Is Epcot Still Relevant To The World Traveler?
The famous natural arches and white chalk cliffs of Etretat in Normandy fade in as an enchanting musical score begins to swell. We soon skim over the water as we approach the stunning Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. The narration begins “My France awakens with the early dawn.”
The wonderful film Impressions De France is only one of the reasons why Epcot at Walt Disney World is the most unique theme park in the world. Rather than transporting you to lands of fantasy, Epcot celebrates the real ingenuity and diversity of the human race. Future World takes a look at human progress and attempts to inspire the next generation. World Showcase is a festival of human culture. The World Showcase pavilions were designed to spur world travel. Can the well traveled still enjoy the artificial nature of these famous locations?
Epcot’s World Showcase currently has 11 pavilions, each representing a different country. Disney has a cultural exchange program with participating countries. Cast members who work in the pavilions are citizens of the represented countries. Many of the countries also have traditional entertainment and films give a chamber of commerce tour of the country.
Despite attempts at creating an authentic cultural experience, the appeal of World Showcase begins to wear off after you have visited those countries. It comes off as superficial and inadequate.
Price is also a big factor. International airfare has plummeted while the cost of visiting a Disney theme park has skyrocketed in the last decade. In many cases it it now cheaper to spend a week in a foreign country than a week at Walt Disney World.
Not only are more American’s traveling overseas, DisneyWorld is attracting more international visitors than ever. With the average visitor being much more traveled than ever, you have to wonder if Epcot’s mission has been met and the park needs to evolve.
Epcot has developed a bit of an identity crisis. Future World has several attraction that have not been updated in decades and now feel trapped in a by gone era by rather than looking at what is yet to come. World Showcase has plenty of room to expand, but they have not added a new country since 1988. The introduction of various food festivals have brought new life to the park, but the combination of a stale Future World and an increasingly outdated concept of World Showcase is leaving many to wonder what the future of Epcot will entail.
Disney has taken baby steps that provide clues of what the fate of Epcot could be. The park that largely shunned fiction has begun to open their arms to Disneyfication of the pavilions. Donald Duck and the Three Caballeros have been added to the boat ride in Mexico. Meet and greets have popped up featuring characters from Disney Movies (Mary Poppins in the U.K. or Cinderella in Germany for example.) The latest and most controversial move has been to replace the Norwegian boat tour in Norway with one entirely themed to the blockbuster movie Frozen. The ride no longer has a connection to the actual country of Norway. Frozen is based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson who is Danish, not Norwegian.
The filmmakers were inspired by the natural beauty and architecture of Norway which was close enough for Disney. Film fans were also inspired and Norway has enjoyed a large Frozen tourism bump since the film was released. Disney would argue that the inclusion of Frozen in the Norway pavilion is justified because it has had the intended effect of boosting tourism.
The trend of injecting Disney films with ties to specific countries may continue. The potential addition of adding a Ratatouille attraction in the France pavilion has been discussed. The ride is already in operation at the Disneyland Paris Resort and could simply be cloned at a relatively low cost by Disney standards with the R&D already done.
Regardless of whether you are for or against Disney fictional I.P. invading World Showcase, the pavilions are beginning to outlive their usefulness. With the international tourism market now measured in the trillions of dollars, the superficial nature of the World Showcase pavilions are quickly becoming obsolete to a rapidly expanding base of sophisticated tourists.
Impressions De France is a great film because it provides glimpses into a great country. Epcot also provides glimpses into what makes these cultures great. However you can get the same glimpse on the Internet. There is no need to spend hundreds if not thousands to travel to Florida to get a glimpse of France. For the same price you can fly to France and see it for yourself. It’s time for Epcot to evolve and take on a new mission.
What do you think? Is Epcot still relevant an how would you like it to change if at all?