soon build a Frozen attraction. The ride could have gone anywhere; the princess and queen would have been right at home in Fantasyland, or even well-suited for the movie-centric Hollywood Studios. But since the film takes place in the fictional city of Arendelle located in the real Norway, the future attraction seemed destined for the Norway pavilion in Epcot. And the moment I had been dreading for so long was recently confirmed, as the new Frozen attraction would be replacing my beloved Maelstrom, with its final day of operation on October 5th.
So, with its untimely demise soon approaching, I thought I’d take a look at what makes the Maelstrom so special. The ride opened 6 years after the opening of Epcot in 1988. Originally, Disney wanted a log flume ride focused just on trolls of Norwegian folklore, but the country of Norway, the main sponsor of the attraction, wanted modern-day Norway represented as well. Anyone that rides the attraction can see how disjointed the two aspects of the ride are, but to me that adds to its bizarre charm. The attraction really hasn’t been touched or updated since its opening day, so it still carries a lot of that original 1980’s Epcot magic. It’s retro, vaguely educational and sort of weird, and one of the best rides in the park.
The ride begins in the queue, with the giant mural along the side wall, showcasing Vikings, as well as modern-day Norway, and contains a famous Hidden Mickey of a Viking wearing mouse ears. Soon your boat travels up the ramp as Odin narrates the beginning of your voyage.
“Those who seek the spirit of Norway find adventure and peril.”
Next you are transported to a Viking village, as animatronic figures build boats and prepare for an expedition. Soon you are confronted by several trolls, who curse your boat, “disappear, disappear”, and send you traveling backwards. These figures are great, and probably the scene most people associate with the attraction. You then pass by some polar bears, until you reach the edge of the falls. Here, your boat hangs outside the attraction over the entrance of the ride, as the track shifts direction and you begin traveling forward again. Keep your eyes peeled for one more hidden troll. Lastly, you sail by a couple oil rigs in a giant, open room. This section always seemed the most disjointed to me, as they tried to cram an educational scene of modern-day Norway in at the last second. Soon your boat emerges in a Norwegian fishing village as you depart.
Guests are welcome to stay for a short movie about Norway after they depart the boats. I hear the film is quite dated, but I have never actually stayed to see it. I’m not sure anyone has actually seen it since 1992. Maybe confused non-English speakers who think they have no other choice.
Yes, the attraction is dated. Yes, the attraction is a jumble of ideas and scenes that don’t make a ton of sense. And yes, Frozen will be 100 times more poplar and draw guests to that section of the park like never before. But none of that matters because the Maelstrom is great. I think I love it more because it’s so old and makes so little sense. The troll animatronics still look terrific, and the ride is pretty thrilling for a dark ride. And the narration is so wonderfully corny, and so highly quotable in that great Norwegian accent
I also appreciate that the attraction does not feature Disney characters nor is based on any film. Some of the all-time best Disney attractions feature stories and characters created exclusively for the parks, like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Journey Into Imagination. The trolls of the Maelstrom were only found in the attraction, and it made seeing them there special. Non-film-inspired rides are slowly disappearing which is a shame, because they are what make the parks timeless and classic.
To this day, the attraction is still consistently busy. You could chalk that up to the fact that World Showcase really only has 2 “rides”, but I think many guests love it just the same as I do. By total coincidence, I will be in Walt Disney World the same week the attraction officially closes, and you can be sure I will be riding it over and over again, until they kick me off because the bulldozer are coming in. I may even stay for the film this time. Now, I just have to decide where the best spot in my house would be to decorate with a slightly used troll animatronic that a certain theme park won’t be needing anymore.