Theme Park of the Day: Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Fix this theme park: Epcot

August 14, 2012, 1:35 PM · Today, we're starting a short series looking at how a few popular theme parks could better achieve their potential. We're starting with Walt Disney World's Epcot, a park that's beloved by a few, but that's failed to earn the widespread praise that's needed to push more of its attractions toward the top of our reader ratings.

Epcot might be the world's most unique theme park. Its theme is nonfiction, after all - a Future World devoted to science and technology, and a World Showcase themed to several nations around the planet. But while this unique nonfiction approach creates enormous potential, that difference carries risk. Many visitors simply don't know what to make of a nonfiction theme park. And given the changes Disney's made to the park over the years, I suspect that, at times, Disney doesn't know what to make of it, either.

The people are the only lively things in this picture.

So how to fulfill Epcot's potential? What can be done to help more people love this park? I'd like to start this discussion by highlighting three fundamental problems I see with the park, and suggesting potential solutions.

1. The entrance looks like a mausoleum.

2. Xenophobia and opposition to science have become socially acceptable in America.

3. Disney can't predict the future, anyway.

I'll be writing about Future World today, because, to me, there's no major problem with World Showcase that a new country pavilion with a well-designed narrative ride wouldn't fix. (The xenophobe Disney fans whose "love" for America causes them to hate all things "foreign" can just shove it, as far as I'm concerned.)

So let's start our analysis of Future World, appropriately, with the entrance. The addition of Buena Vista Street to Disney California Adventure illustrates how a new entrance can reset the tone for an entire theme park. Unfortunately, the "Leave a Legacy" blocks Disney installed at the front of Epcot years ago left the park's entrance looking like a graveyard. Many fans have cracked jokes about the dark granite monuments being a tribute to "all the people who died" in the park.

Many of the people who do love Epcot love it because the park actually represents quite the opposite. At its best, Epcot is and has been a tribute to discovery, opportunity, and the eternal possibilities that life offers us. The park's entrance ought to reflect that optimism. But it won't until Disney find a way to remove or relocate Leave a Legacy and to remake the entrance into the type of inviting space that Buena Vista Street now provides for California Adventure.

I'd suggest that Disney look to its best theme park, Tokyo DisneySea, and borrow the name of one of its lands, "Port Discovery," for the new version of Future World. Instead of funneling all visitors through a pinch-point under Spaceship Earth, where you can't see the thing, let's remake Epcot's entrance into a grand semi-circle plaza, with Spaceship Earth in its center. That way, people can flow around the geosphere, seeing it the whole time as they walk through the plaza and into the park.

That redesign would open up space for the highly-themed cafes, shops, and the small performance and meet-and-greet spaces that can make Epcot's Port Discovery a living invitation into the world of Epcot, instead of looking like a closed, ossified monument to the dead, as it does now. The southern edge of the plaza, behind Spaceship Earth, would then open up to the pavilions, making clearer pathways into the park that we have now with the Innoventions buildings blocking the way.

A warmer, more lively entrance to the park is essential because Disney can no longer assume that people are excited by science and world culture, as they were when the park opened 30 years ago and before. When Walt Disney was dreaming up his "Florida Project" in the 1960s, America's corporations eagerly spent millions of dollars to promote science - in schools, in media and even in theme parks. When Epcot opened, it drew upon major sponsorships from companies eager to attach their name not just to Disney's, but to the ideals of progressive science.

Today, some of America's largest corporations spend billions of dollars to deny science. Cable TV networks embrace anti-science viewpoints, and state legislatures are being lobbied to spend education funds on curricula that distort or deny scientific research. Disney could use its influence in popular culture to help defend science, but this isn't a company that's ever shown the stomach for overt social action. (See Habit Heroes.) Disney simply doesn't want to risk offending a significant number of customers by fighting the political war over science.

Frankly, I don't think Disney would do very well in that battle, anyway. You see, Disney's got a lousy track record trying to depict the future. Whether it's Epcot's Future World or the various Magic Kingdom Tomorrowlands, within 10 years of opening any of these lands, they look foolishly out of date. Disney's designers and storytellers do their best work not when they try to guess the future, but when they tell the stories of people who showed us the way forward in the past. Let them stick with that, instead of wading overtly into current debates.

Here's where Disney can solve the last two problems at once, the hostility toward science and looking toward the future. When dealing with a controversial issue, it's often best not to take a confrontational approach, but to take a step back. Find a common point of agreement, then take your audience down a different path from there.

So let Disney use Epcot to tell the stories of past leaders such as Hypatia, Omar Khayyam, Galileo, Newton, and even (pushing public resistance a bit) Darwin. Acknowledge that science and discovery have always come with conflict, and inspire us with the triumphs of science over fear and ignorance. Find the drama in discovery, and wow us with stories about that. Create a new characters, if they must, but tell stories that spring from science's history. And don't forget to bring us into the narrative, giving us a chance to feel like a hero, as well. (Then let us take the lessons of the ride from there, and apply them to our lives as we see fit.)

Don't neglect to show us the beauty of science as well. My favorite moment at Tokyo DisneySea was walking through the park's Fortress Explorations, and discovering the Chamber of Planets within it.

Fortress Explorations

Chamber of Planets

What a beautiful place! An Renaissance model of the solar system, one that you can turn yourself, placed in ornate room, topped by an intricate map of the heavens. I found beauty on that intimate scale through DisneySea. Epcot deserves the same. While many of Epcot's pavilions look spectacular from the monorail berm, they lose that beauty close up.

Mission: Space

Beyond the entrance make-over, Disney ought to target several of its most underperforming pavilions for replacement, starting with the Universe of Energy pavilion. From there, attack the (ironically dead) Wonders of Life, and the Imagination pavilion. I'd love to see a ride using Pooh's Hunny Hunt local positioning system technology from Tokyo. But whatever technology Disney employs, it should be in service of emotionally engaging stories about the advancement of human knowledge and technology, set in beautiful detail. No sitcom stars. No pop culture references that won't stand the test of time. (Anyone remember Hans and Franz?)

