Since I was a kid in the ‘80s, my favorite Disney World spot has always been Future World. The current incarnation falls short of the glory days, but it still provides a cool atmosphere. If I lived in Orlando, I’d probably spend the most time just strolling around that area. Particularly at night, the music and lights create just the right tone for optimism about the future. Today, I’ve taken on the gargantuan task of ranking all Future World attractions from the past and present. I’ve chosen 40 selections that present some of the best, worst, and oddest experiences in EPCOT’s history.
Before diving into the list, I should clarify that a few attractions are missing. I never had the joy of experiencing Journey into YOUR Imagination, the second version of that ride. From what I’ve heard, you could probably slot it at the bottom. I also haven’t ridden The Sum of All Thrills, though I plan to correct that omission soon. I have split attractions into different versions when I felt the changes were substantial (e.g., a new narrator). Certain pavilions or post-show areas have been combined into a single listing when there were just too many aspects to mention. I’ve only listed rides and exhibits that I’ve experienced well enough to evaluate. Let’s get to the rankings!
40. ImageWorks: The “What If” Labs
You’ll notice a trend with these lower picks at Future World; many feel worse because they compare unkindly to predecessors. The What-If Labs has a few games that are fun to play (when they work), but it mostly just reminds me of the closed upstairs ImageWorks. Stepping on squares to make music is enjoyable with kids, but they’re missing out on a remarkable space. When Disney changes the ride, I’m hoping they’ll expand it and move the post-show area to its rightful spot upstairs.
39. Club Cool
Testing out different Coke products from around the world never gets old. Who hasn’t fooled a friend or family member by having them try the Beverly? That fun still doesn’t account for such a chaotic atmosphere. The ground is sticky, and the charm of Ice Station Cool was lost in this basic space. It now feels more like a generic Coke shop than an original theme park spot. I also wish they varied up the options more; there are so many possibilities! They did swap out most of the flavors in 2013, but it would be nice to see regular changes to reward frequent guests.
38. The Making of Me
I miss the odd mix of attractions spread out within the Wonders of Life pavilion. The massive structure included a nausea-inducing thrill ride, a silly theater show, and even stationary bikes with video screens in front of them. Easily the strangest inclusion was The Making of Me, a 16-minute short film about how babies are made. It’s hardly controversial for the most part, but it still raised some eyebrows. Martin Short hosts the movie, which is well-made and cute at times. I’ve only ranked it this low because it seemed like an awkward part of a Disney park.
37. Journey into Imagination with Figment
There’s no better example of how not to upgrade an attraction than the Imagination pavilion. Kodak deserves much of the blame for holding Disney’s feet to the fire, but it still doesn’t justify such a weaker experience. Guests who never experienced the original Journey into Imagination probably think this version is fine. The ride is pleasant, there’s never a line, and it ends with a catchy song. Removing Dreamfinder, cutting the ride time, and changing Figment’s personality are just some of the crimes against this pavilion. This version is missing, for lack of a better word, imagination.
36. Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable
It’s interesting to note how Disney started incorporating its characters into Future World in the ‘90s. Circle of Life was the second film to occupy the Harvest Theater at The Land after Symbiosis. It took a lighter approach by incorporating characters from The Lion King into a tale about protecting the environment. While I agree with the message, it feels a little awkward and loses some impact. This film uses some footage from Symbiosis, and those portions still work. Simba’s very direct comments about recycling feel even more obvious today than they did in 1995 when it opened.
35. Ice Station Cool
Why place Ice Station Cool four spots ahead of Club Cool? The simple answer is originality. It was still a commercial for Coke with soda samples at the end. However, the experience felt a lot more unique. There was a frozen caveman holding a bottle of Coke named “thirsty man”. Even in commercial spots, a little bit of cleverness goes a long way. Ice Station Cool was also a great spot for photos, and it seemed less crowded because of the longer path to get there.
34. Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Worlds of the Future
I’m glad that Disney continues to use post-show areas at its Future World pavilions. It would be easy for them to write off the expense and believe guests wouldn’t mind. Project Tomorrow is a solid area with interactive exhibits on a variety of topics. It just lacks the ingenuity or grand scale of the best post-show locations. It’s a nice diversion, especially on a second day at EPCOT.
