After years of rumors, Walt Disney World has officially announced an overhaul of Spaceship Earth. This massive reimagining will close the attraction for ~2 years, and will substantially change the ride. In this post, we’ll offer official details along with speculation about timing, history, and more. (Updated February 4, 2020.)
Let’s start with what’s official. At the D23 Expo, Disney announced that Epcot’s Future World Being Replaced by 3 New Neighborhoods. One of these will be World Celebration, which is essentially the central spine of EPCOT. It will offer new experiences that connect us to one another and the world around us. A reimagined Spaceship Earth will remain the flagship attraction of the park’s core.
With Spaceship Earth’s reimagining will come changes to the message and substance of the attraction, but not its core ride system or the nature of its show scenes. However, there will be a shift in theme: from technical innovations in communications–a vestige of its original sponsors of Bell System/AT&T–to the power of storytelling to unite the human experience…
Disney has announced that this will be accomplished via new narration, an entirely new musical score, and new show scenes. Most notably, guests will follow a magical “Story Light” that brings the entire experience to life in dynamic ways, giving each scene energy and beauty that ties the entire journey together.
The new Spaceship Earth will focus on the moments and ideas that define our shared story. To accomplish this, the current scenes that begin the attraction will be joined by new scenes and upgrades throughout Spaceship Earth. Additionally, the back of Spaceship Earth will be reworked with a new post-show.
Upon exiting Spaceship Earth, there will be a breathtaking new view of World Showcase from Dreamers Point, which will also feature a statue of Walt Disney seated on a curb. This area behind Spaceship Earth will also feature natural environments, a wishing tree in an enchanted forest, and a story fountain playing Disney music.
This isn’t the first time a radical overhaul of Spaceship Earth has been on the table. Before we discuss a timeline, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at what almost was–but will not be: Time Racers. This was a time travel themed roller coaster proposed for Spaceship Earth as part of an early 2000s initiative known as Project Gemini.
That comprehensive plan would have reimagined Future World into Discoveryland, which would’ve demolished buildings (including Innoventions), removed concrete, and transformed the area into a lush, green environment. This ambitious proposal for overhauling Future World was rumored to cost $500 million, and ultimately the entire thing was shelved, save for a clone of Soarin’ Over California.
Irrespective of why Time Racers didn’t happen, Spaceship Earth instead received a more modest refurbishment a little over a decade ago. While that wasn’t exactly well-received by fans, it was certainly a more welcome change in keeping with the spirit and mission of EPCOT Center than Time Racers would’ve been. We’re expecting the upcoming changes to be far more ambitious and scope-changing than the last refurbishment, but still in keeping with the spirit of the original attraction.
The official confirmation of an overhaul of Spaceship Earth came after over a year of persistent rumors. (We originally published this article well before the official announcement, and have updated it a couple of times since.) Notably, those rumors were right on the money.
These predicted that all scenes would refreshed prior to the Industrial Revolution, plus more significant changes for the scenes following that. They also indicated that 180top would be drastically reimagined utilizing the latest in projection mapping tech. These indicated that it’d be a 2-year closure with the aforementioned show scene changes, plus track replacement and extended track layout, new load and unload stations, and a new post show.
We mention these rumors because Walt Disney World has released nothing about the Spaceship Earth overhaul aside from the announcement of the “Story Light” and tonal change, plus vague details about some scenes changing and others staying put. Disney hasn’t even released any concept art–it only flashed on screen during the D23 Expo. Given that and the fact that none of the leaks have yet to be contradicted, we’re continuing to use them to “fill in the gaps” on what’s on the horizon for Spaceship Earth.
The major remaining question on the mind of many Walt Disney World fans is when will the Spaceship Earth overhaul begin? Given that the attraction will likely be down for two full years, many people are wanting to be sure to get a last ride in before the current incarnation of Spaceship Earth goes away.
Officially, Walt Disney World has not revealed a closing date. Given the status of Spaceship Earth as a beloved fan-favorite and the duration of this closure, it stands to reason that a a few months of notice would be ideal and appropriate here. However, the entire Epcot overhaul has been on a vague timeline, with interdependent opening and closing dates. As such, we doubt that a huge amount of notice will be given here.
Turning once again to rumors, it was originally expected that Spaceship Earth would be closed by late last year. As other dates have slipped, the revised (anticipated) closing date slipped to “this winter.” (Sound familiar?!) In other words, no one really knows for sure, and the actual closing date depends on a few factors.
Our guess is that Spaceship Earth will not go down until at least after Test Track returns from refurbishment on February 26, 2020. At that point, both of the Future World bypasses will be open, all three of the new movies will have debuted, and nothing else that’s major will be down for refurbishment. However, we don’t think it’ll close right away once Test Track returns–and not just because FastPass+ remain available for Spaceship Earth through April 2020.
We expect that Walt Disney World will get even more strategic with its timing, waiting until after Easter, Spring Break, and the initial rush of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival have subsided. June through August are the slowest months of the year at Epcot. That could remain true in Future World even with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure opening in Summer 2020 back in World Showcase.
The reality is that there’s no perfect way to time this. No matter when Walt Disney World opts to close Spaceship Earth, it’ll be down for at least one Food & Wine Festival, Christmas, plus the debuts of the Play Pavilion and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Spaceship Earth is a people-eater that soaks up crowds, and it being down is a big blow for all of those occasions.
With all of that said, our guess (and this is absolutely a guess) is that Spaceship Earth will close in June 2020.
Of course, with any Spaceship Earth changes comes the inevitable discussion of a new narrator. The current host is Judi Dench, who we think nicely delivers a script that’s questionable at times. When this narration was originally unveiled, it was panned by fans as being cheesy and pandering. We largely agreed with that, but it’s interesting how some of the worst lines have become the most iconic (or infamous, depending upon your perspective) over time.
It’s safe to say the current Judi Dench narration won’t return if there’s a substantive overhaul. Every fan has their personal ‘wish list’ for who might be the new narrator, me included. Personally, I wouldn’t mind Judi Dench getting another crack at it, but with a better script. Failing that, Idris Elba, Benedict Cumberbatch, Emma Thompson, or Tom Hiddleston would be solid picks. (Like a stereotypical American, my idea of a dignified and intellectual voice is British.) For a few Epcot or Disney-related wildcards, I could also go for Mark Hamill, Patrick Warburton, Tom Hanks, or a reprise of Jeremy Irons.
Ultimately, hat’s roughly where things stand right now. Two words that are not coming up when discussing the changes are “intellectual property.” This has me breathing a temporary sight of relief, but this is Disney, circa 2020. There’s always the chance that will change. We doubt it, though.
While this is not predicated upon any inside info, the Imagineering team behind Epcot’s reimagining seems like it’s deftly balancing general public ‘interests’ against those of purists in an attempt to appeal to both. Retaining and enhancing Epcot’s most iconic attraction that still more or less exists in the spirit of the original is a sensible move in pursuit of that end.
We’re actually cautiously optimistic about the changes to Spaceship Earth. If the “Story Light” is anything like what we’re expecting (basically, a similar effect from Mystic Manor), it could be really cool. Other than that, Spaceship Earth could use a refresh in many scenes, including both 180top and the descent. Reframing the focus from communications via technological innovations to storytelling seems like a very “Disney” move, and we hope it’s one that’s accomplished with integrity.
What do you think about the Spaceship Earth overhaul? When do you think it will occur? Are you cautiously optimistic about the Story Light? Any ‘wish list’ items for this reimagining, or a narrator of choice? 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!