Saturday Morning Musings – The Introduction to Epcot

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I’m spending the weekend finishing up the Epcot chapter of our new color guidebook to WDW.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with the text we have in the regular Unofficial Guide, of course.  However, Epcot is my favorite park, so I want to explain in text what makes Epcot special and why everyone should love it.

I’m trying to make two points: Epcot is a theme park about ideas.  And the attractions work best if you consider the impact of those ideas on everyday life.  Whereas the Magic Kingdom is focused on fantasy and adventure, the Studios is a look at entertainment, and the Animal Kingdom is a view of … the animal kingdom, Epcot is an exploration of humankind’s role in the world.

In fact, I’d argue (but I can’t yet find the words) that Epcot is the thing that differentiates Disney Imagineering from every other company that builds amusement parks.  No other company would have either the vision or the corporate will to create and build such a park.  I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I doubt seriously whether Universal, Six Flags, or the folks building up Bahrain could even conceive of the concept of Epcot on their own, amass the expertise and funding to build it, or explain concepts such as energy and communication in a way that makes people want to visit.

I could be wrong.  In any case, here’s the intro text I have so far.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

It’s probably safe to say that Epcot was the park that Walt Disney most wanted to build after the success of Disneyland.  Designed to demonstrate new technology and innovation, Walt envisioned it as a sort of permanent World’s Fair for companies, universities and governments to show off their latest creations.

On paper, that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a fun vacation.  Indeed, Epcot’s educational theme and corporate imagery lacks some of the obvious warmth and charm of the Magic Kingdom.  And unlike the Magic Kingdom’s attractions, many of which assume you’re going to sit passively and watch whatever is in front of you, Epcot is a theme park about ideas, such as ecologies, energy sources, and the role communication systems play in human societies.  Epcot’s attractions work best when you consider the impact these ideas have – and will have – on the lives of everyday people.

Do not worry – these concepts are presented in an upbeat way, with lots of dazzling visual effects and humor, and most visitors find plenty of entertainment and education.  In fact, Spaceship Earth, the ride dedicated to exploring communication systems, was for more than two decades the most popular attraction in all of Walt Disney World.  (That distinction is now held by Soarin’, also at Epcot.)  And Epcot is usually the third-most visited theme park in the United States, behind the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.

Besides futuristic attractions, half of Epcot is devoted to World Showcase, a collection of elaborate pavilions representing the landmarks and culture of various countries from around the world.  Each country is staffed by young adults from that nation, so it’s possible your children will hear French spoken in the France pavilion or Mandarin in the China pavilion.   Every country has at least one restaurant, too, making Epcot home to the most diverse set of dining options on property.   Combined with top notch attractions, Epcot may be the best of Disney’s theme parks.

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Posted on November 14, 2009

17 Responses to “Saturday Morning Musings – The Introduction to Epcot”

  • by Oliver Jewell on November 14, 2009, at 5:45 pm EDT

    The thing with Epcot is how to explain it to someone who has never been. Try explaining Spaceship Earth and telling someone it is one of the best rides which you could literally ride over and over, where you sit and learn about the history of communication! Pulling that off is Disney’s achievement at Epcot in my mind

  • That’s a good start, and an important point. One thing you may consider changing is the first line, which currently reads, “It’s probably safe to say that Epcot was the park that Walt Disney most wanted to build after the success of Disneyland.” It might be better to say, “It’s probably safe to say that Epcot was what Walt Disney most wanted to build…” given that EPCOT, as Walt envisioned it, was not to be a park at all, but a living community with residents and workplaces.

    Otherwise, I think you’re on the right track for explaining this difficult-to-grasp concept (for those who haven’t been there).

  • Everything you have written is spot on.

    My wife and I also really appreciate the beauty of the park. Find a quiet spot, maybe over by the rose garden, and it’s really a different world. The same goes for the World Showcase; catch the back end of the UK pavilion early in the morning, and it doesn’t get much better.

    You might also highlight Illuminations.

  • Hi,
    Has the American pavillion really got a “restaurant”? That was one thought I had when reading the text. Apart from that, its great.

  • I like this for many of the same reasons I most enjoy the best parts of the Unofficial Guide as well as your recent very humorous piece about the Princess “expansion” at Magic Kingdom.
    You get it.
    You get it and you’re able to write well about it. Concise, factual, honest and humorous.
    Guests entering any of the Walt Disney World resort parks will have an even better time, a more educational..enjoyable..immersive time if they put on the right ‘game face’ before entering. And if they choose to read pieces such as this, they’ll get it, too.
    For instance, if I need to be entertained, I shy away from Animal Kingdom. However, it’s the best of the four parks for quiet immersion, contemplation and meditation on humankind’s place in the world. And you’re right–when I want to be lost in the fantasy I head straight for the Magic Kingdom.
    I think you’re really onto something here and I encourage you to keep doing these things you do so well, along with the rest of the unofficial Guide team.

    • Awesome. Thanks Phillip! I think those two things – Epcot’s about ideas, and the AK needs humor – are what I learned for this new book.

      Thanks again.

      Len

  • Nice job, Len.

    You might want to make a reference to why the world showcase is there–that is how the countries fit in with the theme of communication, or why they’re staffed by representatives from the different countries.

  • If you’re looking for a hook, I give you this: Epcot is the perfect mix of Ambition and Tradition.

    Future World is about ambition — both its construction (the $$ as you referenced above, the ‘prototype’ community, etc) and its topics (Space, Communication, even Imagination). World Showcase is about tradition — appreciating our diverse past through stories, food, etc.

    You might also mention that what Disney does better than anyone else is tell stories. What makes Epcot so unique in this regard is the depth of those stories. It’s one thing to take a ride on Peter Pan’s Flight, which is very nice but only 2 minutes long. Mission: Space is ALSO only two minutes long, but the theming of the pre- and post- show, and the extra games, etc. at the end, encourage you to delve beyond and deeper.

    Going to the Magic Kingdom is certainly an experience. But Epcot is a SERIES of experiences, from browsing the shops of the England pavilion to dining beneath a moon-lit sky in Mexico to diving with the dolphins at The Seas.

    Just some scattered thoughts….

  • One of the things that gets me about Epcot is the immense variety there is.

    You can experience Travel by boat, foot, car, cinema seat, space rocket, segway or flying, you can go from a quiet pastry in France….to space……to a robot band in innovations….to 50million years ago !

    The list goes on, and nobody ever asks why these things fit together.

  • by Janet Sala (FigmentRules) on November 18, 2009, at 2:38 pm EDT

    Thank you for the link to amazon.com! I have pre-ordered a copy. Looking forward to sitting down with a tumbler of tequila and having a good read!

  • Len, my wife and I bought and used your UGWDW with Kids about nine years ago and I what I remember most is that you recommended to go to Epcot first, and MK last (with the other two parks in between). The thought is that if you go to MK first, kids will be bored out their minds by comparison once you hit Epcot. I think because we followed this advice, our kids really enjoyed Epcot the first time we went. They’re in high school now and we tend to still go to Epcot first, then hit the other parks as the week progresses. Now we even usually finish with Epcot and Illuminations. Epcot requires a different kind of effort than the other parks and gives a different kind of reward.

  • To me, this really is the best park that Disney has. Just the Food & Wine festival alone is reason enough to love Epcot.

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