Home » 7 Reasons Why Every Disney Fan Should Visit America’s OTHER Epcot

7 Reasons Why Every Disney Fan Should Visit America’s OTHER Epcot

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

When EPCOT Center opened at Walt Disney World in 1982, it was not just a glimpse into the future or a day in the international life. It was a living, breathing World’s Fair meant to build connections. Connections between topics, between people, and between the two. Each of Future World’s eight pavilions was dedicated to a singular scientific or cultural pursuit: communication, energy, the seas, land, imagination, and transportation.

And let’s face it: the best way to learn is to not realize you’re learning until it’s too late. You can read a textbook on fossil fuels, but Ellen’s Energy Adventure succeeds where words fail. Sustainable ecology. Sure. Greenhouses. Yep. But sail through them aboard Living With The Land and suddenly it makes sense; it connects. What better way to understand transportation than to design your own conceptual car and put it through the paces on Test Track?

Disney fans would find something magnificent to celebrate in COSI, the incredible Center of Science and Industry located in Columbus, Ohio (just a day trip away from Cedar Point or Kings Island). Why would we interrupt your regularly scheduled amusement park programming for a science center? Trust us, and read on…


COSI was originally a small town children’s museum nestled into downtown Columbus. In 1999, a very intentional push was made to transform COSI into an international, world-class science center on par with Berlin or Tokyo’s best.


A brand spanking new, 320,000 square foot architectural marvel constructed by famed artist and architect Arata Isozaki was built along a bend in Columbus’ Scioto River. The “blimp hangar” shaped building is made up of 159 curved concrete panels – an Epcot-esque, towering architectural wonder that certainly echoes of futurism.


Brilliantly, the millennial facility was constructed around the shuttered Central High School, a sincerely regal public school that was built in 1924. When viewed from downtown, the classical 1920s exterior disguises the museum. That’s no accident – Isozaki intended for the museum to be a reverent representation of the past on one side, and progressively futuristic on the other.

Interestingly, the carved motto on the school’s stone exterior rings true in its newest incarnation, too: “Know thyself. Knowledge is power.”


You enter COSI under the golden cylinder at the building’s center and step into an open, four-story atrium, bright white and lit by a ceiling of skylights. There’s also an almost iconic four-story glass tower with a glass elevator inside, revealing the inner workings of a surprisingly complex system. This central Atrium also serves as the stage for two renowned shows: a classic display of the hair-raising power of an Electrostatic Generator, and a community favorite: Rat Basketball performed by two very real Japanese black hooded rats displaying the powers of positive reinforcement and operant conditioning at work. 

Kinetic motion abounds in this open entry as two levels of bridges criss-cross overhead, but the most noticable element has to be COSI’s iconic Highwire Unicycle overhead, where young and old alike can ride across the tightrope – no hands! The Highwire Unicycle is the only one in North America. The science behind it? A massive 350 pound counterweight hangs below the unicycle, ensuring that its center of gravity is always well beneath the wire, keeping riders upright. 

But the reason COSI represents an evolution of the EPCOT model lies deeper inside of the building. COSI is not your grandfather’s science center. Forget wide-open floorplans of typical science experiments…

COSI borrows from Epcot’s brilliant “pavilion” style with seven massive, self-contained, immersively themed atriums, each dedicated to a particular topic that makes up a piece of “Science.” In other words, imagine “science” – this larger than life concept – divided into seven smaller pieces almost like a pie chart. Give each of those pieces their own totally immersive, hands-on world themed to Disney-quality and you’ll start to get the picture.

Like Epcot’s pavilions, each of these seven fragments of science is given its own themed atrium along the length of the “blimp” layout. From that central Atrium entry, two long, narrow, white hallways branch off to the left and right. The understated halls – part of Isozaki’s art – betray the incredible themed atriums within.

So step inside and together let’s check out the seven themed exhibit spaces of COSI. For the first, we’d suggest you hold your breath…

1. Ocean


Walking along the narrow, sunlit, white hallway of the museum, you suddenly encounter something unusual… a shipwreck bursting through the white plaster. This is the entrance to Ocean, the magnificent, Epcot-style exhibit that celebrates the study and mythology of water.

Guests step into the shipwreck and find themselves in an underwater cavern. The path forks left and right. Turning right, you see the docked research submarine the DMS Poseidon.


