Epcot’s New Neighborhoods Debuting for 50th

Walt Disney World has announced that the four new Epcot neighborhoods will officially debut on October 1, 2021 as part of the 50th Anniversary festivities. This post will offer a refresher as to what this means, what the company is promising, and when these neighborhoods will realistically take shape.

As a reminder, the news of four “neighborhoods” in Epcot is nothing new. Four years ago at the D23 Expo Parks & Resorts panel, the company announced the overhaul of Future World and flashed concept art on screen. Two years ago at the same event, Disney released new concept art and the above color-coded “map.” That map remains accurate since it was simply a colored overlay of the then-existing Epcot.

Both pieces of the aforementioned concept art no longer reflect the “vision” for Epcot’s transformation. We don’t know what the current plan is, as Disney has not released anything new to supplant the old plans. However, we do know that aspects of the previous concept art have been scaled back or cut entirely. Today’s announcement sheds some light about what’s still planned for Epcot and what isn’t…

As part of the transformation, Epcot’s Future World will be no more, replaced with three new neighborhoods: World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery. These neighborhoods will pair with World Showcase, which will continue to exist in its original 1982 through present-day form.

Today’s news has two components–the first being that beginning October 1, 2021, the park will be unified with these four neighborhoods. According to Walt Disney World, these neighborhoods of World Showcase, World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery “are filled with new experiences rooted in authenticity and innovation that take guests to new destinations, where the real is made fantastic in a celebration of curiosity, discovery and the magic of possibility.”

In actuality, three of the four neighborhoods are largely filled with construction walls. Regardless of fluffy language, the second item of interest regarding this announcement is it offers rare nuggets of what to expect from the new neighborhoods when they’re actually finished, what not to expect, and what’s debuting on October 1, 2021.

Here are details via Walt Disney World, followed by our commentary…

World Showcase

  • World Showcase continues to be a celebration of culture, cuisine, architecture and traditions, infused with new character-centric offerings.
  • An expanded France pavilion features the new Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure attraction, where guests feel as if they shrink to the size of Chef Remy and race through Gusteau’s restaurant. This officially opens October 1, 2021.
  • Joining this family-friendly experience in the France pavilion is a new restaurant, La Crêperie de Paris, offering both table and quick service options and a menu from celebrity chef Jérôme Bocuse. This officially opens October 1, 2021.
  • Also in the France pavilion, the classic “Impressions de France” film is joined by “Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along,” directed by Don Hahn, producer of both the animated and live-action versions of this tale as old as time.
  • “Harmonious” is one of the largest nighttime spectaculars ever created for a Disney theme park. Performed in World Showcase Lagoon, the show celebrates the way Disney music inspires people the world over, featuring familiar songs reinterpreted by a culturally diverse group of 240 artists from around the globe. “Harmonious” features massive floating set pieces, custom-built LED panels, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics, lasers and more. This officially debuts October 1, 2021.
  • Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue is a fast-casual restaurant at the American Adventure pavilion, serving classic American backyard barbecue and home-style craft brews. In some circles, this restaurant is also known as “Regal Eagle’s Distinctly Patriotic Smokehouse: A Salute to All Foods, But Mostly Barbecued Meats.” If that’s too wordy, some fans have taken to simply calling it the Muppet Meatry. Great names, gotta admit!

World Celebration

  • World Celebration will offer new experiences that connect guests to one another and the world around them.
  • The Epcot entrance plaza welcomes guests with open pathways and sweeping green spaces that beautify the entryway. Bridging the past, present and future of EPCOT is a new fountain at the base of Spaceship Earth with three majestic pylons. The entrance plaza also features new lighting and music, as well as flags flanking the fountain featuring six original Epcot icons.
  • Spaceship Earth transforms at night into a Beacon of Magic with new lights shining across the geodesic sphere’s reflective panels. These lights connect to one another in a symbol of optimism resembling stars in a nighttime sky. This debuts October 1, 2021.
  • Creations Shop is the park’s new retail location, replacing MouseGear. The store is inspired by Mickey Mouse and features a bright environment with large glass walls allowing sunlight to pour in. Artistic homages to Mickey are throughout the shop, including large murals.
  • Adjacent to Creations Shop is a new-look Club Cool Hosted by Coca-Cola. Club Cool invites guests to taste drinks from around the world, bringing the global experience of Coca-Cola to life.
  • In the future, there will be a new view of World Showcase from Dreamers Point behind Spaceship Earth. (Currently behind construction walls.)
  • In the future, World Celebration will feature a new Walt Disney statue plus “natural environments and global design elements” filled with Disney things. (Currently behind construction walls.)
  • In the future, this enchanted garden will be surrounded new merchandise and dining locations, along with a newly reimagined festival area that will be home to ever-changing events in a unique new environment. (Currently behind construction walls.)

