Walt Disney World
---- THE LATEST BUZZ ----
(4/21/16) Frozen Ever After, Soarin' Around the World and More (MORE...)
(3/31/16) Play Agent P On Your Own SmartPhone (MORE...)
(3/3/16) New Friends Coming to Turtle Talk with Crush (MORE...)
(2/17/16) Flower and Gardens Fest Prep (MORE...)
Ride Rehabs - The following information is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.
Soarin’ - NOW CLOSED through June 2016
Click here to read: EPCOT HAS FAILED
General Park News - (3/31/16) Epcot guests... Disney has announced that you can now play Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure in the park on your own smartphone rather than using one of the park's F.O.N.E. devices. Visit one of the recruitment centers at Odyssey Bridge or near the International Gateway to activate your personal device (or pick up a F.O.N.E.) and begin your mission.
(12/23/15) Epcot opened the new Disney/Pixar Short Film Festival attraction today at the Imagination Pavilion, in the old Magic Eye Theater where Captain EO and Honey I Shrunk the Audience used to play. The short film festival will feature 3 Disney/Pixar shorts: “Get A Horse” (starring Mickey Mouse), “For The Birds” and “La Luna”.
(12/7/15) Three new animatronic figures were added to create a brand new finale to the Gran Firsta Tour dark ride at Epcot's Mexico pavilion on Friday in honor of Walt Disney’s Birthday... bringing the characters of Donald, Panchito and Jose (The Three Caballeros) to life. A fantastic video showing off the new finale scene was posted to Twitter, and I've embedded it below.
What makes this new finale extra special is the fact that the three figures were originally created for the Mickey Mouse Revue attraction that opened at the Magic Kingdom back on Oct. 1, 1971. The figures were later sent to Tokyo Disneyland along with the rest of the show when that park opened. Now, after being gone for 35 years, the three figures have been upgraded to current standards and installed at Epcot.
June 2016 - Frozen Ever After, Soarin’ Around the World and More - (4/21/16) The Summer 2016 promotion for Walt Disney World this year is being called “Awaken Summer”, and a ton of new information has been released this week from the world’s most most popular theme park destination for each of the four theme parks.
Epcot has two big new attractions opening this Summer in June.
The one that your kids will likely be screaming for is the new “Frozen Ever After” dark ride, replacing Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion inside World Showcase, where guests will visit Arendelle to celebrate a special “Summer Snow Day” event.
“A stone archway entrance greets guests to the kingdom of Arendelle. Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, trolls and Marshmallow join them on their boat journey through the frozen willow forest, past Troll Valley and up to the North Mountain to Elsa’s ice palace. After disembarking, guests can meet the regal sisters in the cozy Royal Sommerhus. Inspired by a cabin in the countryside of Norway, the sisters have opened their summer home for visitors.”
For now Disney is only giving out a “Summer 2016” opening date for the attraction, though lots of local sources in Orlando have seen the boats for the ride being hauled to Epcot on the back of flatbed trucks over the past week, so we can only assume that early testing may begin soon.
A few fun facts: All of the original voice talent from the film returned to record new dialog and songs for the attraction. Composers Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez created special new lyrics to go with the attraction's new version of some classic songs from the film.
Also new this summer will be an all new version of the popular “Soarin’” ride in The Land pavilion, now called “Soarin’ Around the World”. Already very popular with guests, Soarin’ will now feature 50% more capacity than before with the addition of a third theater. On the technical side of things the attraction has been upgraded with all new digital screens, projection systems and new scents to offer along the way as you go for an exciting flight around the world to see spectacular global landscapes and man-made wonders of the world. Look for Soarin’ Around the World to open to guests on June 17th.
Nearby, inside The Living Seas pavilion, Turtle Talk with Crush will be enhanced starting in May with the addition of new characters from the upcoming Disney•Pixar’s “Finding Dory” film which hits theaters on June 17, 2016. Now with Crush swims up to talk with you humans, he’ll be joined by Dory and some of her new friends.
