"Hydrolator number 2, descending to SeaBase Alpha. Docking port cleared. SeaBase Alpha, Hydrolator on approach..."
It seems that at Epcot, the only thing that stays the same is change. That's why we're back at Walt Disney World's infamous second gate for yet another entry in our ever-growing Lost Legends collection to capture a fan-favorite closed classic for a new generation of Disney Parks guests. And of course, we've taken our heartbreaking tour of Future World in in-depth features before, from Journey into Imagination to Universe of Energy; World of Motion to Body Wars; even the original Test Track, Soarin', and so many more. But today, our tour of a lost EPCOT Center classic takes us to the deepest trenches of the ocean.
The Living Seas embodied everything that EPCOT Center was about – it was a gargantuan, spectacular, larger-than-life attraction rooted in reality that was meant to inform, inspire, educate, and leave guests caring just a little more about the real-life wonders of the world around them.
But you may be surprised what EPCOT's aquatic pavilion was supposed to look like. Today, we'll dive deep into the sunken story of The Living Seas to see how Poseidon – then, King Triton – was earmarked to star in this Future World show, and how a little lost clownfish beat them both... The history of the Living Seas may go deeper than you ever imagined. Step on board and let's set foot in this pavilion as it existed years ago...
"Hydrolator number 2 in lock-out chamber, pressurized, and prepared for guest arrival."
To start at the beginning: EPCOT Center was unlike anything Disney had done before.
Though long-gestating plans for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (a real, actual, functioning city of the future to inform all modern cities built after) died alongside Walt Disney, the core concepts that powered Walt's fascination with EPCOT – his limitless idealism, his dedication to futurism, and his admiration of American innovation – lived on. EPCOT Center skillfully blended the "heart" of Walt's optimistic pursuits with something much more grounded and familiar to Walt Disney Productions: a World's Fair.
The legendary second gate at Disney World would be a permanent one, but just like the international expositions that had flashed in and out of annual existence across the world, it would feature massive, enormous "pavilions" dedicated to culture and technology, and – ideally – sponsored by governments and mega-corporations willing to fit the bill. EPCOT Center was a conceptual behemoth, featuring at its height nine gargantuan pavilions in its Future World realm, each dedicated to a single area of science and industry.
Most spectacularly, those nine pavilions – while presented in different styles – really played to one unifying theme. Spelled out eloquently in its dedication, EPCOT Center was where, "human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all." Each pavilion's topic was merely a piece of the puzzle and – when combined – painted a picture of where American innovation had been, where it stood, and where it was headed next.
One of our simplest understandings of EPCOT Center (and particularly its Future World) has always been the simple distinction that, unlike Disneyland or Magic Kingdom, this realm of industry and innovation set out to forget fantasy entirely in favor of the cold, hard facts of those selected areas of science. But that's not entirely true... In fact, one of the earliest concepts for EPCOT Center included a pavilion dedicated to the legends, stories, songs, and tales of the sea...
Stories of the seas
As with most of EPCOT Center's Future World pavilions, plans for a pavilion dedicated to the seas go back as far as concepts for the park itself. As a matter of fact, even in the park's 1978 prospectus, The Seas pavilion was there, located where The Land is today. But as for what a pavilion dedicated to the ocean should look and feel like? For a time, the Seas was set to have a very different tone than it has today.
The Seas pavilion would've seen guests "sail through moments of peril and triumph with the great explorers who charted the seas for civilization. In another adventure, Poseidon the sea lord will challenge visitors to journey to the ocean depths, from the continental shelf to the great coral reef, finally arriving at SeaBase Alpha, an authentic ocean environment with live marine life, an underwater restaurant, and a showcase of oceanographic exhibits and displays."
In reality, this Seas pavilion would've been perhaps more grand than any of EPCOT Center's epic dark rides. Guests would enter the pavilion through a swirling, eroded, carved grotto and step into a semi-circle, wrap-around theater, where a storm would gradually build all around. Wind, mist, and rolling thunder would shake the theater until all guests were seated. Then, with a flash of lightning, the ancient god of the seas Poseidon would appear, calming the storm with a flick of his wrist and introducing guests to some of the brave adventurers who'd conquered the oceans. With Poseidon's blessing, guests would be invited to explore the sea themselves – the true cradle of life on Earth.
During this pre-show, the theater (actually two back-to-back auditoriums on a turntable) would physically rotate 180-degrees to reveal one of the most spectacular scenes Disney Imagineers had ever created...
An entire underwater kingdom reigned over by Poseidon, with a winding watery path through this paradise. Guests would now step out of their theater seats and journey deeper into the ocean, leading to the undersea load area of an Omnimover dark ride. Sitting in Omnimovers disguised as glass bubbles, guests would be whisked away through an elaborate and oversized dark ride through the ocean set around the perimeter of the building.
Follow its path through the winding chambers in the pavilion-wide artwork above and you'll see that this high-capacity dark ride through the oceans would sincerely match Epcot's other Lost Legends: World of Motion, Journey into Imagination, or Universe of Energy in scale and scope.
And as this dark ride's grand finale, those bubbles would glide into a glass tube through a 5 million gallon aquarium surrounded in salt water fish.
Next stop? SeaBase Alpha, a spectacular glass-domed platform in the center of the tank, with glass bridges leading off to exhibit areas.
While the pavilion's location was changed over the years (from The Land's eventual spot to Horizons', then to its final destination in the park's northwest corner), the design for The Seas remained the same.... for a little while, at least... On the next page, we'll explore the final design of The Living Seas pavilion and step inside for a tour before watching everything change thanks to a little lost clownfish...