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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Disney gives major update on what to expect from its Epcot overhaul, but some projects remain in limbo

Posted By on Sat, Nov 28, 2020 at 5:31 PM

click image Gleaming pylons are part of the new fountain in development at the base of Spaceship Earth in EPCOT at Walt Disney World Resort. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY (DAVID ROARK, PHOTOGRAPHER)
  • Image via Disney (David Roark, photographer)
  • Gleaming pylons are part of the new fountain in development at the base of Spaceship Earth in EPCOT at Walt Disney World Resort.
After announcing a major multiyear overhaul of Epcot at last year’s D23 Expo, this year’s major speed bumps have led to adjustments to the ambitious plans. Now, many fans speculate that all or some of those projects are canceled. During a virtual D23 event earlier this month, Disney confirmed that at least some of the plans were still in the works, but other projects were conspicuously missing.

The gray and white Apple Store aesthetic that left Epcot’s Future World feeling cold has now been accented by pops of color in a more abstract futurist style. During the D23 live stream, Zach Riddley of Walt Disney Imagineering noted that the new colors allow for updated design choices.



“For us, one of the defining features of this transformation for all of Epcot is color. Color gives us an opportunity to bring a new palette to the design that’s inspired by an entire spectrum. Each of the colors we’re using were chosen to perfectly fit within and accentuate the park’s aesthetic.”

click image Epcot's new color scheme as seen on the ticket booths near the main entrance. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY | YOUTUBE
  • Image via Disney | YouTube
  • Epcot's new color scheme as seen on the ticket booths near the main entrance.

Guests are greeted with the new color scheme before they even enter the park. Earlier this summer, the park’s primary entrance ticket booths received a new paint job, one color per booth, creating a rainbow-like effect across the entrance plaza. Just inside the park, the gravestone-like “Leave a Legacy” markers have been removed and replaced with greenery, and the cobblestone fountain in front of Spaceship Earth has also been updated. A trio of clear acrylic pylons, nearly identical to the ones that the park opened with, now rises out of the new water feature, pointing upward toward the iconic geodesic sphere. Construction walls surrounding the fountain should be removed by the end of this year.

Along with the bold new color scheme, the nearly 40-year-old park also got an updated typeface and logo. “We’re also taking this opportunity to not only use color but iconography,” explained Riddley, “bringing the unique pavilion iconography that the park opened with, but also bringing some new designs in so that we can incorporate that into the fabric of the park.” Signage with the new font and logo has already begun appearing around the park.

Lighting also plays a key role in the refreshed park. The acrylic pylons will feature multi-colored lighting that will play off the enhanced lighting on Spaceship Earth. While not confirmed by Disney, recent permits and official concept art show the possibility of LED lighting and strobe light effects added to Spaceship Earth in the coming months. These are believed to be part of the new Harmonious nighttime spectacular the park plans to debut in 2021.

Harmonious, replacing the long-running Illuminations, will feature five massive multi-story barges, the largest of which will tower six stories into the air from the middle of the World Showcase lagoon. That barge will sit in the middle of the lagoon and be home to a Stargate-looking circular feature that houses a water current on which images will be projected. Four 25-foot-tall double-sided LED walls will sit around the central barge, and eight 50-foot-long moving arms, one on each LED barge and four on the central barge, will feature show equipment including lighting, lasers and fountains.

click image This artist concept rendering shows how the floating platforms for “Harmonious” will feature daytime fountains. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • This artist concept rendering shows how the floating platforms for “Harmonious” will feature daytime fountains.

Unlike the barges used in Illuminations, the Harmonious ones will remain in the lagoon throughout the day. During the day, the barges will feature water fountains that will mask their true use while adding new interest to the largest water feature of any Disney theme park. It’s unclear if the Friendship Boats, which currently offer cross-lagoon service for guests, will continue to do so once the barges are in place.

Future World's expansive layout, with individual pavilions located in a city park-like setting, is being scrapped and replaced with “neighborhoods.” World Showcase will remain intact, while the rest will be broken into three new lands.

click to enlarge IMAGE VIA DISNEY D23
  • Image via Disney D23

World Celebration will house the entrance plaza, Spaceship Earth, and a new area known as Dreamers Point, where a statue of Walt Disney will be located. Notably missing from the presentation and related press release is the overhaul to the Spaceship Earth attraction and the sky garden-like Festival Center. While the leading assumption is Disney has decided to cancel the massive building, on the WDWMagic forums at least one insider has stated the field-like festival area is being designed so that the large building can be built on the site at a later time. They also claimed the building still has a group within Disney advocating for it. 

click to enlarge The new multi-level Festival Center previously announced for Epcot - IMAGE VIA DISNEY D23
  • Image via Disney D23
  • The new multi-level Festival Center previously announced for Epcot
Also missing from both the presentation and press release is any mention of the Imagination pavilion, which is technically within World Celebration. While the pavilion’s two original characters, Dreamfinder and Figment, remain popular with Disney fans, the attractions within the pavilion itself often have some of the shortest waits within Epcot. Rumors of an update to the pavilion have existed for years, but there’s still no evidence that Disney plans to add anything new to this area in the foreseeable future.

