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Disney Epcot Center


Disney Epcot Center is a theme park dedicated to international culture and technological innovation. Located at Walt Disney World in Florida, it opened on October 1, 1982.

Epcot History

The planned community
The name Epcot is derived from the acronym EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), a utopian city of the future planned by Walt Disney. (He sometimes used the word 'City' instead of 'Community' when expanding the acronym.) In Walt Disney's words: "EPCOT ... will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT CENTER will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise."

Walt Disney's original vision of EPCOT CENTER was for a model community, home to twenty thousand residents, which would be a testbed for city planning and organization. The community was to have been built in the shape of a circle, with businesses and commercial areas at its center, community buildings and schools and recreational complexes around it, and residential neighborhoods along the perimeter. Transportation would have been provided by monorails and People Movers (like the one in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland). Automobile traffic would be kept underground, leaving pedestrians safe above-ground. A giant dome was to have covered the community, so as to regulate its climate (this idea was later seen in the 1998 movie The Truman Show). Walt Disney said, "It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT CENTER there will be no slum areas because we won't let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed."

This vision was not realized. Walt Disney wasn't able to obtain funding and permission to start work on his Florida property until he agreed to build the Magic Kingdom first, and he passed away before its opening day. The Walt Disney Company later decided that it didn't want to be in the business of running a town. (The model community of Celebration, Florida has been mentioned as a realization of Disney's original vision, but Celebration is based on concepts of new urbanism which is radically different from Disney's modernist and futurist visions.) However, the idea of EPCOT was instrumental in prompting the state of Florida to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District and the Cities of Lake Buena Vista and Reedy Creek (soon renamed Lake Buena Vista), a legislative mechanism which allows the Walt Disney Company to exercise governmental powers over Walt Disney World. Control over the RCID is vested in the landowners of the district, and the promise of an actual city in the district would have meant that the powers of the RCID would have been distributed among the landowners in EPCOT. Because the idea of EPCOT was never implemented, the Disney Corporation remained almost the sole landowner in the district allowing it to maintain control of the RCID and the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista. That the RCID is now primarily intended as an instrument of the Disney Corporation was illustrated when the RCID redrew its boundaries to exclude Celebration, Florida which would have diluted Disney's control over the RCID.



Epcot Center - The theme park

The Epcot theme park was originally named EPCOT Center. Later, the 'Center' was dropped and 'Epcot' was changed to mixed-case.

The original plans for the park showed indecision over what the park's purpose was to be: some Imagineers wanted it to represent the cutting edge of technology, while others wanted it to showcase international cultures and customs. At one point a model of the futuristic park was pushed together against a model of the international park, and EPCOT Center was born.

Epcot CENTER is generally regarded as more "learning-oriented" than other theme parks. It has only two thrill rides (Test Track and Mission: SPACE); the rest of its attractions are dark rides, shows, or walkthrough exhibits. The park was parodied for this in an episode of The Simpsons. (Homer: Awwwww, it's even boring to fly over!)

Currently, Epcot's Future World is showing its age; the exhibits there can hardly be thought of as futuristic. A plan code-named 'Project Gemini' is rumored to exist which would change Future World into 'Discoveryland,' change its theme to the idea of discovery, reduce the pressure to keep everything cutting-edge, and add a few more thrll rides.

Various satirical expansions of the acronym EPCOT CENTER have emerged over time, such as "Every Person Comes Out Tired" (because of the amount of walking required in the park), and Eisner Puts Cash On his Table (in light of the high admission price to the Disney parks, and Disney CEO Michael Eisner's reported 40 million dollar bonuses in the 1990s).


Epcot Center - Park layout

The park consists of two sections: Future World and World Showcase. Both are patterned after the kinds of exhibits which were popular at World's Fairs in the first half of the 20th century.


Epcot Center - Future World

Future World consists of a variety of pavilions that explore innovative aspects and applications of technology.

  • Spaceship Earth, the eighteen-story-tall geodesic sphere covered in triangular silver panels made of alucobond, is the gateway to Future World. Inside is a slow-moving dark ride through the history of communication, with a focus on the development of cultures and the future of technologies.

  • Innoventions, located in two pavilions (aptly named Innoventions East and Innoventions West), houses hands-on exhibitions from various science-and-technology oriented companies such as IBM and Segway. Innoventions Plaza is the location of the "Fountain of Nations," a large choreographed musical fountain which performs every fifteen minutes. During Epcot's opening ceremonies in 1982 , water from sixty nations was poured into the fountain. Kristos, a circus-act of group strength and flexibility, performs daily near the fountain. The three performers are from Bulgaria; they include a mother and her two sons. Nearby are Mouse Gear, Epcot's largest store offering a wealth of Disney related merchandise; Ice Station Cool, an igloo which offers guests a chance to taste various Coca-Cola beverages from around the world; the Fountain View Espresso and Bakery, a coffeeshop; and the Electric Umbrella, Future World's main counter-service restaurant with typical theme-park-style fast food.