The original EPCOT Center has a reputation of being high-minded and too focused on education. This claim is unfair, and I experienced little of that during our trips in the ‘80s and early‘90s. That said, there are a few examples that might fit that description. Symbiosis is a gorgeous movie with stunning nature footage, but it’s a pretty straightforward environmental documentary about preserving our planet. Directed by Paul Gerber, the 19-minute film did feel a little out of place at Disney World.
32. Global Neighborhood
Opening as part of the many changes for EPCOT ’94, the Global Neighborhood shifted the purpose of Spaceship Earth’s post-show area. Earth Station was used for making reservations and gaining information, and this new spot was like a modern Science Center themed to communication. While it was less flashy than the current Project Future, there were fun exhibits. This rank is for the original Global Neighborhood before it was changed for the Millennium. The technology might seem rudimentary today, but it was exciting at the time.
It’s a challenge to narrow such a varied group of exhibits at Future World into one slot. Even so, it would be too much to list all the different inclusions within the two buildings. What disappointed me about Innoventions is how it felt less innovative than Communicore. It’s certainly difficult for Disney to keep attracting companies to sponsor exhibits. This helps explain why one entire side is mostly dormant beyond character meetings. I’m hopeful that Disney will find a better use for this space on the whole. The Sum of All Thrills draws crowds, and Colortopia looks interesting. Despite a few worthy exhibits, the uneven tone doesn’t fit together cohesively.
30. The Seas with Nemo & Friends
I love dark rides, and it’s really hard to create one that makes me feel indifferent. Such is the case with The Seas with Nemo & Friends, which has some clever effects but feels like a missed opportunity. In similar fashion to Under the Sea at the Magic Kingdom, it hits the expected notes but is missing the wonder. Also, why is it so hot in this ride? Aren’t dark rides supposed to blast the air conditioning? The promise when Nemo arrived at The Living Seas was seeing the character projected along with the real marine life. Unfortunately, that scene is far too brief. It’s a relaxing ride with some good moments, but isn’t worth losing the water views of the Sea Cabs.
29. Earth Station
We’re moving towards some of my favorite post-show areas, with two more gems to go. The key with Earth Station is understanding its context. In today’s Internet age, the wonders of making a dinner reservation on video are lost. It felt so futuristic in the late ‘80s! Even better was the World Key Information System (more on that soon), which fascinated me as a kid. I could have spent all day using that touch-screen system. Another highlight was the giant screens that promoted the other attractions. It was the perfect way to end Spaceship Earth, especially if it was the day’s first ride.
28. Turtle Talk with Crush
It’s tricky to analyze Turtle Talk with Crush because it seems less exciting with each visit. At first, the way the animated Crush interacts with the audience is charming. It’s especially great to watch kids react to it. On the other hand, there is a feeling of sameness that takes over after a few visits. Each show is different, but the beats are mostly the same. They also cram quite a few people into the theater, so it isn’t a very comfortable show. It’s a good attraction but is already showing its age.
World of Motion was a massive pavilion with 188 audio-animatronics in the 15-minute ride. That was just part of the experience, however. Once you exited your Omnimover vehicles, you could enjoy well-made exhibits inside the building. It wasn’t just about sitting in the latest GM cars either. Bob Rogers’ team put a lot of care into the post-show. “The Bird and the Robot” comically showed how robots worked on an assembly line, and the Water Engine used animated characters above you to describe alternate fuels. A main reason this area worked was the size, which allowed you to stroll casually without being trampled by departing riders.
26. World Key Information System
This might seem like an odd choice as an attraction, but few things excited me more at EPCOT as a kid. Keep in mind that our home computer was a Commodore 64 at the time. Having a touch screen with a wide range of choices seemed quite high tech. I’d never seen anything like it! Making a choice led to a video that played seamlessly and presented other parts of the park. This glimpse at new technologies (without the corporate marketing) is what made early Future World so great.
We’ve now reached the thrill ride portion of this countdown, and these two picks are definitely related. Both Mission: Space and Body Wars were designed to add thrills to a park that didn’t click with some guests. The end result was more queasiness than excitement. Some aspects of this attraction are well done. I love the striking exterior and attention to detail in the queue. The ride vehicles are a technical marvel, and the launch is powerful. On the other hand, it’s too serious and misses the fun in space travel. Despite a few interactive tools, it’s really just staring at a screen. Mission: Space reminds us of the limits of screen-based rides and physical thrills at the expense of charm. It also replaced Horizons, which sets the bar very high for any attraction.
