Epcot's giant aquarium might be getting a giant remodel

Epcot's giant aquarium might be getting a giant remodel
Image via DearCatastropheWaitress at English Wikipedia
Disney has confirmed major updates are headed to Epcot, but one of the latest rumored updates might come as a surprise to many.

When The Living Seas opened in 1986, it was one of the most technologically advanced aquariums ever to be realized. At the time it was home to the largest saltwater aquarium in the world, a title it kept until 2005. The original attraction involved multiple pre-shows, including a unique faux elevator that is thought to be the inspiration for later faux lifts found on the Gringotts’s attraction at Universal Studios Florida. The Living Seas also is home to Central Florida’s first restaurant with underwater viewing. Later SeaWorld copied the idea with their own Sharks Underwater Grill.

Inside the Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion at Epcot - Image via Disney
Image via Disney
Inside the Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion at Epcot
In 1998, after the sponsorship deal for the Epcot attraction ended, significant changes occurred to the attraction, including making the pre-show video optional and one of the two theaters closing. Beginning in 2003, Disney undertook a multi-year reimagining of the pavilion to add the characters from the popular Pixar film Finding Nemo. An interactive show featuring Crush the sea turtle was added and new Nemo-focused displays replaced the more educational ones that had been in the pavilion since its opening nearly two decades earlier. Also gone was the overarching narrative that this was an active sea research center, Sea Base Alpha. Now it was merely an aquarium, though some of the educational activities, such as a manatee rehab center, remained.

Nemo and Friends were some of the first Disney characters to be introduced into Epcot, which previously had gained a reputation as the park with no characters. Since then, Epcot has seen the Three Caballeros and Frozen also added, with new attractions based on Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy in the works.
click to enlarge An artist rendering of Disney's plans for Epcot's Future World shared at D23 - Image via Scott Gustin | Twitter
Image via Scott Gustin | Twitter
An artist rendering of Disney's plans for Epcot's Future World shared at D23
When Disney unveiled an artist's rendering of their plans for the future of Epcot at the D23 event last year, most of the focus was on the Innoventions buildings, which were completely missing from the concept art. But in the top left corner The Living Seas, now known as The Seas with Nemo and Friends, had a noticeably different entrance area. The seagulls and other Nemo characters seemed to be missing, replaced with massive rockwork and waterfalls. Despite the different entrance area, the attraction building itself looked mostly untouched, and it was thought that Nemo would be joining the likes of Star-Lord, Queen Elsa and Remy.

Now a new guest survey is pointing to that not necessarily being the case.

A few weeks ago, Scott Sanders, of The Disney Cruise Line Blog, posted screenshots on Twitter of an email survey he received with a number of questions regarding The Seas attraction. These types of surveys are typically sent out by Disney ahead of any major investment or update to the parks. In one screenshot posted by Sanders, Disney asks why he chose not to visit the aquarium, with many of the answer choices focusing on the current offerings within the Nemo-themed attraction.

On the WDWMagic forums, a board was started to discuss Sanders’ post. Less than four hours after the discussion went live, notable insider Magic Feather stated that they were personally familiar with some previous proposals to the pavilion, though it is unclear whether any of those proposals are the ones Disney may currently be looking at.

“There have been a few proposals for Seas over the last few years, one of which got surprisingly close to happening. One or two of the responses on that survey actually point to a proposal or two. So far though, I have yet to hear much more as to whether these projects have developed.

Also, I have yet to hear of a project that involves removing the aquariums.”

Later in the same message board well-known insider Martin, known on the WDWMagic forums as Marni1971, chimed in hinting that an E-Ticket attraction may be in the works for the Seas pavilion. There is a large pad on the backside of the building where a dark ride was once proposed. That project never materialized and the land is still mostly sitting empty.

After some speculation by other members, Martin then confirmed that what he heard regarding the proposed updates are not the Crush coaster that the Studios park in Paris has nor the Nemo SeaRider simulator found in Tokyo DisneySea. The previously proposed rainforest themed roller coaster is also not what he was referencing. He explained that there's a current proposal for the pavilion and despite current Nemo theming the project may not be tied to an intellectual property.

It should be noted that a survey is one of the first things Disney does when working on a proposed new attraction and often those projects do not move forward. It’s unclear how developed the Seas proposal is.

There has been some speculation that Disney may be interested in connecting the strongly rumored Epcot hotel to the Seas pavilion, possibly including rooms that look into a large aquarium, similar to the Ocean Suites at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore (the same resort where Universal Studios Singapore is located). Those rooms regularly are priced at thousands of dollars per night with holiday prices often being as high as $10,000 per night. More recently rumors have pointed to the proposed Epcot hotel project being placed on the back burner as Disney focuses on the numerous other hotel projects around WDW. The new entrance plaza for Epcot does seem to be moving forward despite the hotel aspect of it being delayed.

The aging Seas pavilion does need some extensive maintenance. The 2003-2007 Nemo updates were mostly focused on the guest areas and not as much on the backstage areas.

Epcot's giant aquarium might be getting a giant remodel
Image via Disney
The Coral Reef restaurant found within the pavilion also is in need of some updating. The decor and kitchen there haven’t been updated in years. At least one proposal saw the restaurant’s location moving to another area within the pavilion and the current restaurant space becoming the new hotel suites, though again it is unclear if that rumored proposal is the same as the one that is currently active.

Some have speculated that Disney may choose to remove the aquarium altogether, pointing to the controversy SeaWorld has faced in recent years. While there are dolphins within the Seas pavilion, most of the animals there are much less controversial, such as sharks, fish, and rays. There have also been rumors of Disney opening a new aquarium in Animal Kingdom, though there is no indication that those rumors are anything more than fan speculation.

If Disney is planning to update the Seas pavilion, it will likely not take place until after the current attractions under construction are finished and opened. If that is the case, any updates to the Seas won’t open to guests until at least the mid-2020s at the earliest.

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