Epcot: Exceptional, Acceptable, and Regrettable

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Epcot, Features, Samland

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Published on June 20, 2013 at 3:00 am with 36 Comments

Epcot has long been a favorite of mine. As you can imagine, I have been somewhat obsessed with Walt’s original vision, if you know what I mean (I did write the book Walt and the Promise of Progress City). I also enjoy the permanent World’s Fair that took that project’s place.

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This was the first time in a long time that I have been to the park without some special event going on. No Food and Wine, no Flower and Garden, and no holiday celebrations.  I had forgotten what the place felt like just on its own. It was an odd sensation.

Using my scale of exceptional/acceptable/regrettable, I will walk through my most recent experience. Let me know if you agree or disagree.

REGRETTABLE: WDW MAPS

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As an urban planner, I have always been fascinated by maps. You can tell so many stories with one. A good map can guide the guest through unfamiliar surroundings using representations of iconic landmarks. The best seem to also understand the guests point of view.

Recently, WDW updated their maps so that they look like the ones found on the internet. This means they have placed North at the top. Now, on a typical map, this is just fine. For the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this is no big deal. That is how the park’s are organized. The story for the other parks is a different matter completely.

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The Epcot map places the entrance and Spaceship Earth at the top. The map does not tell you where to go; it tells you where you have been. I watched as guests turned their maps upside down so it made sense. The Epcot map actually is somewhat close in scale when it comes to the attractions and land mass. The result is a rather sparse map suggesting there is a lot of open space between the pavilions of the World Showcase. I don’t think this is what Disney intended.

For Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a goofy place to begin with (no pun intended), the map makes no sense. If you ever felt the park’s layout was just an afterthought, the map will only reinforce the feeling. In some ways, you can make out the giant hidden Mickey, however, in this version he is sporting a cone shaped nose much like Jack of Jack in the Box. This is a case of where the maps were not broken and did not need to be fixed.

ACCEPTABLE: PLAY IT SAFE GAME IN INNOVENTIONS


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Whether you like Innoventions or wish Communicore was back or just think these big barns could be used for a more creative purpose, the attractions inside represent the state-of-the-art of Corporate interactive public communication. I spent a little time checking things out, wishing they still had the Innoventions road maps. Those seem to be a thing of the past.

The Play It Safe game is intended to teach families about fire hazards in their home. The premise is pretty simple. You can play as an individual (as I did) or in a small group. A handful of groups are clustered into either the red team or blue team and the competition begins. Each group will be sent to a room inside of a house with a special flashlight. Shine the lit on a display and it will illuminate either hazards or regular household items. If it is a hazard, you push a button and score points. Hit the button on the wrong item and you lose points. There is a clock to put the pressure on and every few minutes you move into another room to start all over.

It works. Each team member must place their light on the object for the scoring to happen. This forces the little ones to understand what their parents may have found or visa versa. There is that second of shared knowledge acknowledged that reinforces the message.

ACCEPTABLE: INNOVENTIONS REST AREA

It seems when the weather gets really hot & muggy or it is raining, Innoventions does not seem like such a bad idea. I am not sure they meant this, but there is one spot that rises above the rest. The Test The Limits game is very popular with children because it gives them a chance to make a lot of noise, feel like they are destroying things, and gives them a chance to create a lot of havoc without bothering anyone. What better way to keep the young ones occupied while the parents take a seat near by one of the curved benches near the exit. There is a tremendous lack of seating within Innoventions and this is an example of doing it right. As an example of doing it wrong….

REGRETTABLE: THE INNOVENTIONS GAME WALL

So your parents pony up almost $100 to get you through the front gate in Epcot. What do you do? Race to Innoventions and start playing video games that are already on the market. Even though each station had a guest playing games, you would think they could find a better use of thier time while on vacation. Plus, the seating for adults is just awful. A couple of benches tucked to the sides and that is all. Maybe it is just me, but this is like watching kids wearing headphones and listening to an iPod while touring the parks. You have to ask yourself, are they not stimulated enough already?

