I’d like to talk about my memories going to Epcot Center in Walt Disney World back in the mid to late eighties. I have a lot of fond memories for the way it was then, which is almost entirely changed now.
The park was originally made to honor Walt’s vision of making the world a better place in the future. To appreciate Epcot fully, you also should know something about the history of The World’s Fair. Those were expositions where the nations of the world would celebrate and showcase advances and innovation in society. To get an idea of how big a deal this was back in the old days, the Eiffel Tower was built as the front entrance to this event! Perhaps that was the idea to build “the giant golf ball” as the centerpiece to the park, but that’s just my own guess.
What they started in Tomorrowland, they would expand upon with Epcot Center. The park opened in 1982, but as the years went on, many of the rides became obsolete and the park drastically changed.
As far as I know, the only things that are really still the same are The Land, some parts of Spaceship Earth and certain areas in World Showcase. Anyhow, lets talk about the bygone attractions!
Located in the Norwegian area of the World showcase was a ride called Maelstrom, which was a log flume dark ride that depicted a mythological version of Norway’s Viking days. This was one of the best parts in Epcot not only because it was a great ride, but because of its location in the park. As a kid, you want to go on the rides, and the educational stuff is more there for the “boring adults”.
Most of the rides were in the front circle of the park surrounding Spaceship Earth, “the big golf ball”. Once you got beyond that, you entered the World Showcase, which is mainly shopping and areas to eat. There was also the dreadful American Adventure, which as a kid, was the most dull thing imaginable. (I didn’t like the Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom either)
So walking throughout the park, once you got to the countries, it was all down hill. With the exception being this ride, which was unbelievable!
My favorite part of this ride, by far was when you encounter the troll who sends your ship in the other direction. He did these “magic effects” in the air, and it was one of the coolest looking things on ANY attraction ever. You had to see it in person, video and photos don’t do it justice.
Maelstrom was later replaced by the Frozen ride. I actually like the Frozen movie quite a bit but I’m sorry, it’s no replacement for Maelstrom. They should not have removed it. There had to be another area they could have built a Frozen attraction..
Another thing worth noting about this ride is that I’m almost certain it’s a part of the Mandella Effect.
As a kid, I remember standing on the outside of this ride and the boat would hang over the edge. Because of this, I thought it looked really scary and I didn’t want to go on the ride, but I eventually did. I remember the boat indeed hanging over the edge for a moment before heading in the other direction. Years later when I went back to the park as an adult, I was shocked to find this wasn’t the case at all!
As you can see by the photo, taken by somebody outside the ride, the boat comes close to the cave’s exit, but it definitely does not hang over the edge like my memory would have me believe. Does anyone else remember the boat hanging over the edge of the cliff? Or, is it just the thought of it hanging over the cliff that was left in my mind and as a young kid that made it scarier than the reality? Or perhaps it DID hang off the cliff and they later changed the ride? Has anyone experienced this Mandella Effect?
ImageWorks (1982 – 1998)
One of the strongest memories I have about Epcot center was the post-show exhibit that followed Journey Into Imagination called ImageWorks. It had a variety of activities such as a Magic Palette, which was a digital drawing station. As a kid, this was the first time I ever saw anything like this in my life. Even before I used Microsoft Paint. It was the first time I ever did digital drawing. Truly magical at that time.
There was also the Stepping Tones, which made sounds of various instruments when stepped on! I remember it not working that well, but perhaps I was too young to understand it at the time.
Lastly, and most amazingly there was the Rainbow Corridor aka the Sensor Maze. It assigned a color to each guest and followed them throughout. Again, for a kid in the 80’s, it was magic. I wanted to live in this hallway. (And still do) While researching for this article I actually found a video of someone who snuck through a door where ImageWorks was and surprisingly – it still existed in 2014! However, this was apparently fully removed recently, shortly after the addition of the Disney Vacation Club lounge area.
Also, another fun bit of trivia is that Michael Jackson once did a photo shoot inside the tunnel. Can’t get more 80’s than this…
For many years after I confused this tunnel with the similar area from the retried “Delta Dream Flight” in Tomorrowland. That had a neon light pattern as well but it wasn’t even remotely as good..
Jumping water fountains
Located right outside the imagination pavilion (The Figment Ride) were the Jumping Water Fountains. Looking back at this now, it seems like this would be the lamest thing to get excited over. But as a little kid back then, this was so much fun to watch. Sometimes it’s the little things that mattered and I know I’m not alone in loving these. People used to line up in large groups to take pictures in front of the jumping water. Everyone loved it. These are actually still there but I think there was a point when they took them away. Or perhaps sometimes they are turned off.
World of Motion
World of Motion was about the evolution of transportation. I remember it fondly as being my favorite ride Disney ever did. Do I have any particular reason why I could call it better than something like the Haunted Mansion? No, I don’t. I just liked it. Do we always have to justify our reasons for loving something?
It wasn’t fast paced and honestly there wasn’t anything extra special about it that I can pinpoint. It basically just showed the invention of the wheel, up to what transportation might be like in the future.
