Walt Disney World has announced that Spaceship Earth will soon be closing for its multi-year refurbishment and reimagining, as Epcot continues its massive transformation. This comes after months of rumors and the official announcement of the project at last year’s D23 Expo.
On a normal day, this would be huge Walt Disney World news that dominates the online conversation. However, this comes on the same day that Disney CEO Bob Iger Steps Down, Effective Immediately. We don’t think that Walt Disney World is attempting to bury the news (at least they’re giving us advance notice of the closure!), but it is likely to get lost in the shuffle.
In this post, we’ll cover what we know thus far about the reimagining Spaceship Earth, the closure date, and a new scene coming to Spaceship Earth. We’ll also discuss what this news likely means if you have a trip planned to Walt Disney World, and just how long the Epcot’s flagship ride is likely to remain closed…
The news was shared by Zach Riddley, Walt Disney World Site Portfolio Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering via the Disney Parks Blog. He indicated that Spaceship Earth is “a crucial piece of the historic transformation already underway at EPCOT, and our team here at Walt Disney Imagineering is excited to start implementing our new vision for Spaceship Earth.”
In order to begin work on the project Spaceship Earth in its current form will close starting on May 26, 2020. Per Riddley, “the ideas we are working on inside that geosphere will be well worth the wait.” As previously shared at last year’s D23 Expo, the next iteration of Spaceship Earth will focus on the story of humanity, following our long journey from prehistoric humans to today brought to life.
Many of the existing scenes in Spaceship Earth will remain in the attraction, but updated with new technology and blended together with brand-new scenes to tell a story about our shared human experience.
Throughout the reimagined Spaceship Earth, you’ll hear new narration and see how light plays a central role in the human journey. The attraction will come to life in dynamic ways in a celebration of what’s possible when we all come together.
The only substantive detail of what you can expect when this Spaceship Earth returns is the aforementioned “story light” plus one known scene. You’ll visit Egypt, which is part of the current version of the attraction–but it will be “an Egypt like you’ve never seen before, transformed through the power of light.” (As shown in the new concept art above.)
Per Walt Disney Imagineering, this will be the Spaceship Earth’s fourth “and most ambitious” update since EPCOT Center’s grand opening on October 1, 1982. Of course, that could very well be marketing puffery. It’s not as if Disney is going to tout this as “eh, maybe the third-most ambitious update ever, give or take.”
For my part, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Spaceship Earth reimagining. The major rumored changes are occurring later in the attraction to scenes that I don’t think are particularly strong at present. From my perspective, there’s little chance that the future 180top and scenes thereafter can be a downgrade from the current incarnation of Spaceship Earth. Ditto the new narration.
Moreover, Imagineering has made some tremendous strides with technology since the last Spaceship Earth overhaul, and several of those could be implemented to nice effect. I’d imagined plenty of projection mapping will be used, but if we get some of that Mystic Manor-esque ‘magic light dust’ that’d be icing on the cake.
Suffice to say, this is one scenario where rumored details about the overhaul of Spaceship Earth corroborate Imagineering’s statement of ambitiousness. With that said, what follows here is rumor–but thus far all of the past rumors about the scope and specifics of Spaceship Earth’s overhaul have been corroborated, so we give these a reasonable degree of credibility.
The first element of the rumor is that all scenes will be refreshed prior to the Industrial Revolution, with more significant changes for the scenes following that. It’s anticipated that the 180top will be drastically reimagined utilizing the latest in projection mapping tech. During the ~2-year closure there’s also likely to be track replacement, new load and unload stations, and a new post show. There’s definitely going to be a new exit area.
Second, this refurbishment is expected to last approximately 2 years. We’ve tried to nail this down more specifically, and all we’ve heard is that it could last anywhere between 18 and 30 months. That’s obviously a pretty significant swing, but there is one way to explain the vast disparity.
That explanation is the central spine work behind and around Spaceship Earth. This is pure speculation on our part (and not credible rumor), but it would make sense to keep Spaceship Earth closed for as long as the core of the park behind the icon is being worked on.
The one exception to this is the area around the exit of Spaceship Earth, which remains open with dead ends and Cast Members explaining that they need to use the bypass corridors to access Future World attractions and World Showcase. Moving construction walls forward to align with the entrance to these corridors would make sense. (Think of this as somewhat similar to the Walt Disney World Railroad closing for TRON Lightcycle Run construction.)
On a tangential note, Spaceship Earth closing on May 26, 2020 has us wondering if anything new will debut around then to offset the loss. At various times, Walt Disney World has indicated that both Harmonious and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will debut in Summer 2020.
It’s our understanding that Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is coming along nicely, with the majority of work that remains to be done what’s outside in the expanded promenade. We see visible progress being made on this every time we take the Skyliner from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Epcot, and there’s every reason to believe it can be done by late May 2020. A Memorial Day opening for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure now seems like the odds-on favorite.
Harmonious is a different story. We have absolutely zero idea where this project stands, and whether it’ll still be ready to debut by Summer 2020. We have noticed that recent Disney Parks Blog articles about it have started using the more nebulous “later this year” as the debut period, rather than “this summer.”
It’s also unclear when Spaceship Earth will reopen. If forced to guess or bet, we’d peg the target reopening as being October 2022. That amounts to a little over two years for the refurbishment, which fits the rumored timeline. It also makes sense from a timing perspective, as that would be around the start of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival–and the busiest stretch of the year for the park.
More importantly, it would be the end of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and the start of Epcot’s 40th Anniversary. While we don’t expect a huge celebration for Epcot’s 40th, an extension of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary doesn’t seem unrealistic. These mega-events have lasted 18-24 months in the past, and having large portions of the Epcot reimagining finished by October 2022 would be just the ticket to give the 50th celebration a second wind. It’s unlikely that Walt Disney World will release an official timeline for this reimagining project until the scope of work congeals, but we’ll keep you posted as more becomes known!
What do you think about this Spaceship Earth closure and reimagining? Will you make an effort to get one last ride (or ten) in between now and May 26, 2020? Are you cautiously optimistic or pessimistic about the “Story Light”? Can you handle Spaceship Earth being closed for 2 years? Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts here? 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!