Sunday, February 11, 2018

One Week at the Walt Disney World Resort: A Trip Report

If you follow me on twitter, you know that I just got back from a week at Walt Disney World. During the week, I shared a lot of my thoughts on twitter each day, but I decided that I wanted to write a really quick trip report/review to expand on my thoughts.

I really want this to be a short little summary of my views, but as you know, I am a long writer so who knows how long this will end up. I want to just hit some of the most significant elements of the trip and share what I think about them.

So I think I will try to break this out into each park with a couple thoughts for each.

But first, I want to talk about planning, My Disney Experience, and Fastpass+. I have very mixed views here. This was my first trip ever to use the new technology so I'd seen the years of people complaining about the system and then getting used to it.

It was mostly successful for us. I got up early so many days out to get the fastpasses we wanted, and got all the difficult to get necessary ones. I set up the My Disney experience app with all our plans and was familiar with the app. All set for it all to work.

But then the first day, I had a series of serious issues. The problem ended up being not with using the initial fastpasses I had, but with the process of getting additional fastpasses later in the day. I think the issue had to do with the irregularity of my party: we included one person in a wheelchair who was not really able to ride much, but all the fastpasses I made were set up for the whole group. So if some members of the party did not go on the attraction, their fastpasses went unused. Plus many attractions do not have a accessible fastpass queue, so we would try to use our fastpasses but be sent to the exit instead without our fastpasses being used. I had assumed that once the window passed, the fastpass would be disappear or be considered used. So we ended up making it to halfway through the day with all our fastpass windows being passed, but the app would not allow me to make any more fastpasses for the group because not everyone used all 3 of their initial fastpasses. Trying to solve this problem was confusing for even me, especially because there were no cast members staffed to assist at any of the fastpass+ kiosks. Plus the app became much more glitchy while in the park, I assume because of the weaker wifi. I frequently had tech errors when trying to alter those fastpasses that went unused. It just wouldn't let me modify them any way I tried. So we were basically stuck without any more fastpasses that day.

The solution ended up being that we had to make sure through the week that no fastpass went unused. If someone didn't want to ride, I went twice. And if a ride sent us to the exit instead of the queue, I made them scan our fastpasses anyway to get the credit. So it works and it definitely makes sense for the normal guest, but in our more specific situation, the fastpass+ system seemed challenging.

Also, I have to say that I honestly miss having to run around the park to get fastpass tickets. It was fun for me, plus there seemed to be way better availability later in the day with the paper system than the digital system. I remember being able to still get good stuff in the afternoon before, but now the main attractions are gone way earlier in the day. I get that overall it is an improvement for the average guest, but I miss being able to use it like I did.

I don't think I have a ton to say about the Magic Kingdom. It looks good, it is insanely crowded, it needs more attractions to hold that capacity, and it has too many strollers.

Quite honestly, I have somewhat aged out of so much of that park, so there is not as much that I want to do than in past trips. Now I like it just for the atmosphere, which the park is still very good at. 

Now that I have been to Disneyland, I have a different view on so many of the attractions in the Magic Kingdom, all the clones between the resorts. Unfortunately, in most cases, the Disneyland version is way better. I prefer Pirates, Jungle Cruise, The Tiki Room, The Railroad, Big Thunder, The Rivers of America, and Space Mountain in Disneyland. Of the clones, really only Haunted Mansion is better here, but even then I rode that one before the Hat Box Ghost so I don't really even know anymore.

The good news is that the stuff that is unique to the park is really really good and adds a ton of value. The Country Bears, the Peoplemover, and the Carousel of Progress are a super solid top 3 of unique things for the park, and all three are underappreciated attractions that I was happy to see with a big crowd last week.

Also, the park is really strong with entertainment right now I think, even with the lack of a night parade. Festival of Fantasy is a solid parade and infinitely better than what was running before it, there's some cool character interactions, like the Country Bears who wander Frontierland and talking Mickey at Town Hall, and Liberty Square currently has one of the coolest and most entertaining streets shows I've seen with the Muppets. I appreciate how its real actual puppeteering with a pretty big cast, and its a fun show that is in theme yet really entertaining. On top of all that, I am a big fan of Happily Ever After, which is odd because I initially really didn't like it much when I saw it online. It has really grown on me though and is super impressive in person. 

Even though this is still in the Magic Kingdom, I am giving this it's own grouping. During the trip, I took the Keys to the Kingdom tour in the park and I have mixed thoughts on it. I tweeted about this some that day, but it is definitely a pretty basic look at the history and operations of the park. Not much information at all that I didn't know or that someone with a intermediate knowledge of park history wouldn't know. For example, major segments were about force perspective, windows on Main Street, and the history of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. All good info, but nothing all that out there.

