Here’s What EPCOT’s Overhaul Needs in Phase 2

There’s no reason to believe that the EPCOT overhaul has a phase 2 on the horizon. Walt Disney World has not hinted at it, and instead suggested that the transformation project is finished with the debut of CommuniCore Hall and Plaza. Even if they had, second phases of projects often fall through.

However, there’s a lot that was “temporarily” shelved or announced and put on hold back in 2020, resulting in the first phase not being as big or bold as originally planned. As a result, EPCOT still needs updates and additions to truly live up to its legacy and be Walt Disney World’s sterling second gate.

With around $17 billion earmarked for Walt Disney World during the next decade of expansion and tensions between Florida and the company cooling, it stands to reason that all 4 parks will see investments of varying degrees. EPCOT is undoubtedly lower priority, but there’s still a lot of untapped potential for the park. Here’s what EPCOT needs the most–a mixture of postponed projects, rumors that have never come to fruition, and our original ‘wish list’ of reimaginings and additions…

Test Track 3.0 – Let’s start out on the right foot, with the change that’s been actually announced (well, several of these have) and is still slated to happen (the real distinction). Revealed at last year’s Destination D23, the next overhaul of Test Track is not the most urgent thing on this list. But it’s being funded largely by Chevy Bucks, and I doubt they have any interest in a Journey into Imagination overhaul. Alas.

I loved Test Track 2.0 when it debuted, and thought it was a significant update and improvement to the original Test Track. But time has done it no favors. Not only has it aged poorly and now draws unfavorable comparisons to TRON Lightcycle Run, but there’s absolutely nothing memorable about the attraction. Even I have to admit that the original Test Track had much more nostalgic appeal!

Even though I don’t think it’s a top priority in the grand scheme of things, Test Track 3.0 has a lot of upside and very little downside. That alone should make it a prime candidate for a reimagining. Pretty much everything that anyone loves about Test Track (the thrills) will be staying, so there’s very little risk of this ride overhaul “messing up” what people like about the current ride.

Not only that, but Test Track gets an update inspired by World of Motion! That’s exciting news that is, once again, aimed squarely at longtime Walt Disney World fans. While it remains to be seen exactly what that means, it’s cause for optimism. Test Track 3.0 is a low-floor, high-ceiling kind of project…and one primarily paid for by someone else, so it’s not even coming at the expense of another Walt Disney World project! Win-win!

Spaceship Earth Reimagining – Announced in 2019 and scheduled to close in May 2020, Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story was to transform the ride “through the power of light” and be the “most ambitious” update to Spaceship Earth since EPCOT Center’s grand opening on October 1, 1982.

This reimagined Spaceship Earth was to have a new narration, an entirely new musical score, and new show scenes. Most notably, guests will follow a magical “Story Light” that brings the entire experience to life in dynamic ways, giving each scene energy and beauty that ties the entire journey together.

Obviously, this did not happen. Walt Disney World statement when the park reopened: “As with most businesses during this period, we are further evaluating long-term project plans. The decision was made to postpone development of the Mary Poppins-inspired attraction and Spaceship Earth at this time.”

Even back in 2020, Spaceship Earth was in need of a lengthy refurbishment strictly from a maintenance perspective. There are overdue mechanical issues with Spaceship Earth that will need to be addressed at some point in the not-too-distant future irrespective of the reimagining.

The ride needs track work, among other things, and a lengthy refurbishment will be necessary within the next few years. It would make sense to refresh show scenes at that point, too. It’s now been ~5 years since the “Story Light” proposal, so that’s probably dead, but I’m honestly not averse to the idea so long as it doesn’t involve characters or IP.

Walt Disney World almost certainly receives guest survey feedback that Spaceship Earth is “boring.” Having a shiny object in each scene would be a way to make the ride more dynamic and engaging without fundamentally altering the show scenes. I’ll take that as a win. Regardless, the attraction could still use a major update. Spaceship Earth is the centerpiece of EPCOT and deserves to be treated as such.

