Twenty-seven years ago, for the first time, I visited Epcot Center in Walt Disney World Florida.
It was considered new then, opened in late 1982. I was amazed from the moment I saw the gigantic globe of Spaceship Earth and stopped for a photo at the Kodak picture spot. Epcot was just the second park to be built in WDW, 11 years after the Magic Kingdom. Disney MGM (Hollywood) Studios, Animal Kingdom and the water parks would tail Epcot in the following years.
Epcot has two sections, the Future World and the World Showcase. In the first years, the Future World was the main attraction. Its parts, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Living with the Land displayed cutting-end technology and beyond, offering a glimpse of what the future had in store for us. The World Showcase could be considered the “Present World,” or even “The Past World.” People did enjoy this second half of the park and would go there after visiting the first.
You could stroll, stop to take pictures, eat and drink international fare. Maybe even do a little shopping, ignoring the outrageous prices. Truthfully the Showcase was practically a filler, a place to wander while waiting for the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth light show at 9:00 PM.
Over the next years, along with my wife and daughter, I visited Epcot at least half-dozen times. At every occasion, Epcot’s Future World looked less like the future. As the 21st century evolved, the Disney organization got caught by surprise with the incredible speed of the technology “out there.” The communication, energy, computer, web revolution left Epcot’s futuristic vision eating dirt. They just couldn’t keep up with how fast innovation was going. There was another factor: Epcot had signed contracts with some big corporations that missed the tech boat and couldn’t keep their attractions au pair with their innovation-savvy peers. Just as an example, GM still sponsors Test Track (previously the World of Motion, closed in 1996). After the ride, you have to pass a showroom with Chevrolet cars, that are not exactly futuristic. Tesla would be a much better candidate. There is no mention about “self-driving cars,” that is the way of the future.
I am convinced Future World became a liability: Epcot is the last of the four Disney Orlando parks in attendance with 12 million people per year in 2017, while the Magic Kingdom reached 20 million. The growth in public in Epcot that year was +4%, while the Animal Kingdom achieved +12%.
I now live in Tampa, about an hour drive to Orlando, and I bought an annual pass for the Disney parks. It is just great to go there, not to pay for parking and enjoy some hours of fun, without trying to squeeze every minute and go to every attraction.
At Epcot, I have observed that the World Showcase section is now busier than the Future World. That part is fun; you can drink German beer, French wine, eat at the Teppan house in Japan, have pasta in Italy, great pastries at France’s boulangerie, watch an English band playing the Beatles. You walk around in the evening and see people enjoying themselves, instead of staying in line for an attraction.
The World Showcase remains with precisely all countries it opened: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada. Every one of the countries is worthwhile to some degree (except Canada’s 360o CircleVision film, that was shot early in the 80s, and had a small update 12 years ago).
In contrast, more than 15 Future World attractions have closed since the park’s inauguration, and that will continue to happen, as technological disruption occurs faster and faster.
What is the solution for the future of Epcot? To me is a no-brainer. Get rid of the Future World and bring other countries to populate that part of the park. There are plenty of options; choose from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, Guatemala, India, Peru, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, etc etc. etc.
Disney World park visitors love international, multicultural stuff. A proof? Take the “It’s a Small World After All” Magic Kingdom ride, initially created in 1964 for the NY World Fair. It is 2019, and this tame, dated ride still draws lines of one hour or more.
If “Small World” can still do that, imagine what an “Epcot’s Global Showcase” could do.
It‘s a Big World After All.