Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Mom's Thoughts On EPCOT


For a while now, EPCOT Central has been meaning to share this letter from a reader. If Disney executives don't trust ardent Disney lovers who maintain blogs to give them some real perspective on EPCOT, perhaps they'll trust a new mom from the South, who offers some lovely and valuable perspective on how "real" guests respond to EPCOT.

Her name is Khrystie, and here's what she wrote:

I found your site after a family trip to EPCOT in June of 08. I hadn't been to the park since the late nineties, shortly after I graduated from high school. As a Central Florida native, I had grown up in the Disney parks and had an annual pass from about age 6 until I moved to South Florida for my undergrad degree. A self-proclaimed dorky kid, EPCOT was always my favorite park, by far. I loved learning, science and innovation.

I loved the longer rides, the information and music around the park. I loved that we could easily spend a whole day in Future World. My dad and I would recite the narratives to the films for Universe of Energy and The Living Seas. I still remember the big spiral ramp around the records display in the Communicore. The rainbow tunnel, the pin tables and the Makin' Memories pre-show at Imagination. I loved EPCOT dearly and had many, many fond memories.

I went to EPCOT that June with my three month old daughter, and selected that park specifically because I remember be able to ride almost every ride in the park as a child with my grandparents (including) my grandfather who was handicapped. I was fairly certain that my daughter would be able to ride everything as well. I left absolutely heartbroken and nostalgic for what felt like a great part of me that had been lost - a favorite pastime that I would never be able to share with my own children. Of the slower rides, Energy was set at such a decibel level that she was terrified. We went back in October, and at six months I thought the colors and songs in Imagination would captivate her, as we hadn't ridden it in June. The pitch-black and blast of air led to hysterics.

I went home and started searching for anything that showed a glimmer of what had been. This is how I found your site.

We were back at the park over the weekend. This time with my now 19-month old daughter and 10-week old son. As my daughter is a huge PIXAR fan, I at least thought she'd love The (now called) Seas. She got nothing from the ride. Her favorite part? The aquarium. The fish, the turtles, the sharks (all of which she knew by name). Her favorite part was the only part they haven't changed. Despite the fact that she watches Finding Nemo at least four times a week.

Although we were there a good part of the day, we only saw The Seas, a walk around the World Showcase, and a ride on Spaceship Earth. Apart from Listen to the Land, that's largely the extent of what is available for entire families with groups of varying age to do. I can't take my kids on Test Track, and I myself will not get on Mission Space.

I guess the point of this is simply (or not so simply, given the length of the letter) say "Thank You" for your site. There were smart kids out there, who even at six found time, heat and pressure, hydroponics and hydrolators profoundly interesting. I wish that my children would have been given the chance to experience it, and share the hope that one day they will.

In your site, I found a whole community of people who are willing to fight the dumbing down of society, rather than drifting along like sheep. Your opinion is shared - thank you so much for sharing it.

35 comments:

rob said...

love the letter ... so true.

jimmycrackedcorn said...

Bravo Khrystie! Well spoken and so true!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with this letter. My fondest memories of going to Disney World in large multi generational (and even all teenage) groups, happen to all be in EPCOT. It was hands down the best park in Disney to bring families together. There wasn't a daring challenge that broke families up, and from the begining was douced with attractions that truly allowed families to experience so many things together. I loved going on rides with my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and little sister as a kid. it was stress free, and even if I wasn't into the educational aspect of it, I loved the presentation. What EPCOT has become now is so unfortunate. When I go to EPCOT now with my high school students, they don't quite get what the point of the park is. And I can't see how these days they would. Most of them will go on Test Track, and Soarin' and spend the rest of their time at World Showcase. Funny thing is, while at Magic Kingdom, we gave the kids the option to go to EPCOT if they didn't want to stay, and about 60% of the kids went just to get more time in World Showcase. I point this out because, even with poor changes like "The Three Caballeros" in Mexico, World Showcase still retains a lot of what the rest of Epcot used to have; wide open spaces, less stress, and the freedom to wander about and discover stuff on your own. And that's truly what a lot of the kids still discover they like about the park. I think Disney has missed the boat on what they perceive teenagers to want. Sure they love thrills, but they're also much more mature than today's Disney team gives them credit for. This site is so great because it's the only place that challenges the Walt Disney Company of today. It focuses not just on the nostalgia, but the proven resonnance that EPCOT once had with children, teens and adults alike. And it doesn't say that EPCOT shouldn't evolve, but it questions the tactics that have led to it's loss of focus, and constant cynicism and dumbing down. And this site gives ideas for improvements that can retain the original integrity of the park, while moving forward with progression. This is something that's lacking at Disney these days, and it's good that there's a place to explore this park's potential since Disney doesn't seem to get it. I hope the right person eventually reads this site and improves the damage that's been done to our favorite place.

