A little while back, I had posted a letter that I had sent via email to Melissa Valiquette, VP of Epcot. After sending that letter, I had spoken with someone from Guest Experience Services for a bit about my letter, and was assured that Ms. Valiquette had read my email and had spread it around to Epcot leadership to read as well. It was a pleasant conversation, and I appreciated the call. I'm assuming that is one of the reasons that they make these calls, the Guest Experience Services folks partially exist to make those who write in feel like they are being listened to.
A few months later, I decided I needed to write a different letter. I was spurred on by a fellow Epcot aficionado who took the time to write letters to an entire group of Disney executives. His letter left me thinking that I had not communicated to everyone I needed to, and got my old keyboard clicking again.
This time, I addressed my letter to Mr. Gorge Kalogridis, President of The Walt Disney Resort. As the head honcho of WDW, I wanted to get my words in front of him as well. My letter-writing friend had taken the time to actual send paper letters via snail-mail to the executives in question, and I thought that was a really good touch, so I did the same.
My letter was received and I was again contacted byGuest Experience Services, another team member this time, and set up a call with her. Joan was great to talk to. She has worked at Disney since before Epcot Center was opened. She worked at Epcot Center back in the day, and alluded to some shenanigans that the Cast Members used to get up to after the parks closed at night, some of which involved wandering around Horizons sets, which I am super jealous of.
Joan was patient and understanding, as I assume those who call dissatisfied customers for a living are wont to be, listened, assured me my letter was read by Mr. Kalogridis, and we spent an enjoyable 45 minutes or so talking.
In full disclosure, hearing about my upcoming Disneyland trip, she arranged fastpasses for my family for Soarin' and Tower of Terror, the former the only ones we used. She hoped I'd give Soarin' over the World a chance, since I had discussed my disdain for Soarin over California in The Land. I did, and enjoyed it. If only it were not in The Land at Epcot, it would be a fantastic World Showcase attraction and great addition to the park! Also, California Adventure was the one place on the planet that Soarn' over California actually made thematic sense and they replaced it! Argh, don't fall down that rabbit hole now! Focus!
Now that some time has passed, I wanted to share the letter that I wrote again. It seemed that my first letter was well received by those that read it, so I thought I would share again. Since I know it's been read, disseminated, discussed, and moved along from, I thought it was ok to share it on the old Internets now.
If you like it and agree with any of it, think about taking the time to write yourself. The more they hear from passionate fans, the more chance we have to enact any sort of change.
31 AUGUST 2016
Mr. George Kalogridis
President, Walt Disney World Resort
PO Box 10000
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
Dear Mr. Kalogridis,
I am writing this letter to voice my concern about the recent direction, or more appropriately the lack thereof, at your Epcot theme park. It’s been something that has been on my mind for quite some time now, honestly for years, but recent events have caused me to pick up the pen to write to you.
Knowing your long tenure with Disney Parks, and your previous experience helming Epcot, I know that I don’t have to get into a massive explanation of what this park was built to be. As you know, Epcot Center was designed to be something more than just a theme park. While Walt’s initial idea for an actual experimental community served as the basis for the theme park that was designed in the late 70s and opened in ‘82, the park was transformed into one built on the idea of inspiration. A portion of Card Walker’s dedicating statement spoke to that:
“May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.”
Again, I feel that lecturing you on this is something that I do not need to do. As someone who has worked in the Disney Parks since they opened in Florida, and as someone who shepherded Epcot for years, this likely is more apparent to you than to those of us observing from the outside.
I do however bring this up because this is exactly what I feel has been lost over the years in Epcot, and if rumors are correct, seem to be about to breathe it’s final breath. What once set this park apart from all others, a bold experiment in being more than just a theme park, has been lost.
One of the things that was apparent, even to someone who was a child through the birth and growth of Epcot, was that each part of the park was a small piece of the larger message. This held true for the entire park, with Future World presenting the inspiration and vision and World Showcase showing the global perspective that would be needed to make that vision a reality. It also held true for each individual section. World Showcase was a place to explore different cultures, feel at one with fellow citizens of the world. Future World was one cohesive story of education and inspiration. Each pavilion telling it’s own story, but all together telling a part of the larger story.
