Sunday is the 35th anniversary of EPCOT Center, and the park has changed quite a bit over the years. Opening-day attractions like The American Adventure and Impressions de France remain, but much of the original slate has been altered or removed. There is still plenty to see for avid fans of the park’s early days, however. To celebrate the landmark milestone at one of my favorite places, I’ve prepared a one-day tour to experience the best of EPCOT Center.
During this fabulous journey, not all of our stops will be 1982 attractions. I consider the park’s heyday to extend all the way into the mid-‘90s. The cracks were already showing, but there was still plenty to enjoy from the beginning. Spaceship Earth had two updates in the park’s first 12 years, and both new versions are beloved by fans. The park was firing on all cylinders, and pavilions like The Living Seas and Wonders of Life just added to the fun.
The 1986 Walt Disney World souvenir book describes EPCOT Center in this way:
“Together, Future World and World Showcase offer a new look at what our world can be, thorough understanding, cooperation and a better knowledge of each other. As Walt intended, EPCOT Center is an endeavor by people, for people, with hope for a better world.”
What I’m really looking at with this tour is the spirit of the original EPCOT Center. The optimistic and forward-thinking view of our future and world culture is still relevant today. Nemo, Crush, Anna and Elsa, and others have invaded the park, but they haven’t overwhelmed it. Epcot is now an odd mix of past glories, modern thrills, and Disney characters. I’m not here to bemoan the loss of favorite attractions, however. Let’s celebrate what makes Epcot great today!
Under the current FastPass Plus structure, the best touring approach is to rush to one of the Tier 1 attractions at rope drop. This isn’t that kind of trip, however. We’re going to stop and take a photo with Spaceship Earth in the background. It’s nearly impossible to take a bad picture of that iconic structure, which looks quite imposing from the bottom. With the right perspective, however, it can look comforting in a photo from near the entryway.
Sadly, the view around Spaceship Earth has more visual obstructions than we saw in the past. The original walkway did not include the massive Leave a Legacy monuments alongside Spaceship Earth. While they may be fun to participants, these “tombstones” can obstruct the clean view. The fountain and clear plexiglass structure offered an elegant vision of the future before the changes to the entryway.
That sculpture is now gone, but it’s still a pleasant stroll after escaping the bonds of security. It is impossible not to get excited as the rousing music plays in the background. The park has changed quite a lot, but the energetic pulse remains in place. While others scramble to ride Test Track, Soarin’, or Frozen Ever After, we’ll just glide forward and head right into Spaceship Earth. Following the original dedication that EPCOT Center will “entertain, inform, and inspire,” we’ll take that approach when tackling the park today.
A Grand and Miraculous Spaceship
My choice to visit Spaceship Earth first is a clear violation of the basics of Epcot touring. That’s what newbies do! Even so, it feels essential to start this particular day with one of the classics. The 2007 version with Judi Dench is quite different from the original attraction, but it maintains a similar vibe. Particularly with the ascent, it’s still a classic Omnimover ride through audio-animatronic scenes displaying our cultural history. While the script and some moments have changed, the inspiring look at innovation could fit in EPCOT Center.
The Imagineers designed the park with pavilions that could entertain thousands of people every hour. Spaceship Earth still has a considerable hourly capacity, though lines have increased due to FastPass Plus. I doubt we’ll wait very long at the start, but you can use a FastPass if you want to be safe. The stroll up the incline to the entrance isn’t that different today, especially with the gorgeous mural near the door. We step onto the circular moving walkway and board our slow-moving ride vehicles for an exploration of past achievements.
I should mention the interactive descent, which draws a few laughs but doesn’t equal the past versions. It’s easy to close your eyes and imagine the classic tune “Tomorrow’s Child” playing from the Walter Cronkite version. The sets from the Jeremy Irons version are still in the dark, and something could change now that Siemens isn’t the sponsor. It wouldn’t take much to make the descent soar once again. We finish with Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future in the post-show area. It’s quite different yet still has the feeling of the Global Neighborhood or Earth Station, so we can spend a little time here before continuing the tour.
By Land and Sea
Our journey takes us to Future World West, which is home to several pavilions that retain a lot of their original selves. We’ll begin at The Seas with Nemo & Friends, which still sounds weird. Let’s call this pavilion The Living Seas like its opening name in 1986. We won’t bother with the Nemo dark ride, which blocks most of the aquarium from the Sea Cabs trip. Instead, let’s stroll through the gift shop and right into the main room. Despite some Pixar intrusions, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this space. The highlight is the upstairs viewing area, which offers an incredible look at a wide range of marine life. We also spot manatees and colorful fish in the smaller rooms.