click to enlarge A scene from the proposed updated version of Spaceship Earth featuring the projection mapping effects. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • A scene from the proposed updated version of Spaceship Earth featuring the projection mapping effects.
Spaceship Earth is in desperate need of a significant refurbishment due to its aging ride system. The previously announced update saw a more timeless storyline added to the attraction and updated effects, including heavy use of projection mapping. It was thought Disney would use the opportunity provided by adding a new ride system to also add these updated scenes and effects. The aging ride system remains an issue for the park and will need to be addressed sooner than later, but it's unclear when Disney plans to close the iconic ride for this update, which will likely more than a year to complete. It’s also unclear how much of the previously announced reimagining of the attraction will be realized.

click to enlarge The new multi-level Festival Center previously announced for Epcot - IMAGE VIA DISNEY D23
  • Image via Disney D23
  • The new multi-level Festival Center previously announced for Epcot
The press release shared alongside the D23 livestream mentions “a newly reimagined festival area that will be home to ever-changing events in a unique new environment.” While some have interpreted this to be the multi-story Festival Center that was announced in 2019, that does not seem to be the case. While not outright canceling those plans, rumors point to Disney putting them on indefinite hold instead of using the space where the building was to go as an open-air festival lawn. The Festival Center was to be the home of a production studio and a rooftop garden where special nighttime viewing parties were to take place. It’s unclear where either of these items will now be located.

click to enlarge Epcot's new Moana-inspired water trail - CONCEPT ART VIA DISNEY / D23 TWITTER
  • Concept art via Disney / D23 Twitter
  • Epcot's new Moana-inspired water trail
To the west of World Celebration is World Nature, home to The Land and The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions. While missing from the live stream video, the press release confirms the Moana-inspired Journey of Water attraction remains in the plans. This was one of the rumored cuts, with many expecting the small walk-through “exploration trail” to be too little for Disney to now be willing to invest in, it’s now clear that is not the case.

Across from World Celebration is World Discovery, a new land dedicated to science and technology. This is where Test Track and Mission: Space are located. Space 220, the space station themed restaurant attached to the Mission: Space pavilion is now nearly a year behind its scheduled opening. During a talk at the virtual IAAPA Expo, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro confirmed that the restaurant is still happening while showing off photographs from the main dining room. These photos confirmed the digital "windows" are now operable. It’s expected Space 220 will open sometime within 2021, once post-COVID demand warrants opening the indoor dining room that also includes a simulated space elevator entrance experience.

Next door to Mission: Space, the former Wonders of Life health pavilion is being updated to become the Play pavilion. Interactive exhibits like those found in Innoventions will be located in the new pavilion along with character meet-and-greets, retail, and dining venues. The Play Pavilion was missing from this month’s update, but construction on the pavilion is ongoing. Disney may have decided to hold off on giving more details regarding this pavilion until they can better understand how the ongoing pandemic's lasting impacts will alter high-touch exhibits such as those that will be found throughout this pavilion.

click image A Disney Imagineer oversees “push/pull” testing of vehicles on the track for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • A Disney Imagineer oversees “push/pull” testing of vehicles on the track for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.

In both the D23 event and in D’Amaro’s IAAPA address, there was a heavy focus on the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction. The indoor story coaster is now doing push/pull testing. This means the coaster track is done, though the many high-definition screens and effects expected on the ride are likely still far from being completed. According to Brayden of the Mickey Views YouTube channel, Disney's images showing the construction of the coaster are now outdated by a few months. This would indicate the effects planned for the large main show building may now be in place.

The other primary focus of the D23 session is Ratatouille. This 3D dark ride is a near-identical clone to the similarly named attraction found at Walt Disney Studios Paris. The trackless dark ride is believed to be finished, with the company waiting until they can increase park capacity before opening it. D’Amaro confirmed it would be opening in 2021.

Across the channel from France in the U.K. pavilion, the previously announced Mary Poppins attraction wasn’t at all acknowledged. This small attraction has been strongly rumored to have been canceled, with Disney going so far as pulling any mention of it from previously released blog posts and press releases earlier this year. Believed to have been a small indoor version of a teacups style ride, its budget was already being slashed even before the pandemic. At this point, there is no indication that Disney plans to move forward with this project.

Most of Epcot’s major additions could open in time for or during the 50th anniversary set to begin in late 2021. Almost all of the park’s updates should open in time for the expected massive multi-resort celebration for the company’s 100th anniversary in late 2023. Epcot will also be likely celebrating the 40th anniversary in 2022, though it is unclear how heavily Disney plans to market this event as it abuts the resort’s golden anniversary and the company’s centurion celebration


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