With so many travels, I just haven’t had a chance to do a review of the new Frozen Ever After attraction in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. I was there on day one when it opened, but had to leave for a 30 day trip afterwards. So my review is a little late. But the ride is going to be around for some time (and so will the lines), so I thought I would still offer my thoughts.
There was so much controversy about changing Maelstrom out to this attraction. Just so we have some context, let’s review the former Maelstrom. I remember going on Maelstrom a few months after it first opened. I thought Rio del Tiempo was short. This set a new precedent. Other than the three headed troll, its fiber optics, and the polar bears, there was little of any serious show investment. Plunging from a troll forest into an oil derrick? Talk about your story gaps. It was a great place to get out of the heat, but that relief didn’t last long–unless the line was slow. No question, the ride was quaint in some ways. But it was also a disappointment you simply became accustomed to.
I might also add, I loved the second half of the Norway film, and especially the score that accompanied it. But the first half of the film was like being pounded on with Thor’s hammer. Between the Vikings at sea and the oil derrick, I was getting sea sick.
Still, despite its weaknesses, many people cried fowl when they heard that Maelstrom would go away. And there were many who felt that this was going to be some cheap makeover on Disney’s part to capitalize on their most successful film ever, Frozen. Was Frozen Ever After done on the cheap? Not at all. In fact, this article bares witness to how it could have really been done on the cheap.
A Queue Through Arendelle
It would have been easy to keep the old queue. Another cheap approach would have been to take the former theater and make it into a meet ‘n’ greet area. I’ll talk more about that later, but know that the former theater is now the village of Arendelle, It’s sloping setting was gutted out and in place is a whole new village different than the former Norwegian one. The highlight of the winding queue is entering the Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, where Oaken himself is waving hello to you from the steam room. It’s the culmination of many clever details that make up this entirely new queueing experience.
A New Loading Area Offers More Ride
One of the cheapest things that could have been done was to keep the boarding area where it was. A mural of Frozen could have been painted behind the loading dock. It cost a lot of money to move that loading area to where the disembarkation was, and to put both in the same location (similar to the Mexico’s Gran Fiesta Tour). In place of the original boarding area, they created a whole new set of scenes, thus adding a fairly big percentage of additional time to the ride. Now a section where the boats turned around is part of the journey, all of it arriving where the original boarding area was before going up the ramp.
But that wasn’t all. They could have ran the track back in the same trough as it went through the original loading area. Instead, they re-routed that track so that it came through the center of that space, rather than hanging to the left. That allows two individual scenes to play out, one involving Olaf as well as Sven, and another involving the Rock Trolls. By the time we go up the lift, we have already been immersed into the world of Frozen.
An Animated Experience
You recall that many of the animatronics of Maelstrom were dark ride characters. Very limited animation, and no facial animation with the exception of the three trolls. All of these characters in Frozen Ever After are dynamic and most are backlit, like the Seven Dwarfs in the new mine ride. It’s perfect because it carries the animation well. If you weren’t aware, the ride was supposed to reopen sooner. But I heard through the Imagineering pipeline that Bob Iger wanted more impressive animatronics–especially with Elsa’s big “Let It Go” number. That’s my understanding as to why it took so long. Again, that’s a serious investment. Those animatronics don’t come easy.
A New Ending
On the back end of the experience, we see how they have maximized the return to Arendelle. If you recall, the disembarkation process always led the boats to be backed up. So you were sitting in the Norwegian fishing village just looking across it while the boat waited its turn at the dock. Now an entire scene plays out with Olaf, Anna and Elsa. Again, this scene did not have to happen. It could have been entirely scrapped and no one would have know. Instead, they chose to maximize that time waiting to return to the dock.
The Royal Sommerhus
Having stepped back outside, let’s talk for a moment about the opportunity to visit Anna and Elsa at the Royal Sommerhus. Again, they could have been cheap. They could have utilized the former theater space, forcing more guests out in the heat outside the building while they queued for the ride. They also could have kept the small meet ‘n’ greet area they had originally done to one of the retail areas when the film first opened. Or, they could have expected you to buy a ticket to Magic Kingdom to see the princesses, and left them there. Or, they could have had you pay to eat at Akershus next door, leaving them to make appearances there.
Instead, they built an entirely themed summer home. And while it looks small and quaint from the outside, take a closer look. I don’t want to give away the magic, but there’s a reason why you see mountains behind that summer cabin. There’s more than meets the eye, and it’s the reason why the overall wait to meet the princesses has gone done way down. Again, it was an investment on Disney’s part to not repeat the 340-minute length queues that originally developed in Fantasyland. Several choices to go on the cheap, and Disney chose none of them. It’s a beautiful addition, and it builds out the entire Epcot experience.
Epcot Frozen Ever After: A Summary
So, for all the complaints about Maelstrom going away, only to be replaced by some old Frozen makeover, the truth is, it’s just not so. Other than the exterior, and 90% of the original track, this attraction was changed out about as much as any experience could be altered. And the effect is simply magical. There is nothing done cheaply here. Frozen Ever After is an attraction as worthy as other major attractions that have come out of New Fantasyland and even Shanghai Disney. It’s definitely worth the visit on your next trip to Epcot.
Have you been on Frozen Ever After? What did you think? Share your experience with us.
By the way, there is a place where you can really dig into Epcot at a level like no other. Visit my ibook, Lessons From Epcot: In Leadership, Business and Life. You will read details and stories you can’t find elsewhere, including how the Norway pavilion was once called the “No Way Pavilion” when it was originally built. Check it out!