Epcot 2.0 – Plan Alpha

I think that I’ve come to a point in this blog where I’ve talked a little about the past, a little about a few ideas for the future, rambled on a few topics incoherently, and in general hopped around the park quite a bit with no real agenda.  While that works well for a manifesto, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense from an overall perspective.

I think that means that we could benefit from a little direction.  Not that I won’t meander off the beaten path if the mood so strikes me, of course I will, but if I can pick a target and aim for it, maybe it can help any readers who’s mind does not work the oddball way mine does. 

I’ve mentioned this before, but this is a good time to mention it again.  Any plans I throw out here are not THE only solution to the current problems facing Epcot.  I’m calling this Plan Alpha not because it’s the best plan, or the only way things could be fixed, but mainly because it’s the first.  The first mostly comprehensive plan that I came up with. 

I’m hopeful that over time I can continue to have new ideas, and that we can have plans upon plans.  There truly are many ways that Disney could take some steps towards improving Epcot, fixing some of the glaring issues with the park as it stands today.  What problems you may ask?  Well, for those just joining us, there are many that I’ve pointed out in some of the individual blog posts I’ve made, and I’d love for you to read them of course, but the main one can be found in one of my first postings on The Mission of Epcot Center

Almost every little piece of criticism I have can find its roots there.  Why do I think the current Nemo attraction is a failure?  Lots of reasons of course, but the roots of it all come down to one thing.  It does not hold true to the mission that Epcot Center was created to uphold.  To educate yes, to entertain, but most importantly, to inspire

So if we’re going to start to talk about steps that Disney could take to overhaul Epcot Center, we have to try and set up a few ground rules here at the start. 

Ground Rules

First, I’ve mentioned this before as well, but I have no real construction experience, so budget constraints are going to have to be left off the table.  I’ll do my best to be at least budget conscious.  I may have a few crazy insane plans, probably one right off the get-go that’ll make you think “this guy’s lost his mind”, but hopefully they will be balanced out by some less-than-outrageous changes.  It’s easy to say “Let’s knock down all of Future World and create 16 new roller coasters”, but that just doesn’t make sense in any sort of real world.  This aint roller-coaster tycoon, it’s a serious rambling blog!

I'll try my best not to just play Roller Coaster Tycoon with this stuff.

I'll try my best not to just play Roller Coaster Tycoon with this stuff.

I’m going to try and work in the structure of the park that exists today.  I won’t be trying to make changes that would require massive infrastructure changes or expand the park boundaries in crazy ways.  This park is huge already, it was blessed with space to let guests breathe a little bit in between experiences.  It doesn’t need to be overcrowded, it doesn’t need to be massively restructured or expanded.  Let’s work with what we have.

I’ll try and spread the changes out over time, so the park can remain open and enjoyable to guests as we rebuild.  I’ve joked before that they should cut the price of admission in half, close all of Future World, and run World Showcase as a “Pleasure Island” style entertainment district, and rebuild all of Future World at once.  This just isn’t feasible.  Disney would never do something like this.  They’d not mess with their 4 park structure, ticket packages, etc.  As we’re seeing with Hollywood Studios right now, they’ll keep a park open even if half of it is closed off for construction.   We’ll do the same here.

With those main ground rules set, let’s take a brief overview of the lay of the land that we’re working with, as of today.

Where we stand

Currently there are two main projects that are being worked on at Epcot.  There is the addition of the 3rd theater to Soarin’ along with the updated Soarin’ over the World film.  I’ve already talked a little about my feelings about Soarin’, so I won’t do it again.  Needless to say, if I was given the keys to the park, one of the first things I’d do would be to reroute the entrance for Soarin over the World into World Showcase, where it is much more thematically appropriate.  I probably don't need another full post to talk about that, let's just take that one as a given.

