Article by Storybook Traveler Jay Russell.
On October 1, 1982, Walt Disney World opened its second gate, EPCOT Center. In honor of the 40th Anniversary, let’s take a look back at the history of this amazing theme park.
Opening Day EPCOT Center was a very different park than it is today. So, what was there on Day 1? As you entered the park, you would first see Spaceship Earth sponsored by Bell. This is commonly referred to as “the giant golf ball”. Inside the first geodesic sphere ever is an amazing dark ride that takes you through the history of communication. It was originally written by Ray Bradbury narrated by Vic Perrin and. You board an omnimover and are taken through history to see great moments in communication such as; the first cave paintings, the creation of papyrus, a performance of Oedipus Rex, Michelangelo, and many others, all leading to the view of earth from the top of the sphere. In the post show area, you had the ability to video chat (this was huge back in 1982!) with Cast Members to set up dining reservations or just get some assistance on your trip.
Our next stop is Communicore East and Communicore West. These two buildings housed a quick service restaurant, some small shows about technology and communication, computer demonstrations, and other educational information.
Moving along, we will visit The Land Pavilion, sponsored by Kraft. This Pavilion contained the Listen to the Land boat ride which taught about the land and agriculture. It was narrated by an actual live cast member who would explain what you were seeing and give additional information. There was also Kitchen Kabaret, an audio-animatronic show about nutrition, The Harvest Theatre showing Symbiosis, a film about human interaction with the land, the Farmer’s Market Food Court, and The Good Turn Restaurant.
Now let’s move on to the Journey Into Imagination Pavilion, home of the beloved little purple dragon, Figment and his buddy Dreamfinder. Sadly, they would not be there on Day One. This attraction would open 3 months later. I have left it here because the main pavilion was open on Day 1, just not the ride itself. This is probably one of the most loved, and missed, attractions in Epcot today. It is not extinct, but the ride has been so altered from the original it’s a little sad. On Journey Into Imagination, we learned about art, drama, and, most of all, IMAGINATION. Bet you didn’t see that coming. There was also a 3D theater showing Magic Journeys and the ImageWorks Laboratories.
Heading to the other side of Future World, we will visit the Universe of Energy. This was an astounding 45-minute attraction that taught about all forms of energy, especially fossil fuels, as it was sponsored by Exxon.
Our final stop in Future World is The World of Motion. This General Motors sponsored pavilion contained the classic World of Motion Attraction, the Transcenter Auto Display, and the animated film The Water Engine.
As we continue our tour of EPCOT Center Day One we come to the World Showcase surrounding the World Showcase Lagoon. Just like Future World, World Showcase was a very different place in 1982.
The first stop will be the Canada Pavilion. Here you will find the Circle Vision 360 film O Canada, Le Cellier Restaurant, and various gift shops.
Next stop, the UK Pavilion. On the streets of Great Britain, you will find The Rose and Crown Pub & Dining Room, Pringle of Scotland shop, His Lordship shop, and Toy Soldier shop.
The next country we will peek into is France and the France Pavilion. Here you will find the Eiffel Tower in the distance (I spent an hour trying to find where I could get closer when I was a mere lad). Among the beautiful architecture are some amazing restaurants, such as Le Chefs De France, Boulangerie Patisserie, and Au Petit Cafe.
Heading to the Japan Pavilion we encounter the Torii Gate and the five story tall Pagoda. Contained in Japan is the Mitsukoshi Department Store, Yakitori House, and the Teppanyaki Dining Room.
Continuing on around the World Showcase Lagoon, we reach the midway point and The American Adventure. In this Colonial style building you would find the audio-animatronic show The American Adventure, the Liberty Inn Restaurant, and the America Gardens Amphitheater.
Next up, is the Italy Pavilion. Here we can grab a bite to eat at L’Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante Restaurant, or do some shopping for Italian souvenirs.
Our next country to visit is the Germany Pavilion. Near the statue of St. George and the Dragon you can stop into Biergarten for a great buffet and show, or visit one of the several shops like the Weinkeller Shop, Der Teddybar, or Glas und Porzellan.
Next on the path around is the China Pavilion. Here you would find the Temple of Heaven and the Circle Vision 360 film Wonders of China.
Our final stop around the world is the Mexico Pavilion. Inside the pyramid are the Rio Del Tiempo boat ride, the Cantina de San Angel Restaurant, and many gift shops.
Some of you may be wondering, “Is that it?” Well, on Day One, yes that was it. There were no characters (with the exception of Dreamfinder and Figment in Future World), it was very “Un-Disney”, there were no thrill rides, and there were no seasonal festivals. The focus was on edutainment, education mixed with entertainment. You may also have noticed that there were only 2-3 attractions in World Showcase and several missing from Future World. Fear not. Those are coming.
I clearly remember being an 8-9 year old kid who loved Future World and hated World Showcase. EPCOT Center was not the Magic Kingdom and I just didn’t get it. It was just so different from what I knew about Disney.
