Epcot might be one of the most unique achievements in theme park history.
To the unfamiliar, the concept of Epcot sounds bizarre at best—a theme park where the primary focus isn’t rides or even intellectual properties but rather a celebration of the world as it could be. It’s probably the only park in the world with roots as a premise for a utopia—an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. This idea evolved into a theme park like no other where learning was made fun, emerging technologies could be tested hands-on, and where guests could experience the culture of nations from around the world. Despite being in a class of its own, Epcot has thrived over 35 years as a favorite to generations of Walt Disney World fans.
Unfortunately, of all Disney’s parks, Epcot usually runs into the toughest reputation problems. It’s a hard sell for parents of small kids who are used to the Magic Kingdom experience, and it sometimes gains a sour label as either a “nerd” park or a place better suited to tipsy adults who want to drink around the world.
This is an unfair assessment for a truly outstanding park, one where the best might just be yet to come. What are some of the most common misconceptions people seem to have about Epcot? Here are the top ten that come up the most.
1. It’s the least interesting park at Walt Disney World
One of the most common mistakes first time (or even repeat) guests make visiting Walt Disney World is to skip Epcot.
For families visiting on a 3-day ticket or with kids, it can seem like a tempting option. Most visitors generally treat Magic Kingdom as the must-see Walt Disney World experience with the other three parks trailing in as an afterthought. Disney’s Animal Kingdom bounced back powerfully from a downplayed reputation as a themed zoo after the opening of The World of Pandora, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the benefit of hosting a number of familiar intellectual properties like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Toy Story. Amidst those options, Epcot can seem like an odd duck.
We tend to gauge theme parks based on rides. Rides, rides, rides. While Epcot has a number of excellent rides, including some top-notch crowd pleasers like Test Track, Soarin’, and Frozen Ever After, the truth is rides aren’t really what Epcot is about.
A visit to Epcot is all about wonder.
Epcot is much less a parade of rides than it is a celebration of culture—past, present, and future. Its edu-tainment roots may have diminished over the years, but they are hardly dead. At Epcot, we get to experience the past through exhibitions of history like the evolution of human communication in Spaceship Earth, world history in the galleries of World Showcase, or national history in The American Adventure. We reflect on the present as we consider the natural world in The Seas with Nemo and Friends, take flight over the globe on Soarin’, or meander through Epcot’s eclectic festivals. Finally, we look to the future near and far, exploring scientific advancement in Mission: SPACE, Living with the Land, and even Innoventions.
Attractions are just a tiny portion of what Epcot has to offer. The reason Epcot continues to timelessly appeal to all ages is because it does something few other theme parks are able to do—it takes us through an all-senses experience, inviting us to imagine the familiar world as it could be.
2. The park was supposed to become a utopian city
It is true that Walt Disney’s original vision for his Florida project included an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”—an extremely ambitious utopian city where everyone would have a job, all living arrangements and transportation would enjoy cutting edge technology, and where diversity would be preserved in international districts. Walt was so passionate about this vision that he may have only agreed to build the Magic Kingdom as a capitulation to his company’s board, simply as a sort of stepping-stone to fulfill his greater goal of building E.P.C.O.T. Even on his deathbed, Walt continued designing his prototype community, meant to act as a model that cities of the world could follow in its stead. Unfortunately, he passed away before his concept could be realized.
On one hand, it may not have been such a bad thing that Walt’s E.P.C.O.T. didn’t work out. Some elements of his original plan sounded far more like the makings of a dystopian young adult novel than a real utopia. For one thing, no one in E.P.C.O.T. would ever be able to retire—everyone over the age of 18 would have to hold a job. Walt viewed this as a means to eradicate crime and poverty. On a second peculiar note, no one would be able to own land in the city. Rather, Disney would own all of the land so they could update the city’s property, design, and technology uninhibited. All weather would be controlled beneath a giant dome, motorized vehicles would drive underground, and significant aspects of day to day life would be controlled by Disney.
After Walt’s death, it didn’t take long for the E.P.C.O.T. concept to wither. The company quickly changed gears, and when designs began on the actual park, the utopian city idea was long dead. Instead, the designers focused on preserving Walt’s love for learning, futurism, and the World’s Fair concept in a park that kept all of these ideas intact.
3. The World Showcase pavilions are run by their respective countries
One of the most popular assumptions about Epcot’s World Showcase is that the individual countries are run by the governments of the nations they represent. This idea is often cited as the reason more pavilions and rides haven’t been added to World Showcase over the years. While Epcot has run into plenty of stalls in the past due to sponsorships falling through, the root of this idea actually has to do with a quote taken from Disney’s 1975 Annual Report:
“Each participating nation will be asked to provide the capital to cover the cost of designing, developing and constructing its attraction and/or ride and all exhibits, as well as the Pavilion itself. It will also have the responsibility for funding the housing for its employees in the International Village. Its land lease will cover the cost of maintaining the attraction for a minimum of ten years.
The Disney organization will be responsible for area development, including the construction of transportation systems and utilities. We will also build and operate the internal people moving system, the Courtyard of Nations, and central theater facility.”
Epcot didn’t open until 1982. While a series of embassy-like pavilions sponsored by their respective nations may have been part of the early concept of Epcot, this idea never really worked out. In truth, the countries of World Showcase are all run by Disney with some partial sponsorships from business partners like Twinings for the Tea Shoppe in the UK or Mitsukoshi for Japan. The only exception to this is the Moroccan pavilion, which is still sponsored indirectly by the Kingdom of Morocco.
4. Teens won’t like Epcot
Epcot has gained a frequent reputation as something of an adult-focused park—specifically, a park that is likely to bore teenagers and children to groans and tears.
We’ve addressed this before in our guide to bringing teenagers to Walt Disney World, but the truth is that Epcot is actually an awesome park for teens. People often assume that the best park for adolescents at Walt Disney World is Disney’s Hollywood Studios because of its thrill rides, followed by Disney’s Animal Kingdom (because, well, Pandora), and then Magic Kingdom. Epcot doesn’t usually even make the list.
While Magic Kingdom may be a favorite park for small children, the truth is that teens tend to not enjoy it as much, especially if they don’t have years of Disney nostalgia behind them. While Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are both outstanding parks to bring teenagers, many families are pleasantly surprised when they give Epcot a chance with visitors in this age range.
Teens can’t stand being treated like little kids. There’s something in them that starts to crave new experiences that might not appeal to younger siblings. Hands-on learning becomes more engaging, they become more curious about the world abroad, and they may even be willing to try new foods they wouldn’t before. Epcot provides the perfect experience for this.
As far as attractions go, Test Track is often ranked as a teen favorite followed by Mission: SPACE Orange Team and Soarin’. Many teens cite that they love Epcot’s eclectic festivals, and you also can’t go wrong visiting teen-friendly exhibits in World Showcase like the sword displays or shops in Norway, Germany, the UK, and Japan. Mitsukoshi, in particular, is an absolute winner, while the Moroccan pavilion can feel like something straight out of a video game. With the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster coming soon, Epcot is on-track to become more teen friendly than ever.