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Wonders of Life: The Sad (But True) Story of Epcot’s Abandoned Pavilion

Change at Epcot is inevitable. With an entire half of the park named Future World, one must expect things to evolve over time to keep up with our ever-changing world. Though it was tough to lose classic attractions like World of Motion and Horizons to things like Test Track and Mission: Space, these new rides have helped inject a new kind of energy into Epcot, even if they aren't exactly keeping with the same optimistic, forward-thinking spirit that guided the initial Future World project.

Though you may or may not like the direction that Future World is going in, the closure of an attraction at Epcot has historically meant that something new is on the way. However, there has been one very pronounced instance where this was not true: the Wonders of Life pavilion. This collection of attractions under a single golden dome had a simple mission: to get guests excited about biology, health and their own bodies with blockbuster attractions, shows and plenty of fun, interactive exhibits.

Wonders of Life Pavilion

Image: Alex, Flickr (license)

For myself (and many others) Wonders of Life represented the pinnacle of everything Epcot could be as a educational theme park. It was educational and accessible to both adults and children without being condescending to either and had a variety of truly classic attractions, many of which became fan favorites over the years. 

Though Wonders of Life had a strong start and certainly attracted plenty of guests over its 18 years of operation, this story is ultimately a tragic tale that not only covers the unfortunately all-too-rapid decline of Wonders of Life, but also its subsequent closure, abandonment and decay. But before we skip to the sad parts, let's take a look at what made Wonders of Life so special in the first place...

Wonders of Life opens...and completes Future World

The idea of a pavilion devoted to health and fitness dates back to the original concept of EPCOT, but no corporate sponsor could be found prior to the park opening in 1982 to cover the costs of such a pavilion. However, eventually MetLife stepped in as sponsor, and Wonders of Life opened officially on October 19, 1989, completing the Future World concept only seven years after the park first opened. In addition to becoming the last piece of the Future World puzzle, Wonders of Life also has the distinction of being the last pavilion ever built that was an original, non-replacement attraction in Future World as well. 

At a reported cost of $100 million, Wonders of Life certainly wasn't cheap to build, but at the time MetLife was committed to maintaining their big investment at EPCOT. On opening day MetLife CEO John Creedon spoke about how the pavilion would "continue the MetLife tradition of educating the public about good health and healthy lifestyles", and then added that "through Disney's entertainment magic, our pavilion will continue to do that through the 21st century." 

MetLife's commitment to maintaining Wonders of Life was certainly a big one, as the nature of the life science field meant that this pavilion needed regular updates. However, in those early days MetLife was able to step up to the plate and for a long time the Wonders of Life pavilion was one of the most well-maintained in all of EPCOT. 

Opening day attractions impress and delight

Image: Justin Callaghan, Flickr (license)

Much like other EPCOT pavilions at the time, Wonders of Life was not an attraction unto itself, but housed many different exhibits, shows, and rides, each with its own unique purpose and function. Though not every attraction was a standout, here are some of the classics that helped define this pavilion as one of EPCOT’s best. 

Body Wars

Whenever anyone talks about Wonders of Life, fond memories of Body Wars are normally the first thing that comes to mind. Body Wars was unique as it was EPCOT's first true “thrill” ride, and was the first attraction at the park to carry a height restriction (guests had to be 40 inches to board the simulator).

The ride itself was very similar to Star Tours, which had opened at Disneyland Park two years prior, and would see a Walt Disney World opening later that year in December 1989 at Disney-MGM Studios (in fact, MetLife demanded that the opening of Star Tours be delayed until after Body Wars' debut). The central concept of the ride was not unlike 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, which predicted a future where humans could shrink themselves down to a cellular size and interact with human bodies. As the ride had plenty of science fiction elements, it was right at home in Future World, but what made Body Wars such a standout attraction was the factual way it presented information about human bodies. 

Image: Disney

The story involved rescuing researcher Dr. Cynthia Lair, who had been studying the immune system's response to a splinter, and needed to be retrieved. However, as things tend to do during rides, things go horribly wrong, and riders end up following the wayward Dr. Lair as she gets sucked into a capillary, into the heart and then into the volunteer’s lungs where she is attacked by a white blood cell. After the cunning use of conveniently-equipped lasers to stun a white blood cell, riders are informed that there’s not enough power to beam back out of the volunteer’s body. However, riders are then reminded that the brain has electrical impulses that can be used to refuel their power cells. After a trip across the blood-brain barrier, the vehicle is recharged and riders are safely beamed outside the body and are able to disembark.