The Poseidon is a docked undersea research laboratory built around a decaying shipwreck. This underwater laboratory is filled with hands-on experiments that document the reality of ocean exploration: pressure, SCUBA technology, remote controlled sea rovers, ocean floor mapping, and more. Guests can explore the many capsules of the sub and try their hands in the sub’s laboratory, Lily Pad. The idea is that this half of the Ocean exhibit presents the scientific study of our planet’s oceans. The real, gritty, technological side of oceanic study. 

But the realities of the seas only tell half the story. Very intentionally, Ocean has another half, too. If you return to the undersea cavern entrance and instead follow the forked path to the left, you’ll stumble on an entirely different view of the ocean, though no less important. Leaving behind the scientific exploration of the docked research submarine, you’ll instead enter into the Temple of Poseidon.


This half of Ocean explores the fantasy of water – the magnificent things it can do, how it feels, what it sounds like, and the stories we tell about it… It’s here under the watchful gaze of Poseidon and his golden halo that you can balance balls on water jets, touch water bells, control whirlpools, listen to ocean sounds, explore erosion by building in sand against the flow of waterfalls, and aim laminar flow jets at Poseidon himself. While the submarine exhibits chronicle the realities of the sea, the Temple of Poseidon is all about the mythical and emotional connection we have to water.

And as in the real ocean, the temperment of the seas are reflected in Poseidon’s mood. For a time, the Temple is cast in a hazy, calm, ethereal blue to the tune of uplifting songs of the sea. But once in a while, the lights dim as Poseidon is dramatically lit from beneath by a single red light… The waves build up pressure as the music swells and the incredible force of the seas is made clear.

We know very well that the Ocean is a piece of a science; a sliver of the “science” pie chart. But it’s not alone. Exit from the shipwreck and proceed down the long, white hallway of the “blimp” until you stumble upon another opening in the wall and enter an entirely different realm.

2. Energy


What is energy, and how do we use (and misuse) it every day? As soon as you step into COSI’s Energy exhibit, you select an avatar character that will follow you through the exhibit. Then, you follow lighted tracks in the ceiling to three themed zones within: the Product Zone (green), the Home Zone (red), and the Transportation Zone (blue).

In each zone, guests do a bit of exploring before plugging in their avatar and making choices based on their character’s backstory, all in an attempt to balance energy effectiveness with a dwindling pocket book. In the Home Zone, you can explore the living room, laundry room, and kitchen to learn about and identify “Energy Vampires” – household items that use power even when not in use. The Product Zone is the same, as guests learn to minimize their impact on the environment and the power grid. (Did you know that 85% of milk’s carbon footprint is thanks to a cow’s life on the farm?) 


Finally, the Transportation Zone challenges you to “fill up” with five kinds of fuel –gasoline, hydrogen, natural gas, electricity, and ethanol – to see which propels the car furthest on a $25 budget. You can also race simulated cars and measure the efficiency of biking, walking, and carpooling versus driving alone.

The idea is that by the end of exploring Energy, you’ll understand that energy conservation isn’t as easy as we make it seem. As you make choices in each of the zones for your avatar, you’ll watch your energy savings fluctuate… but so will your pocketbook. Simple choices can make a difference.

Most anyone could name Oceans and Energy as major components of science and important areas of scientific study… But science is made up of more than that… Continue up the stairs to Level 2…  

3. Gadgets

Simple machines, physics, electricity, force and motion… These larger-than-life ideas are just as important in science as the study of the ocean or energy, and thus they get their own immersive exhibit with a fitting name to connect them all: Gadgets!

Take all the “stuff” you’d find at most science museums – lasers, balls balancing on air streams, plasma globes, chaotic pendulums, cogs, pulleys, pistons, transmissions, circuits, light bulbs, and more – and you’ll understand the meat of Gadgets.

The idea? Science can be loud. In this exhibit, you can send fans soaring, build with gigantic, limitless blue foam blocks, explore LEDs, test magnetism, and become pistons in a giant engine. How many pulleys does it take to comfortably lift your own body weight? This is the place to find out.

Maybe coolest of all is an engineering challenge area stocked with simple materials (cups, string, rubber bands, pipe cleaners, etc) challenging you to make something that can float in an eight-foot-tall standing wind-tube. It’s a playground of engineering, designing, building, testing, and redesigning. 