ACCEPTABLE: THE SMOKING AREA
IN EPCOT’S FUTURE WORLD           

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Over the years, Disney has tried to cover up the 1970s modernist design sensibilities from Epcot’s Future World. Thankfully, they have not been completely successful. My favorite bathroom in all of Walt Disney World can still be used at the Odyssey at Epcot. Another spot I discovered can be found if you go to the left side of Future World (Mission Space, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and Test Track) on your way toward Mission Space. Turn left and you can see an outdoor space designed in the Brutalist tradition. What appears to be a canyon carved into the ground is now a smoking area with shade. This style of public space was very popular at the time. It is as if the Earth shifted in sharp angles to create a sunken garden. Kind of. In general, I have noticed that many of the smoking areas within Walt Disney World tend to have wonderful views and this is no exception. Next time you have to light up, step back in time.

EXCEPTIONAL: MISSION SPACE PAVILION PLAZA

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This is not a ranking for what is inside. Instead, it is a look at the actual building. Most guests either go to the left to enter or the right to walk up the slight ramp toward the FastPass machines. In between in a plaza that I have rarely seen anybody go. Sure there are a lot of people standing on the rocks toward the front for a photo opportunity but few venture into the actual plaza. What a wonderful space. The soaring wings of the building seem to wrap around you. You also get an understanding that these structures really are wings with flush rivets. There is a sense that you are apart from the rest of Epcot, and have entered an outdoor room. It is not the most people friendly space. No where to sit, no shade. But go for a few minutes while Test Track is down. Another Disney zen moment.

EXCEPTIONAL: NEW ENTRY PROCEDURES

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I stopped off at Guest Relations to have my annual pass processed so that I could use the electronic kiosks to enter the park. Some 25 minutes later, the very nice lady was able to accommodate my request. As many of you already know, you can enter any WDW resort using a paper ticket, a plastic ticket, or getting your ticket scanned. Those poor slobs in the other lines that are so long. But the scan lines were quick. It only takes one Cast Member to watch over 4 people tapping their cards or wristbands and placing a finger on the scanner. The system was efficient and quick. Not sure about the whole Disney NextGen thing, but this is an improvement.

THE LIGHTNING ROUND

EXCEPTIONAL: THE CREW AT ELLEN’S ENERGY ADVENTURE
My trip was during the time that Hurricane Andrea was rolling through Florida. I am from California. I have never seen that much rain. Wow. But I digress. I was in Ellen’s Energy Adventure when lightning hit and the power went out. I was in the final room at the time and the film was very close to the end. The CMs did as they trained, made all the right announcements, so nobody was concerned. Then the film recycled. This time the audio was off. So two very entertaining CMs reenacted the audio portion of what we had just seen. Yes, they have seen the film a few too many times. People were rolling and most of us really did not want to leave. Brilliant.

REGRETTABLE: SPACESHIP EARTH

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Not going to talk about it right now. Just going to remember to bring an iPod with Jeremy Irons or Walter Cronkite next time.

REGRETTABLE: THE SEAS WITH NEMO & FRIENDS

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Let’s see. The submarine ride without the water. The cartoon fish at the end are so brightly colored compared to all of the grey fish in the water, the contrast is remarkable. Big empty fish tanks.

ACCEPTABLE: LIVING WITH THE LAND
For some reason, I just love this ride. My first visit to Epcot was in 1996, so I missed the golden era of edutainment. I would like to think that this is the one glimpse into the past. I am not sure why they raise baby alligators. Could somebody answer that?

EXCEPTIONAL: CLUB COOL

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Free cold beverages and Beverly for the inexperienced. What could be better?

 

EXCEPTIONAL: MY FAVORITE ONE-TWO PUNCH
On every visit to WDW, I make a special effort to catch The Voices of Liberty in the rotunda of the American Pavilion and take in The American Adventure. This may be my favorite way to spend one hour in all four parks.

REGRETTABLE: CONSTRUCTION AT MOROCCO
So sad. I can see a future where the only way to have a good seat to see Illuminations (or its successor) is to pay an upcharge for it. Does this mean the restaurant out back goes away? Who is going to make that trek when the new kid opens out front? And do they have to cut down the trees on the little island in the lagoon to improve the view of the fireworks show?

EXCEPTIONAL: IMPRESSION DE FRANCE
My favorite travelog film at Epcot. Canada is funny (I like addition of Martin Short). China is beautiful and exotic. But France is just perfect. Incredible music, a new crisp, clean digital print, and wonderful scenery. The movie seems to be timeless. Bill Zanetti suggested to me that you rarely see a car and that helps. Mostly, it is the combination of music and ageless vistas that makes for one of the most pleasant experiences in Epcot.

