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Horizons: Why Disney Demolished Epcot's Best Ever Attraction

Horizons 1 is now departing. Our final destination today – the twenty-first century.

Since Disneyland first opened in 1955, Disney Parks have been practically obsessed with predicting the future… and more often than not, they’ve gotten it surprisingly right. The idea of lifting the curtain of time and exploring innovation and invention has been a driving force behind the Parks, as evidenced by Walt’s dedication of Tomorrowland in 1955: “A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man's achievements... A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world.

Through Tomorrowland, Disney accurately envisioned (and perhaps inadvertantly shaped) the look and feel of the Space Age. As tomorrow leapt forward, so did Walt’s vision, always retaining an optimistic and bright sense of unity. Eventually, though, the idea of showcasing actual scientific innovation became too daunting a task for designers constantly faced with progress moving too quickly. That's why Disney planned to radically redesign the Tomorrowlands across the globe from science fact to science fiction – lands that would be unaffected by the flow of time. It's a story we saved in its own in-depth Possibilityland: Tomorrowland 2055 feature.

Image: Disney

But Tomorrowland wouldn’t be Disney’s last attempt at imagining how society, enterprise, culture, and life might look in the distant future. Enter Horizons – one of the most cherished, beloved, and celebrated rides ever created by Disney’s Imagineers. This classic dark ride whisked guests away from today and into that vista of wondrous ideas, transporting them into the future they most wanted to see.

Our in-depth Lost Legends series seeks to tell the full, behind-the-scenes stories of forgotten classics before their tales are lost to time. We've looked back on the complete histories of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the original Star Tours, TOMB RAIDER: The Ride, Adventure Thru Inner Space, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and so many more. And yet again, we’re calling on you to comment and share your memories to preserve one of Disney's greatest masterpieces ever for future generations who might one day wonder, “What was the big deal?” So off we go to the twenty-first century to bring Horizons back to life... 

EPCOT – a vista of wondrous ideas

The story of Horizons begins with the story of EPCOT. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow envisioned by Walt Disney had been a utopian city (a place where people would actually live and work) built upon emerging technologies, transportation systems, and building materials. A showcase of urban design and organization (which, after all, was what his Disneyland park had been at its core), Walt hoped that his EPCOT would sincerely redefine the layout, infrastructure, and style of American cities from that point forward.

He said: “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world of the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.

To secure funding for EPCOT, Walt had to first agree to build a version of Disneyland in Florida (which, of course, became Magic Kingdom). Unfortunately, Walt died five years before Magic Kingdom would open, and long before the possibility of EPCOT could've seen the light of day.

After Walt’s death in 1966, projects across the parks entered a state of limbo with seasoned Imagineers questioning how to proceed without Walt’s guidance. EPCOT was no different, and it quietly disappeared from public perception. The idea of Walt's citiy of tomorrow had been written off as an impossibility.

By the late 1970s, though, Walt Disney World was ready for growth in the form of an unprecedented second theme park on the property. At that time, the EPCOT concept was revived and tweaked. Rather than a functioning futuristic city, EPCOT Center would be a theme park modeled after the ideals and core values of Walt’s concept – community, culture, and futurism.

A World’s Fair

According to Disney Parks folklore, one team of Imagineers felt that EPCOT Center should represent cutting edge technologies, while another thought the park should be about globalism, culture, and worldwide perspective. The story goes that one day, two circular models representing the two visions for the park were literally positioned next to each other and the proverbial light bulb clicked – Epcot would be like two parks in one: a grounded, stunning exhibition promoting both innovation and culture with two distinct realms: Future World and World Showcase. 

Consider what a tremendous shift the very concept represented. After all, at this time in Disney history, there were only two 'Disney parks' in the world: the original Disneyland and its younger sister, Magic Kingdom. That meant that for millions upon millions of American families who'd visited "Disney" or dreamed of doing so, "Disney" was synonymous with castles, fairytale lands, princesses, and meeting beloved Disney characters straight from animated films. 

EPCOT Center would be different. It would be a living showcase of corporate innovation, emerging technologies, cultural stories, and the true tales behind science and industry. No princesses. No characters. No movies. No Mickey.

