Epcot35: We've Just Begun to Dream

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer

According to Disney advertising back in the early 1980s, the 21st Century began October 1, 1982. That is the day that EPCOT Center opened at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida. From its launch, the theme park—now known simply as Epcot—demonstrated many new technologies that in 2017 we take for granted, and, indeed, changed the way not only guests experienced Disney theme parks, but themed entertainment in general.

To celebrate Epcot's 35th Anniversary on October 1, 2017, the park celebrated the day with the theme "We've just begun to dream." The day included a ceremony at the Fountain View stage in Future World; special merchandise and foods; sold out D23 Fanniversary Celebration panel presentations about the park's development and history in World Showplace; and a special fireworks finale for the night's performance of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.

Guests visiting Epcot on October 1, 2017, were able to get a commemorative Epcot guidemap and times guide. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Epcot35: Fountain View Ceremony

The special 35th Anniversary ceremony was scheduled to begin at 10:01 a.m. on October 1, 2017 on the Fountain View stage in Future World. A very large crowd filled the plaza between the park's 9 a.m. rope-drop and the scheduled beginning of the ceremony. As we reported in our Walt Disney World Resort Update for October 3–9, 2017:

Though we know Disney does not actually control the weather, not long after rope-drop, a single rainstorm cell seemly parked over Future World for more than a half an hour. As the scheduled start time approached, some blue skies could be seen overhead and, in fact, it stopped raining just about on schedule—just before 10 am. After just a minimal delay to allow cast members to dry the stage, the celebration ceremony included performances by Mariachi Cobre and Voices of Liberty, two acts that have performed in the park since day one (Mariachi Cobre even traces its history back to the Magic Kingdom in 1971, and some of its performers to Disneyland as far back as 1969).

A parade of cast members saluting the pavilions of Epcot walked in front of the Fountain View stage while the theme music from the Parade of Nations (and later Parade of Dreams) played. For those that do not remember the parades but have visited the parks in the past several years, it is the same music that is played after the conclusion of IllumiNations and the song "Promise" as guests flow out of the park each night. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Mariachi Cobre, an act that has performed at Epcot since its beginning, performed during the ceremony on the Fountain View stage in honor of the park's 35th Anniversary Celebration. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Several Walt Disney World officials spoke at the ceremony and shared some of their personal connection to the park. While no new specific announcements about the park's future were made during the Anniversary Celebration, Disney renewed its pledge to "evolve" Epcot over the coming years. At the ceremony, George A. Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort, generally echoed the words we first heard and reported on from Bob Chapek, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts both at last November's D23 Destination D: Amazing Adventures event, and again at the Parks & Resorts presentation at this past July's D23 Expo in Anaheim:

As we look toward the future, there is so much more on the horizon…I promise you the exciting plans we have on the horizon will honor Epcot's rich legacy of creativity and innovation while continuing to exceed the expectations of our guests for decades to come.
The spirit of the expansion will continue to evolve Epcot to make it more timeless, more relevant, more family, and more Disney, while staying true to its original vision.

Melissa Valiquette, Epcot Vice President, spoke at the Fountain View stage ceremony, and introduced George A. Kalogridis who, during his long Disney career, previously served as Epcot Vice President of Operations. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

George A. Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort since 2013, spoke in broad terms about Epcot's future. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The ceremony concluded with Voices of Liberty signing a special medley of classic Epcot attraction songs and then being joined on stage by Walt Disney World officials, cast members, and many Disney characters. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

MousePlanet broadcast nearly the entire Epcot35 ceremony "Live" on Facebook.com/MousePlanet. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Epcot35: Merchandise & Food

Epcot's 35th Anniversary occurred during the 2017 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The Festival has and will continue to celebrate the Anniversary throughout its run through November 13. For example, this year, there are 35 Festival Marketplaces (kiosks) spread between Future World and World Showcase offering food and beverages. Some of the food and beverage offerings make nods to the number 35 as well. Specialty cupcakes were created for the Anniversary and may continue to be offered for an unspecified amount of time.

Some of the offerings during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival contain nods to Epcot35 like the Florida Beer Company Passport 35 chocolate milk stout available at the Craft Beer Marketplace. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Colorful Epcot35 cotton candy was created for the anniversary celebration. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Different special Epcot35 cupcakes celebrating the anniversary may be found (subject to availability) at Fountain View (Starbucks), Norway pavilion, and Sunshine Seasons at The Land pavilion. The Spaceship Earth themed cupcake was created for Fountain View. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

In addition to 35th Anniversary merchandise generally available around the park and on the Shop Disney Parks App, special "I was there" merchandise was created for the Anniversary celebrations as well. While a few "I was there" items remained for sale in the park beyond October 1, most of it was only available in special pop-up shops on October 1. As the created-for-Epcot Figment character remains popular, Figment shows up on lots of anniversary merchandise (as is also true of much of the Food & Wine Festival merchanise) too.