That being said, EPCOT Center was very different from what Walt had proposed and wanted to build. EPCOT was an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. It was designed as a true city of the future, not a theme park. The theme park was to be a part of EPCOT and the city would house the workers as well as many other businesses and services. If you ever ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover you can see a part of the original model for EPCOT. Yes, that big model of Progress City is only a part of the EPCOT model.
FROM EPCOT CENTER TO EPCOT
Now, let’s hop back on the Wayback Machine and head to 1983 for the first EPCOT Center expansion. Horizons. Still under construction on Opening Day, Horizons was the spiritual successor to Carousel of Progress. This attraction was supposed to continue the story of our favorite family from Carousel of Progress with the next generation. Horizons opened on October 1, 1983. There was nothing else in this pavilion, only the attraction.
Of all the extinct EPCOT Center/Epcot attractions, I think this is the most missed. It presented a hopeful and optimistic view of the future where if we could dream it we could do it. In my opinion, it was the quintessential EPCOT Center attraction. It defined the EPCOT Center experience. I could write an entire blog about Horizons (maybe an idea for the future), but we have a lot more ground to cover over the next 39 years.
In September 1984, the Morocco Pavilion opened in World Showcase. This is, as of this writing, the only Pavillion in Epcot that was constructed with assistance from the government of the nation being represented. The King of Morocco actually sent artists to design and create many of the mosaics featured within.
In January 1986, The Living Seas opened. Inside this beautiful pavilion you would see a short educational film, ride the Hydrolators down to the bottom of the sea floor, experience the Caribbean Coral Reef on the SeaCabs, and then enter the aquarium portion of SeaBase Alpha. This pavilion was sponsored by United Technologies. When it opened, it was the largest man-made ocean habitat in the world. Each of the acrylic windows looking into the aquarium weighs 9000 pounds.
On January 30, 1988 Illuminations opened on the World Showcase Lagoon. This nightly pyrotechnic and light show was designed and produced by Don Dorsey and was sponsored by General Electric.
On July 5, 1988 the Norway Pavilion opened Maelstrom. This was a leisurely longboat journey through the real and mythical Norway, complete with an amazing flume aspect. The original flume ending would drop you into a massive storm at sea complete with rain and lightning. This effect did not last very long. In fact, it may not have even been operating at opening due to the use of tesla coils to create the lightning, but there are some very limited photos out there of this.
Moving forward to October 19, 1989 the Wonders of Life pavilion opened. It was sponsored by Metropolitan Life and would focus on health and biology. Inside this pavilion was the simulator ride Body Wars, the Cranium Command show, and opening on October 30, The Making of Me film. Body Wars was an action packed thrill ride through the human body. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, and starred Tim Matheson and Elizabeth Shue. Cranium Command was a show with Buzzy and showed the brain and body working together to run a teenager through the day. The Making of Me was a documentary about pregnancy and childbirth.
On January 12, 1990 the International Gateway opened. If you have stayed at an Epcot Resort, you have probably used this back entrance into Epcot’s World Showcase.
On July 1, 1994 Innoventions replaced CommuniCore.
November 21, 1994 Honey I Shrunk the Audience would replace Magic Journeys in the Imagination Pavilion. The IP invasion begins.
On January 21, 1995 Circle of Life An Environmental Fable replaced Symbiosis in the Land Pavilion.
September 15, 1996 Ellen’s Energy Adventure replaced the Universe of Energy. This update brought Ellen Degeneres and Bill Nye into the Universe of Energy Pavilion. It also featured Jamie Lee Curtis and Alex Trebek.
January 1, 1997 was a great day for entertainment in Epcot. The British Invasion live band premiered in the UK and Off Kilter premiered in Canada.
March 16, 1999 Test Track replaces World of Motion. Test Track was a high speed run through the testing that cars go through before you get one in your garage. Originally slated to open in May of 1997, it was delayed due to technical issues on several occasions. After the ride, you would exit the pavilion through the Assembly Experience.
October 1, 1999 Journey Into YOUR Imagination replaced Journey Into Imagination. Figment and Dreamfinder were removed to bring in a new story about the Imagination Institute from Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Nigel Channing, played by Eric Idle from Monty Python fame, would insult you by saying you had no imagination and that he would fix that on a tour of the Imagination Institute. The ride path was also drastically shortened.
June 1, 2002 Journey Into Imagination With Figment replaced Journey Into YOUR Imagination. This update would bring Figment back into the Imagination Pavilion, but DreamFinder was still missing. Eric Idle reprises his role as Dr. Nigel Channing. This was in direct response to the audience’s disapproval of the new version. Rumor is that they destroyed the turntable in the original ride during the first update, so the original layout was gone forever.
May 22, 2003 Reflections of China opens in the China Pavilion. This CircleVision 360 movie replaced Wonders of China.
October 1, 2003 saw the opening of Mission Space in the former area for Horizons. Mission Space was sponsored by Compaq originally, transferring over to HP during construction. This is an intense centrifuge simulator attraction originally hosted by Gary Sinise that takes you to Mars. Over the years, Mission Space would sadly, claim 2 lives. The first was a 4 year old boy with an undiagnosed heart condition, the second was a 49 year old woman who suffered a stroke due to high blood pressure. Several others have been transported to the hospital with dizziness and nausea. It should be noted that the majority of these complaints are from people who were not in the best condition to ride having issues that the warning signs clearly mention. After these issues, a “green” version of the ride was opened. This reduced/removed the centrifuge aspect creating a smoother and less intense mission.
