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4. EPCOT – A Master Plan

Image: Disney

Several generations of today’s theme park aficionados cite EPCOT – to one degree or another – as a pivotal, momentous, defining feature of their lives. EPCOT was like nothing else Disney had ever produced before, and like nothing else it’ll ever produce again. In countless Lost Legends, we’ve explored the origin of EPCOT as something altogether separate from the theme parks it’s often lumped with. Truly a World’s Fair, EPCOT was a fourth-wall-breaking showcase of technologies and corporations and cultures – a brainy, intellectual, international exposition. 

So much about the EPCOT formula is just brilliant. Future World, with its pavilions – each focused on a singular topic of science and industry, each anchored by a lengthy, informative dark ride exploring the past, present, and future of its topic area; World Showcase, with its national arranged around a lagoon, serving as cultural and culinary embassies… Those shared pavilion icons; the single design language; the cumulative message… 

Image: Disney

Of course, it turns out there’s a reason World’s Fairs are impermanent things. Even by the end of the park’s first decade, EPCOT reeked of the decade of its inception, and the park purporting to showcase the “21st century” looked positively retro. Pop culture quickly picked up that EPCOT was a brutal, ‘80s expo marked by lengthy, educational dark rides – a park kids dreaded spending a day at. 

To make matters worse, when Michael Eisner became CEO of Disney in 1984, he appeared to have approximately zero idea what to do with the two-year-old albatross he’d inherited in EPCOT. Two decades of piecemeal solutions, shoehorned Disney IP, and a few notoriously bad choices (hello Lost Legends: Journey into Imagination and Horizons) sought to kick EPCOT into high gear. In retrospect, all it did was add pockets of cringey ‘90s choices and short-sighted 2000s thrills to the park, fracturing the very cohesion that had made EPCOT so powerful. 

When Disney California Adventure was granted a $1.2 billion, five-year, foundational redesign and expansion in 2007, a chorus of voices sang out in unison that EPCOT needed the same sort of master-planned, all-at-once fix. No more Band-aids. No more piecemeal fixes. A real, true, park-wide refocus. 

Image: Disney

Well, it’s here. Kinda. Look, absolutely nothing that could happen to EPCOT would ever please everyone. What we’re getting definitely isn’t perfect by any means, and unsurprisingly, EPCOT’s most ardent fans appear to be the least happy. (Despite fans’ armchair Imagineering, there was approximately zero chance that an EPCOT rebuild would ever be character-free.) There’s still a “piecemeal” air to the plan: Disney here, Pixar there, Marvel over there… Some pavilions have a single, centering topic while others don't. Different aesthetics from different decades clash. 

And admittedly, among fans, there’s a sort of general disapproval about plans for the park’s renewed core, and disappointment with the laughable new “neighborhoods” organizing scheme (which probably won’t last a decade). But there’s good, too: the return of a unified visual style and typeface and aesthetic and pavilion icons, and a full-throated embrace of the park’s ‘80s-ness instead of an attempt to bury it.

Unfortunately, EPCOT’s once-in-a-generation chance for a master-planned reimagining was interrupted by COVID, shaving off several announced projects and who-knows-how-many unannounced ones. (Doubtlessly a reimagining of the Imagination pavilion is out there somewhere in the multiverse…) Whether or not you necessarily agree with the direction Disney has decided to take EPCOT, you’ve got to hand it to them: the first time in a very, very long time, at least there appears to be a plan.

5. Hollywood Studios – More C- and D-Tickets 

Image: Disney

Historically, it makes sense. Hollywood Studios opened with just two rides – the Lost Legends: The Great Movie Ride and the Backstage Studio Tour. Right out the gate, the park proved much more popular than Disney had expected. The race to expand and attract guests to Disney World’s “studio” park has seen many high-profile additions. But weirdly, that’s the issue. With several of Disney World’s most sought-after rides calling Hollywood Studios home, the park has the counterintuitive problem of having too many E-Tickets.

If you take a look at our ride count countdown, you’ll see that Hollywood Studios has about as many rides at EPCOT or Animal Kingdom. The difference is that – if you stick to our E-Ticket Count – literally almost all of them would classify as headliners. Think about it. Of its nine rides, the only one that’s definitely not a major anchor attraction would be Alien Swirling Saucers. You could make an argument that every other ride is “major” enough to be an E-Ticket…

Image: Disney

On one hand, that’s great! I mean, Rise of the Resistance, Tower of Terror, Midway Mania, Runaway Railway, Star Tours, Smugglers Run, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in one park? Few lineups can beat it, and certainly a guest looking for iconic rides will get their money’s worth at Hollywood Studios.

But the problem is that parks need supporting rides, too. Even low-capacity rides can add up. The Dumbos and Autopias and Tom Sawyer Islands and Space Ranger Spins and Gran Fiesta Tours and Astro Orbitors and Laugh Floors and Journey into Imaginations of the world have an important purpose. Together, they add enormous capacity to a park. They act like sponges, giving guests something to do (and just as importantly, somewhere to be) while they wait for Lightning Lane return times.

Image: Disney

Without them, Hollywood Studios guests just cram into queues for the E-Tickets (which, remember, is almost everything). Those same queues, remember, are being slowed immensely by Genie+, whose “Lightning Lane” guests are reportedly given 9-to-1 preference over Standby guests at peak times, turning the Standby lines into multi-hour crawls. That’s why Hollywood Studios wait times leap past the hour mark upon opening, and then tend to stay there all day, every day. Seriously, go check the app now and you’ll almost certainly see Slinky Dog, Smugglers Run, Rise, Tower of Terror, Runaway Railway, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Midway Mania all at an hour or more.

It sounds counterintuitive to say that just adding family flat rides and spinners and continuous animatronic shows and “filler rides” would help solve what plagues Hollywood Studios, but while you’re in the app, zoom over to Magic Kingdom. Though Magic Kingdom hosts many more guests each year than Hollywood Studios, they’re distributed among many more rides – including lots of “supporting” attractions! – meaning even E-Tickets tend to have Standby waits under an hour.

6. Animal Kingdom – More Rides

Image: Disney

Anyone who’s been to Animal Kingdom will tell you the one, singular problem with the park: it has practically no rides. Like Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom opened with just two – the headlining Kilimanjaro Safaris and the terrifying Lost Legend: Countdown to Extinction. But even more than two decades later, a visit to the park doesn’t have many more rides to speak of.

Sure, we’ve seen the addition of Kali River Rapids, two (now reduced to one) capacity-building family carnival rides in Dinoland; Expedition Everest; and now, Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage. But we’re still talking about a park with just eight total rides – the lowest count of any Disney or Universal Park on Earth. (It’s almost unthinkable that a day at Animal Kingdom cost $100 before Pandora. Yikes.)

Image: Disney

Yes, of course, Animal Kingdom makes up for its dearth of rides by supplying lots of animal experiences, countless impromptu entertainment experiences, and three top bill shows. But even now – decades after its opening – it would be difficult to classify Animal Kingdom as anything but a “half day park.” It simply needs more to do. A “Cars Land” scaled expansion (with one anchoring E-Ticket and two very large family flat rides) would be great; two expansions like that would be even better. And even that would really just be a start.

There’s no question that Pandora – The World of Avatar made Animal Kingdom an unmissable, unskippable park. So the question now becomes how to keep people there. And while animal experiences and shows are an inseparable part of the Animal Kingdom experience, there’s just no denying that the thing this park needs is more rides. Period.

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