But the good part of the tour was the backstage access, which is really the main reason why anyone takes the tour. It included getting to walk back to the parade barn behind Splash Mountain and about half an hour down in the Utilidors. It really is a little surprising to see just how plain backstage is, but also fascinating to see the reality that runs the park. The parade barn trip was really just a quick look at the empty warehouse where the floats were parked, and I think it was cooler to just be able to walk backstage across the train tracks. The Utilidor walk the highlight, starting below Fantasyland and a lot of the more active areas of the complex, like the exercise room and dressing rooms. The walk then went directly under the Castle and Main Street, towards the area that is more offices and storage for the Emporium, where there were a lot of cool historical features on the walls. We crossed a ton of the park underground which really changes how you view the park above. Its one huge building really. 

So overall, the tour is worth it if you don't have a ton of Disney knowledge already or if you really want to see the backstage areas. 

EPCOT is the park that I spent the most time in during the trip, but I think EPCOT is the park with the least to do (aside from Hollywood Studios of course). That's not necessarily a bad thing. Its just so much a park that is designed around experience and exploration, not rides, so that really can change how different people view the park.

Personally, Future World just feels underdeveloped right now with so much closed or just not very great, even though there are some really good attractions in the land. I really feel like Spaceship Earth is one of the true peaks of Imagineering even with the weird ending, and attractions like Living with the Land and Misson: Space fully dive into their concept. The rest is a mixed bag of quality. I was less impressed by Test Track and Soarin as in past trips, and the Seas and Imagination are just disappointing in their current states if you know their history.

World Showcase seems way better right now even though it needs more attractions as well. At least there is plenty to explore, learn about, and eat. It's also packed, and really could use that next country or two, whatever they are going to be, and attractions to pull people off the pathway. 

As for the Festival of the Arts, we enjoyed it but to be fair we didn't actually do much of the special stuff. We only saw about 2/3rds of the concert from the path outside, only did a couple photo spots, only got one or two food items, and only watched a few minutes of the special entertainment. But the overall feel that the festival brought to the park was really nice and fit the park well. I think that's the true value to the festivals, they really make the park feel like the World's Fair its meant to be. 

Hollywood Studios: no thoughts because we didn't go. It's weird to skip a park, but there just wasnt enough to make it worth it when the other three parks are there. Happy with the decision, even if I missed riding Tower of Terror, my previous favorite ride in the resort. I'll be back there in a few years when it is worth it. 

And then there is Animal Kingdom. I think my new favorite park and where my new favorite attraction is. 

This trip was basically planned because of Pandora. The day after it's first previews, when the first videos all about it were coming out, we decided we should go back. So this was the thing that I was most looking forward to during the trip.

And it lived up the hype. I don't need to describe it to you, there's plenty of info and pictures online. But the beauty and impressive scale of the land outside, and the immersivness of the attractions inside is just incredible. Every view in the land appears to be a carefully designed composition with layers of scale and movement. Just incredible design that put it above so much in the parks. 

Flight of Passage is the big element here to discuss. I was lucky and got to ride it 3 times in one day. First, I rope dropped solo to ride it first thing in the morning, with the intent of seeing the full queue. Getting there 40 minutes before park opening got me on and off the ride by about 30 minutes after open. Unfortunately, for the first hour of so of the day, they don't open the full queue and instead route everyone through fastpass. So I missed the indoor jungle, the lab, and the Navi in the tank, which is super disappointing. But the ride after that made up for it. I then got to ride it two more times that afternoon with our fastpasses and rider switching.

It's really incredible how realistic the sensation of flight is with just a couple effects and a moving seat. It really seriously feels like you are flying. On the third ride I mostly looked behind me and to the side to see how it works. It was fun to see how the full link room bounces up and down in coordination with the film and to watch the rows on the opposite side of you. Funny to think that people called this just a Soarin clone before it opened. It's way more and I think it might be my favorite ride in the parks. It's hard to decide so close after the trip, and it might be the newness of the ride, but its the thing that I most want to ride again right now. Definitely up there with the best of the resort at a minimum. 

Different thoughts about Navi River Journey though. Its very nice for what it is, but isn't worth the waits it is getting right now. Its the kind of thing that should be 15-30 minutes max. Luckily, I didn't wait that long, so I am not regretting the decision to ride it. Its a nice little boat ride with some cool effects, like the frogs on the leafs above, which I think is one of the most well done special effects I've seen in a long time. And the AA figure at the end is fantastic. But it really could use a couple more things along the way and it should have been longer. It should have like 2 more Navi figures and a couple animals along the water, all just basic figures with limited motion to add more to look at on the way. Maybe that'll happen in a distant future refurb.