24. Body Wars
Although it used similar technology to Star Tours, there was something different about Body Wars. It felt more intense, possibly due to the chaotic ride through the human body. It was a clever way to create a thrill ride while sticking to the theme of the pavilion. It’s a well-done attraction, but Body Wars was a little too rough to be much fun. I do wish it still existed for several reasons, however. First of all, the Wonders of Life space deserves more than just hosting events. Second, having a ride that drew crowds there like Body Wars would help better distribute guests. EPCOT needs several more headliners to lessen the pressure on the few top draws.
23. Fountain of Nations
Sometimes all it takes to deliver a charming experience is lights, water, and music. Situated in the middle of Future World at Innoventions Plaza, the Fountain of Nations strikes just the right notes with its frequent shows. It’s a relaxing way to spend a few moments away from the chaos of lines and crowds. The well-choreographed presentations create a perfect atmosphere, especially at night.
22. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience! was the longest tenant at the Magic Eye Theater and likely the most widely seen film in that location. It’s similar to the style of Muppets 3D and It’s Tough to Be a Bug in delivering the “4D” technology. What made the show fun were surprises like mice running under the seats and other theater effects. It was a blast to experience it with a large audience. It may be a little out of date, but I’d much rather experience this fun attraction than Pixar or Disney short films. It always created some laughs, even if we knew what was coming.
21. Magic Journeys
Few things frightened me at Disney World as a kid; one exception was Magic Journeys. The Imagination pavilion’s first 3D film did a great job at capturing the wonders of our creative mind. On the other hand, there was something odd about it that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s still eerie today; even the theme song brings a few chills! One scene involving a creepy witch has stuck with me ever since the very first viewing. Although it only lasted for four years at EPCOT before Captain EO arrived, Magic Journeys stuck around for another six years at the Magic Kingdom. It made quite an impact and represents a time when imagination was rampant at Disney World.
20. The ImageWorks (upstairs version)
Easily the best post-show playground at EPCOT, the upstairs ImageWorks was a gorgeous space with so much to offer. In fact, it was a separate destination that drew guests apart from the ride. A highlight was Dreamfinder’s School of Drama, an early use of blue screen to put kids right inside a movie. My parents still have an old VHS home video of my brother and me in the western option. Beyond the game, this space also provided an incredible view of Future World from the large triangular windows. It now sits dormant while we wait for Disney leadership to come to its senses.
19. Ellen’s Energy Adventure
It’s easy to look at Ellen’s Energy Adventure as laughably dated now, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in 1996, it seemed like an exciting way to add entertainment to a show that was far too serious. Almost 20 years later, the focus on fossil fuels of this presentation is hardly futuristic. It needs an update but worked quite well during its early days. Ellen DeGeneres is a fun lead character, and it’s hard to go wrong with Bill Nye and a mustached Alex Trebek. There are plenty of great lines, and the dinosaur scenes are still excellent. I’m waiting for a third incarnation to strike a balance of fun with a renewed focus on modern energy technologies.
18. Listen to the Land
The Land remains an amazing pavilion, especially due to its large greenhouses. The slow-moving boat ride was never a top destination for me as a kid, but it works better today. Listen to the Land also has one of the greatest EPCOT theme songs of the same name. The reason it sits lower than its current version (Living with the Land) is the live narrator. While that might seem like a benefit, it made the ride feel duller at times. If the speaker wasn’t engaging, Listen to the Land became quite boring. The science was impressive, but it meant little with the life sucked out of the boat.
17. Captain EO
Its time at EPCOT may have ended (again), but Captain EO will always remain in our hearts. It’s cheesy and head-scratching for many, but I still love it. I’m glad that Disney gave me a chance to better appreciate Captain EO as an adult. We watched it with few other guests, but there was still a thrill in seeing Michael Jackson change the world with his dance moves. The songs remain incredibly catchy, and it’s great to glimpse Jackson at the height of his power. I hope that Disney finds a legitimate replacement in the Magic Eye Theater in the near future.
