Spaceship Earth Refurbishment News & Updates

As part of EPCOT’s reimagining, Walt Disney World planned a multi-year Spaceship Earth refurbishment and overhaul. That reimagining was delayed indefinitely due to the parks’ closure, but enhancements are still planned. We’ll discuss details & potential closure timelines, and share some newly-leaked concept art for the project. (Updated July 16, 2023.)

All of that, plus what we know about the reimagined Spaceship Earth, the planned new scenes, why the project is delayed, and what actually is happening to and around the geodesic sphere in EPCOT’s main entrance plaza. We’ll also discuss what this news likely means if you have a trip planned for Walt Disney World in 2024 and beyond.

Let’s start with the reimagining delay. This is obviously no secret to anyone, but a lot has changed in the last 4 years. Spaceship Earth’s reimagining was announced at the 2019 D23 Expo after over a year of rumors. Details were limited to a tease of the “story light” at the time, but on February 25, 2020, Imagineering revealed that Spaceship Earth would close a couple of months later, on May 26. That ended up being true…but only because all of Walt Disney World closed less than a month after the announcement and remained closed until mid-July. When EPCOT reopened, Spaceship Earth returned with it…

During the closure, all construction projects halted in the parks and the Walt Disney Company announced a $900 million decrease in capital expenditures spending. This was mostly due to postponed construction and refurbishment projects that will still happen down the road–but it also includes budget cuts and other scale-backs in spending resulting from the financial hits of closing Walt Disney World.

When EPCOT reopened after its four month closure, Walt Disney World had quietly removed concept art and scenes from the Epcot Experience overview video and released this statement: “As with most businesses during this period, we are further evaluating long-term project plans. The decision was made to postpone development of the Mary Poppins-inspired attraction and Spaceship Earth at this time.”

July 16, 2023 Update: Spaceship Earth finally has a refurbishment scheduled after its multi-year refurbishment was delayed for multiple years! Hooray for this overdue announcement!!!

According to Walt Disney World, Spaceship Earth will close on July 19, 2023 and will reopen…one day later, on July 20, 2023. Wait, that can’t be right?! Unfortunately, it is. At least, as of right now. This single-day closure added at the last-minute suggests an urgent maintenance issue, which is no surprise given that Spaceship Earth is at least 3 years overdue for a massive overhaul.

It’s possible that the closure could end up being extended if the scope or scale of the problem ends up being larger than anticipated. We are expecting that Spaceship Earth still sees a lengthy (~18 months) refurbishment and reimagining in 2024 and 2025. But that hasn’t been announced or even rumored at this point.

Either way, there’s considerable work needing to be done on the ride system that can’t wait too much longer. When we first reported on the rumored reimagining, we shared that Spaceship Earth was overdue for track replacement. That was back in 2018. Five years later, and that has not happened. Spaceship Earth is basically held together with duct tape at this point, experiencing more downtime and having ever-increasing issues. It’s only a day, but here’s hoping that this is a precursor to a larger project and longer downtime, which is desperately needed.

Our guess is that Walt Disney World wants Spaceship Earth open when the EPCOT overhaul is officially “finished” in late 2023 and Disney100 kicks off. That’ll give the company a chance to close one chapter with the iconic attraction present, before opening another with a new phase of projects at EPCOT in 2024. At least, that’s our hope. Spaceship Earth’s infrastructure badly needs it, and could use an update to show scenes, too.

What any Spaceship Earth refurbishment will entail remains to be seen at this point. It’ll be lengthy regardless–multiple months, if not a year or longer. Whether it’ll be a full-scale reimagining or “just” necessary TLC will likely dictate whether the closure is on the longer or shorter end of the spectrum.

If Spaceship Earth does get reimagined–and that’s really needed at this point, here’s what could happen…

Previously, Walt Disney World announced that the reimagining would be “Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story.” It’s conceivable that this could still happen sometime in early 2024 or 2025. Again, this work is overdue by several years, so at some point, they won’t be able to put off the necessary portion of the track maintenance and replacement any longer.

This reimagined Spaceship Earth was to have a 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.

In Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story, guests would visit Egypt, which is part of the current version of the attraction–but it would be “an Egypt like you’ve never seen before, transformed through the power of light.”

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.”

As previously shared at the most recent D23 Expo, the next iteration of Spaceship Earth will still 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.

