Home » 8 Future World Pavilions That Only Exist in an Alternate Reality EPCOT

8 Future World Pavilions That Only Exist in an Alternate Reality EPCOT

What if? Almost any project that passes through Walt Disney Imagineering is shaped by that simple question, posed in a design phase called “Blue Sky.” In this early stage of Disney’s design process, Imagineers are encouraged to “forget the box;” to think beyond budgets or technologies and instead live up their titles and imagine.

And while some projects are eventually selected and pared down to more realistic, reasonable limits, others are simply left on the editing room floor never to be seen again… well, maybe not never.

Here at Theme Park Tourist, our Possibilityland series is all about touring through those never-built attractions, lands, and theme parks that exist only by way of concept art, abandoned ideas, and forgotten concepts. Already, we’ve stepped into the Magic Kingdom that never was, explored cancelled lands of mythical creatures, aliens, cowboys, Muppets, and inventors and even gone for a ride on Disney “mountains” that never came to be.

Today, we’ll take a pavilion-by-pavilion tour of the never-built projects that could’ve changed Epcot’s Future World forever. Would this “Possibility World” version of Epcot be better or worse than the park we know today? We’ll leave you to decide…


Image: Disney

The first thing to know? Here in our alternate reality “Possibility World” version of Epcot, Future World is no more. Maybe you can see why… In the 1980s, Epcot’s arrival was billed as the dawning of the 21st century. The problem is, by the late-90s, the real 21st century was around the corner… and it wasn’t shaping up to look much like Epcot’s Future World had foretold.

Just the opposite, Future World like the future as envisioned in the 1980s with its brutal architecture, its colorless concrete plazas, and its stark, sterile design. (It wasn’t the first or last time that Disney’s imagined future had fallen out of sync with the real future… a common recurrence called “The Tomorrowland Problem” that’s caused a half-dozen “New Tomorrowland” revisions across the U.S. parks.)

Image: Disney

It would take more than new rides to get Future World rolling again – it would take a fundamental redesign. That’s why Disney allegedly cooked up Project: GEMINI, a massive overhaul to the park centered on transforming Future World into Discoveryland; a lush, forested, golden eco-future disguising the dated ‘80s architecture and ambiance with a more naturally-fueled future. The additions brought on by Project: GEMINI are just a piece of some of the Possibility World realities you’ll see below…

1. Spaceship Earth? 

Image: Disney

If you’ve come to Spaceship Earth looking for an epic dark ride through the history of communication from the Stone Age to the birth of the digital age… you’ll need to look elsewhere. In this alternate reality “Possibility World,” Spaceship Earth is no more. Sure, the 180-foot geodesic sphere is still the centerpiece of Epcot’s Future World, but the era of Epcot being Disney’s “educational” park – the one kids dread wasting a day at – is over, which means many of Epcot’s original, epic dark rides are over, too.

Spaceship Earth is now home to a high-speed thrill ride through the ages called Time Racers. Not much is known about this time-traveling thrill ride allegedly planned as the centerpiece of Epcot’s transformation… Many sources say it would’ve been a hybrid dark ride / roller coaster with initial scenes at the base of the sphere turning into a launch into Spaceship Earth itself, diving and twisting through scenes.

Forget Disney’s “educational” park… This is Disney’s “discovery” park, marked by technological thrill rides somewhat loosely tied to science and history.

2. The Seas 

Possibility A

Here in Possibility World, the story of the Seas is told a little differently…

Image: Disney, via Martins Videos

In this alternate reality, designers stuck to their original idea for the pavilion… That would mean that the original pavilion would’ve begun with a surrounding film telling the tale of our planet’s creation and the formation of the ocean narrated by Poseidon himself before the theater would rotate to a magical, underwater world ruled over by a statue of the god of the seas.

A lengthy, full, Omnimover dark ride through underwater scenes would then carry guests to an underwater research facility located in a gigantic aquarium, totally surrounded by water!

Possibility B

Image: Disney

Even if this “possibility” version of The Seas had come to life, it probably wouldn’t have survived Project: GEMINI either… Because even back then, Disney’s designers were eager to incorporate more characters into Epcot. Back then, the go-to characters for an underwater experience? You guessed it… The pavilion was set to be renamed Under the Sea, featuring characters from Disney’s 1989 hit, The Little Mermaid. In that case, the lengthy Omnimover ride might’ve become a full-fledged Little Mermaid dark ride, eliminating the ride from the New Fantasyland that would come a decade later.

