Here’s what a visitor to EPCOT Center would see today:
* A Universe of Energy attraction that hasn’t been updated in 18 years, despite the remarkable advances in alternative energy and even fossil-fuel technology since then;
* The Seas With Nemo and Friends, which took the formerly thoughtful and dramatic Living Seas and turned it into a cartoon-fest (which, Disney often says, is what guests want);
* A Journey Into Imagination that looks like a ghost town in the upstairs area, now closed off to guests;
* Boarded up interactive information kiosks (above) that were the precursors to today’s smartphones and used to show the visionary reach of EPCOT;
* A bunch of people waiting at the exit to Mission: Space because the ride is too intense for the entire family, and results in many visitors not being able to experience a key EPCOT attraction;
* A Wonders of Life pavilion that is shut down and serves only as a roof over the head of special events, completely shuttering one multi-attraction pavilion in the park;
* A Test Track that got “upgraded” with neon lights and some new show elements;
* Two World Showcase pavilions (Norway and France) that depict the culture of entire countries through 30-year-old film footage.
EPCOT Center, once the crowning achievement and proud showcase of all that Disney was capable of creating, is old and increasingly irrelevant, as Disney’s expert “brand management” team defines what the public thinks “Disney” should be all about.
And, then, Universal comes along and opens the high-tech, jaw-dropping Wizarding World of Harry Potter, showcasing ride technology that, ironically, got its first public demonstration at (you guessed it) EPCOT.
To rub salt on Disney’s creative wounds, which it licks with the billions of dollars in profits it rakes in, Sea World Orlando — which for years had been stagnating, this week went directly after EPCOT’s guest.
Its new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction is, by the accounts I’ve read, immersive and captivating, beautiful and imaginative, entertaining and educational.
It even provides two different ride tracks (“mild” and “wild”) that allow the entire family to experience the attraction together, even if they’re too young for big thrills. (Take that, Mission: Space! Disney’s competition is learning from the Mouse’s own mistakes.)
Perhaps sensing that Disney only cares about its “brand management” focus, and has let EPCOT fall by the wayside, Sea World has created the kind of large-scale, pavilion-style attraction — combining a store and restaurant in a single location that has a ride as its centerpiece — previously reserved for the groundbreaking EPCOT.
Disney, once again, is losing the very creative game it originated. Increasingly, if you want to find EPCOT, you should visit any theme park other than EPCOT Center itself.
And if you want a Disney-style immersive, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, creative, interesting, fun and unique theme-park experience, it seems Disney is no longer the first place you should look.
Wow. It’s a sad day when that last paragraph can be written … a day many of us long-time Disney fans never thought could really arrive. We thought it would be a cold day in some other place when Disney was routinely beaten by its competition; we didn’t imagine that cold place would be Antarctica.