Frozen in Florida

Frozen in Florida

Christian Sylt gets lost within the enchanting fairytale universe of Walt Disney World resort in Orlando



Published: Fri 16 Sep 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 27 Sep 2016, 2:58 PM

The sun is beating down on me, the temperature is well over 30 degrees and there's not a cloud in the sky. It's perfect weather for the beach but instead I've been standing in a queue for two hours and, as every minute goes by, the excitement builds. I'm not alone as thousands of people are with me. We're not here for an opening night, concert or première but to see an attraction that has been open for well over a month. Welcome to the world of Frozen.
To say that Frozen took the movie world by storm is an understatement. The Disney flick is the highest-grossing animated movie of all time with a total box office of $1.3 billion. Its stars, Anna and Elsa, appear on everything from lunch boxes to pencil sets and, of course, a sequel is in the works. The one thing the franchise lacked was its own theme park ride. Well, until now.
Disney theme parks are renowned for having the most elaborate and immersive rides and it takes more than the wave of a magic wand to pull them off. From start to finish, it takes about three to five years to create a blockbuster attraction, which is why the first Frozen ride at any Disney park only opened this summer. It's in the sprawling Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando but it couldn't be much more inconspicuous. The Frozen Ever After boat ride isn't at the heart of the fairytale-inspired flagship Magic Kingdom park or in the movie-themed Hollywood Studios; instead it is tucked away at the back of the science-themed Epcot park and this is no accident.
Half of Epcot is filled with rides that mix education and high-octane entertainment. There's a car testing themed roller coaster with a queue that winds past panels that teach guests about vehicle design. The Mission: Space ride uses the same spinning centrifuges which NASA has trained astronauts on so it isn't one for the faint-hearted or one to ride at the very end of a long day. Despite being securely strapped in by a harness over your shoulders, you still find your muscles gettin a good workout as they strain to keep you in place.
More relaxing thrills are found on Soarin', a hang glider simulator where seats are suspended over a giant domed screen showing footage of some of the world's most famous landmarks, from the Taj Mahal to the Sydney Opera House. The seats sway in time to the scenes and are blasted with air to give the impression of flight. Scents of grass are pumped in when flying over the Savannah and you can literally smell the sea when the glider appears to be skimming over it.
The other half of Epcot is home to mock-ups of 11 countries and they don't do it by halves. The shops sell imported food and gifts whilst the staff who work there are natives. Frozen Ever After sits inside an unassuming stone castle in the Norway Pavilion next to a 12th century Norwegian wooden church. The ride doesn't have a big and bright sign that can be seen from afar but it still had five-hour queues on opening day, making it one of the most popular attractions in Disney history. Word soon got round that it is no cheap cash-in.
The story behind it is that guests are invited to a royal reception to celebrate Anna saving her ice-powered sibling Elsa. It's the same plot as the movie and from the moment you step through the stone archway at the entrance to the ride, it's like walking onto a film set. The indoor portion of the queue is an attraction in itself. It resembles a festival on the streets of the fictional kingdom of Arendelle and the attention to detail is eye-popping.
There are cobbled paths lit by lanterns, wooden barrels in the corners and ropes draped with colourful flags hanging between chalet-like buildings which the queue passes through. It is packed with little touches like a pin-sharp screen set into the window of the door to the spa showing cartoon characters bathing inside. The real star is the ride itself which uses every trick in the book right from the start.
Riders are greeted by a model of Anna's companion, Olaf the snowman, who appears to walk and turns towards the boat as his mouth moves in synch with his words.
Ironically, although the models are based on animated characters, they look more lifelike than those in any other Disney ride. Their arms move fluidly whilst their faces are digital projections using the same images from the film. They sing and move in time with classic tunes like the catchy Let It Go which is blasted out from hidden speakers.
Projections are used to simulate the walls freezing over whilst clouds of smoke create the impression of an icy atmosphere. There's a small drop backwards and one forwards, but it's a ride for the entire family. Kids go gaga at the colourful characters whilst adults are left humming the tunes and wondering how Disney pulled it all off.
There's a bit of hard sell afterwards as a gift shop is cunningly located at the exit to the ride. And if you have got young kids in tow, you won't be able to miss the photo opportunity with the stars of the movie next to the ride. It means more queuing, but if you plan ahead, it's easy to minimise the standing around.
Most of the attractions have a system called Fastpass which gives you a time to return and short-cut the longer lines. They can be booked online and there's no cost at all. The catch is that you can only use one Fastpass at a time so it's best suited to anyone who sticks to strict schedules.
One thing you can't avoid is walking. With more than 100 attractions in Walt Disney World Resort, perhaps the most important tip is to bring a well-worn pair of shoes. Keeping your eyes on the ground is always a good idea to avoid bumping into the armies of knee-high toddlers who have a tendency to look in a different direction than the one they are walking in.
Disney constantly seems to outdo itself and just when you think it can't surprise you any more, it does.
The most ingenious ride of them all is Toy Story Mania, which sits inside Hollywood Studios and is like being thrust into a giant video game.
Sitting in a ride car, you don 3D goggles and take control of a light gun, which appears to shoot everything from baseballs to custard pies. It's all virtual as targets themed according to the Toy Story movies leap out of giant screens. Unlike most rides, this one fights back meaning that you get blasted with bursts of air cleverly timed to 3D projectiles hurled from the screen.
After hotfooting it around the parks all day, it's fortunately easy to relax in the evenings. Disney's on-site hotels are the closest and the most convenient. Guests can buy wristbands which open their room door, store photos, act as park passes, charge-cards and even interact with some rides. It makes Disney World seem like an all-inclusive club with the parks as your personal playgrounds.
The hotels are all themed with one of the grandest being Disney's Boardwalk Inn, which is a short walk from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Hidden behind colourful clap-board façades, the hotel looks like it is set on a turn-of-the-century seaside promenade. It is lined with restaurants, bars and old-fashioned funfair games in booths. There's nothing Mickey Mouse about it though as the Boardwalk is a fully-fledged deluxe hotel with plush rooms and corridors packed with genuine antiques from Victorian amusement parks.
The place to head for adult escapism in the evening is the La Nouba show at Disney Springs, a shopping and entertainment complex. Avant-garde circus troupe Cirque du Soleil has created a bespoke performance for Disney, which starts with a breathtaking act from an acrobat crossing a high wire on a unicycle. Just when you think it couldn't get any more daring, it does when he crosses again with another acrobat performing a handstand on his head.
Its jugglers put a different spin on their art as a group of children catch a spinning top on a rope between their hands. The team tosses it to each other and passes it back-and-forth whilst somersaulting. As each act betters the previous one, there's an epic sense of build-up.
Cirque's performers carry it all off whilst giving the impression it was a near miss. A BMX rider starts by bouncing his bike sideways up stairs and ultimately makes it spring sideways from a standing start over several members of the audience lying on the floor. Later in La Nouba, fluorescent-coloured acrobats bounce off trampolines hidden in the floor to run up walls in a blur. Forget the myth that theme parks are for children; this is an adult's fantasyland.
wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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