Published: February 15, 2014
EPCOT was supposed to be built on the site where the theme park now stands. The monorail was to connect the city with the Magic Kingdom theme park, as well as with a transportation hub on the southern edge of Disney World property, where the community of Celebration now stands. This transportation hub was to include a massive parking lot for visitors to the resort, as well as a high-speed train station, and maybe even an airport.
After Walt Disney's death in December 1966, the company decided against building and managing a city, especially without Walt's guidance. However, Walt's original vision for Epcot as a fully-functioning municipality did push the Walt Disney company to convince the Florida legislature to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District and Lake Buena Vista, new government entities effectively controlled by the Walt Disney Company, which continue to allow the company great latitude in developing the Walt Disney World Resort.
Yet the ideal of Epcot continued to intrigue people inside and outside the company in the late 1960s and 1970s. When Imagineers considered developing Epcot as a theme park, some wanted the park to focus on new technology, while others wanted to showcase international culture. Eventually, they pushed the two plans together and created the hourglass-shaped combination of Future World and World Showcase that we know as Epcot today. It was Disney's first theme park not to be a Disneyland-like "Magic Kingdom."
The park's iconic geosphere, Spaceship Earth, dominates Future World. Behind it lie the twin Innoventions buildings, which house an often-changing variety of corporate-sponsored exhibits and Disney character meet-and-greets. Behind Innoventions, you'll find half a dozen major pavilion buildings housing attractions devoted to energy, space, transportation, imagination, agriculture, and the sea.
Beyond Future World lies World Showcase, a tribute to several nations around the world. These national pavilions surround the World Showcase Lagoon, which is the site of the popular IllumiNations laser and fireworks show that plays each evening in the park at closing time. Food is the main attraction in the national pavilions, most of which offer highly popular table-service restaurants serving their national cuisine. (Curiously, the American pavilion is the only one without a table service restaurant, just a couple of counter-service eateries.) Canada, France, and China offer travelogue movies about their countries, and the Mexico and Norway pavilions offer short indoor rides. You'll find an impressive Audio-Animatronic history pageant in the American pavilion, and the Germany and Morocco pavilions offer live entertainment inside their signature restaurants.
Epcot relied heavily on corporate and international sponsorship in developing its many pavilions, and the massive capital investment Disney made in the park not only jump-started the company's theme park division, which had languished creatively following the completion of projects underway at the time of Walt's death, it helped launch the careers of many influential theme park design professionals. However, progress eventually stalled and Disney's not added a new Future World pavilion since building Mission: Space in 2003 and hasn't added a World Showcase pavilion since Norway in 1988. Still, Epcot draws more than 11 million visitors a year, making it the nation's third most-popular theme park, behind the Magic Kingdom and California's Disneyland.
Epcot hosts the popular International Food & Wine Festival in September through November and a Flower & Garden Festival in the spring. Both events feature special exhibits and cuisine offered at booths set up around World Showcase, and both events are included in your park admission as they happen during regular operating hours.
Most days, World Showcase attractions and restaurants open two hours after the Future World pavilions. But that's no big deal for visitors trying to beat the crowds with an early-morning start, since none of the World Showcase attractions typically draw much of a wait, even on busy days, and advance reservations (up to 90 days before your visit) are a must for the popular restaurants anyway.