The real story

 In the real world, The Living Seas shifted from a mythological atmosphere to the more grounded SeaBase Alpha storyline during its design phase. Plans for the attraction were heavily scaled back (though it remained one of the world’s largest aquariums). Eventually, characters did make their way into the Living Seas, but it wasn’t The Little Mermaid… We told the tale of the original concept and its “Pixarification” in a full feature, Lost Legends: The Living Seas.

But that’s not the half of it… Read on as we continue through Future World! Er… Discoveryland.

3. The Land

Possibility A

Image: Disney

The land wasn’t always set to look quite like it does today… Originally, the pavilion’s design was under the purview of Disney Legend and fan-favorite Imagineer Tony Baxter, who designed an iconic pavilion dedicated to earth’s environments. In our Possibility World, we can imagine that his vision became real.

Within towering glass crystals, Baxter would bring real habitats to life including jungles, deserts, forests, and urban settings. Guests could even “hike” through these greenhouse towers to explore the biomes they represented. Meanwhile, the pavilion hosts a spectacular, suspended dark ride with the enigmatic character, the Landkeeper, where guests ride in the basket of a hot air balloon, following water from the mountaintops down through the water cycle and the seasons before bursting out of the dark ride itself and into those glass biomes to float over guests below.

The real story

The real story is that the logging company originally planned to sponsor the pavilion dropped out and Kraft Foods took their place. Kraft requested that the pavilion be redesigned to center around the brand and message of their company, downplaying habitats and environments and instead focusing on agriculture and nutrition. So The Land opened with Listen to the Land and the Lost Legend: Kitchen Kabaret.

Possibility B

Of course, while that tour through habitats was one possibility, another is closer to the real story…In another version of Possibility World, Project: GEMINI got to work, plussing the Kraft-created pavilion we know today with three radical new attractions:

  • A “Soarin'” simulator… but probably neither of the ones Epcot got. After all, for most of its life, Epcot’s Lost Legend: Soarin’ was really playing the ride film for Disney California Adventure’s Soarin’ Over California. Even if the newer Soarin’ Around the World variation feels like a better fit, it’s still a sightseeing tour of mostly-man-made features, and not a celebration of “The Land” like we expect the fully-funded Project: GEMINI version would’ve been.

Image: SeaWorld Parks

  • A high-speed, thrilling, suspended roller coaster through the forests planted outside of the pavilion. This canopy-flying coaster would’ve become one of the starring thrill rides for Epcot, paired with Soarin’ to set the new standard for a “discovery” park of innovative thrills.
  • A family hedge-maze walkthrough comfortably shared by The Land and the neighboring Imagination pavilion as a playful exercise in creativity and cultivation.


Welcome to Test Track! But probably not either of the ones you’re thinking about…

Believe it or not, General Motors was the first corporation to sign on to sponsor a pavilion dedicated to transportation, years before EPCOT Center was announced. And back then, in the late 1970s, Disney’s designers were invited out to GM’s testing facility – the Milford Proving Grounds – to see the extensive paces that prototype vehicles were put through before being deemed road-ready.

Image: General Motors

Disney’s designers were so excited about the possibility of placing guests into the test-dummy’s seat, they initially designed a dark ride through the prototyping process in hopes of hosting it in the park! In this alternate-reality Epcot, we can imagine that this early version of TEST TRACK – maybe a mix of the version we know with Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – actually made it to today!

The real story

GM’s representatives were said to be dissatisfied with the idea of a dark ride through the car-testing process, asking Imagineers to go back to the drawing board and come up with something “more Disney.” Imagineers recruited recently-retired animator Marc Davis – the brilliant mind behind the comical stylings of the Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean to name just a few – to inject some lighthearted humor into the history of transportation.

Image: Disney

Naturally, the result came in the form of another storied and destroyed dark ride through time – a beloved, lost ride we chronicled in-depth in our History in Motion Part I: World of Motion feature. Ironically, Project: GEMINI and its push for thrills and innovation actually brought the “proving grounds” concept back to the forefront… The original version of the 21st century thrill ride – explored in History in Motion Part II: TEST TRACK – was a pretty faithful, new age, high speed version of the concept Imagineers had considered way back in the ’70s!

5. Journeys to Space

Space. The concept of outer space is so deeply engrained in our understanding of science and our cultural identity, it shouldn’t be surprising that – even back in the 1970s – designers planned out an attraction centered around mankind’s quest for the stars. So our Possibility World version of Epcot definitely features a journey to space… but even here, multiple versions could exist.