Play Pavilion – This EPCOT addition was previously announced as coming “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary” in 2021. Last year, Walt Disney World finally provided an update that it was “re-evaluating the original concept that was planned” for the Play Pavilion at EPCOT. This was unsurprising. The Play Pavilion has been paused since the parks closed, and Disney has not shared a substantive update since then.

Play Pavilion was planned for the old Wonders of Life pavilion, which was subsequently a festival center. Walt Disney World already did a lot of work fixing the roof and other infrastructure issues with the pavilion and this is a prime piece of real estate now that Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is drawing people to this corner of the park. So it probably won’t sit empty forever.

But whatever ends up here also is unlikely to be the Play Pavilion. By the time anything does happen, it’ll be over 5 years since the original concept was announced, and even longer since it was pitched. That’s an eternity in the interactive attractions space, so it’s probably time to revisit the concept.

For our part, we’d love for this to be an interactive kid-friendly offering. My dream is for a revival of the ‘Health Pavilion’ concept featuring Baymax and an assortment of other characters (a Big Hero 6 simulator ride could be awesome), such a concept is probably fraught with controversy. Another option would be to leverage Disney’s new partnership with Epic Games and planned partnership for Fortnite Universe for Disney IP. Yet another would be some sort of Marvel pavilion; there were rumors of a Wakanda Tech Expo even before Play Pavilion, and that could be good.

Mary Poppins Ride – Disney announced the first-ever Mary Poppins attraction for EPCOT’s United Kingdom pavilion that would allow guests to “step in time down Cherry Tree Lane past Admiral Boom’s house, then enter Number 17, home of the Banks family, where their adventure will begin.” What, precisely, this ‘adventure’ would be was never revealed by Disney, and we had heard rumors that there were competing pitches and the concept was troubled even pre-closure.

As it turns out, one of those was for an indoor teacups style flat ride. It would’ve featured multiple pre-show rooms leading up to the ride itself, similar to Enchanted Tales with Belle with effects and reveals. As for the ride, think Mad Tea Party but with Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway style “2.5D” scenic visuals mixed with projection mapping effects.

Even before the Mary Poppins attraction was shelved, we cautioned fans not to get too excited as this wasn’t going to be a major attraction. While I still don’t love the concept and think Disney was setting fans up for disappointment by hyping the Cherry Tree Lane expansion, this side of World Showcase could really use a ride. Not only that, but Mary Poppins is a fantastic fit (as far as IP goes) for the United Kingdom pavilion. (I personally would prefer an Alice in Wonderland dark ride, but space constraints may make that a non-starter.)

The Land Pavilion Updates – The Land is a pavilion that flies under the radar when it comes to rumors or refurbishment requests. That’s likely because Soarin’ gave the pavilion a shot in the arm when it was added, and the rest of the Land has been able to glide on auto-pilot since. But that was nearly 20 years ago, and even Soarin’ Around the World will be a decade old by the time any updates here would roll out.

Fans are already clamoring for an updated finale to Soarin’ that reflects the updated EPCOT. I’m skeptical that’ll happen without an entirely new film, which is what I’d like to see. What I’d really love is randomized flight sequences a la Star Tours – The Adventures Continue. Or maybe a rotation of Soarin’ Over California, Around the World, and a new version?

In addition to that, pretty much all of the pavilion needs an update. Awesome Planet is fine, but generic. As much as I love it, Living with the Land could also use a light refresh, particularly to its dark ride scenes. (The Merry & Bright holiday overlay has been such a great addition.)

Likewise, the main atrium could be redone to make it feel less like a mall food court and a more inspired place (bring back the fountain!). All of these things could occur in a moderate-scale refresh to the pavilion. Basically, I want the Land pavilion to be popular enough to justify serving dinner at Sunshine Seasons again!

Wondrous China – You may have forgotten, but Disney announced a new Circle-Vision 360 movie for the China Pavilion titled ‘Wondrous China.’ Nothing was revealed about it, aside from that it would be presented in a new seamless digital 360 degree format, and feature new scenes, music and locations.

There were also a few rumors about it. If I recall correctly (it’s been a while–I often forget this was announced!), the new format was developed in partnership with Panasonic; it may or may not have run into issues with the “seamless” projection. It was also expected to be created for both EPCOT and Shanghai Disneyland, a la Soarin’ Around the World.