This was easily the trickiest attraction to rank on the entire list. Parts of it are so bland that they deserve a spot next to Club Cool. On the other hand, the rousing title track delivers one of my favorite scenes from the original EPCOT Center. The animated shots of people using energy left a really positive vibe when exiting the theater. As an added bonus, the Universe of Energy had a second song “Energy (You Make The World Go ‘Round)” that set the tone early in the show. There was a lot of serious talk about energy that lost some audiences, but the highlights still worked. The ride system also felt quite unique as the traveling theater moved through the large pavilion. I also love the way the original show didn’t pander to the audience; there was nothing else like it.
15. Food Rocks
Shifting gears completely, here’s the second version of two food-themed musical revues at The Land. Both are amazing and reveal a kitschy approach that’s sorely missing at Disney World. Hosted by Fud Wrapper (Tone Loc), this show tackled more recognizable tunes than Kitchen Kabaret and was only slightly lesser. When you have Pita Gabriel doing “High Fiber” and Chubby Cheddar doing “Let’s Exercise”, how can you go wrong? It’s just a fun show that’s clever and entertaining. While I love Soarin’, I wish there had been a way to save this wonderfully odd attraction.
14. Test Track (Tron version)
Many old-school EPCOT fans deride Test Track for what it signified about the park’s changes. Losing the amazing World of Motion was quite a blow, but that doesn’t mean its replacement was terrible. The updated 2012 version has impressive visual effects that feel like Tron: Legacy and are still quite thrilling. The theme falls short, however. Designing a car is fun, but it has little impact on the ride experience. It does drrm more futuristic, but the humor of the first version is gone. The queue also feels uncomfortably cramped, especially given the large crowds. I can see what Disney was going for with the refurb, but the end result doesn’t really get there.
We’ve reached the pinnacle of walk-through attractions at the original EPCOT Center. I loved going here as a child. You could create a roller coaster, answer trivia questions from the robot SMRT-1, and see faraway destinations at the TravelPort. The Backstage Magic show offered a glimpse at the computers that ran the park. It was very different than Innoventions and more user-friendly. I really wish Disney could have found a way to expand its original exhibits into something even more incredible. Instead, they went the easy way out with more corporate presentations. In a sense, Communicore’s fate is a metaphor for EPCOT on the whole.
12. Living with the Land
I would never have guessed in the ‘90s that Living with the Land would become one of my favorite EPCOT attractions. A main reason is the removal of many favorites, including most of my top 10. This boat ride works because it recalls the park’s glory days without feeling dated. The greenhouse technology still looks impressive, and the first half is so relaxing. Like I mentioned earlier, the lack of a live narrator enhances the experience. It’s consistent and strikes all the right notes, and the short lines make for a headache-free ride. Even at this spot, I might be undervaluing just how great it is.
11. Spaceship Earth (Judi Dench version)
Poor Judi Dench. She has the perfect voice for Spaceship Earth but is stuck narrating a lesser version. There are still a lot of amazing moments in the fourth version of EPCOT’s signature attraction. The animatronics have never looked better, and the new scenes fit nicely. The ascent remains excellent, despite an attempt to dumb down the script for today’s guests. It’s one of my can’t-miss rides, but Spaceship Earth needs help with its descent. Seeing our faces on animated figures brings some laughs, but the lack of show scenes is a step backwards. I’m relieved that Disney has retained the core of what made this attraction great, but it could be even better.
10. Kitchen Kabaret
I’m still amazed that leadership at Disney approved Kitchen Kabaret, even back in the ‘80s. It seems like such a goofy idea, even in a time when the company wasn’t so focused on branding. Everyone remembers the great “Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit” by Colander Combo and the Fiesta Fruit, but there were highlights throughout the show. There’s more variety here than with Food Rocks, including a comedy duo Hamm & Eggz with quite a few corny jokes. It’s the type of show that sounds ridiculous but worked because of the creativity from the team behind the scenes.
9. The Living Seas (original)
We’ve reached the home stretch of classic attractions, and ranking these was very difficult. I’m glad that the aquarium sections of The Living Seas haven’t changed much, but the rest of it pales in comparison to the original. The experience of watching the film, boarding the Hydrolators, and riding the Sea Cabs set the stage perfectly for Sea Base Alpha. I believed we’d traveled well beneath the ground to a much different place. The path to reach the marine exhibits was the key to the charm. The pavilion had a consistent theme and really sold the journey beneath the sea.
