What’s going on at EPCOT?

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There was some unexpected big news about EPCOT made this weekend at a D23 event – apparently big plans are in the works. We’ve heard a few rumors, but this sounds much bigger than what we’ve heard.  Before we dive into all that, let’s take a look at the state of EPCOT today.

EPCOT is Walt Disney World’s largest park, at least in terms of capacity. It can soak up more people than any park due to the walk-about nature of many of its attractions. The original idea for the park put an industrial focused section together with pavilions highlighting countries and cultures from around the world to create something that was both world’s fair and not. It’s a good distance from Walt Disney’s original vision for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, but has had provided nearly 35 years of inspiration to millions of guests who passed through its gates and explored its exhibits.

But that’s in the past. The present finds EPCOT a little more confused about its identity. Future World has one abandoned pavilion, at least one out date pavilion, and two giant halls that are practically empty. There’s a lot going for Future World still, but Disney’s obviously having a hard time attracting sponsors for Innoventions leading to its closure.

Frozen Ever After in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot

World Showcase, meanwhile, has been very stagnant with the only changes coming when Disney steps in to overlay some its own characters. I’ve been very happy with both attempts so far, El Rio Del Tiempo at Mexico and Frozen Ever After in Norway, but I would still love to see new countries added to fill in some of those open plots before more Disney characters take them over.

There’s also the fact that audiences today expect completely different things from their theme park experience than they did back in 1982 when EPCOT first opened. Guests today want things (like news and entertainment) to find them in increasingly personalized ways. Nearly everyone has a device in their hand that can give them access to the entire world’s entertainment. Disney has the chance to take advantage of both of those trends as they continue to develop EPCOT for the future.

All that said, rumors of big changes coming to EPCOT have been growing louder lately. First there were height test balloons spotted over the Universe of Energy pavilion. That’s usually a sign that some project is being considered for a space and Imagineering wants to make sure it won’t be spotted from other guest areas. Second, there have been some pretty clear signs that the Ratatouille attraction from Disney Studios over in Paris is being considered to add some capacity over on the World Showcase, in the France pavilion, naturally.

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Then this weekend at the Destination D event, Disney Parks chair Bob Chapek announced that EPCOT was the next park to receive a “Major Transformation.” Chapek mentioned that the expansion would be Disney but would also stay true to the inspiration for the original EPCOT. For some diehards, that’s an impossibility, but I prefer to think that the spirit of EPCOT has become something intrinsic to what it means to be Disney.

At the minimum they need to address Future World. There are empty buildings that should be better utilized, Innoventions and Wonders of Life pavilion I’m looking at you, expansion plots still waiting to be explored, and some oddly dated theme park design in the center of it all. Let’s just say the potential for transformation is big.

A word of caution, we’ve heard this before. At the 30th anniversary, as a matter of fact. Hopefully this isn’t something they roll out every five years to excite the base. Apparently Chapek has asked the creative team to dream big on this one, so maybe it will ring true this time.

What do you think could fix EPCOT going forward? Do you think the changes required are extreme or could a few tweaks do it?

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12 thoughts on “What’s going on at EPCOT?

  1. Jim

    Tweaks and Extremes:

    The Land – replace “Circle of Life” with a similar film about conservation featuring characters from Zootopia, Moana, Wreck it Ralph, Tarzan, etc. Guests would fill the theater to see all of this stars in one film together.

    Imagination – extreme do over. The original version of the pavilion was the best. Just start over.

    Test Trac – not sure how this fits the theme of EPCOT.

    Universe of Energy – extreme do over. Too slow and not current.

    Space Ship Earth – eliminate the interactive element. Bring back a classic narration, narrator and a grand soundtrack.

    Reply
  2. Amy

    Jim wrote “Test Trac – not sure how this fits the theme of EPCOT.”

    From disneyworld.disney.go.com: “Stroll into a gleaming, state-of-the-art facility and cruise past eye-opening exhibits illustrating the forward-thinking innovation and technology of Chevrolet.”
    Innovation + technology = Future World.

    I know that during the Food & Wine Festival, there are food booths for countries that are not represented by their own pavilion. I was just about to ask Are any of these sponsored (by the country, by a company in that country)?, but I just looked at pictures from those countries’ menus this year, and didn’t see any sponsorship. I’m not sure how big the space in World Showcase is to build upon existing pavilions, but the Ratatouille ride would be amazing, and I’ve always thought that Italy should have some kind of attraction (besides the street performers).