After taking a stroll through the old Seabase Alpha, let’s go next door and enjoy an attraction that feels closest to EPCOT Center. Living with the Land isn’t the first version of the boat ride inside The Land pavilion, but it retains the spirit. The first half is a relaxing journey through various biomes with soothing music, waterfalls, and calm narration. I can think of few places I’d like to be right now besides that portion. The greenhouse visit always interests me, particularly the aquaculture portion with the fish swimming in close proximity.
Following the boat ride, we’ve reserved a spot on the Behind the Seeds tour. This reasonably priced one-hour tour goes behind the scenes of the greenhouses and fish farm. I’ve never experienced Behind the Seeds, and this EPCOT Center visit seems like the perfect time to do it. There are interesting spots that we barely seen on Living with the Land that get more attention on this tour. The $25 price tag for adults won’t break the bank like some other special activities. After this tour, let’s enjoy a quick lunch at Sunshine Seasons. While not the same as the original dining options in the pavilion, this spot’s healthy lunches just feel right inside The Land.
The Magic of Water
Before proceeding to World Showcase, let’s take a little time enjoying some cool water features in Future World. We stroll near the Imagination pavilion to see the jumping fountains that remain on the west side of the building. It’s a nice way to relax in a location that’s rarely crowded. This is also a good time to take a bathroom break in the hidden restrooms in the corner of Imagination. Their design recalls EPCOT Center’s early days, and it’s amazing.
We must take a photo in front of the large Imagination fountain, but first let’s spot the retro-looking building that now holds the Visa character greeting. It’s usually only open in the afternoon, but swing by if the time is right. Even if you don’t have a Disney Visa or want to meet the surprise characters, the décor inside that entry room is stunning. This area was once more popular when guests flocked to Captain EO, but it’s a quiet, serene place today.
A Full Afternoon
There have been a lot of changes in Future World, but much of World Showcase retains its early feel. Anna and Elsa and The Three Caballeros have appeared, but they’re stuck at one end of the lagoon. We’re starting in Canada! I’m not a big fan of the newer version of “O Canada” with Martin Short. However, it does include some Circle-Vision footage from the original film. So it’s worth a visit to stop for this film. We’ll next take a quick visit to the United Kingdom and grab some fish and chips and a beer (optional). After eating near the gazebo in the back, it’s time for a journey through the beauty of France. You can’t go wrong with Impressions de France, which remains among my favorite Epcot attractions.
Now that we’ve sat inside air conditioning for a bit, let’s power to Morocco and catch some live music! Japan is the perfect site for some shopping in the massive Mitsukoshi Department Store. We’ll sample some sake and venture for another break at The American Adventure. Before proceeding inside the main theater, we spend time with the Voices of Liberty. Our feature presentation is one of the true gems that remain from 1982’s EPCOT Center. There have been a few changes to the final film, but the show is mostly identical to the early version.
A Festive Evening
I’m hungry! Thankfully, we have an ADR for dinner at the Biergarten. I can’t think of a better spot that signifies EPCOT Center than this festive restaurant. We first spend a little time strolling through Italy and enjoying the striking architecture. Night is starting to fall during our dinner, but we still have more to do! Like “O Canada”, “Reflections of China” has changed from its original version. In this case, it still makes great use of the Circle-vision technology. The pavilion looks gorgeous at night, but we still have one more stop in World Showcase.
Walking right past Arendelle (sorry Olaf!), we venture inside the Mexico pavilion. This shopping area hasn’t changed the much, and it’s still a cool environment. It feels strange to visit the Gran Fiesta Tour, but I’ve included it because of the opening ride through the water. Before the Three Caballeros jarringly announce their presence, you can almost imagine you’re riding on El Rio Del Tiempo. Parts of that attraction do remain, so keep an eye out for them.
Reflections of Earth
We’ve nearly reached the end, but there’s still a nighttime spectacular to enjoy. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is quite different from earlier versions of Epcot’s nighttime shows but retains their soul. We do have a little time to kill, so feel free to use a Tier 1 FastPass to ride Test Track (or even Frozen Ever After). I won’t judge you. This visit is all about EPCOT Center, but that doesn’t mean new things are bad.
While the rousing tune of “We Go On” blares around World Showcase Lagoon, I’m feeling great about the potential for this park. We’ve had a thrilling day that didn’t involve rushing to attractions or refreshing our phone repeatedly for FastPasses. EPCOT Center is still present in this park if you know where to look. I’m hopeful that future changes will retain its essence, even if they don’t match the spirit exactly. Disney can still make Epcot incredible; the foundation remains in place. They just need someone with a vision about more than brands and dollars. Thanks for joining me on this visit to this amazing place. Let’s do it again soon!