The rest of the park is just as strong and like I said, I think it is my new favorite park of the resort, and I think that has to do with my tastes changing from rides to more enjoying the experience of the park. It's an environment strong park, with plenty of areas to explore, plenty of things to watch, and a lot of space to just relax and enjoy being in a themed environment. That's what I want out of a theme park now, plus having good rides helps too. I really don't understand how anyone could say that it is a half day park anymore, as I didn't even get to everything in a full day.

It really is incredible to look at this park and think about how lucky we are to have it and how amazing it is that it happened just 20 years ago. It breaks so many rules for theme parks and I absolutely think it would never be built now. It really hit me while on Kilamajaro Safaris when I realized that I'm on a ride that's the size of its own theme park, on free driving vehicles, seeing dozens and dozens of real animals, and hearing a spiel about serious topics like ecology and recycling. Thats 4 rules broken and it makes a great attraction and a great park. 

Last, this was the first trip where I got to be in the park at night so that was really cool, but I wish it was open even later because there was so much to see. We focused on Rivers of Light and the Tree of Life Awakenings, both good, both beautiful, but I agree with the general consensus that Rivers of Light needs some kind of story. It's interesting how the Tree of Life projections have a significantly stronger throughline in just a couple minutes yet are still as beautiful and abstract and don't need narration to make sense. Rivers of Light has all the elements it needs and the visuals are great, but I think just some organization and structure to the show would help create more of a story you can follow. My quick opinion is that they should have used the 4 animal barges more in the middle of the show. Maybe structure the show with 4 segments highlighting the 4 animals. 

As I sit here a week later, Animal Kingdom is definitely the park I want to be back at and Flight of Passage is the ride I definitely want to be riding, so I think that makes this park recent growth a big success. 

Beyond the parks, here's a couple other things worth mentioning. 

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire rivals Flight of Passage as the coolest thing I did all week. I've never done anything VR before so this was a totally new experience. Groundbreaking and makes me think more about how VR should be used in themed entertainment. The talk so often is that VR is impersonal and you can't share experiences with you friends and family. And I felt that a bit in this case, but it was not very bad. Definitely worth doing.

We stayed at the Polynesian, which was a step up for us and a really nice place to stay. We've done moderates and values in the past aside from one Wilderness Lodge stay, but wanted to do something nicer this time. This is definitely the best Monorail loop hotel in my opinion, but I don't like fancy and it is my style so that is probably why. The hotel definitely has some special amenities that you have to take advantage of if you stay there. I mean dole whips, Trader Sams, and watching fireworks from the beach. 

Last, I'll mention the crowds. Before getting there, the wait times were appearing to be higher than expected and then I think the day before getting there, a Touring Plans article came out talking about how the crowds are just way higher now than anyone expected and they don't know why. We were a little worried. 

It turned out that yes the crowds were higher than normal, but as it was January, not yet bad enough to cause issue. All the big rides were constantly over an hour and there were a ton of areas of the parks that were overcrowded. It was definitely challenging at times, but if you know how to properly tour the parks and use fastpass, it was not that bad. I can only image how it is going to be in the summer though if it stays like this. Guess that is why we are getting both a lot of expansion and higher ticket prices soon. I think were just at the point that the parks are always going to have some level of crowd, Disney has done too well at spreading the density through the whole year with special events and discounts. Planning strategy is just going to have to respond now. 

So I think that is everything I want to say about our trip. It was a great time even with the challenges. And the trip really reconfirmed to me to this is what I want to do.

So thanks for being a reader here and helping me do what I enjoy. 

The goal is to get back to one post a month for this year, and this is a bonus post. So EPCOT was January and I'll have something else up later this month, either an attraction I am working on or a part two to the How To essay with more information about what I think about when putting a plan together. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

EPCOT 2018 Plan: The Dream Version

Today is the conclusion of my series of hypothetical expansion plans for EPCOT, this time with the full and ambitious dream plan. Unlike the last two, which featured a lot of characters and are pretty realistic takes on what could hypothetically happen in the future of the parks, this plan is all original and incredibly unlikely. I am even going as far in this plan as pretending some recent additions didn't actually happen. This is the true ideal situation in my opinion.

When trying to put together these plans, I tried to put together my overall concept of the park, its meaning, and its organization to help me understand what I wanted to do.

In my view, World Showcase should be a collection of independent spaces that first exemplify human diversity and cultural spirit, and second show where we come from. So it would be ideal to include a truly diverse collection of counties and include attractions that reflect somehow on what makes that country unique. There's no subdivisions of this larger land because each country should be of equal value to each other.

Future World however is a singular space that first demonstrates human achievement and technological progress, and second shows where we can go. Attractions and pavilions should show how and why we can make life better for the world. It is divided into Future World West, East, and Center, and each have a different concept. West focuses on natural sciences and looks at the beneficial relationship between man and earth. East focuses on technical sciences and explores how we have used technology to break boundaries and explore new worlds. And Center ties the elements of the whole park together to show how we synthesize who we are and what we have discovered to create a better future.