The entire ride was done with audio animatronics and I think that was the strong point to any of the older Disney rides – the animatronics. The rides in the Magic Kingdom are low key, but they’re typically based around some kind of adventure so there is some low-level form of excitement to them. These Epcot educational rides were pleasurable because it was a nice breath of fresh air and you could possibly learn something along the way. I specifically liked the ones that were based around some type of Mythology, and I remember this ride going back in time to ancient Rome and so forth, which really made you feel like you were part of some abstract reality. It’s a loss to everyone that rides have become less about animatronics and more about computer generated effects.
I have to say, another reason I may have liked this ride so much is that I remember whenever I went on it, it was extremely hot outside. And this ride had good air conditioning! Ducks head for incoming troll comments about how I chose my favorite ride based on a ride having air conditioning. Again, that’s not the reason. I liked the animatronics, traveling into the past and the mythology.
This ride was replaced by Test Track, which is probably the best of the “new” rides. I don’t care for the beginning part of test track where you design your car, but the ride itself is a lot of fun. It’s just sad that it has to replace my favorite Disney ride of all time.
One of my favorite attractions at Disney as a VERY young kid in the 80’s was the Kitchen Kabaret, presented by Kraft. This was a short musical song and dance salute about good nutrition, again featuring audio-animatronics.
It was hosted by “Bonnie Appetit”, who kind of resembled the Bride of Chucky.There was apparently a lot of products you could buy for the show (like a record and placemat) which I’d like to hunt down.
This show was later replaced by Food Rocks, which was somewhat similar but had worse animatronics with less character movement. Food Rocks was later replaced by Soarin’ which is another ride I actually like. Food Rocks wasn’t nearly as good, so I’m fine with Soarin replacing it, it’s actually for the better. But I’d take Kitchen Kabaret over Soarin’ any day of the week..
The Living Seas
Originally this ride was a visit to the “Alpha Seabase” which was basically sitting in a series of very slow moving connected cars that went around a building full of real sea-life. Epcot was supposed to be all about education, and this was truly a great educational ride. Today it has been completely ruined and re-skinned with a CGI animated Finding Nemo theme. It was a peaceful ride and now it’s littered with kids and chaos. I’ll be fair here and say that there IS still some real sea life after the ride is over. But overall, Nemo pales in comparison to its former self.
I remember going on The Living Seas sometime in the late eights and I put my foot on the floor outside of the ride. Again these were slow moving carts, so it wasn’t really a huge deal, or so I thought. Well, the ride somehow detected something was wrong and the entire tram stopped moving. Nobody knew I did it except me and my sister. As a kid, I was sweating it because I thought I would get into trouble and thrown out of the park. The ride resumed about 30 seconds later. Crisis averted.
El Rio Del Tiempo (The River of Time)
When you’re on vacation, food is one of the most important things on your mind. And one of the best places to eat in WDW is the San Angel Inn restaurant in Mexico. The restaurant is still there to this day and is just as good as ever.
There was also a boat ride along the back river called The River of Time, which the restaurant overlooked. The original ride went along a lazy river that passed by a volcano. There were animatronics, and it was a nice, peaceful voyage.
In 2007 the original ride was changed into Gran Fiesta Tour starring Donald Duck – A Three Cabealleros themed attraction. Now everyone already knows I’m the biggest Donald Duck fan there is, but I do miss the simplicity of the original ride.
I always wanted a Donald themed ride somewhere in Disney, so I am certainly not upset about that. But the ride consists of large TV screens built into the walls with cartoons playing. This ride could have been excellent if they would have actually built some animatronic characters, but they once again went the cheap route. It’s really disappointing, because after waiting my whole life for a ride featuring my favorite Disney character, I was hoping for something much, much better.
There IS an actual animatronic Donald at the end of the ride. But there entire ride should be filled with them, instead of most of it being screens.
I still say they need to build Uncle Scrooges Money Bin as a ride. And not some cheap piece of junk like the one they had near Mickeys Toon Town at one point. I mean an actual ride, rivaling what Universal did for Harry Potter. I don’t see why they can’t actually build Duckburg as its own park with the Money Bin as the centerpiece.
Anyway while I’m on the subject of good places to eat in Disney, I’d also recommend the Biergarten in Epcot’s Germany. I am part German, and love German food so I might be a bit biased there though.
I will say however, if you do go to this place to eat, be sure to go with a larger group of people. If you go in a small group, they stick you at a table with strangers, and some of these Disney-Fanatics can be complete basket-cases..
The Horizons ride was essentially all about visualizing what life might be life in the future, exactly what Epcot center was all about. It was supposed to open along with the park in 1982 but they couldn’t finish it in time. The plot of the ride is that you watch what having one of three jobs would be like in the future: Agriculture technology, Space housing and undersea living.
It’s the only Disney ride I know of that actually let you select an alternate ending, which was a great concept they should use in more attractions. It gave you another reason to want to go on the ride another time.
This ride was replaced by Mission: Space, which I can’t stand. It’s so claustrophobic, it just makes it not fun at all. I get that’s how it would be to relive the experience but it’s a ride. I think they could have taken their liberties and not made it so close spaced.