And don't make the mistake Disney made with Mission: Space, which reduces the wonder of astronomy and space exploration to its most mundane element: Not throwing up during spaceflight. Epcot's pavilions should inspire us to wonder about our potential to discover more of the world. They never should leave us clutching our stomachs and muttering to ourselves: "this stuff isn't for me."

What would you like to see Disney do to improve Epcot?

Next week: Disney's Hollywood Studios

Replies (42)

August 14, 2012 at 1:43 PM · I've said this too many times before, but:

Make WOL useful
Update Energy and Imagination
Add more rides to WS

If those 3 things happened, the park will increase in quality.

August 14, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Robert made a good point earlier this month about film studio parks being flawed because it highlights the most boring part of the whole process, the same can be said for Test Track.

Car safety testing isn't fun. Cars are universally popular amongst petrol heads around the globe, but people love Ferrari's, Mustangs and other fast and fun cars, not the testing process for the latest GM effort.

Why not change test track so that it's a trip through the history of the modern car, travelling back to the great innovators like Henry Ford before swooping into the narrow streets of rural Italy for a segment on Ferrari.

The finale would show what all that innovation over the years has produced, a burst of pure speed around the current Test Track ring. Not too much time and effort to renovate, but a lot better narrative.

August 14, 2012 at 2:41 PM · Robert, you have to know that promoting science and evolution while casting doubt on xenophobia is going to anger an unnamed someone.
August 14, 2012 at 2:52 PM · While I agree with your idea about the park's entrance, I doubt that Disney would ever do anything about it. A lot of people paid money to put blocks up where everyone would see them, but no one would ever look at them.

Not to mention that WDW parks really love the idea of funneling lots of people through a small corridor. Whether it's Main Street USA, Hollywood Boulevard, or Epcot's Journey Under The Golf Tee.

August 14, 2012 at 3:13 PM · This was a well written article. It is nuts how people have become shadowed from the truth with science again. I'm an astrophysists major, and see this problem accure way too often. We are on the verge of HUGE HUGE HUGE science break throughs, but because of people being about God again, the government could care less. I still believe in God, but people really need to realise that we have had some really amazing people in this earth's history that have really pushed us forward. Disney really does need to bring to light these individules, so the world can know how we got to this point with science.

Epcot is the park with the greatest potential. It can be changed at anytime (which they proved in the 90's/early 2000's) which makes this park so exciting at the end of the day. I really do believe its crazy how far we have come with the knowledge of the human body, and yet Disney refuses to do anything with that building at Epcot.

Test track can be altered to be an amazing ride. The history of cars is a fun one to talk about. Show the beginning with GM (which they are promoting a huge anniversary right now in the company), and then show what its even done for hollywood in a segmant and gor from there.

Imagination could really simply be restored to the orginal with todays technology and people would simply LOVE it. I'm sorry disney world fans, but if they are not going to restore Epcot's most known ride by Epcot lovers, than Epcot probably has no future for a while.

From what I can tell by rumors from Epcot, besides Test Track mini update, the next thing to be redone is Illuminations: ROE..... WHAT!!!!??? Why would redo the last thing Epcot really has going for it. That would be one of the last things I would do. What they should do to this illuminations is just redo the technology for this one and thats it. The story and music is perfect for the world showcase setting.

Okay, next up is Energy Adventure. This one kills me, because here I love science to death, and yet this one is boring even for me. Its this simple, the story of energy is just too broad of a subject. Why not narrow it down to the story of light. We can make both the religous and science fans both happy on this one. Start off with "let there be light" and then go into the science part of it all. Then talk about Einstein (Which makes me sooooo made that science's most popular scientist is not hardly represented anywhere in Epcot). Then go into atoms from there. BAM!!!!! we have a ride people. put in enough special effects and any ride can be fun for anyone..... dont just do the video thing like you did for Energy. Go more story telling and physical visuals, and you can appeal to even the kids.

Science can be fun for anyone. Epcot can be an amazing theme park, but for right now, i dont see Disney touching it for at least ten years. The interest is simply not there right now, and companies are still trying to fight off this ressesion.... sooo that does it from here everyone... have a magical day.... all this talk has some how made the theme music of spectromagic get stuck in my head.... HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN!!!.

August 14, 2012 at 3:25 PM · Your comments about corporations being anti-science are a bit over the top.

Energy companies, pharma companies, technology companies, etc., all spend billions of dollars in research and development to develop the innovations that make modern life possible. These companies believe in scientific advancement and the possibilities that new technologies hold for society. We see and enjoy the results of their efforts every day.

The links you included about skepticism toward man-made climate change don't really back up your point of view. That's a singular issue.

August 14, 2012 at 3:37 PM · Man, Robert, I don't think I could do any better than you did in terms of how to fix EPCOT. I would add it really badly needs a coaster (it is one of those rare theme parks that have none) but only if it is Disney quality of course. Other than that, Disney might as well hire Mr. Niles here, he knows exactly what to do!
August 14, 2012 at 5:36 PM · 98, in some cases you're right that its not a valid issue.

But we live in a world where we've seen the Tobacco industry lie to our faces about the health effects of smoking; where oil companies create astroturf groups to throw mud on AGW, supermarkets and food production companies oppose labelling on products so we can actually know whats in the food we eat and thats not to mention the cosmetic ads that bombard us every day (Will someone please tell me how lashes can have "50% more impact" - what the heck does that even mean?).

Some companies believe in advancement, but only so much as to it profits them; untilately it is one of the great flaws in our capitalistic system - when you build organisations who's prime (and only) directive is profit, they will go to extrodinary means to protect it.

Not sure what the solution is, but something needs to change.

August 14, 2012 at 6:21 PM · @Jack Curley .... is going to anger an unnamed someone.
Is it Voldemort? Just kidding.