As with last time, you should read the previous posts first, because this builds on them with some repeated ideas and elements.

First, the hotel is the same as the previous two plans, with the split concept that looks into the park and the connecting Peoplemover system.

The changes to the spine from the previous plans remain as well with the same buildings demolished and new buildings added. The undulating pathway through the center of the land connect the feature elements of the park concept to create the real core of the park experience. It connects the current thesis attraction of the park, Spaceship Earth, with the added fountain plaza, New Horizons, and World Showcase. The idea is that all of these elements represent the big concept of the park.

There is one additional new attraction placed on this core experience pathway, replacing what I noted as Innovations in the previous two plans. That space would hold a new version of Imagination, which, like Horizons, I always thought was more important to the park than its location suggested. Now at the very center of the park, I think it can better reflect the importance the power of imagination has to innovation and futurism. The three attractions on this path directly relate in concept. Communication allows us to dream and imagine, imagination allows us to create, and creation allows us to innovate a better future.

The attraction in its new location retains some of its whimsical water elements in its facade. A series of hopping water pads run in front of the building plus the entire facade acts as a giant digital water curtain. Water flows over the roof line, creating various patterns and images as it falls. It could show images ranging from futuristic patterns to Dreamfinder's Dream Catcher flying through the clouds (Image 4). Behind the water would be a full height glass wall, showing the load area and vehicles moving by beyond. The actual ride would be a mini-kuka family friendly dark ride. Not to be thrilling, but just to allow for a variety of motions as we travel along with the Dreamfinder and Figment on a flight through the power of imagination. The show building would be expanded east to hold the large attraction.

New Horizons is the same as last, a trackless, choose your own adventure dark ride through a variety of settings in the future. Like original Horizons, each car could choose how to alter their attraction experience with a couple alternate scenes along the main journey, focusing on different future settings and themes. The new building would hold some of the retail that was in the space formerly on the ground level, while the attraction takes up the rest of the ground and upper levels.

Future World East gets a new pavilion and one majorly changed pavilion. Also included are the Space Restaurant, the Jetpack spinner, the refurbished Mission:Space, and the enclosed Test Track rear track from the last plan (Image 2)

First on this side, the Energy Pavilion gets a new attraction. Here is where I am pretending that Guardians of the Galaxy is not happening. However, I have decided to keep the ride system and external showbuilding because I can understand the thought process and benefits of EPCOT getting a thrilling coaster. This would instead be a fusion reactor launched roller coaster, exploring the themes of alternate and experimental energy (Image 1).

Next is the new pavilion on this side, looking at Computer technology. The exterior of the pavilion is modeled on a chipset from a computer chip (Image 1). Inside is a high tech computer lab setting with a lot of interactive computer games and exhibits (Image 2). The main attraction of the pavilion is an EMV dark ride through a come-to-life digital world. The unique concept is that the setting and your experience is chosen and custom created before you ride and manipulated in real time by guests outside the ride. Imagine that your car chooses the setting and the mission you must undertake, while other guests control the elements of the world you explore, basically playing against you. Literally no way to have two rides twice.

There's two other additions to this area of the park. Instead of having one large Innovations like in my previous plans, this version has a smaller more specific version on each side of the park. In three small adjacent buildings by Mission: Space are a variety of technology showcase exhibits that relate to the pavilions of Future World East. The last addition is another Peoplemover for the park, this one starting by Test Track, running over the land and through the Innovations building, into New Horizons, interacting with many of the scenes of the attraction, and then making a large loop out over the edge of the lagoon before making the reverse trip (Image 3). I like the peoplemover and think every park could do with a peoplemover. Plus the added kinetics and futuristic transportation technology fit well in this side of the land.

The West side also gets a new pavilion and a couple altered attractions. The Aquatopia and counter service location from the last plans are included (Image 3). Also in this plan is a major refresh and modernization to the interiors of The Land Pavilion.

Also added, adjacent to the lagoon and New Horizons, is the House of the Future. If it should be anywhere, it should be in EPCOT. so I decided to add it in. It is the same design as the original, with modern interiors and technology (Image 4)

Starting at the north end, all Finding Nemo is removed from The Living Seas. Instead, the new dark ride explores the mystery of the deep by traveling through shipwrecks and shark infested waters before reaching Sea Base Alpha (Image 2). The interiors would be restored to the classic modern underwater research facility.

The all new pavilion is a Health Pavilion, which I think makes more sense on this natural science based side of the park. The exterior is modeled on a red blood cell, allowing for a glass enclosed main atrium space inside (Image 2). The attractions include a shooting dark ride where guests attack viruses in the body, and an animatronics show that hearkens back to Cranium Command with modern story, figures, and animation (Image 1).

