Moana’s Journey of Water Attraction Info & Construction

Journey of Water Inspired by Moana is a new attraction coming to EPCOT as Walt Disney World overhauls the front of the park between Spaceship Earth and World Showcase. This covers everything you need to know about the addition: target opening date, concept art, construction progress, and answers to frequently asked questions. (Updated December 9, 2022.)

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.

Next, let’s take a look at the location of Moana’s Journey of Water. There has been a lot of confusion about this, with some Walt Disney World fans 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.

Moana’s Journey of Water will be part of the new World Nature neighborhood. (As a reminder, Walt Disney World has eliminated EPCOT’s Future World and replaced it with 3 new neighborhoods.)

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 as of mid-2022, 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 update came as Disney offered updates on the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit™️ that is 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.

December 9, 2022 Update

Walt Disney Imagineering shared the above photo and this message on social media today: “This morning, our project team at Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana welcomed Te Fiti at her position along the trail.”

“This is a momentous milestone for the project team as we continue to bring this experience to life for EPCOT guests in Late 2023. Congratulations to the team of Imagineers and all of our partners that made this happen!”

This comes only a few months after the surprise announcement about about Moana’s Journey of Water that a towering Te Fiti model that’s being 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!

Last week, an Imagineer posted that “many years go into designing these experiences and nothing beats seeing the real thing.”

Noting that guests are following along on this work from the monorail above the site, he thought it would be fun to share a few views from on the ground, right in the middle of the process.

“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.”

Now let’s take a look at construction photos of Moana’s Journey of Water as of early Fall 2022…

Fall 2022 Construction Photos

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. Right now, there are segments in Harmonious and Disney Enchantment (the nighttime spectaculars at Epcot and Magic Kingdom) plus new rooms and other details at the Polynesian.

There’s also a meet & greet in the queue for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room during the Halloween and Christmas Parties. That’s about it.

Moana is 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.

Finally, the opening date of Moana’s Journey of Water. While a lot was planned to debut “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary,” this was never one of those projects.

A debut date has never been announced for any of the central spine projects, but the internal timeframe has been that they would start to open “…beginning in 2022.” That nebulous timeframe was before the closure of Walt Disney World.

It’s worth noting that during and after the closure, all construction stopped at Walt Disney World. Demolition of the Innoventions building didn’t resume until several months after EPCOT reopened, and it was slow-going for a while.

Moreover, the plans for much of the EPCOT overhaul have changed and been scaled back, with some components cut entirely. Fortunately, Moana’s Journey of Water is still happening, but the finished product could look different than the original concept art, as Imagineering has taken the EPCOT overhaul plans back to the drawing board with budgets being cut. However, it’s always the case that what’s built differs from concept art, so nothing really novel or surprising there.

Our expectation is that 2023 is now the target opening for Moana’s Journey of Water. (A safe bet given that Walt Disney World has announced that the EPCOT Overhaul Ends in 2023!) Given the current state of construction, previous delays, and the evolving nature of the EPCOT transformation, we’re hesitant to make a prediction beyond that.

According to Walt Disney World, the official target for Moana’s Journey of Water is “Late 2023.” Given that Disney has recently been behind, rather than ahead, of meeting its targets, this likely means November or December 2023–or even early 2024–rather than summer or fall.

Nevertheless, Summer 2023 seems realistic in light of current progress, which is surprisingly far along as of December 2022 (I didn’t take new photos, but it has progressed a lot since our last photo update!). That’s also the most sensible time to debut a water-centric attraction, as the last couple months of the year can be cold. That is, unless Imagineering’s plan is to finish the entirety of the CommuniCore Hall and Plaza Projects prior to opening Moana’s Journey of Water. That would make some degree of sense, and also explain the “Late 2023” target as opposed to spring or summer for Moana’s Journey of Water.

Ultimately, a lot could happen and change between now and 2023. 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!

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Your Thoughts

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!

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