Wow, Robert, you are spot on. The only thing worse than the gravestones at the entrance was the "arm with wand" next to SSE we had there for too long. Whoever came up with that idea should be fired together with the "hat" guy.
I think your new theme is wonderful and would me more fun than to try to depict the future. Science and exploration are fun and knowing about the history is awesome. I would love to have a Tesla/Edison attraction in the World of Energy. See how energy in the form of electricity played a role in the past. Imagine going through a street with lanterns with gas light and gaslights in homes and just around the corner a huge fire that is burning down a house and the fire brigade doing its job (watch out you could get wet!). Tesla and Edison explain they wanted to change the world. We see the development over electricity and the invention of the light bulb. We visit Tesla in 1893 at the world's fair in Chicago and see the spectacular Tesla coil. We travel to 1879 to see Edison invent the light bulb and and and....
Epcot needs a lot of love and no movie characters. It needs the Dreamfinder and Figment but also new original characters to show us the fun and adventure in science.

August 14, 2012 at 6:27 PM · Dont really care about those rateings, Epcot is my favourite theme park, and that is sure not because of that French pavillion movie that gets the best rateings )-:. Havent seen Disney Sea however.

Epcots design skews a little away from the core theme park audience taste towards a little older and more male audience. In addition, the exentsive outside themeing is not part of the rateing system in the first place. Its still the second most popular park in Orlando and the second most popular non Magic Kingdom park in the world. That said, another way to look at Epcot is to look at visitor numbers in relation to the money spent on building the park, that one makes Epcot look less good. Guess Epcot is at least the second most expensive non Magic Kingdom park every built too (inflation adjusted), so yeah, they probably could have done more with that money. But now it stands big as it is, and its still great if Disney doesnt do much

August 14, 2012 at 7:27 PM · A great article, and well worth the wait! I agree with all the points you raised. One thing I'd really like to see in a redo is something to replace the old Horizons ride. That one was really a history of futurism, and it's a good way to "future-proof" a ride, by making it intentionally about how our visions of the future are always changing, really telling us more about the present. Now, this is some wild, far-out thinking... but what if you have a really engaging, intense dark ride about futurism that takes an apocolyptic, distopian turn when talking about our current view of the future (robots taking over, or the results of global warming, or all of the above, like so many current movies). That could serve as the conflict for the ride, which could then be resolved with a more utopian vision (our fears of the future vs. our hope for the future). This could even be a somewhat thrilling ride in the sense of HPFJ, with robot arms, etc. but it would actually fit the theme of Epcot. As to where the ride itself would physically fit (unless WOL can be repurposed), I don't have a good answer for that, which is why I think this may be more of a pipe dream than a feasible reality...
August 14, 2012 at 7:37 PM · I love the premise of the article, and agree with most of it... BUT (of course there's a but, right?)

Lay off the politics. I enjoy WDW for the sole reason that I can "leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy." Quoting leftist websites like huffpo don't rally help you win any converts or change any minds anyway (anymore than quoting foxnews would refute the claims).

We all love Disney, and most (if not all of us) fans agree that EPCOT needs some TLC... let's leave politics out of this and dream together.

Bryan F.

August 14, 2012 at 8:02 PM · My only experience with Epcot was a trip there in 2002, and the world showcase was my favorite part of the whole Disney World Resort. And I was a Disneyland annual passholder who could find my way around Disneyland blindfolded. I love The WS, is is immersive and themed. Love the idea of shopping and dining (and a few rides) around the world. Just from my distanced perspective, I think the whole future part should be thrown out, and something similarly (to WS) immersive and narrative should be put in. Like take out the American Experience part of the WS and make an expanded America land where Future is. I know that the magic kingdoms have some American themed lands too, but this can be more historical and patriotic. Things that do attract so many Americans. Even if you have to move some attractions from MK to Epcot.

I haven't been to the new California Adventure, because sadly, I moved far from CA 5 years ago, but I've read and seen via internet, all the improvements. Last time I was in DCA was in 2007. I liked it then, but I could see the instructional preachiness about CA showing, and it wasn't pretty. That same instructional preachiness is why Future World will never work. The reason DCA works now is because of the immersive theming. That is the success of any theme park. People want to go to a theme park to escape, be thrilled, and be entertained. Teaching about science, California, or anything won't work. I'm sorry to say this, and I was a teacher for 27 years.

Just bolster up the world showcase with more countries, more rides, maybe that tie in with some of the classic movies and countries. Then something similar in the front of the park with more action and rides, but one theme, like America. The immersive look has to be there. Just having a futuristic look doesn't work. Look how they changed the entrance to DCA. It went from something that celebrates the best in CA (the mural, the Golden Gate bridge, etc. all kind of scattered around like knicknacks in a curio case) to something that makes you feel like you are immersed in a part of CA. That is what works. I wish I were an imagineer!

August 14, 2012 at 9:35 PM · Of all the US parks, I love Epcot the most. There is more to see, do, and eat at Epcot than at any other theme park in the states, and at night it doesn't look like a carnival, it looks like Heaven. Sadly, it is also the most underutilized park in the Disney arsenal. What to do...

Jettison the name "Future World" for sure. It is too hard to keep things futuristic. Discovery Land, or whatever, is fine but I am sure the Imagineers could come up with something better. Robert's idea for redoing the entry way is also a good one, although I kind of got lost in the high-minded, philosophical changes he recommended. Still as much as is possible the park should remain an edutainment center, but with an emphasis on good, old fashioned family fun.

Spaceship Earth - the ending, down the ramp, needs something...a star field at least. The interactive screen is fine, but the scenery should not just be black walls.

Innoventions... I am fine with the expo style of the attractions, but in each building there should be at least one high quality, D-Ticket attraction. Sum of All Thrills fits the bill, but Innoventions West needs something big. The remainder of the attractions should have a six month to one year lease on life, and then get changed. Popular ones can come back from time to time, but there needs to be a lot of change to keep things fresh. I would love to see an updated version of DisneyQuest in one of the buildings.

Test Track - no issue. The Tron upgrade is going to be great.

Mission: Space - again, no issues. Great attraction. Needs the 3D screens to get a digital, hi-def revamp.

Wonders of Life - honestly, just bring it back with Cranium Command, Body Wars (giving them both 21st Century updates and random elements that make re-rides a necessity), a themed restaurant, interactive exhibits, and create a new movie about the triumphs of human life (Making of Me was a bit... embarrassing). I like the educational aspects of these adventures, and would love to see their "rebirth".