November 16, 2004 Turtle Talk with Crush opened at The Living Seas. This is an interesting example of digital puppetry. Guests can watch and interact with Crush from Finding Nemo. A cast member backstage provides the voice while Crush is animated on the fly speaking to and interacting with guests.
On May 5, 2005 Soarin’ opened in The Land Pavilion. This was a clone of Soarin’ Over California opened in 2001 in California Adventure at Disneyland. A fun hang gliding simulator with a beautiful set of visuals and music as well as some smell (gotta love that orange grove scent).
November 27, 2006 saw The Living Seas Pavilion rethemed and renamed to The Seas with Nemo and Friends. This reimagining of The Living Seas brought your favorite characters into the aquarium areas and also brought back a version of the SeaCabs.
On April 2, 2007 El Rio Del Tiempo reopened as the Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico Pavilion. What was once an interesting travelog of Mexico was reduced to an IP driven journey to find Donald Duck. This is still a great boat ride, and the opening scene with the pyramid and sailing past the dining area of the San Angel Inn is particuarly beautiful.
May 20, 2007 continues the IP integration in Epcot with the Meet Disney Pals at Epcot area in Innoventions West. Here, you could meet some of your favorite Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy. Next door, you could also meet Joy and Sadness from Inside Out and Baymax from Big Hero Six.
On October 14, 2009 The Sum of All Thrills opened at Innoventions East. Sponsored by Raytheon, this attraction allowed guests to create and ride their own roller coaster. You would design your bobsled track, roller coaster track, or jet flight path on a computer station, then you would board a KUKA robotic arm to ride your design.
July 2, 2010 saw the reopening of Captain EO at the Imagination Pavilion due to the death of Michael Jackson, who starred in the film.
Over the next several years, Epcot began to stagnate. Fewer attractions were built/updated, but entertainment changed constantly. The British Revolution replaced The British Invasion, The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats began performing in China, Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure debuted, and sadly, Off Kilter was replaced with Alberta Bound.
April 18, 2015 brought the Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival to the Imagination Pavilion to replace Captain EO.
June 21, 2016 saw Frozen Ever After open. It replaced Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion. Many were upset at the change and the new focus on a fictional nation within the Norway Pavilion. As disappointing as the change was, it was a natural progression for Epcot with the new focus on IP inclusion within the park. The Meet and Greet with Anna and Elsa also premiered this day
November 2018, the Buzzy Animatronic from Cranium Command is reported stolen. Buzzy was the host of Cranium Command in The Land Pavilion. His whereabouts are still unknown as of this writing. Some of Buzzy’s parts were discovered in the possession of Milwaukee Bucks center Robin Lopez, according to records.
September 2019, Disney announces major updates coming to Epcot. These include a reimagined Spaceship Earth, an update to the central spine, new attractions coming, and new festival centers.
October 1, 2019 brought some big changes. Epcot Forever replaced Illuminations: Reflections of Earth as the new nighttime spectacular. Walt Disney Imagineering Presents the EPCOT Experience also opened in the Odyssey area.
January 17, 2020 several new attractions premiered. Awesome Planet opened in The Land Pavilion replacing the Lion King film. The Beauty and the Beast Sing Along opened in the France Pavilion. Canada: Far and Wide premiered in the Canada Pavilion. These first steps on the road to a revitalized Epcot were well received and Epcot’s future is looking brighter than ever.
March 15, 2020 the World shut down. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all of Walt Disney World Resort closed its doors.
July 15, 2020 Epcot reopens under heavy restrictions. Masks were required everywhere, rides were modified to allow for special cleaning at regular intervals, and park reservations are introduced requiring you to book a park pass for the day you want to go. This was introduced to help control crowds during the early days of the pandemic, but this restriction has stayed and does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
October 1, 2021 the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort is under way and with the celebration comes two new offerings at Epcot. The new nighttime show, Harmonious, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in France.
May 27, 2022 saw the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind open in the former Universe of Energy area. Disney’s first ever storytelling coaster brings the thrills to Epcot.
October 1, 2022 saw nothing really done to celebrate the 40th Anniversary with the exception of merchandise and long lines to acquire it.
Today, we still look and marvel at the construction walls and plans for the future of Epcot. We hear rumors of a new attraction, we hear a new attraction was canceled, we hear another was paused. The future of Epcot is strong. It needs love and attention both by guests and by Imagineering and even by Disney leadership.
As of this writing, we are still waiting on Journey of Water, the festival center, and some refurbishments of a few attractions that really need it. We hope for that Mary Poppins attraction to come back from the dead, much like the Spaceship Earth reimagining. We await our new statue of Walt himself to be installed
The future is bright and we look forward to another 40 years of Epcot Memories
The opinions in this blog represent the opinions of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of StoryBook World Travel.
Article by Storybook Traveler Jay Russell.