As you exit, the shop has been expanded to include a much bigger bakery with a much larger selection. Now you can buy sandwiches and other items and sit indoors. There is a new ice cream shop with one of the worst policies. After you pay for your ice cream, you must choose your flavor, which is fine. However, you cannot sample one of the exotic flavors before buying it. And even after you have paid for some, you cannot sample any of the others. The ice cream shop was empty virtually every time I passed by.

That is my story. What is yours?

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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36 Comments

Comments for Epcot: Exceptional, Acceptable, and Regrettable are now closed.

  1. I wish I had enough EPCOT experience to offer an educated comment. I really enjoyed this.

    I’ve only been to EPCOT once, in 1999 (also my only WDW trip), and I really enjoyed it. A lot of stuff has changed even since then. I was able to go on Body Wars. The Seas was still just The Seas, and it was great! I don’t love the Nemo overlay.

    I didn’t even have time to go into The Land, oddly enough.

    I have also started four sentences in a row with the singular, personal pronoun. Bad writer!

    • “I have also started four sentences in a row with the singular, personal pronoun.”

      I think that is okay.

    • Thank you LoveStallion. Lesson learned. Think of this as an exercise in Gonzo writing.

      Sam
      http://www.samlanddisney.blogspot.com

      • What? Sam, I wasn’t criticizing you. I was making fun of myself. Your post was wonderful. Thanks for writing it!

  2. love this series!

    But I’ve got to say that i really enjoy the Judy Dench narration on Spaceship Earth. They should let you choose your favorite soundtrack on those touch screens in each vehicle (I think you can change language already).

  3. I’m with you on all but Living with the Land, which I feel deserves the “Exceptional” mark. It’s the perfect mix of ride, edutainment and great visuals and probably something Disney will never do again.

    Spaceship Earth – I understand your silence. It’s just unfathomable how mediocre the current version is after a most amazing and grand former incarnation. Dench isn’t bad per se, but she couldn’t fill the shoes of Irons if she tried, and of course the descent is now waste ride space.

  4. Exceptional – Spaceship Earth ascent (minus the narration)
    Regrettable – Spaceship Earth descent

    Totally agree with Exceptional for Living with the Land. It reminds me of what made EPCOT great in the early times and is better without the human host.

    Regrettable – Journey Into Imagination with Figment and closed Image Works

    I could go on forever. Great job!

  5. The first time I visited The Living Seas was 21 years ago. It was amazing. After the waiting area that had beautiful old diving equipment and a min sub of 20.000 leagues ending in a circle room explaining exploration of the deep seas I went onto the cinema that showed a wonderful movie. It rained and rained, love it. It ended into a wireframe model of Sea Base Alpha that ended at the hydrolators. Then the doors opened and there they where, real elevators to go to Sea Base Alpha. The elevator trip was great and you get to take a sea cab. The cab ride gave you the insight into this amazing aquarium. When I came out of the ride I saw a huge water column and a diver diving to the bottom. Then the transparent column emptied and the dive got out. I was in a complete other world. Huge glass columns where filled with fish and there was so much to do and to see. I loved it.
    Now it had a horrible cheap ride ending with ugly projections in the aquarium. No diver column. Yes Turtle Talk is fun but it doesn’t has a place there. I hate how every park looks like a half all movie studio. This pavilion was amazing, now it’s tacky and boring.

    • Kim Murphy, the original WED Show Designer, is available if you want to bring Seas back up to where it should be. I’m still waiting for the Civil War Iron Clad they were going to exhibit there in a preserving tank. Tom Sherman’s Nautilus items were in the WDW warehouse.

  6. The Golden Age of Edutainment was magical. I went for the first time in 1983 and was a regular with my parents throughout the 1980′s. It wasn’t sustainable and the innovations showcased became obsolete fast. Tastes also changed and science museums across America aped EPCOT’s style to the degree the place was made non-unique. So I understand we can’t go back to what EPCOT once was.

    But man… for a young nerd it was a GLORIOUS time. The place gave me a sense of wonder that no new gate at a resort has ever matched (though IOA and TDS got close).

  7. I love the Camille Sainte-Sans soundtrack at Impression De France. It makes me want to grab a flight and go there immediately.