  • Inside The Universe of Energy is Ellen's Energy Adventure, a show starring Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Nye, Jamie Lee Curtis, Alex Trebek, and (an actor playing) Albert Einstein in an episode of Jeopardy!. The categories are about energy and how people generate and harvest it. (Michael Richards, "Kramer" from Seinfeld, has a brief cameo in the show as a caveman who discovers fire.) The audience's seats are actually large vehicles which move slowly through the attraction and are powered by solar cells on the building's roof.

  • The Wonders of Life contains several small attractions (such as Body Wars, a motion simulator ride through the human body) about the human body and how to keep it in good health.

  • Mission: SPACE is a ride which simulates the training required to be member of the space program. Gary Sinise is the guide through a simulated mission to Mars in a spinning centrifuge gravity-simulator, which lets guests feel what it's like to blast off in a rocket. (This attraction is built on the former site of Horizons, a ride which compared science fiction of the past with what life might be like in the future.)
    In Test Track, guests sit in six-seater cars and experience the wide range of testing that automobiles must go through before they are approved for mass production. Cars in the ride pass through extreme temperatures, over rough surfaces, and around high-speed turns. (This pavilion formerly housed The World of Motion, a slow-moving ride past scenes depicting the past and the future of transportation. It was replaced in 1996.)

  • The Living Seas is one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. Guests can view many different aquatic animals such as manatees while they learn about the preservation of the oceans.
  • The Land is about human interaction with the natural environment. It contains a boat ride through a working greenhouse and a slowly-rotating restaurant which serves food grown there. A copy of the attraction Soarin' Over California from Disney's California Adventure is scheduled to open here in 2005. (The new attraction's queue area is built in the former location of, and therefore required the closing of, the Food Rocks attraction which itself replaced the earlier Kitchen Kabaret.)
  • Imagination! contains Journey Into Imagination, a lighthearted ride starring Eric Idle and the Epcot mascot Figment. It encourages guests to use their senses and their imagination. This attraction is currently in its third incarnation: a refurbishment in 1998 removed the little purple dragon Figment and featured Idle instead, but there were so many complaints over the disappearance of Figment that a 2003 refurbishment added him back. Imagination! also contains Honey I Shrunk The Audience; in this 3-D short film featuring Eric Idle, Rick Moranis, and the rest of the cast of the film Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, a demonstration of a new invention inadvertently shrinks the entire theater. (From May 1986 until April 1997, this theater had shown the film Captain Eo, which starred Michael Jackson, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and was produced by George Lucas. Before that, the theater had shown a film titled Magic Journeys.)

Each Future World pavilion was initially sponsored by a corporation who helped fund its construction and maintenance in return for the corporation's logos appearing prominently throughout the pavilion. For example, Universe of Energy was sponsored by Exxon, and The Land was sponsored by Kraft, then Nestlé. Each pavilion contains a posh "VIP area" for its sponsor with offices, lounges, and reception areas hidden away from regular park guests. In the years since the park's opening, however, some sponsors have decided that the branding wasn't worth the cost of sponsorship and have pulled out, leaving some of the pavilions without sponsors. Disney prefers to have sponsors helping to pay the bills, so pavilions without sponsors have an uncertain future: after General Electric left Horizons it was demolished to make room for Mission: SPACE, and after MetLife abandoned The Wonders of Life that area has been closed during off-seasons.


Epcot Center - World Showcase

World Showcase is made up of eleven pavilions: in clockwise order, Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Each of these contains representative shops and restaurants and is staffed by citizens of these countries. Some also contain rides and shows. Each pavilion is sponsored (and paid for) by the country it represents, so tourism brochures are readily available. The sponsorship also explains why pavilions for Russia, Spain, and Israel never made it past the planning phase: these countries declined to fund pavilions.

To cut costs, Disney now opens World Showcase late (usually 11:00 AM) and closes Future World early (usually 7:00 PM, except for Test Track and Mission: SPACE which sometimes remain open until park closing). Unlike the Magic Kingdom which has no alcohol, many stores and resturants in the World Showcase serve or sell alcoholic beverages from their respective countries and beer is sold at refreshment stands throughout the park.

A ten-minute fireworks show takes place in the World Showcase Lagoon every night at the park's closing time (usually 9:00 PM). Fireworks and lasers fill the sky above an immense rotating globe whose continents show changing pictures of culture and technology throughout the ages, while a rousing musical score plays over the loudspeakers. The current show is titled Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. It is divided into three movements titled "Chaos," "Order," and "Meaning." The music has an African tribal sound to it, to emphasize the idea of humanity as a single unified tribe on this planet; the lagoon is surrounded by twenty large torches signifying the past twenty centuries, and the show culminates in the globe opening like a lotus blossom to reveal a twenty-first torch, representing the new century.

 


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