This is hardly the most pressing issue at EPCOT or even top 10, but World Showcase could use some updates and a new China film would be nice if the footage was already shot and Shanghai is footing the bill.

New World Showcase Pavilion – Walt Disney World has a long and rich history of unbuilt World Showcase pavilions that came so close to happening. Most notable are Equatorial Africa, Spain, and Israel, all of which were actually announced by Disney. If you’re not familiar with these concepts, there’s a lot about them in Walt Disney’s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow. At the time this book was written, it was still believed that these pavilions were coming to EPCOT Center, so the book spends time discussing them.

Fast-forward to the 2010s (and perhaps even earlier), and the big rumor was Brazil. The rumors really gained momentum from 2017 to 2019, to the point that an announcement during the latter year’s D23 Expo was believed to be a done deal. So much so that a scheduled tweet from Disney partners “leaked” the news that never was. While we’ll never know what happened for sure, even more rumors afterwards suggested it was a timing issue and Disney not wanting to announce during the 2019 Amazon rainforest fires. Then, of course, 2020 happened.

Fast forward again to this year, when Disney announced D23 Brazil: The Ultimate Fan Event to be held in Sao Paulo this November. So of course that’s going to rekindle the rumor and/or speculation mill. For our part, we’ve heard absolutely nothing credible. About a Brazil or any new pavilion in World Showcase. It does not seem like there’s any appetite for further expansion in World Showcase. Even if there should be.

As we’ve said before, a Brazil pavilion makes perfect sense and could be quite lucrative for Walt Disney World. Brazilian visitors are a significant demographic for Disney, with the country being the #3 foreign market in terms of visitors to Orlando–both #1 and #2 are already represented in World Showcase, as is #4.

A Brazil pavilion would have popular dining offerings, as Brazilian guests would seek out familiar cuisine–just as American guests do. Walt Disney World already sells Brazil merchandise even without having the pavilion, but having dedicated retail space for Brazil-themed items would also be beneficial.

With that said, the Tropical Americas concept in Animal Kingdom does cast further doubt on Brazil on World Showcase. Obviously they’re not the same thing…but there is arguably overlap in both theme and drawing power, perhaps to a sufficient degree that Disney wouldn’t want to do both. Having the fictionalized version of the Tropical Americas might be more politically palatable, too. In which case, we’d love to see the Spain pavilion plans dusted off. While they’re at it, dust off the plans for the Gigantic movie, too!

Attraction in Japan – If a brand new nation being added to a World Showcase expansion pad is too much to ask or even if that new pavilion would come without a ride, it’d be nice to get an attraction built in Japan or Germany, where unused show buildings already exist. (Well, technically they’re used for storage and other random purposes now–but all of that could be relocated.)

When it comes to Japan, we’d really love to see the Shinkansen simulator or Mount Fuji coaster come to the pavilion. Or even just a “simple” travelogue in the White Egret Castle show building that was built for Meet the World. (You can get a look at the blueprints here—the second image is the theater.)

We’ve visited a lot of train/transportation museums in Japan, including a couple that have Shinkansen simulators (that’s me above, aboard one. It’s just like being inside a train, except every window is a video screen. The simulation is incredibly convincing, and impressed both of us–my initial reaction after riding the first time was that it belongs in EPCOT.

That’s a low-hanging fruit idea that seems relatively reasonable. I’d prefer a bigger swing, so to speak, but it’s difficult to imagine a ride getting built without major sponsorship money or an IP tie-in, and there’s nothing as organic of a fit for Japan as Ratatouille for France. Big Hero 6 could use a greater presence at Walt Disney World, but that’s much more appropriate for Tomorrowland or a new pavilion in the former Future World.

Restaurant Agrabah – Walt Disney World has taken over operations of the Morocco pavilion from Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant LLC. That third party operating participant that previously ran all of the restaurants and retail in the pavilion was no longer financially viable, with the closure and low crowds post-reopening being the last straw. Hence all of the changes to the pavilion in the last few years.

