Epcot’s World Showcase Vintage Photos
Although World Showcase has been part of EPCOT Center since that pivotal day when models for two separate parks were pushed together to form what we know today (or at least so the story goes), World Showcase has changed over the years. It has changed a lot less than Future World, and much of what you can see today within World Showcase could also be seen by guests who entered EPCOT Center in 1982. Still, there have been additions and changes over the years.
I think it’s interesting to look at old World Showcase photos to see how much has changed, but at the same time how the fundamental elements have mostly stayed the same. With the exception of Morocco and Norway, which opened in 1984 and 1988, respectively, the rest of the pavilions in World Showcase all existed on EPCOT Center’s opening day.
Since these pavilions are short on actual rides, not much has changed on that front. Mexico’s boat ride El Rio del Tiempo became the Gran Fiesta Tour in 2007, and some of the films have been updated in the countries, but World Showcase has not seen a fundamental paradigm shift like Future World has seen.
For most people, the more interesting aspect of World Showcase’s history is the unbuilt pavilions. Disney has developed a reputation for building incomplete theme parks following EPCOT Center due to the financial strain it put on the Company in the early 1980s (though in fairness, The Walt Disney Company was not nearly as strong then as it is today), and the Disney-MGM Studios, Disney’s California Adventure, Disney’s Animal Kingdom–basically every park except Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea–are all examples of this thinking. But the mentality was around even during EPCOT Center’s construction, as World Showcase opened incomplete, with several countries slated to open shortly following the opening of the park.
There’s a lot about this in Beard’s 240-page book, Walt Disney’s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow. There are three versions of this book, two of which are 240 pages. Make sure you get one of those. One was released pre-opening and one was released post-opening, with the only difference being that concept art in the pre-opening version was replaced by photos in the post-opening version. (There’s also a 127 page book from 1982 by a similar name–don’t get this version.) At the time this book was written, it was still believed that these pavilions were coming to the park, so the books spends time discussing them. It’s fascinating and a bit eerie–plans were strong enough at the time that Disney wasn’t concerned about placing them in a book. It’s even more eerie to watch Danny Kaye speak with Alex Haley, author of Roots, about the Equatorial Africa pavilion, which would be opening in “about a year” as they stood over a detailed model of the pavilion at its future site in the video below.
Other pavilions, including Spain and Israel, were also planned, as were attractions for existing World Showcase countries. The most fascinating of these to me is the Rhine River Cruise, which is described in detail in the Beard Epcot book above, and even had its entrance in Germany built! Another interesting one is the Japan Bullet Train Ride, although it sounds like that one might not have made it beyond the Blue Sky stage. For a more comprehensive look at EPCOT Center history, check out The Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia.
These unbuilt World Showcase countries and attractions are really fascinating to me, especially since it so much of it was greenlit and almost came to fruition. I wonder how much was actually fabricated (was the movie hosted by Alex Haley for the Africa pavilion actually filmed?), but never installed in EPCOT Center. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to have photos of these unbuilt things, so you’ll have to settle for the photos below of things that were built!
As EPCOT Center fans continue to celebrate the park’s 30th Anniversary until October 1, 2013, we will continue to share these vintage reader-submitted EPCOT Center photos from time to time. If you have EPCOT Center photos you’d like to share with our readers, please click here for details on submitting them!
For photographer attribution and other information, hover your cursor over each photo. Also, be sure to check out our photo credits page. If you haven’t caught the other installments in this EPCOT30 tribute series, check them out here!
What extinct aspect of World Showcase do you miss most? I know I’d love for the creepy dolls to make a reappearance! Share your thoughts on this post in the comments.
I have to say THANK YOU I absolutely LOVE this! Looking back in time and seeing photos pieces things together. When I hear CM speaking about “back in the days” I thrive for the history and this is fantastic!
I was on the opening crew for Epcot. After a year in the future world section I transferred to World Showcase working the buses and boat attractions and getting trained at the American Adventure theater. I spent 9 years in the area and seeing some of the pictures of the areas that I worked in brought back lots of memories and I even recognized a few of the employees that were in the pictures. Great memories. Thanks for the pictures.
Wow! This is an awesome blog post, esp. for an Epcot fan like myself. There are some good and some bad in the photos of the old Epcot days.