Ellen's Energy Adventure - Either bring back Horizon's and put it here, or stay with the space theme of Mission: Space and go back to the old idea of the Journey Into Space attraction. It was to be a huge simulator that moved an entire theater in sync with outer-space visuals (like Ellen moves today), highlighting man's past, present, and future efforts to explore the stars.

The Seas - fix some of the broken effects on the Nemo conveyer/ride, and do a better job of controlling the kids in Turtle Talk, but otherwise, this pavilion is fine as is.

The Land - new, all digital movie for Soarin' (if the digital technology exists on such a grand scale). Living with the Land is fine. Circle of Life should be scrapped, but the conservation theme kept. Go with Wall-E for the iconic star, and make the film a 4D adventure. It does not have to be an E-ticket, but a solid C or D-Ticket like Despicable Me at USF would be fine.

Imagination - gut the whole building and finally, after all these years, let the Imagineers run wild with a variety of ideas for an immersive Spider-Man like, moving, 4D adventure. The attraction does not need to be developed as a cohesive story as much as it should be an exploration of Imagination - a series of scenes that explore the notion of just being able to cut loose from reality and have good, crazy fun. If you imagine it, you can do it type stuff. For those who require a story setting, go with something like Fantasia as it is an all-over-the-place film, filled to the brim with imagination! Further, each scene along the tour should be fully integrated with the ride vehicle giving that great sense of depth and movement that continues to cement Spider-Man as Universal's crowning achievement. And the scenes should be designed so that they can be easily changed from time to time to keep the attraction fresh. This attraction should be developed to be a one-of-a-kind, ultra E-Ticket. A headliner.

In the World Showcase, obviously more countries are needed and since there looks to be enough room for four to six more, lets add some!

Brazil, for sure. Normally I would recommend an exploration of the Christ the Redeemer monument, but that would just hack off Mr. Niles. So how about a dance party? The Carnaval de Rio de Janeiro would fit the bill, especially for those intent on drinking around the world.

Egypt seems like a no-brainer to me. Perhaps the attraction could include a randomized, walk thru maze inside a pyramid - never the same maze twice!

The architecture, history, and mythology of Greece lends itself nicely to a standout pavilion and an amazing, Clash of the Titans-style adventure show or ride.

India. Who wouldn't want to see an Epcot replica of the Taj Mahal??? This pavilion might well lend itself to another high-quality, Epcot-style documentary film.

Russia definitely needs a spot. Not sure on the best attraction, maybe a ski adventure down Mount Elbrus...

Finally, Thailand. This pavilion is a selfish desire for me as many of my co-workers are off-shore in Bangkok. I am sure they would be very excited to have a pavilion at Epcot. Plus visitors could experience adventures like seeing mystical pagodas, visiting a small scale replica of Phuket Island, or taking a long tail boat to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Plus we'd get to savor some culinary Thai specialties!

As for the existing countries...

The Norway travelogue needs to go and Maelstrom should be extended.

The China and French films need a digital do-over and the seats in the French theater need comfortable head rests - hey, it's the best place to sleep at WDW! ;p

Germany needs its once planned Rhine River Cruise.

Italy needs its gondola boat ride.

America needs a better restaurant - with much better food.

Japan needs a simulated Bullet Train ride (not a coaster - no coasters at Epcot!).

UK needs a cleverly disguised Hogwarts Express train ride through the famous sites of London ("Hey look kids, there's Big Ben, and there's Parliament... I can't get left...").

Canada needs the once planned white water raft ride however, it should be designed to provide rollicking good fun while only getting passengers mildly wet...not soaked!

Finally, Illuminations needs a revamp. Keep the pyro, but get rid of the hard-to-see story on the spinning sphere. We just want lasers, music, and more boom boom boom!

I guess that's about it.... what did I miss?

August 15, 2012 at 6:44 AM · EPCOT has always been my favorite Disney park. However, I do agree about the entrance, but it's hard to move or divert guests around the dedication stones that so many people paid oodles of money.

Really, that's probably the biggest problem with EPCOT as a whole. Everything in the park revolves around dedications, sponsors, and money being thrown around to advertise or memorialize. Every one of the FutureWorld pavilions has as sponsor, and because of that, guests are bombarded by ads and propaganda about the various companies and corporations. Other Disney attractions are sponsored, but nowhere else on earth are paying guests subjected to such direct advertising. You would think all of this influx of sponsorship money would pave the way for frequent attraction upgrades or a lower gate price, but neither has occurred. Even in the World Showcase, which is staffed by a majority of outside employees, a lower cost of operation doesn't seem to affect the gate price or attraction upgrade/replacement schedule.

EPCOT has essentially turned into a giant convention center. The front half is a convention for various corporations to spread awareness about their companies, while the back half is like a walk down Massachussetts Avenue in DC with a stop at the various embassies all trying to get you to take a vacation to their country, or a travel agent's convention. In both cases, guests are treated more like walking bank accounts than people enjoying a vacation.

If Disney is not using the corporate sponsorships to reinvigorate the park (TestTrack is using a pretty big influx of GM money for its current upgrade, and Seimens pumped some money into Spaceship Earth, but most of that went into backstage party rooms), they need to get rid of the broken systems, and approach FutureWorld like a standard theme park pumping Disney money into upgrades (like they did with Soarin').

Ultimately, the biggest obstacle for upgrading FutureWorld is the existing infrastructure. The existing building and support systems are too iconic to reuse (it cost Disney/HP a reported $500+ million to convert Horizons to Mission: Space), but extremely expensive to just tear down and replace. It would probably cost well over $1 billion just to eliminate the existing underutilized pavilions (Wonders of Life, Energy, Imagination, and The Odyssey), and replace them with just one or two new E-ticket style attractions. With Disney pushing ahead with the Avatar expansion at Animal Kingdom, I doubt there's $1 billion just lying around to bulldoze 4 antiquated building a develop another iconic attraction.

