When Epcot opened in 1982, it was at the cutting edge of theme park design. Two portions of the park, originally concepts for two separate parks, had come together to create the highly anticipated Epcot Center. Made up of Future World and World Showcase, the park would serve not only as an inspiring family entertainment area with revolutionary ideas about the future, but also as a cultural exchange in which guests could interact with people from all over the world in settings mimicking different nations.
As the park's attractions and landscapes have changed over time, it is not surprising for us to wonder whether the park is currently remaining true to its original purpose. True, Epcot's purpose when the initial idea was conceived was to serve as an actual, functioning city, an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Even without considering how much of the original city concept made its way into the theme park version of Epcot, it is worth deciphering whether or not the park does fulfill its original mission today.
In a dedication speech for Epcot on October 24, 1982, Card Walker (then CEO of the company) stated:
"To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome.
Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney's creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere."
Today, guests visiting Epcot can still read this portion of the dedication speech, as it is engraved on a plaque just before the turnstiles at the entrance to Future World. The simple fact that the plaque bearing these lines from a dedication speech exemplifies the official purpose of the park: to entertain, but also to celebrate different cultures around the world and concepts for the future. Part of presenting futuristic concepts to the public is understandably restating a brief history of the past. This effort of presenting history before showcasing the future can be seen in a number of Epcot attractions, however in interpreting the intent of Epcot as a theme park, it is important to understand that the past we are talking about here refers to past ideas, and thinking, rather than our own visions of nostalgia. As much as we all value the nostalgia, it is important that those ideas do not inhibit us from developing deep understandings of the current state of Epcot.
A Future World of the past and present
At the center of Future World stands Spaceship Earth, a 180 ft tall geodesic sphere which houses an omnimover-style attraction in which guests travel through the history of human communication. As far as fulfilling the desire for Future World to be a place where guests could be inspired to look towards future innovations to better improve their societies, Spaceship Earth is and has always been right on the money.
This attraction traces the history of communication from cave paintings, through the renaissance, and into the future. While many Disney fans, myself included, might show some disappointment in the current version of the ride (where the descent no longer features scenes from an imagined future, but rather an interactive cartoon featuring guests in the ride vehicles) it would be wrong to say that the ride does not add to the park's mission. If Card Walker wanted to see an Epcot that would "entertain, inform, and inspire" Spaceship Earth should provide an outlet for guests in all three of these areas.
The post-show area of Spaceship Earth, originally known as Earth Station, has become slightly less futuristic in recent years, although one might still argue that the futuristic aspects of the attraction do still make it to the final room. When the park opened in 1982, Earth Station was essentially Epcot's Guest Relations area. Guests had the ability to speak to Disney cast members through video screens, similar to today's Skype or Snapchat. While we all have the ability of pulling out our smartphones and performing this same task today with ease, in 1982, communicating via video was not something that the average person regularly experienced. Earth Station allowed guests to use the resources they needed, asking questions, and making dining reservations, without having to pick up a landline phone or walk to Guest Relations.
Today, most guests who leave Spaceship Earth walk right through the post-show area, back to the rest of the park. Of course, they are missing the post-show, which consists of a massive sphere-shaped screen showing where all of the guests who have ridden the attraction are from, as well as other interactive exhibits. If you remember Earth Station, you might feel as though the old version of the post-show fulfilled the park's futuristic theme better than the current post-show does, however this is not necessarily true.