The good: The amazing-cool-tastic double decker bus labeled Epcot World Showcase Transportation. Also, the fact that kids were kids in the 1980’s and 1990’s- its sad how kids today now dress like mini adults.
The bad: The Giant characters around the showcase (wierd) and the giant doll-people themed to each land (creepy).
Awesome blog btw.
I’ll have to check and see if my parents have pictures. Although film(!) was precious back then, I’m sure they have to have something.
Even better, my wife’s cousin’s father was a construction worker who helped build Epcot. I know he worked on Spaceship Earth and the cousin has some pictures of that. I’ll have to ask if she has any WS pics.
These pictures are Amazing.! My first visit was in 1987.I wish I had taken more pics back then but thanks to this post I didn’t have to ! What a trip down memory lane…thanks !
Oh my. I have boxes of slides (I had a thing for Kodachrome 25 after I bought a Canon AE-1, and those are amazing), negatives, and Polaroid prints from 1982-1989. Would that I had a decent scanner.
Equatorial Africa is the most puzzling to me, as there was so much promotion with Alex Haley. Hell, I even have an autographed picture (Polaroid, so he could sign it right away) of me with him from, I think, 1984, taken at a meet-and-greet he was doing at the pavilion’s site.
Then again, maybe not so much. I really recommend “Storming the Magic Kingdom” to anyone who hasn’t read it. It details the harrowing, post-EPCOT, pre-Eisner times when it looked any one of a dozen Wall Street LBO-psychotics was going to break up the company and sell off everything not nailed down. That made the company profoundly fiscally conservative, to the point of sclerosis.
That’s interesting that Haley was still doing meet and greets in 1984. I would think that an internal decision to let the project die would have been made around 1983. Perhaps one was, but Haley and folks with clout in TWDC wanted to put pressure on Disney to make it come to fruition? Haley was a big name and was prominently attached to this project, so I’m really surprised that it was allowed to die in this way, even with the climate in Africa at that time (which I still think is nothing more than an excuse for the pavilion not happening).
I’d love to see these photos if you have a chance to scan them. Sounds like you have some gold in that box!
The 1980s were certainly a wild time in corporate America, with men like T. Boone Pickens making their fortunes as (essentially) vultures. Disney definitely became more conservative after that, but I think once Eisner’s ego ballooned in the early 1990s, the company loosened up a bit. Of course, the whole Disney Decade thing mostly never happened, but still, he was pretty liberal with spending at times.
Don’t hold me to that 1984. I know it wasn’t our first trip in October, 1982. I also know it was before August, 1985, as I hadn’t yet moved to Florida. It’s somewhere in between the two, but that’s as best as I can narrow it down.
Nice post. I was there shortly after it’s opening (1984 maybe?, I’ll have to ask my parents), but I don’t remember specifics of the world showcase at the time.
Awesome. Would you consider numbering the photos so we can more easily discuss specific photos?
1.) I hate that they covered the American Gardens Theater.
2.) Photo #34 from the top, with the Canadian character, taken from UK. Amazing how well you can see Canada from the UK before they built the World Showplace entrance with all the trees.
3.) Photo #22 from the bottom, with the old Epcot logo sign. This will drive me crazy all day. Where is this? It is Futureworld architecture, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where this was/is located. Is this the Electric Umbrella? Did it used to be fronted by water & grass??
Crazy averted. Google “Epcot Stargate restaurant” for the answer. Very cool.
These posts already take a LOT of work (and I don’t even have to edit the photos for them!), so I don’t think I’ll be numbering them. Good idea, though!
As for the restaurant, it’s now the Odyssey, and is technically in Future World. The photo was taken in World Showcase, though.
Very cool, thanks for the work you do.
I’m not talking about the shot of Odyssey, look at the shot 5 images above that one. The roofline is rounded, unlike Odyssey. This shot is of (what later became) the Electric Umbrella. Amazing to think that there was grass and water in that area.
Glad they took out those huge things, Robin Hood, Japanese Minnie and American Mickey. I think those things can take away the magic of thinking you are visiting another country.
What about the creepy dolls? Those don’t remind you of visits to other countries?!? 😉
Epic post! I appreciate the parks so much more when I learn about their history and the philosophy that went into their design.
As a child of the 80’s, I’m especially appreciating the youtube video.
You should watch that entire video–it’s awesome.
There’s another video called (I think) “A Day at EPCOT Center.” Also awesome.