Disney's Once-Futuristic Epcot Is Getting a Modern Overhaul – Skift

There was a time when Epcot, the second piece of Florida’s sprawling Walt Disney World resort, functioned as a supply for sluggish-paced training about vitality, expertise, farming, and world cultures. Speedy thrills had been for different lands.

In newer years, the park, which opened in 1982, has added extra adventurous (and crowd-producing) parts: the speedy Check Observe; the multi-sensory Soarin’; the blastoff-simulating Mission: House; the wildly common film-primarily based Frozen Ever After.

However The Walt Disney Firm nonetheless desires extra for Epcot because it pours cash into upgrading its theme parks world wide — and particularly in Orlando, the place competitors from smaller rival Common Studios have confirmed fierce within the years following the addition of Harry Potter points of interest.

“In the event you have a look at what Disney’s carried out since Common opened Wizarding World in 2010, they targeted on every of their 4 parks in succession,” stated Robert Niles, founder and editor  of Theme Park Insider. “Magic Kingdom, then Animal Kingdom, then Hollywood Studios has been getting essentially the most work… It’s Epcot’s flip now. In some unspecified time in the future, they had been going to get to Epcot.”

Earlier this month, on the fan conference D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek laid out the plans, meant to shift Epcot to a heavier-trafficked, household-friendlier, extra-branded vacation spot. Disney has not put a price ticket on the adjustments at Epcot; Chapek stated groups are working to complete in time for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World in 2021.

“Work of this magnitude clearly goes to take a while,” he stated.

The brand new additions embody: a new journey primarily based on Remy the rat chef of the Pixar movie Ratatouille, patterned after the favored model at Disneyland Paris; renovations and a facelift to the entrance a part of the park, referred to as Future World; a new movie for the China part; a new area-themed restaurant subsequent to an up to date Mission: House; and, largest of all, a main attraction primarily based on the blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

“Our work on the park is centered round a few guiding rules,” Chapek stated. “We need to hold it true to the unique imaginative and prescient whereas making it extra timeless, extra related, extra household, and extra Disney.”

The household aspect appears particularly essential, particularly with regards to a park beloved by locals for its number of beers and annual meals-and-drink festivals. Chapek, who hinted at an upcoming “major transformation” on the park in November, stated the corporate is taking the consideration of households with younger youngsters particularly critically.

“They love Epcot,” he stated. “However they need it to have a litle bit extra of that Disney wow issue.”

Experimental Prototype Neighborhood of Tomorrow

The germ of the concept that turned Epcot began with founder Walt Disney, who wished to construct an precise futuristic metropolis, according to D23, Disney’s official fan membership. He got here up with the time period Experimental Prototype Neighborhood of Tomorrow in 1966 and mentioned the ideas in a movie that yr. However he died on the finish of that yr, and the corporate went on to open Magic Kingdom in 1971.

EPCOT Heart — a theme park fairly than livable metropolis as a result of “it couldn't be each a showplace and a place to reside,” the official historical past says — adopted in 1982 at a value of round $ billion.

However the park, which later modified its identify to Epcot, held onto a few of these concepts about experimentation. It boasted two elements: Future World, with points of interest centered round communication, vitality, movement, and agriculture,  and World Showcase, with sections dedicated to 9 nations.

“What EPCOT is is an exceptionally properly-carried out, very completely different, World’s Honest,” the Christian Science Monitor wrote in a story about the opening.

“It's a world of unbelievable cleanliness and astonishing structure, a world of such odd sights as a million-pound silver sphere, trying like a large golf ball, poised on 4 helps so to can stroll beneath; waterfalls that stream uphill; performing greens; and animated humanoids so lifelike that one man commented, ‘If I had been an actor, I’d be actual nervous,'” the story stated.

Tom Fitzgerald, a artistic govt at Walt Disney Imagineering who labored on the unique park, can also be main the replace. In the course of the announcement this month, he described Epcot as a place the place “the true turns into implausible and the implausible turns into actual.”

“Epcot has all the time been, from day one, an optimistic celebration of the true world dropped at life via the magic of Disney,” he stated. “It’s actually form of a dwelling showcase of the world we now have created and the world we proceed to create collectively.”

The Age Issue

However observers agree that the dwelling showcase is exhibiting its age.

“Epcot has wanted rehabilitation now for a very long time,” stated Dennis Speigel, president of consulting agency International Theme Park Services. “It was all the time, from the customer’s viewpoint, a passive park. Folks went there to eat and revel in cultural points of interest, however that misplaced its halo, I feel, through the years.”

Check Observe, a excessive-velocity automotive journey, added some pleasure — and one thing enjoyable for older children and youths — when it opened in 1999. And the park made a number of changes within the years that adopted, stated Brad Rex, who was Epcot’s vice chairman from 2001 till 2007.

“Epcot may be very common, and the investments that had been made within the 5 years I used to be there have been vital to its present recognition,” Rex stated in an e mail.

Mission: House, which simulates a rocket blastoff, opened in 2003, adopted by Soarin’, a crowd favourite not too long ago up to date to make riders really feel like they’re flying amid world monuments and habitats. The Seas with Nemo & Pals, a journey via a actual aquarium with animated characters from the film Discovering Nemo, opened in 2007.

