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.
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
- 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
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.