Re-Discovering Future World

by Debra Martin Koma, ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 16, 2006, Issue #347 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Pssst! Come here -- no, lean in a little closer. Ssshhh! I have a confession to make.

I never rode World of Motion.

I also never rode the original Journey into Imagination or played in the original Image Works upstairs playground. I never saw the Universe of Energy before Ellen DeGeneres moved in. Or Kitchen Kabaret, or Symbiosis, or Magic Journeys, or even Captain EO, for that matter.

I know, I know -- I'm writing for the most comprehensive Walt Disney World website on the Internet, I've co-authored a Disney World guidebook, I'm supposed to be an expert. And I am, at least I think I am, when it comes to present-day Disney information.

But the truth is, although I love Walt Disney World, and more specifically, Epcot, as much if not more than the next guy, I'm a relative newcomer to the land of Disneyphilia.

I didn't make my first trip to Walt Disney World until I was an adult -- in 1994 -- with a 2-1/2-year-old of my own. (No, I won't tell you how old I was then.) As a result, my first trip to the World centered mostly on the Magic Kingdom and character "meet & greets." Yes, we went to Epcot, and we really enjoyed World Showcase, but Future World just didn't seem to have much to hold my then-toddler's interest. (I admit that shows how little we really knew about Epcot at the time.)

By the time I made my second trip to Epcot, in February 1997, a lot of the original Future World had vanished. World of Motion had closed and was under construction to become the new GM-sponsored Test Track (which was slated to open in May of that year -- ha!). The strains of Kitchen Kabaret's Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit had long been replaced by the likes of the Refrigerator Police and the Peach Boys in Food Rocks. Ellen and friends had taken over teaching you about fossil fuels and more in the Universe of Energy. I did get to ride Horizons, several times, even though it was widely spoken of as dated and on the verge of being replaced. But even on that second visit to the World, I didn't see as much of Future World as I could have, should have. For example, Figment and Dreamfinder were still over there singing about little sparks of Imagination, but I didn't know enough to make sure I saw them. The biggest deterrent? I'll blame my son again. My toddler had become an almost-5-year-old who was obsessed with Star Wars, and we happened to be visiting Walt Disney World when they were holding a Star Wars Weekend over at Disney-MGM Studios. Subsequently, guess which park commanded a lot of our time? (Honest -- in 1997, there was a Star Wars Weekend in February. I wouldn't make that up!)

So, since some of the classic ideas behind Future World were sort of "before my time," I figured it was high-time that I filled in some of my Disney-education gaps by taking the "UnDISCOVERed Future World" tour, which was supposed to focus on both the history and the present-day Future World attractions. Normally, I shy away from the Disney World tours, mostly because I'd rather be riding the rides and seeing the shows, but also because I'm afraid of destroying the illusions I have of how things happen and appear around the World -- I don't want to mess with the Magic. Regardless, I chose to forge ahead and see what I could uncover and discover on this trip.

The UnDISCOVERed Future World tour launched in July 2000, and was so named partially because the original theme of Epcot was "Discovery." Based on what I've read from earlier reports on this tour, nearly six years later not much has changed in its basic format -- although, true to the dynamic nature of Walt Disney World, a number of the pavilions and attractions once featured have significantly transformed.

The tour started at 9 a.m. at Epcot's Guest Relations, where our group of 12 met our guide for the day, Brad, a 17-year veteran of the Disney company. Brad was certainly an appropriate spokesperson for Future World. He'd spent most of his time in Disney's employ working in a number of different positions in Epcot, including a stint as a performer in the Skyleidoscope show performed on World Showcase Lagoon during the celebration of Walt Disney World's 15th anniversary in 1986-87.

The tour normally begins in an area adjacent to Innoventions where photographs of Walt Disney and Epcot's early years hang on the walls, but since our tour was during the Flower and Garden Festival, that space was being used to house Festival activities. Brad instead made copies of the photos for us to look at and obtained permission to sneak us into the private lounge in Spaceship Earth. Previously occupied by Spaceship Earth sponsor AT&T, the lounge is in transition while new occupant-sponsor Siemens decides how it wants to decorate the space. In other words, it wasn't too glamorous at the moment, but it did have a terrific view looking out at the Fountain of Nations and up into World Showcase. (Wonder where the lounge is? Take a look at this photo of a topiary in the rear of Spaceship Earth during the Flower and Garden Festival: http://allears.net/tp/ep/fg06/fg06_70.jpg See those windows in the background? That's the lounge.)