(3/3/16) Disney has announced that starting in May the Turtle Talk with Crush attraction will feature some new characters (Dory and some new friends) from the new Finding Dory film hitting theaters on June 17th.
Speaking of which, the new trailer for Finding Dory came out a few hours ago and it looks pretty darn good, especially if you loved the original. Check it out below (or here) to get an idea of which new characters might appear in Turtle Talk starting in May.
(2/15/16) OrlandoParkNews dropped into Epcot this week and shows off a look at the entrance to Soarin' inside The Land pavilion while the ride undergoes a transformation between now and this Summer, as well as a peek inside Innoventions East and West, where many exhibits sit closed, including the newly closed Habit Hereos that just shut down last week, meanwhile rumors claim some characters from Inside Out may take over a different location for a new character meet & greet.
(11/19/15) Park Pass has posted some nice aerial photos of Epcot this week, that give us our first really great look at the construction of the third theater for Soarin' as well as the Frozen themed expansion building being added to World Showcase between the old existing Mexico and Norway pavilion buildings.
The LA Times has dug up a little more information about the new Frozen ride coming to Epcot in 2016. It mentions that the new animatronic figures will use the same animated face projection technology used on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at the Magic Kingdom to make them more lifelike. The story of the new ride will have guests enter the queue and pass Wandering Oaken's Trading Post where he will wipe the steam off the windows occasionally and give you a "Yoo-hoo!" as you pass by. From there you'll board the boats to take part in a Winter in Summer Festival, where Queen Elsa will use her powers to make it snow in her palace and sings "Let It Go".
You'll encounter most of the iconic characters from the film like Sven the reindeer, Olaf ice-skating by, Marshmallow the giant snowman, Kristof and even a visit to the Troll Valley. In fact even the ride’s old exit point, themed to look like a fishing village in Norway, is said to be rethemed to fit into the new Frozen storyline.
(8/21/15) According to the latest official details from Disney, guest riding the new Frozen Ever After flume ride will bring guests to Arendelle just in time for the "Winter in Summer" celebration. The Norway pavilion will also be expanded by adding the Royal Summerhus, a cabin where guests can meet Anna and Elsa. The Royal Summerhus will be themed after an actual historic log cabin in Norway.
(6/10/15) Disney released new details and the name for Epcot's new Frozen themed ride under construction inside the former Maelstrom attraction building. The new ride will be called Frozen Ever After, and like the previous attraction, it will be a slow moving boat ride. From what I’ve been led to understand, the new ride will re-use much of the old flume layout and Maelstrom boats from before. The artwork released seems to show the point in the old ride where the boat would stop in front of the three trolls who would cast a magic spell and make your boat move backwards.
In the Frozen Ever After version it looks like you'll be face to face with Elsa inside her ice castle, as she sings and casts frozen waves of magic in the air all around you. According to the Orlando Sentinel the ride will feature many of the film's classic songs, a finale with fireworks as you are bid farewell by Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Sven and Kristof, and you'll pass by Wandering Oaken's Trading Post in the queue. The ride will also feature a number of cutting edge new animatronics that will feature internal projection based face animations, much like those used on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
The Failure Of Epcot
(10/8/14) I’m going to throw this right out there first so it has time to sink in…
Epcot has Failed.
There, I said it. It is worth noting that I actually wrote most of this piece way back in July… long before it was ever confirmed that Maelstrom was going to close down to make way for a Frozen themed makeover, but for whatever reason, I just wasn't ready to finish it until now.
So what’s wrong with Epcot you ask? Historically, Epcot was Disney’s big experiment, opened in 1982 by Disney management after Walt’s death, to create a permanent World’s Fair style theme park environment, with a unique sponsorship focused business plan concept. To this day Epcot is a theme park like no other, and is often cited as the favorite park for many Walt Disney World fans.
But I tell you that Epcot has failed… or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the business model created for it has failed.