What I think Disney should do is accept the fact that EPCOT is a convention center, and start pushing more "convention" type events. As of now, the park plays host to the Flower and Garden Festival in the spring, the Food and Wine Festival in the fall, and the Candlelight Processional during Christmas. EPCOT should be hosting some sort of event year-round, and continue to follow that plan until funds and concepts are ready to be implemented for a FutureWorld revival. Disney should be proud that people plan vacations around the EPCOT events (they certainly are making money off them with some outrageous prices like $500/person for a dinner at Victoria and Albert's), and if they offer a variety of them throughout the year, it will certainly not only draw more guests to the park, but it allows them to generate more revenue through upcharge events that typically include park admission.

August 15, 2012 at 6:49 AM · My wife and I enjoy many aspects of Epcot, but I totally agree with the need for changes.

Future World
1. Soarin(8/10) This is simply the best ride for all ages on the property. This is not just Epcot, but the entire Walt Disney World Resort property. I have heard rumors about a new Soarin around the World which would theme it much better for Epcot.
2. Test Track (5/10) The queue line is captivating to children mostly, because of all of the moving parts. I find that adults totally skip it. The story is by far the worst part of it. It may be better after the renovation that is currently going on. At least there is some thrill to the ride with the final run around the banking track.
3. Spaceship Earth (6/10) I love the renovations and the addition of Judy Dench, but like Space Mountain the futuristic version is dated and laughable. They should just stick with history.
4. Journey Into Imagination (1/10) I find it very hard to do this ride but once every few years. Perhaps children enjoy it for its Seussical type quality, but it can be much better.
5. The Seas with Nemo and Friends (6/10) The revamp to add Nemo is great and it helps blend what kids currently know into reality. I don't think you could do much better.
6. Ellen's Energy Adventure (4/10) Ellen breathes some life into this near dead ride, but the best part about it is getting out of the sun for 30 minutes. Should that really be the focus on the ride. I think this area and the Life pavillion need to be demolished to allow for something new.
7. Mission Space (3/10) I agree with your comments. I have done it once. I will not do it again. I hate having the feeling that I am going to hurl all day at the park when I am trying to enjoy myself. Something needs to be done to make this more enjoyable. They did add a more TAME version, which is pretty much comparing vodka to water. They look similar, but you would only give one to your baby in a bottle.
8. Living with the Land (5/10) Good information and different ideas. I think it is well placed and offers some insight. I don't really think you can change it to make it better.

What I would like to see?
1. A better 4D movie than Captain Eo or Honey I Shrunk the Audience.
2. Imagination Pavillion changed to something of substance
3. Demo of Energy and Life area to make room for a larger thrill ride or similar to split crowds from Soarin. Right now nearly EVERYONE goes to Soarin at the beginning of the day. If you're not first, you're last.
4. Do something with the Mission Space pavallion. Wouldn't it be cool to do the World's Largest Planetarium, or something like the Star Trek Generations Astronomy area. Add in some virtual reality and let it be Mission Space: Exploration.

August 15, 2012 at 6:53 AM · "Why not change test track so that it's a trip through the history of the modern car, travelling back to the great innovators like Henry Ford before swooping into the narrow streets of rural Italy for a segment on Ferrari."

That's what that pavillion used to be before it was coverted into TestTrack. The main attraction used to be a standard people-mover (just like everything else in EPCOT) with a trip through the history of the transoportation. Just like all of the other old-school FutureWorld attractions, popularity eventually subsided, and GM threw some cash at Disney to do the TestTrack upgrade.

Something tells me that GM, who essentially kept EPCOT afloat by providing money to create TestTrack (the attraction that turned EPCOT from a World's Fair into an actual theme park), would not be interested in sponsoring an attraction the would feature any vehicles other than their own. If the pavillion showed Fords, Ferraris, and other branded cars, Disney would be turning their back on one of the longest running, and most loyal sponsors of EPCOT.

August 15, 2012 at 7:17 AM · James:

It would be great to add new countries to World Showcase, but the model for EPCOT is that the pavilions are operated by the countries themselves. A country needs to be interested in participating in order to be given a spot on the World Showcase. All of those countries are great, but if they are not willing to cooperate and staff the pavillion, it's just not going to happen. As it stands right now, there are only two empty spaces left for countries to be added between Germany and Norway and between Japan and Morroco. Spain has long been rumored for addition along with South Africa and Australia/New Zealand, but unless a counsilate is willing to step up, it's just not going to happen.

What I'd like to see is Disney forming stronger partnerships with its "vendors" (the individual countries). Right now, Disney pretty much just uses the people to staff the individual pavillions, restuarants, shows, and gift shops. What they need to do is engage these countries and ask them what they'd like to do in their pavillion, and offer Imagineers to each country to develop new ideas for the space other than just simple recreations of iconic buildings and sites. It looked like Disney was doing that with a Grizley River Run-style raft attraction that was being developed for the Canada Pavillion, but that never got off the ground and Soarin' took most of the backstage space behind LeCellier. Some countries will be willing to do more than others, but there needs to be more cooperation instead of Disney just saying to the countries, "we built you this space, now staff it."

August 15, 2012 at 7:32 AM · Good points, Russell, and I know I was doing some wishful thinking with the country additions, but I think Disney needs to push an agenda of park improvements rather than depend too heavily on foreign interest and what "they" want to do. In essence, Disney should get the "rights" to use a country then do whatever they want with it, within reason, of course.

However, and to be honest, I would rather see Disney beef up the attraction lineup within the existing World Showcase countries before funding any new additions. Every pavilion should have some sort of C/D-Ticket ride or movie to go along with the exploring, eating, and shopping. And one more major E-ticket attraction (presuming everyone else thinks the American Adventure is an E-Ticket attraction) should be developed.

