The 2021 Destination D23 event at Walt Disney World offered some morsels of information about the Epcot overhaul, while disappointingly omitting other key pieces of information, concept art, opening dates, and even entire attractions and pavilions.
Going into the weekend, our hope and expectation was that Imagineering would release new concept for the Epcot overhaul–in particular, the central spine or core of the park, which is currently behind a maze of construction walls. Very little current information is known about the scale and scope of whatever is going to happen to what we “lovingly” are referring to as the Giant Epcot Dirt Pit.™️
As you might recall, concept art for this reimagining was flashed on screen at the 2017 D23 Expo (above) but never released online anywhere, so low-res snapshots of that screen are all that documented that (I might have the only photos of it not taken with a smartphone!). Unfortunately, those plans never came to fruition and were subsequently supplanted.
The replacement concept art came at the 2019 D23 Expo. This high resolution concept art (below) was released online, and was supplemented by a range of additional artwork. Some of that was released online, other pieces were only in a presentation on the show floor, and some has made its way into the Epcot Experience.
Here’s a look at the main overview, which is technically the “current” version of the Epcot overhaul concept art:
Current has air quotes around it above because there are some aspects of this overhaul we now know won’t happen, like the multi-level festival center between Journey into Imagination and Creations Shop.
Beyond that, pretty much everything in World Celebration behind Spaceship Earth and Dreamers Point is up in the air. In particular, “a wishing tree in an enchanted forest and a story fountain playing Disney music” were announced for this area. Otherwise, the description for this has always been vague–that it’ll feature natural environments, global design elements, interactive magic, and gardens.
Specific pieces of concept art have offered a bit more clarity, but even many of those have been impressionistic. Accordingly, we anticipated some new concept art for the three neighborhoods of Future World showcasing what it would entail when finished.
We didn’t get that at Destination D23. However, Imagineers Tom Fitzgerald and John Dennis did offer some new insight.
First, they indicated that Pinar Toprak is working on a new musical score for Epcot, which will debut in 2023. This was actually previewed at the last D23 Expo, with a new Epcot anthem by Pinar Toprak played. Hopefully the finished score is similar to that, as it was quintessentially EPCOT Center.
Second, those same Imagineers revealed that the Epcot overhaul will be completed in 2023. Since so much of the project has been abandoned, it’s probably more apt that the work will end in 2023, rather than being finished. Or, if you’re more charitable, you could say that since Epcot will always be in a state of “becoming,” it cannot possibly be completed. 😉
We’ve stated countless times that the Epcot overhaul probably won’t be finished until 2023 at the earliest, and this corroborates that. Honestly, we’re slightly disappointed that it’ll be done by 2023. Not because we love walking through a maze of construction walls to bypass the Giant Epcot Dirt Pit™️, but because the plans probably aren’t particularly ambitious given the progress thus far coupled with Disney’s lethargic construction pace.
On a related note, this seems like a good spot for offering a rundown on the official and unofficial timelines for announced projects at Epcot, as we still get a lot of questions about what is and is not happening…
Entrance (Finished) – The front of the park is looking good as the new park entrance project is finished. Redesigned landscaping, new flags, topiaries, and an iconic prismatic pylon fountain in front of Spaceship Earth have all been installed.
These are further enhanced at night by new lighting, including the Beacons of Magic. That last item is a new light effect on the outside of the geodesic sphere; the Beacons of Magic are absolutely entrancing and stunning–one of the 50th Anniversary highlights.
Three Neighborhoods (Finished, I Guess?) – Walt Disney World pulled a “Mission Accomplished” on this one, declaring Future World dead and replaced by World Celebration, Nature, and Discovery on October 1, 2021 for the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
The only problem is that most of World Celebration is the Giant Epcot Dirt Pit,™️ and the substantive additions for the new areas are largely still under construction. At this point, the main sign of these new neighborhoods is–no joke–colored trash cans. In other words, it’s still Future World for now.
Space 220 Restaurant (Now Open) – After numerous delays, this outer space-themed restaurant that offers views of Earth from 220 miles up is now open. In our opinion, it’s the best addition of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary…which is also sorta sad.
We’ve dined here a few times, and have already shared Photos & Video Inside Space 220 Restaurant as well as our Space 220 Lunch Review that looks at whether the food is worth the $55 price tag. Ditto our Space 220 Dinner Review, which debates whether that (better) meal is worth the premium pricing over lunch.
