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?

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  • http://RefreshingTalk.wordpress.com/ dee

    Thanks for taking us back a bit, Suzannah! I DO so miss Horizons and World of Motion. And that photo of the Lagoon? Priceless. I enjoy the memories as we experience what Epcot is now!

  • jen_schoeph

    Oh, how I miss parts of the old EPCOT. Remember when characters where dressed for the country they were placed in (i.e. I have a pic of myself w/ Minnie and she’s dressed in a kimono); sorry but one Mexican Donald Duck doesn’t cut it. I miss Imagination. It is just not the same. It’s so sad. I wish my kids could experience Imagine Works (me too!). Walking the rainbow walkway? The pin screens, the coloring book with figment…everything in there…all so awesome! Wasn’t there a ball thing that spun too?? As I kid, I was indifferent on the countries; as I got older and more into people and cultures I grew to enjoy World Showcase. Now as an adult I love strolling World Showcase. I could spend my days there walking, people watching, sitting, enjoying. Epcot has changed over the years. Evolved? Maybe? It’s debatable. Soring was a great add. I actually don’t like how the Seas with Nemo and Friends was changed when Nemo was added. It seems so boring now. Maybe it was then too and I’m just blocking it out of my mind. I liked World of Motion, but along with people and cultures, I love soaking in history. Off the top of my head I don’t remember Horizons but I bet if I went through old pictures or even watched an old video I might remember. Regardless, I could go on. I love EPCOT.

  • Chrysty Summers

    This is such a beautiful letter, Suzannah. Growing up in Orange County, CA, Disneyland was a huge part of my life. Although, because it was a constant, I didn’t quite have the appreciation for it just yet at such a young age. Then in the summer of ’85 at age 7, my entire world was rocked. My cousin & I went to visit my grandma in Florida for the summer. She took us all over – Busch Gardens, Sea World, Ft. Lauderdale, Gatorland, but then we spent 2 days at WDW – one at the Magic Kingdom and one at EPCOT Center and it was all over. While we had fun at the other theme parks, and Magic Kingdom trumped them all, it was the last one, EPCOT Center that I fell head over heels for. The music, the architecture, the smells, the message, all of it. From that moment on, my life was never the same. There was something about it that just crept into my veins, and straight into my heart. For the next 23 years I tried to get back. I had a WDW Vacation Planning VHS tape that I would watch every single day after school (I still have it!). I would tape anything that came on TV that was filmed at WDW just so I could get a glimpse of it, and for a long time it felt like I would never get back. But I just HAD to. Then in 2008, the stars finally aligned and we were able to plan a short, 5 day trip. It was my then fiance (now husband’s) first time. It was everything I remembered and more. Of course, I was sad to see that many of the beloved attractions were now gone, or re-tooled into lesser versions of themselves, but I still had that same rush of love that hit me in 1985. Except now, I had someone to share it with – when I saw him falling in love just as hard, it just made me love him even more. I don’t know if I’m proud or embarrassed to say that in the 5.5 years since that first trip together, we have about 10 under our belt, and we aren’t slowing down any time soon. It’s something so special that we share, and I’m so thankful that there are now so many blogs, forums, groups, where we’ve been able to make so many friends that share our same passion for it. It’s something that might not make a lot of sense to a lot of people, but means everything to the ones that get it.

  • Brian Scala

    I don’t know where to begin, Suzannah!… I absolutely love Epcot, and I miss the old EPCOT Center terribly. When I was younger, I fancied myself a computer geek. Most children are wowed by the Magic Kingdom, which is wonderful in its own right. However, I was truly wowed by EPCOT Center – the technology, the promise, the hope. “Looking back at tomorrow.” For me, it was truly a magical place.

    The part that I loved was that it truly stood on its own without all the pomp and circumstance. Sure, each attraction had corporate sponsors, but it never felt “corporate” in the beginning. It never talked down to us, the way it seems to nowadays. I didn’t need Nemo and Friends to show me a puff piece about the ocean. The Living Seas showed me Seabase Alpha, guts and all. It suited me just fine.

    I miss all the little nuances that made EPCOT Center a fun place to learn & to visit. My family made dinner reservations in the AT&T WorldKey video conferencing booth while I just stood and watched the EarthStation films play over and over. I was mesmerized by them.

    By far, my favorite was Horizons. Everything about it was perfect! It’s a shame that it had to be closed & demolished. I’ve never done Mission: Space. For one, if I want a “thrill ride”, I can go to Six Flags. Also, I can’t bring myself to do it.
    I went almost 20 years in between visits to WDW! A couple of years back, I met the lady who would become my wife. Long story short, she is a Disney fan who frequents WDW. I rediscovered my childhood, my youth, and my love for EPCOT through her. The more I think about the “old days”, the more I miss all the family trips to Florida.
    My wife and I honeymooned at WDW last year. It was an experience to come back to EPCOT after two decades. World Showcase still has the same feel to it. Future World has changed though. It’s more about embracing the present and catering to an ADD-riddled audience. It doesn’t feel EPIC anymore! I still love the current Epcot, but I’m not IN love with it, like I was with EPCOT Center. No matter. I will always have my memories and I will always come back.
    (I’m sorry for rambling. I loved your article! :) )

  • Johnathen Hopkins

    That’s pretty much how I feel about Epcot Center. I would give anything to go back to 1985 just for one more day.

  • Sam Fenton-Murrin

    Oh my, what a wonderful article! My first trip to the World has in 1989 and I fell head over heels in love with Epcot. I’m taking my son for his first trip in October and I’ll definitely be buying him a Figment because who knows how long he’ll be around for! Epcot is still my favourite place though, it’s just so different from any other theme park.

  • Epcot Josh

    Very well said, Suzannah. Epcot today reminds me of the quote that “the enemy of great is ‘better’.” Disney and WED truly outdid themselves with the original incarnation of EPCOT Center; what we have today is a sad bastardization of what once was. All the great Imagineers ALWAYS proclaim the value of story as being paramount. Yet, for whatever reason, they obliterated EPCOT Center’s magnificent telling of the greatest story of all -the story of the world and the role every guest can play in shaping its future.

  • http://ptsnob.com/ Dan Heaton

    Oh man. This piece really hits home for me. I love EPCOT so much and had a very similar visit as an eight-year-old in 1984. I still have clearer memories of that first visit to Future World than I do about most of my trips in the ’80s. It’s hard to put into words just how amazing this place was. I still feel it at night in Future World; the atmosphere remains, but the soul is slipping away.

    I’ve added this site to my ever-growing list of Disney fans that I follow. Just brilliant.