EPCOT Report: A Big Day for the Park

Yesterday was a big day for EPCOT! For one thing, it was opening day of Flower & Garden Festival, which will run until July 5, 2021 at Walt Disney World. We were on hand for the start of the event, and spent the day wandering the park, admiring the topiaries, perfectly-manicured gardens, and eating–a lot.

For another thing, it was another milestone step in the transformation of Future World, with three significant changes to EPCOT’s main entrance plaza. We’ll discuss those in greater depth below and also share some of the details provided by Walt Disney Imagineering. But first, Flower & Garden & Food.

Actually, first some other thoughts from our weekend visit to EPCOT for Stargate-zing. This was during a few days of Diet EPCOT, which is a rarity these days. Topiaries were mostly installed, but there were no food booths open nor was there any special entertainment. The park was dead.

EPCOT was dead in a couple of ways. First, in terms of crowds, which were virtually non-existent despite it being a weekend. This is probably the least-busy we’ve seen World Showcase on a weekend since last July. This goes to show that both locals–who turn out disproportionately on weekends–and the general public have less interest in EPCOT when there isn’t a special event.

Second, EPCOT was dead in terms of atmosphere. There were still shows in the America Gardens Theatre, but that’s it. No live entertainment anywhere else, and all of the food and merchandise booths were closed. I enjoy the quieter nature of EPCOT in the summertime, but this was that taken to an extreme. Without the live performers that previously inhabited the pavilions and no festival booths, World Showcase lacked its normal sense of conviviality.

Until the performers return, which should’ve already happened by now–Universal is doing a great job with entertainment acts–EPCOT simply needs festivals to feel alive.

With that said, what a difference a few days makes.

EPCOT still isn’t firing on all cylinders–or even half of them–but the park looks and feels about as good as possible given the current circumstances.

Rather than fighting the crowds in Future World and the front of World Showcase, we bolted to the back of the park, beginning our Outdoor Kitchen crawl in France.

This ended up being a great opening day approach, as we didn’t encounter any lines until Germany.

Prior to the start of the event, we promised individual Outdoor Kitchen reviews. While we’ve only published 3, we finished off 7 booths yesterday and are heading back today for another 4-5.

I’m pretty proud of our pace thus far. Sarah is trying to eat healthy; fortunately, I am trying to eat unhealthy, so I’ve polished off about 75% of the dishes. (She did the heavy lifting at Trowel & Trellis.)

We saw Mickey and Minnie cruising around the promenade several times while we grazed around World Showcase.

Early on, not many other guests were around, so Mickey really hammed it up for the camera. Cowabungadude!

In typical Flower & Garden Festival fashion, there’s a bunch of Orange Bird merchandise. Those are probably spirit jerseys and pom-pom headbands on the right. On the left, those are likely rain coats…but we did see several people wearing them around, which was odd since it didn’t rain at all. Maybe that’s the style among the youth these days? I dunno. This isn’t the blog for merchandise or fashion advice.

Speaking of Orange Bird merchandise, the Citrus Blossom booth has a new sipper this year, which meant a colossal line. Even taking physical distancing into account, it was ridiculous. Assuming the eBay pirates don’t scoop them all up, we’ll do that booth in a few days when things die down. I’m not waiting in line 30+ minutes for a cup, no matter how cool it is.

Otherwise, crowds weren’t too bad for opening day of the 2021 Taste of EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival.

Above is a compressed look at the pinch-point in front of the Mexico pavilion taken from a distance. This was the worst area of congestion and even it wasn’t too bad. It’ll probably be a different story starting this Friday.

As several readers prophesied, the floral tapestry is looking good now that it’s in bloom.

No matter how pretty this is–and it’s very pretty–it’s difficult for me to take a photo that prominently features empty monorail beam. Old habits die hard.

Also, I really hope the EPCOT monorail returns to service before the event ends. Spring break seems like a perfect time to bring it back.

Regardless, this looks great as always.

We’re also digging the floating planters throughout Future World.

In particular, Future World West looks great. There seem to be more topiaries and vibrant planters over here than normal, which helps offset the maze of construction walls and site work for Moana’s Journey of Water.

The centerpiece display on the backside of Spaceship Earth features familiar faces.

I guess they have paint and a mallet as a nod to all of the construction? No offense fellas, but that’s not gonna cut it. If this overhaul is going to get done anytime in the next few years, you all should be wearing hard hats, wielding jackhammers, and driving bulldozers.

On the front side of Spaceship Earth is the Sorcerer Mickey centerpiece and other Fantasia-inspired topiaries.

Sorcerer Mickey has been around the block at DHS and EPCOT, but I don’t recall seeing the dancing hippo, gator, or ostriches in at least a year or two. It’s possible I just missed them, but it’s good to see them again. Would love to see Figment and the Universe of Energy dinosaurs make a reappearance!

The second component to EPCOT’s big day was further progress on the main entrance plaza.

