Walt Disney World has announced that Spaceship Earth will be closing for a multi-year refurbishment and reimagining. Despite that, it’s now likely that the overhaul has been delayed and Spaceship Earth will reopen with the rest of Epcot on July 15, 2020. (Updated June 3, 2020.)
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.
Let’s start with the update, because a lot has changed since this was first announced a few months ago. It now feels like that announcement came several years ago, and for good reason–Epcot is currently closed and all construction projects have been halted. Let’s discuss what that means for Spaceship Earth…
If the reimagining of Spaceship Earth were to proceed as scheduled, that means the final guests have already experienced the current incarnation of the attraction, as the refurbishment was slated to begin last month. However, we have reason to believe that’s no longer the case.
For one, the Walt Disney Company announced in its most recent earnings call that there will be a $900 million decrease in capital expenditures spending during the current fiscal year. This is mostly due to postponed construction and refurbishment projects that will still happen–but it’s also likely to include budget cuts, and other scalebacks in spending resulting from the financial hits of closing Walt Disney World and Disneyland (among other things).
Obvious candidates for the reduced spending are projects that have not yet started, and of those, Spaceship Earth is a prime example. Not only had the reimagining not started, but delaying or canceling it allows Epcot (already with too few things to do) to have one of its flagship attractions when the park reopens.
That could help give Epcot a shot in the arm, attendance-wise. While it’s unlikely that out of state fans would schedule trips to get their final rides in, it’s highly likely that locals would turn out for the farewell of this version of Spaceship Earth. Even pushing off the refurbishment for one or two months after Epcot reopens would help achieve this goal, and also give Epcot a bit of a boost.
Corroborating this speculation are representatives of the Unite Here Local 362 union, representing attractions workers throughout Walt Disney World. That union recently held a Zoom call for its members, during which the question of Spaceship Earth’s refurbishment came up.
A union representative indicated that the project has been pushed back, and Spaceship Earth will reopen with the rest of Epcot on July 15, 2020. While this should still be treated as a rumor at this point, we view it as both credible and logical. The real question is not whether it’ll reopen, but if or when it’ll end up closing later in 2020.
Beyond the delay, there’s the potential for the Spaceship Earth reimagining to be indefinitely postponed or shelved completely. It’s going to be a long road to recovery, and Walt Disney World will almost certainly continue cutting costs along the way–in addition to the $900 million already cut or deferred.
The Spaceship Earth reimagining is “easy” to cancel because work has yet to begin, the existing attraction remains operational, and the replacement will not be a marketable addition that will cause a huge number of first-time guests to book trips to Walt Disney World.
However, the refurbishment does address some overdue issues with Spaceship Earth, taking it down for a couple of years would reduce operational costs, and the reimagined attraction could help give a mild boost to attendance towards the end of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Which side wins out remains to be seen, and likely depends on Disney’s fiscal well-being after the current situation is over, coupled with the company’s appetite for further investment in the parks. If forced to guess, we would lean towards it being scaled back but not cancelled outright. Postponing the refurbishment until after the popular holiday season, with the closure beginning in mid-January 2021 would also make sense. Again, just speculation!
What follows is the original announcement and our commentary about the Spaceship Earth reimagining…
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!