Let me start this off by trying to assuage some of the hostility that might start coming my way from those whose favorite time of the year is Epcot’s Food and Wine or Flower and Garden festivals.
I do not have complaints against the festivals themselves. They are well run. They fit nicely with the world’s fair theme of World Showcase. They draw people to WDW. My parents make a trip down to Florida each year in the spring to take in Flower and Garden. It’s a very well done festival. The festivals are fun!
Last year, I met up with a group of DisNerds for a big day at Epcot, the day after the Tower of Terror 10 miler, I limped around World Showcase and had a great time. We happened to be there on the last day of Maelstrom, so we were able to get one last ride. We poked around the kiosks and tried new foods, tried new drinks. I met new friends, I had a great time. We ate, drank, ate, drank, watched the American Adventure, shopped a touch, and then hit Via Napoli to eat some more, ending in time to catch Illuminations and then slowly wander out, past the crowds of people gathered to watch the final boats filled with Cast Members riding Maelstrom after the doors had closed. It was a great time. It really was.
If anyone has read any of my ramblings before, you should recognize that this is where the “but” comes in.
Taking the above day as an example, here’s the one thing that I didn’t mention. In that entire day, we spent a total of maybe 30 minutes in Future World. We rode Soarin’, we filled a full boat on Living with the Land. Then we moved along into World Showcase. We visited 2 things in Future World in total. The same goes for my last few family trips to Epcot. The split is somewhere around 80/20%, 80% of time spent in World Showcase, 20% in Future World.
This is probably the exact opposite of the time I spent in Epcot for the first 14 or so years of it’s existence. Sure, some of that is I’m sure due to the old (invalid) thought that “World Showcase is boring for kids”. I’ll give that some credibility. But not much. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t like visiting World Showcase. The thing is, Future World was just better! It was the highlight of the park, bar none. I could spend untold days in Future World. I cannot say the same now. In fact, in a completely unscientific study (meaning I occasionally look at social media posts related to Epcot), nearly all comments I see regarding the love for Epcot boils down to this:
“I love Epcot. I love eating all the different things! And they have ALCOHOL!”
I understand that as well
There is a big part of me that doesn’t like that Epcot has turned into a place where people pay around $100 to go into a park, ride 1 to 2 rides, and then pay theme park prices to eat and drink. It’s become a glorified Pleasure Island, without the smaller cover charge and Adventurer’s Club. That hurts. In my more bitter moods, I’ll refer to Epcot as a very well themed food court with an exorbitant cover charge.
That leads me to the larger issue.
The festivals are hiding the major problems with Epcot. Epcot is still the 2nd most attended park in WDW. This year, 2015, Flower and Garden is running for 75 days. Food and Wine runs for 63 days. Holidays around the World (if you count this) runs for 34 days. That is 172 days in which Epcot is operating a “special event”. That is over 47% of the year in which Epcot’s attendance is propped up by a special event. I wonder how long until it is more likely to be at Epcot when there is no event going than when there is. Next year?
Let’s pretend for a moment that Epcot decided for a year not to run either festival. How far do you think that the attendance would fall?!? Would Sea World beat it? Maybe that is going a BIT too far, I mean you have all the folks who will not leave the Disney Bubble™, so those multi-day tickets would be used somewhere. Still, even with 60% of the park closed at Hollywood Studios, I’d bet that it would give Epcot a run for it’s money. How badly do you think Melissa Valiquette, VP of Epcot, is shaking in her proverbial boots for 2017 and beyond, as Avatar/Rivers of Light/Nighttime safari open up at Animal Kingdom? As Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land start to take shape at Hollywood Studios? I'd be hoping beyond hope that Disney plays Executive Musical Chairs again by that time if I were her.
If we look at attendance numbers (and there are huge caveats here with these which I’ll likely spend an entire post discussing, let’s just use them as ballpark figures), you can see that the festivals have helped attendance. Barring for the massive drop after 9/11, which had a massive impact on travel, the festivals are growing attendance.
What this is doing however is helping Disney mask the problems with the park, because why would they need to invest in a park which is still drawing in huge numbers? It doesn’t matter that Future World is such an afterthought that an entire pavilion is shuttered to serve as festival space (more on this later as well). Epcot’s upgrades in the past few decades are more than questionable, they’re almost all terrible across the board. The unfinished descent in Spaceship Earth, leaving us with the terrible screen clipped pictures which my child’s Leappad tablet can do a better job at. The horrible Nemo overlay. The completely lazy clone of Soarin’ from DCA which does not thematically match it’s location. The travesty that is the Imagination pavilion. Frozen Norway.
All of this is supported by the fact that the festivals still draw in the crowds, so major investments are unneeded.
I’ve been told by people I trust (I do not know anyone inside Disney, but I do know people that know people, so take this as the hearsay that it is) that Epcot would operate at a loss without the festivals. This means that the underlying theme park is not good enough to operate on it’s own. It needs a festival which finds as many ways as possible to get extra money out of the pockets of it’s visitors. Free seminars have turned into paid experiences. The original prices of the tastings offered at the kiosks has moved from $1-3 to their current price (hovering between $5 and over $10).
So that is my beef. Epcot has turned away from being an important theme park and is now a middling theme park with some great (and increasingly expensive) festivals.
Anyone who is spending time eating and drinking their way around World Showcase this fall, take a look over into Future World as you walk past. Look at the people streaming into World Showcase, paying no attention to Future World. Remember, Disney is doing the same.
Cheers. Enjoy the $7.50 Lobster Roll paired with the suggested $4.25 La Crema Chardonnay.