The model was simple: Disney would build its own, permanent World's Fair.

In the century prior to EPCOT Center's opening, World's Fairs had been sincerely international festivals of collaboration, showmanship, and innovation. Take, for example, 1889's Exposition Universelle in Paris (with the Eiffel Tower built as its central icon), 1915's Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (with its icon – The Palace of Fine Arts) or 1962's Century 21 Exposition (hosted in Seattle, with the Space Needle commissioned as its icon). At these global celebrations, corporations and countries would build stunning, massive pavilions in which they could show off their newest advances to the eager public, who would show up in droves to see the technologies that would soon be in their own homes, roads, schools, and workplaces. 

The most prominent example for Disney Parks fans is the 1964 - '65 New York World's Fair (in Queens, with the Unisphere icon). Prior to the opening of the '64 - '65 World's Fair, Walt and his team had been approached by three corporations (General Electric, Pepsi-Cola, and Ford Motors) and tasked with creating revolutionary rides to tell each company's stories. The results would become the Carousel of Progress, "it's a small world," and another Lost Legend: The Peoplemover, respectively. 

As Disney's permanent World's Fair, EPCOT Center would host enormous, cavernous pavilions, each focused on an overarching theme or topic within science and industry. Like at a real World's Fair, each thematic pavilion would then feature multiple rides, shows, demonstrations, restaurants, and show floors within which the story of that topic could come to life – a perfect mix of Disney's showmanship with plenty of room for sponsors to showcase their own advances in each area. 

In Future World, the pavilions would represent oceans (The Seas), ecosystems and nutrition (The Land), creativity (Imagination), transportation (World of Motion), energy (Universe of Energy), innovation (Communicore), and communication (Spaceship Earth). But one pavilion in particular would be the “thesis” of EPCOT Center. One attraction would combine ocean, land, imagination, transportation, energy, technology, and communication to tell one cohesive story through the eyes of a familiar American family.

Horizons brought to life the optimism, wonder, and futurism that propelled Walt Disney, promising "a great, big, beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day." Now, let's explore the progress that brought the ride to life! Read on...

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There are 29 comments.

As someone who has been going to Disney since before I was born (seriously, my mom went when she was pregnant with me!), I'm a huge Disnerd. I love all things Disney. This article is wonderful, especially since I sadly was never able to experience this ride. I was 9 when it closed the first time and for some reason, in all the trips we made, I never got to go on it. And honestly, I've never done Mission:Space either, as I was not impressed with the idea. As a child, EPCOT did not hold my attention, but as I've grown up, I realize how wonderful it is and it makes me wish I could travel back in time, to see everything I missed out on. Who knows? Maybe one day we will, because if we can dream it, we can do it, right?

I'm always so saddened when I hear people say that EPCOT did not appeal to them as a child (or does not appeal to their children) - I was... (doing math) 8 when it opened and immediately fell in love with the park. Since it opened it became my favorite, leaping far above MK (don't get me wrong, I still love MK) and even with all of the flaws of some of the disastrous "refurbishments" it is still my favorite. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get to ride Horizons before it left. I hope you watched the video - it made me cry! Truly the best attraction WDW ever made. So sad to see it gone.

I most definitely watched the video! Sadly, it's the only way I'll ever get to experience it. It was a really good video, though I'm sure it doesn't quite do it justice. Maybe one day they'll do a reboot of it with new technology. If that ever happens, you can bet I'll be there!

Everything else in Disney World terrified me but EPCOT, so it was always my favorite park. The real ride was a true marvel with a scope that the video can't quite captue, and I remember my last go on my 11th birthday back in December of 97.

Your in depth retrospective articles are the reason why I frequent this site.
Thank you! Keep up the good work.
Would love to see an article devoted to some of the never built Disney attractions.

What a fantastic thing to hear, Nick. Keep your eyes peeled... ;)

"When we discussed Journey Into Imagination in our series, we talked more about Epcot and about how the whims of the sponsoring company were essential in the design and creation of Future World's pavilions. In that feature, we dove into the early plans for The Land, which had focused on conservation and habitats. But when Nestle signed on to sponsor the pavilion, they wanted attractions focused on crops and nutrition – a natural fit for their company. And of course, that’s what they got with “Food Rocks,” “Living with the Land,” and “Symbiosis.”"

