Step No. 3: Spice Up the Endings
You've just spent 30 minutes in line and five minutes on an entertaining ride experience. (Well, in the old days, that would have been 10 minutes in line and 20 minutes on a ride, but that's an observation for another time.) If you're like most Epcot guests, sadly you try to make it out of the building fast enough to jam in another ride before your character meal.
It doesn't need to be this way. In fact, it shouldn't. Not at Epcot.
There will always be those impatient park guests who reason, "I paid fifty bucks to get in this joint, so I'm gonna get my money's worth," and think "money's worth" means as much in-your-face entertainment as possible. But, then, Epcot has a chance to challenge those ideas, to get guests to stop and linger, and maybe learn a little something while being (maybe, just a little) entertained.
Back in the day (yes, EPCOT Central critics, I'll refer to the "old days" here again), EPCOT Center's centerpiece attractions were coupled with some fairly intriguing post-show entertainment. There were some attractions, like Universe of Energy and Horizons, that were so elaborate that their pavilions had little room for post-show entertainment. But there were others, most of them, in fact, that offered as much interactive intrigue after the ride as during.
Spaceship Earth and World of Motion were fantastic examples of this. Earth Station offered a practical view of how communications technology might (and, actually, did) revolutionize our lives. From dining reservations to previews of other EPCOT attractions, Earth Station allowed us to interact and experience future technology ourselves. TransCenter, on the other hand, allowed guests to explore prototype cars and even (can you believe it?!) examine the feasibility of a water-powered engine.
These were optional, of course; but for guests who wanted to take part, they added immeasurably to the EPCOT experience.
Now, I'm not going to criticize the Advanced Training Lab at Mission: Space, or the new Project Tomorrow at Spaceship Earth; they're both ways to engage guests, and they both try to enhance the experience. OK, I'll criticize them a little. I'm not sure how Project Tomorrow upholds any ideas we've been exposed to on the ride; and Advanced Training Lab is (in my experience) usually pretty devoid of guests and really more of a high-tech playground.
What a missed opportunity to educate increasingly unaware masses of the amazing accomplishments of the U.S. space program ... or of all global space initiatives!
That's just one example of where Disney has fallen down on EPCOT's goal -- yes, it's still the goal, printed out there on that plaque for all to see -- to "entertain, inform and inspire." They've got the entertainment part down. So here are some suggestions for those last two bits, possibilities for enhancing the post-show area in key attractions:
* Do something about the long, barren, boring hallways that greet visitors at the end of Mission: Space. Paint a mural -- a big one. Add video screens that show great moments from space history. Offer up words of wisdom from astronauts and space pioneers. Anything other than unbelievably boring, monotonous institutional-looking walls. Yes, it's true ... you've got to keep the guests moving out of the building. But look at what you've got over at the 33-year-old Space Mountain as your "post-show," then look at what the infinitely more complex and technologically advanced Mission: Space has to offer. Frankly, it's a major embarrassment.
* Upgrade the Test Track post show; focus on hydrogen cars and non-polluting vehicles -- but don't just show them. Make this more than a glorified showroom. Incorporate far better signage, provide a script and a small show for the cast member staffing the area. Actively invite audience participation by creating constantly updated, five-minute videos that play in a prominent area. Get guests involved and use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that GM wants to help improve our future, and we all play a role in that by deciding what, where, how and when to drive. Toyota and Honda have improved their business by at least pretending to be concerned about our environmental future -- send a similar message from GM to the millions who walk through here every year.
* Add new information and elements to the small post-show area in the Universe of Energy. Utilize that wall space; add moving video images that highlight some key ideas portrayed in Ellen's Energy Adventure, such as a map that shows where solar power is catching on, or where there are wind-farming sites. Add some "energy quizzes" using computer screens and interactive kiosks. Energy is in the headlines every single day; there's a fantastic opportunity to create a small, simple but effective set of displays here that is constantly changing.
* The Seas With Nemo and Friends gets low marks from me because any teenager or adult who has even a passing interest in the silent world below us has seen more impressive displays at aquariums throughout the U.S. But why not use a small part of the massive interactive exhibit areas to attract older audiences, to offer something non-Nemo-ized that makes us think, "A-ha!" Perhaps, dare I suggest it, this could be a great location to show a slightly modified version of the old (and amazing) introductory film to The Living Seas?
* The American Adventure is a wonderful pavilion in World Showcase, but barely even touches on any modern issues. Why not use the post-show exit area (and perhaps part of the entry area!) to explore such pivotal, emotional and perhaps slightly controversial issues as civil rights, inner-city development, and education? There is little in the American Adventure to suggest that America, the host country of Epcot, is a particularly deep or thoughtful country. EPCOT has a fantastic opportunity to show its non-American visitors that the U.S. is much deeper than stereotypes paint it.
* Whether or not the host country can fund it, why not offer a travel kiosk at the exit of each World Showcase attraction? I find it disconcerting that even while Disney tries to grow its own "Adventures By Disney" business, it's almost impossible to find out anything about actually visiting the country you've just "visited." This became particularly noticeable when Norway, which once had some of the most friendly cast members staffing its travel kiosk, closed down their "Visit Norway" location. If EPCOT really is aiming to inspire people, then the least that could be done is to offer a way to explore the feasibility of visiting these countries on your own. It would add another dimension to an EPCOT visit!
These are just a few ideas -- but the overall theme remains the same: The ride or show itself is just part of the experience. Visiting EPCOT can be exponentially richer and more rewarding for thoughtful guests while still being "surface" for those who care only about the next ride. It just takes a little care, a little effort and a relatively quite small amount of money.
I bet there are Imagineers out there who would jump at the chance to take on enhancement projects like these ... and the others that I hope EPCOT Central readers will share themselves!