Journey of Water Inspired by Moana is a new attraction coming to EPCOT at Walt Disney World in the front of the park between Spaceship Earth and World Showcase. This covers everything you need to know about the addition: opening date, early preview days, photos of the exploration trail, and answers to frequently asked questions. (Updated September 22, 2023.)
Let’s begin with a basic overview of Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana (or Moana’s Journey of Water, as we’ll call it for simplicity’s sake). This is the first Walt Disney World attraction based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios hit film Moana, and will be an exploration trail rather than a ride.
This water maze will be an experience where guests can interact with magical, living water in a beautiful and inspiring setting. Moana’s Journey of Water will consist of a lush walk-through environment that engages and educates guests about the water cycle and how it sustains our world.
Regardless of general public previews, Moana’s Journey of Water officially opens on October 16, 2023. There are still a lot of unknowns about how it’ll operate, including whether it’ll use a virtual queue or offer a Lightning Lane. We view both as highly unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility.
Next, let’s take a look at the location of Moana’s Journey of Water. There has been confusion about this, with some fans who haven’t visited Walt Disney World in the last few years believing it’ll be replacing Journey into Imagination for some reason. (Because both have “Journey” in the name? Perhaps since there’s already a water play area up by the Imagination pavilion?)
In any case, that’s not where Moana’s Journey of Water is going. Instead, the water maze will more or less replace half of Innoventions West, which was demolished as part of EPCOT’s central spine redesign.
World Nature is dedicated to understanding and preserving the beauty, awe and balance of the natural world. In addition to Journey of Water, it will include The Land and The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions.
Above is concept art that Disney has released of the new-look front of EPCOT and these three new neighborhoods. Note that this is the updated art, reflecting the scaled-back scope of these plans.
Essentially, Moana’s Journey of Water will be located between Spaceship Earth and the Seas with Nemo & Friends. You can see it in the bottom right of the above concept art.
Walt Disney World also recently released new concept art showing a closer view and updated look at Journey of Water – Inspired by Moana. This is the first time the company has offered a look at the rough layout of this interactive exploration trail and water play area.
Based upon the concept art, it appears that the water exploration trail will be one way of accessing the Seas and Land pavilions from Spaceship Earth, with normal bypass pathways on each side of it for guests who don’t wish to partake in the play area.
This came as Disney offered updates on the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit™️ behind Spaceship Earth, which will become CommuniCore Hall & Plaza. This replaces the multi-level festival center in some of the above concept art, and reflects Disney’s scaled back vision for the EPCOT overhaul plans. Essentially, they’re rebuilding what was previously there, adding some trees, and taking 3+ years to do it.
It’s unknown when CommuniCore Hall will open, but looking increasingly like it’ll be at the very end of the Disney100 celebration. Its opening is pertinent to Moana’s Journey of Water because the sea of construction walls in this area really limits where Journey of Water’s queue can go without causing congestion.
One reason that Walt Disney World is likely backing down from emphasizing Disney100 at EPCOT is because nothing else from the central spine project will not be finished until Late 2023. CommuniCore Hall and everything else in the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit™️ at the front of the park are highly unlikely to be finished until mid-December 2023 if current progress is any indication.
On that note, let’s take a look at past construction photos of Moana’s Journey of Water from the last several months. Everything that follows is obviously outdated, as Moana’s Journey of Water is now finished and is welcoming guests…
Construction Photos & Past Updates
We’re back with another construction update on Moana’s Journey of Water as the project is closing in on its completion.
In the last three months, the pace of the project has slowed to a crawl. During that stretch, we’ve seen a number of things added that would normally be finishing touches. Final landscaping has been done, water features are being tested, fabric shade canopies and wicker light fixture covers have been installed, and other details that are usually done in the home stretch of a project are wrapping up.
All of that was true during spring break season, and is also the case as of the start of Summer 2023. To be sure, there are still crews on the site and work remains to be done on Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana.
However, principle construction is completed and has been for several months. More recently, the focus has been landscaping (now mostly done) and detail work to ensure the project is show-ready for guests. Suffice to say, there’s very little to be done and this will almost certainly be our last update before Moana’s Journey of Water opens.
The biggest changes that have occurred relatively recently are the planting of palm trees, installation of the attraction entrance kiosk, and Walt Disney World opening up a new walkway between Moana’s Journey of Water and Spaceship Earth.
Contrast the above photo from a few months ago with the below one from Summer 2023. Not a whole lot has changed–this certainly does not represent three months’ worth of work.
With this walkway opening, the corridor between the Seas and Spaceship Earth has narrowed. This is also the area where a new pump station has been installed, and it’s not really clear what else needs to be done on that side (see below). The expectation is more trees and landscaping–additions that could be accomplished in far less time than may be apparent.
Given where the project stands, we’d normally expect to have a specific opening date. Even projects that Walt Disney World has deliberately dragged out, such as TRON Lightcycle Run and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, had opening dates by the punch list or closeout stage. That’s why Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana is so perplexing.
