Dear EPCOT – My Love Letter to EPCOT Center

spaceshipearth1980s photo courtesy Florida ArchivesDear EPCOT,

I first meant to write you this letter back in October of last year. {You know, for your 30th birthday. But much like the original intent of you, EPCOT, I got a little sidetracked.} I’m here now, though, and I have a few things I want to say to you. Don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s me. No, wait. It is you. It’s all you, EPCOT. I have it bad for you. You may just have been my very first love.

Little 8 year-old me first heard about you in the Birnbaum guide books I would devour at my home in Sharon, Massachusetts. I had been to Walt Disney World as a baby of about 6 months or so, and again in I think 1979 to visit my Ocala relatives and also the Magic Kingdom. But in 1983, my family started planning a really big trip for summer vacation. We would drive down to Orlando from Boston, stopping at historical sites on the way down and back up. We’d spend I think 4 days in EPCOT, staying in the Vacation Villas in Lake Buena Vista. It was a life-changing trip to say the least. Anyway, back to planning, I would sit and read the 1984 Birnbaum guide from cover to cover. Every little blurb about every attraction, every shop in World Showcase, every restaurant. In my head, I made mental notes of things I wanted to see, like SMRT-1 and the restaurant that turned while you ate, aptly named, The Good Turn. Despite all of this build up in my head, I wasn’t let down by my expectations at all, as can happen in some relationships.

1984 Birnbaum Guide

My bible, in 1983

When I first stepped foot inside the turnstiles and Spaceship Earth stood before me, the entrance music swelled around me, as if to say, this is something important, take my hand and let’s go to the future. And that we did. The music, the landscaping, the color of the curbs and the trashcans, the architecture; smooth and welcoming yet bold and futuristic, the smells – from the morning smell of Florida; a mix of swamp, humidity, mulch and a hint of flowers somewhere (perfectly recreated in the Universe of Energy), to the smells of the park: oranges, roses, food cooking somewhere, flamingos gathering over by Mexico…every tiny atom of these surroundings imbued itself into my own molecules, beyond even, into my soul. And to this day, when I walk into the main entrance of EPCOT, all of this comes flooding back, as if the very blood in my veins is surging to the surface, remembering what once was. Not only my longed-for childhood in EPCOT, but the majesty, the hope, the ideal that was EPCOT Center. To put it bluntly, EPCOT, I was yours. You had me at the first surge of violins in your Main Entrance Medley.

I know I am not alone in my love for you, oh no. There are so many who, as children, adults, or somewhere in between, fell deeply into this same entrancement. EPCOT represented everything a perfect theme park should be. Though Walt Disney’s original dream of EPCOT Center was far different; this was no prototype community of people practicing the perfect synergy of work, home and environmental harmony. But what we could do was see the hope of the future (sorry, that phrase is going to be repeated a lot here). We could see how far we had come in the areas of communication, travel and living, agriculture and the seas – and don’t forget imagination, the key to making a successful future a reality. We could also see how other cultures lived, their history and their future – with us, creating the perfect combination of tomorrow’s future. There are hundreds, thousands of us, who hold on to that hope, that dream. EPCOT was so much more than a theme park. It was a promise. An ideal -one we all wanted to work together to achieve. How many dreams were fulfilled because of a childhood visit to EPCOT, seeing the possibilities and what was out there to conquer? How many people were sparked to travel the world because of exposure to other countries in World Showcase? I know my walls were covered with photo posters of other cities and countries because of Impressions de France alone.

1984 Birnbaum Guide

Look at World Showcase lagoon back then…

I could go on and visit each original attraction and how it affected me as a child, but I think I’ve done that before and most likely will again. And those attractions are for the most part, gone. In many cases, parts of you are just covered up, locked up, or cordoned off. Those are parts that give me hope. Hope that you will some day rise up like a Phoenix from the ashes, reborn to your former glory. Remember Centorium? Remember that long hallway that went around behind it? The second story? The elevator? Remember Image Works? The magic that was around every corner? Remember the sweet simplicity of Horizons? World of Motion? Imagination? CommuniCore? Remember when Figment was a proud symbol of the park, an inquisitive, childlike representation of imagination itself? What message are you sending now, EPCOT? You should’ve been the one park to hold on to your ideals. The one place that didn’t destroy, cut, and homogenize. The message you sent to your early visitors was an important one, one which had such a huge impact, it filled a giant hall of people wanting to remember it last October, wanting to drink it in, crying tears of remembrance, yet again. Just read the words from the songs on your original album – “listen and you’ll hear the heartbeat of a universe teeming with force…” “just make believe, you’re a tiny little seed…” “it’s fun to be free…” “if we can dream it, then we can do it…” Yes, we can. We can because you told us so, EPCOT.