The opening chapter of that story was Spaceship Earth, which closed with the song “Tomorrow’s Child”, the lyrics of which served as a mission statement for the entire park to come. Each pavilion in turn explored it’s topic, but all reinforced the central theme of the park. Horizons served as the target, and Journey into Imagination spoke to the mechanism that exists in all of us that will help us realize that goal.
I want to be clear that the point of this letter is not to ask you to bring back former pavilions. I understand and agree with the philosophy that the park needed to change and grow as the world itself did. Epcot Center was always meant to be an ever evolving park, stasis would be as detrimental to the park as anything else.
What I feel deeply is that change should not be done without careful consideration on the adherence to the overall theme. The use of film characters is not itself something that can be seen as the only factor in attraction design. The world’s most exciting Star Wars attraction would fall flat if placed in Frontierland.
Looking at some of the more recent changes, it’s hard to say that this thoughtful incorporation has happened. Soarin’, while fun, is a travelogue, which does not fit with the theme of agriculture that once defined The Land (nor is it futuristic). The Seas with Nemo missed a massive opportunity to use beloved characters as an emotional tie to tell a story about oceanic exploration, instead rehashing the film in a haphazard fashion. Test Track and Mission Space, while exciting rides, do not try and inspire kids big and small to dream of becoming astronauts or designing the transportation methods of the future. Imagination… I don’t have enough words to describe the shortcomings of the current attraction, once the linchpin of the entire park now relegated to describing our 5 senses, something my children learned in preschool.
Most recently, Frozen Ever After broke the unwritten law that defined World Showcase. It was a celebration of the real countries of the world, an exploration into the cultures of our fellow man and woman. Now the entire pavilion has been taken over by a fictional land inspired by but not a real country. With one fell swoop, it broke down the wall that had been built decades ago.
All of this has taken away from what Epcot Center once was. I truly feel that my time spent in Epcot Center as a child, during my formative years, is what led me down the path of what is now called STEM. My sense of wonder with the scientific world was nurtured by what I saw and experienced in Epcot as a child. The feeling of awe and perspective that I had as we reached the top of Spaceship Earth to see the world as one. The dreams of a future spent traveling to undersea resorts and space colonies. The desire I’ve had my entire life to one day put up solar panels so that my house could be running on “sunshine”. These feelings were real, and they had a real impact on me. I cannot say that the same is true now when I take my children to the park. They do not get the same sense of wonder. They get a couple rides that they may enjoy, but disappear immediately when the next enjoyable ride comes up. When my kids talk about Disney trips, they point to many, many other rides before they mention an Epcot attraction in passing. I would have lived in Epcot Center as a child, my kids now know it as a half-day park.
In a world that seems increasingly scientifically illiterate, it seems even more imperative that our children can find inspiration and wonder in the sciences. In a world that seemingly has taken a sharp xenophobic and at times hate-filled turn, the ideals of working together across the globe to forward the human race seems more pressing now than ever. I know that The Walt Disney Company is one that truly cares about these things, it’s evident in the efforts put forward in charitable works, in expanding renewable energy capabilities, in standing up for the marginalized communities around the world. I wish that I felt that same was reflected in the park that once was the standard bearer for this. No fast-paced comic book based attraction is going to inspire this.
I truly believe that what was written in the book Walt Disney’s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow should hold true today.
“While entertainment will continue to be a highly visible attraction at EPCOT Center, it is the underlying educational value of Future World that is it's most important contribution. Exciting, amusing, and fascinating as each pavilion is in itself, it is but an element of a project that may well be viewed as a springboard to our discovery of a new world.”
I hope that there is still some consideration for what made this park great. What gave it such a loyal and vocal fanbase, who will line up for hours to buy merchandise celebrating former attractions. What literally changed the lives of the generation of children that had the opportunity to be inspired by the breathtaking vision put forward. I want to proudly take my kids and someday grandkids to a park and see the wonder in their eyes that I know I had 30 years ago.
Thank you for your time,