Dylank777 said...

While I agree wholeheartedly with this post and all the comments...the last time I went to Disney was with just such a multigenerational group...Im not touching this one at all...if one agrees one presumably would get blocked by everyone who thinks that too much catering to such people and families in general leads to a downfall of Disney experiance for others not in this category, and if you champion say the cause of the single rider at the world the other side would jump in.

No sir. Staying well outta this one. Course thats a pretty big comment just to say so. LOLZ.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the letter completly, its exactly how I feel when I go to EPCOT(I refuse to use the lower case). Its not to say that their cannot be attractions like Mission Space or Test Track, but don`t take away the educational aspect just to replace it with a thrill ride. I am sure that the Imagineers could have included some thrills in the World of Motion pavillion, without taking away the original ride. Its OK to change, but don`t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Lets use the imagination that Walt tried to nurture in us to think outside the box when it comes to EPCOT.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to post my agreement with the writer of the letter.

I have always been an avid EPCOT fan and am rather disappointed by certain recent changes. I think a park devoted to learning and exploration is a natural. I was inspired by it in my youth and still love to share it with my children.

Being an old school fan, I am heartbroken by the fact that Horizons is no longer with us and that the beautiful transition from film through hydrolater to Seabase Alpha has become that completely insipid clam mobile ride. Ah El Rio del Tiempo... la la la la...

That said, I think there is still life in the old park yet. Spaceship Earth is aging and updating well, Living with the Land is great even though I miss the live onboard guides, Soarin' is lots of fun and is still on theme.

Even though I am now an old dude :), I think that Test Track is great and the Mission Space that I just tried for the first time a couple of weeks ago is both a good thrill ride and part of an inspirational pavilion.

Walking the park at night is still an unequalled joy.

While I agree that things are still in danger of going the wrong way, I truly believe that all is not lost.

Here's hoping!

Airamerica said...

Great letter!

Whilst I don't agree with all the comments, I can get on board with the sentiment... Like many of us have been arguing, for some time, Epcot is in dire need of an imagination injection!

Come on management look at passionate letters like this and act.

Anonymous said...

i'm not unsympathetic to her nostalgia, and i realize this is a bit beside the point... but why the the hell would you take a 3 month old on Energy?? who is that for????

i'm not surprised there was terror! and to expect a kid just a year and a half to "get something" out of the Seas (or Nemo) seems naive.

she sounds like one of those oblivious parents who don't seem to recognize their childs hysterics annoy the crap out of other guests who are capable of not pooping their pants every 2 hours.

i understand why you shared this letter, but her [unrealistic] expectation for the experience seems a far more likely cause for her displeasure. i doubt she was a toddler (or younger!) when she visited with her grandparents. I'm restraining from being truly insulting, but her reasoning seems to be based on a daft expectation that infants should/would/could enjoy the park as she once did (when she surely was older than her own children are now).

SQV

Anonymous said...

At three months, most babies would probably be able to take the average ride in stride -- say, "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Haunted Mansion" or a dark ride. And while the dinosaurs are certainly scary, they wouldn't register with most infants, who have no understanding or comprehension of what they are.

No, I think Khrystie was referring to the overwhelming sonic levels of UoE, and I agree with her completely.

I'm not a big fan of taking babies to theme parks, but if you can keep them comfortable and not irritate other people, then great. If the RIDES are what's causing the kid to react, though, then to a large degree it IS the design of the rides. A baby would have been able to take "Adventures Thru Inner Space" or "Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland" (purely as examples) in stride, but "Star Tours" and "Big Thunder"? Nope.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and BTW, if you've ever seen a 1 1/2 year old kid get infatuated with the displays at science centers, then you know it's very possible and something that should be expected. If a kid's not into cartoons, he's not into cartoons. If he likes looking at fish, that's another story ...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but it sounds to me like someone needs a reality check. Like a previous poster said before, "but why the the hell would you take a 3 month old on Energy??". She sounds like one of those clueless parents that can't figure out what rides are age appropriate. Does she also bring her baby to rated R movies in the theater because she can't find a babysitter?

A 3 month old isn't even old enough to enjoy Fantasyland in Magic kingdom and yet she thinks Epcot is a good place to bring her daughter? Then she mentions later that she recently took her 10 month old son to Epcot. Yikes...