Body Wars

Image: Alex, Flickr (license)

Though Body Wars may not be as well-remembered as Horizons or the original Journey Into Imagination, it represented the best of EPCOT, combining action and education in a way that was never quite able to be duplicated. Chasing down a trapped scientist through the circulatory system while going up and down in a simulator certainly provided thrills (and certainly got attention), but Body Wars was unique as it also helped guests appreciate the intricacy of the human body on a level that was truly thought-provoking and made something as simple as the nervous system exciting in a way that textbooks or TV just couldn’t. 

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There are 37 comments.

Unlike Frozen in Norway, this would actually make sense for an Inside Out inspired attraction.

Cranium Command was the original Inside Out. Such a good attraction lost :(

Agreed! Norway is Norway, not Frozen. Was sad in May not to ride Matterhorn.

I loved Cranium Command!!!!

Sadness. This ride was a family favorite.

The Maelstrom needs to stay! Put Frozen or Inside Out in the Pavilion. Let Norway be Norway and stop taking away Norwegian heritage!

Norway stopped sponsoring their pavilion years ago, Norway should be happy frozen is being put there instead of a whole new country.

This is a very sad story. But WDW makes a lot of money through ticket sales, food and merchandising. This should not have occurred.

As sad as I was to see this pavilion close, I did realize that 2007 was at the beginning of the task estate bubble burst. Disney did not do well at all in that period. Like many companies, they had to cut expenses to survive, ultimately laying off employees

Wonders of Life lost its corporate sponsorship as did many pavilions at Epcot right after 9/11. That crisis was a huge economic blow to Epcot and the entire resort. Do you know that some resort hotels closed entirely for a time?

You made no mention that Cranium Command used several celebrities to portray the brain's components,just like Inside Out in theaters now.

You failed to mention that the building during its vacancy had some severe structural problems like leaking rainwater.

And you make it sound like its repurposing as a Festival Center is a bad thing. For both Epcot festivals it serves as a grear welcome center and a venue for all the very popular seminars and demonstrations.

Love theme park tourist, but you guys need to do your homework.

I agree, if it had to go for economic reasons having a welcome center for the festivals is a wonderful replacement. I love all of the speakers on gardening every spring. Especially the Florida weekend.

I think they should turn it into Stark Expo and have Iron Man simulator ride. You could incorporate educational interactive stuff about robotics, computers, etc and have that movie tie in which attracts people. I agree, right now a waste. Universe of Energy needs an update as well. Use the same theme but just with an older Ellen and Bill Nye!

Heartily seconded on the Universe of Energy suggestion.

They can't Have any marvel themes in Walt Disney world due to marvels deal with universal

Disney has lost direction experimental community dropped for continously run world's fair now world fair losing focus corporate Disney looks at demographics & Hispanics wanted rides rides rides they did not want education however rides do not endure education is timeless so short term profit gets the money , Frozen was a BIG suprise so it gets attention and earns money. Demographic 2 parents 5 children translates to lots of tee shirts & cheesy toys no quality souvenirs excepting the hundred dollar purse's & jewelry the mommy buys! Disney core fans have been left behind too bad so sad now selfie sticks thank god have been banned next eliminate tablets used as camera at night ruining photos for anyone behind the bright blinkey screens.
Thinking learning educated adults are not part of the money demographics again to bad so sad in this case for Disney because demographics says this year's people are going to universal next year.

