Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Still, they reasoned, and perhaps rightly so, the concept of the city version of EPCOT wasn't really dead. No, there would be no residential area, no radial design, no "city center." Then again, there's enough evidence to believe that even Walt would have recognized that, for once, his ambition truly did outdo his capabilities with the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Looking at his plans now, as marvelous as they were, it's clear that Walt's vision of a city could never have lasted more than 10 or 15 years as a real place; urban planning and the needs of human beings just changed too rapidly.
So, no, EPCOT wouldn't be a city in the strictest sense. But a closer look at two of those words, "Experimental" and "Community," brought to light one amazing fact:
EPCOT existed already.
The Walt Disney World Resort itself was as complex as any city -- and any expansion would just make it infinitely more so. Workers and resort guests were on the grounds 24 hours a day, effectively turning them into residents. And they had needs, the same needs of any urban center: traffic control, shopping districts, water management, utility supplies, even mass transportation. If there were no houses, no "commercial district," that didn't make Walt Disney World any less of a "city" than Milwaukee or Portland. There was even a quasi-governmental agency overseeing the development and growth of Walt Disney World, so, perhaps inadvertantly, Disney had indeed created EPCOT right under its very own nose.
And the heart of EPCOT was this amazing Center -- a theme park, yes, but more than that. A grand experiment in itself, one that took two seemingly disparate themes (technology and culture) and blended them, showcasing our common human desires of progress, harmony and a better world.
EPCOT was at the very center, literally and thematically, of this grand world that Walt Disney had designed. If ever a name seemed appropriate, it was "Walt Disney's EPCOT Center."
As it was the first major expansion of Walt Disney World (or, in a broader sense, the "EPCOT Project"), it would need to be connected to the existing infrastructure. What better way to showcase the ingenuity of Disney, to visually and physically link the lighthearted storybook world of The Magic Kingdom with the sleek and unusual world of EPCOT Center than a massive extension of the Monorail system?
After all, Disney had been perhaps the world's biggest proponent of the Monorail, teaming with Swedish transportation firm Alweg to develop and perfect the system. At Walt Disney World, Disney management could continue Walt's dream of proving that a Monorail system was practical and effective by, well, making it truly practical and effective, linking two parks that were miles apart. Walt had wanted to use his parks and Walt Disney World as a showcase for technology that could take root there and grow to impact the lives of everyone.
Over the years, as Walt Disney World grew, so did its transportation sytem. By 1996, a Rand Institute study pointed out that WDW pointed out that under WDW's own Clean Air Act Amendments, its vehicle fleets were often required to purchase and operate reduced-emission vehicles. They augmented the Monorails to provide clean, efficient mass transportation that kept roadways less congested than expected given the number of visitors, and certainly promoted the notion that Disney was on the leading edge of some major issues related to our everyday lives. Disney, it seemed, was still living out the goals, ideals and concepts of EPCOT Center.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Is current management leaves little doubt as to where it wants to invest its money, and unfortunately, it's not at EPCOT.
It uses trees in cheap, plastic "pots" as visual barriers for areas under renovation.
Take a walk around EPCOT and Disney's wacky priorities come into sharp focus.
As you cross Innoventions Plaza, look up at the sign over what used to be called Innoventions West and see how carelessly the word "West" has been pried away. Examine other in-park signage and marvel at how Disney's sign shop can't even match fonts or colors. Look at the Wonders of Life pavilion and wonder at the lack of its so-called life.
Take a ride on the Universe of Energy and wonder why, 12 years after its last upgrade, it's so horribly out of date about the world we live in (much less the "Jeopardy!" we watch). Stop for a moment outside Mission: Space and look at all of the people just sitting there, waiting for the other members of their groups to come out of the ride, their groups split up precisely in the way Walt Disney wanted to avoid when creating his theme parks.
Walk past the too-numerous Disney Vacation Club sales kiosks that are so out of place in Disney's theme parks, and notice what expensive space-wasters they are, there for no other reason than to shill timeshares.
Yes, yes, yes, folks, I know ... these laments don't seem to change.
And yet ... there's an under-exploited, barely recognized asset like EPCOT just sitting there, still managing to rake in the bucks and bring in the guests year after year after year -- 25 years and counting. Talk about a perpetual asset! Talk about long-term potential!
Soon, I promise, I will have unabashedly positive, good things to say about some of the things I saw and experienced at EPCOT. For now, I'm still a little shocked at how Disney regards our future and our world.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
- Cast members at EPCOT, particularly in World Showcase, seem lacking in the Disney spirit. There were more lackadaisical, indifferent cast members here than anywhere else on our three-trip -- this was particularly true at Soarin', where we finally broke down and spoke directly to the three cast members who were having an awful lot of fun doing each others' hair, talking about the weekend, and comparing notes on who they liked to work with, but found little appreciation for the job at hand (you know, dealing with guests, managing the queue, etc.).
- There's a great sadness around the Norway pavilion, which seems almost neglected; Maelstrom's queue area is poorly lit and was strewn with trash, Akershus is peopled only by families with children, and the cast members seem aware that Disney doesn't actually care about representing their culture -- only about turning this into a popular dining location. Visiting the Norway pavilion was painful.
- Illuminations badly needs care. Hopefully the rumors are correct and the video globe will be replaced, because it's virtually impossible to make out any of the images (and there's a huge black rectangle in South America).
- The Spaceship Earth rehab is mostly terrific. I agree with the nitpickers that some of the narration is pedantic, there's nothing to look at other than the screen in the descent, the music isn't memorable, and the story's through-line gets a little lost. I wonder, if Disney fans recognize this, how come Disney executives don't? Those problems aside, Spaceship Earth comes the closest to representing the best Disney has to offer. It remains an excellent "introduction" to EPCOT Center, and serves as a reminder to how thematically lacking "Epcot" is -- and how much potential it has to improve. Bravo on Spaceship Earth. (There will be more blogging about this later, no doubt.)
- Wander to the northeast quadrant of Future World and anyone who cares about Disney is in for a rude shock. It's painful to see what's become of Wonders of Life -- like walking through an abandoned, neglected downtown area in a city that's in bankruptcy. There is absolutely no excuse for this. Universe of Energy looks wonderful on the outside, but there's no one there. Any Disney shareholder who wants to see the negative consequences of Disney's fiscal philosophies should walk through this section of the park.
- Something needs to be done about stroller parking at The Land and the Seas.
- El Gran Fiesta at Mexico isn't as bad as feared; but it genuinely does not represent Mexico. It's sad to see Latino heritage reduced to sarapes on birds. Still, it does sparkle more than before.
Generally speaking, this trip to EPCOT reinforced all of the concerns that EPCOT Central has been raising. Disney is neglecting this park, and it's beginning to show. Badly.
It was wonderful to spend time in EPCOT. Even a downtrodden EPCOT is better than no EPCOT at all. But, still ... what couldn't be done here with a little bit of money! How much Disney could achieve by polishing, buffing and re-thinking some of EPCOT and then pouring some marketing effort into it!
As we drove past the billboards and read the marketing material for all of the other theme parks in the area (Disney and non-Disney) it was rather disconcerting to see how similar they all are. They seem to be slicing the same piece of pie ever thinner rather than truly differentiating each offering.
EPCOT is like nothing else Disney, or anyone, has ever created.
One of these days, I hope, someone at Disney will truly understand that.