Entrance Plaza
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Therapy Session II: The Cure

IN SESSION ONE… We used an analogy to simplify the complex problems and history of Epcot‘s arrested development and subsequent identity crisis. From its troubled early years to its “Lower Case” transformation and the aftermath of the post-millennial age, Epcot has experience some of the most dramatic changes in its fundamental principles and philosophies than any other themed environment. (1)


Diversity is a word that is often used in the corporate world to define the personnel of the organization. Whether it is race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, generational, or even intellectual all of these classifications are based on innate or superficial conditions. But, there is another type of diversity that is often overlooked in the limited perspective of the ever sought after 18 to 24 age bracket. (2) Demographic Diversity is the reason why Disney exists in the first place. Its products are popular because they are so wide reaching. (3) This is largely because of Walt Disney’s personal philosophy on family entertainment…

“We try in everything we do here, you know . . . for the family. We don’t actually make films for children. But we make films that children can enjoy along with their parents."

There are two fundamental principles at work in this statement: First, Children’s entertainment is NOT Family Entertainment. Second, Adults are family too! It’s this second point that’s particularly important for Epcot. During those nine years when Walt Disney World was a two park Resort. The two properties perfectly complimented each other. For all of its architectural complexity, the Magic Kingdom will be forever skewed toward children, and EPCOT Center was definitely more mature. The problem Epcot is facing is that although it’s clearly the Experimental Theme Park for Adults it’s been going for the wrong age range for decades now. This leads to another quote from the man who wrote every word written about EPCOT from “The Film” to the Center…

Know your audience - Don't bore people, talk down to them or lose them by assuming that they know what you know. –Marty Sklar, Mickey’s Ten Commandments.

Every year the Flower & Garden and Food & Wine Festivals prove to be a major guest satisfier. However, these events only scratch the surface of possibilities for more adult entertainment in Epcot. The biggest problem that the park faces is the constant repression of its potential as an entirely mature theme park- One that appeals to the more sophisticated side of consumers who are automatically off-put by fairies, princesses, and mice.


With over a decade of experience listening to cast and guest perceptions of Epcot I find that they basically fall into three unique categories. First, is “The Veteran” typically between 30 to 40 years old and is a dedicated follower of the original ideas and concepts of EPCOT Center and continue to be faithful despite the dramatic change in the park’s personality. Second, is “The Legal” as the name implies it’s the guest that is new to the experience of intoxication and looks at the park as an island in an otherwise “dry World”. Third, is “The Confused” it’s also the largest of all groups.

I have often wondered if I knew nothing about the history of the park and experienced it today, in its present state, what would I think about it? Would it still be my favorite park? Would I still love it or even like? I think that I would find the whole experience very puzzling. Think about it, Clown Fish, Jeopardy, a high-tech trade show, a ride-thru of car testing grounds, a purple dragon explaining the five senses, and a massive outdoor international shopping mall. And all of this next to an massively unique geo-sphere, an extremely accurate simulation of spaceflight, the world’s sixth largest ocean and a dramatically moving presentation of the American adventure. The sublime next to the substandard, to say that the variety of offerings in this park is inconsistent is putting it mildly. Which brings us back to Marty’s Ten…

Avoid contradiction - Clear institutional identity helps give you the competitive edge. Public needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other institutions they may have seen.

In Future World, the concepts, designs and story are rarely futuristic. Yet, the foundational architecture is fundamentally so. This contradiction always produces an uneasy, uncomfortable feeling that leaves guests with the exact opposite effect to the one that made Disney theme parks so successful in the first place. The “Architecture of Reassurance” as termed by author/editor Karal Ann Marling is the psychological device that makes theme parks work. Epcot is billed as the “The Discovery Park” but (in regards to Future World) there is very little discovery involved. (4) Excluding Project Tomorrow and a few Innoventions exhibits very little of the material presented in Future World isn’t common knowledge.


This might sound a little too straightforward, but proper marketing of any product is vital to its success. And at this time any marketing would be appreciated. Look at any Disney Parks advertisement over the last several years and you’ll begin to believe that the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are the only parks Disney owns. (5) There are a few clips used for Animal Kingdom, and an occasional second or two of Hollywood Studios, but Epcot is largely ignored in most local and all national campaigns. Even today, with all its imperfections, Epcot’s numbers would improve if properly marketed as the world’s premiere grown-up theme park. While the Magic Kingdoms have families, children, and babies, Epcot’s advertisement could be focused on the other age groups of humanity. Teens, Young/Middle-Aged/Mature Adults ARE the New Frontier in themed entertainment. Not only do they raise creditability of the art form, but also provide a highly-lucrative audience to tap into the even greater creative potential beyond the typical oversaturated properties.

