Walt Disney World Retrospective: EPCOT on Opening Day
When EPCOT opened in 1982, park planners had built it with a strategy in place.
EPCOT would emphasize technology and the future in a way that kids found accessible. It would encourage them to dream…and to learn.
Yes, infotainment played an integral role in EPCOT’s creation, as reflected in the opening day attractions as well as the ones that would come later.
Let’s board the Disney time machine to learn about the early days of EPCOT Center. Be sure to read part one first, though!
EPCOT on Opening Day
When you think about the oldest EPCOT rides, you may have a misconception.
Some attractions you may believe debuted with the park wouldn’t come until years later.
For example, The Living Seas opened in 1986, while Maelstrom debuted in 1988.
Yes, if you visited EPCOT by the end of 1985, you couldn’t have experienced either one.
Also, as previously referenced, Disney suffered through financial woes while trying to construct the park.
Initially, Disney had expected other countries to pay for pavilions at the World Showcase.
Instead, when EPCOT opened to the public, Disney had paid for all the international pavilions, adding to the budget shortfall.
For this reason, the ride selection at the parks wasn’t as extensive as you might expect.
Here’s a list of the available attractions in October of 1982:
- The American Adventure (Show)
- Astuter Computer Revue
- Bird and the Robot (Show)
- El Rio del Tiempo (Ride)
- Energy Creation Story (Film)
- Energy, You Make the World Go ‘Round (Film)
- FutureCom (Display)
- The EPCOT Work Station Film (Yes, a Film)
- ImageWorks (“Creative Playground of the Future)
- Impressions de France (Film)
- Kitchen Kabaret (Show)
- Listen to the Land (Ride)
- Magic Journeys (Film)
- Mirrored Theater (Film)
- O Canada! (Film)
- Spaceship Earth (Ride)
- Symbiosis (Film)
- Universe of Energy (Film)
- The Water Engine (Film)
- Wonders of China (Film)
And here you thought that binge-watching didn’t explode until Netflix!
Seriously, that’s a lot of films. Park planners knew EPCOT Center wouldn’t include many rides. That was a feature, not a bug.
Yes, some rides like Journey into Imagination ran a bit late. However, the infotainment focus meant that films would lead the way.
This strategy served a purpose in keeping crowds off the main paths. Instead, films could offer hefty throughput during the park day.
The Opening Day Films, Rides, and Shows
Let’s take a quick look at the long-lot attractions. At the Universe of Energy pavilion, Imagineers divided the experience into multiple theaters.
The pre-show film was Energy, You Make the World Go ‘Round. If you’re old enough, you may remember the (impossibly earnest) song:
At Theater I, guests could watch Energy Creation Story. Then, they’d explore the Universe of Energy and Mirrored Theater at the Energy Information Center.
By the way, I listed this one as a film, but it has worked the same since opening day. You get in a theater row that (somewhat) moves like a cart.
The whole experience looks like this:
If you’ve ridden Ellen’s Energy Adventure, much of it will seem at least somewhat familiar.
Similarly, here’s the Vic Perrin-narrated version of Spaceship Earth:
That’s some good melodrama right there. Some of the sets still share similarities today, especially the Sistine Chapel.
Also, Kitchen Kabaret at The Land pavilion is something people remember fondly that seems like a fevered dream in hindsight:
As for Listen to the Land, it’s really not that much different from Living with the Land:
Yes, there was an early days Jungle Cruise aspect with the (absolutely humorless) Skipper onboard.
As I mentioned, the Imagination! pavilion didn’t open Journey into Imagination until the start of 1983, which was only three months later.
During those first 100 days, the only open attraction was the legendary Magic Journeys film:
The film played in 3-D. So, you won’t get everything out of it on YouTube. Also, here’s first-year footage of Journey into Imagination:
I’ll say what we’re all thinking. Yes, that was better. I actually like the current version, but come on! Where’s our Dreamfinder?
More Films, Rides, and Shows
At Communicore East, we had a “blink and you’ll miss it situation” with the Superstar Limo of the 1980s, Astuter Computer Revue.
This show…well, it wasn’t very good. That song, tho…
By the way, the other attraction in the Spaceship Earth area was one you could easily miss, too.
The EPCOT Earth Station Film barely qualified as an attraction or even a film. It played on top of other displays near the ceiling of Spaceship Earth’s exit.
Meanwhile, The Water Engine was an animated movie that played at World of Motion.
This attraction entertained between World of Motion rides, alongside an Audio-Animatronic show, Bird and the Robot:
If I’m being honest, the only attraction I remember from this building was the car ride, though:
Some of the other opening day movies are likely ones you’ve seen before, at least if you’re a longtime EPCOT visitor.
Here’s the original version of O Canada!:
And it’s the same Impressions de France video we’re still watching today:
Conversely, Wonders of China ended in 2003, and the third version should arrive in another year or so:
These tidbits reveal how satisfied park planners and guests were with the original attractions.
People got sick of Wonders of China fast, probably because the audio grew super-loud at times. Conversely, the French countryside still soothes.
The World Showcase Changes
Next month’s update will focus on the 1980s at Walt Disney World, leading up to the next theme park’s arrival.
Before we get to that, we should discuss how Disney’s EPCOT plan finally came to fruition.
I’m specifically referencing the World Showcase. While none of the early pavilions involved payments, the times changed.
Those first international pavilions worked as a proof of concept for other countries.
Morocco and the Scandinavian countries wanted to play ball. Park planners convinced them to pay for the right to have an EPCOT pavilion.
After watching the popularity of the others, King Hassan II turned the Morocco pavilion into his passion project for a while.
Artisans from the country personally participated in populating the pavilion, and the Moroccan government sponsored it until the 2020 pandemic.
The presence of Norway comes with a bit of cutthroat political intrigue. Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands discussed a joint venture.
Sweden appealed to Disney due to the potential LEGO ties. Norway came up with the money to cut out the others, which proved beneficial.
I mean, the Frozen inclusions wouldn’t feel thematic for a joint pavilion, would they?
Anna and Elsa may come from the fictional land of Arendelle, but we all know it’s Norway. You couldn’t do Frozen Ever After at the Denmark pavilion.
To a larger point, Once EPCOT Center opened, word spread and buzz grew for all phases of the park.
By 1983, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT reached 22.7 million guests.
That’s an improvement of 9.5 million from 1981, which was the whole point of a second gate. Within five years, that number reached 26 million.
The introduction of EPCOT effectively doubled tourism at Walt Disney World, triggering explosive growth in Orlando.
The EPCOT we got might not have been what Walt Disney expected, but it redefined the entire theme park industry.