Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Maelstrom Mayhem: Is "Frozen" the New Spirit of Norway?

This is Epcot...

This is Epcot's World Showcase...

This is the Norway Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase...

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the pavilion's classic boat ride, the Maelstrom.

... and it may be in for a bit of trouble.

Up until very recently, this particular pavilion in the World Showcase (an area devoted to the appreciation and celebration of countries and cultures from around the world) was a relatively quiet, restful retreat from the hustle and bustle of busier spots, where one could hobnob with trolls and savor a scrumptious School Bread in peace. Without major franchise tie-ins or any obvious marketing angles, the pavilion continued to stand as a monument to the true spirit of the World Showcase. Though somewhat small, Epcot's Norway has always packed a punch with its highly effective theming  and embodiment of the nation's spirit of adventure. Barring only the implementation of character dining in the Akershus Banquet Hall in 2005, the pavilion has largely dodged the "Princess Treatment" that has been given to other pavilions in recent years- that is, until now.
Though initially met with a hefty amount of trepidation from Epcot fans, Frozen's exhibit in the Stave Church Gallery offers great insight into the role of Nordic culture in the development of the film.

In November of 2013, Disney graciously welcomed Arendelle royals Anna and Elsa to take up residence in the pavilion, granting them their own meet-and-greet location and setting up a brand new Frozen-inspired exhibit in the Stave Church Gallery. Fast-forward a month or so: the sleepy little pavilion has suddenly become a booming metropolis of tiny tots swarming about in the still tinier avenues of this idyllic slice of Scandinavia. With a glance, the evidence of the movie's success is undeniable; it is a phenomenon. By the time Norway's neighbors are opening their gates, wait times to meet the pavilion's resident princesses have already climbed past those of E-tickets like Soarin' and the newly refurbished Test Track. The queue for Kringla Bakeri extends out the door and mingles with the growing crowd headed toward the Maelstrom, whose own line quickly fills its designated area and spills out toward Restaurant Akershus. Frozen has cast an unprecedented spell, and park-goers are drinking in every last drop.

Enter: the Maelstrom. Epcot's premier (and only) flume ride has already been affected in Frozen's wake; the attraction, previously regarded as a walk-on, has been seeing waits ranging for 40-minutes to over an hour and getting actual foot-traffic to its typically needless FastPass kiosks*. With that kind of popularity, the prospect for a tie-in to the latest craze simply cannot be brushed aside. The question, then, is what exactly is in the cards for the future of the attraction.

 For those who have followed Frozen's journey into Epcot, whispers of a frosty overlay will be old hat, but sources across the internet have begun to speculate on more drastic changes that could be taking place in the future (and a much nearer one than you'd expect, at that). An article published on earlier this month discusses the potential for a Frozen-themed attraction landing in Epcot's Norway as soon as 2015, in which Disney commentator Jim Hill suggests that Disney won't be repeating the twenty-year movie-to-attraction gap of The Little Mermaid, and that Maelstrom enthusiasts "might want to go visit it" before Anna, Elsa, and their companions inevitably take over.  Other sites have taken it to next level by hinting at the total gutting of the existing boat ride to create something entirely new, possibly along the lines of a classic dark ride or borrowing from the latest technology showcased at Shanghai Disneyland.

Of course, none of this "news" has been confirmed by Disney, nor has anything been announced to suggest that it transcends the realm of mere speculation. However, the fact that it is being discussed presents it as a real threat to the attraction so many Disney Parks fans know and love. As previously mentioned, the World Showcase was conceived as a place where guests could come to learn about rich and exciting cultures across the globe, and the Maelstrom is a shining example of that goal. The attraction explores the deeply fascinating history of Norway, its culture, and its mythology. Critics who slough the Maelstrom off as a stale and un-thrilling waste of prime real-estate miss its true value, as this fast-paced, adrenaline-seeking is so apt to do. This is the ride that gave me a taste of Norway and whet my insatiable appetite for its vikings, trolls, and fearsome one-eyed gods, and it never fails to leave with me a lingering ghost of the nation's spirit: a thirst for adventure.

What's your stance on a Frozen attraction in the World Showcase? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

* At the time of publishing, traditional FastPass kiosks have been closed indefinitely to make way for the new FastPass+ system.

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