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.

What else Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story would have (or will) entail was unknown. That is, until now…

A poster on the WDWMagic forums leaked concept art from a former Imagineer’s online portfolio.

It’s important to note that this uncovered concept art predates the announcement of Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story. It is not new.

Nevertheless, it shows what could have been–or what could still be!

What you’re looking at here is concept art for Spaceship Earth’s 180top and descent.

This is the essentially the conclusion of the attraction, which is currently driven by interactive screens in the ride vehicle. Outside of that, there are some random triangles and curtains as show “scenes.”

The current descent has been lambasted by fans since it debuted over a decade ago. Pretty much as soon as the current version of the attraction debuted, there were rumors that the descent was unfinished, and would be added to over time while the attraction was operational. Despite vague signs of work being done, that never happened.

Regardless of what happens with Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story and the Story Light, it’s highly likely that something will be added to the descent during Spaceship Earth’s next refurbishment or reimagining. (The Alice in Wonderland stuff is presumably unrelated, and part of a different project–not sure why it’s part of this composite.)

It’s pretty obvious that Imagineering was not satisfied with it before, and the interactive technology has not aged well in the ride vehicles. The big unknown is whether the new Spaceship Earth descent will be what you’re looking at in this concept art, or something different entirely.

For my part, I’m cautiously optimistic about the eventual Spaceship Earth refurbishment or 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 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 around 18 months.

However, that was also back when Spaceship Earth was going to be one component of the bigger picture EPCOT overhaul. It was thus possible that part of the reason the project would last so long is because Spaceship Earth would close for the duration (or at least a major phase of) the central spine redesign. With the rest of that wrapping up in late 2023, it’s possible Spaceship Earth could be closed for less than a year.

As of Summer 2023, there are still temporary corridors that bypass the Big Epcot Dirt Pit in the center of the park and take guests directly into the new neighborhoods that replaced Future World.

The central spine of the park behind Spaceship Earth has been razed, and won’t be finished until Late 2023. However, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Connections Cafe & Eatery, Creations Shop and Club Cool have all now opened; Moana’s Journey of Water is done and will start previews next month. As a result of all this, there are fewer walls than 18 months ago. Progress!

On a positive note, some enhancements did still come to Spaceship Earth, they just happened outside the iconic geodesic sphere. First, EPCOT’s main entrance plaza reimagining has been completed, revealing the iconic prismatic pylon fountain in front of Spaceship Earth!

Three acrylic pylons standing over 16 feet tall and featuring the park’s logo surround the fountain and hearken back to the creation of EPCOT Center. This completes the first phase of EPCOT’s massive overhaul, as the construction walls that have lined the front of the park for over a year are now down. The new entrance plaza looks nice.

At night, Spaceship Earth looks even better. Epcot’s icon comes alive with new Beacons of Magic, an addition during the World’s Most Magical Celebration for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. These special effects light up and transform all four park icons: Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, and Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom.

New lights have actually been installed in between the reflective panels of Spaceship Earth, connecting to one another and resembling stars in a nighttime sky. Unlike the other Beacons of Magic, these are the only permanent new lighting that will continue beyond “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” as a defining feature of the reimagined Epcot. (Read & see more in Beacons of Magic at Epcot: Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Highlight!)

Ultimately, we’re still looking forward to more changes to Spaceship Earth, and left wondering whether the reimagining project might begin around the time other new additions. Now that both Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure have debuted, Epcot has more to do. With both Moana’s Journey of Water and CommuniCore Hall right around the corner, the front of the park will once again be construction-free.

Consequently, it’s entirely possible that Imagineering will let EPCOT have its “moment” for Disney100 in late 2023 and early 2024, and then could start the Spaceship Earth reimagining after Spring Break 2023. The reimagining of Spaceship Earth could then be part of a second phase of the EPCOT overhaul, joining Journey into Imagination and [insert whatever else is on your personal wish list here]. It’s unlikely that Walt Disney World will release an official timeline for this reimagining project until Destination D23 Expo in September 2023–and maybe not even then–but we’ll keep you posted as more becomes known!

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Your Thoughts

What do you think about this Spaceship Earth closure and reimagining? Thoughts on when the project will occur–if at all–now that it’s been delayed indefinitely? Excited for the exterior enhancements? Could 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!

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