Play Pavilion Coming to Epcot

Walt Disney World has announced several new things for Epcot, including the ‘Play Pavilion’, which will replace Wonders of Life, a reimagined main entrance, and an Experience Center showcasing the park’s future. In this post, we’ll start with basic info, followed with commentary about this big news.

This new pavilion will replace the defunct Wonders of Life, and will offer first-of-their-kind experiences devoted to playful fun. For the last several years, Wonders of Life has served as the Food & Wine ‘Festival Center’ and most recently has been the subject of rumors about a year ago, ranging from a Marvel addition to Inside Out). Now we have an answer to what’s happening with it.

The space will be transformed into an innovative, interactive city with games, hands-on activities, and Disney character meet & greets in an energetic metropolis. This ‘Play Pavilion’ (which is what we’re calling it and is not the pavilion’s final name) will debut during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.

March 29, 2022 Update: When originally announced, the Play Pavilion was intended to open “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.” It missed this timeline, as did many other major additions due to the multi-month closure of the parks and subsequent slowdown of construction and investments by the company in Walt Disney World due to low demand and attendance caps.

An official date has not been announced for the Play Pavilion; it could open in 2022 or 2023. It would make sense for the Play Pavilion to debut alongside Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. That would mean the World Discovery neighborhood would be finished, leaving “only” the work in World Discovery and Nature.

However, Walt Disney World has said absolutely nothing about the Play Pavilion project in 2 years. It’s possible it’s done entirely and just sitting there. It’s also possible the project has been totally abandoned and will never debut. There’s also the middle ground option that the interactive, tech-based exhibits have gone back to the drawing board. We truly have no idea. There haven’t even been credible rumors about it.

Our expectation at this point is that the Play Pavilion will not open until Late 2022 at the absolute earliest, with Spring 2023 being the more likely scenario. We’re hoping hear more details at the D23 Expo in September 2022.

As for what Play Pavilion was/is going to offer, it’s expected that it’ll be the new home to an Animation Academy-like experience where guests will learn how to draw Disney characters. Nick and Judy Hopps from Zootopia will host an interactive game called Hotel Heist. In a recent book, the company also revealed that there will be a monorail game. Interactive, contact-less arcade style games are also likely to appear in the Play Pavilion.

The Play Pavilion is also expected to be the primary home to character meet & greets in Epcot. Those for Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope, Joy and Sadness, Baymax and other characters will all be permanently relocated from their current locations to the Play Pavilion.

Other attractions that called the Wonders of Life home–like Body Wars and Cranium Command–will not return when the Play Pavilion opens.

In addition to the Play Pavilion, significant redevelopment will also begin between Spaceship Earth and World Showcase Promenade, which is the “Central Spine” project that was first announced nearly two years ago at the D23 Expo. In today’s release, Walt Disney World indicated that more details about this aspect of the transformation will follow at a later date.

Finally, Walt Disney World recapped other new developments on the horizon at Epcot including: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and the Beauty and the Beast sing-along in the France pavilion, a new Circle-Vision 360 film for the China pavilion and updated O Canada! 360-degree show, Signature Dining inspired by the natural beauty of Japan, Space-themed restaurant adjacent to Mission: SPACE, and Epcot Forever in 2019 followed by an all-new nighttime spectacular in 2020.

None of these projects or the Central Spine are anything new, but it’s good to hear an update on them. With so much of the Epcot re-imagining in flux, there’s always the possibility of previously-announced projects getting cut. Anyway, on with the commentary…

My Reaction

I’m excited. Not ‘cautiously optimistic’ or hopeful, but just flat out enthusiastic. To be honest, I can’t remember the last Epcot announcement that left me feeling this way, with no hedging or caveats.

Excitement for the redesigned entrance is obvious, and I’d assume almost every single longtime EPCOT Center fan shares my sentiments about it. How the Leave a Legacy tombstones ever got off the drawing board still confounds me. I’m not sure a single person has ever said, “I’d really like my visit to a theme park celebrating the future and human ingenuity to begin with a war memorial.”

This redesigned entrance feels very much like an olive branch to EPCOT Center fans. Not only is Leave a Legacy gone (note that the photos are being relocated, not the stones), but the prism pillars are back in the fountain in front of Spaceship Earth. The loss of these lucite structures are one thing fans often bemoan, and probably also one of the easiest bones to throw us.

There’s a lot more to love about the redesigned entrance than just that fountain feature–from the walkways to the lushness to the pavilion flags overhead, it’s all good. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that wasn’t necessary–undoing the damage done by Leave a Legacy is sufficient in this case.

I’m not one to read too much into concept art, and I’d hazard a guess that all of the trees and green space behind Spaceship Earth are simply a matter of Imagineering not yet wanting to tip its hand as to what’s in store for the rest of the Central Spine redesign project. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t expect a dense forest behind Spaceship Earth.

The concept of the Play Pavilion is probably not a unanimous slam dunk, but I’m perhaps more optimistic about this. For starters, it’s the less obvious concept but one that could have the larger overall impact for Epcot.

