Since opening day, Epcot has added 3 pavilions to Future World, 2 on the east side and 1 on the west side. As we wrap up the west side of Future World, we will finish with that added pavilion: The Living Seas. Featuring three distinct areas, the Living Seas offered quite a bit to see for adventurous visitors. The theming has changed quite a bit since it has opened but the pavilion still offers quite to explore.
Welcome to Seabase Alpha
The pavilion that would eventually become the Living Seas was intended to open with the park in 1982. However, it took a bit longer for the concept to reach a point where it was ready to be built. Finally, the theme became an underwater scientific research facility named Seabase Alpha.
Inside the pavilion, with the help of sponsor United Technologies, was built one of the largest aquariums in the world. A 5.7-million tank aquarium is tucked inside this pavilion, named the Caribbean Coral Reef Aquarium. As you may hear around the park, an aquarium large enough to house Spaceship Earth. With such a large central feature, all three areas of the pavilion were based around the aquarium.
The Seabase Alpha theme and story would make up the two main areas of the pavilion: the attraction and the observational aquarium. Disney Imagineering used some tricks from previous attractions to bring the theme of Seabase Alpha to life.
After passing through a queue filled with displays and pictures of historical underwater exploration equipment (including props from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), guests entered a pre-show area. Here, a film called The Seas would discuss how the oceans were formed and introduce the idea of Seabase Alpha, an underwater research facility.
Once finished, guests would come to the Hydrolators, special elevators that would take you down to the base itself. This is where the theming really took hold of you. Cordoned off pools of water churned as the Hydrolators arrived and departed until you eventually were able to load inside. There, you saw rock walls and water fly upwards as you approached the base. However, like the stretching room at the Haunted Mansion, it is really just an Imagineering illusion to make you feel transported. Guests never really go anywhere until the doors open to their SeaCab loading area.
Once aboard the SeaCabs, the ride takes another cue from the Haunted Mansion and gives you a little narration as you pass through underwater tunnels as you head towards the Visitor Center. This basically helps educate the guests a bit and continues to sell the idea of Seabase Alpha, but it also proves reminiscent of the idea that Walt Disney had for the original EPCOT. Many visitors to his prototype city would have boarded omnimover-like vehicles and been taken through a similar awe-inspiring ride through a living, working environment.
After exiting the SeaCabs, guest walked into the Seabase Alpha visitor center. This part of the pavilion featured closer looks at marine life and features displays about the ecosystem. For the most part, this area is still intact today with a new theme. In fact, it is still called “Seabase.” The main difference comes in the exit where there once stood a second set of Hydrolators ready to send visitors back to the surface, that extra step has been removed and visitors now just exit through a gift shop.
When United Technologies ended its sponsorship in 1998, the pavilion suffered. Bit by bit, parts were closed down. An option to bypass the pre-show movie was added, the SeaCabs were boarded up, and the Hydrolators got removed. Without attention to keep it looking futuristic, the Seabase Alpha theme began to age and fade.
The one area that seems to have stood the test of time, though some may debate how well, is the Coral Reef Restaurant. One of only two table service restaurants in all of Future World, the dining room is attached to the large Caribbean Coral Reef Aquarium creating a unique ambiance with your meal.
With the Living Seas dwindling in the early 2000s, Disney looked to popular fish film Finding Nemo to help add some interest back to the pavilion. Nemo and his fishy friends began finding their way into Seabase Alpha. In late 2004, a little over a year after the release of Finding Nemo, Turtle Talk with Crush opened inside Seabase Alpha.
Turtle Talk is actually one of my favorite of the “new” Epcot attractions. Audiences are able to interact with the character Crush who shares legitimate information about life for turtles and their fellow friends in the ocean. This both brings to life a lovable Disney character that could not do a traditional meet and greet and presents education in a fun and interesting medium. For me, this is one of the better moves forward inside Future World today.
But the rest of the changes to the pavilion meet with mixed reviews. In 2005, the whole pavilion went through a complete retheme to match Finding Nemo. The pre-show area was turned into an extended queue that brought you right up to the SeaCab track.
The SeaCab ride through the aquarium now featured seashell ride vehicles. The ride itself has become mostly a dark ride with only the very end featuring glimpses of the aquarium itself. The attraction itself is very reminiscent of Fantasyland-style dark rides that feature recaps of film stories. As a ride itself, it is nice for younger audiences or fans of the film. As a replacement for the wondrous ride through the aquarium tunnels? It hides the pavilion’s greatest attribute.
In Seabase, as it has been renamed, the area is much more reminiscent of a local aquarium using Finding Nemo imagery than of the immersive Seabase Alpha. But curious adventurers can still find quite a bit of information about marine ecosystems and get fantastic views of the giant aquarium. And, of course, there’s Turtle Talk!
With a new sequel coming out, it doesn’t appear that this theme is going anywhere. As Epcot features less for its littlest visitors than Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, it becomes hard to justify taking out the ride portion. But Nemo and Friends offer a great opportunity to open up that wonder of marine life to children. It would be nice if the ride were rethemed for Mr. Ray’s school and featured more of the aquarium again.
Turtle Talk with Crush has already received an update featuring characters from the new film and it is likely that they’ll make appearances throughout Seabase closer to the film’s release. This area needs the least updating as time goes on. Though it would be nice to block off that gift shop to once again create an immersive experience.