Mixing a little bit of history here. Kraft was the original sponsor of The Land, and requested the initial changes, but those shows were "Kitchen Kaberet," "LISTEN to the Land," and "Symbiosis." Nestlé did want changes when they picked up the sponsorship in 1993 as the signature attraction became "Living with the Land" and Kaberet was updated to Food Rocks (I hesitate to use that word as Tone Lōc had already become passé by the time it opened with him voicing Fūd Rapper...a much better choice would have been to hire Britneyas Broccoli Spears, but I digress). The last of Nestlé's sponsored changes came with Symbiosis being replaced by "The Circle of Life" one of the first uses of animated feature characters being incorporated into the redo of an attraction at Epcot.

Beyond these factual slips, you have a few grammatical and spelling errors including in your 'Choose your future' section, misquoting the female voice prior to the final Horizon's sequence telling riders "you are NOT invited" when it should read "you are NOW invited."

A fun, yet depressing read regardless. Nostalgic for all the wrong reasons, especially if you buy the line of bull about the sinkhole!

Right you are. Thanks!

Excellent article. I must have ridden this attraction over 100 times and I never made the Carousel of Progress connection. Thank you for that.

I was thirteen when EPCOT opened and I was lucky enough to visit the preview as it was being built. We rode the packed monorail around the park but we were not allowed to take pictures (Oh how I wish I had those). When EPCOT finally opened I was amazed. I loved thrill rides but EPCOT gave me a sense of belonging and a bright outlook of the future. The attractions really hit home with me and I fell in love with each and every one of them. Classic lines like "Shale, the rock that burns" are mainstays in my families talks about the good old days. I remember seeing the preview for Horizons and I was hooked. It looked like a spaceship with the door opening and a bright light shining out the door. I literally counted the days until it opened and I was so excited for our trip that summer. When I rode it I was in love. This attraction had it all and my brothers and I rode it multiple times in a row. Each trip to EPCOT was highlighted by a ride on, first, Spaceship Earth and then immediately following, Horizons. When I took my now wife to EPCOT for the first time I told her about my love of this attraction. She also fell in love with it. She saw the bright outlook, the coziness and the message that everything will be alright in the future (something we all really need, right now, with the way the world is going). When Horizons lost sponsorship and closed my family was heartbroken. When it reopened we took a special trip to EPCOT. I was fortunate enough to film this ride multiple times and even used a high end recorder to get the audio. I knew I needed a copy of this attraction forever. Those videos of mine are some of the most precious I have ever taken. Along with classics from Imagination, Communicore, Energy, The Wonder of Life and Spaceship Earth, Horizons video takes me back to an excellent time in my life. I tell my family that if I had Gates or Jobs type money I would buy the plans for Horizons and have it remade. After all I can dream can't I? Thanks again for a great article.

Thank you for this. I am choked up reading through everything. I was probably about 5 or 6 when I rode this ride. It was a "must-do" for my family and I. I remember my 2 older brothers and I sharing one ride vehicle while my parents rode in another. I remember fighting over when scene would win at the conclusion of the ride. I remember staring at the different scenes, wishing I could jump out of my ride vehicle and explore (and thanks to Mesa Verde Times blog, that dream became a little reality, at least vicariously). I remember dreaming about what the future would be like. This ride, and many of the original Epcot rides, held a special place in my heart. MK filled the childish imaginary fantasies for me. Epcot allowed me to dream and imagine. As an adult, I ride Carousel of Progress and Spaceship Earth because they are the last of the good, thoughtful rides left. I mourn Horizons when I look upon Mission:Space and have yet, if I ever, to step foot in that building. I help my fellow Horizons community hold on to the last of the ride we loved by creating trinkets with the Horizons logo, because sadly, there aren't many souvenirs for the ride anymore. I do it all out of love for this ride, out of the memory of what it unlocked inside me as a child.