While the Magic Kingdom (and Disneyland before it) were designed to run as huge cross-promotional marketing machines, sharing and promoting the various Walt Disney Studios films, TV shows, and characters, Epcot was designed to be a different kind of beast. Inspired by the temporary World’s Fair / Expo events that took place across North America during most of the 20th century, Epcot was designed to run under a similar business model, with each pavilion being sponsored by a company, or approved along with a similar co-sponsorship deal by the world nation it represented. In the case of the later, the staff of the World Showcase pavilions are part of a Cultural Representative Program, where natives of that country agree to come work at Walt Disney World for a year at a time and represent their native homeland. Some are sponsored directly by their governments, while most use a mixture of private funding from select native corporate entities.
The business model worked at first. Each pavilion was built and later maintained through various sponsorship deals and for many years Epcot worked like a well oiled machine, with guests traveling from across the globe to visit, inspired by the messages of global unity, great technological progress, and the overall concept of “If you can dream it, you can do it.” It wasn’t until the 90’s when the first signs of trouble started, and the problem only got worse as we crossed through the waves of financial and political turmoil of early 21s century.
Like many deep set problems, the first signs of change started to bubble up from the core… CommuniCore. In the early 90’s, it became clear that the now decade old futuristic technology on display within CommuniCore was starting to show it’s age.
The huge costs of a full pavilion sponsorship made it difficult for many early technology companies to justify the cost to buy their way into Epcot, so the old CommuniCore was removed to make way for Innoventions, a midway of small sponsorship opportunities that could be changed out as quickly as needed. Innoventions had the right idea at heart, but the cheaply made temporary display areas were a turn off to many guests. The American public too had begun to wise-up and sour on the idea of having too much corporate sponsorship.
It wasn’t long before many of the Future World pavilions began to lose their sponsorships as previous deals expired and the sponsors would opt out of renewing. While the exact details of these deals are closely guarded secrets, I’ve been told that sponsorship length is typically for a 10 year term. Currently however, there are more pavilions without official sponsorship than those with, and some of the current deals are estimated to be approaching the end of their terms very soon.
- Horizons, while no longer in the park, was the first to lose a sponsor, seeing the relationship with General Electric go dark in 1993 as soon as the 10 year deal came to an end. Horizon stayed open for a time without a sponsor, closed down, only to reopen while Test Track was under construction next door, then close again for good in 1999. It was replaced by Mission: Space in 2003 which was sponsored by Compaq, who was purchased by rival HP (Hewlett Packard) before the attraction even opened. I’m actually not sure of the attraction’s current status to know if they have signed an extension of some kind, or if the terms of a new deal are actively under negotiations.
- The Wonders of Life pavilion which opened in 1989 with a sponsorship from Met Life, also lost their deal at the end of the first term. Before long it too would experience a sporadic operational schedule, opening in the busy months, before it was closed entirely in early 2007.
- Universe of Energy was sponsored by Exxon (later ExxonMoble) up through 2004, and while it hasn’t closed down, it has remained sponsor-less ever since.
- Imagination’s longtime sponsor, Kodak, ended their relationship with the attraction in 2010, and it has thus far remained open and sponsor free.
- World of Motion is one of the big success stories, as it started out with a sponsorship by GM (General Motors) who has managed to maintain their sponsorship with the attraction through the transformation into Test Track, and even through their own bankruptcy problems, renewing the deal again with the latest update to the Test Track attraction (Version 2.0) just a few years ago.
- Spaceship Earth has gone through a series of sponsors over the years (BELL, to AT&T and then Siemens in 2005) but as the icon of the park itself, it has been lucky enough to be a popular sponsorship opportunity. But the question is, will Seimens stay on beyond 2015?
- The Land has also had a number of sponsors over the years: Kraft from 82-92 and Nestle from 93 to 2009. Nestle dropped out however, and it wasn’t until 2011 when Chiquita signed a larger deal with the entire resort and cruise line, that they became the sponsor of the Living with the Land ride.