D R E W P said...

Amazing letter. I feel exactly the same. Thanks!

Sebastien said...

Hello there, if I can share some of the nostalgia of this letter and of the feeling of this person, all the comments about bringing a baby child to a disney park, ride or experience and complaning is just very close to stupidity. A 3 months old baby at Epcot ? yes sure..... why not try bring a new-born next time ? I am really shocked to read this.....

Sarah said...

Good letter. I've been to WDW many times with my kids, at various ages.

To SQV and all the others who seem to believe we should keep our children strapped into their Fisher Price bouncy seats until they're fourteen... Young children are fascinated by sounds, colors and lights. A one-year old is capable of appreciating colors and animals, plants, textures, and sounds. I would never take a 3 month old to a Disney park for their sake - but I would for my own.
I'm amazed at the ignorance of those who are so quick to judge others. An infant can benefit simply from being outside on a nice day, enjoying the bright colors and music and the activity bustling around them. I know what limitations my children have and greatly try to avoid "inconveniencing" others with a screaming child.
It's sad that some posters seem to underestimate the intelligence level of small children and therefore find no use in exposing them to the world around us. Disney is brilliant in it's design. If you are a parent that has no concept of what children of any age find fascinating, then stay home. That's okay. Some of us will have the Imagineers of tomorrow. And some day your kids will be paying their 40-hour wages to see what it is that our kids have done.

Jimmy said...

My take:
http://JimmyBoi2.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

".. all the comments about bringing a baby child to a disney park, ride or experience and complaning is just very close to stupidity. A 3 months old baby at Epcot ? yes sure..... why not try bring a new-born next time ? I am really shocked to read this..."

check your shock at the door and don't get distracted. my comment was directed at Mom's argument - that EPCOT had devolved, degraded, slid to something less than what she remembered - was based on the experience of a 3-month-old child. not slamming her conclusion (er... opinion), but her methodology!

she surely wasn't 3 mos when she developed all those great memories. I'd be *shocked* (!!!) if any kid at 3 mos didn't get startled by the 45 minute noisefest in the dark with monsters (aka Energy).

Anonymous said...

"Young children are fascinated by sounds, colors and lights."

again, Mom never said her infant daughter was "terrified" (her word) by sounds, colors, or lights (though, the lever of the sound, maybe). nor did Mom say infant daughter was scared by textures, animals, or plants (you failed to specify dinosaurs... they're animals though, right?).

you and others seem to want to make this a debate about child development. Mom was lamenting the lack of appropriate rides... for an infant... at EPCOT. and you're amazed by my comment???

SQV

Adam said...

Babies can get a lot out of the parks, however I wouldn't take them on anything that's too long or loud. My daughter loved POTC from age 6mo-18mo, after which she went through the "scared" period, now at 3 she loves it again. I know people who refuse to take their kids to WDW until they are 7 or 8, thinking they won't get enough out of it until then. I think that is just ridiculous.

As for the letter, I agree completely. There's a whole "market" of smart people out there, Disney. You would be wise to respect our wants and not just cater to the idiocracy crowd. (And FYI there's nothing smart about Baby Einstein.)

Khrystie said...

My point was that the park used to be a place where entire families could enjoy a day together. It was not meant as a complaint that there is nothing appropriate for infants - it just happened that we took our kids there thinking that it would be the best park for us to be able to enjoy the day with them, their grandparents and their great-grandparents. It's for loving EPCOT for what it used to be - a place where people of all ages could go on every ride together and actually LEARN while doing it. Long, dark rides that didn't rely on cheap tricks or sound effects to capture people's hearts. Entertainment doesn't always have to be thrilling.

Anonymous said...

"My point was that the park used to be a place where entire families could enjoy a day together."

I don't entirely disagree with the emotional response - i.e. missing the EPCOT you remember and I do appreciate/share that feeling to some degree. however, an argument can be made - indeed, I believe it's the Disney corporation's rationale - that EPCOT *is* for families.... just families with children older than 3 months.

It's interesting you note that EPCOT *was* an ideal place for families to spend time together. i got slammed b/c I said I appreciated (or liked?) Kim Possible b/c it was something that a my niece(age 7) and her mother were able to enjoy together, and it didn't invovle fast passes, or 90 second rides. never said it "fit" in EPCOT, only that as an attraction that allowed younger children - and their parents - to enjoy the park too seemed worthwhile. witnessing their experience (they liked it! Oh no!!!), i find it hard to reconcile that an attraction like KP (or whatever it's named) fails to be a good thing... while, a 3-month-old infant being startled by loud noises somehow indicates a failing of the park.

