ARRIVING INTO THE FUTURE
As you approach Epcot, you’ll immediately be swept into Walt Disney’s dream of the future – particularly if you’re arriving on the monorail (which travels several miles south to Epcot from the Ticket and Transportation Center near the Magic Kingdom and its resorts). The monorail takes you on a tour of Future World with a full circle around the iconic Epcot ball and a glimpse Future World attractions before whisking you back to its raised platform at the Epcot entrance area. If arriving by monorail could be considered “by air,” remember you can also arrive at Epcot “by land” and “by sea.” Friendship boats bring guests from Epcot resorts as well as from Disney Hollywood Studios to Epcot’s back door, called the International Gateway. One of the best things about staying at an Epcot resort is that you can walk to the International Gateway in as little as 15-20 minutes – and the entrance tapstile lines there are nearly always short. Of course, most guests arrive at Epcot by car or by Disney bus transportation.
Once through bag check and the main entrance turnstile area, you’ll find Photopass photographers waiting to capture your photo with the Epcot ball in the background. Watch for unique topiary depictions of your favorite Disney characters in the flowerbeds here which rotate during the popular special events held seasonally at Epcot (Flower & Garden Festival in the spring and Food & Wine in the Fall).
Approaching the ball in the entrance plaza, you’ll pass through an area with rows of monolithic stone slabs, some as tall as 20 feet. No, this isn’t Stonehenge. And it’s not a cemetery, either (some guests do wonder who might be buried here)! This is the Leave a Legacy collection with photos of a half million Disney guests who purchased a metal tile after the program was launched in 1999 as part of the Millennium celebration. (Sales of the photo tiles ended up 2007.) The slanting stones form a dramatic outline to frame the ball. The fountains at its feet are also favorite photo stops.
The ball itself, the symbol of the park, is actually a 180-foot-tall geodesic dome named for the attraction it contains, “Spaceship Earth.” Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury contributed to the design of Spaceship Earth and also helped write the original storyline. The entrance to the ride is via a ramp directly under the ball. Spaceship Earth carries passengers on a fascinating dark-ride journey through space and time telling the history of human communications, starting from the era of cave men and continuing to contemporary technology. It’s a complete sensory experience, especially when you pass through the smoky ruins of the fall of Rome and the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. (To some guests, the smell of that fake smoke says “Disney” like nothing else!) Many guests have favorite audio-animatronic figures they look forward to “greeting” on each trip – such as the sleeping monk (look for a Hidden Mickey on his paper) or Leonardo da Vinci lying on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Early in the ride, as you begin the spiraling ascent up 18 stories (don’t worry if you’re afraid of heights – the scenes are enclosed and you’re never aware of the height), your photo will be taken for use in an interactive experience used at the end of the ride. Each pair of seats is equipped with a touch screen. As the cars turn backwards to descend gently to the exit, you’ll use the screen to answer a series of questions about your lifestyle and preferences, and a personalized vision of your fun and happy future will be assembled — with the faces of you and the person sitting beside you superimposed on animated figures on the screen. (So smile nicely for the photo!) After you exit the ride, you’ll have a chance to send this video home to yourself or to friends and family via email. At the center of this circular area (which has plenty of screens from which you can claim your complimentary video) is an illuminated globe which displays the hometowns of the day’s Spaceship Earth visitors.
The exhibit space at the Spaceship Earth ride exit houses “Project Tomorrow,” a variety of games and interactive displays depicting the future of medicine, transportation and energy management hosted by Siemens AG technology. A guest favorite is “Power City” which features a large digital game board that guests move across with shuffleboard-style wands as they compete to generate power for a large city. (Turn off the flash on your camera to try to capture your family on the glowing colors –even if the shot is a bit blurry, it’ll give an accurate impression of the fun memory!) Other games include Body Builder (featuring the voice of actor Wallace Shawn), Super Driver (fast-paced driving simulation), and InnerVision (challenging coordination and reaction time).
PIXIE DUST IN THE SIDEWALKS
If you’re coming in after sunset, the sidewalk just beyond the ball will twinkle with tiny lights. To the left of the ball as you enter, these fiber optics will form a Tinkerbell-esque scattering of pixie dust all along the sidewalk. To the right you’ll find sweeping spirals of light that move and dance. Turn the flash off on your camera again to see if you can capture it. (Ask your family members to stand perfectly still!) Note that these effects are only visible after dark.
Walt original dream was of a utopian city of the future where people would live, work, and play which he called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (Epcot). (Watch for a large night-sky model of it which can be seen from the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover at the Magic Kingdom.) Unfortunately, no one lives at Epcot! It’s too bad that Walt’s dream couldn’t have come true entirely. He and his team certainly had learned how to plan for large crowds – move them around efficiently, feed them well, entertain them, and clean up after them. After Walt’s death in 1966, plans for Epcot were scaled back. But his fascination with cutting edge technology and desire to bring together a forward-thinking community are reflected in the two halves of the Epcot park — Future World and World Showcase.