A "Pop-up" shop of Epcot35 merchandise was set up inside the otherwise closed Innoventions West building in Future World. Reports of long lines persisted throughout the day. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

A selection of Epcot35 merchandise was available only on October 1 in the Pop-up shop. Other anniversary merchandise will be available for an unspecified additional time in stores like Mouse Gear. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

D23 Fanniversary attendees had the opportunity to shop in a limited-access "Pop-up" shop as well. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

A special pin was created to commemorate Epcot's anniversary. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Some Epcot35 merchandise is expected to remain available for some time. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Some Epcot35 merchandise may also be found at the Epcot Legacy Showplace inside the Odyssey building. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Epcot Legacy Showplace

During at least the run of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, the Odyssey building is open as the Epcot35 Legacy Showplace. Inside are exhibits dedicated to the past, present, and future of both Future World and World Showcase. In time for the Anniversary, pieces of the Epcot model were added to the displays as well. The Craft Beers Marketplace is also inside the building.

The Odyssey building includes the Epcot Legacy Showplace. By the time of this posting, however, this window sign had been removed from the building. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The words of Epcot's dedication are on display. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The Future World display includes concept art for the new Guardians of the Galaxy themed attraction now under construction at the Universe of Energy pavilion. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The World Showcase display includes concept art for the new additions being built at the France pavilion for the Disney-Pixar "Ratatouille" themed attraction starring Remy. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Models of Spaceship Earth, Germany pavilion, and Canada pavilion are on display in Epcot Legacy Showplace.

D23's Disney Fanniversary Celebrates 35 Years of Epcot35

After the Fountain View ceremony, the sold-out "D23's Disney Fanniversary Celebrates 35 Years of Epcot" got underway at World Showplace. On behalf of MousePlanet, I attended as an invited member of the media. The Fanniversary featured panel presentations about the park by current park leadership and cast members, at least two Disney Legends (Tony Baxter and Bill "Sully" Sullivan), Imagineers, and historians.

Inside the World Showplace, Disney D23 presented its sold out Fanniversary Celebration of Epcot's 35th Anniversary. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

World Showplace, originally erected for the Millennium Celebration, hosts numerous special events at Epcot, like the Disney D23 Fanniversary Celebration of Epcot's 35th Anniversary. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Michael Vargo, vice president of D23, welcomed guests to the Fanniversary and (later in the event) announced additional D23 celebrations for 2018 including a celebration in April for Disney's Animal Kingdom's 20th Anniversary and next November's Destination D event at Disney's Contemporary Resort saluting Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The Fanniversary's four information-packed panels celebrating Epcot's history were entitled: "EPCOT CENTER: Attractions of Yesteryear," "EPCOT 35 Things You Didn't Know," "Epcot Dreamers and Doers," and "Epcot Entertainment Through the Years." While detail-oriented Epcot fans probably would enjoy a whole book or more on each subject, we will cover just the tip of the iceberg of the highlights of each.

EPCOT CENTER: Attractions of Yesteryear

While talking about attractions of Epcot's past, Writer and Disney Historian Michael Crawford and Daniel Joseph, Principal Effects Illusioneer, Walt Disney Imagineering, noted many of the technologies that were introduced to theme parks and the public in the park's early years. Remember (if you are old enough, otherwise be aware) that the computing power of whatever device you are reading this article on today probably would have required a very large, well-air conditioned room full of equipment back in the early 1980s.

Writer and Disney Historian Michael Crawford and Daniel Joseph, Principal Effects Illusioneer, Walt Disney imagineering presented Attractions of Yesteryear. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

In Communicore, early Epcot made an attraction out of showing off some of the actual computer equipment used to run park attractions. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Some of the things we can do with our smartphones today–like video calls and touch screen interactions–were still in their earliest stages of development then, and were certainly not available to the average person in daily life. At Epcot, the World Key Information system allowed guests to interact and chat by live video with guest relations representatives for dining reservations and get park information from kiosks located around the park. Spaceship Earth included a scene of folks communicating across the globe by a video call. The Imagination pavilion introduced theme park interactivity in a major way, with banks of touch screens where guests had their first opportunities to do things like painting with digital ink.

Painting with digital ink was quite novel to guests in the early years of Epcot, and the Imagination pavilion's post-ride area was one of Disney's first truly "interactive" theme park experiences for guests. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Digital Video Projection technology, which is common today, was rare in Epcot's early years. Horizons was Disney's first attraction that used the technology. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Crawford and Joseph also shared some interesting connections of early Epcot attractions to Disney history both past and present. For example, the Horizons attraction was developed as the first ever sequel to another attraction, as it represented the continuation of the story of the Carousel of Progress. Meanwhile, in the pre-show film for Cranium Command at the Wonder's of Life pavilion, folks who were then working at Disney in various capacities turn up as heads—like Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, who later went on to direct Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast (among other films), and Pete Docter, who later directed Disney-Pixar's Monster's Inc., Up, and Inside Out (among other films).

