Epcot: Then and Now

by Joshua Olive, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the February 8, 2005, Issue #281 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

I was lucky enough to get to see Epcot before construction was finished on this new park, lucky enough to get to visit during its first couple of years of operation, lucky enough to go back and see it time and time again. Epcot has changed a lot over the years -- more, in my opinion, than any of the other parks -- and those changes are what this article is all about.

Many of the changes at Epcot are changes in the park itself -- attractions coming and going, new countries being added to the World Showcase, and the addition of events like the International Food & Wine Festival -- and some of the changes I see in the park are really changes in me and my perspective. As a kid, Epcot was two parks in one, and I didn't really get it. Future World was all I could have asked for, and World Showcase bored me to tears. Oh, how things have changed! Nowadays, while I still love Future World, I have developed an equal love for the countries represented in the World Showcase. There are a couple of reasons for that: Future World, in many ways, is no longer really about the future and exciting ideas, and it has slid back slightly in my esteem. World Showcase, on the other hand, has only moved forward, and my older, more mature (more quality food-driven) sensibilities find more and more to like about it.

Future World has undergone a wide array of changes since Epcot first opened in 1982. Some of the old attractions are still around -- Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, Journey into Imagination, and Living with the Land -- but all of those have seen changes since they originally opened. Other attractions, like Horizons and World of Motion, no longer exist and have been replaced with completely different ideas (Mission: SPACE and Test Track, respectively). There have also been additions to Future World since the park first opened, with the arrival of the amazing Living Seas and the Wonders of Life pavilion.

The biggest change in Future World, to my mind, was subtly done over time and wasn't necessarily a change for the better. It was a shift away from the bright vision of pioneering and future possibility to one more grounded in pragmatic realism. There once was a sense of wonder and optimism that permeated Future World, and that ambience used to be one of the magic intangibles that made Future World truly Disney.

World of Motion was a fun story of transportation, leading us from the caveman trying to blow cool air on his over-traveled and overheated feet to the possibilities for tomorrow, all the while reminding us that "it's fun to be free!" It was replaced with Test Track, a really fun, but decidedly non-future based attraction. Horizons, an incredible ride that tapped into your imagination to show the possibilities the future holds has been replaced with Mission: SPACE. No, we haven't landed men on Mars yet, so that's in the future, but the ride itself, as closely as possible, mirrors reality. While Mission: SPACE is hailed as an incredible attraction, it hasn't elicited the same sense of awesome optimism its predecessor did. I'm not sure how the now seasonally open Wonders of Life pavilion ever fit into the future theme -- I'd love to see that space re-Imagineered into something more fitting with the rest of Future World.

Don't get me wrong; I still enjoy every minute of my time in Future World. I absolutely love the Living Seas and being able to lose myself in its depths. I love Living with the Land (though I do miss that old John Denver-esque song!). I love Spaceship Earth and the Imagination Institute. Heck, I really like Test Track, and I look forward to landing on Mars with Mission: SPACE. I just get a little wistful every now and then when I remember the "good old days."

World Showcase, on the other hand, has taken a huge leap forward in my affections. When Epcot first opened, World Showcase was so boring to me! Movies and more movies, nothing but movies, and you had to stand up for half of them, too. Pizza, hamburgers, and hotdogs were perfectly acceptable meals three times a day, seven days a week. The food in World Showcase didn't hold any appeal for me, and the only attraction that did interest me was El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion, and, let's face it, that's not Disney's most exciting ride.

World Showcase has changed little since those early years, the only major addition being Norway with its awesome Maelstrom ride, but how I love that side of the park now! It really is like going around the world in the space of a few hours. I'm constantly fascinated by the architecture, which is so true to each country of origin. I live for the fabulous food just waiting to be found in each country. And I love listening to the Cast Members from all over the world as they talk about the countries they came from. World Showcase is now a source of continual fascination.

I know that I've gotten older because, now, I look forward to the food at Walt Disney World as much as I do to the rides and shows. And World Showcase in Epcot has the corner on the market when it comes to fine cuisine in the parks! Restaurant Marrakesh, Le Cellier, San Angel Inn, et. al. -- these places capture the ambience inherent to their respective countries and combine it with incredible, authentic cuisine. Every country in the World Showcase has something to tempt the taste buds, something to lure you in and make you want to stay or, better yet, to go and visit the countries represented there.

Then there are events like the International Food and Wine Festival! Disney certainly knows what they're doing with this event! They have temporary kiosks set up to sell food samples from regions all over the world, from Peru to South Africa to Scandinavia. What a delight! If you ever have the opportunity to visit during this time, make at least one meal a strolling feast around the World Showcase Lagoon. Stop and pick up a cup of the fabulous cheese soup in Canada, try the Boma Beef in South Africa, the goulash in Poland, the ham and cheese crepes in France, and the devilishly good chocolate offerings in Italy, sampling wines and beers along the way, like the cherry kijafa in Scandinavia or any of the fabulous brews in England. It's a party for your taste buds!

Of course, the wonderful food is only one of the reasons the World Showcase is so much fun. The "countries" themselves are well worth poring over and examining in detail. Each country features authentic architectural designs, many of which are just awe-inspiring -- the exquisite temple in China (go inside and look up!), all of Morocco, the Stave Church in Norway, the incredible fortress in Japan, the awesome mountain/waterfall in Canada -- World Showcase is a feast for the eyes.

And each country has its own unique attractions as well: the acrobats in China are absolutely not to be missed; Off Kilter, in Canada, is a rollicking rock band, the only one I've ever seen that features bagpipes! The Stave Church in Norway is a tiny museum of sorts, though many people don't know they can go inside, and, obviously, Maelstrom is a must-see attraction, taking you through the history of the Norse people into their present. The films in China, France, Canada, and Norway are enough to make me want to visit every time I see them, and many of these films are presented in unusual ways: 360 degrees, 180 degrees, you name it, but they're all magnificent.

While it's not of great interest to me, I can't deny that the shopping opportunities offered in World Showcase are endless. Each country offers unique goods that are usually only available to people with plane tickets and valid passports. If you want an authentic Moroccan prayer rug, you can get one here; if you're looking for good French perfume or wine, they've got it. Talk about your global marketplace!

So, Epcot: Then and Now -- it's really changed a lot over the past 20 years. But so have I. In many ways, this park is the one with which I can identify the most. I was there when it was born; I've watched it grow and I've grown with it. Do I like all the changes? Not all of them. But that does little to curb my enthusiasm for Epcot. Yes, Epcot, with Future World and World Showcase, is still like two parks in one, but, as far as I'm concerned, that just makes it twice as good.

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Guest Columnist Joshua Olive is a 29-year-old, multi-trip Walt Disney World veteran who remembers seeing Epcot when it was under construction and staying at the old Disney Institute Tree House Villas. A technical writer for a robotics integrator by day, he also is a comic book store owner, a musician, and an actor and director in community theater, where he recently won a local Best Actor award for his portrayal of Lennie in "Of Mice and Men."

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Related Links:

Fantasyland, Then and Now: http://allears.net/ae/issue244.htm

Also by Josh Olive on Allears.net: The Big Picture: http://allears.net/tp/rid_josh.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.