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 March 8, 2022.)
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’s 50th Anniversary and beyond.
Let’s start with the reimagining delay. This is obviously no secret to anyone, but a lot has changed since this time two years ago. This reimagining project was announced on February 25, 2020 with Spaceship Earth slated to 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. Most notably, this included the segments on Spaceship Earth and Cherry Tree Lane in the United Kingdom. (The below scene is now gone.)
Following that, Walt Disney World 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.”
Suffice to say, 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. In the near term, 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.
It’s worth nothing that there are some overdue issues with Spaceship Earth that will need to be addressed at some point in the not-too-distant future irrespective of the reimagining. The ride needs track work, among other things, and a lengthy refurbishment will be necessary within the next few years.
Perhaps Spaceship Earth will go down after Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens in Summer 2022? If not then, maybe once Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary ends in 2023? If we had to guess, we’d put the closure by April 2023, at the latest.
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 2022 or early 2023.
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…
In March 2022, 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 in early 2020. 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 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.
As of March 2022, there are still temporary corridors that bypass the Big Epcot Dirt Pit in the center of the park and take guests directly into Future World East & West. The one exception to this is the area around the exit of Spaceship Earth, which dead ends behind the exit of the attraction.
The central spine of the park behind Spaceship Earth has been razed, and won’t be finished until 2023. However, both Creations Shop and Club Cool have now opened, and Connections Cafe will open within a few months. The debut of that restaurant will allow for a path to be carved out that leads directly to World Showcase–no more maze of construction walls on that side of Future World!
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 Harmonious and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure have debuted, Epcot has more to do. With both Connections Cafe and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind right around the corner, the front of the park will once again have a solid lineup by Summer 2022.
Consequently, it’s entirely possible that, rather than waiting until Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is over for the project, Imagineering could start the Spaceship Earth reimagining in Fall 2022, perhaps taking it down right after Epcot’s 40th Anniversary on October 1, 2022. The other reason this makes sense is because the attraction could then reopen with the rest of the park’s central spine sometime in 2023, which is currently behind construction walls. It’s unlikely that Walt Disney World will release an official timeline for this reimagining project until the D23 Expo in September 2022, but we’ll keep you posted as more becomes known!
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!