The EPCOT Center of the mid-1980s through mid-1990s is my favorite theme park of all-time. As much as I praise Tokyo DisneySea (and consider it the modern analogue), I would take the EPCOT of my youth any day if I could choose. Part of that is the prospect of revisiting childhood nostalgia. Another part is that park just being so, so good. In this post, I’ll share my personal list of EPCOT Center’s all-time greatest attractions.
While the EPCOT Center of the 1990s is very different from the Epcot of today, the good news is that about half of the GOAT list still exists. I’ve noted this in the past; in my “Why Can’t We Let Epcot Go?” post, I lamented EPCOT Center having been dead for over 20 years, but much of the original park’s DNA remaining, along with actual substance, including attractions or pavilions that retain their old quality.
That’s the good news, and why I’m willing to be cautiously optimistic about the park’s re-imagining possibly fixing some of the hodgepodge aesthetics of Future World. Since I don’t have photos for some of these things, I’m pulling them from our Photo History of EPCOT Center Project. If you’re a newer reader of the blog, you might’ve missed this, but it was a crowd-sourced effort with a ton of reader-submitted vintage EPCOT photos. People provided excellent (and sometimes scary…those World Showcase dolls are nightmare fuel!) images, so it’s really worth checking that out if you haven’t.
I’ll start with the elephant in the room: Horizons is not on this list. This is probably heresy among EPCOT Center fans, but I have almost no first-hand memories of Horizons. Although it closed around the same time as other attractions on this list, I have only the vaguest of childhood memories of it, whereas I have very strong memories of other attractions. I’m guess this odd knowledge gap is a result of my parents not taking me on it much; so blame them, not me! 😉
In any case, that glaring omission should underscore the point that these lists are my favorite things, so “greatest of all time” might not be entirely apt. These are my all-time greats…
7. Impressions de France – This original EPCOT Center attraction still exists today, and it’s one we discovered as adults. Out of every Walt Disney World attraction, it has made the most indelible impact on our lives since, as we fell in love with Paris and France thanks to Impressions de France. That is a big part of what inspired us to travel to Europe for the first time, which had a ripple effect on subsequent international travel.
Beyond being the spark of inspiration for our international travel, Impressions de France is a flat out exceptional travelogue. The scenery is awe-inspiring, the cinematography is breathtaking, the imagery diverse/varied, and the score is hauntingly beautiful. We now do Impressions de France more than any other attraction at Walt Disney World, and I still spot new things even after dozens (if not hundreds) of viewing.
6. Universe of Energy – I’m not bitter about losing Ellen’s Energy Adventure. It had a good run, and was (over)due for a replacement. I am bitter about it being replaced by a MARVEL roller coaster that won’t fulfill the mission statement of EPCOT Center, no matter how contrived of a storyline involving Peter Quill visiting the park as a kid wedged into it.
For me, both incarnations of Universe of Energy hold a place in my heart for their main commonality: dinosaurs. They terrified me as a small child, and I loved seeing them as I got older. Even as an adult, I had an odd giddiness when first emerging into prehistoric jungle, slowly approaching the family of Brontosaurus. I vividly recall the changing lighting as the scene transitions from night to day, the sounds of the vast wilderness, and even the scents of the swamp. The rest of the attraction never lived up to those couple of minutes for me, but scene that was enough to earn it a spot on this list.
5. World of Motion – I think every kid loved cars, and if not, they loved comical scenes and cute critters, both of which featured heavily in World of Motion. My memory of the attraction itself isn’t particularly vivid, but there were a few scenes I really liked. The Sea Serpent and “World’s First Traffic Jam” scene were the most memorable–and comical–scenes in World of Motion for me.
To be honest, I’m not really sure if this ride totally registered as being one about transportation. I mean, I remembered those aspects of the attraction and I also remember the cool concept cars at the end, but there was something of a disconnect between the two. (Perhaps I just wasn’t a very sharp kid?) My memory of the ride is mostly of its gags and funny scenery. Still, I really enjoyed both, and miss World of Motion, even if I think Test Track is a suitable replacement that is largely in keeping with the spirit of Future World while satisfying guest demand for thrills.
