Most Disney Parks follow the formula created by Disneyland in 1955 with the pathway up to a hub and the park’s icon where you can then enter all the different lands offered through the park. Epcot bucks this trend by placing the most recognizable part of its park right up front, towering over the entryway. Every guest entering the main gate will be in awe of the giant sphere that is Spaceship Earth. This also presents the first “pavilion” of Future World. Join me today as we walk through the gates together and into our time machines.
Prior to the main gate of Epcot, just as you exit the monorail, is a dedication plaque featuring a quote from the park’s opening. The dedication, given in 1982 by then-Disney CEO Card Walker, echoes the Disneyland dedication given by Walt Disney nearly 30 years earlier.
To all who come to this Place of Joy, Hope and Friendship
Epcot is inspired by Walt Disney’s creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.
And to my young self, having never seen this plaque or knowing about the original intentions of EPCOT and Walt Disney World, the park lived up to this dedication. I loved EPCOT Center because it filled me with a sense of wonder about the future. As a long time lover of science fiction, this theme park managed to capture my imagination by bringing those fantastic dreams into a physical reality.
Chances are, if you’ve made it this far, you already know something about Walt’s original plan for EPCOT. If you don’t, pick up a Walt biography and start your journey. Of all the projects to stall when Walt passed, this may have been the most affect but the park that did end up being built was a testament to Walt’s mentality.
Leave A Legacy
As we enter the park itself, let’s stop for a moment and marvel at MagicBands for just a second. It’s all over Walt Disney World but it just feels like it fits in Epcot a little bit more. For all the kinks that still need to be worked out, this technology has gone a long way to streamlining one’s day. I think Walt would have enjoyed the idea of this update and would look to take it even further.
But let’s not get too hung up on the turnstiles when the real magic is inside the park! And setting the tone inside is the small monument garden designed by Disney Legend John Hench for Walt Disney World’s Millenium Celebration. This is Leave A Legacy, made up of granite monoliths rising to frame the massive geodesic sphere ahead and preserve memories of guests who had visited between 1999 and 2007.
The pictures taken to make up Leave A Legacy fell into the period when I did not visit Walt Disney World. Being a big tough grown up, I left the fun to the people who knew better. Returning now, with more sense in my head, I got to learn a bit about the project. For a small fee or included in a vacation package, visitors left their picture to be seen until at least 2027.
Now, I’m sure I would have loved to do this when it was going on and I know many people love to go see their faces when they return. But today, I find this as one of the oddest parts of Epcot. The first part of your park and the opening into Future World is, essentially, stuck in the past. Here, this introduction to an area supposedly dedicated to human advancement, opens simply with a picture of people that happened to be somewhere at a certain time. There are places in the parks for this type of program, but to me it seems out of place here.
Leave A Legacy does, however, create a wonderful monument park that could be updated to honor the great scientists, innovators, and Imagineers that helped make Epcot a modern reality. That doesn’t even have to be the end for the people that bought into the original program, as the area behind Club Cool could easily become a new home to these plaques. Simple moves like these could create new purposes for areas often overlooked.
The icon of Epcot and one of the most recognizable pieces of architecure in the Walt Disney World resort is, without a doubt, Spaceship Earth. At nearly 35 years old, it has remained timeless and yet futuristic in the eyes of the guests passing under it.
Holding up the geodesic sphere are two massive pylons containing a small gift shop in each one. In the center, a mirrored pillar hides the ramp up into the rear base that keeps Spaceship Earth suspended above guests. A mural of human innovation stands at the top of the ramp where riders enter into one of the most popular attractions in the park.
The ride itself, a dark ride through the history of human advancements in communication, has been one of the least changed experiences in the whole park. Much of the ride remains the same since its original iteration with the largest changes coming to the narration and scenes describing humanity’s most recent achievements.
Spaceship Earth would set the tone for Future World as 5 other pavilions would open with similar dark rides with their own unique twists. The realistic depictions of human history, immersive set pieces, and organic soundtrack are just some of the reasons why this ride has held up longer than the others.
As a child, I was fascinated by the giant sphere yet terrified by the idea of the ride. It is hard for me to say what caused so much fear. It is possible that I equated it to Space Mountain and I was still very much afraid of roller coasters until I was almost in my teens. But once I was on it, it held me almost as fascinated as Journey Into Imagination and Horizons (which we will get into another Monday). My eager, young mind ate up these celebrations of human achievement.
And that, for me, sets the tone for what Epcot was and should be. Celebrate human achievement, entertain, inform, and inspire. This is what I expected from the park well before I ever knew about the dedication from Card Walker. This is also why, beyond it being the first attraction inside the park, that Spaceship Earth serves as the perfect starting point for examining Future World. Because it has managed to maintain the essence of Epcot’s original intention.
The ride vehicles may look a bit dated, the speaker a bit hard to hear sometimes, and the track a little too loud, but everything else in it requires very little to maintain an interesting and up to date experience. In fact, the latest rounds of changes nearly a decade ago even enhanced the message of communication by allowing riders to select multiple languages for the narration. A new interactive ending also taps into Epcot’s relationship with futurism and technology in telling you how advancements may play a factor in your life soon.
With that same sense of wonder being instilled in me each time I ride, I honestly say that there can’t be much that needs to be done to this ride to keep it relative. While other pavilions have shifted direction from the park’s original plan, Spaceship Earth has stayed completely true and it continues to inspire. This will prove our shining example as we press forward in this weekly series.