Walt Disney World last shared an update on Moana’s Journey of Water in April. At that time, the company shared video of the water testing in the attraction, and CEO Bob Iger doing the walk-through. Walt Disney World also offered an update on the EPCOT overhaul:
“This fall will bring even more exciting experiences as part of the multi-year transformation of EPCOT. Guests will be able to explore the wonders of water when Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana opens. This fun interactive outdoor trail offers a chance to play and interact with water as it travels from the sky to the oceans and back again. Along the way, guests learn about the importance of water and discover its playful personality – just as Moana did on her heroic voyage.”
Walt Disney World has slow-rolled opening dates for several recent attractions, including the aforementioned TRON Lightcycle Run and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. They sat on those to open them at the most strategic time. The difference with Moana’s Journey of Water is that summer is the best time to open. This feels less like Disney sitting on something and more like one component of larger project managing to be ready ahead of schedule.
In our view, there are a couple of possibilities for what happens with the walk-through next. The first is that Moana’s Journey of Water will quietly open sooner, adding a much-needed play area for the summer season when it’s needed most. Given that the attraction could be done in a matter of weeks, having it debut by Independence Day is entirely reasonable. In this scenario, it’s possible that Moana’s Journey of Water still has its splashier grand opening in October or November when the rest of the EPCOT transformation is finished.
The other is that Disney deliberately holds back Moana’s Journey of Water until CommuniCore Hall and everything else in the central spine is finished. No one is going to get excited about Disney rebuilding something that they demolished, so CommuniCore Hall alone won’t get anyone excited.
Journey of Water is the most marketable addition–and even that’s a stretch–so it would make some degree of sense that the company holds off its opening until it’s all completed. If Walt Disney World wants the conclusion of the EPCOT overhaul and start of Disney100 to be a big deal, delaying Moana’s Journey of Water until everything else is ready will help bolster the profile of that.
What casts doubt on that is the way the finishing touches are being completed in Moana’s Journey of Water. Things like the shade canopies and other soft goods have shelf lives in the Florida sun, and it’s odd to see those installed now if this attraction isn’t opening for ~6 more months.
Beyond that, it’s also odd to debut a water-centric attraction in the fall when it could just as easily debut in the summer. So we shall see what happens.
Although we can’t see it from the ground or monorail, Walt Disney Imagineering installed Te Fiti in Moana’s Journey of Water late last year. This comes only a few months after the surprise announcement that this towering Te Fiti model would be added to the attraction.
Te Fiti had not been in prior concept art or officially released details about Moana’s Journey of Water. According to Imagineers on the show floor at the D23 Expo, it was added to the walk-through attraction when other changes (read: budget cuts) were made to other aspects of the plans for the front of the park.
Here are photos of the model itself and placards around it offering details:
Our expectation is that Te Fiti will be an impressive figure from inside the walk-through path, but will mostly be concealed from outside Moana’s Journey of Water. Hopefully, the figure is not competing with Spaceship Earth for visual attention as the park’s main ‘wienie.’
Next, here’s the prior update about Moana’s Journey of Water, covering the ‘edutainment’ component of the attraction…
Walt Disney Imagineering also shared a preview of the graphic style that will be used throughout the attraction, inspired by the design and visual language of the movie. The WDI team created many original pieces that focus on the dynamic movement of water as it travels around the experience.
Per Imagineering, graphics like these will “guide” guests through the cycle of water in fun and engaging ways. The goal is to share the vital link we have with water across our planet, and inspire the important role we all share in preserving this life-giving and life-sustaining precious resource.
As part of the design process, Imagineers create models, mock-ups, and maquettes to bring beloved characters into the parks.
Above is a behind-the-scenes look at Principal Dimensional Designer, Jim Towler, sculpting the foam maquette of Moana for this attraction.
This gives you a glimpse into the earliest stages of the design process, before paint and additional details have been added. Once the pose of the character is defined, sculptors add detail and texture until the emotional expression of the carving is just right.
Designers then do a paint study and often create full-scale samples to test final materials and carving techniques. This process ensures the production and creative vision for the experience align.
Above is another making-of example, showing a sample from the mountain-like forms that will soon mark the entrance to the attraction. Fans will recognize Moana’s iconic spiral, which we portrayed in one of the first concept renderings for Journey of Water.
You can see how artisans use paint, scenic treatments, and foliage to bring even more life to environments. Disney indicates that it’s an exciting time for the Imagineering project team as these elements are coming together on site now and in the coming months!
“The craft of creating rockwork is a blend of art and science, and seeing this carving and sculpting progress live is one of the things I love most about my role as an Imagineer. I joined the project team for a walk of the site alongside Imagineers Scott and Robert, two of our leaders overseeing the project. The range of textures are inspired by real world formations – all the way down to the tiniest details and variation that, when finished, should be impossible to distinguish from the real thing.”
Finally, here are older construction photos from late last year that give you an idea of how the project has progressed in the last several months. (In particular, how quickly the rock-work was created…contrasted with how slowly things have been moving since.)
Here’s a ground level view of work on Moana’s Journey of Water taken from near the Land and Seas pavilions.