Brian,

I enjoyed reading this article. As one who frequented Horizons in the late 80's and early 90's, I was sad to see it go. I am old enough to have visited the 64-65 NY Worlds Fair and the old Future World brought back those childhood memories. Horizons represented the optimistic view of the future that is largely gone from Walt Disney World now.

I do have one question however. The sinkhole theory has been largely debunked, including comments made by Marty Sklar.

Do you have a verifiable source and documentation for raising it here, otherwise it is concerning to be included in this article, as it prolongs the rumor's life.

Thanks,

Marc

The existence of the sinkhole in that area of the park was confirmed by Mr. Sklar about three years ago, though not necessarily that it was the reason for Horizon's demise. I've always been unlikely to believe it myself, since the ride re-opened and closed and re-opened far too many times for a structure that was allegedly on the verge of collapse. I'll be sure to edit the article to note that. Great point. Altogether, I think the sinkhole simply made for a convenient excuse.

Brian,

Marty confirmed the existence of a sinkhole at Epcot's 30th anniversary celebration (WDW's 40th), but at a location near the Odyssey Restaurant building as the primary reason why there was so much space between Future World and the World Showcase.

He is widely quoted in various blogs that were present on that point and is quoted as debunking the Horizons connection, instead pointing to the loss of corporate sponsorship as the primary reason for its loss.

I appreciate your reply and edits.

Thanks,

Marc

The sinkhole story is a myth, nothing more. Plans to modernize Horizons and refurbish the pavilion are confirmed to exist.

Mission:Space is what HP wanted and paid for, so that is what was built.

I rode this ride back in the 80's every time I had the chance. I loved it even more than Spaceship Earth! I missed out on Disney for a couple years and went back when it had already been demolished. I spent the entire day looking for the pavilion until I realized it was gone! I was stunned! I was, still am and always will be heartbroken! My favorite ride has always been the Carousel of Progress. Horizons was next! I cringe every time I walk PAST Mission Space!

I just want to thank you so much for these articles! I've never been to Disney World, but I grew up at Disneyland my entire life. I used to play this PC game - Walt Disney World Explorer - that came out in the 90s and I would play it constantly, imagining the day I would FINALLY go to Disney World. Almost 20 years later, that's finally happening, but so much of what I wanted to see has been removed (Alien Encounter especially was something I desperately wanted to experience - but since I was in kindergarten at the time, perhaps it's just as well that I didn't see it). These articles simultaneously bring me back and make me sorry for what I missed.

I LOVED the Walt Disney World explorer. I can still remember the "It's A Small World" music that played when you looked at the full resort map screen. Gah! Now you're sending me off to try to find it to see if it'll play on someone's computer.

Unfortunately, I never got to ride Horizons. It seems like it has a similar idea to Spaceship Earth and I love that ride. It's a shame that Disney does just remove some classics to put in new rides. However, I do have to say that I am a pretty big fan of Mission: Space. I find it super thrilling and the fact that I feel weightless on that attraction is pretty neat! I absolutely love these in depth retrospectives! Theme Park Tourist is becoming my new favorite page I "like" on Facebook because all of the articles are super interesting! Keep em coming!

I really enjoyed the article about Horizons at EPCOT. My children and our best friends kids first rode this probably in 1983. The youngest about 5 and the oldest 7years. We rode and rode and rode that ride. they loved picking the final ride choice. Like mentioned above, the 5 kids got into one car and adults in another. they also loved the Imagination attraction with Figment. Unlike some folks who don't like EPCOT it was always one of our favorite parks to visit and we were a family that centered our vacations around amusement/theme parks. EPCOT made you think a bit. By the way, the characters were always there roaming EPCOT, i have pictures of Donald with my kids from 1983...he was dressed in space garb.

I don't know why I keep seeing this in different articles, but Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was never removed from Disneyland. It still runs today.

Disney World booted it, but not Disneyland. Maybe if Disneyland had Horizons, we would still have it.

Yep, the comment in the article is:

"Country Bear Jamboree and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, respectively) being booted for Pooh"

Country Bear Jamboree was removed for Pooh and Disneyland, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was removed for Pooh at Magic Kingdom. That's why it says "at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, respectively" after listing the two. :P It's like saying, Josie and I bought a brownie and a cookie, respectively. Josie bought a brownie; I bought a cookie.