The former Imaginations pavilion becomes something new since Imagination moved to the center of the park. Instead, this becomes the new Climate Pavilion of the park. The glass pyramids call back to the original Tony Baxter Land Pavilion concept, with the glass biodomes, and I think they could be effectively converted into simulated climate enclosures (Image 2). Imagine being able to see it snowing inside the front pyramid and fall trees in the other as you walk by. These simulated environments would be the post show to the main attraction, a suspended weather balloon dark ride through the climate extremes of the world, such as the polar icecaps, the Sahara, the rainforest, and the jungle (Image 1). On the left side of the pavilion, in front of the theater, there is a small explorable rainforest added and the upside down waterfall fountain is changed to something more organic (Image 3). The theater inside becomes a very 4D weather demonstration show, including real wind, rain, fog, and lightning effects.

The Innovations for this side of the land includes another smaller glass pyramid and focuses on earth sciences, such as health, ecology, and geology.

This version of the park, the one I prefer, covers a lot of really important scientific and technological topics while still adding some new fun and exciting attractions to Future World.

World Showcase also has a lot of additions, including 6 new countries, maxing out the available land of the park. Most of the existing pavilions also get attractions or updates to their existing attraction.

Starting at Canada, the existing movie is replaced with a 360 degree dome film about the Northern Lights and Canadian culture. Similar to what I had with the IP plan, but without Brother Bear. The pavilion structure is well suited for a movie, but I wanted to update it and make it a little different than the China movie. I wanted there to be some variety of attraction systems across the park.

The World Showplace still gets an updated facade. I decided to keep this facility instead of replacing it with a pavilion because it has shown to be very useful for the many special events that the park holds. I think in general the festivals are good for the park and still fit in with what I have in this plan.

In the UK, there are two attractions. The carousel that was load for the Mary Poppins attraction is now just a normal park carousel. Behind it is the other attraction, a theater for live British Literature comedy musicals. Rotating between 2 or 3 shows such as The Knights of the Round Table, Shakespeare's Greatest Hits, and The Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, the shows would be full scale productions of comedic retellings of famous stories, similar to what the World Showcase Players used to do on the streets. I liked the idea of introducing a live performance venue in World Showcase somewhere, and this made a lot of sense because of the subject matter possibilities.

Next, France remains as is. I am again pretending that Ratatouille doesn't actually happen. Also adjacent to this area is the Skyliner. I am adding an enclosed tunnel for the section that passes behind World Showcase to prevent views of the backstage space. Maybe it could be a look out to a nighttime skyline of Paris.

Next is the first added country. My thought process behind the country selection was to try to represent cultures and continents currently left out of World Showcase. The existing park is very very European with some Asian countries added in. There's a lot more to the world than that. Africa, South America, and Asia were my focuses. I also wanted to try some options that are not always the constant rumors. I wanted to go unexpected.

The first added country in this plan is Ethiopia. Africa actually gets two counties added, and this one is meant to represent North Africa. I choose it because it is one of the largest countries of the continent and has a distinctive and popular cuisine. I really wanted to avoid the African hut style of the Equatorial Africa pavilion or the rustic village from Animal Kingdom, and Ethiopia gave some great options for that goal. The main icon of the pavilion is Fasilides Castle, a 17th century stone palace built by an Ethiopian emperor (Image 1). The pavilion is set in the city of Gondar, where the castle is really located. The interior of the castle is some explorable space and the table service restaurant. The castle grounds area is bounded by low stone walls, and across is a village style area that holds the retail (Image 2).

Beyond the castle ground is the second highlight element of the pavilion: a huge swiftly flowing waterfall, cascading down a cliff side, based on the Blue Nile Falls (Image 3). Wooden flume boats periodically emerge from these waterfalls, splashing down in the river below. This flume dark ride loads in the dock building of the castle and floats along the river into the showbuilding for an animal based African fable adventure.

The next country added is Peru, just like the last plan, but without the IP. The city is modeled on Cusco, specifically the old historic area of the city, and is the representative for South America. It is still the same design with the ancient Incan ruins, church courtyard, and force perspective never ending street. The coaster attraction is similar but instead is an mining and archaeological trip that discovers an authentic Incan lost city right underneath the town.

Japan next gets the Bullet Train Pass simulator attraction, where guests take a very fast trip through the Japanese landscape and cities in train car simulators. Guests enter the existing castle, but then exit it again and walk into an indoor nightime Tokyo city street. There is the train station and the start of the attraction.

The American pavilion gets the same added restaurants and the side street from the past two plans.

In Italy, this plan adds a dark ride on the west side of the piazza, in the same space I added a Pinocchio ride last time. In this plan, it is a Venetian Carnival spinning dark ride. A fun musical soundtrack moves us through the city in celebration.