World Nature

  • World Nature is dedicated to understanding and preserving the beauty, awe, and balance of the natural world. It includes The Land and The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions, as well as the forthcoming Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana.
  • The Land pavilion film “Awesome Planet” showcases the beauty, diversity and dynamic story of Earth. The 10-minute show features in-theater effects and an original musical score from Academy Award-winning composer Steven Price.
  • Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana will be the first Walt Disney World theme park experience featuring by Moana. This lush exploration trail will invite guests to meet and play with magical, living water. Water will have a personality of its own, helping guests learn how to protect the natural water cycle in a fun and engaging way. (Currently behind construction walls.)

World Discovery

  • In World Discovery, stories about science, technology, and intergalactic adventure come to life.
  • In an expansion of the Mission: SPACE pavilion, the new Space 220 Restaurant is a culinary experience offering the celestial panorama of a space station, including virtual daytime and nighttime views of Earth from 220 miles above the planet’s surface. Guests board a space elevator for a simulated journey to the Centauri Space Station, where they experience the “height of dining.” Once they arrive, guests enjoy meals and drinks while taking in views that are truly out of this world. Space 220 is operated by the Patina Restaurant Group.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will be the first “other-world” showcase pavilion at Epcot. The family-friendly adventure starts in the Galaxarium, a planetarium-like exhibition that explores the similarities and mysteries of the formation of Earth’s galaxy and Xandar. Guests will learn more about the treasures Xandar has to share — until the moment when the Guardians of the Galaxy arrive, and guests go on an intergalactic chase through space and time. The attraction will feature a rotating 360 degree coaster that focuses guests on the action, including the first reverse launch on a Disney coaster.

Guests can visualize these plans at Walt Disney Imagineering presents the Epcot Experience in the Odyssey Events Pavilion. Here they discover an exhibit showcasing the park’s future, post-transformation.

Right now, there’s not much to see in Epcot itself. The main sign of these new neighborhoods is–no joke–colored trash cans. The adoption of the new neighborhoods is thus mostly in name only at this point, and not really what interests us here. Rather, we’re focused on what else the announcement does or does not say.

Per Walt Disney World, “more information on other previously announced experiences coming to EPCOT will be provided at a later date.” You’ll have to excuse us for parsing this press release, but we’ve been starved for new info about Epcot, as it has been pretty much radio silence for the past year about many aspects of the transformation…

A few things stand out from this. First, what is not mentioned at all. That includes projects were already know were “postponed” indefinitely, like the Mary Poppins attraction and Spaceship Earth reimagining. There’s every reason to believe the Mary Poppins project is permanently cancelled.

However, the Spaceship Earth reimagining will need to be revived at some point, since there are overdue issues with the attraction that will need to be addressed 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. If a year-plus closure needs to happen, it might as well include show scene updates.

Another surprise is that the Play Pavilion also is not included in the announcement. Post-reopening, this project has not been mentioned at all–neither as something that has been cancelled or is proceeding as planned. At first, our assumption was that Disney didn’t quite know how to handle the very hands-on pavilion with all playgrounds and interactive exhibits closed. That’s no longer an issue, so the continued silence around Play Pavilion is curious.

We have no clue what’s up with the Play Pavilion. Our understanding is/was that the project was pretty far along pre-closure, and would’ve had no issues making its planned opening date this year. However, the lack of anything official–or even rumors–makes us wonder whether this mothballed project will come to fruition, or will be “restored” to its status as a festival center.

Speaking of which, Disney announced last summer that the company would “take a different approach” with the multi-level Festival Center in World Celebration. One defining feature of that very vertical space was top-level Harmonious viewing and special events venues. This is mentioned in the press release, but simply as a “newly reimagined festival area that will be home to ever-changing events in a unique new environment.”

This is another wildcard. New concept art hasn’t yet been released, and it’s unclear whether this will be a building or simply an outdoor space. The economy has turned around far faster than expected and travel is projected to continue booming in the years to come. Given that the Festival Center would directly generate revenue from dessert parties, private events, and who knows what else, it would seem like a savvy investment. But who knows. Here’s hoping they don’t throw down mulch & soil, add some food booths, and call it a day.

Finally, there’s no mention of opening dates, seasons, or even years for anything beyond October 1, 2021. We’ve been speculating for months now that TRON Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will have their openings spread over two years, with one opening in 2022 and the other in 2023. (Both were supposed to open by October 1, 2021.) That continues to be our expectation.

While some of what’s mentioned could open in 2022, the Epcot transformation will undoubtedly extend into 2023. Perhaps 2024, depending upon the ultimate ambitiousness of the Central Spine/World Celebration plans. Here’s hoping we finally get some new concept art at the upcoming Destination D, but my guess is that won’t happen until next year’s D23 Expo. Perhaps the third time will be the charm in releasing accurate art for Epcot at that blockbuster event!

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What do you think of Epcot officially debuting its 4 new neighborhoods on October 1, 2021? Is this an exciting development, or meaningless until construction actually starts/finishes? Looking forward to any of these projects 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!

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