8. Cranium Command
The best part of Wonders of Life was definitely Cranium Command, a fun and creative look at the mind of a 12-year-old boy. The show was silly but contained enough to keep adults engaged. This wasn’t the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. After a brief animated pre-show from the stern General Knowledge, guests entered a large theater with a large animatronic Buzzy plus video screens illustrating the different parts of the body. Well-known comedians like George Wendt, Dana Carvey, and Jon Lovitz delivered plenty of laughs in the surprisingly clever attraction. It’s hard to explain just how well the show worked, and YouTube videos don’t do it justice.
7. Test Track (original)
It’s hard to praise a ride that replaced World of Motion, but I’m still a big fan of Test Track. The original version mixed thrills, impressive sets, and wittiness from John Michael Higgins into a nice package. While I still like the current version, it seems a bit too serious for my tastes. The original queue was also better designed and didn’t trap you inside tight corridors. Despite replacing a classic Omnimover, Test Track deserves credit for injecting life into the east side of Future World. It’s too bad that the other attractions on that side don’t provide the same energy.
6. Journey into Imagination (original ride)
Dreamfinder and Figment stood out in ‘80s EPCOT and became quite popular, especially the purple dragon. You need only look at the current ride to realize the greatness of the original. After meeting the pair in a lengthy introduction, riders journeyed to various aspects of imagination. The ride was twice as long as today’s attraction, and there was so much happening in every room. There was a real attention to detail in each section, and the Sherman Brothers song “One Little Spark” tied it all together. Between the ride, upstairs Image Works, and Magic Eye Theater, you could spend several hours at this pavilion. That definitely isn’t the case now.
5. Spaceship Earth (Walter Cronkite version)
Although I experienced the first version of Spaceship Earth as a kid, I don’t remember it well. The first one that stands out has Walter Cronkite as the narrator. Introduced in 1986, its other big change was the wonderful “Tomorrow’s Child” song during the descent. Unlike today, this version delivered a complete experience. It’s splitting hairs to rank it below the follow-up version with Jeremy Irons. Cronkite’s narration was smart and respectful to riders without going over their heads. His familiar voice was the key to selling the theme. The seamless journey from the past to the present (and beyond!) really sold the potential of humanity to do amazing things.
The only current attraction to make the top ten, Soarin’ stands out because it bridges the gap between modern EPCOT and the original EPCOT Center. It’s grand and showcases the wonders of both nature and modern technology. The ride system and effects deliver thrills but are accessible to almost anyone. It fulfills the Disney idea that attractions should reward both kids and adults of any age. The wondrous Jerry Goldsmith score helps create a warm attraction that never feels tired on repeat visits. I’m curious to see if the next film can retain that excitement. The bar is set very high, and I’m hopeful that moving beyond California will make Soarin’ even better.
Few Omnimover attractions provided a more complete experience than World of Motion. The massive 15-minute ride packed a horde of animatronics into 30 show scenes. If that wasn’t enough, there were speed rooms, a city of the future, and even a clever way to place guests in a future car. The light tone was supported by the catchy song “It’s Fun to Be Free” from X Attencio and Buddy Baker throughout the attraction. The ride never dragged because there were so many gags packed into each room. The “world’s largest traffic jam” scene was a highlight and one of the best examples of the potential for animatronics. I really like Test Track, but I loved World of Motion.
2. Spaceship Earth (Jeremy Irons version)
It was difficult to choose between the best two versions of Spaceship Earth, but several factors made the difference. The first was the incredible orchestral score, which created a real sense of movement as your Omnimover rose to the top of the sphere. Irons’ narration also did an excellent job in selling the journey of the “grand and miraculous spaceship”. Finally, the improved show scenes in the final act sold the idea of communication rushing to the future. Despite the loss of “Tomorrow’s Child”, it was the most complete version of EPCOT Center’s signature attraction.
What more can I say about Horizons? This was the only certain pick in the entire list and remains my favorite attraction. It combined all the elements of what made EPCOT Center great. It presented an inspiring future, but not a cold place where people didn’t interact with each other. There is so much packed into a fairly small space within this ride. There are giant screens in the Omnisphere, fun moments with animatronics, and even a personal journey by desert, sea, or space. It’s just brilliant. While I know that Horizons will never return, I’d love to see Disney incorporate more of its themes into future EPCOT attractions. Future World can be great again; let’s make this happen!
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