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A Look Back at 40 Years of EPCOT

EPCOT - spaceship earth and balloons

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of the opening of EPCOT at Walt Disney World, so I thought it would be fun to look at the park’s history and milestones to commemorate it.

In the Beginning

EPCOT, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, may have opened on October 1, 1982, but its genesis goes back much further to when Walt Disney himself was planning Walt Disney World.

In 1966, Walt recorded a film outlining plans for the Florida Project, including details for Walt Disney World Resort.

Here he is explaining his idea for EPCOT:

Making the Idea a Reality

As we know, Walt never got to see EPCOT become a reality, but in 1978, Card Walker, President and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, announced plans for EPCOT at the International Chamber of Commerce, where he even presented concepts to President Jimmy Carter, the ICC’s keynote speaker.

The following year, construction begins on EPCOT.

Opening Walt’s Dream

Dreams become plans, and on October 1, 1982, plans became reality when EPCOT opened to the public.

At the time of opening, it had five Future World pavilions: Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination and The Land.

It also had nine World Showcase pavilions representing Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Along with the park opening, a new four-mile extension of the Walt Disney World Monorail System opens, extending from the Ticket and Transportation Center to EPCOT.

EPCOT - building Mexico pavilion

The Grand Opening

The formal grand opening was held over three days, with “Carnval de Lumiere” debuting on October 23 as the the park’s first nightly show on the lagoon.

It celebrated world festivals with fountains, film, music, and other effects, but due to the rear projection screens on barges floating on the World Showcase Lagoon, the show could only be seen from points in the Canada and Mexico pavilions.

The theme park’s official dedication was held on October 24, 1982.

In his dedication, Card Walker said, “May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.”

EPCOT - grand opening with Card Walker

EPCOT in the 80s

The park continues to grow as its first decade sees several new additions.

In 1983, on the park’s one-year anniversary, “Horizons” makes its debut in Future World. Featuring a first-of-its kind ride system, the attraction gives guests a glimpse of what life might be like in the future.

In 1984, the World Showcase adds the Morocco pavilion, and the France pavilion, opens its second signature restaurant, Bistro de Paris.

In 1985, the China pavilion opens both the Nine Dragons table-service restaurant, and the Lotus Blossum Café.

1986 saw the opening of “The Living Seas,” which had a a 5.7-million-gallon aquarium as its centerpiece. Home to more than 200 species of marine life, it was the world’s largest aquarium at the time.

EPCOT introduced the new nighttime show “IllumiNations” in 1988, along with the new Norway pavilion that also had a ride, “Maelstorm.”

The park finished the 80s with the opening of the “Wonders of Life” pavilion in Future World, which offered an educational and fun look at health and fitness.

Mickey scuba diving at The Living Seas at EPCOT

EPCOT in the 90s

The first phase of the EPCOT Resort Area opens in 1990 with the debut of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (Nov. 5) and Disney’s Beach Club Resort (Nov. 19).

The following year brings  Walt Disney World Swan Hotel (Jan. 13) and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (June 4).

All within walking distance of the theme park, the collection of resorts significantly expands lodging and convention options.

Epcot Flower and Garden 1990s

In 1994, the inaugural EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival debuts, and “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” a lively interactive 3-D adventure, opens in the Journey Into Imagination pavilion.

The same year, Innoventions pavilion replaces Communicore, and the “Candlelight Processional” moves to EPCOT from Magic Kingdom, where it had been presented since 1971.

With the move to America Gardens Theater, the show was able to expand to multiple nightly performances throughout the holiday season.

“Ellen’s Energy Adventure” debuts in 1995, bringing a new storyline and humor to what was previously Universe of Energy.

In 1996, the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival makes its debut to the delight of foodies everywhere.

EPCOT finishes the decade by opening “Test Track,” the park’s first thrill attraction, in 1999.

It also kicked off the 15-month Millenium Celebration, which includes the debut of “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth”, that will run for 20 years.

EPCOT 2000

EPCOT in the 2000s

The park takes guests into outer space with the opening of “Mission: SPACE” in 2003 in the location of the former Horizons pavilion.