    Reply
    1. Jim

      Thanks for that analogy Amy. I guess I haven’t been able to get past the old “World of Motion” concept where the attraction featured the history and future of all modes of transportation.

      Reply
  3. Brad

    I know that the diehard Epcot purists are against it, but I am massively supportive of bringing the Ratatouille ride to the France pavilion. Combine that with the existing El Rio del Tiempo and new Frozen Ever After, and suddenly World Showcase becomes significantly more attractive to families/children. In theory, it should also help even out the traffic flow between WS and FW and within WS itself (one major attraction on the left side, one on the right side). As to your question regarding space, Amy, the France pavilion has a significant amount of space that could be repurposed to fit the ride.

    Fingers crossed that we finally get some new countries to fill those long-dormant open plots (Australia? Russia? Brazil? Switzerland (Matterhorn coaster, anyone?)? ).

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  4. Jessi

    I liked the original Test Track, where you experienced the heat/cold, rumble strips, etc that went into the car making process. The new version is more “futuristic” for sure, letting you see how a car design impacts driving, but it isn’t as fun of a “ride” anymore. But the concept of designing for the future does fit the Epcot theme of education. I too miss World of Motion and would love to see a new version.

    I agree on Imagination. Journey into Imagination could just go back to the original with Dreamfinder and it would be all set. We need more people following their dreams and being inspired.

    I don’t see how the addition of Nemo enhanced the Living Seas – I loved all the old diving equipment you used to walk by, that was educational for sure! Nemo has done wonders for getting children engaged in fish and sea life, but there has to be a blend and balance, not one or the other as they’ve done now.

    I like the interactive element of Spaceship Earth – especially if you choose a different language and then just randomly select options (since you have no idea what they are) – it gives you a whole different storyline as you pick things you likely wouldn’t if you were doing it in your native language. :-)

    The biggest problem is Disney trying to stay ahead of technology. It was much easier to do 30 years ago – now technology moves at speed of light and it’s hard to stay on top and ahead of. Heck, in the 80s, the big thing was the robots who painted t-shirts for you while you watched (in whatever Innoventations was before it was Innoventions). I still have mine and always thought that was the coolest thing. Now it’s not special anymore because robots are standards. I’m interested to see what Disney comes up with.

    and PS….can someone please bring back Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit!! :-)

    Reply
  5. Jeff

    Funny thing is that when Epcot Center opened, a vision of the future was concrete and metal. Now a new vision of the future is greenery, clean air, nature, with slick design elements. Disney should run with this and develop more of a park-like setting in future world. Invest in moving sidewalks for certain areas. Future World of the past focused on the history of something, aka, World of Motion, Spaceship Earth, Listen to the Land. It was a great way to show how far we as a civilization came. Throwing this out the window gives you Test Track with designing a vehicle, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, which doesn’t give much on history or what we can do to harness the seas power. We need the thrill as well as the history. The concept of Communicore was a good one, but got dated very fast. With these two vast buildings two attractions should be built. With Wonders of Life pavilion, I don’t mind the use as a Festival Center. If this is truly what Disney would like to use it for, I say go for it and make it over into a fantastic center instead of paint touch ups. Universe of Energy needs a new attraction as well as Imagination (but keep Figment and bring back Dreamfinder).
    As for World Showcase, I agree that new countries need to be added as well as the original ones getting attractions. Each country should have at least one attraction, live performance, and eating facilities/restaurant. Right now we are restaurant heavy with the need for more to do besides walking the mile to get around the lagoon. Put the Rhine River attraction in, put the Ratatouille attraction in, put the bullet train ride or Mount Fuji clone of Matterhorn in Japan, put a great American Steakhouse in American Adventure, put a log flume ride in Canada (and reopen the upstairs shops and put in a quick service up there as well, put some country in the Outpost area (my gosh, really, there couldn’t be a representation of Africa in Epcot?). I can go on, but I won’t. As for new countries, there needs to be representation from Australia, at least one South American country (a rain forest?), India, and Russia. Of the most popular European destinations, Spain should also be a apart.
    And I agree that the middle part of the hourglass is the worst. Odyssey Restaurant should be gone. A WASTE!