SQV

Anonymous said...

one last thought, Khrystie. thanks for being a good sport. you obviously took time to compose a thoughtful letter, and bravely allowed it to be posted. hopefully you don't take anything i've written personally.

I too liked EPCOT when i was 16, and it's still my favorite. I don't think all (most?) of the changes/additions have been good to the extent they didn't necessarily enhance my experience!

SQV

Khrystie said...

If everyone in the world always shared the same opinion the world would be a pretty dull place. :)

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Digital Jedi said...

I'm sorry, but the comments suggesting you can't take a 3 month old on Energy are just, dare I say, boneheaded comments. Likely made by people who've never had kids, and who apparently don't like them very much. Babies have all the mental awareness we do, with none of the experience to make the connections we do. They're still humans that respond to aesthetics, sounds and smells. I don't understand this argument that basically suggests that children or infants are the equivalent of dimwits on Thorazine, but I think it's a tired and baseless argument.

And what was the unrealistic experience, exactly, are we talking about? The expectation that she would being taking her kids on the same type of attractions she used to ride? Because that's the point she made. That's not an unrealistic expectation. That's the expectation Disney got us used to for decades on end.

Andy JS said...

The truth is that our family is quite serious, although we like fun as well.

When we first visited Orlando we were afraid everything would be a bit too silly.

EPCOT Center was the perfect antidote to that. I was amazed that somewhere could exist which had just the right combination of education and fun.

Somehow, I always knew it wouldn't last, and that people would want to try and make it more popular.

Spokker said...

Epcot was redesigned by people who gradually begun to believe that American children are idiots.

That myth needs to die a horrible, painful death.

Franco said...

I will admit that its sad to hear that everything you remembered was gone or changed. That fact of the matter is that you have to change and grow if you want Disney to remain #1. the things that were once fun and thrilling arent so much now a days, now a days poeple want thrill rides and less education.

Spokker said...

"now a days poeple want thrill rides and less education."

The common perceptions about what people want and how things really are in the world are usually wrong. For example, 75% of Americans believe that crime is going up and getting worse, according to surveys. However, statistics have shown a long-term downward trend in crime throughout the country. Another example is that many Americans believe illegal immigration is ruining the country. The best studies show that there is probably not a huge impact positively or negatively. It's a real issue, to be sure, but the outrage is not proportional to the net result. What would most people say when asked which state downloads the most porn? California? New York? Actually, it's Utah.

But one of my biggest pet peeves is this idea, so astutely stated by Franco, that Americans are not interested in education. They are not interested in learning. Kids are mindless drones that exist only to be molded by commercial interests, flashy colors and derivative entertainment.

As is usually the case, this assumption is dead wrong. A cursory glance at the top 1000 web sites according to Google shows that Wikipedia is number four, with 390 million unique visitors per month. A closer look at the most popular Wikipedia entries include historical events, entries about specific countries, and historical figures. Abraham Lincoln made the top 25 for 2009. Clearly, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln ought to be shuttered forever.

Every month, millions of pages about math, science and history are served up. The arts get a good look. William Shakespeare is in the top 100. And yes, you'll find plenty of traffic for entertainment figures.

The fact of the matter is that education is more popular now than it ever has been. More people are going to college than ever before. Woman outnumber men in universities these days.

Don't let the 24 hour news networks fool you, people are smarter and more curious than they ever have been. There's a demand for learning and Disney is missing the boat.

not a gator said...

Seriously? Take your kids to the science museum in Fort Lauderdale. Much cheaper, kids'll love it and the dining options that night will be better, too.

not a gator said...

@Spokker

Never mind kids, they think the American public in general is composed of idiots.

The joke's on them, as the park is deserted, the average visitor is well into middle age and NOT bringing younger relatives, and meanwhile "nerdfest" Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure is full to capacity on weekdays.

I hate to keep harping on Islands of Adventure (and it's not perfect by any means) but they seem to me to do a lot right that Disney can't seem to manage.

Which is a shame because it seems like there is a niche for "all-ages entertainment" as opposed to what Islands of Adventure is providing, a very teen to young adult oriented park with borderline dangerous rides.

There are tons of great science museums, horticultural gardens, state parks, aquaria, and zoos in Florida which are much, much cheaper than Disney, not to mention more education, less patronizing, and more fun for kids. I would recommend Homosassa State Park where you can watch real manatees feeding.

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anne said...

I really dreamed about EPCOT and wanna spend Holiday fun in Disney.

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