Prior to park opening, Imagineering’s EPCOT project team raised flags featuring six original pavilion icons on 12 new flagpoles flanking Spaceship Earth. These icons go back to the original design philosophy of the park and represent pavilions and attractions.

Right now, the flags on each side of the fountain are mirror images of one another–meaning one side is a duplicate.

Pavilion and attraction logos have been released for the additions to EPCOT, so presumably one side will change down the road as old-new symbolism signifying the end of EPCOT’s overhaul.

Walt Disney Imagineering is now posting press releases on Instagram for some reason, one of which stated “while we still have some small details to button up in this area, I think we can say the reimagined entrance plaza is now truly a welcoming area that brings together people to celebrate the magic of possibility found within each other and the world.”

In addition to the flags, a color-coordinated light ribbon around the entire rim of the plaza debuted in connection with the prismatic pylon and new fountain lighting. There’s also a new main entrance background music meant to bring energy and optimism to the reimagined guest entry experience.

I know about as much about music as I do about flowers, which is to say nothing at all. I like what I like, but couldn’t explain the first thing about why.

So if you’re looking for a deep dive into music theory or composition, you’re in the wrong place.

Above is the full new EPCOT entrance background music so you can hear for yourself. (Spotify playlist linkApple Music playlist link)

Personally, I like the new background music. It has a cinematic grandiosity, like a soaring orchestral film score. It reminds me a lot of the loops from Walt Disney Studios Park or even the Soarin’ queue music. It’s uplifting and builds a sense of excitement and anticipation when entering the park.

I fully expect the new EPCOT main entrance background music to be divisive among fans. For one thing, because it’s EPCOT and literally every change to this park is polarizing.

For another, it’s extant music that doesn’t draw from EPCOT’s past or original theme park scores. This along would make it controversial, especially among EPCOT Center fans who want to cling to the past and the last vestiges of what’s now extinct. I can understand this, and in part, I feel the same way.

However, I think it’s worth at least acknowledging that the majority of guests entering EPCOT every day never experienced any of that firsthand. There’s no nostalgia for any of that among those visitors.

Future World has felt lethargic for years, and I think it’s difficult to argue against some hype music that gets guests excited for their day in the park. The air is let out of that balloon as soon as they encounter the maze of construction walls on the other side of Spaceship Earth, but those will be gone soon* enough. (Within 2-3 years. Hopefully.)

Then there’s the new rainbow lighting in EPCOT’s main entrance plaza. This doesn’t need further commentary from me–it’s undeniably awesome. Between this lighting and the new fountain, the area between the turnstiles and Spaceship Earth looks great. 

Imagineering also released more details about this: “At more than four football fields long, this light ribbon has been present since opening day, but was originally lit by hundreds of fluorescent tubes in solid colors. Now we’ve updated it with highly energy-efficient, programmable LED lighting with nearly 3,000 individually controlled points of light that blend together to create color gradients and patterns.”

“Color gradients have always been a part of EPCOT’s design legacy from the tiered amber, blue, and purple lighting of Spaceship Earth to the bands of color on the Energy pavilion, to the new color palettes of World Nature, World Discovery and World Celebration, and you’ll see all of that reflected in this new lighting design we’ve created for the main entrance plaza and it’ll continue through the new areas of the park.

“And for the first time ever, the main entrance plaza and Spaceship Earth will be unified with dynamic lighting this year. The newly color-coordinated light ribbon around the entire rim of the plaza connects with programming on the new fountain lighting and together will shine in concert when the new Spaceship Earth lighting debuts with the Beacons of Magic for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort.”

We’ll end with a few minutes of video that Sarah shot while I ran around and took photos:

Overall, a pretty big day for EPCOT. The new main entrance plaza is an inarguable improvement over what was there just two years ago, and I think anyone visiting Walt Disney World with fresh eyes would have a dramatically better first impression of EPCOT. The entry area has great kinetic energy, a soaring score, and entrancing lighting. Plus, that gigantic geodesic sphere never ceases to be awe-inspiring.

The problem, for at least the next couple years, is that this all falls apart as soon as you pass Spaceship Earth. Future World is still a maze of walls, and using flowery language like “Progress Walls” doesn’t change the nature or scope of the construction. It also doesn’t help that the entertainment that breathes life into World Showcase is still almost entirely absent. Nevertheless, this is the prettiest EPCOT has looked in a year, with Flower & Garden Festival providing natural vibrance and the front entrance providing technical vibrance. It’s only a small step, but if this is a preview of what’s to come, I’m on board.

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YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of the new flags, rainbow lighting effect, and/or background music in the reimagined EPCOT main entrance plaza? Think the overall atmosphere and energy up here is an upgrade or downgrade? Are you planning to check out the 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival? Ever done ‘opening day’ at one of these events? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of this festival’s first day, or any other thoughts about it? 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!

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