I have attended some emotional farewells in my time visiting the Disney Parks, but last night was certainly one of the most memorable. I can’t recall the amount of crying, anger, joy, and excitement for the farewell of Main Street Electrical Parade (circa 2001), Snow White’s Scary Adventures, or the Studio Backlot Tour reaching the levels they were at for the closure of Maelstrom at Epcot on Sunday, October 5th. Last week’s Off Kilter final performance was certainly rowdy and over-crowded, but the crowd of fans for the 26-year-old Norwegian boat ride were every bit as electrifying and probably way more emotionally overwhelmed.
Long lines for the attraction were a constant through all of the day. The very back of the line at 11:00AM when the attraction opened was about a 45 minute wait, and wait times continued to soar to around 85 minutes by the mid-afternoon. In the attraction’s final hour, the stand-by wait time sign read 130 minutes. I’m fairly certain that in all of the time Maelstrom has had an electronic wait time system, those numbers had never flipped so high.
Before I talk about the final hour-or-so of the attraction, I want to first commend the wonderful Norwegian cast members who have gone out of their way the last few weeks since the closure was announced to make sure every guest got a proper final farewell. While I can’t get into many specifics as I’m afraid I might get someone in trouble, I saw many excited guests get to do some out-of-the-ordinary things both yesterday and over the last few weeks. Nothing illegal or unsafe, just things that some manager at Walt Disney World might frown upon. Regardless, these young people represented their country and the Disney company in a way that restores a lot of my faith in front-of-the-line cast members. I think some of these cast members were among the finest to ever wear the Disney name tag.
So, on to the final moments of the attraction… While the wait time was posted at 130 minutes, I don’t believe anyone actually waited that long. By 9:30, the final boat was making its way through the attraction, so at most, I think some guests towards the end may have waited a little over an hour. Many guests waited outside of the queue until just before 9:00PM, just so they could be in the very last or near the last boat of the night. To the best of my knowledge, there was no fighting between guests as to who would be last, which was somewhat surprising given how rowdy the crowd had gotten at that point. In the end, rumor had it that some group of guests had demanded by mid-day that they be the last guests, and for some reason, they were appeased and given the right to be last. If it were a less emotional evening, I’m sure someone would have argued with those who felt they were more entitled than the rest of us, but everyone decided it best to just enjoy their final moments in the attraction. It may have been some low-level park manager and their family from why I could deduce, but I figure no one in Norway wanted to get in trouble for denying them the last boat.
If you were in the queue by 9:00PM, you were treated to a special announcement from a Norway cast member, something that had been a joke made by most fans of the attraction leading up to the final days:
At the time of our final ride at 9:25PM, we ended up being in the 5th-to-last boat of the night. I know it may make me sound like a bit of a fanboy, but being able to ride so close to the end of this attraction that I grew up with was an honor and really made my day.
The ride it self was the same as always, but I certainly took time to soak in all of my favorite sights one last time (mostly the three headed troll and one last opportunity to yell “back, back, over the falls!”). When we reached the unload area, the pandemonium began. As we started clapping for Maelstrom as we reached the Norwegian fishing village, a dock filled with hundreds of guests who had just completed their final rides began to cheer as well. This continued for every boat after us as well. Eventually, once boats filled with cast members started to emerge, all of the guests were pushed into the theater for the final showing of “The Spirit of Norway”.
For the first time, a packed theater of guests sat and watched the 5-minute film, rather than racing past it to get to another Epcot attraction or a dining reservation. The crowd was captivated, knowing these would be the final moments they would have inside of the attraction. When the film ended, the applause was thunderous and there was even some chanting. Finally, managers started to politely wrangle guests toward the doors and out of the building. When the doors closed, a small crowd remained behind and took pictures with the shuttered facade and said their final goodbyes. Yes, many were caught in the moments and shed tears for the loss of Maelstrom. This may seem trivial to some, but I also found myself overcome a few times while watching boats dock at the unloading area.
If you could not be there to live the final night of Maelstrom, we invite you to watch our video of the events which includes 17 minutes of highlights including our last ride on the attraction and the very last showing ever of “The Spirit of Norway”:
Last night was definitely one of those special evenings at Epcot I’ll never forget, which is fitting, because I don’t think any of us will ever forget Maelstrom. It wasn’t exactly a great attraction, but was so unique, strange, and irreverent that you just couldn’t help but like it. For 26 years, guests were confused yet entertained by this short boat ride and ran through the theater to exit the building, but it was an important part of the fabric of the park that we will certainly remember for the rest of our lives.
“Norway’s spirit has always been, will always be… ADVENTURE!”