The other project is the Froz-ification of Norway.  I could talk an entire post about this, but in case you couldn’t guess, I’m not a big fan of this update.  Without going into detail too much, saving that for later, I don’t like a fake country being placed over a real one.  I don’t like the fact that this is said to be a quick and easy overlay of a “hot” property over an existing attraction.  I had little love for Maelstrom, it was an ok attraction that suffered greatly from its shortened ride-time and post-show film that was left to get so out of date that it was a joke.  Still, putting characters in the attraction in a “greatest hits” style book report ride seems like a massive wasted opportunity.  It just seems like a quick, cheap attempt to strike while the iron is hot, not one devoted to anything Epcot once stood for.

My mental concept art for what is happening to Maelstrom as we speak

My mental concept art for what is happening to Maelstrom as we speak

Still, I’m not going to take that change back in this plan.  It can be left there in all of it’s non-glory, a lesson in what not to do.  When the pavilion starts to show it’s poor attendance after the initial shine has worn off, maybe we can revisit it years down the road.

What are the main issues that we want to attempt to fix with this plan?

Future World is a shadow of it’s former self.  A ghost town where folks try and hit 1-3 rides out of some sense of duty before heading into World Showcase to justify the price they paid to get in.  It has lost everything it once was. 

An entire Future World pavilion has been turned into Festival Space, open only during the (almost %50 of the year) times that a special event is on.  The festival space is also far away from where the festivals happen.  Most of the festivals are centered in World Showcase, and Wonders of Life is far away.  If one has a seminar to attend, it takes quite a bit of planning to make sure you are where you need to be if you are there to enjoy Food and Wine.  You have to hustle from tasting tapas in a kiosk outside of Morocco and head all the way back through World Showcase into Future World, then over through half of Future World to make it to the event space.  If these were still free events, I’d bet that many people would decide to skip them because they were just too far away and having fun eating/drinking where they are.

Future World lacks a coherent theme, a unifying mission that makes all of the individual pavilions relate together.  It also lacks vision.  It’s a series of unrelated pavilions that show a mishmash of different concepts.  An attraction that is only half finished, a cartoon fish ride with a lackluster aquarium at the end, an outdated attempt to talk about Energy birthed in the mid-90s by an oil and gas company, a terrible dark ride and nearly empty pavilion who lives on some version of nostalgia for a character that was popular once, a car commercial, a hang glider simulator ride, and a middling attraction based on a future that is actually in our grasp (missions already are happening to Mars, just not yet manned).  Nothing in these has any coherence, any unifying piece.

As such, the park needs to rely on special events to keep attendance up to numbers that match up with other parks in the WDW complex, and with competitors.  Make no mistake, if Food and Wine / Flower and Garden went away, Epcot attendance would drop below all Orlando parks that do not rhyme with Knee-Curled.  The park relies not on quality attractions, but on shopping and dining revenues to keep itself afloat.  This is unsustainable. 

So that is where we start.  Those are the ground rules.  These are some of the issues we’re trying to solve.  Remember, this is just one of many possible ways that life could be blown back into this park.  You may hate an idea in this plan, which is totally understandable.  I’m sure given some time I’ll likely hate parts of it too.  That’s why this blog will push on.  Maybe some day when I’m on Plan Omega, I’ll look back at what I’ve previously written with shame and embarrassment. 

Oh yeah, if any of this sparks your interest, raises your ire, or you think just plain old sucks, I’d be thrilled to discuss it.  I’m surely not the only passionate Epcot fan who has ideas. 

Next time on The Epcot Manifesto, let’s address that festival space problem.

Author’s note: As of writing, I’m T-minus 2 weeks from a move, so while I hope to have some time to write in the next few weeks, I might also be knee deep in boxes packing, or scrambling to get everything in order, or just trying not to fall behind too much at work.  I’ll do my best.  After digging back through some of my childhood home I found some awesome pieces of memorabilia that I plan on putting up in the new digs, so I’m going to still be in the Epcot mindset even in the midst of all this madness.