And thanks for reading my post... I realize now it was a pretty long (and boring) listing of my wishful musings! =)

August 15, 2012 at 8:16 AM · EPCOT is my families favorite theme park also. We don't have kids so we enjoy the "adultness" to the park. However, I do agree it needs help. Somethings do need to be changed, updated, and brought into 2012. After reading all the comments I agree with James Rao. I love his ideas the best. Maybe we should contact Disney and see if we could get him on staff ASAP. :)
August 15, 2012 at 8:22 AM · People do so love it when you ask for EVERYTHING - which is basically what I did! =) Thanks for the support, Melissa!
August 15, 2012 at 9:09 AM · I know I already put in my crazy idea, and I like so many of other folks' ideas. (Thank you, James, for your insistence that no coasters ought to be at EPCOT!)
But when I think about the one thing that makes me upset to visit EPCOT, the one item that if fixed, would make me feel like the park made sense again (in other words, the cheap fix) it would be (and WDI, if you're out there, please listen)...
FIX IMAGINATION. Throw $150 million into an awesome new E-ticket with fun extras. That is chump change compared to a lot of these plans.
Fix Imagination. That is all.
August 15, 2012 at 9:21 AM · ^That...and put something in Wonders of Life besides the occasional convention gathering.
August 15, 2012 at 10:11 AM · My wife visited Epcot and WDW for the first time in her life in January. It's her favorite WDW park followed by Animal Kingdom. I think it was my fifth or sixth visit to Epcot.

She liked the educational aspect of the park. She's not much of a ride person, but did like Test Track and Soarin'. Even Journey into Imagination and Spaceship: Earth.

She didn't like Mission: Space (got sick) and also didn't like Disney or PIXAR characters inserted into attractions for no reason such as Mexico or the Living Seas with Nemo. She felt it was too cheesy and distracting.

She did like Universe of Energy's moving seats, but not the ride film -- old & hokey. She really liked Living with the Land, which I also rode for the first time.

The attractions she liked the best are the ones that made her feel she was involved.

She thought World Showcase was well done. She expected it to be cheap, but was surprised to see her home country Japan's pavilion. As we strolled through the rest of World Showcase, she was impressed. She's not sure if it really needs more rides. She thought the food there was great.

She agrees that the leave a legacy display at the entrance needs to go. It looks out of place, blocks walkways and was not very inviting.

I think my takeaways are:

1. Leave a legacy needs to go
2. Not necessary to put Disney characters in Epcot
3. Need more interactive rides in Future World

August 15, 2012 at 10:40 AM · Is it just me or would anyone love to see a Hunchback of Notre Dame ride in the France pavilion?
August 15, 2012 at 10:58 AM · Regarding country sponsorship/participation in WS and available space for expansion:

I've always found this article interesting

August 15, 2012 at 12:07 PM · James Rao's list was great, I second all of it except he left out a Muppet ride here and there but I am sure that was only by accident. :)
August 15, 2012 at 12:55 PM · I have a suggestion for "Fix this theme park": Busch Gardens Tampa. Sure, it's fun and all, but it doesn't quite compete to its sister park in Virginia. Now, it's a clean, safe, family-friendy park compared to its teen hangout past under Anheuser Busch. Some improvements would be more indoor attractions (dark ride, simulator, etc.), Timberliners on Gwazi, and faster loading of rides.
August 15, 2012 at 12:57 PM · You're right, Don. There's nothing like a talking sock to liven up the park! ;p
August 15, 2012 at 1:23 PM · I love the idea about the entrance, which needs help.

For me, you can make huge upgrades by fixing the Imagination ride, upgrading the Universe of Energy, and using the Wonders of Life pavilion for anything. Innoventions needs major help too, and the Spaceship Earth descent is sad. Those are easy fixes.

Once that is completed in the next year or two, you can look at the larger issues and truly attempt to make EPCOT a must-see destination. The entrance is one great opportunity. Soarin' could be revised into a new film at a minimum. A new country and a new pavilion at Future World would inject serious life into the park. It needs it.

August 15, 2012 at 2:42 PM · I will respectly ask why Robert is intentionally insulting its readers.

I enjoyed EPCOT for many visits and I very much enjoy science and its world showcase. I work in Engineering and I visited many foreign countries. However, I am skeptic of how science is politicized with Global Warming and Evolution with all that settled science crap. If science is settled, the study of science is over, but it is never over. I have visited many countries and I respect many cultures, yet the recent wars was due to foreign aggression against America. I say this as a second generation American citizen. My parents came from Asia originally.

We cannot move forward without understanding of science and concerns about world affairs.

What EPCOT needs is an abandonment of its original mission. Do something fresh and new. Of course it should change its entrance, but it came about because Disney wanted to exploit money making opportunities with engraved stones. Rather dumb.

The Future World pavilions need to be refreshed without the tons of boring computer workstations. Time to rid of Innoventions. Who cares? I also don't care for EPCOT's science exhibits. They are simplistic bores. Government funded science museums do better jobs. If you don't like corporate sponsored science research, don't have more.

BTW, I do think corporate sponsored research is quite valid; however, Disney's use of science is the rainbows and unicorns version.

The way to make Future World work is have better presentations of its existing rides and attractions instead of swapping things out. It seems like many rides get old fast by delayed maintenance. The films seem frayed. Why not just replace the films with high definition videos?

There should be an attempt to entertain more than educate. I don't need more education. Make me laugh and get me excited.

August 15, 2012 at 6:14 PM · Anon: I tend to agree with most of your ideas. Your concepts are workable with a reasonable investment by Disney. Some of the other posters have excellent grandiose ideas, but the downside is that they are certainly cost prohibitive and therefore unrealistic.
August 15, 2012 at 7:00 PM · I love the idea of renaming Future World to Discoveryland or something similar. I wouldn't say Disney is particularly bad at predicting the future, just that the future often comes faster than the money to update things. 1 Tomorrowland is fine for WDW. The apparent theme of Future World is more about discovery than the future anyway.

I'll admit I first visited Epcot in 2008, so I don't know firsthand about Horizons, the original Imagination attraction, etc. The comments about Test Track focusing on the mundane aspects of developing a vehicle are pretty spot on. I'm a car guy and interested in engineering, but even to me the ride didn't seem to make it as interesting as it could be. Who knows, the new redesign as the Chevrolet Design Center could right those wrongs. There is lots of potential there in the concept, just the details of the execution need fixing. The remaining pavilions, on the other hand, could use pretty complete rethinks.