After sharing a lot of the history of Epcot's origins and evolution, Brad began to discuss each of the major components that make up Future World, starting with Spaceship Earth. He soon discovered what a challenge it was to stump our group with interesting trivia -- it seemed as though most of us on the tour were not only veteran Disney visitors, but also had been on previous Disney tours. But to his credit, stump us he did every now and then. Without going into extreme detail and spoiling the tour for anyone who is thinking of taking it soon, I'll just share what were, to me, the highlights along with a few of the more memorable anecdotes and factoids:

-- Spaceship Earth: Along with the nifty peek inside the lounge, Brad passed around a sample of the material that covers the exterior of the geodesic sphere. Called Alucobond, it's made of two sheets of aluminum bonded to a polymer. One of the other things that I learned -- and probably something I should have been able to figure out on my own: The wand with Mickey's hand that was attached to Spaceship Earth during the Millennium Celebration makes that attraction the tallest structure on Disney property. (Tower of Terror, at 199 feet, is just under the 200-feet limit that would require it to have a lighted beacon on top to alert passing aircraft. Take a look at the very top of the wand -- yep, it has that beacon.)

-- Innoventions: We made a stop at Innoventions East, which, I must admit, I have spent little time in -- when I'm with my family, we usually duck into Innoventions West to send a quick IBM email postcard home, try a few video games and then head elsewhere. I found I've really been missing something, as we had our own private viewing of the House of Innoventions. I don't know how I've bypassed this fun and fascinating attraction before. I was truly impressed by the innovations we saw here, especially the voice-controlled, integrated sound and video system, and the self-flushing, self-cleaning toilet with an automatic lid. And one of the newest additions to the exhibit -- the Hummer H2H, an experimental hydrogen-powered vehicle that's in the testing phase. http://allears.net/tp/ep/humvee.jpg

-- Fountain of Nations: If you're a Disney enthusiast, you probably know that when Epcot opened, a number of nations each poured water from one of their major water sources into the fountain as a symbol of unity. But what you might not know is that there are 35 miles of electrical wires underneath the fountain so that it can perform its daily choreographed water shows.

-- The Living Seas: We had our second look at a private lounge here, upstairs at the Coral Reef. The lounge was once used by sponsor United Technologies, but since they have withdrawn, it is used for private functions and to entertain visiting notables. This lounge was beautifully appointed, in dark woods and hues of blues. And of course it commanded a gorgeous view of the pavilion's aquarium. It would have been easy to stay there and lounge in that lounge longer, while Brad shared trivia with us like: The Living Seas aquarium is so big, you could put Spaceship Earth into it and still have a 10-foot moat around the globe.

-- The Land: We learned a number of trivia bits in this pavilion and Brad refreshed my memory on a point or two I had forgotten. For instance, the film that preceded the current "Circle of Life" that runs in the pavilion was called "Symbiosis." The old film had much the same ecological theme as the current one, but when characters from The Lion King were added, Brad noted, Symbiosis was "Simba-sized."

-- Imagination: In this pavilion, Brad explained something that had always puzzled me. Do you know why the Imagination pavilion resembles a greenhouse? Because it was originally supposed to be the Land pavilion! Partway through construction, the Imagineers had a different idea for The Land, and the structure was abandoned until they could figure out what to do with it. We had another behind-the-scenes glance in this pavilion -- Brad took us upstairs to the area that once housed the Image Works playground. One of the old pin tables was still there for us to play with, but aside from that and a large stand-up figure of Figment, the pavilion's purple dragon mascot, the area was vacant and abandoned.