Possibility A

Image: Disney via retrowdw.com

Back in the ’70s – in the initial planning for EPCOT Center – a potential space-themed pavilion was imagined, originally envisioned for the space Imagination fills today. The attraction would contain pre-shows detailing man’s infatuation with the stars from the early days of humanity to the space stations of tomorrow. After boarding a simulated elevator ride to a space station, the standing audience looking out across the universe via a domed Omnimax screen. There’s a simple reason that Space didn’t make it into EPCOT Center’s opening day line-up: the collapse of the aerospace industry in the late ’70s, signalling the end of the Space Age… and the reluctance of any corporation to back such an attraction.

When Michael Eisner arrived at Disney, one of his primary goals was to turn around the sagging attendance at EPCOT Center. As we know, he thought thrills would be the way to do it, and had Imagineers investigate the next level of a space attraction: free-pivoting seats on a horizontal floor rig that would rotate 90 degrees, suspending seated riders vertically in front of that same domed screen for a sort of prototype-Soarin’ journey to the farthest reaches of the universe and to the edge of a black hole (above).

Possibility B

Image: Disney

Ultimately, Disney’s next opportunity for a space pavilion came about when longtime sponsors General Electric announced their intentions to suspend support for the Lost Legend: Horizons. In this Possibility World, Horizons did indeed close, but only to be recognifured. The pavilion’s exterior was entended to form a pyramid (long associated with the mysteries of space). The dark ride portion of the attraction would’ve been repurposed as a mere pre-show, ferrying guests through the what we imagined of space, what we saw once we had the tools to examine it, and what we learned when we finally reached it. Disembarking from the suspended Omnimover, guests would finally reach that elevator to ascend to the thrilling flight through the stars.

Possibility C

Image: Disney

An ever wilder concept alive here in Possibility World is the introduction of the KUKA Robo Arm technology (once present in Innoventions, and now the starring system behind Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey), where guests would be seated on their own vehicle and armed with a joystick, given the freedom of a space walk. Floating along the edge of a space station, guests could’ve pivoted, rotated, or angled their seat however they like, choosing to explore the vast emptiness of space or to look into laboratories through windows into the ship.

Do these concepts for exploring space make Possibility World’s version of Epcot more appealing than the one we really know?

The real story

Once computer manufacturer Compaq (later purchased by HP) signed on to sponsor a space pavilion on the hallowed grounds of Horizons, they opted for Mission: SPACE. Love it or hate it, Mission: SPACE was once envisioned as the headlining attraction in Epcot’s newly-reborn Future World – and why not? It’s a perfect representation (along with Soarin’, Time Racers, and Test Track) of the park’s new direction, hosting innovative thrill rides based on human discovery and exploration (or, if you’re more critical, maybe “cute but dumb”). In fact, executives at Disney believed that Mission: SPACE would be the next attraction to be duplicated at every Disney resort on Earth! 

Of course, the very expensive and very controversial ride hasn’t exactly become a favorite of fans or families, which means Epcot will probably be the only park to ever host Mission: SPACE. 

6. Wonders of Life

Image: Disney

Though Epcot’s real Wonders of Life pavilion was the last to open in Future World (seven years after the park) and the first to fully close, plans for a pavilion dedicated to health and the human body were some of the park’s earliest. Even that soon into development, Imagineers had also settled on the Life pavilion being a carnival, showcasing the wonders of living along the Midway of Life.

As the model above shows, this Life pavilion may have had the same basic styling (albeit, an ’80s carnival rather than a ’90s one), but the arrangement and selection of attractions in Possibility World’s version is very different, from walkthrough sensory experiences to full-on auditoriums. 

Image: Disney

The pavilion’s anchor attraction, though, would be a classic, epic, scenic dark ride in the traditional EPCOT Center style. In this case, the Incredible Journey Within would’ve been a massively-scaled Omnimover through the inner workings of the human body, brought to life with gargantuan physical sets emulating the fluidity and grace of humans’ lungs, circulatory system, and more. 

The real story

The Incredible Journey Within was just too ambitious, and designers began to realize the difficulty of creating the massive moving sets they’d need. The success of Disneyland’s Lost Legend: STAR TOURS signaled a new, simpler (and much rougher) way to send guests into the human body – screens! That’s where the story of the Lost Legend: Body Wars picks up.