“One of many key factors of our technique on the time was to make Epcot ‘Enjoyable and Pleasant for Households,’ and that technique has continued with the addition of Frozen, Soarin’ Across the World redo and growth, and the brand new bulletins,” stated Rex, who's now president and CEO of eHome Counseling Management Partners.

Frozen Ever After, which opened final yr, has develop into the journey with essentially the most requests for FastPasses — the system that lets visitors reserve a time prematurely to person a shorter line — at Epcot, Chapek stated.

“We need to construct on that success in order that World Showcase celebrates each actual nations and the worlds that they encourage,” he stated.

Coming Points of interest

Bringing in Guardians of the Galaxy, Speigel stated, will assist appeal to a wider number of visitors to the park — households and youngsters along with the who come to walk, eat, and drink.

“I feel they’re attempting to mix the product correctly,” he stated.

And Niles, of Theme Park Insider, stated the shift suits in with Disney’s total technique.

“What Disney’s introduced is a change of route for the Epcot theme park, however I feel it’s a good one as a result of it helps to deliver Epcot extra consistent with what Disney is right now, which is a franchise-pushed firm,” he stated. “It’s not a lot into the modernist futuristic form of technologically idealistic firm that it was again within the ‘70s when Epcot was designed and early ‘80s.”

Todays Disney, Niles stated, is “a massive Hollywood leisure studio” pushed by franchises and mental property. After buying Pixar, Marvel Comics, and the Star Wars universe, the corporate has poured important cash into integrating these manufacturers into parks.

“The general public desires franchises, it doesn’t essentially need nonfiction-pushed leisure,” he stated. “Whereas there are some followers disenchanted by the truth that Disney appears to be shifting away from the unique intent of Epcot, Disney’s moved away from the unique intent of Epcot two or 3 times already. It'll reinvigorate the park.”

Even earlier than the bulletins earlier this month, longtime followers of the unique Epcot — already heartbroken that the previous Maelstrom boat journey in Norway had been changed by a comparable journey constructed round Frozen’s Anna, Elsa, and Olaf  — had been bracing for the worst. The Guardians of the Galaxy coaster will exchange Ellen’s Power Journey, within the Universe of Power constructing.

Some disenchanted followers have began referring to the park as #IPCOT on social media, utilizing the abbreviation for “mental property.” The hashtag will not be meant as a praise.

Rex, the previous vice chairman, stated such issues are anticipated.

“Each time an attraction is changed, some followers complain,” he stated. “Nonetheless, from my expertise, after they go on the brand new attraction, they're thrilled with the completely different expertise. You need to hold issues recent.”

The Bigger Technique

Among the many world’s most-visited theme parks, Epcot ranks sixth, in line with the latest global attractions attendance report from the Themed Leisure Affiliation and the economics observe at engineering agency AECOM.

Final yr, 11.7 million individuals visited the park, a drop of zero.7 % from the earlier yr, in line with the report. Other Disney parks also saw declines — together with the world’s hottest, Magic Kingdom, which noticed numbers drop barely to 20.four million. Disney famous all year long that customer numbers had been down partly attributable to a new pricing system that prices extra for the busiest instances; revenues nonetheless elevated.

The corporate has additionally been working to extend attendance at different parks on the Orlando resort, most not too long ago Animal Kingdom. Pandora — The World of Avatar opened earlier this yr as part of an effort to turn that park into a full-day experience.

“All of the parks have had or are having main additions and it could influence Epcot’s attendance if it had been the one park to stay static,” Rex stated. “These new points of interest will add capability and unfold out demand, which can enhance wait instances and the general visitor expertise.”

And CEO Robert Iger has additionally stated Disney sees nice potential in increasing the characters from its films into its parks.

“Often after we speak concerning the studio, we speak concerning the studio outcomes because it pertains to field workplace and the underside-line for that enterprise,” he said last year throughout an earnings name. “However you even have to consider it when it comes to how we mine these belongings not simply in the US, however globally at our parks and in shopper merchandise.”

Speigel stated the driving objective is growing the quantity of people that go to the park — and the period of time they spend at Disney.

“When it comes proper all the way down to all of it, what they’re actually doing with these amenities is protecting individuals on property,” he stated. “And the longer they'll hold them at Epcot now, that’s time they don’t go to Common.”

Extra in Retailer

Even whereas making a host of bulletins, the Disney executives stored some plans underneath wraps this month.

“This actually is simply the tip of the iceberg for what we’ve received in retailer for Epcot,” Chapek stated. “Remodeling that particular park in preparation for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary goes to be a very massive precedence for us.”

Trade watchers had anticipated to listen to an announcement about extra nations coming to the World Showcase on the fan occasion.

“I assume they wish to have one thing to supply South America, given the significance of Brazil to the Walt Disney World market,” Niles stated. “All of that comes all the way down to who're they going to get as companions to work with or what sort of IP they'll put in.”

As for the park’s future, Rex stated he thinks its shifting in the precise route.

“I feel Walt Disney can be completely thrilled to see these new points of interest and additions,” he stated. “Epcot was designed to repeatedly evolve and be a very various park, engaging to everybody—actually a ‘neighborhood of tomorrow.'”

Picture Credit score: Disney introduced adjustments for Epcot at D23 Expo this month. The skin of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy attraction is proven on this rendering. Disney Parks and Resorts

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Disney's Once-Futuristic Epcot Is Getting a Modern Overhaul - Skift