-- Universe of Energy: The trek from Imagination to Energy was the longest single walk we took on this tour, although a lot of walking was involved. At the pavilion, the ride was closed for some technical reason, but we were still able to go "backstage," where Brad showed us a Pteranodon audio-animatronic that we were allowed not only to touch, but to photograph. http://allears.net/tp/ep/anima1.jpg (We weren't permitted to take photos in any other backstage area.) The sponginess of the material covering the animatronic surprised me, but what was even more surprising were the samples of other audio-animatronic "skins" that Brad passed around for us, including the skin of an elephant from the Jungle Cruise. And did you know that the solar panels on the exterior of this pavilion only provide about 15 percent of the energy required for the ride -- yet it is enough to provide power for six homes?

-- Wonders of Life: What was most notable about this part of the tour was that we skipped this pavilion altogether. Walked right by it. I secretly had hoped we might get a peek inside, since the pavilion's been closed for so long, but no dice. And also, no word on what may be in store for the erstwhile home of the attractions Body Wars, Cranium Command and The Making of Me.

-- Mission: SPACE: Coolest of the cool, we were able to walk into the Mission Control area, the area that's behind the glass when you're passing through the attraction's queue. Cast Members on duty answered our questions, while we had the chance to see what was happening on the other side of the control panels, as well as handle all the props strewn about the place.

-- Test Track: I had thought we might have the chance to ride this ride, or perhaps see behind-the-scenes in the loading area, but Brad shared an even better backstage experience -- we were able to go into the garage behind the pavilion, where Cast Members were performing maintenance on the Test Track cars. Now that's something you don't see every day.

From there, we visited some cast areas, including cast costuming. Row after row of plaid vests for Guest Relations cast, lederhosen for Germany pavilion cast, bright blue suits for Soarin' cast... it was the closest this tour came to destroying the "Magic" for me. There was just something about seeing all those clothes hanging there in this big warehouse that made them look like so many uniforms, rather than the whimsical outfits I always imagined them to be.

Fortunately, we moved quickly back outside to a trailer, where we met with Carolina, an international Cast Member from Brazil, who spoke with us a bit about what the program entails and her time at Disney.

Our final stop on the tour was the backstage area that's home to the IllumiNations barges and the impressive globe that graces the World Showcase lagoon nightly. After a quick description of the show's storyline, we took a few steps, walked through a door, and voila! We were in China! The outer area of the Yong Feng Shangdian department store to be precise. I had no idea that's where the exit would lead us.

Brad presented us with our souvenir "UnDISCOVERed Future World" pins and informed us that we were eligible to watch that night's performance of IllumiNations from the private viewing area in front of the Italy pavilion. In addition, we were also eligible for a 20 percent discount on lunch at China's Nine Dragons restaurant. I looked at my watch -- it was 1:15. No time for lunch for me -- there were rides to ride and shows to see, and since I was going home later that night, I had a lot to squeeze in, in a small amount of time.

But I will say that the tour was well worth both my time and my money -- after a stop at every major location around Future World, maybe I'm slightly more of a Disney "expert" than I was before. At the very least, I feel as though I've "discovered" a little bit more of what Future World was, and is, all about.

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RELATED INFO:

HOURS: UnDISCOVERed Future World is offered at 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The tour generally runs between 4 and 4.5 hours. Lunch is not included although there is a short break about two hours into the tour at The Land, where food can be purchased at Sunshine Seasons.

COST: $49. BUT remember to ask about discounts for Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club members, and Disney Visa Cardholders. I received a 20 percent discount by paying for the tour with my Disney Visa (total came to $39.20). Also, remember that admission to Epcot is NOT included in the price of the tour.

AGE: 16 and up.

ACCESSIBILITY: There is a LOT of walking on this tour, so if you're not ambulatory or have limited stamina, it won't be for you. However, one member of our group, Sarah, was in a wheelchair and found the tour completely accessible via ramps and elevators.

CALL: 407-WDW-TOUR for more information or reservations.

TOUR DESCRIPTIONS and other relevant information can also be found here: http://allears.net/btp/tours.htm

RATE this or other tours you've taken, or read the opinions of other readers, in our Rate and Review section: http://land.allears.net/reviewpost


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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.