An Open Letter to Melissa Valiquette, Vice President – Epcot

I know the "open letter to..." format is a little overplayed in the blogosphere.  This is a slight variation I guess.  I wrote this letter this morning and sent it via email to the recipient in question.  I do however think that the themes contained in it echo this blog quite a bit, so unless I'm told to pull it down for some legal reason, I figured I'd put it out here as open letter .

To: Melissa Valiquette, Vice President – Epcot

 Dear Ms. Valiquette,

    I feel compelled to write this letter to you because of a recent rumor regarding the park for which you have the unenviable task of leading.  I feel that Epcot, even more so than the flagship Magic Kingdom, is the most challenging theme park in the world.  While each of Walt Disney World’s parks have individual challenges that are apparent to the observer (and many challenges that are not apparent as well):   Magic Kingdom is the most visited park in the world, and one that has the highest visibility.  Animal Kingdom has not only the concerns brought by trying to manage a theme park, but also looking for the well-being of the animals who call it home.  Hollywood Studios is in the middle of such a large transformation that keeping guests happy while in the middle of the massive transition seems like it would be an extraordinarily large challenge.

   Epcot however has more than just those concerns.  It operates almost like two separate theme parks, with Future World and World Showcase.  It has a massive scale.  It serves as a destination for many local guests on nights and weekends, annual passholders coming in to spend time in World Showcase.  The biggest challenge however stems from the fact that the park itself was created to be more than just a theme park.  The ideals that the park was built to serve, the theme park that would serve as an inspiration to the world, make this park a challenge greater than any other.  This is a problem that I understand, and the weight of that on your shoulders must be great.

   I’ll also say that the reason I’m writing isn’t solely because of a rumor.  Rumors come and rumors go.  They can come from more and less credible sources, and nothing is solid until the shovels hit the dirt.  I’ll also try and do my honest best to not turn this into a huge rant of all of my concerns about the park, big and small.  I occasionally write about those, they can be found online in various places, and in no way do you deserve the brunt of that wall of words, or the blame for them either.  I’m happy to have those conversations with anyone at any time, but I want to focus on the thing that out of everything has finally convinced me it’s time to write a letter that I know will have no impact whatsoever.

  The rumor that prompted me to write in regards the addition of a Guardians of the Galaxy themed attraction in Epcot’s Future World.   I have no idea if this rumor has any basis in truth or not, but in some respects, it’s beside the point.  I think that the main issue here is that we’ve reached a point, those of us who are passionate about Epcot, that this rumor has any kind of legs in the first place. 

   The idea of putting Guardians of the Galaxy in Future World should not stand up to any sort of “sniff test”.  Barring a complete and utter abandonment of the concept of Future World, which at this time I cannot count out, there is no context in which Guardians of the Galaxy could exist in Future World.  I should not have to give a rumor such as this a second thought.  It should be akin to a rumor of adding a stagecoach attraction to Tomorrowland, an Oliver and Company Chase through New York City attraction to Adventureland, or a big game hunting attraction to Animal Kingdom.  It should be dismissed out of hand and laughed at.

  The problem is it cannot be dismissed.  An attraction that bears no logical thematic ties very well may replace an attraction that (while outdated) still holds true to Epcot Center’s very core principles.   I am sure I do not need to lecture you of all people on how Epcot Center was created to be something different, and something more than just a theme park.  How the park was built to not just be fun, but to inspire.  I’m happy to report that it did inspire.  I attribute my passion for learning, for science, and for wonder in no small part to my many visits to Epcot Center as a youth. 

   I was speaking to a colleague yesterday about my potential upcoming purchase of an electric car and while discussing charging it at home said “I don’t know why, but ever since I was a young child, it’s been my dream to have solar panels on my house”.  It was a bit of a lie.  I know exactly why I have had this dream since childhood.  It’s because of Epcot Center.  It’s because of Universe of Energy.  It’s because my curiosity about alternative energy sources was piqued at just the right age.  The impact Epcot Center had on my life is real, and is important.  It is exactly the kind of thing that those that were responsible for transitioning Walt’s vision into a reality, from experimental community to theme park, were trying to achieve.  It worked, it pushed me into a career in science, and it pushes me to try and understand and inspire the same kinds of wonder and passion into others, especially my children.

   But what was once unthinkable has sadly become commonplace and acceptable.  With The Living Seas transition from undersea research and exploration into an aquarium with a book-report dark ride.  With The Land transitioning from an exploration of our interactions with the Earth to feed our species into a nice hanglider ride over some pretty scenery.  With the transportation pavilion now being a car commercial instead of an exploration into the entire genre of transportation.  With Imagination’s transition from the linchpin of the entire park to… whatever it is now.  With World Showcase now taking an entire pavilion and replacing it with a non-existent fantasy country. 

   In this environment, I can no longer dismiss the idea that an attraction, and one that is even more relevant to the world today than it was in 1982, could be replaced by an attraction based on a comic book.  I have to give it pause, I have to give it consideration.  This, to me, a passionate and unapologetic fan, is beyond sad.  If there is any truth to this rumor, I urge you to reconsider.  What is entertaining does not have to be devoid of what is inspiring.  What is fun does not have to remove what is educational. 

   Maybe there will be some that don’t agree, that deride any sort of attempt to educate and inspire, and I bet that it’s possibly more people than I’d like to admit to myself.  But doesn’t it mean more to the world as a whole if you reach and inspire those that you can?  Isn’t inspiring one person to try and make the world a better place more important than entertaining 10 people with a ride that goes zoom?  And why does one have to preclude the other? 

   I’ve spoken with many people this morning and the core belief is that what was once great about Epcot is long dead and buried, and the best we can hope for is something well done.  I refuse to accept that.  I refuse to believe that those in charge of the company must be forced to remove all that was important about this park, what gave Epcot it’s vision, unique in a world of amusement parks.  I choose to have hope for a better world, and I know where quite a bit of that hope came from.



Scott Shindeldecker