Horizons was developed as a sequel to Carousel of Progress. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Early in Pete Docter's career, he worked at Disney and his head made a cameo in the pre-show film for Cranium Command. He later joined Pixar which, in turn, was later acquired by Disney. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

EPCOT 35 Things You Didn't Know

Show Writer Diana Brost, Disney Legend Tony Baxter, and Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Director Jason Grandt named their presentation "Epcot 35 Things You Didn't Know." As you might expect, the presentation was filled with a great deal of lesser-known and lesser-publicized details about Epcot's development, history, and, indeed, even its present.

Diana Brost, Tony Baxter, and Jason Grandt presented EPCOT 35 Things You Didn't Know. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

We shared some of these details in our Walt Disney World Resort Update for October 3–9, 2017—like that an early name considered for the park was "CONCEPT" which rather awkwardly stood for Communication Of New Concepts (and) Experimental Programs (for) Tomorrow, and that the animatronics of the Three Caballeros that now perform in the Mexico pavilion's Gran Fiesta Tour are not only the same ones that previously performed at Tokyo Disneyland and, before that, at Magic Kingdom, they are actually older than Magic Kingdom, having been displayed to government officials and Orlando press as early as 1969. With the following few photos, the captions provide a few more lesser-known details.

The first structure built on the site of EPCOT Center was an outhouse. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

As Ward Kimball brainstormed names for what eventually became World of Motion (sponsored by General Motors), some names that he proposed to Marty Sklar included "TRANSPORAMA" and "TRANSPOROSANCTORIUM." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

To convince Imagination pavilion sponsor Kodak to approve the shape of the building, imagineers pointed out the pyramidal shape of silver halide crystals that are critical in the processing of film. Bonus fun fact: the original background music loop still plays in the restrooms at the Imagination pavilion, including "Magic Journeys" and "Making Memories." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Horizons had a "select where you want to live in the future" option for guests to vote on for the ride's finale. When the attraction was being developed, imagineers intended to include an "urban" choice that never got off the drawing board. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Many folks know that imagineers include tributes to prior attractions when they are replaced. The Royal Sommerhus, home of the meet and greet for "Frozen" Princess Anna and Queen Elsa, includes many tributes to Maelstrom and even the travel film that many visitors skipped on their way out of the Norway pavilion. One we will point out here: compare the shape of the theater seats on the left with the graphic from a tapestry shown on the upper right—bonus points if you can identify more tributes shown in this photo. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

"The EPCOT Center Logo symbolizes unity, fellowship and harmony around the world," wrote Disney Legend Marty Sklar. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Epcot Dreamers and Doers

The Dreamers and Doers panel brought to the stage current and former Imagineers and park executives with long Disney histories (including going back before Epcot's opening). The panelists were Jim MacPhee, senior vice president, Walt Disney World Parks; Rick Allen, general manager, Future World; Disney Legend Bill "Sully" Sullivan; Imagineers Alex Wright, Wyatt Winter, Zach Riddley, and Jason Grandt; and former Imagineer Patrick Brennan. Each shared photos of their earliest visits to Epcot—some were young children at the time, others were working in various capacities during the construction and opening of Epcot.

The Dreamers and Doers panel shared their personal memories of their earliest visits to Epcot, which ranged from those who worked on its construction and opening, to those who first visited as children. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Disney Legend Bill "Sully" Sullivan shared the legendary story of how the discovery of a protected species of woodpeckers nesting near the site of the park just ahead of construction caused design changes and is the reason that one of the roads at Epcot is actually named Woodpecker Lane. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Rick Allen, currently general manager, Future World, shared with MousePlanet after the panel presentation his recollections of the fun and hard work that went into opening the park back in 1982. Among other things back in that time long before cell phones, as opening day approached, he was a "runner" tasked with getting from the media tent to where executives like Card Walker happened to be located, and he had to make sure those folks got the things (like the right tie) and the information they needed to have as quickly as possible. "After three days," Rick said, "I had holes in my shoes; my brand new shoes!"

