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Seattle attraction soars
Wings Over Washington offers E-Ticket-worthy fun
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Paid subscribers can listen to my audio narration of this article. ART Talks audio: Seattle attraction soars
4.25 (out of 5)
Who says you have to go to a Disney or Universal park for an E-Ticket experience? Certainly not me.
During my many years as a theme park journalist, I’ve discovered a surprising number of worthy attractions that don’t have anything to do with fairy tale castles or boy wizards. I especially enjoy sharing these somewhat hidden gems with you. I have another one for your consideration: Wings Over Washington.
Using three banks of seats that rise into the air and move in sync with action projected onto a large screen, the ride simulates hang gliding and sends guests on a journey above some of the state’s most famous sights. As with other similar attractions, such as SkyFly: Soar America in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, it borrows liberally from the original flying theater ride, Soarin’ at Disneyland. But Wings Over Washington deftly charts its own course. It pays homage, in a striking way, to the state’s considerable natural beauty, its people, and their culture.
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The attraction is located at Miner’s Landing on Pier 57 in Seattle. The entrance is on the pier, and the facade includes Native American iconography to beckon guests. Indigenous symbols are also prominently featured in the preshow as well as the main theater.
The experience begins in a “ranger station briefing area” fashioned as a rustic log structure. Guests sit on wooden benches and watch a comical park ranger establish the story and dispense ride safety guidelines via a trio of large screens. The tricked out space includes animatronic First People’s masks that interact with the presentation. The sophisticated preshow sets the tone and signals the attraction’s Mouse-level quality and attention to detail.
To get from the preshow area to the stairs that lead up to the main theater, Super 78, the attraction’s designer, developed a cool effect. A live “park ranger” slides open a door to reveal an ethereal portal in which indigenous symbols are projected onto a fog screen. Guests walk through the screen and literally interact with the story. It felt as if I was entering another dimension.
The main theater continues the rustic woodlands theme. It is perpetually twilight with soft lighting and a chorus of chirping crickets and other nocturnal creatures. Video imagery of a hushed forest lines the walls of the theater, and animatronic critters stand sentry over the proceedings. Even the ride vehicles themselves are covered in Native American artwork.
“Immersion” is an oft-cited and frequently overused term in attraction design. But, compared to Disney’s nondescript Soarin’ theaters, the Wings Over Washington space is immersive in the best sense of the word–and this is all before the ride even starts.
The action begins with a flourish as a “spirit eagle” springs to life and leads the way through the nighttime forest and to some truly stunning scenes. Among the sights are the majestic Mt. Rainier, Snoqualmie Falls, and the Cascade Mountains. The vehicles swoop, dive, and pivot in concert with the media. It’s mostly gentle, although there are a few moments that impart a mild shot of adrenaline. (Guests must be 42 inches tall to ride.) The motion is quite smooth. The ride vehicles are from Dynamic Attractions, the same company that pioneered the flying theater concept for Disney.
Some of the scenes are accompanied by sensory enhancements, including water spritzes and scents. These are typically referred to as “4D” effects in the industry, although guests do not wear 3D glasses on this attraction. That’s fine, as the enveloping screen along with the motion serves to break the two-dimensional plane anyways. Besides, depending on where guests sit in the theater for Soarin’, the 3D can warp the imagery, which is distracting and disturbs the continuity. There’s no such issue here.
The presentation hues closely to the Soarin’ playbook and includes many of the hits. For example, the action swoops down and skims just above Puget Sound, causing guests to instinctively raise their legs. There are some in-flight near misses. Fireworks burst over Pier 57 for the finale.
The media could be brighter and sharper. Opened in 2016, Wings Over Washington shows its age in terms of resolution and picture quality. The ubiquity of 4K TVs and crisp, digital, large-screen imagery at local multiplexes, let alone at the major theme parks, has raised the bar in the years since the attraction debuted. But that’s a minor quibble.
Wings Over Washington is a wonderful way to get a sense of the state, and a wonderful way to experience a world-class attraction without committing to a theme park vacation.
Like the nearby Pike Place Market, Miner’s Landing offers places to dine and shop, albeit on a smaller scale. In addition to Wings Over Washington, it also offers other attractions including the nearly 200-foot-tall Seattle Great Wheel, an arcade, and a carousel. Tickets for the flying theater rides are $18 for adults, $14 for children, and $16 for seniors.
If you go
Pike Place Market is a must-do when visiting Seattle. Founded in 1907, it is one of the oldest and largest continuously operating public markets in the U.S. The nine-acre, multi-level behemoth has been lovingly restored and preserved and is jammed with eateries, shops, and vendors hawking produce, seafood, crafts, and more. Perhaps the most iconic sight in the city is the Space Needle, although I was much more intrigued with the exhibit about its origin as an attraction for the 1962 World’s Fair than I was with the actual observation deck. The Museum of Popular Culture, or MoPOP, however, was a hoot. Founded as the Experience Music Project, it honors homegrown artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, but has been expanded to include exhibits about horror films, science fiction, video games, and fantasy. Seattle CityPASS offers discount tickets to the Space Needle, MoPOP, and other attractions. For epic Neapolitan pizza and astonishingly good ice cream, head to Lupo in the city’s Fremont neighborhood.
Have you experienced Wings Over Washington? Have you been on any standalone flying theater attractions? How about flying theater rides at parks other than the Disney parks?