I agree, what Disney has allowed the Wonders of Life pavillion to become is so sad! I also agree that Inside Out would absolutely make sense to be put into that space and breathe new life into the pavillion. I've never understood why they use that area for festivals that make far more sense to be presented in the old Millennium Village building that was erected back in 2000. Both Food & wine and flower & garden relate more to the world showcase than to future world. If anything, Disney should try to add a special section on to the Land pavilion to be used for seminars or demonstrations foe these festivals, since both have a direct connection to the Land. (I suppose if Wonders of Life ever did re-open, there could be a tie-in with food & wine as far as ways to cook healthily and nutritiously). I know there is a rumor that Inside Out is going to take over the Captain EO theater, but I would much rather see Disney use Inside Out to completely restore Wonders of Life once and for all. I've said it since the pavillion closed, that there is still a huge need for a space devoted to health and fitness, given all the obesity in this country. Add in all the teen pregnancies and the current shift in human sexual orientation and Disney could actually make a huge impact on today's youth with a re-do of this pavillion. ABC Family has that new show on Transgender families, so why not try to do a tie-tie-in with that? And ABC has been running Extreme weight loss for easily 6 years now and I think it is finally becoming a serious Contender to the Biggest loser (which unfortunately Disney can't use since they are NBC Universal). And last but certainly not least, why doesn't Disney try to tie in Dancing with the Stars. I know it's not entirely weight loss-centric, but there have been so many stars that have gone on and lost lots of weight, it is almost crazy that Disney hasn't figured out a way to connect their number 1 reality show to that pavillion. Obviously, the pavillion would still have the issue of easily going out of date as soon as dancing with the stars and extreme weight loss go off the air, but again, with their being so many health issues happening in our nation right now, I think the Wonders of Life pavillion is more important than ever. I know I loved it when it first opened so I would love to see it brought back. Heck, they're struggling so much to make the imagination pavillion work, why not re-do the original Figment and Dream finder ride and add that to the pavillion too? Imagination is definitely a part of life, since we use our brains to imagine. The whole Imagination lab could be moved into the pavillion as one section and that would free up the original pavillion for something else (a new country for world showcase or another area about the future, though not sure what). And finally, they need to re-open the old Odyssey restaurant. So sad when that closed because the live show with Mickey and his friends in 80s rainbow space suits was just too awesome! It just made sense to be right there in Epcot and it is so sad to walk past it and see only meeting space and restrooms!!
(One more thing: Disney keeps pushing the good dinosaur as their next feature. Who's with me that that movie should be used to help upgrade the Universe of Energy? Supposedly the movie is a what - if the meteor never hit and dinosaurs lived among man. What a great way to teach kids about energy if they see what life would be like if they had to share their energy that is created and consumed with dinosaurs? I think it would definitely breathe new life into that pavillion and then Disney can update the Seas with Nemo too and still keep Ellen DeGeneres on their roster cause they can record new scenes for Finding Dory! That's my wish list for Epcot!! (And yes, very sad about Maelstrom becoming Frozen but it's happening so we gotta move on and hope that they still respect Norway ' history, heritage and culture, even if it is all under the guise of Arrendelle. Sorry so long, thanks for reading! :)

Inside Out also made a nod to Epcot several times, but one of my favorite moments was a quick shot of Figment on a cargo box. Wonders of Life, come back with Inside Out and Figment! !!

I used to work at the Wonders of Life as a teen in high school. The 5 years I spent there were some of the best times I had. To the day I walk in during F&G or F&W just to reminisce.

I miss this pavilion as well. I loved Cranium Command and loved seeing the nod to it with the Inside Out movie. One of my favorite rides from the past, The Universe of Energy, however, has also lost it's luster and I just wonder how much longer they are going to keep that one going.

I always thought that EPCOT could stay in the future .. How about work with a car company and show the future of driver less cars... have an actual design / test environment were guest can actually ride in a make shift city to see how they operate ..

Never liked this attraction, but it should be revamped into something else instead of just sitting there 15 years later. There needs to be more rides in Epcot. The lack of attendance at Universe of Energy, along with the Innoventions pavilion should be redone.

My two children watched The Making of Me as the beginning of their sex education. Cranium Command was so so creative. Seems stupid to have this building empty!

While Cranium Command was one of my favorite Walt Disney World attractions, I never really like the whole Wonders of Life concept. But, it is sad Disney hasn't replaced the building with something new in all this time. Of course, Universe of Energy needs a complete face lift and Journey into Imagination needs to go altogether.

I think Disney should convert the front part of EPCOT into being 100% Star Wars. Move the Star Wars ride from Hollywood Studios to EPCOT to replace the BODY WARS ride. Each pavilion in EPCOT could be a unique Star Wars experience. Change SOARIN into some type of Flying through the forest of ENDOR. With this approach EPCOT could still have the future spin but with a very strong movie tie-in that disney now owns.

Apparently this investment has worked as well as MetLife's Long Term Care program.

The artical is completely a wasted read. The food and wine festival is a major draw for the park at the present time we go every year just enjoy it. Cant say the same for the wonders of life

The pavillon is used for a lot more than 1/3rd of the year. It is actually used year round as conference center for corporate clients, which makes a lot more money for Disney.

While I'm not saying the festivals and other conferences aren't important to Disney, it just isn't right to use old attraction space right in the middle of a theme park to do it. Again, why not use the building that was originally built as the Millennium Village for all the festivals and conferences. It's huge and it can probably be broken up so that a few seminars can take place at once. The Wonders of Life pavillion should be given a full makeover as a new attraction (or as a Wonders of Life update) because it is right in the midst of Future World. Epcot today is a theme park; it's not the experimental prototype community that Walt wanted. Both Future World and World Showcase are laid out like world fairs, with pavillions to explore and enjoy. That is still true today, even if a major attraction is the key focus of that pavillion (test track's education focus is on the advancement of vehicle technology, while mission space's educational focus is on the space program). So kids and adults are still learning while having fun. Wonders of Life and Universe of Energy are both highly relevant in our current world and therefore should be shown respect and given the facelifts they deserve (the imagination pavilion too, since without imagination, what happens to creation and dreams becoming reality?) I'm sorry, but to me, using the Wonders of Life pavillion for festival and conference space has just been a quick fix to the problem, a band-aid so that the Disney Imagineers don't actually have to solve the problem.