The next new country follows, replacing the Germany train garden. This pavilion is India, representing the second largest county by population in the world. At the edge of the water, the first element is the Gateway of India from Mumbai, the setting of the pavilion (Image 1). One goal of mine in this plan was to add more elements on the water side of the path, so that the pavilion countries felt more enclosing. The pavilion has two main buildings, representing different elements of Indian history and architecture. The front of the pavilion is the Taj Mahal hotel, holding the table service on the second level, and representing the more modern and ornate part of Indian style (Image 3). On the other side of the public square is Crawford Market, a slightly older public market place that holds the retail and the counter service market (Image 2 and 4).

The attraction for the pavilion is a huge boat ride using the Shanghai Pirates system that takes guests through a lavish Bollywood style musical of Indian history and culture.

Saudi Arabia is added next and is the same pavilion as the last two plans. The attraction is instead a 1,001 Nights flying carpet dark ride.

The other half of the currently open lot is used for the other African country, South Africa. I decided to go a very different direction with this country and go both more modern and more ancient at the same time. On the edge of the water is a recreation of Umhlanga Lighthouse (Image 2). The front half of the pavilion is modeled on the Groot Constantia Manor House, a historic museum and winery that architecturally has Dutch influences (Image 1). The main building and its adjacent garden hold the table service restaurant and is surrounded by smaller winery buildings with retail (Image 4).

Just past the winery building is the other half of the pavilion, showing the literal start of man. A hill side rises up ahead with a series of cave entrances in front of us. In front of it are a couple of early African structures, modeled on the village of uMgungundlovu, which is the queue to lead inside. Inside is a explorable cave system modeled on the Cradle of Mankind, the real cave system where the earliest human remains have been found (Image 3).

Moving along, in Norway I am pretending that Frozen does not exist. Maelstrom would still exist and should be updated with more modern effects.

Finally, the last new country added is Malaysia, bringing Southeast Asia to World Showcase. The front of the pavilion is modeled on Xiang Lin Si Temple, a Buddhist temple in Malacca City, and holds the main restaurant of the pavilion (Image 1). Past the Temple is a palace garden style area with Melaka Sultanate Palace sitting on a hill at the end (Image 2). Inside is cultural space, and the buildings on either side of the garden hold the retail and a counter service location. This pavilion does not have an attraction because its one of the smallest plots in all of World Showcase.

The conclusion to the trip around the world is in Mexico, where the existing boat ride attraction is restored to El Rio del Tiempo.

That concludes the additions to World Showcase, bringing 6 new diverse countries and a lot of attractions to the land. The breakdown is 5 European countries, 4 from the Americas, 4 Asian countries, 3 countries from Africa, and one in the Middle East. I really enjoyed researching and learning more about all these cultures and all the amazing places to visit that I used as sources for the pavilions. I would hope that these selections would be as fun and interesting in real life if really brought to EPCOT as it was to design them.

This is the kind of EPCOT I want to visit because I like science and technology and traveling and culture. I know that's not where EPCOT is going, but that is why this is the dream plan. I can only hope that however EPCOT ends up, it still keeps something like this no matter how many characters are added as well. Let me know what would be in your dream EPCOT. Maybe we have some overlap.

So this concludes my series with plans for EPCOT. That means that Hollywood Studios will be the next major part of this series! That is going to take some time though, just as this series took some time. However, I plan to have some other posts to fill in until them, with a plan to get back to one post a month.

Also, I am in Walt Disney World this week, so follow me on twitter if you don't already so you can follow along with all the pictures and thoughts I plan on posting!

Image Credits


Future World East

Computers Pavilion

Future World East

Health Pavilion

Climate Pavilion

World Showcase

Ethiopia Pavilion

Peru Pavilion
4. Google Maps

India Pavilion

Saudi Arabia Pavilion

South Africa Pavilion
1. Google Maps

Malaysia Pavilion

Monday, January 22, 2018

EPCOT 2018 Plan: The Character Version

Last week was part one of my series of hypothetical EPCOT expansion plans. Each of the three that I will be posting have a different goal. The first post was a really realistic and limited design that included characters. Next week is the full ideal situation dream plan with no limits and also no characters at all. And this week is somewhere in the middle: a full ambitious plan that is character based and follows through with the path the park is on right now.

Like the last plan, I will be incorporating the recently announced additions to the park as well as a couple strong rumors and some of my original ideas. I am approaching this with the assumption that everything must have an IP tie in. That's not exactly my preference for the future of the park, but I am going to try to make the best of it though by making sure that any use of characters reflects the theme and message of the pavilion first, and expresses the IP second.