4. American Adventure – “This great attraction will endure as it has endured, will revive, and will prosper.” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prescient words about American Adventure still ring true, and it remains an only-of-its-kind achievement that represents the best of the incredible engineering and Imagineering that went into bringing EPCOT Center to fruition, and it continues to impress to this day.
The way American Adventure presents moments in a poignant and engaging, and its ability to provoke an emotional response (every time!) out of a ‘stage show with robots’ is remarkable. Every scene is brilliantly-done, and tells the story of America in an accessible and interesting way. The culmination of this is an attraction that is, to quote another great American, “Distinctly Patriotic.”
3. Spaceship Earth – The greatest appeal of Spaceship Earth for has always been the wow-factor of the geodesic sphere. It’s one of my key memories from EPCOT Center as a kid, and the luster has yet to wear off. I remain awestruck every time I walk under Spaceship Earth, and cannot resist photographing it at night, even when I am just rehashing photos I’ve already taken hundreds of times.
The attraction itself is also worthy of mention. While there are some elements of the current ride I’m not particularly wild about, I am a sucker for slow omnimover attractions with longer ride times than wait times. The majority of the attraction remains in keeping with the spirit of the original, and I love slowly winding through the scenes, paying close attention to the sets and various details.
2. The Land – Before realizing that I had forgotten to include Spaceship Earth, I had Kitchen Kabaret alone at #3 and Living with the Land listed separately at #7. I had to combine the attractions out of necessity, but the more I thought about it, the more I feel the entirety of the pavilion deserves a spot. Sunshine Seasons is still a personal favorite, I love the rotating of Garden Grill, and even in its CGI heavy-handedness, Soarin’ is good fun.
Aside from Journey into Imagination, Kitchen Kabaret is the attraction I remember most from my childhood. I remember being blown away by the giant foods, and “Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit” was an earworm that I no doubt repeated ad nauseum to my parents’ annoyance. I also have to admit that I absolutely loved Food Rocks. (C’mon, I was a kid!) As an adult, Living with the Land has become a favorite for the way it weaves together elements of a traditional dark ride with “edutainment” scenes. Plus, who doesn’t love the beautiful load area murals, distinctly 1980s EPCOT Center music, timeless scent of musty Florida water, and rad video footage showing agricultural advancements around the globe.
1. Journey into Imagination – The original is far and away the #1 on this list, and I would forgo all other theme park attractions for the rest of my life if that’s what it took to ride this just once more. Shortly after boarding your omnimover ride vehicle, you entered the clouds. There, we were greeted by the affable Dreamfinder piloting his Dreamcatcher, who introduced us to Figment. It was an attraction with mesmerizing and quirky qualities that endeared it to guests like me who remember it fondly even today.
Journey into Imagination resonated with me the most out of all original EPCOT Center attractions, and sparked my love for Walt Disney World that continues to this day. I can recall it in vivid detail, which I assume is a result partly of riding repeatedly and partly due to it being such a memorable attraction. It was an exceptional attraction in every way, the pinnacle of Imagineering from technical and creative levels, embodying the bright-eyed optimism of EPCOT Center.
Journey into Imagination left an indelible impact on me, probably far greater than I’ll ever know. Figment and Dreamfinder really did spark my inquisitiveness and curiosity as a child. I had a number of Figment toys as a child (although I have even more as an adult!), and remember bouncing them around World Showcase on my adventures with Figment. I don’t think any kid needs to be convinced to use their imagination, but Figment’s nebulous nature was certainly conducive to me envisioning him in any scenario I could dream up, and playing out those scenes on my own. This probably explains why, even two decades later, I’m still not over the loss of Journey into Imagination. As great as the ride was, it was so much more than a ride to me.
Which EPCOT attractions or other aspects of the park are your favorites? Do you agree or disagree with my rankings of the EPCOT GOATs? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!