Yes, I loved Horizons as a teen and young adult, and I hated it when they closed it - I loved the space scene best, and like most people, I really enjoyed the end of the ride when you got to choose your way home - I also miss World of Motion and Body Wars
But you are wrong about Mission Space not having fans - I'm a 61 year old grandmother who goes on Mission Space every time I visit (Orange Team, thank you very much) as many times as humanly possible! I live in Florida and have an annual pass, so that's a lot of rides - I also do Star Tours the same way
Thanks again for your effort in bringing back the good memories

I just watched "Tomorrowland" the movie. When Casey picks up the pin, and is transported, entire visual sequences and dialogue are lifted from "Horizons." I don't have the time to check it out fully for comparison now, but you should do it. It gave me some sort of wicked deja vu. I think a few lines were entirely lifted directly from the "Horizons" ride.

As a jaded 12 year old visiting EPCOT for the first time, this ride was one of the few that I absolutely ADORED. I was crushed when I returned only a couple years later and found out it had closed. Thank you for the walk down memory lane!

It probably won't happen, but Epcot needs a new Horizons just for the hope that the future is going to be OK. A Centorium instead of MouseGear would be good too.

I've noticed in some of your other articles about defunct attractions, you cite where elements from that ride live on. In the case of Horizons, the three filmed endings were recycled for the post-show of Tokyo's version of Star Tours. A unit called the TourScan, narrated by robotic space travel pitchman Dan Android, advertised additional destinations such as Praya the water planet (Sea Castle), Bar-Neth the desert planet (Mesa Verde) and a planetless hotel in space (Brava Centauri). The footage from Horizons was shown on the monitors while other screens provided text in Japanese and English.

I absolutely ADORED this ride like none other at the Orlando Parks...I only got to visit the Florida parks every few years or so but Horizons opened literally a day before my first visit to Epcot, and 13 year old me was enraptured...I rode it seven times...and made a beeline for it every time I made it down there (thankfully about five additional times before they shuttered both it and my Second favorite attraction of all time, Cranium Command...)...a ride that inspired people and left them with hope...We could use a few more of Those...

Loved the article on Horizons. I came of age when EPCOT started, attending during it's opening year (1982 I believe, I was just 8). I remember thinking that it took what I loved about Tomorrowland and made it 100x more amazing. It has been my favorite park from that day until now, in spite of the loss of vision for the park. My own son now counts it as his favorite Disney park as well.

I appreciate most of all that you presented the idea that Horizons captured the essence of what EPCOT was supposed to be and the dream of Disney when it came to technology and innovation. Though Spaceship Earth (a great ride in its own right) is the centerpiece of EPCOT, Horizons always was the summary of EPCOT to me, the first ride I would go on when I arrived and the last one I would go on before I left. I can only hope that some version of it will be rebuilt one day to inspire the next generation as it inspired me.

Honestly I don't see why people are so upset about the stitch ride. Every time I've gone there's been at least a full thing to the point where I was waiting for a while a few times. Also, Mr Toads Wild Ride is still at Disneyland, and so is Snow White's scary adventure (I rode on both of them) but anyways, the alien ride didn't fit with the rest of the magic kingdom stuff and stitch is really a much better fit. But anyway to what I was originally going to say, I am sad that this ride was taken out for mission space instead. Mission space gets a little boring after you do it at least twice because you realize you don't even need to do anything it'll be the same every time. This ride sounds like it actually changed based on people's choices which at least gives you a chance to have no idea what you'll get each time. Wish Disney would quit wasting space and getting rid of things. They have an entire area where they used to have a water park that is just sitting there wasting their money and space. Don't even get me started on what used to be in the upstairs of one of the rides. They literally left everything up there and filled it in to build a stupid vacation club members area. Come on, kids could've enjoyed it for years to come and Disney wasted it. I wish the idiots in charge would quit doing that. Recycle for goodness sake, you sure do a lot of wasting for people who have an entire park basically dedicated to conservation! Okay, rant over.

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