And a New Beginning

By the numbers, Epcot is #3 of the most attended theme parks in the nation which makes sense because of it chronological placement as the nation’s third oldest Theme Park. (6) What does not make sense is the dramatic gap between The Magic Kingdom (#1) and its closest sister. (7) Less than ten minutes away Walt Disney World attendance drops off enormously by more than 36%. (8)The reasons for this are wide and varied, but basically the lack of definable BRANDING resulting from the loss of a strong IDENTITY and the ensuing shift away from any MARKETING have all combined to create a unique set of problems. The truly wonderful part of all this is that these decades-old situations are entirely fixable. At this moment in time, solutions are already in existence to permanently solve the problem of displaying visions of the future in an ever changing world.

New Solutions you’ll soon find here … at E82!


  1. This statement excludes the changes currently underway at California Adventure which are largely aesthetic in nature and don't really change the overall message or themes of the park only their execution.
  2. Some might consider the pursuit of this demographic somewhat perplexing considering those who make these decisions are twice (if not three) times that age, but when you take into count the deeply seeded obsession of executives to recapture their youth the reasoning becomes quite clear. However, this is a discussion best suited for another website.
  3. For sake or brevity, I’ll spare a rather lengthy explanation of the history of the Walt Disney Company as seen through the dissecting lens of adult, children’s and family entertainment. I will say though that the history of the company has plenty of products and assets that appeal to one OR all.
  4. The definition of “discovery” is the process of making something known or visible OR to obtain sight or knowledge of for the first time.
  5. Actually, keen observers would quickly notice that the US Kingdoms are portrayed as being the same park, as many of the clips for each coast are quite frequently used incorrectly to represent the other.
  6. Although a highly controversial stance, by definition of the term “Theme Park” Disney still owns the monopoly. Although there are MANY fine themed environments from other companies, in nearly all cases attractions, shows and spaces are based on pre-existing media in film and TV.
  7. Number #2 is the original Disneyland at California. (more commentary to follow)
  8. Based on data in the 2010 TEA Global Attractions Report

Reader Comments (6)

I had actually thought about this subject not long ago myself. It's definitely quite a mess to untangle!

If done right and with the right sponsorship backing to pull it off, they could add a more Educational spin to Epcot. This would utilize what they already have there now and it might appeal to the home school crowd. Considering how high ticket prices are becoming these days an "educational" vacation might come cross more appealing that just the all out, "I'm going to Disney World" vacation. Of course, they tried something similar with the Disney Institute, but I think it was a mistake to make it a stand-alone operation.


I think it should literally be the theme park of tomorrow. Instead of focusing on what the future holds for everyday things, show us what lies ahead for the theme park industry. And in a lot of ways they have already done that. Although Avatarland and the new Fantasyland expansion will probably provide clues as to what Disney has up it's sleeve. Disney should hold true to their belief - If you can dream it, you can do it.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

First off, thanks for your participation Mike!
You're bringing up several great points here that I’ll be speaking about in depth very soon. Education is a wonderful thing, but the best of Disney’s Educational efforts (things like the Tomorrowland Series on the Disneyland TV show and Donald in Mathmagicland) are always presented with a lot of candy-coating and at best lead to appreciation of the subject matter. I’ve assisted with the Disney Institute a few times and it’s actually doing a lot better ever since they lost their buildings, so there is a market for more enlightening experiences at WDW. But unless there are massive government subsidies involved, I don’t think “Edutainment” will return as it was originally conceived.
Sponsorship (while you brought it up) is a big issue for me. For example, if a guest has a horrible time on Dinosaur (formerly CTX) or doesn’t like Rock’n Roller Coaster, do they walk out thinking “McDonald’s and Hanes made bad attractions”? NO, the would rightfully blame Disney for producing a bad product, much in the same way if Ellen’s Energy Adventure is out-of-date or Test Track starts to show its age, its ultimately Disney’s responsibility to present a better product. Sponsorships are nice to have, but you have to be prepared to go it alone. In the world we live in today very few companies are willing to assist one another to create a better product with little to no ROI. Epcot is a Disney theme park and it’s the 6th most attended one globally, either they need to pick their own tab or pass ownership to an entity that will.
Your “OR” is very interesting, and I do believe that Epcot (in a very subtle way) should still live up to being a “showcase for new technologies”, but we need to move far way from technology as a focus.
And THAT is the first step toward a concept I’m currently calling “The Last Epcot”.

