Soarin’, at Epcot is one of mine and my wife’s favorite attractions. However, with wait times for this popular attraction frequently reaching 2+ hours, it’s one those attractions that is best enjoyed with a Fastpass.
Recently, a couple of ideas came to me about how the wait times might could be decreased and throughput maximized. These ideas focus around two different, but similar strategies the first utilized by a few roller coasters, the second borrowing an idea from Carousel of Progress.
Like many attractions, Soarin’ seems to struggle with loading/unloading of passengers in a consistent and timely manner. Some of this can be attributed to the usual issues related to guests and the many things they bring with them as well as seat belts and just getting everything set. On occasion, it might be operator or mechanical/ride-related, but this is usually rare. Regardless, this would seem to be an area for potential improvement. So, the question came to me, how would you optimize loading/unloading in a more efficient manner?
Both ideas involved creating more than one load/unload area for the carriages (seats), but how to do this. My first thought involved building a (huge) pivoting arm that would move the carriages from a load position/room to the projection room. There would be two load rooms, one to the left of the projection room, the other to the right, where guests would stage and load or unload. Carriage A on the left side would load while carriage B is positioned in front of the screen. When the film finishes, the carriage would move back to load position B and carriage A would move into the theater, when finished, it would reverse and then repeat.
The only problem with a strictly left-right movement compared to the up-down of the current mechanism would be the sensation of ascending to “fly” and then the descent on finale’. Another issue might be if the arms are connected and the carriages move together, how would an emergency evacuation work? If there were an emergency, both carriages would need to return to the load position quickly and independently. I still think this could be done with a set of pivot arms, but it might be best to go another route.
The need for independently movable carriages, led me to think maybe an overhead roller-coaster type track would be a better solution. There would still be two load rooms left and right of the screen, but they would be self-powered(?) and move into and out of the projection room on their own. The rail would ascend to the screen, appropriately timed with the start of the film, then descend upon finale’.
Alternatively, and in order to better accommodate the three rows, the lift rail could be vertical or at a steep angle in front of the screen and the rows would just be lifted and rotated into position, similar to the way 4th dimension roller coasters work, where there is a separate rail that controls the position of the seats.
Taking this just a step or two further, another option for what might actually be a smaller footprint than the existing designs in California and Florida, would be something similar to Carousel of Progress where the carriages would rotate from load/unload to the projection room, then lift into position. A quad system with 2 screens and 2 load/unload rooms that would rotate left-right or turn every time.
In general, either of these ideas would speed up throughput and ride capacity greatly since one carriage would always be in front of screen while the other was unloading and re-loading. But, the question comes to mind, how long is this really, and what is the time between? The film itself is reportedly 4 minutes, 17 seconds long, and the estimated unload/load time is between 3 & 5 minutes. This equates to each screen cycling every 9-1/2 minutes, or 6.3 times per hour. Having two load positions would shorten the time between the film showing significantly and, in theory, allow for slightly double the amount of riders per hour per screen.
Obviously, neither of these solutions could be applied at Epcot nor any other existing installation without some major reconstruction, but they could be utilized for future installations of the same or similar attraction.
Side-note: Right about the time I finished writing this up, I read a couple of allegedly confirmed rumors from two different sources that said Disney is planning to build a third theater for Epcot’s Soarin’ to help alleviate some of the long wait times.