Wonders of Life becoming the Play Pavilion means that it won’t instead become anything related to Marvel, as previously rumored. As someone who doesn’t want to see Future World turned into ‘Super Hero Land (But Only the Handful of Properties We Can Use And Don’t You Dare Say the “M” Word)‘ this is great news to me.

It’s also good news from the perspective that there’s the potential for the Wonders of Life pavilion consolidating what is currently a decentralized IP presence around Future World into one building, which is currently unused. This hopefully will be the park’s main meet & greet location, with other pavilions remaining (or in some cases, becoming) character-free.

While we don’t yet know what this re-imagined pavilion will entail, we do know that it’ll open in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, which is a very quick turnaround time for something just announced. Given that and the likelihood that Innoventions is going away, I’d expect it to be something along the lines of exhibits featured there. If the concept art is to be believed, this pavilion will be more ambitious and imbued with a ‘Progress City’ sensibility, which is definitely befitting of EPCOT Center.

Speculation beyond that seems premature. Given rumors from last summer about testing in Cranium Command, I wonder if that theater attraction will be revived in some form (albeit, apparently, without the Buzzy Audio Animatronics figure). It’s far less likely that the Body Wars simulators could return, but that space could be repurposed and house an attraction. These aren’t even predictions, more just thinking aloud about the possibilities for this ‘Play Pavilion.’

For selfish reasons, I’m totally fine with Walt Disney World going character heavy in this pavilion, and I really hope that concept art is accurate, and this features Inside Out characters. Heck, give Wreck-It Ralph a presence in there, too. My basis for this is it could satiate management’s desire for intellectual property in Future World, and pave the way for a subsequent Journey into Imagination redo that does not involve IPs. Of course, this is just wishful thinking on my part.

Finally, how will this re-imagining all play out? I’ll preface this by saying that I am privy to zero inside information, and this is simply one hypothesis. I’d expect the ‘Play Pavilion’ to open around the same time as the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. With two new attractions anchoring that side of Future World, I’d also expect the park’s entrance to diverts guests into that area upon entering the park, a la what Disney California Adventure did for several months (behind Soarin’) during its overhaul.

With those new things providing huge draws, Walt Disney World could essentially wall-off the entire center of Future World, from just behind the turnstiles all the way to behind Fountain of Nations–including Spaceship Earth and the Innoventions buildings. There have been persistent rumors that Spaceship Earth is looking at multi-year downtime for a redo, and it’d make sense to do it then. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Innoventions is being demolished given multiple pieces of concept art.

While it might seem outlandish for Spaceship Earth and the entire front of Epcot to be closed during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, I think it’s plausible. There’s also the possibility that this project will be done in separate halves, with the front done first, followed by the area behind Spaceship Earth after that.

Either way, it’s now too late for the entire Central Spine project to start and wrap up in time for the 50th. Waiting until after the celebration concludes is simply too long. Epcot has been overly reliant upon festivals for a while now to buoy attendance, and that strategy is not necessarily a viable approach for the long term.

In part, I think this is why we’re seeing the addition of the Experience Center to preview the park’s future, which will essentially be an advertisement for the future of the park to lure longtime fans post-2021. With this, Epcot Forever, and the redesigned entrance paying homage to the original look of EPCOT Center, it appears that Walt Disney World wants to toe the line between placating longtime fans and appealing to the expectations of first-time visitors expecting a Disney experience.

That wouldn’t be my personal first choice for the direction of Epcot’s future, but if that is the approach, it’s better than I expected. I’ve expressed a lot of enthusiasm in this commentary section, but that shouldn’t be confused for unbridled excitement for Epcot’s future, generally.

I’m still concerned about the height of the Guardians building and mere existence of these characters in Future World. I still think Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is an underwhelming and overly static screen-based attraction (the kind Disney fans would lambast if Universal built) given its budget. I’m apprehensive about the permanent lagoon show and how it’ll use characters and IP. I’m worried about the future of Journey into Imagination.

With that said, I’m also cautiously optimistic and downright enthusiastic about several changes. The new Circle-Vision films have real promise. The overall design and place-making of Future World has a ton of upside and very little downside. The rumored new countries would be a huge win. The repurposing of Wonders of Life creates a lot of positive possibilities for other areas of Future World.

I have no delusions that the ‘old’ EPCOT Center is ever returning. It’s been gone for two-plus decades, and there was never any chance of that park returning. However, it appears that there will be a lot in this ‘new’ park to appease fans like me, and even with a lot of compromises being made, I’m hopeful that the Epcot of ~2023 will be better than the one of today. This news makes me feel even more confident in that hope/belief, and I’m excited for the Epcot of tomorrow.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of these Epcot announcements? Excited about the new-look entrance? (Cautiously) optimistic about the Play Pavilion? Do you agree or disagree with my commentary? 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!

52 Responses to “Play Pavilion Coming to Epcot”
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