Creations Shop & Club Cool (Now Open) – Epcot’s new flagship retail location and Coca-Cola sample spot were built in the former Innoventions building, where MouseGear was previously located.
Neither location is anything special, but they’re not awful either. I’d call them “aggressively average,” with a level of hype that makes no sense for what are essentially very basic spaces. On the plus side, they’re bright and airy, and lack the 1990s cluttered and visual hodgepodge style of their predecessor.
Connections Cafe & Eatery (Likely 2022) – This is the new counter service restaurant coming to the old Innoventions building that used to be home to Electric Umbrella (and the temporary MouseGear). This space is quite large, so it’s possible more will be housed here than just Connections Cafe & Eatery–Starbucks would be a logical choice.
The aesthetic appears to mirror that of Creations Shop–a relatively minimalistic, clean and bright look that’s also a bit boring. Floor to ceiling windows and views will be the highlight. Aside from Spaceship Earth outside, large murals will likely be the main visual interest. The pace of work has accelerated on this recently; we expect it to open before Summer 2022.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (Summer 2022) – Walt Disney World is touting this as a “storytelling coaster,” which is to say it’s a roller coaster with show scenes. It’s a family-friendly attraction–but it’ll still probably have a height requirement.
This will be the biggest single addition to Epcot ever, with a budget rumored to exceed $400 million. Originally, Cosmic Rewind was slated to debut “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.” Now, Memorial Day or early June 2022 is the most likely scenario.
Spaceship Earth Reimagining (TBD) – The “story light” component of this has been delayed indefinitely. Here’s the Walt Disney World statement released last year 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.”
While the Mary Poppins area of the United Kingdom is almost certainly cancelled, Spaceship Earth is a different story. 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 some show scenes at that point, too.
Play Pavilion (TBD) – Another Epcot addition that was previously announced as coming “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary” in 2021. Walt Disney World has been silent as to its status for a while–since before the closure. This is possibly because it’s entirely interactive, and there have been trepidations about that until recently.
Play Pavilion is in the old Wonders of Life pavilion, which was subsequently a festival center. It’s possible the interactive pavilion plan will be abandoned and this will revert to events space, but that seems unlikely. Epcot needs this type of kid-friendly offering. Despite no evidence to support this, we wouldn’t be surprised if this opens around the same time as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. They’re right next to one another, and would complement each other well.
Festival Center (TBD) – Originally, this new pavilion was described as follows: “the perfect place for live events, and the home base for Epcot’s signature festivals. It will provide a stunning elevated view of the entire park and an ideal spot to witness Epcot’s nighttime spectacular. This beautiful three-level structure will have one of the most remarkable architectural designs at any Disney park, featuring a plaza level, a middle expo level, and a park that sits in the sky on the top level.”
Last summer, the company announced it would “take a different approach” with the multi-story festival center and removed all concept art and the model from the Epcot Experience. Now, it’s described by Walt Disney World as “newly reimagined festival area that will be home to ever-changing events in a unique new environment.” Here’s hoping they don’t throw down mulch & soil, add some food booths, picnic tables & umbrellas, and call it a day.
Moana’s Journey of Water (TBD) – A smaller scale addition coming to the front of Epcot is Moana: Journey of Water. This is the first-ever attraction based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios hit film, Moana. This water maze will be a lush environment where guests can interact with living water in a beautiful and inspiring setting.
Construction is now vertical on Moana: Journey of Water, and it’s reasonable to expect that it will debut at some point in late 2022 or the first half of 2023. However, Walt Disney World has not offered an official update on Moana: Journey of Water or opening date/year.
Ultimately, that covers what has opened at Epcot as part of the overhaul, what’s still on the horizon, and what’s maybe, (possibly???) happening between now and 2023. For a lot of this, there’s no mention of opening dates, seasons, or even years outside of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
While some of what’s mentioned could open in 2022, the Epcot transformation will undoubtedly extend into 2023…and beyond. Despite what the Imagineers might say, Epcot will always be in a state of “becoming,” and even when the Giant Epcot Dirt Pit™️ (which is probably what they meant will be filled in ~2 years from now) is gone, other projects will likely remain. Here’s hoping we get some new concept art some point soon. Perhaps the third time will be the charm in releasing accurate art for Epcot’s overhaul!
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What do you think of Epcot’s overhaul ending in 2023? Is this an exciting development, or meaningless unless it’s accompanied by the completion of all the TBD projects above? Looking forward to any of these changes coming to EPCOT? Disappointed about anything that has been delayed or cancelled? Do you plan on visiting during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021? 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!