- The Living Seas opened in 1986 and was sponsored by United Technology up through 1998, but this is where things get interesting however. Unlike the other pavilions which could be closed down if Disney chose to do so, The Living Seas is inhabited by a large number of marine animals ranging from fish to dolphins to protected manatees. Closing down the pavilion was not an option as the pavilion would still have to be staffed and the animals fed and taken care of, regardless of sponsorship status. It also helped by the pavilion is home to the popular Coral Reef Restaurant, which offers underwater viewing into the main exhibit tank. Unable to find a new sponsor, Disney cut the pavilion’s budget where they could for a few years… axing the preshow film as well as closing the “Seacab” omni-mover ride in 2001 when it started to fall into disrepair.
What happened next with The Living Seas pavilion may be paving the way for the future however. Disney found themselves with a huge hit on their hands, thanks to Pixar’s Finding Nemo film hitting theaters in Summer 2003, reeling in the second highest gross for the year at $936 million world-wide. The marine life themed film was the perfect fit for The Living Seas pavilion and Disney began to experiment by adding Finding Nemo themed decorative elements to the pavilion starting in late 2003 and by late 2004 they opened the first Nemo themed attraction within, “Turtle Talk with Crush”. The mini attraction was a smash hit with guests who overwhelmed the limited capacity of the theater it was in, which led not only to it’s own expansion, but the transformation of the entire pavilion into “The Seas with Nemo & Friends” by late 2005. At this point Disney opted to go all in here, and began work transforming the attraction’s old entrance, pre-show theaters, hydrolators and the closed Seacab ride into a new Nemo themed dark ride experience that opened in early 2007.
While this was the first time that an Epcot pavilion has been entirely re-themed to tie into a Disney or Pixar animated films, this was not the first time that a Disney film has been brought to life in Epcot.. that honor would go to the 4D “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” attraction at the Imagination pavilion that opened in 1994 and closed in 2010, with the theme of the 4D film’s “Imagination Institute” was used as the theme for the 1999 version of the revamped dark ride experience.
While Future World has thus far received most of the attention in terms of sponsorship and new attractions, the World Showcase pavilions are aging. They have been quietly getting small updates when they can get the countries to agree to help pay for them, but none seem very eager to do so anymore. The last World Showcase pavilion to be added to the park was Norway which opened in 1988 and all negotiations to design and build new country pavilions have failed since then due to disagreeable financial terms for both the building of the pavilion as well as ongoing annual operating expense payments. For example, until the government of Norway opted to step away from their deal with Disney, they were said to have paid $200,000 a year to keep the Norway pavilion running.
While Canada and China have all received new films for their show theaters, and Mexico revamped their boat ride about five years ago as well, which saw the introduction of the Three Caballeros characters to lighten the mood and bring a little more entertainment to the experience. However, their presence is said to be scaled back quite a bit from the initial proposal, as the Mexican government resigned a new deal with Disney and asked to keep more of the cultural information in the attraction intact.
Norway however, found themselves on the block as the last untouched major attraction in World Showcase, but as the government opted out several years ago and Disney found themselves sitting on top of another runaway animated hit in the form of Frozen this past year. They tested the waters with something small (Anna & Elsa character Meet & Greet in Norway) in much the same way they did with Finding Nemo at The Living Seas, and the response was huge… and now the rest is history as Maelstrom has now closed and a new large Frozen themed attraction will open in 2016.
It is with this in mind that I say that Epcot has failed… but it is fixable. The old business model isn’t working anymore as we’ve seen Disney forced to take over more and more pavilions… and this isn’t a bad thing, as otherwise I think Epcot would sit stagnant. So while there are those who are upset at Frozen coming to Norway… I’m not one of them and I’m looking forward to it. I look at it with the eyes who remember what happened over at The Living Seas and that pavilion is not only better for it, but I’m hoping we see Disney start to take more of a creative role throughout Epcot, especially in World Showcase, where it would only make sense to add a copy of the new Ratatouille dark ride that just opened at the Paris resort as a starting point, and then look how they can expand into the other World Showcase pavilions as well to breathe some new life into the park.
Because Epcot IS a great park… it just needs to evolve and grow to realize it’s true potential.