Fun fact: Imagineer Jason Grandt told MousePlanet after the panel presentation that for his first project with Walt Disney Imagineering over 20 years ago, he drew the telephone directional sign outside the Imagination pavilion restrooms in the style of the old Future World pictograms. Recently, he worked on such projects as the "Remember Me" gallery at the Mexico pavilion, reconfiguring the queue of Mission: Space, and the museum gallery at the Japan pavilion. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Epcot Entertainment Through the Years

Live entertainment has always played a major part at Epcot. Some acts have appeared regularly since the park's opening—like Mariachi Cobre and Voices of Liberty—while some were more fleeting. Melissa Valiquette, vice president, Epcot, led a discussion with show director Forrest Bahruth; Randy Carrillo, leader, Mariachi Cobre; Christopher Stewart, general manager, Epcot Entertainment; and Show Director Marsha Jackson-Randolph. Carrillo, for example, shared that not only was he a Mariachi Cobre performer when Epcot opened, he previously performed at Magic Kingdom and at Disneyland before Walt Disney World even opened.

Melissa Valiquette, vice president, Epcot, led a discussion with show director Forrest Bahruth; Randy Carrillo, leader, Mariachi Cobre; Christopher Stewart, general manager, Epcot Entertainment; and Show Director Marsha Jackson-Randolph. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The Daredevil Circus Spectacular was a rather short-term entertainment offering at the park. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

After the event, Melissa Valiquette shared with MousePlanet that the "Disney on Broadway" performance series will return in January, during the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Final details have not yet been announced. As for the daily entertainment around World Showcase, Christopher Stewart shared that Epcot will continue to have "more groups that showcase a wider variety of entertainment offerings" from the countries represented. While some performing groups are making return visits—like Bodh'aktan at Canada pavilion in recent weeks—others are entirely new to Epcot.

Looking ahead to the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, Mostly Kosher is scheduled to perform. The group has also previously performed at Disneyland. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Epcot35 Celebrations Conclude with Special Fireworks

For much of Epcot's history, its evenings end with a "kiss goodnight" of fireworks. Indeed, most of those fireworks shows have been named "IllumiNations" in one form or another, and, since the Millenium Celebration got underway in late 1999, the show, "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth," has been performed continuously.

For the finale to the October 1 showing of IllumiNations, a special finale was added featuring bits of music from previous fireworks shows and celebrating Epcot's past and future. Although a rather windy evening, Epcot concluded its first day of its 36th year with a spectacle.

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth concluded with a special fireworks finale which we presented Live on our Facebook page. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Epcot Changed the World

Although not discussed in specific terms through the park's celebrations, Epcot really changed not only Walt Disney World, but theme parks in general, and, perhaps, aspects of the world. Even beyond the technologies developed or adapted for the attractions and the applications some have beyond theme parks, Epcot introduced the public on a scale not seen before to touch screens, video conferencing, and more. It seemed very futuristic to park guests in the early 1980s that Epcot attractions counted them entering or exiting an attraction by having them cross through invisible beams of light shining on sensors rather than turnstile clicks, for example. Now, we take that sort of technology for granted and it is in wide use at theme parks and elsewhere.

With regard to visiting Walt Disney World Resort itself, with the opening of Epcot, longer stays at the Resort began to be actively encouraged. The "Vacation Kingdom of the World," now had two theme parks to visit in addition to all of the rest of the Resort's amenities. Guests were introduced to the concept of "park hopping," using a single, multi-day ticket that was a "passport" to all of the attractions beyond the park gate; Epcot was the first Disney park built without the classic hub-and-spoke style of Disneyland.

While some regional theme parks that opened around the country in the 1970s may have started the trend toward the "pay a single admission and play all day" model—like the 1976 opening of Marriott's Great America in Illinois and California—Disney's books of A, B, C, D, and E-tickets for individual attractions at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland continued for quite awhile in the face of that trend. Yet, Epcot never used the lettered tickets. By the time I first visited Epcot in the summer of 1983, the Magic Kingdom had phased out the lettered tickets (though, they could be redeemed at face value toward the purchase of park admission). Even Disneyland had phased out its lettered tickets by the time I visited Anaheim in the summer of 1984 (Disneyland was still using lettered tickets when I first visited in 1976).

Disneyland Passport: 1984
A 1984 "souvenir" from Disneyland not long after EPCOT CENTER opened. From the personal collection of Alan S. Dalinka.

With the rapid pace of technology change, it seems to be a continuing and daunting challenge to present a view of the future that does not quickly feel dated. For Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, we have seen several "new" Tomorrowlands attempt to address that challenge. For Epcot in general, and Future World in particular, that challenge is plain to see after 35 years. A major overhaul is coming, but Disney Parks' leaders so far have released only a tiny bit of what they are planning when they say that they intend to make Epcot "more timeless." Hopefully, we will not have to wait too long. Be sure to keep following MousePlanet on Twitter and Facebook as well as our weekly Walt Disney World Resort updates on MousePlanet.com for the latest news about the future of Epcot.

The leadership of D23 joined Mickey Mouse and friends on stage after the conclusion of the Fanniversary Celebration and received a thumbs-up from the official Disney photographer. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.