I wasn’t always a theme park fan.
My first experience when I was 3 or 4 years old was at Frontiertown in New York. I loved trains as a kid (some things never change) and they had a train ride. What I didn’t know is there would be bandits onboard. They hijacked the train and came into the car, and one of the bandits fired a cap gun just a little too close to my young ears. It wasn’t a great day after that.
Not long after, we went to our local not-yet-a-Six-Flags amusement park and self diagnosed motion sickness in a rather messy way.
0 for 2 on park visits.
I did however have a copy of the Small World record from Disneyland, and it was on frequent rotation at home. My parents assured me no one got sick and there were no bandits on It’s a Small World and one day we could visit Disney World to ride it.
A few years later, we finally visited Walt Disney World, and sure enough, It’s a Small World was wonderful as promised. (although why wasn’t the facade the wonderful one like on the record??)
The next day we visited EPCOT Center. I was a bit tentative, but my dad assured me:
“Everything here is about learning and discovering the world, they don’t need anything scary because what they are showing us doesn’t need it”
That’s stuck with me for more than 30 years now. We saw dinosaurs, learned how we’d grow plants in the future, go under the ocean, and meet a new friend called Figment. I got to talk to someone who lived in China and another person who came from France! Oh, and there was a videophone to make dining reservations and best of all, you could see how the whole park worked with computers.
I’ve been a fan since, even though as I grew up, Epcot didn’t always keep up. Later, I enjoyed learning about the history of the park, and turns out, there was a lot of story behind the story.
World’s Fairs were never built to last. The world changes, new technologies come and go, and trends move on. Fans of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair got closure when the fair closed for good. There were a few monuments left behind, but little else besides memories.
EPCOT Center never closed, of course. It changed, sometimes slowly, sometimes not, and moved away from that wonderful place I experienced in 1987. The necessities of running a theme park, expiration of sponsorships, and the realities of the tourism industry certainly contributed to a number of changes in the 1990’s that for me, moved the park a bit away from what attracted me to it as a young child. But there were always some pieces - Spaceship Earth, American Adventure, the Land - that were throwbacks. More than the monuments left over from the 1964 World’s Fair - at least I had a few attractions to still reminisce over and enjoy. I’m not sure if that is better or worse than getting closure over a place that no longer existed.
This week, Disney announced the largest changes in a while to Epcot. It’s not what me in 1987 would have loved necessarily. But I’m also a bit different too. And my son, who is the same age now as I was during my first visit, has different preferences than I did at his age. Epcot taught us all about change, wrapped in an optimistic, futuristic story. Epcot will change, too.
Epcot remains a special place, with a lot of happy memories with family and friends. The redesign isn’t what I would do if I were in charge, but I’ll continue to visit and make new memories, in new settings, with family and friends - many of which I’m only friends with because of our shared love for EPCOT Center. That in itself is pretty amazing, for a theme park, and something I am tremendously grateful for.
So here’s to whatever comes next at one of the most unique places on the planet. While no one knows for sure what we’ll see or do, I do know it will be quite an adventure—an adventure that we’ll take and make together.