I would prefer to see something else, but I just don't think the math works out from Disney's perspective. Even if they put an excellent attraction in the pavilion, it wouldn't draw that many more people to the park especially in the off season. On the other hand, they book corporate clients in there throughout the year and those clients are paying tens of thousands a day (use of the space, personnel, food, etc). It would take so many regular guests to make that money back. As far as the Millennium Village is concern, that is used for conferences as well. The Odyssey Center is also used for conferences. Unfortunately, it seems that Epcot is more about food and drink these days than rides.

It's sad for me to see any theme park attraction die, but especially one such as this which should have great potential. Even with the loss of a sponsor, it should be the type of attraction that Disney would keep alive. The message is universal as is the appeal. Surely a co-sponsor could be found to help keep it going. But, even if not, Disney has deep pockets, and they should easily be able to fund a couple of attraction re-vamps to make this something people could enjoy once again.
The problem, as I see it though, is Disney began asking too much of their attraction sponsors, and in return gave them very little of a return. Back in the day, Walt knew how to sell the parks and movies in a way that made others want to join with him. That's gone now, and it's all about profit and how much they can make off both the guest and the sponsor.

One important note left out here is what the building is used for now. It's operational more than just 1/3 of the year. This is one of the most rented spaces on property for corporate receptions and convention spaces. Jim Hill has reported in the past that WDW is so reliant on having this space to offer to corporate guests that it's unlikely the pavillion will ever reopen to the general public on a full time basis.

Now, on the off chance it ever could reopen, I think the Disney corporate family has an ideal property they could use to bring back the Wonders of Life. It's ESPN. Particularly their Sports Science segments.

Wonders of Life pavilion was a part of my childhood memories. I remember all the rides and exhibits. I loved it! I am glad I found this article, I have always wondered what happen to the pavilion. It's really sad how Disney can waist money on letting buildings or even whole waterparks decade and not do anything with them. We pay good money to get in the Disney theme parks they should be able to afford to rebuild and maintain a pavilion. Being healthy and eating right is a part of our society. They should bring Wonders of Life back!

Exactly! It's just as sad as what they've allowed happen to River Country and Discovery Island. Either keep those areas maintained or demolish them once and for all! (don't demolish wonders of life, just restore it to the current times)

The Wonders of Life should get retooled as The Wonders of the Mind, which would be inspired from the Disney/Pixar's Inside Out.

I can tell you it doesn't just sit around for 2/3 of the year. Hidden in the building are large conference rooms that they hold meetings in and when I was there with my college, some Disney youth to youth programs. It was actually a great space for the youth to youth and professional programs to use.

Well - that's even sadder to hear. I've noticed Disney renting areas of Epcot to "Private Parties". Now that the tickets are up to $125 a day most times - that should include access to ALL attractions -- and after 30+ years of operations; there should be MORE exhibits in the park - not less. Opening Soarin' does not constitute closing The Making of Me; Cranium Command and Body Wars. The park is in trouble. It's only a matter of time that non-locals realize they're being bamboozled and go elsewhere. It will just take a few more years - as "Frozen" fever will last through 2019 or so.

Exactly! Renovating Soarin and making the Frozen ride are a decent start, but the park still needs a lot of work. Universe of Energy and the Imagination pavilions need total overhauls and again, an actual attraction should go where Wonders of Life was. I don't care if they use their characters, but they need to breathe new life into these areas for the money they are charging. Use The Good Dinosaur for The Universe of Energy and use Inside Out to re-launch Wonders of Life. And if they have a new comic book with Figment and Dreamfinder, they can and should revitalize Journey into Imagination with those characters and restore the beautiful energy and spirit that the pavilion had when it first opened with the Imagination Lab (imagination is so important to a developing child's mind). It would take some work, some money and some years, but all of it is possible and it would help bring back what makes Epcot such an amazing park: a place where you can learn and be entertained all at the same time! Here's hoping the Disney Imagineers read all this feedback and put some of these ideas into motion. If they could do it with Soarin and the Norway pavillion, they can do it with these pavillions too! :)

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