“Turtle Talk with Crush” opens in The Living Seas in 2004. The first-of-its kind attraction enables Crush from Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” to talk with guests, as he learns about humans and shares his stories of life in the ocean.

In 2005, “Soarin’” opens in The Land pavilion, taking guests on a breathtaking aerial adventure over iconic California locations.

The Living Seas pavilion is transformed to become “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” pavilion. Its official dedication takes place Jan. 24, 2007.

Also in 2007, “Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros” opens inside the Mexico pavilion. A re-imagining of the pavilion’s opening-day boat ride “El Río del Tiempo (River of Time),” the updated attraction features Donald Duck, José Carioca and Pistoles Panchito from Walt Disney’s 1942 film “Saludos Amigos.”

After extensive renovations, Spaceship Earth reopens in 2008 with an expanded storyline, and new narration that follows the history of human innovation from prehistoric times to the 21st century.

EPCOT in the 2010s

This decade sees a revamp of “Test Track” in 2012, now sponsored by Chevrolet, which now allows guests to design their own vehicles before setting off on a thrilling test drive.

L’Artisan des Glaces Ice Cream shop opens in the France pavilion in 2013, and the following year, Spice Road Table opens in the Morocco pavilion.

In 2016, “Frozen Ever After” opens in the Norway pavilion, replacing “Maelstrom.” Along with the ride-through attraction, Royal Sommerhus opens, allowing Queen Elsa and Princess Anna to meet with guests inside a charming cabin.

Across the park, “Soarin’ Around the World” also debuts in 2016 in The Land pavilion.

The year ends with new holiday experiences as part of what is now the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays.

The EPCOT International Festival of the Arts debuts in 2018, expanding the park’s festival offerings to all four seasons.

The decade ends with the beginning of a historic multi-year transformation of EPCOT, which is announced at D23 Expo 2019. Takumi-Tei restaurant also opens in the Japan pavilion.

Frozen Ever After

The Last Two Years

Despite a pandemic closure, the last two years at EPCOT have seen a lot of change, including several new attractions and restaurants.

2020 saw the addition of three new films in the World Showcase, the opening of the Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts and Barbecue at The American Adventure pavilion, and a transformation of the main entrance is completed with the unveiling of a new fountain, inspired by one that originally debuted with the theme park’s 1982 opening.

2021 brought “Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure,” a new ride-through 4D experience inspired by Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” and a new restaurant, La Crêperie de Paris, in the newly expanded France pavilion.

It also saw Space 220 restaurant opening in the “Mission: SPACE” pavilion, and a new signature store, Creations Shop, which replaced MouseGears.

“Harmonious,” a new nighttime spectacular, also debuts as part of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

Finally, we learn the park has been given new designations on the map. World Showcase still exists, but the front part of the park is now divided into three new “Neighborhoods”: World Celebration, World Discovery and World Nature.

As part of the transformation of the park, this year, 2022, saw Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind open in the Wonders of Xandar pavilion (formerly Universe of Energy), while the Connections Café and Eatery opened nearby.

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

The Future

While EPCOT celebrates its 40th Anniversary today, there’s still more in store for guests in the next few years.

Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro shared a look into the future for the park at this year’s D23 Expo.

The next major milestone in EPCOT’s multi-year transformation will include the completion of the World Celebration neighborhood in late 2023.

It will also be home to “Dreamers Point,” an inspiring new area where you can view the new Walt Disney statue called “Walt the Dreamer.”

Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana” will also open in late 2023, inviting guests to follow the story of water on the planet, inspired by Moana’s connection to the ocean.

EPCOT - World Nature art rendering

Fan-favorite character Figment will return to do meet-and-greets with park guests by the end of 2023.

And an all new nighttime spectacular will debut in late 2023 at EPCOT for the “Disney100” Celebration.

EPCOT may be 40, but its current transformation will help the park go another 40 years and more of entertaining Disney guests.

What are Your Favorite Memories?

In the 40 years since its opening, EPCOT has given millions of park guests the opportunity to make lasting memories.

What have been your favorite EPCOT memories? Let us know in the comments.