December 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterJoshua L Harris

I've been working on an idea for an improved version of Epcot. It combines both the ideas of EPCOT Center and Epcot into one park. The primary goal would still focus on the discoveries, and there is a way to connect World Showcase with Future World. Throughout the world, discoveries are being made that help create a better tomorrow. For Future World, environmental pavillions like the Land, the Seas, and Mission: Space can create what life would be like in the future.

Let's take Mission: Space for example. Guests would arrive at a spaceport, where they would board a space elevator to the pavillion's hub. During the trip to the hub, which would be known as Earth Station Delta (ESD), guests would view a preshow (I haven't got a solid idea on what yet). Once they arrive at ESD, guests would then have the option of venturing over to the ISTC for astronaut training in Mission: Space or the Advanced Training Lab that would feature interactive exhibits. Another attraction would be a space pod attraction, where guests could ride in a space pod that would take them around the pavillion. There will be a transport system that takes guests to Moon Base Alpha on the moon, where there would another attraction that would focus on a rescue mission underneath the lunar surface. Another location would be a space station called Delta Venture. Here, guests can see what it would be like to live in space.

In this version of Epcot, there would be engineering challenges, which would be similar to EPCOT Center when it was being constructed. There would be some edutainment, but it would be very subtle that guests wouldn't realize they're learning. Under this version, there is a direct connection between World Showcase and Future World. By focusing on this connection, Epcot would not have an identity crisis.

I believe that in this version of Epcot tells a story. The entire park is a living breathing book, where each pavillion is a chapter in this book, telling its own story, and the guests are the characters within this story. They get to tell their own story of what their lives could be like in the future. This story they get to experience would inspire them to make discoveries that would create a better tomorrow for everyone.

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames

@James "I believe that in this version of Epcot tells a story. The entire park is a living breathing book, where each pavilion is a chapter in this book, telling its own story, and the guests are the characters within this story. They get to tell their own story of what their lives could be like in the future. This story they get to experience would inspire them to make discoveries that would create a better tomorrow for everyone."

I agree with you. The story EPCOT Center tells (or should tell) isn't a fantasy, a fairytale, or a legend. It's the story of man and our time on the planet.

December 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Great Concepts James!
Your idea for Mission: Space sounds very interesting, and somewhat similar to what they would have built if it was to be in the Horizons building as they originally intended. I actually worked at Space for a while in 2007, and you can definitely tell where the money ran out. I still consider Space and wonderful attraction, but in its current state it does quiet meet the definition of a “Pavilion” and it would be nice if when you get to Mars there’s actually something to do when you get there. And if they would have ever completed the HP Showplace it would definitely elevate the Space pavilion.
You hit upon some key issues I’ll be discussing later about a more modern representations at World Showcase, the daytime Showcase should be as it always has been, emphasizing the height of a nation’s culture and civilization, but at Nighttime Showcase should come alive with the music, lighting, architecture and atmosphere of the modern fast-paced, exciting world we live in today therefore infusing some much needed energy into the back of the park.
Awesome quote Jessica: It seems I’m not the only one who was listening to John Lithgow in 1991 :)
So far as the story of the Park, I don’t really think that it needs one. (Its just my opinion so it’s open to interpretation.) In the early 1990’s WDI started over-emphasizing Story. On every interview was all “Story this, and Story that” I’m more about the lesser practiced concept of Experience, (the best example of this is the Haunted Mansion which has no intended story).
In any case, I don’t think either is really needed or appropriate for a permanent World’s Fair. I’m more concerned about concepts like Tone and Message, more to point I want to focus on the feeling that Epcot gives you. Reflections of Earth, and the American Adventure are probably the only attractions that provide the feeling I’m trying to express. But even if you’re not at Epcot at closing or never watch AA, I would still want people to leave the park with a greater appreciation of the peoples of the world and excitement for the technologies that bring us closer together.

December 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterJoshua L Harris

Joshua - I'll agree with you that WDI started over-emphasizing story, but we've all seen cases where they completely forgot about the story, and the attraction has suffered as a result. Case in point, Kali River Rapids. While I will be the first to admit that even with an amazing story, this will never be an amazing attraction, it could get better than what it is now. The story that WDI wants to tell is of the dangers of logging, and it's impact on the environment. What they actually get is a water ride with a random burning truck towards the end of the ride.

Case #2. Fantasmic (WDW version). I'm sure I speak for a lot of people when I ask "What happened in the middle? Where does Pocohantas fit in? And where can I get one of those cool motorized canoes?"

So, yes, in some cases, story is over-emphasized, but in other cases, it's very much needed.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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