A couple of years ago, long before the raging success of the newly imagined Disney California Adventure 2.0, I wrote on The Walt Disney Company's struggles at the Disneyland Resort. My emphasis: what had to be done to bring the second park there to worthiness in carrying the Disney name. It's now in vogue to bash Walt Disney World and its upkeep, lack of cutting edge plans and additional investment of cash in order to compete with Universal Orlando and Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey... and everything to come. Truth is, the criticism of the Florida sprawl is entirely justified. Especially at Epcot.
What can Disney Imagineering do to revitalize Epcot? Plenty, as we shall see. All it takes is a dose of cash, vision, and some imagination!
Dear Accounting Budgeteers: If you're going to keep throwing character additions and move tie ins to the park, just do it, and get it over with instead of pretending. Stop keeping us fans hoping for more. But there's a better plan, a doable plan that will increase your revenues. Focus on what Epcot has always does best, that is educate guests in a charming and awe-inspiring way.
There's certainly enough companies out there that could offer a perspective to pull this off while also feeding cash into the company's accounts. Let's start with an easy and most discussed company, Apple. Want to revitalize the Imagination pavilion? Here's your perfect fit. Even folks that are not fans of the products must admit Apple pours on the pizazz. What stories could be told? What new characters could be imagined? Want to bring back the Image Works in a big way and please your sponsors? No brainer. The tie-ins are endless. Can't go there? If you want to continue in the kid friendly zone, tap into Crayola or Fisher-Price.
Beyond Imagination, perhaps the U.S. Government could use a boost in its reputation by sponsorship. Work with them on Energy. Let them show off how they spend their billions in tax revenue on building a green future for America. Perhaps a medicine and science exhibition that features attractions where we could be inspired to think about the future of health and wellness.
The point is, inspire us to think and to dream again. The Imagineers could do this if given a fair chance. You know I'm right, don't you? It's ok to admit you have an ego problem...
#2- Make It Beautiful Again
The park used to be stunning to look at, and I'm not just talking about World Showcase. Once upon a time, Future World was also lovely to see. Water flowed in different areas, giving this part of the park a pleasant feeling. Lush landscaping existed beyond that found in the Land's signature greenhouses. There seems to to be an ongoing case of "lowest maintenance is the best landscaping". Very sad. The future should feel welcoming, but the revealed masses of late 70s and early 80s architecture makes the place feel tired. Plus, it needs a good resurfacing and some paint. This includes the monorail tracks. Disney's aborted Project Genesis had many good elements to it. It's time to revamp the area. Hide the stroller parking, throw in some cafe tables on the exterior sides of Innoventions, make it a people pleasing space. And get rid of the tombstones at the entrance to the park.
World Showcase is not without its troubles in this department. I'm happy to see new restaurants and small shops, (not so happy about Disney Vacation Club buildings), but they come at a price. And its usually the green spaces and gardens or open vistas that disappear. Mexico feels less exotic now. Just one example.
#3- Honor the Culture
Treat the sponsor countries of World Showcase with some dignity. There's lots to eat and buy, but the attractions are lacking both in upkeep, number, and in the representation of their citizens and culture.
I'll harp on this now and each time it comes up: Mexico is not best represented by three Disney cartoon characters. Bring back El Rio del Tiempo. If you really want the Three Caballeros, use them in a smaller, secondary attraction, a theater show for the kids. The room is there for more build out. Treat your guest countries, whether they are still official sponsors or not, with respect. Perhaps you will win some of them back. Would you put a cartoon Paul Bunyan in the American Adventure? No, it is not a suggestion. This goes for non-cartoon characters as well. Please say goodbye to Martin Short in Canada as well.
#4 - Time for Something New
Not to be dramatic, but what has it been, twenty years since Morocco and Norway debuted? Twenty years?!? Open land exists all throughout the entire section of the park. Part of the reason the Food and Wine Festival is successful is due to the fact folks like to experience the foreign and the unique. For some, it's even better than having to actually travel there. Infrastructure is already in place for attractions in Germany, Japan and others. Use it. Go ahead, give us hotel rooms above the attractions if you can't help yourself, but give us something new. This is one area where the possibilities are truly almost endless.
Adding new countries and attractions will also give you an excuse for more retail. Let's be honest. People like to shop in World Showcase as well as eat there. It's a win-win situation as long as you don't stuff it with character merchandise found elsewhere in the park.
Time for new entertainment as well. As much as I adore Illuminations, it's had its run. Bring back the buskers and performers that were all over World Showcase. Add musicians to Future World. Why do you think the area has to be without them? The future is not without live musicians. There's more that can be done beyond the standard meet and greets. Epcot, of all the Disney parks, should be the most unique in the entertainment department.
#5 - Dazzle, Don't Pacify, Don't Pander
It's pretty evident that Disney parks are facing some very successful competition by the little wizard that could down the road. As beautiful as the Magic Kingdom's new Fantasyland will be on the outside, the attractions themselves are pretty uninspired on the inside. (The Little Mermaid is more than a "C" ticket as some would claim, however.) The point is, stretch yourselves when you develop a plan for Walt's most ambitious project turned into a theme park. Just the concept of Epcot deserves more than something designed to enhance capacity. If the brilliant Disney Imagineers cannot build on the theme and deliver an experience that wows, the park will continue to be a shadow of what it was.
These suggestions should be just the beginning for a park as splendidly conceived and originally executed as Epcot. Your guests deserve more, and it is time to deliver.
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)