At Walt Disney World, a 'Journey' can be the destination

June 20, 2023, 4:37 PM · Walt Disney World is moving closer toward finally completing its years-long transformation of EPCOT. Walt Disney Imagineering today released two photos of testing now underway on its upcoming "Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana" in the park's World Nature section.

Journey of Water is taking shape on the site of the former Innoventions West building, between Spaceship Earth and The Seas With Nemo & Friends. Walt Disney World has described the experience as "a lush exploration trail inviting EPCOT guests to meet and play with magical living water."

Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana
Concept art courtesy Walt Disney World Resort

So how will guests "play with water" here? One of the two photos released today offers a visual clue.

Testing Journey of Water
Photos courtesy Walt Disney Imagineering

"Guests of all ages will engage with water in a variety of ways as they learn about water’s amazing 'journey' around our natural world, including ways to better conserve our natural resources and protect water as it voyages throughout our natural world, connecting us all," WDI said in a social media post.

Showing EPCOT's Journey of Water

It's tough for me to describe Journey of Water as an "attraction," given what we have seen of it to date. I cannot imagine that this walk-through experience will attract a single family to plan a day at EPCOT, much less to book a visit to the Walt Disney World Resort. But that does not mean that Journey of Water won't be a valuable addition to the park.

Journey of Water provides more evidence to make the case that, at Disney, theme parks are not simply collections of rides and shows. The parks themselves are entertainment platforms, where just walking around can be as much of an adventure for visitors as going on the rides and shows themselves.

So even if Journey of Water might not rise to the level of "attraction" (though I have no doubt that it will be listed as such in Disney's app and guidemaps), it clearly seems a differentiator - a carefully designed, visually engaging, interactive experience that helps make a walk through EPCOT a unique experience from a walk through any other company's theme parks.

With the money that Disney earns across its business, Disney can afford to go big with its differentiators. But no theme park that wants to be competitive in the post-lockdown travel market can afford to ignore theirs.

No one wants to spend money to experience boring or ugly. Given that the majority of time people spend at theme parks is spent in the spaces in between attractions, those spaces had better be worth the investment of not just the ticket but also the time and expense of getting to the park. Even if a park can't afford to commission the detailed rock work and interactive water elements that Disney is installing at Journey of Water, it needs to make spending to build and maintain attractive gardens, passageways, and other public spaces a investment priority.

Otherwise, value-conscious fans will look elsewhere for destinations that provide a better return for their investment.

Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana will open this fall at Walt Disney World's EPCOT.

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Replies (7)

June 20, 2023 at 7:28 PM

The Fall opening seems a bit earlier than expected. If it is as beautiful as the concept art people will show up (gate-crasher) and EPCOT's revamp will be a step closer to full realization.

What's exciting is the "all-in" effort the company is making in the "park as a platform" approach to themed entertainment. I, for one, hope we see the same effort at the new Epic Universe park and further re-imagined areas at the existing SWO, WDW and UO parks.

June 20, 2023 at 7:43 PM

This is going to be a disaster, not because it’s a bad addition (I am actually relatively excited about it in a “more green spaces in theme parks” sort of way), but because Disney is going to market the s*** out of it knowing they have nothing new coming for at least the next 18 months. It will inevitably disappoint, as it appears to merely be a nice place to walk around and enjoy some nifty fountains.

June 20, 2023 at 7:51 PM

That’s my fear. But, hey, at least TPI readers will know what to expect?

June 21, 2023 at 7:16 AM

I’m actually looking forward to this as a simple addition of more beautiful spaces. I always find myself gravitating to the World Showcase at Epcot unless I’m riding a Future World (formerly) ride. Anything that increases the appeal and place making of the front of the park is good with me. It’s nice to see WDI embracing a more naturalistic and open space as opposed to the old design aesthetic of an outdated expo building.

June 21, 2023 at 7:26 AM

2024 will be the battle of the walk-through attractions in Orlando

June 21, 2023 at 7:46 AM

Villain-Con looks rough, and I’m terrified it’s a harbinger for removing Men in Black. But at least Universal is building a whole new theme park with at least one world-class roller coaster and several very promising dark rides. Disney has a log flume re-theme and some Blue Sky concept art.

June 21, 2023 at 11:07 AM

This is really giving off Pandora vibes for me. When WDI announced that they were building Pandora the World of Avatar at DAK, they promised to transport guests to the world from the highest grossing movie of all time, and highlighted loads of interactive features. They showed clips from the movie with phosphorescent and luminescent plants interacting as guests walked, touched, and came near different plants.

While PtWoA is jaw-droppingly beautiful, when it comes to the advertised interactivity, it falls woefully short of what WDI promised. We experienced the land for the first time in 2017, a few months after it debuted (i.e. in its best-ever condition), and were shocked that the interactivity was essentially limited to 3 different spots in the land, and the most intriguing interactivity promised by WDI (glowing plants and pathways when you got close to them) was non-existent, and replaced with splatters of black-light reactive plaint and only visible at night (compounded by a park that has very limited nighttime hours). PtoWoA has proven popular because of its awe-inspiring floating mountains along with the brilliance of FoP (and the solid Satu'Li Canteen that keeps people in the land for a meal), but with no substantive attractions drawing guests to this EPCOT addition, this will be nothing more than what Discovery Island is to DAK - a series of paths leading to more interesting places.

My guess is that Disney will stage meet and greets in this new area to encourage guests to explore the area more thoroughly, but I think without something of real interest (ride, show, or other "must-do") guests will zip through the area if it's convenient to get to somewhere else in the park, circumvent it if there are faster ways to get to top attractions, and/or explore it on their way out at the end of the day.

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