Gadgets 2

For theme park fans, you’ll also notice a cameo appearance by a famously complex ride system. Just at the exhibit’s entrance stands a pair of hard-working robotic arms that can build, solve puzzles, and even dance. Replace the arm’s black “hand” with four humans, place the arm on a track, and you’ve got the ride system for a very famous Wizarding World attraction. 

The Gadgets Stage – decked out in cogs and gears to match the exhibit itself – is home to a wild explosion show that displays the unimaginable powers of chemistry.

But probably coolest of all is the Gadgets Café, where scientists of all ages can have a seat, grab a menu of Appetizer, Entree, and Dessert experiments and test until their hearts’ content. Make slime, pop bottle rockets, send aluminum foil ships sailing… The Gadgets Cafe even offers a “take-apart” menu for engineers-in-training where you can disassemble real computers, printers, and clocks to see what makes them tick. It doesn’t get more hands-on than that. 

4. Progress


It’s pretty simple and obvious, but still brilliant to consider “progress” an element of science, as much as oceans or energy or gadgets. This exhibit is a really unique walkthrough experience. You enter into the tiny town of Progress, USA in 1898 (so, set a few years before Disney’s Main Street). The town of Progress is depicted as the corner of Hope Street and Fear Street – fitting since “progress” is, by its nature, made up of hope and fear.  The town has a market, piano shop, livery, and telegraph office open for exploration.

A touch of a button at the entrance to any shop will bring to life a narration from a resident of Progress. Outside the Hope Street Market (its windows filled with fresh fruits and vegetables), a resident’s voice discusses how easy and carefree life can be with the new invention of food right from a can! But, she’s also heard of people getting sick from this “canned food.” Hopes and fears. 


But here’s the brilliant part: what is Progress without seeing change? 

Turning the corner, guests find themselves in the same town of Progress at the same intersection, but sixty-four years later in 1962. Now paved and glittering under neon lights, Progress is suddenly a sleek, retro town where train advertisements have been replaced with plane advertisements, appliances have sprung up, and the old livery has become a gasoline station. Brilliantly, the “hopes” and “fears” of 1898 have come to stunning life in a new world. The Hope Street Market’s windows now are filled with (you guessed it) canned food. Times sure have changed, huh?

As you exit Progress, signs ask delightfully dazzling questions: “What would the streets of Progress look like today? What are YOUR hopes and fears? What would your grandchildren think if they saw your photo in Progress?” Think about it…

5. Life


Life at COSI is divided into three topics: Mind, Body, and Spirit. Mind is full of brainteasers and hands-on exhibits that prove that you can’t overpower your brain’s reflexes (an anechoic chamber, a mystifying heat grill, 3D audio exhibits, face blending, communication tests, etc). Spirit discusses life and death, our conception of both, and the way we remember those who have passed with compelling displays of real human cremation remains and a very real shrunken head from Ecuador.

The Body section is home to the glass-enclosed Labs in Life, powered by faculty at Ohio State University’s medical school. Body is filled with the obvious (surgical videos, fitness demonstrations in the OSU Labs, wild X-rays, and interactive body displays) and hands-on fitness tests that challenge guests to measure their resting and active heart rate, flexibility, and strength to compare to national averages.

6. Space

That giant golden cylinder on COSI’s exterior? It’s actually a 200-seat Planetarium. The Planetarium is the centerpiece of the museum’s Space exhibit, which is made up of unique experiments (air-controlled space capsules, RC moon rovers, pressurized bottle launches, etc) and a walk-through space capsules that depict life among the stars.

Ocean, Energy, Gadgets, Progress, Life, and Space… Though some are more obvious than others, it’s a brilliant assertion that each is an equal slice; one piece of the large and indefinable concept of “science.” But there’s one more exhibit and one final piece of the pie chart, and it may be the most thoughtful and compelling idea yet. We’ve saved the best for last…

7. Adventure


Dateline, 1937. Led by the incomparable Dr. Eva Snodgras, the Explorer’s Society has begun to unearth the mysterious Valley of the Unknown. This ancient tropical isle is home to a crumbling stone maze, a lush temple complex, and an cavernous catacomb. At the island’s center, though, is the most magnificent find of all: the towering two-story stone Observatory (above), said to contain the ancient Treasure of Knowledge.