But you’ve changed, EPCOT. Now, you are full of character greetings, merchandise you can mostly find everywhere on property, interactive games that can be heard around the World, and corporate synergy where attractions once succeeded on their own. Are you a product of your environment, or are today’s visitors a product of what you are showing them? It’s the classic case of nature vs. nurture. Parts of Communicore turned into a glorified spot for video games – because that’s what kids wanted, or were kids playing because it was there? Was Kim Possible and then Phineas and Ferb added to entertain the kids, or are kids choosing to play it vs. learning about the World Showcase countries, because it’s there? Sure, times have changed, but EPCOT’s ideals didn’t  have to. Am I asking for things to never have changed? Well, maybe. Certainly there have been cases for both improving parts of Disney parks and keeping them the same over the years. Do I think New Fantasyland is a fun place to walk around and see Imagineering details? Definitely. Do I wish it could’ve been done without the cost of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Definitely. Do I think Mission: Space is a technological and entertainment improvement over Horizons? Nope. Not in a million years. I think we lost beautiful, important attractions in Horizons, World of Motion, and Imagination. There was a successful formula employed by Imagineering in those attractions, which we will never get back. There’s a reason all of us EPCOT Center fans have almost every attraction spiel and song memorized. They were powerful messages, brilliant ideals. Thrill rides, schmill rides. You’re better than that, EPCOT and don’t let anyone tell you different. YOU are the ideal. YOU are the hope. And because of that, we all were too. We were here to change the world, because of you.

Now don’t get sad, EPCOT. I still love you. Because I know who you really are. I know what you’ve lost, the pain you’ve experienced, and what you still have to offer. And I’ll always be here, by your side. Just like all of us who grew up loving you, you have your scars. You’ve made your mistakes, and you’ll probably make more too, just like us. Pardon the second Captain EO pun in a matter of sentences, but you’re just another part of me. It’s true. I’ll still enjoy your beautiful architecture, your wonderful landscaping, and the unique food, culture and entertainment your World Showcase countries offer. I’ll still hold out hope that I can climb the stairs of the Image Works once more, or hear a beautiful updated version of Tomorrow’s Child on my descent back through time, with more than just triangles to look at.

WDW Pictorial Souvenir 1984

From the WDW Pictorial Souvenir in 1984. These were my new bibles once we started going to WDW more.

So where do we go from here, EPCOT? Can we get back to that simple, loving time of the 80’s? I’m afraid we probably cannot, EPCOT. We’ve lost a bit too much. And while I have every hope that today’s Imagineers would love to bring you back to your former glory, and enhance your original ideals, I know better than to think the Imagineers are running the show. I can only hope, as all my EPCOT Center friends do, that they won’t take any more of you away, and that both your role as a theme park, and your goals as a “force beyond our eyes” can be reexamined. Maybe, just maybe, they could bring back your original background music, the songs with beautiful, intertwining melodies that referenced your original attractions, cementing their impact in our minds. Maybe, they could fix things that are broken, remove tarps and unlock doors, and put characters in one location, keeping the purity of the World Showcase and its message. It won’t be easy. It would take someone standing up for something bigger than just profits.  Because that’s what EPCOT Center was – something bigger than all of us. It was the dream we all shared together.

…for today holds the challenge, to make this world a better place to be…” those weren’t just lyrics to us. They were a call to action. We are here, EPCOT, to live up to that challenge. Won’t you join us?

 

All of my love, now and always,

Suzy

Suzy/Suzannah

Me, (I went by Suzy back then) circa 1984 and last year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d love to hear from fellow EPCOT Center lovers out there. What are your thoughts? Do you think we can ever regain what EPCOT Center once was? What are your favorite parts of EPCOT now?





About Suzannah Mitchell

Boston girl living and blogging in Walt Disney World's backyard. Mom of 3, coffee addict, oh and Princess of course!