EPCOT at 40: a look back, forward and behind the walls of construction

October 1, 2022 marked the 40th anniversary of the opening of EPCOT, Disney’s second theme park in Central Florida. The anniversary comes during a larger celebration of the Walt Disney World Resort’s 50th anniversary, and as such, EPCOT’s milestone recognition was met with little fanfare. But EPCOT’s history is storied, dating back to the 1960s when Walt Disney first shared his dreams of creating a futuristic community designed to showcase ingenuity and imagination.

EPCOT’s name was meant to serve as an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, but when Disney died in 1966, its ambitious project finally took a turn, becoming a traditional theme park with exploratory experiences designed to “educate”. the public.

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For most of its existence, the park has had two sections: A Future World exploring topics such as technology, transportation, agriculture, and energy; and World Showcase, an exhibition of the nations of the world offering a chance to explore the architecture, culture and cuisine of various countries.

As a teenager visiting Walt Disney World on a family vacation in the 90s, I was immediately taken with the concept of cultural exploration. As I longed to one day fly to faraway destinations, EPCOT’s sense of faux global travel seduced my wanderlust. In college, I was drawn to EPCOT again, working at the park’s Journey Into Imagination attraction (now the Imagination Pavilion!). While the park no longer tried to be an experimental society, it was here that I found a community of colleagues who quickly became friends.

EPCOT hosts a variety of popular annual festivals. | Photo courtesy of Disney

Festivals and construction zones

Although EPCOT has changed in the 25 years since I first moved to Florida, it continues to be a special place, drawing me in for regular visits. As the fourth most-visited theme park in North America, it has proven to be a favorite of many, thanks in large part to the many successful seasonal festivals, which regularly draw in, especially for 21-year-olds and more.

The most popular of these is the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival, which takes visitors on a culinary and alcoholic journey across six continents. Those interested in this year’s event should schedule a visit anytime before November 19. The park’s holiday event kicks off on November 25, followed by an arts festival in January and February, which leads to a colorful month-long flower festival that begins each March.

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Beyond the festivals, those who come to EPCOT today are greeted with signs of a work in progress. Before the pandemic, Disney announced a massive overhaul project that promised new attractions, shows, themes and spaces dedicated to seasonal entertainment offerings. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted much of this effort, extending construction already underway and putting some planned developments on hold indefinitely. Although the work has slowly progressed over the past few years, building walls have become so prevalent within EPCOT that they have been dubbed “Wall-cot” by fans and critics alike.

While the walls remain in place in several areas, many more have come down with the opening of recent additions such as the Space 220 restaurant, which impressively simulates dining inside a space station, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a family ride located in the park. French flag.

EPCOT’s new attraction is a unique reverse launch guardians of the galaxy roller coaster with cars spinning through dizzying 360 degrees. This ride has proven so popular that the only way to ride it is to secure a coveted spot in a virtual online queue, which quickly fills up each morning.

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Where progress meets the past

While the status of many of the park’s discontinued projects remains unclear, Disney has continued to share details about some of what remains hidden behind those pesky construction walls, including the park’s reimagining of two four-person theme lands: World Celebration, World Discovery, World Nature, and Global Showcase.

costumed characters of mickey, minnie, goofy and pluto walk past the large silver epcot sphere
EPCOT’s original vision aspired to serve as a blueprint for the future. | Photo courtesy of Disney
a bronze statue of walt disney in front of the grand sphere at epcot
A statue honoring Walt Disney. | Photo courtesy of Disney

One of those grounds, World Celebration, is currently slated for completion in late 2023, providing new green space and a statue dedicated to Disney, the man who started it all. The park’s World Nature area is also taking shape, with a Moana-Themed walking path dotted with playful water experiences, also planned for 2023. A new nighttime show in World Showcase that celebrates the Disney Company’s 100th anniversary in 2023 is also in development.

“EPCOT will always be in the making. He will never cease to be a living model of the future.

-Walt Disney

But ask a die-hard EPCOT fan what they’re most looking forward to in the coming year, and their answer might surprise you. While many of the park’s flashy new additions capitalize on popular Disney intellectual property, bringing beloved characters to life in new ways, there’s one character whose appeal has grown steadily over the past 40 years – and you can only find it at EPCOT.

a line of purple dragon shaped popcorn buckets
Sales of limited Figment-shaped popcorn buckets earlier this year led to 8-hour waits. | Photo courtesy of Disney

Figment Fans

Figment, an ever-young purple dragon, is the star of Imagination! pavilion where I worked in college, and while its iconic ride has evolved over the years, Figment fans return time and time again to sing the attraction’s catchy song “One Little Spark,” coo to its vacation jumper every winter, and don everything from t-shirts to tailored dresses and Mickey Mouse ears.

Figment’s enduring appeal to generations of park-goers is so strong that sales of limited-time Figment-shaped popcorn buckets sparked 8-hour expectations earlier this year. So when company officials announced at the D23 Expo fan event that Figment character encounters would be coming to the park in late 2023, Disney fan sites lit up with excitement.

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It’s the long-standing appeal of Figment and other educational stalwarts of EPCOT, mixed with the park’s forward-looking experiences and crowd-generating social festivals, that give this destination an unconventional sense of community. community. At a time when many people are stuck between nostalgia and a future that relies heavily on technology and a redefined sense of “oneness”, EPCOT manages to offer something for those looking to the future, as well only to those who aspire to preserve the past.

Although today’s world is unlike anything Disney could have imagined during its lifetime, EPCOT unexpectedly fulfills its promise to serve as a community gathering place constantly in a state of “becoming”.

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