When trying to put together these plans, I tried to put together my overall concept of the park, its meaning, and its organization to help me understand what I wanted to do. It is more applicable in the final dream plan, so I will mention it more then. For this plan, the important part of the concept is the idea that World Showcase highlights human culture and where we come from, while Future World highlights human achievement and where we can go. Everything in the park should align to that big idea in some way.

This plan caries over many elements from the previous realistic plan and adds a lot more on top of it. So check that out first if you have not seen it already.

It starts out with the same hotel as the last version. The hotel is split into two symmetrical halves on either side of the entry area so as to not block the view of the main entry sequence. The lobby and public areas are on the east side of the hotel and the two sides are connected with a Peoplemover style system that also stops at the Monorail station. Other features are a rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the park.

The changes to the spine of the park are also almost entirely the same. The west pair of buildings and the fountain are demolished, and a new curvilinear main pathway with a new fountain and stage area is formed. There is a new counter service building built on the south west side with 360 degree views to Future World, and the remaining north east building hold a new form of a science and tech showcase area with top tier tech companies like Apple and Tesla represented.

The south east building however is demolished in this version of the plan for the largest addition to the park: New Horizons, a trackless, choose your own adventure style dark ride through the potential of the future. This is the only addition that is not IP based in this design, so it is kind of out of place in this plan, but I decided for one original element. In plan view, it is a giant gear to continue the EPCOT history of buildings shaped like their concept. The gear shows technological innovation, and is also a bit of a tie into the idea of Horizons being a sequel to Carousel of Progress, another ride with gear motifs.

The decision to redefine the central spine of the park was done not only to make a more organic and freeflowing experience, but to allow for a large addition inside the monorail loop. I like the idea of adding an attraction in this space for logical reasons because its location really reinforces its importance to the theoretical structure of the park. Future World East and West feel like subsets of the central concept, which is best show by the elements in the center of the park. Spaceship Earth, Innovations, and New Horizons are those core themes that the rest of the park revolves around. I think this is a much better placement for a Horizons concept ride than its original location just because it has more weight in its meaning to the overall park.

Past New Horizons and leading towards World Showcase, the path is modified from the last version and the existing version. The water surface is reshaped into overlapping circular ponds and overall grows in area. There are a couple more paths added over the water, all of which branch off of the main spine. The concept is to be like a branching tree, leading from one past to the variety of futures shown in the Future World. The retail buildings at the World Showcase Promenade area are also rebuilt back from the path so that they do not block the panoramic view across the water as you make your way across the bridge.

In Future World East, the elements from the last plan remain plus one new pavilion. Guardians of the Galaxy replaces Universe of Energy, a Jetpack spinner is built in the central open area, the Space Restaurant is added to the right of Mission: Space, and the Test Track Canopy is removed. In this plan, Mission: Space is rethemed so that you are actually in space. I also include in this plan the enclosure of the Test Track rear loop so that it does not look into backstage. Instead, the interior track would continue the high tech, TRON-like style, include an interior cityscape show scene that you speed by, and only open up for the front section around the building.

The new pavilion on this side reuses the Wonders of Life building, but in a way isn't actually a completely new pavilion. It is an expanded Space pavilion that connects, both thematically and physically, the two on either side. Both existing attractions have an exit into this pavilion, which is themed as a space base on Mars. The front entrance of the pavilion resembles the base of a space elevator, and inside there is a preshow entrance room where you are first transported to a space station and then shot to Mars (Image 1). The two existing attractions on either side exit directly into the base because you are already in space. The existing dome structure is perfect to be rethemed as a a dome shelter on Mars (Image 3). Screens on some of the sides show the martian landscape around the base. Inside are two attraction plus interactive space games and a snack location.

The first attraction is a WALL-E dark ride, showcasing the robotics of the future, how useful they can be, and eventually how things can go wrong. The other attraction is something really unique, a mini kuka arm based interactive space walk challenge (Image 2). Pairs of guests strap into a personal space vehicle and go on a spacewalk to try to complete a series of minor challenges as they float along in space. The kuka arm really isn't to move you around much, but just to make you feel like you are in zero-G as you move along a track past minor show scenes.

Future World West also has the same additions as the last plan plus a new pavilion and attraction. The Imagination pavilion gets a new Inside Out darkride and 4D movie featuring Figment, and an aquatopia teacups style ride is built in the center waterway of the land.

The new pavilion on this side mirrors what I did on the east side by connecting the two pavilions on either side with a connecting concept. The Seasons pavilion is formed of a trio of large biodomes with different seasons and locations. The largest is a mountain in the winter, where it is snowing inside, the next is the a forest lake in the fall, and the smallest that connects to the Living Seas exit is the beach in summer. Each have the appropriate temperature and weather elements.

