What Should Walt Disney World Do With EPCOT?

Posted By Debbie on September 8, 2014

If you know me for more than 10 minutes, you know I’m a fan of Walt Disney World in Florida. There’s a special place in my heart for EPCOT. When people ask me my favourite Disney park, my half-joke answer is, “EPCOT in 1986.”

Why. It was amazing. There was nothing like it. It was a nod to the past and it said what the future would be like (and it was right). It had cutting edge technologies you could play with. It was a great playground for a geek like me (even at age 14 in 1986).

For those who don’t know, EPCOT is essentially a permanent World’s Fair. I’m not going to bog you down with the history of World’s Fairs. You can Google that. It’s good stuff. But the main idea is for companies and countries to showcase their best and what’s coming in the future. Countries made you interested in visiting and learning more. Companies made you interested in their latest products and showcased how innovative they are. That’s what the World’s Fairs were.

And EPCOT lived up to that in 1986. It’s now 2014, and EPCOT needs some serious updating. I like the World’s Fair idea. I like that they serve alcohol now and it’s a great park for adults, especially well into the evening. The restaurants are delicious and plentiful! Go eat in Morocco. There’s a nightly fireworks show over the lagoon.

But when my day-to-day technology super trumps what’s in EPCOT, something is wrong. To me, there are three main things wrong with the current incarnation of EPCOT. One is outdated “technology.” Another is over-incorporation of Disney characters in something that mostly and thankfully doesn’t feel like a Disney park. The last is inappropriate sponsorships.

Disney thrives on sponsorships. After all, why the heck NOT get someone to foot some or all of the bill for the building and/or maintenance of a pavilion in exchange for signage and display space. With around 11 million people visiting EPCOT each year, that’s a lot of people you to whom you can gently advertise.

If you’re not familiar with how Disney does that, here are a few examples from EPCOT:

  • Coca-Cola has a little spot in the centre of EPCOT. They let you try sodas they sell around the world for free. And they sell merchandise including international merchandise. If you like Coke products, this can be a short but fun adventure without going to their Atlanta HQ.
  • Test Track (now sponsored by Chevy) is a fun ride that dumps you out in a giant Chevy showroom. Staff are there to answer questions about cars. Cars are parked there. You can sit in them and learn about them.
  • Spaceship Earth, the giant golf ball you think of when I say EPCOT, is actually a ride. It’s about the history (and possible future) of communication. Except with updates to the ride, it’s more about history, and doesn’t seem to bother guessing about the future other than we’ll all fly around in space cars. It’s sponsored by Siemens, which is a bit weird since when’s the last time I needed to buy an MRI machine. You are dumped into a “world of the future” type of interactive display. I never really got it.
  • My least favourite example is the “Where’s The Fire” exhibit sponsored by Liberty Mutual. It shows dangerous things in your house that can cause fires. Seems a bit scary for a Disney vacation… and sponsored by a company reminding you to get insurance.

Suggestion 1: Get rid of the character placements.

Disney vacations are already packed full of characters everywhere you go. You want to have some people line up by a tree to meet Jasmine and Aladdin? Fine. And people can line up by some shrubs to meet Mary Poppins? Fine. But get Nemo out of “The Living Seas.”

Don’t add Anna and Else to the Norway pavilion. Stick with the World’s Fair idea and give families, especially adults, a break from characters. Let Norway be Norway. These characters are a dose of unrealistic fiction surrounded the reality of the sea or the real country of Norway. You want fantasy? Disney has other parks for that. EPCOT is a bit of reality within worlds of fantasy.

Suggestion 2: Find the right sponsors to show the latest tech and you’ve killed two ailing EPCOT birds with one stone.

Why isn’t something sponsored by Samsung or Sony showing off the latest in communication? Why didn’t I see SmartWatches in EPCOT 5 years ago? Why isn’t there a Tesla car people can check out? And be careful with “home of the future.” Disneyland’s home of the future looks like my house NOW.

People at Disney should read Mashable and The Verge for a few weeks. Learn what amazing people are building, discovering, and inventing truly unique things. Someone is making energy out of algae? Some teen figured out a way to bring water to places without water? You’ve got places for this. Universe of Energy can use some updating. The Land is a great lesson on farming without water, but there’s more we could say about the land and current and futuristic agriculture. How about how so much of the Bay Area composts? A major city that composts is a neat story.

How about a completely solar/alternative energy powered exhibit? What about the history of computers (and the future)? Imagineers should visit our Computer History Museum for some inspiration for a fun pavilion that could be interactive.

How about Innoventions being a rotating exhibit of 10 startups? Each startup gets 4 months to showcase what they are doing and get people interested, excited, and involved. Obviously, there’d be an application and selection process to make sure we get interesting and innovative companies (rather than just another way to share photos). I bet incubators, angel investors, and VCs might even sponsor that. I wouldn’t charge the startups. They need all the help they can get.

The Wonders of Life pavilion seems to get used for the annual Epcot Flower and Garden Festival and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, but is closed 6 months a year. Maybe they could move that pavilion usage to Odyssey (a pavilion that is for special private events that most people just think is closed), and let Wonders of Life be reimagined.

And some people may hate me for this, but I think Journey Into Imagination can be completely rethought. The ride, the characters, the song… I don’t really come out learning anything or thinking about anything other than how much drugs the people who designed it might have been on. You want to keep it Imagination? Turn it into an art pavilion. What is the history of art? How do people do art now? What are some futuristic artists and art projects we can show? And by art, I mean visual media, animation, audio animatronics, and music. Make it interactive, and you’ll make people feel more delighted than a 1 hour line and 4 minute ride.

And bring back the Segways. They are still kinda futuristic. 🙂

Keep the obelisks but take off all the current panels. Yes, I know we paid for them. I’m on there. Put flat screens on them, and sell people a space on those screens. Start by putting back all the digital pics you have there now. Then sell the rest of the space because holy cats, there’s space, and I’d buy another one. Rent it to us by the year (so I can take down the old one of me with a past guy), and many people will pay year after year I’m sure.

I can imagine an EPCOT that Disney barely pays for because we’ll have the right sponsors in the right places.

I don’t think this plan is that hard, especially since I’m repurposing spaces that are already built. Don’t tear these things down. Let’s just redo the interiors and give them new reasons to attract people.