No argument on World Showcase - just give me more countries with non-film-based attractions and a nice place to sample some food and I'm more than happy.

I will have to take issue with some of the assertions made at the beginning of this article. Are Americans really more anti-science and xenophobic than they were 30 years ago, or does the modern media just give the most extreme views a disproportionate voice? I'd wager the latter. In the two times I've visited Epcot, I didn't hear one guest object to anything "foreign" or "science-y". Give the people more credit than that. And Disney has indeed made those stands in Epcot as it exists now - though sometimes they do play both sides of the fence. My dad and I joked how we exited Ellen's Energy Adventure, where the miracle of the energy harnessed by dams is praised, only to go see the Circle of Life film where dams are presented as the clear problem. That's the thing about science - it is so rarely 100% settled and defined within 1 universal viewpoint. Today's obvious truth is tomorrow's outdated fallacy.

August 16, 2012 at 9:22 AM · What I find interesting is that almost everyone agrees on the key aspects to fix:

Get rid of Leave a Legacy
Update Soarin film for the world
Update/Restore Imagination
Update 3-D Movie
Wonders of Life pavilion utilized
Universe of Energy revamp

Actually build the rides that were planned for World Showcase

I'm for Wall-E going into Wonders Of Life for a recycling ride, see the irony your recycling a dead pavillion

Also can we update the Circle of Life Film and the Electric Umbrella at least become a decent counter service restaurant

And add more restaurants over looking the lagoon like Rose & Crown and Hacienda

August 16, 2012 at 10:59 AM · The next Olympics is at Rio. Hint Hint!!!

How about a new Brazil pavilion at World Showcase!!! Have daily Carnival shows.

Bring back the "Body Wars" ride vehicles. Bring in a new show that isn't so nausea inducing.

The Energy ride is 20 minutes long. It would be better to shorten it to 10 minutes with more ride scenes. Also, the seats are horribly uncomfortable. Add more cushions and back rests.

Replace Innoventions with an indoor kids area with rides, spinners, and playgrounds. Epcot lacks a childrens focused area.

August 16, 2012 at 12:57 PM · I'm all for a new country in World Showcase along with a few upgrades to the existing ones. But if I were head imagineer in charge of the overlay of Epcot, I would focus all my money and creative attention to Future World. As much as I love Epcot, I know that it is only because of sentimental reasons and memories of going as a child. If I had not seen first hand the amazing period of Epcot's glory years, and had visited it for the first time now, I probably wouldn't be so anxious to see it as often.

I agree with Robert and many others who suggest that FW should go more towards the ways of TDS. I would love to see inventors showcased in amazing, immersive rides and experiences. This to me would make Epcot an even more unique, learning, and enjoyable experience.

August 16, 2012 at 5:47 PM · Good point Amanda,
I began my love for EPCOT when the monorail was doing loops to promote the almost finished park. The original idea for it was the ultimate in "edutainment" and that's what really hooked me. If I didn't have the 80's experience there, I'm sure the current version would leave less of an impression to my 14 yr old self.
August 16, 2012 at 9:07 PM · for all the hate mission space gets, its one of my favorite rides anywhere.

The secret to NOT throwing up on that ride is to scream.
If I Dont scream I was to throw up, if I scream then I FREAKING LOVE IT

August 17, 2012 at 7:29 PM · I agree EPCOT (Experimental Community of Tomorrow, Every Polyester Costume of Torture, Every Paycheck Comes On Thursday, Every Patron Comes Out Tired) needs an upgrade. It doesn't even match it's name.

Soarin' California should be a more worldwide attraction. It makes sense in California but not Florida. I first rode it at EPCOT but after riding it in California, it actually resonates. I actually rode it first in California after CA opened, then in Florida a few trips, then last month in California again. It is hugely irrelavent to EPCOT. Can Disney take the bold step of using the entire Earth as it's landscape? The filming might be difficult but how many satelites are out there?

Mission Space is relavent to Future World but, apparently, not popular due to its ability to make one ill. For me, it is my favorite attraction but I am a roller coaster junkie.

Ellen's Energy Advanture is kind of fun but outlived its relavence. I've seen essentially the same attraction for 15 years. Replace it...the moving theater chairs lend themselves to many options.

World Showcase needs new countries with attractions. Watching a movie does not interest a twelve year old. Believe me, I know. Until I went back without kids, I really didn't enjoy World Showcase. Kids complain "what's there to do here?".

I agree that improving the main entrance is a priority. I am saving up to see Tokyo Disney Sea because it sounds fabulous. Why can't EPCOT borrow from them a little?

This discussion has been very interesting.

August 17, 2012 at 8:15 PM · Ugh! I completely agree! Epcot is outdated and needs to be updated! I love WDW, but Epcot is my least favorite park there.
August 19, 2012 at 9:11 AM · Epcot as a theme park is so fatally flawed that short of bulldozing the whole thing, it is almost impossible to get a coherent theme to the whole mess, but in order to be realistic, I’ll suggest a few more patches to the quilt that might help it reach its potential.

So, how do you fix the duck-billed platypus of the theme park world?

First of all, let’s start with the name. Like Wendy said above, it doesn’t even match its name. What is it? Is it an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow? Is it a world’s fair? Is it a technology expo? Is it a theme park? Right now, it is a theme park masquerading as a technology expo and a world’s fair and failing miserably at all three. As Robert has said, you can’t predict the future very well (I’m still waiting for my flying car like Popular Science said I would be parking in my garage all those many years ago.), and you can’t really showcase technology because by the time you build attractions to showcase it, the technology is 2 or 3 generations down the road.

Epcot needs a new name. One that gives the park an identity and a new theme. One that represents the Disney brand. So let’s get rid of the nonfiction concept. People don’t go to Disney for more reality. They go to escape the concerns and burdens of modern life, and the new Epcot needs a name and a theme that blends in the Disney magic with the wonders of our world and universe.

I suggest that Disney rename Epcot to Disney’s World of Exploration. (I’m sure some of you are already shortening that to Disney’s WoE.)

