More changes are on the horizon for Epcot, the Walt Disney World park targeted for the most substantive additions and refurbishments after work wraps up at Hollywood Studios. For months, rumors have swirled about Spaceship Earth receiving a massive reimagining, closing for 2 or more years.
In this post, we’ll sift through what has been floated and analyze which Spaceship Earth refurbishment rumors sound the most credible and plausible. Worth noting from the outset is that we have zero inside information and are bringing nothing new to the table here. This is more a ‘Spaceship Earth rumor tracker’ with commentary, and is not new intel.
Following the recent announcement of the ‘Play Pavilion’ Replacing Wonders of Life and New Entrance for Epcot, it seemed appropriate to visit this topic, which we originally dismissed as wild blue sky material. However, these Spaceship Earth rumors have been persistent, and we’re now inclined to give them a fair amount of credibility given how the Spaceship Earth project likely intersects with the entrance overhaul and Central Spine project.
Before we chew into the meat of the current Spaceship Earth rumors, 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. Sound familiar? 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.
Speculation as to why ranges from the price tag (this wasn’t exactly a time when Walt Disney World management was throwing money around) to fears about a backlash over Time Racers to the economy. Irrespective of why, Spaceship Earth instead received a more modest refurbishment a little over a decade ago and 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.
The latest round of Spaceship Earth rumors first came onto our radar last fall with reports that Spaceship Earth would be overhauled, and all scenes 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.
Following that, more rumors surfaced 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. This caught our attention, and we were intrigued…but that’s still about it.
The future of Epcot is in flux with many new and reimagined attraction concepts being pitched. Given that Siemens pulled out as corporate sponsor a year before and the attraction was closed and visibly leaking water around this same time, it made sense that a refurbishment would be on the horizon. It also made sense that Imagineering would pitch some ambitious options. It didn’t mean Walt Disney World management would bite on the more extreme proposals.
In the last month, the Spaceship Earth overhaul rumor has picked up steam as other insiders have lent more credence to it. In particular, posts by marni1971 on the WDWMagic thread about the topic corroborated by various articles.
For those who don’t follow rumors for sport, marni1971 is Martin, creator of the exceptional videos about Walt Disney World history, and he’s highly credible. To protect his sources, Martin has a certain cryptic and piecemeal posting style. It can be frustrating to those who aren’t invested in watching rumors develop over time, but it’s necessary and understandable.
Anyway, this is mentioned because rather than pointing to individual posts by Martin (which in isolation wouldn’t provide sufficient context and substance) I’ll digest and synthesize his posts. Basically, what Martin has intimated is that a multi-year Spaceship Earth refurbishment is coming before the end of 2019 or near the beginning of 2020, which will be larger in scope and scale than the 1993 and 2007 changes.
While Martin has not offered any insight into the substance of the show scene changes or a value judgment about the proposals, he did specifically state, “there will be a lot of changes to queues, preshow and postshows. Including new build.” Additionally, he’s suggested that the Guardians of the Galaxy and other projects have obviated the need or desire to transform Spaceship Earth into a thrill ride. (Stated differently, Spaceship Earth will not become a thrill ride, nor will it see material changes to its ride system.)
That’s roughly where things stand right now. Two words that are not coming up from insiders when discussing the changes are “intellectual property.” This has me breathing a temporary sight of relief, but this is Disney, circa 2019. There’s always the chance/likelihood for that to change.
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.
Of course, with any Spaceship Earth rumors come the inevitably talk 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.
Coming full circle, there is one lesson we can learn from Project Gemini: not every ambitious overhaul project comes to fruition. As we’ve stressed with other recent rumors concerning Epcot, a lot of options are on the table right now, and not all of them can conceivably happen. Regardless, we’d put this well ahead of the Jungle Book E-Ticket and Mary Poppins Spinner rumors, and nearly on par with official announcements in terms of veracity.
The potential differences with Spaceship Earth’s big refurbishment and other proposals is that it could need a track replacement and/or other infrastructure work, in which case new and redesigned show scenes accompanying that would certainly make sense. Moreover, with the front entrance redesign now revealed, demolition to Innoventions, and other Central Spine work highly likely, this timeframe makes a lot of sense for taking Spaceship Earth down for an extended period.
The ancillary point we keep hearing, only tangentially related to this, is that Epcot is in urgent need of help beyond just the bandaid of festivals. If Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has a cannibalizing impact on Epcot attendance, these substantive fixes are going to be given higher priority. While the next couple of years are going to be rough either way, there’s a scenario with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure opening by mid-2020, allowing for Spaceship Earth to go down without having a negative impact on attendance.
Follow that with ‘Play Pavilion’ and Guardians of the Galaxy the following year to draw tourists, plus the new nighttime spectacular. Spaceship Earth could then reopen midday through Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, giving that prolonged event a shot in the arm among fans. It might seem unthinkable for Spaceship Earth to go down for two-plus years, but when you really consider what’s happening the greater context of the park as well as localized at the front entrance, there’s probably no better time.
What do you think of the veracity of these Spaceship Earth rumors? Do you think this will happen, or will you believe it when you see it? 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!