In the snowy mountain biodome is the attraction of the pavilion, a dark ride through the changing seasons of the forest and featuring the forest animal characters from Bambi, the Fox and the Hound, and others. There would be four main rooms for the four seasons with different characters and scenes in each. This idea comes from an original Marc Davis concept from the 70's, discovered recently and shared in this tweet:

That completes Future World for this version of the plan. Both new pavilions have an IP tie in yet fit in with the concept of the land by reflecting real elements of science and technology.

In World Showcase, there are three new countries plus additions of IP attractions to nearly every existing country. As with the last plan, the idea is that the IP is used to illustrate an element of the real culture or history or landscape of the country. 

Starting at Canada, the existing circlerama theater is replaced with a seamless dome movie featuring Brother Bear in a story about the northern lights and the Indigenous peoples of Canada. 

The World Showplace gets a new facade, and the UK Pavilion gets a Mary Poppins carousel dark ride, both from the last plan. Ratatouille is built as expected, and Morocco exists without a new attraction because there are no applicable IPs for it. 

Next is the first new pavilion, which is probably the most unexpected choice of the plan. I wanted to include something from South America, but resisted just doing Brazil like in previous designs. I instead chose Peru, because of its unique culture and landscape. Plus I could use an IP that seems to be an underrated cult favorite, The Emperor's New Groove. In the pantheon of Disney films that are predominately European, this Peru-set film is a great change of style and theme. It may not have the super popularity to lead to an attraction in real life, but I think it could make something interesting in this hypothetical plan. 

There is a lot of history and culture to draw from in Peru, so I tried to include a variety of elements. The front of the pavilion includes a set of giant stone walls from the ruins of Saqsaywaman, the ancient Incan capital (Image 1), and a church on a hill, formed of ancient stone wall terraces. This is based on the Jardin Sagrado at the base of Iglesia de Santa Domingo, which was built on top of exposed Incan ruins (Image 2). The path leads to a courtyard next to the church, surrounded by town square buildings (Image 4). A feature element of the pavilion that sits off this courtyard is a force perspective hilly street that disappears around a bend, making the pavilion seem like it keeps on going (Image 3). On the church square is retail, a table service restaurant and snack stand locations, and the entrance to the attraction. A mining company shop leads to a trip through the Incan ruins of a lost kingdom before accidentally discovering Yzma's lair and her wild coaster through the palace. 

Next, in Japan, there is a Big Hero 6 flying simulator added in the existing show building. This is not perfect because I already used this IP in Tomorrowland, and Big Hero 6 is not actually set in Japan, but a fictional Japanese influenced culture. But its the most viable IP option for the pavilion, and fits just as well as Frozen in Norway, so I went with it. The attraction would be a flight over and through a Japanese city and landscape along with Hiro, Baymax, and the rest of the group. 

The USA pavilion gets the same food service additions as the last plan. 

In Italy, there is a classic Fantasyland style dark ride for Pinocchio built on the west side of the plaza, themed as a puppet workshop. This is an Italian story that fits well here. 

Germany gets a large Snow White boat ride through the Bavarian Forest, passing the cottage, the dark forest, and the castle. It could use the Shanghai Pirates ride system to make a more engaging journey through the forest. The settings would show the reality of the German landscape but with Snow White elements added in.

The Saudi Arabia pavilion with its Aladdin attraction from the last plan is next. This is the exact same in both versions. 

The other new pavilion of this plan is not a new concept. I decided to resurrect one of the original EPCOT pavilions that never came to be and include an Equatorial Africa pavilion with something close to the original design (Image 2). The main element is a large tree house at the front of the pavilion and then a series of smaller tribal hut buildings in the forest make up the rest of the pavilion (Image 1). These include retail and a counter service location. The attraction at the rear of the pavilion is a Tarzan musical acrobatics show with African puppetry, storytelling, and music. 

In China, the film is updated with elements from Mulan. And Mexico gets the Coco dark ride and expanded pavilion from the last plan. 

That brings an IP based attraction to 12 of the 14 pavilions including 8 new attractions. And in my option, they all reflect the countries culture as well as possible. 

And that is my attempt at a character based ambitious plan for EPCOT. The goal was to add new pavilions and attractions that are based on IPs while still feeling like a version of what EPCOT should be. I actually really like what I was able to do for the two Future World pavilions, and I they could be viable ideas in a non-IP plan with some modifications. I hope that the park still feels true to EPCOT to you. And if not, don't worry because next week's full dream plan is definitely full on classic EPCOT.

Check back next Monday for the last part of this series. I'll actually be posting it live from EPCOT, which is pretty cool.

Speaking of that, follow me on Twitter for a lot of pictures and videos live from the parks during the week. I'll try to share a lot of cool stuff.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment below with what you like! 

Image Credits


Future World
4. Disney concept art

World Showcase
3. Disney concept art

Peru Pavilion
4. Google Maps

Saudi Arabia Pavilion

Equatorial Africa