Universe of Energy
The Universe of Energy was an exploration about finding fuel sources. It has impressive movies where you’ve traveled back in time playing on giant wraparound screens.
I have to admit, as a kid this ride wasn’t one of my favorites. There was nothing wrong with it, I just had little interest in dinosaurs. I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one, but dinosaurs just never did it for me. It did have the same attention to detail and well crafted animatronics that all the other rides of this era had, so even though I wasn’t overly engaged, it was still well done and nice to look at. It was later changed into an Ellen Degeneres ride of all things. If you think I was disinterested before, now I won’t even step in the building. I did go on her ride one time, and it was a giant slap in the face to what Epcot was about and completely destroyed the mood and atmosphere that the original ride had.
The ride closed earlier this year to make way for a Guardian’s of the Galaxy ride, again, adding more characters and franchises to Epcot.
The Land (Last one that still exists!)
I feel like I call every one of these retired rides “my favorite” but I guess that’s because I just loved being in Epcot so much as a kid. If I was ranking them, “Living with the Land” was probably my second favorite attraction in the park. It was the total opposite of what you think of when going to a theme park and going on a roller coaster. This ride literally had you moving as slow as possible on a boat looking at vegetables and old farm equipment. Typing this out in print, it sounds like the worst ride ever. But somehow, it was amazing. And the best part is, this ride still exists. In fact it’s THE LAST of the original rides that is still around that is pretty much in its original form. This is probably because the greenhouse that the ride goes through actually provides the vegetables for the surrounding restaurants, so it’s serving a purpose. I went on this ride somewhat recently (see picture below) and I loved it just as much as I ever did. It was a bittersweet experience, because it made me realize that if all the other old rides that are now gone were still there, they would still be great.
Journey Into Imagination (the original version)
What can be said about Journey Into Imagination? It was easily one of the best rides that existed in retro Epcot. It was up there with rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and one of the main reasons to go to the park for kids back then.
Of course Epcot was all about advances in science and talking about our future. But all science begins with an initial concept, an idea. Which is why a ride about imagination is a great introductory educational experience for kids!
They needed a personality to bring the experience to life so they developed Dreamfinder and Figment as the ride’s hosts. I’m pretty sure they got rid of “Dreamfinder” because everyone thought he was creepy, even in the 80’s.
Really though, the Dreamfinder was a pilot, who had a giant floating contraption and talked about chasing your dreams. It was meant to be inspirational, and his dreamcatcher ship was an impressively built piece of machinery. The ride took you through stylized imagery of literature, art and science in an entertaining trip with its own catchy theme song.
Wonders of Life
Wonders of Life is a retired area that I remember but don’t have as much nostalgia for as some of the others. That may be because it opened much later in 1989. It is now mostly used for private events and during Epcot’s ‘Food and Wine’ and ‘Flower and Garden’ festivals.
The main attraction in Wonders of Life was Body Wars. A ride where you were shrunk down and put into a ship to go into someones bloodstream. It was a motion-simulator ride, much like Star Tours, and was infamous for causing riders to get sick. The film portion of the ride was directed by Leonard Nimoy. It officially closed in 2007 and has been in the process of being slowly dismantled ever since.
Another attraction that was more or less left to rot was Cranium Command. This was more of an attraction rather than a ride, where you were “edutained” about the importance of the human brain. The show was hosted by an audio-animatronic named Buzzy. And according to rumors, he’s still fully intact along with most of the show area, it’s just closed off from public view.
There was a short movie about how babies are born called “the Making of Me” hosted by Martin Short, which was just as weird as it sounds. I actually remember seeing this and I’m pretty sure we walked out.
CommuniCore represented everything that Epcot was about and was basically the center “hub” of the park. It was divided into two buildings, and allowed guests to interact and have hands-on experiences with up and coming technology you wouldn’t see in your regular day to day life. CommuniCore closed in 1994 and become Innoventions, which was nowhere near as cool or innovative.
One of the most iconic things from CommuniCore was this little robot named SMRT-1 from the Computer Central Exhibit. He’d use voice recognition to talk to guests, which was still pretty new and impressive at the time.
While Spaceship Earth is still present in the park, it has undergone many changes over the years. I feel like the changes to this ride go largely unnoticed by most because the structure itself is still there. The giant golf ball, which is such a powerful image, kind of overshadows the smaller changes they did inside. One of my favorite sections of Epcot was at the end of Spaceship Earth where your ship traveled backwards past hanging lighted crystal coming down from the sky. (I tried to find a good image of this but it’s a dark ride so I don’t know that such a thing exists)
This was totally removed and replaced by iPad screens where they have you select a bunch of options for some game I could care less about. What is the point of going on a vacation to Florida and going on a ride to stare at an iPad screen? I could do that at home. And that is the problem with the modern park design in general. They have focused way too much on CGI effects and screens to project computer generated images, and that’s where all the magic is lost. They used to create practical effects which made the rides unique and special, which has been largely lost. I do have to commend Disney on doing The Little Mermaid ride correctly though. That is a modern ride that actually uses a ton of well crafted physical animatronics and it’s one of the best rides in Disney because of it. Hopefully they will continue on this trend in the future.