Now that we have a new name and a new theme, let’s start fixing the park, and the first place to start as so many of you have observed is the front entrance. Robert has the right idea. Move the entrance back, and get rid of the Legacy monuments there. (Whenever I see those monuments, I start humming the 2001 opus to myself or I start wondering if a New Orleans street funeral is coming around the corner.) Make the entrance warmer and more in the Disney style by using the Port Discovery theme for Future World like Robert suggested, and lessen the impact of that monstrous geodesic sphere.

Now let’s take on the lands and pavilions of future world.

Leave Spaceship Earth as it is. The concept of a ride inside a geodesic sphere is unique, and it gives you a pleasant chance to be entertained sitting down in an air conditioned ride.

Totally redo the Universe of Energy. I like Bill Nye and Ellen Degeneres, but this ride is stale. Find a new theme or a new concept, but this ride needs some serious work. If I had my druthers, I love to see it redone to the theme of the old Disney movie The Island at the top of the World. It’s not one of Disney’s best efforts, but it can to be entertaining.

Keep Mission Space. Some people don’t like the potential for nausea, but as an adrenaline addict, this is one of the few rides in the park that I like. For the less adventurous, put in a PeopleMover type of ride near Mission Space that takes you on a tour of the universe. Even better, bring back the old Alien Encounter that was in the Magic Kingdom and build it near Mission Space too.

Keep Test Track as it is or re-theme into a Tron Ride. The whole idea of it being a proving ground for cars is totally fictitious, so why don’t you at least go for something that has a Disney connection to it?

Disney has to do something with the whole Innoventions area because you can find many of the same displays and attractions in your local exploreum. Most of this stuff should go and Disney should replace it with something that is uniquely Disney in nature.

The Land pavilion needs some help too. The movie in Soarin’ should be replaced with a new movie that showcases the scenic wonders of the world. The Circle of Life should be totally gutted. Environmental preachiness wears thin on a lot of us these days. Put something fun for the kids in there. Living with the Land is perfectly fine as it is.

The Imagination pavilion could use a do-over too. The old Honey I Shrunk the Audience/Captain Pedophile area should be re-done into a StorrmRider attraction like the one at TDS. I know it doesn’t have much to do with imagination, but did either of the previous attractions have anything to do with it either? Journey into the Imagination needs to be updated. Instead of Eric Idle, Disney needs to use one of their own unique characters, and maybe get rid of Figment. Use whatever provides the best merchandising potential.

The Sea area is fine. I wouldn’t change a thing.

And that brings me to World Showcase. My initial inclination would be to bulldoze the whole thing and start over (I think I said that I wouldn’t do that.), but some of you seem to think that a mile long odyssey in order to see what is in effect 4 movies and 2 mediocre boat rides is something to get excited about. I don’t, but I’ll make the concession that Disney is not going to tear it down and start over, so I’ll do my best to suggest modest improvements to it.

Mexico is fine as it is.

I like the Norway area. Maelstrom should be re-done to make it longer and a little scarier. (Add in a section where the boat goes into a glacier. That would be cool!) Other than that, I wouldn’t change it.

I’m biting my tongue on China, but other than getting rid of it entirely, keep the propaganda film and add a dark ride based on Mulan for the kids.

Germany and Italy have some of the richest heritage out there, and we don’t get a single attraction or ride out of either? How about a dark ride based on the Black Forest or Grimm’s Fairytales for Germany, and maybe a Formula One race car ride for Italy? Something is better than nothing. What Disney movies are based in these two countries? Can’t we find something to use there?

The American Adventure. Hmm, let’s see. We’re in a theme park in the United States that’s primarily attended by Americans, and we need to have a Cliff Notes version of American history given to us by two animatronic figures? I don’t get it. My initial inclination is to scrap the whole thing and put in another country, but I’ll suggest keeping it until World Showcase fills up with other countries and then replace the American Experience with another country’s pavilion. I live the American Experience, and I really don’t need Disney to define it for me.

Japan needs something. The cheesy American in me would like to see a Godzilla rollercoaster, but I’ll settle for a LIM dark coaster based on the bullet train ride idea that James Rao suggested instead and be extremely happy. (Was there an 11th Commandment that said "Thou shalt not build rollercoasters in Epcot."?)

Morocco should get the Sindbad ride from TDS. Some of you are probably saying “Whoa there!” since Sindbad wasn’t set in Morocco, but how many of us dumb Americans are going to know the difference? Actually, Morocco may be the perfect place for Fortress Explorations. I liked the Sindbad ride at TDS, but Fortress Explorations is a rare jewel of an attraction.

France should be the designated smoking area for all of Epcot. Now that would be authentic! Sarcasm aside, an attraction based on the AristoCats or the Hunchback of Notre Dame or Beauty and the Beast would be a welcome addition here.

The United Kingdom should get a dark ride narrated by Sean Connery based on a James Bond spy car. It could turn into a submarine and an airplane (Finally I can get that flying car I’ve been waiting for!), and you could eventually escape and defeat the bad guys.

Canada needs a log flume. O Canada is fine, but how many stand up 360 degrees movies do I have to watch? Nothing seems more Canadian than the logging industry, so get set to get wet!

Hopefully Disney might implement a few of these suggestions, and I might find a reason to visit more than the 2 times that I have in the 30 years since Epcot has opened.

August 19, 2012 at 5:26 PM · I have a bold idea, kill Epcot.
Yep I said it, kill the thing and split it in 2.
One park will be the free shopping and dining mall extravaganza World Showcase is OR they add attractions in all countries, add countries and have a nice half day to one whole day park.
Amazing right?
The other one, the so called future world thingy will become a new theme park themed to Marvel.
You must know I hate the whole super hero stuff but there is a lot of potential for awesome attractions and rides.
Every building will be re themed to specific characters and their worlds. We could visit Stark Industries building of Thor's planes. We can go back in time to visit Captain America at the world fair or see Spiderman life on stage (hey the musical is kind of a succes).
There is a lot of land around the buildings to build up theme and put some smaller rides out there and inside you can try to re-use the current ride systems and layouts. Maybe 1 or 2 coasters could be added to the fun.

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