6) Shine Up the Shops
MouseGear was filled with broken fixtures and endcaps on my last visit. Top shelves in some stores actually showed dust. Particularly in Future World, the retail locations look tired and unappealing. Frankly, some of the stores are beginning to get a creepy Six Flags vibe, and that’s just not good. Bring some showmanship back to the stores. If Disney’s “centralized” merchandising group doesn’t see fit any longer to create fun, unique items for individual theme parks (much less Resorts, based on the Disneyland/Walt Disney World merchandise that is increasingly common), at least show off the wares with some flair. Pay particular attention to the stores in Future World, which are increasingly threadbare and look more and more like the Woolworth’s down the street … just before it closed.
7) Save the Signage
Throughout Future World, particularly, the directional signs look sad and neglected. Instead of really showing us the way or imparting information, they just sit there with names of attractions blanked out looking dirty and kind of gross. The signage throughout Epcot is another example of how exactly the thing Walt Disney wanted to avoid – cheap, vaguely dirty carnival-style parks – is exactly the outcome of the management techniques Disney has put in place in the past decade or so. In my collection of old Disney News magazines is an article from the early 1980s describing the meticulous care Disney’s designers put into the signage. These days at Epcot, fonts and colors don’t always match, the signs barely point us in the right direction, and some of them look like they haven’t been touched in almost the entire 25 years Epcot has been in existence. Pay attention to little details like this … and guests will notice! (Frankly, the old signs, with the stylized circular logos for each pavilion and the names of countries in script that recalled their cultures, were a lot better looking.)
8) Deep Six the Sales
In the area originally called “World Showcase Plaza,” one of the two large retail buildings is being used for … a fire sale. Tacky signs with Mickey Mouse hands and a crappy cartoon font script scream out, “We couldn’t get rid of this stuff anywhere else, so come get it cheap!” That’s not really what they say, of course, but it might as well be. To use prime real estate for what is essentially an outlet store is horrible show and a terrible management decision. If I can get stuff here for less than 10 bucks, why should I pay full price somewhere else? In today’s Wal-Mart world, that’s bound to be the message guests take away from this retail reduction. It’s just a lousy idea, and should be axed.
9) Adjust the AAs
As a recently posted old video montage of EPCOT Center shows, the Audio-Animatronic figures in Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy and The American Adventure used to look so much more animated. Give these guys some TLC, show us what makes AA figures so cool. Lube ’em up, or whatever you call it, but put some life back into them. Give us more of what makes Disney so uniquely Disney … and that does not mean recordings of Stitch and appearances by Mickey and Minnie – it means the technology and creativity that sets Disney apart from any other theme-park operator in the world. AA figures are a huge part of that, and EPCOT Center had more of them than any other park. They made EPCOT special, and can do it again.
10) Acknowledge the American Diet
Now, I love hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries as much as the next guy, but they do not define my diet – not by a long shot. In my extensive travels throughout the U.S., I’ve had extraordinary local cuisine, from Seattle to Miami, from Boston to Kansas City. Certainly there must be a more creative and honest way to represent American food than a fast-food joint? Show some flair when it comes to showing off the dining options in the “home country” by offering something more than fast food at the American pavilion.
11) Nurture the Norway Pavilion
I’ve already written about my extreme disappointment in the way the Norway pavilion has been treated, and I don’t need to go into more detail here. But, come on! Show Norway a little respect. It’s one of the few countries represented in World Showcase (along with China and Morocco) that are out of reach for most American tourists. Though its customs and culture may seem familiar, they’re quite unique, and deserve much more than they’re getting. At the very least, bring back a non-Princess Akershus for the dinner meal, if nothing else.
12) Enliven the Exits
Guests who experience the epic (in length, at least) Universe of Energy and immersive Spaceship Earth deserve much more upon exiting than empty rooms. Granted, it seems that Siemens will be upgrading the old Earth Station/Global Neighborhood in the near future, but when Exxon dropped its sponsorship of Energy, was it necessary to just shutter up the exit area? Inexpensive displays that explain some of the concepts we’ve just seen would be a welcome addition, a way for guests to feel they’re not being unceremoniously dumped into a far corner of Future World upon the ride’s completion. Likewise, the exit of Mission: Space is nothing but a series of blank hallways. Couldn’t Imagineers at least add some nice wall displays to enlighten us a bit more on space travel? After experiencing (and surviving!) a hugely expensive attraction, designers could have done a bit more than give us a very long hallway to walk before the admittedly well done (and sparsely attended) space-themed interactive area. At the very least, these centerpiece attractions deserve exits that are as good as the entrances.
13) Clean the ’Core
No matter what you call it, it will always be Communicore to diehard EPCOTers – the “core,” the physical heart of Epcot. It doesn’t need to look like a dizzy-headed relic from 1988. If designers refuse to get rid of the non-shade-providing sunshades and the bizarre whirlygigs, at least remove some of the actual clutter from this area – the carts, the booths, the needless tip board. (Given how few attractions Epcot actually has – though, admittedly, they’re large ones – is a tip board necessary at this park?) Clean it up a bit, give it a sense of place, make it look less like a techno junkyard.
14) Sell the Story
You know that park map everyone (theoretically, at least) receives on entering? Use it to tell the Epcot story. Explain the park a bit, tell newbie guests why it’s unlike any theme park in the world. Prepare them to find a little less “Disney” but a whole lot more to engage their senses. Tell a bit of the back story of Walt Disney’s original plan, explain the “permanent World’s Fair” concept, and proactively combat the “where’s Mickey” syndrome by telling the Epcot story. The map might be well-served by reprinting the EPCOT Center dedication. If guests don’t “get” Epcot, help them … and telling the story on a brochure everyone receives would help them understand and appreciate the park that much more.
15) Serve up the Center
A bold move: Rename the place EPCOT Center. Admit that, despite all efforts to the contrary, that’s what everyone calls it – at least, that’s still the name most guidebooks and even a few lingering Disney items (like that dedication plaque) use. There’s nothing wrong with the name, and, in fact, it has a great history and heritage. It’s EPCOT Center. Does it mean anything? No more than “Disney-MGM Studios” (which are neither studios nor contain much MGM) or, over at the competition, “Islands of Adventure” (they’re not islands!). What’s in a name? A sense of place, a sense of style, a sense of substance. EPCOT Center is a great name; it’s the “center” of a concept that brings our world closer together, moves us toward a day when that “Experimental Prototype” might be possible. And, if you want to get really literal, you could go back to the old way of thinking – that Walt Disney World as a whole was the concept of EPCOT brought to life (as it is, virtually, a city unto itself), and the theme park was the Center of that place. But in the end, admit that “EPCOT Center” says a whole lot more than just “Epcot” – and if it served the park so well for 20 years (prior to construction even being complete), it must have been pretty OK to begin with.
16) Whack the Wand
I’ve yet to receive a single e-mail, even from Imagineers themselves, defending the wand. No one likes it. It’s an eyesore. I once read that an Imagineer claimed the wand and sign helped “better identify” Epcot. Ummm … a 180-foot-tall, unique-in-the-world geosphere doesn’t do that? If recent rumors are true, the wand might actually be on its way out. A move like that … well, the thought alone leaves you thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is a little imagination left in the world!