Monday, May 24, 2010

Why EPCOT Matters To Me

I’ve been trying to write this post for quite a while. I apologize in advance if it seems to be overly long or rambling.

<ramble> If you’ve read some of my posts here, you probably figure that I indulge in nostalgic mourning for lost attractions as I walk through EPCOT, and to a certain extent that’s true. But EPCOT represents something more to me than just cool rides and an appealing futuristic philosophy, something that was weighing very heavily on my mind two weekends ago, when I saw my grandfather for what will probably be the last time.

We’ve always had a special relationship; I’m the firstborn grandchild, and I’m named after him. Upon my first trip to EPCOT in 1984 at age 6, I quickly fell in love with the place, and as soon as my grandfather found out he bought me my first copy of the definitive EPCOT Center book: Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow.

During a family trip to Plant City in the fall of 1986, he decided to stop off at EPCOT on the way home (home, by the way, was three hours to the north in Lake City, so it was no small detour). My parents weren’t in favor of the EPCOT visit (after all, my brother was barely a year old at that point, and dealing with a cranky and tired baby at a crowded theme park isn’t exactly fun), but he wanted to go, and he knew that I wanted to go, and so we went. 1986, of course, was the year The Living Seas opened, and even though the line to get in stretched almost to the monorail track, we waited in it, and were rewarded with a fascinating trip under the sea. I was a little mystified as to why the pavilion I visited didn’t line up with its description in my EPCOT Center book (answer: that description was based on WED’s original concept for the pavilion, which sponsor United Technologies vetoed in favor of the cheaper pavilion we ended up getting), but even so the Living Seas was the coolest thing 8-year-old me had ever seen. I actually believed the Hydrolators took you under the water, and that the Seabase was inside the massive saltwater tank, surrounded by water.

Three years later, in the summer of ‘89, he took me on perhaps my best EPCOT trip ever. Wonders of Life was brand new then, as was the World Showcase’s Norway pavilion. We did everything I had always wanted to do at EPCOT. It was the last time I saw the original Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Earth Station, and CommuniCore. In retrospect, 1989 was probably EPCOT Center’s best year. Three new pavilions had been opened in the previous three years, and the “older” attractions still looked new and cutting-edge. The future looked bright. Without my grandfather, my only trip before the place got Eisnered in the mid-90s would have been that half-day in 1984.

In the Magic Kingdom, they’ve done a pretty good job of making changes without totally destroying the place I remember from my childhood. EPCOT, though, is where some of my fondest memories live. Sure, it was always meant to change with the times, but that change was supposed to be positive. Too often, however, EPCOT’s changes have been motivated by managerial cluelessness and an overriding desire to be as cheap as possible. If the Magic Kingdom is meant to be a place of eternal childhood innocence, then EPCOT is adulthood distilled; its journey from the late-80s to the 2010s mirrors the one most of us take from youth to adulthood, a journey that begins with grand ambitions and limitless possibilities but becomes a series of compromises until we reach the point where we’re happy if we can just keep our head above water most of the time.

I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

I wish that there were more than just glimpses of the old EPCOT Center underneath all the layers of cost-cutting and ill-advised attempts to be hip, so I could go there and maybe, just maybe, recapture a little bit of what life used to be before my treasured older family members began to die off, back when “If we can dream it, then we can do it” was a promise for the future instead of a relic of the past. </ramble>

According to the widget on the right-hand side of the page, futureprobe now has 30 followers! I’m impressed; I never really tried to have an audience; this blog was just supposed to be a place for me to write about things that were meaningful to me. Thank you one and all for reading. As a native Floridian, I’ve long maintained that only a fool would willingly head down to Disney World during the summer months. With that in mind, I’ll be in the Studios on June 5 for Star Wars Weekends. The weather promises to be unbearably hot and humid, and I’m sure that there will be an hourlong wait for everything, including the bathrooms. Still, at some point in my life I’d love to have my picture taken with Darth Vader and tell him that I’m a big fan of his brother Chad (Google “Chad Vader” if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and this looks to be my best opportunity. So I am going to willingly subject myself to ridiculous heat and ridiculous crowds at Disney’s smallest Florida park. I’ll try to have pictures and a full report within a few days after my trip.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Thanks for sharing your story. EPCOT means a lot to me too. I was there in 1989 as well and remember how exciting and new everything was then. I still adore EPCOT and spend about 50% of my WDW time there, but now we mostly hang out in World Showcase. Future World, which is no longer appropriately named, is mostly only good for kitsch value anymore.

  2. Your grandpa was named Future!!! How cool is that! My grandparents were Alfred and William. ;)

    Nice article. I agree with your sentiments.

  3. Great article! From the heart! I wish I had gotten down there in the late 80's or early 90's. (I was too busy being single, trying to see the country, and pretending to be a rock star.) If I knew then what I know now...


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