Unfortunately, Restaurant Marrakesh remains closed and reopens only during various festivals as a free lounge for Florida Blue members and guests. It’s a great offering, and one we use regularly. Still, it’s not the highest and best use of the space. A restaurant is. The problem is the tucked away location and cuisine that was previously too adventurous for average guests. I don’t see how Walt Disney World can increase the location’s popularity without turning it into a character meal.

Even as a (recovering) EPCOT purist and one who loved the old Restaurant Marrakesh, this doesn’t bother me in the least. Just imagine a hijinks-centric “street rat” character meal during which Aladdin and Abu run around the restaurant playfully pickpocket from guests or take from their plates. Families would probably pay big bucks for that experience, and management is likely salivating at the idea of charging guests more to steal from them.

In-Park Hotel – This is another long-running Walt Disney World rumors dating back to around 2016 and 2017 when it was a hot topic that almost happened. This predated the original announcement of the EPCOT overhaul, and obviously, a lot has changed since then.

At the time, there were “competing” rumors for an in-park EPCOT hotel, or rather, for its location. There were three potential sites for the EPCOT hotel: outside the front entrance adjacent to the monorail station, backstage between the Living Seas and Land pavilions, or on the former Innoventions plot. In the 7+ years since, obviously a lot has happened and changed.

From my perspective, this is one of those “…and the monkey’s paw curled” wish list entries. In my head, there’s a version of an in-park hotel at the front entrance to EPCOT or over by the Seas and Land pavilions that enhances the park without detracting from it in the least. It brings beautiful and awe-inspiring architecture befitting of the park–a statement piece akin to the Hotel MiraCosta or Disneyland Hotel in Paris, but befitting of EPCOT.

In reality, I’ve seen what Disney has chosen for exterior designs from Riviera to Gran Destino to the Poly Tower to unbuilt (for now) Reflections. Suffice to say, I’m probably “good” on the EPCOT hotel not coming to fruition until the current styles are out of vogue and actual themed design makes a comeback. This seems like an inevitability at some point, though, and maybe the early 2030s will bring an architectural renaissance to Disney hotels.

Journey Into Imagination Reimagining – Being a lifelong Detroit Lions fan has built up my tolerance to perpetual disappointment and dashed hopes. It has served me well in also being a diehard Figment fan, as there have been rumors of a Journey into Imagination redo since I entered the fandom as an adult, nearly two decades ago.

This time is different. Or, it should be. It just makes sense to reimagine Journey into Imagination. It would generate goodwill among WDW diehards and forge new fans in the process. There is arguably no higher impact ride reimagining that Disney could do, given that the current ride is often a walk-on and a big example of underutilized capacity. A redone JII would be something that would define the EPCOT transformation, tying it together into a more cohesive project. Figment would become the face and mascot of the new-look EPCOT, elevating the otherwise underwhelming central spine in the process.

Oh, and it’d be a license to print money–just think of the merchandising potential! Figment is popular not for the existing attraction in its current sorry state, but thanks to the original Journey into Imagination. If anything, the fact that the ride and its star character still have a powerful hold on adults of a certain age decades after they disappeared speaks volumes about the indelible impression they left on the youth of the 1980s and 1990s.

The original Journey into Imagination was mesmerizing. Unlike the current attraction, it was actually imaginative, as cliche as that might sound. As a young child, I was spellbound by the original, its characters, and the evocative scenes they inhabited. It was a timeless attraction that captivated guests, sparked their imaginations, and forged lifelong Walt Disney World fans. Recapturing that lost magic and spirit of imagination would have the same impact today, proving that rides don’t need movie IP to be massive successes. That the theme parks, themselves, are a form of intellectual property. Suffice to say, this project should be the #1 priority for the next decade at EPCOT, as it would move the needle for the park far more than anything else on this list.

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YOUR THOUGHTS

What would you like to see added or updated at EPCOT during a potential ‘Phase 2’ of the park overhaul? Or do you think EPCOT is fully “fixed” and that Walt Disney World should devote the entire $17 billion to Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios? Anything you think our list “snubbed” that should be slated for replacement or at least an update? Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

54 Responses to “Here’s What EPCOT’s Overhaul Needs in Phase 2”
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