7. Energy

Image: Disney

While the outside of the Energy pavilion may look familiar, here in Possibility World, the inside is completely different. In our alternate reality, Disney stuck to their original idea for the pavilion: an exploration of alternative energy sources. Even in the ’70s and ’80s, it was clear that fossil fuels were a non-renewable resource, and Epcot seemed like the perfect canvas on which to explain to audiences of the era what other ways humans might be gathering their energy in the 21st century.

So here in Possibility World, a trip into the Energy pavilion isn’t a lumbering dark ride; it’s a nimble one with guests seated in trackless vehicles exploring the large footprint inside of the building.

Image: Disney

One highlight? The encounter with a massive, gigantic solar collector. Back in the ’80s, this huge, iconic centerpiece to the ride would’ve been merely decorative… though scientists knew solar energy would be a sincere avenue of energy production some day, it wasn’t quite advanced enough in the ’80s to actually generate the power needed for this attraction. Maybe in this version of Epcot, though, the collector could’ve been repurposed as real here in the 21st century, when renewable resources are more important than ever and just the topic Epcot should be covering.

The real story

Epcot’s alternative-Energy pavilion was snuffed out for a few reasons… First of all, it was difficult to base an entire attraction around such a young, emerging area of study. Second of all, oil and petrochemical giant Exxon came on board as the pavilion’s sponsor… Conveniently, Disney decided that the energy pavilion could minimize talk of alternative energy and instead focus on Exxon’s core product: fossil fuels. 

The Lost Legend: Universe of Energy became a tour through the prehistoric world with a somewhat tangential explanation of how dinosaurs and prehistoric plant matter became today’s oil, muddled even further when the ride became Ellen’s Energy Adventure in the ’90s before closing altogether to become a Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster. 

7. NEVER BUILT: Science and Invention Pavilion

Image: Disney

Very little is known about the “Science and Invention” pavilion once planned for Horizons’ spot in the park (check that park-wide concept art on page 1 again to see it in context). All we know about it is based on the concept art above by Disney Legend and famed artist Herb Ryman (who, y’know, also created the first concept for Disneyland with Walt). 


Image: Van Eaton Galleries, via Micechat

Recently, our friends at Micechat did some digging to explore more about a never-built pavilion concept for Epcot. Early on, designers noticed one glaring issue with EPCOT Center… As said by Disney Legend Rolly Crump in his book, Kind of a Cute Story:

“We realized there wasn’t much there for kids to do. Scott Hennessy came up with this pavilion called EPTOT, which would have been for little kids. We made a model of our idea to show to Management. Each section of the pavilion represented a little kid version of all the pavilions at EPCOT. There was one for The Living Seas, one for The Land, and so on.”

Image: Van Eaton Galleries, via Micechat

The EPTOT pavilion would’ve been a colorful, playful amalgamation of Future World’s pavilions, providing a perfect spot for kids to leave behind the intellectual dark rides and ambitious futurism of Epcot for a chance to just… play!  Crump continued to explain, “It was basically a mini-play area based on all the big pavilions, but Marty Sklar and John Hench shot us down. They thought EPCOT was strictly for adults and not for children.” 

Possibility World is all about imagining what could’ve been… But it’s good to remember that common saying: good ideas never die at Disney. And EPTOT may be the perfect example…

Image: Disney

The real story: While designers at that time may have thought Epcot was exclusively for adults, times have changed! Not only will Epcot soon host an entire pavilion centered around “play,” but play has been widely studied as an area of science and human development, meaning that the seemingly-silly concept actually fits perfectly among Epcot’s pavilions dedicated to space, imagination, land, sea, and communication!

Realities being written…

Image: Disney

In a park as storied, legendary, and controversial as Epcot, there are a million alternate reality versions – each slightly different from the one before. One version of the park, for example, might just be today’s Epcot with all of its Lost Legends restored – and for most of us, that wouldn’t be such a bad park to visit!

One thing is for sure: Epcot’s future is constantly being rewritten. Though many of the would-be rides we mentioned here are simply concepts passed-over from the park’s opening, another handful date back to that Project: GEMINI overhaul that only came to pass in piecemeal bits, never as a full refreshing of the park’s style and identity. Maybe that’s for the best… A new vision of Epcot is taking shape…

Will Epcot ever find the right balance of reverence and relevance; history and future; brains and thrills? Or will its identity continue to muddle, weighed down further than ever by mis-matched intellectual properties, invasions of Disney, Pixar, and Marvel characters, and closures of classics? The only way to know is to keep watching…