And wouldn’t you know it? The Observatory is sealed shut. No one has been in or out in thousands of years. But, dearly departed Dr. Snodgrass did have a hypothesis for how to unlock the Observatory. The key, she imagined, rested in four giant stone statue guardians discovered on the island. Her team was able to relocate P’lunk, Spirit of Questions from the Well of Questions around the Observatory. Dr. Snodgrass believed that she’d found the secret to awakening him… and then, she vanished.


Even Disney’s Indiana Jones Adventure would be green with envy during the Adventure pre-show in Outpost 41, in which a member of the Explorer’s Society joins guests to decode Snodgrass’ last journal entry and awaken P’lunk, the Spirit of Questions (above), who assures us that if you want an answer, you must always start with a question:

The Observatory gate will open wide if you know the code for getting inside
It’s made up of pieces, a total of four. Look here at the first. Now find three more.
If you wonder where to find the others, just look for my spirit sister and brothers.
They are somewhere waiting for you in the Maze, the Temple, and the Cavern, too.
Add their pieces to the one I’ve revealed and the Observatory will be unsealed!
You will enter through its doors and the Treasure of Knowledge will at last be yours!

Poster map

From there, guests are set loose with a paper island map (above), pencil, and flashlight to explore the ancient island (permanently under torch-lit night skies). By reasoning their way through the Maze of Reason, guests can awaken B’ra-zoa, Spirit of Reason. Only those who think outside the box can breathe life into L’lala, Spirit of Inspiration (below). In the dark Cavern of Perseverance, you may stumble a time or two. But keep trying and you’ll have all you need to get the final piece of the code from T’em-poa, Spirit of Perserverance.


Only once you’ve collected all four pieces of the ancient code can you unlock the Observatory to find the Treasure of Knowledge. The 9,000 square foot exhibit is truly a self-guided adventure through the ancient temples, jungles, and caves of the island. But even once you’ve opened the gates, heed P’lunk’s advice:

“The code we spirits gave you is clever as can be, but it has other meaning you are yet to see. So take what you’ve discovered and continue on your quest! Think of all you’ve found, then go and find the rest.”


What he’s alluding to is that Adventure also contains a secret “level 2” that requires between 15 and 20 hours of deciphering, decoding, and exploring, opening new chambers and awakening the spirits all over again to receive different clues and codes leading to new spots on the island. Level 2 of Adventure only amplifies the exhibit’s already Disney-quality presentation by extending the story. “Level 1” is unlocking the Observatory. “Level 2” uncovers the history of the island and the culture that created and revered P’lunk, L’lala, B’ra-zoa, and T’em-poa… 

And let’s be honest – isn’t it sort of brilliant that adventure could count as a piece of science, equal in standing with energy or oceans or space? And really, it is. What is science if not going into the unknown, finding answers, digging, and trying again? Don’t tell your kids this, but the four Spirits of the island (Question, Reason, Inspiration, and Perseverence) just so happen to represent the steps of the Scientific Method or the Design Process. Ask a question, develop a hypothesis based on what you already know, think outside the box to develop and test an experiment, and try again! So incredible is this unassuming exhibit in an Ohio science museum, we wrote a whole in-depth feature on how Adventure might be the perfect 21st Century attraction. Check it out here.



So why take a break from roller coasters to talk about COSI when it’s located in Ohio, far from the tropical mecca of Orlando or the oasis of Los Angeles? Put simply, COSI is a world-class science center that meets and even exceeds Disney’s standards. Conceptually, it’s a BRILLIANT, sleek, modern evolution of the Epcot formula, dividing into immersive and thoughtful themed “pavilions” of its own, each an isolated but complimentary piece of the whole. Whether you like themed environments, entertainment, storytelling, architecture, animatronics, or… you know… science, COSI has something for you. It’s truly a theme-park-level experience, totally immersive from beginning to end.

Do yourself a favor. Put COSI on your bucket list. Located in Columbus, Ohio (directly in the center of the state) it’s about an hour from both Cedar Point and Kings Island, and man is it worth the side trip. 

Disclaimer: The author of this article is a Team Member at COSI. COSI did not review, endorse, or sponsor this feature. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily represent those of COSI, its team, or its leadership! The author was a big fan of COSI and posted this piece before joining the team.