When you think of each of the four theme parks that comprises the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, what images immediately come to mind? Perhaps your thoughts go first to the iconic structures that are among the very first things you see when you step through the gates. At the Magic Kingdom, it's Cinderella Castle. At Hollywood Studios, it's the big sorcerer's hat. At Animal Kingdom, it's the huge Tree of Life. And then there's Epcot, with its primary structure/attraction, Spaceship Earth (known far and wide by many as "the big golf ball").
It really is quite a sight, isn't it? This enormous, round, dimpled geosphere that honestly and truly looks just like a big golf ball. It's long been the symbol of Epcot (or in time's past, "Epcot Center") and for all intents and purposes always will be. Whether it's bright daylight and you head into the park and look up at this shining, silvery ball or dusk has fallen and it is illuminated in a variety of purples, yellows, and oranges.....either way, Spaceship Earth never fails to impress and amaze each time you see it.
And that's just the outside.
* The Ride
When you walk up the ramp and enter the structure, you're immediately on the loading platform, in which the floor slowly spins in perfect sync with the constantly moving blue ride cars (or time vehicles). Disney cast members will direct you to the first available car, which seats 4 (2 in front, 2 in back), and once seated, the small doors close and you slowly move forward - and upwards - into the start of the ride. Before arriving in the first scene, however, you will have your photo taken, as it will be used during the final stage of your "journey". Then, the audio narration (by actress Judi Dench) begins and you're on your way taking a 15 minute journey from the dawn of human communication until today, passing through one vividly depicted scene after another with typically impressive Disney animatronics. On your journey, you'll go through various periods of time in human history, noting their improvements and advancements in the field of communication, such scenes shown include: "caveman" days, ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, the European renaissance, the post U.S. Civil War north, a 1960's family watching the 1969 moon landing on television, and several other scenes as well. Eventually, the ride reaches its climax at the top of Spaceship Earth, where your ride cars turn and face forward, giving you a clear view of a large projection of the planet earth itself. Then, your "time machine" cars turn so you are moving backwards, and then you begin your descent. In this time, the little touch-screen monitors in front of you come alive and the narration directs you to "choose your future", giving you the options of planning out a potential future, incorporating the photos of you that were taken at the start of the ride. After a minute or two, it plays out a small video in a slightly humorous showing of what technologies may come in the future to make our lives easier. Finally, you disembark into the post-ride area.
* Post Ride Area
The post-ride area after exiting the ride is titled "Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future". Within this area are a variety of hands-on displays and interactive games that teach about the future of energy management, transportation, and medicine. In the very middle of the room is a large video globe that shows where all of the Spaceship Earth riders for that day call home. Up towards the ceiling in a circle around the globe are large screens showing off the comical photographic "people" that is made of up all other riders' photos from the start of the Spaceship Earth ride. Then you can choose to check out all of the displays or head out of one of several exits back into Future World or go on further into the partk.
* My Take on "Spaceship Earth"
It's not necessarily the most exciting ride, or even a remotely thrilling one, but there is something about it that just beckons me each and every time I enter Epcot. I just HAVE to ride it at least once. Maybe it's the novelty of being able to ride inside "the big golf ball", I don't know. The ride itself has gone through a number of changes over the years, including its narration. At one time it was narrated by Walter Cronkite, then Jeremy Irons, and since 2008, Judi Dench. My personal preference was the Jeremy Irons narration. There was just something about the tenor of his voice and how he emphasized certain things that really made the message of the ride more interesting. Judi Dench's narration lacks that. Her voice sounds flat, cold, and like that stern schoolteacher you never liked very much. So you can imagine that it doesn't stir much desire to listen to what's being said, and instead just focus on the scenes as you go on by.
One thing loved by many in this ride is that it's not only visual and audio in nature, but it also includes some rather iconic (to Disney World fans) scents, most notably in the "fall of Rome" scene, when you get a distinct whiff of burning wood representing its destruction. To this day, when I happen to catch that scent somewhere, I automatically associate it with this one scene in Spaceship Earth.
Over the recent few years, as changes were made to the ride which included the change in narrator, and the touchscreen monitors that show your chosen future video, there were also several changes in scenes as well. One such change included more emphasis on the beginnings of the computer age, from single individuals working on circuit boards that eventually developed into the PC (or Mac), to the entire-room sized computers that drove various industries. Personally, the changes didn't do a whole lot to add to the overall ride. They were interesting enough additionals, but that was about it. One change that isn't popular with many is the final scene when you're descending backwards because instead of moving past various light displays, you're basically moving through a dark, black, area with the only real illumination seen from the video screens in your car and the cars around you. That's one change I never really liked either when I first rode this current version.
The only other slightly negative aspect of the ride isn't so much with the ride itself as it is with the ride car. The seats are a bit on the hard side and they (along with the headrest) could use a little padding to make sitting there for 15 minutes more comfortable.
All in all, the Spaceship Earth ride is a pleasant enough 15 minute slow-moving one that is fairly interesting and at least a nice way to get off your feet and still see some of what Epcot has to offer. Young children may well be quite bored with it, as may some adults if they've ridden it multiple times. The post-show area I generally skip. The displays and games there are ok, and most likely the only part of the ride the little kiddies will enjoy.