At what point did EPCOT Center become Epcot? By this, I mean, at which point did the original vision change to what we have today? The proverbial “straw that broke the theme park’s back,” if you will.
First, some ground rules for this discussion. Let’s consider “original” EPCOT Center to be the theme park that opened in 1982, as opposed to Walt Disney’s dream for the E.P.C.O.T. that would have been an actual city that people lived and worked in.
In 1982, the name of the park was EPCOT Center. Here’s a look at the first park map, taken from the museum display on October 1, 1007 (the day the park celebrated its 25th anniversary):
I have one of these maps, though it’s not preserved as well. Mine was on my wall as a child, and has been folded and unfolded many times, and kept in storage since then.
We will extend this “original Epcot” to include items that were not quite ready yet, but were added during the park’s first decade.
First, we have to ignore the Equatorial Africa (Future) as shown on this map since it was never built. We can include Morocco (also listed as Future) and Horizons (listed with a specific opening month). We will also include items this map didn’t even tease us with: Norway and Wonders of Life.
The original vision of the Future World side of the park was based around concepts such as Imagination, Energy, Motion and Communication. Then we had things like The Seas and The Land. Even at the start, the theme of Future World wasn’t fully cohesive, but each area had an icon, and it somehow all linked together quite nicely — at least through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy.
I visited EPCOT Center the first summer it was open (1983). Because of Future World, it immediately became my favorite park. A few years later, though, I went back to liking Magic Kingdom the best. I wonder why? Was it after changes started being made, or did I just grow bored with the limited offerings compared to the castle park?
Finding Future World turning points are probably the easy.
World of Motion was an elaborate omnimover dark ride through animatronic scenes. It closed in 1996 (sadly, before I visited with my digital camera). In 1998, it became Test Track, a high speed thrill ride…
The theme of being in a General Motors auto testing facility didn’t quite fit with the surrounding pavilion concepts. This was definitely a turning point.
And then there was Horizons, which represented the vision of EPCOT better than anything else in the park:
It was closed in 1999. It reopened in 2003 as Mission: Space, a high speed thrill ride:
Mission Space is one of the few Disney attractions I will probably never ride. I can’t do spinny rides and, apparently, I’m not alone. Not too long after it opened, they halted one of the centrifuges and created a tame version of the ride that lets you watch the video without the spinning. I’ve at least gotten to ride that one, but why did Disney even build such an extreme ride for any of their parks, let alone Epcot?
Many other Future World attractions were updated, but they mostly retained the original concept or theme. Kitchen Cabaret became Food Rocks, Listen to the Land became Living With the Land, and Journey into Imagination changed, removing all the elaborate sets and animatronics and becoming a much shorter ride … then adding some of the animatronics back in a second update.
There were also changes to Communicore with the introduction of Innoventions, but I still think the concept of “real tech of literal tomorrow” made sense and could fit in fine if constantly updated. (I saw a “digital versatile disc” player for the first time there, and also a glasses-free 3-D display. One of these items became very popular, and the other I am still waiting on…)
Let’s move to the other side of the pond now…
World Showcase has remained fundamentally the same. Beyond the expansion of restaurants and more bars, the biggest change has been the insertion of Disney characters. Mexico’s El Rio del Tiemo (River of Time) became Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros…
Norway’s Maelstrom became Frozen Ever After:
There weren’t many other attractions on this side of the park, else maybe there would be more updates like these two. But now that the park has changed, a Ratatouille ride coming to France seems to fit right in with this “new” Epcot. Probably.
So what was “patient zero” of this transformation from EPCOT Center to Epcot? The name officially became Epcot ’94 in 1994, and then Epcot ’95 a year later, then just Epcot. At some point the logo changed into a more whimsical one than the sleek 1980s futuristic one it opened with.
But surely this started happening before 1994. All I know is, the EPCOT Center I fell in love with is long gone. I like what is there, but mostly for the food and drinks. I wonder how popular the park would be without all the alcohol…
Maybe I can revisit this topic in the future.
Until next time…