  8. Living with the Land is my favorite too and really the only pavilion in Future World that I bother going into anymore. Obviously Soarin is the big draw, but I actually like the restaurant there a lot. Also, I must be the only person in the world who has Mission Space as a top-5 Disney attraction in any park because I hear so much hate for it and when I go, the line is usually only 5 minutes long (which is awesome, but it makes me wonder why I’m the only one who likes it so much). Of course I spend most of my time at the World Showcase. So here would be my list:

    Regrettable: All of the Future World pavilions other then Living with the Land

    Acceptable: American Adventure (I know it’s popular, but to me, it’s the same problem as DCA, I’m already in America, so why would I visit a pavilion about America to get a burger or see a movie about America. At a “World Showcase” I want to see countries that I’m not currently in!

    Exceptional: All of the other World Showcase pavilions other then the America, esp. Italy, Mission Space, Test Track

  9. Oh, and I hadn’t seen the new maps, but holy crap do they look awful! Talk about trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.

    • I’m with you. The new map makes no sense. As you enter the park, the icon is now at the top of the map instead of at the bottom where you are actually standing. I suppose if you use a compass it makes a lot more sense.

      • It makes sense if you’re using a mobile app. I for one like the new maps, but I’ve always preferred realism whenever possible. The truth is, the map’s not upside down, Epcot is. You wouldn’t turn a map of the state of Florida around if you were heading to Miami, why is this any different? I will agree that the scale makes the maps look sparse, but that’s because in reality, the park is somewhat sparse, these maps are drawn true to life, at least as far as the pathways and spacing are concerned. I worked at Epcot when the old maps were in place, and people were just as confused back then, I can’t tell you how often I had to give directions to the Seas from Spaceship Earth. These maps are new, and they’ll take some getting used to, but they do serve a purpose.

  10. Surprised you didn’t include Journey Into Imagination with Figment as a “Regrettable” though it’s a very obvious given anyway.

    “My trip was during the time that Hurricane Andrea was rolling through Florida.”

    Actually it was just a tropical storm. Andrea never achieved hurricane status. Just wanted to clarify.

    • Thanks. I am from Southern California and it certainly was more rain than I have ever encountered.

  11. my first visit to EPCOT Center was in 1985, and every time i’ve gone back, there is a pining for that era. opening—mid 80s EPCOT Center was something else. horizons, world of motion, the original journey into imagination, the original living seas…the original EVERYTHING.

    disney’s intent was to make a more adult ‘edutainment; park; unfortunately, this vision was later betrayed and ultimately, abandoned.

    and yes, to me it will always be ‘EPCOT Center’ and never ‘Epoct’

  12. Great article Sam.

    My only disagreement is with Nemo. I actually find the Nemo at EPCOT to be leaps and bounds better than the “underwater movie in a sub” that you get at Disneyland. The queue is quite effective and moves quickly. Having the actual fish just adds to the spectacle. And of course who could ever hate the tune “Big Blue World”. It’s honestly one of my favorite attractions not just at EPCOT but in all of WDW.

    I haven’t done the new SSE yet so I’ll reserve judgement.

    • So I have a love/hate relationship with Nemo.

      I LOVE the ride, I love how it meshes with the real fish, and the real tanks etc. I LOVE all of that! I think it is WAY better than the Sub ride in California! (Who else regrets waiting over 4 HOURS for that ride?)

      But while I don’t hate anything about Nemo. What I do hate, is that we lost Sea Base Alpha. That transformation from Orlando, to underwater Sea Base, was truly magical to me as a child, and even as an adult, I loved it.

      It is something that I truly miss.

  13. Regarding the new maps–The only reason I can see for the change is that many people now have smartphones w/Google or Apple Maps installed and these new maps better corroborate what is seen in real life on those apps. You can just compare the two over lunch or whatever, find your destination on the phone, and then it’s easier to walk around looking at a phone screen than an unfolded paper map.

    • I kind of suspected that it must have something to do with smartphones, since they are so prevalent in the parks now.

  14. The new maps are definitely designed to coordinate with their electronic counterparts. Drill down on the app and you see more detail than any recent map.

  15. I’m in total agreement about disliking the new trend of adding restaurants along the water’s edge in World Showcase. Not only are they unnecessary in that area, they create bottlenecks and disrupt the view.

    I’m with Gregg on Nemo at the Living Seas. I enjoy the ride much more in Florida than in California. I never got a chance to see it pre-Nemo, but I love it!