    As for World Showcase,

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  6. Jim Robinson

    The imagination pavilion has so much potential. The ride at one point was state of the art and was one of the busiest pavilions. The 3D needs to be digital and add a 4D element that blows you away.

    Odyssey should change to a permeant food and wine fest booth style place where the offerings can rotate and can take some off the other dining areas in peak time. Make it place people WANT to eat.

    Do some real cutting edge tech in communicore like virtual reality rooms, real simulators, hard core robotic and’/or drones, not all the sponsored crap they have that is boring and pointless. While the Astuter Computer Review did go for very long, at least it was a cool concept that people were interested in at the time that showed off Disney’s state of the art computing before the PC’s even existed.

    Resurrect the life and health pavilion where life and health, that is trendy now anyway and skip the stupid things like a ride through the body or trying to explain sex to kids that killed the place. Cranium command was one of the best shows ever and from what i was told was the inspiration for the movie inside out. Or use the space for a major attraction. Using it once a year for food and wine is pointless….. Great space.

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  7. Disney Mike

    Personally, I would love to see Future World keep the concept of “edutainment,” especially in teaching people about the future of various aspects of the real world. Most of the pavilions would need to be radically changed, though, and several would need to be completely eliminated so that something new could be put in their places.

    As for the World Showcase, I’d love to see some new countries added. I’d also like to see attractions added to some of the pavilions that currently don’t have any. I’m OK with adding attractions based on Disney movies set in those countries, if it makes the attractions more appealing to a wider audience. Ratatouille in France makes perfect sense — and it’s a fantastic ride. A Mulan attraction in China, an Alice in Wonderland attraction in the UK, a Sleeping Beauty attraction in Germany.

    Whatever they do, I hope it’s a cohesive concept for each “land.” Future World needs to keep a common theme among all the attractions, or else it’ll feel like it does now, which is a jumbled mess.

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  8. Gary Pearson

    With the World showcase, I’d like to see a more in depth look at the cultures of the nations, being the basic cliche theme park approach. (Canada! Lumber Jacks!) For instance Canada, where I’m from was the home of Leonard Cohen. Margaret Atwood is a great author. How about Arcade Fire or even Drake being celebrated. The way EPCOT explores nations is too shallow. What if you had a Canadian Authors weekend at the Canada attraction. What if a name entertainer from France that we don’t know, did a concert there. Actually go deeper.

    Also, obviously the place needs more countries. Too much of the world simply is not there.

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  9. Heather

    Innoventions and the Wonders of Life spaces definitely need to be put to use. I think it has been difficult for them to try and keep up to date tech in innoventions, because things have been developing so rapidly the past 10-15 years.

    The Future World can use a face lift. Nothing drastic. But a refreshed look. (Archways, benches , lights, sculptures etc) I hate to say it but putting those walls with visitors faces engraved in the front was a poor idea in the long run. Now they can’t really move them, but I’d figure they will have to eventually as they are showing their age.

    The Land needs updating , which I believe they are in the process of already. There’s been a lot of up dates in the way we work with agriculture.

    In the Sea the fish tanks need cleaning and work.

    The building between England and Canada should be used more often or for something else. I know its used for events and competitions, but rest of the time it looms in the background. You would think using it more than a few times a year would be ideal.

    I had thought I read somewhere the Universe of Energy pavilion was going to house a new Gaurdians of the Galaxy Ride/ Exhibit.

    I do not know if they have adequate room to add more countries. I had a map as a kid that showed Australia and another country I can’t remember. Wish I still had it. But I’d love to see Scotland or Australia added.

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  10. MegaZone

    If they can find a way to use Marvel in Orlando they could turn Future World into Stark Expo and use all the comic and MCU elements that brings. It’d fit in with the Guardians concept and the sci-fi-ish architecture of Future World would work very well for Stark Expo.

    Reply
    1. Disney Mike

      I would agree with this, but they’d have to really do it right and make sure the entire land fits the concept. I hate the idea of some old attractions being shoehorned into a new theme, like keeping Nemo in a land that’s supposed to be about the MCU. I would also hate to see a lone Marvel attraction stuck in Future World, like a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction where the Universe of Energy is now. I’d love such a ride, but not as part of Future World.

      Of course, Disney would have to buy back the rights to use the Marvel characters from Universal if they were going to do this, and that seems unlikely at this point.

      Reply

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