Just below the tree branch, you can see one of the mountains peeking out above the top of the wall. This is the highest point of the walk-through trail, and the first time we’ve been able to see any of the attraction while walking around EPCOT.
With a bit of elevation from back by Journey into Imagination, this rockwork is even easier to see over the wall.
Pathways will weave through this rockwork, making it an engaging area to explore.
For the next few photos, we take to the Highway in the Sky, for some “aerial” shots from the Epcot monorail.
Above is a wide view showing the entirety of the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit™️ that should underscore just how huge this construction zone is. Moana’s Journey of Water is in the far upper left corner. It’s a big project, but only a fraction of the overall area.
Most, if not all, of the rockwork that will surround the trail has been installed.
Rockwork that was easy to see last month is now obscured by scaffolding as workers move to the details phase of the project. Contrast the new image above with the one below (from mid-July).
A lot is going on in these Moana’s Journey of Water construction photos, so let’s break it down.
You can see steel support structures, concrete walls, and wire mesh forming the shape of rockwork.
Here’s a closer look at the rockwork. On the right side, there’s a series of formations that essentially form corridors. These look a lot like the area below the jumping fountains in the concept art.
On the other side of that is a moderately-sized mountain. This is likely the signature rockwork in Moana’s Journey of Water–the mountain-like feature with cascading waterfalls.
This rockwork has gone up really quickly. All of this has been built since the start of summer–before that, there was no rockwork, just some steel structures and concrete walls.
Now that everything is installed, artisans are bringing the construction materials to life and making it look like real rocks. That’s the purpose of all of the scaffolding that has appeared recently–it makes the mountains easier to access for the artists.
Disney hasn’t had anything to say about the rockwork on Moana’s Journey of Water (or anything else about it, for that matter), but here’s hoping that renowned Imagineer Zsolt Hormay is leading the team.
For those unfamiliar with Zsolt Hormay, he’s the Imagineer behind rockwork on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Pandora – World of Avatar, Tree of Life, Cadillac Mountain Range in Cars Land, and Mysterious Island at Tokyo DisneySea. You don’t hear Zsolt Hormay’s name as much as the celebrity Imagineers, but he’s arguably more deserving of that status than anyone.
Here’s a final look from the monorail at the edge of the Moana’s Journey of Water construction site and Spaceship Earth. The entire area behind the geodesic sphere has been the Giant Epcot Dirt Pit™️ for the better part of the last three years.
Again, it’s difficult to ascertain what is for Moana’s Journey of Water and what is simply the “enchanted gardens” that’ll make up the lush area of World Celebration. From the concept art that Walt Disney World has released, it’s incredibly difficult to ascertain the scope and scale of Moana’s Journey of Water. It could take up a lot of real estate, or very little. We should have a better idea once more of the wire mesh rockwork goes up and the actual path becomes more clearly defined.
My expectation is that a lot of this will make up the walk-through trail, and I’m cautiously optimistic about Moana’s Journey of Water.
EPCOT is unquestionably changing, and part of that entails becoming more “Disneyfied” in the process. Denying that reality is a recipe for constant disappointment. From my perspective, anything that manages to mesh with the park’s optimism, inspiration, and edutainment aims is on the right track.
While Moana’s Journey of Water is clearly not a blockbuster addition, that’s fine. Not everything needs to be. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a welcome addition.
One of Future World’s biggest issues was that it was a concrete jungle with little shade, water, and lushness. This remedies all of those complaints, while also offering kids a place to play and blow off some steam.
Morever, Moana’s Journey of Water is a logical transition to both the Seas and Land pavilions, making it a good “pathway” to those attractions. Offering a nice environment to educate kids about the water cycle while providing a fun gateway to this neighborhood of EPCOT sounds like a win to me.
It’s certainly not my ideal walk-through attraction, but my generation’s version of EPCOT Center is long gone. I’ve accepted that and am satisfied with the potential Moana’s Journey of Water could offer as an enjoyable diversion that coalesces nicely with what already exists on this side of EPCOT.
Plus, Walt Disney World could use some Moana. It’s one of our favorite modern animated films (that soundtrack!) and is deserving of more representation in the parks. Its popularity probably doesn’t justify an E-Ticket addition, but an interactive play area seems well-suited to the film.
For that, Adventureland or this area of EPCOT were about the best-case locations. It should go without saying that EPCOT is in more urgent need of new offerings.
Ultimately, a lot could happen and change in the next several months, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Moana’s Journey of Water open in literally any month between September and December 2023.
It’s difficult to reconcile the current state of the project as of Summer 2023 with the Fall or Late 2023 opening that Walt Disney World has implied. It’s thus impossible to make any sort of credible predictions about the ultimate fate of Moana’s Journey of Water, including the precise date it’ll open, and what it’ll look like if/when it does. Either way, we’ll keep you posted with more updates about Moana’s Journey of Water as we learn more!
What do you think of Moana’s Journey of Water? Do you think this will end up being cancelled, or will go forward as planned? Does this concept art look appealing to you? Do you think this will be a solid addition to EPCOT, or do you wish it were a ride being added elsewhere? Do you agree or disagree with our reaction/assessment? 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!