Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ten Steps to a Better Epcot: Step No. 3

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!


Anonymous said...

I don't know if you have partnered with any non-profit organizations, but if you had one of our giving kiosk in active locations many could benefit if people felt prompted to give.

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Matt said...

Ah, I love it when people respond with solicitations (^).

Epcot82, you're right on with the observations here. One of the major reasons I love all Disney theme park experiences is for the amount of detail they put into the openings, closings, and in-betweens, of all the rides. Though, this new EPCOT seems to increasingly add trivial games and purchase-points instead of focusing on the educational aspect that the park was built around. I agree, they could spend a bit more money, and exert a bit more creativity, in building more interesting exits. I'm reminded here of the 'Innoventions' area of the 80s, when kids wanted to hang out and 'solve problems' in the kiosks of this area. I really think that this dumbing down of the park, and essentially not respecting children's intellect, is quite sad. Not all is lost here (at Disney), obviously, because they do still offer a lot, but this decline is seen all parts of society (especially television and the video game industry - very low bars which a lot of people mistakenly try to emulate).

Thanks for another great constructive post.

Anonymous said...

I love that Living Seas Film! I wish there was a way to get some of these old films on DVD. I also loved the little Energy Displays that used to be in Communicore. A model of an Offshore Drilling Platform, and other elements.

But I do think your right. It seems like the first things to go are these post show elements.

And the World Showcase, what a great way to advertise Disney Adventures. Disney could make small informational brochures about the various countries and even include a bit about each of the tours they offer. As a Travel Agent, I think this would be wonderful for them.

As for Test Track, your right it needs some spice at the end. Really how many people do you know that even know what Hydrogen powered cars are? Or how they work? Could you imagine how much support that GM could raise if they just explained it a bit better, using video or displays.

Josh said...

Boy, did you hit the nail on the head with this one (the others too, no doubt, but this one just requires comment).

I remember walking off World of Motion when I was a kid and just being fascinated with the robot and bird show they had going. Also, the prototype, concept cars were amazing. I still remember to this day a prototypical SUV, years before they actually showed up on the market, called the Chameleon: the seats could be taken out and turned into beds for camping; the headlights were removable flashlights; etc. It was incredible. Now you get to see the show room floor from your local dealership! Wow. Color me excited.

You didn't mention Soarin' as needing a post show, but, boy, does it! That looooooong walk back into the Land pavilion is like heading to the baggage claim at the airport. It's actually downright uninspiring. They need to do something there - and they've got plenty of room to do it - to continue the experience beyond the 3-minute ride you just waited 70 minutes to for.

Edgehopper said...

You're completely right here, but you forgot one of the most offensively bad post-shows at Epcot, the new Journey into Imagination post-show. It used to be this amazing electronic artistic playground that I could spend a whole half-day in as a kid...and now it's a Kodak commercial. Last time we went to EPCOT (Summer '06), we easily finished it in less than a day, because there was nothing to do in Future World other than the few rides; nothing to explore, try out, etc.

I like the idea of a post-show for American Adventure, but I don't trust the folks who did the environmentalist claptrap at Animal Kingdom with anything remotely political.

Matteo said...

I must admit, in World of Motion, I actually prefered the post-show to the ride-thru attraction myself. The bird and robot were always good for a chuckle, but the Water Engine remains one of my favorite "educational" films of all time, and continues to be relevent 25 years later (plus, it was gloriously weird). Then, to top it off, my grandpa and I could check out new GM cars in air-conditioned comfort. Although showing it's age by the time Test Track blew the whole thing apart, this is one post-show that I feel really added to a limited main attraction.

Again, as with most posts, I agree 100%.

Unknown said...

I have to agree with Matteo about the post-show going the extra mile at World of Motion. I think some of those old GM/WoM foldover foil buttons might still be rattling around somewhere at home.

About the hallway murals, Robert McCall's still alive and still painting as far as I know; since his great work at Horizons got pulled out, maybe EPCOT can put something of his up again. It'd be especially great if they use him to beautify Mission Space, given his past work for NASA and "2001."

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, this is sort of the opposite of the previous Step, not that I'd describe the cool stuff at the end of World of Motion as "clutter".

I suppose it's all about the larger problem of a lack of attention to design. Certainly some kind of compromise could be reached where they could hawk their lame bouncing balls (or some analog) in a manner that doesn't look like bolting a hot dog stand to the front of the Washington Monument.

For example, the Magic Shoppe on Main Street used to be a nice combination of both shop and attraction. If you just set up a stand full of spooky garbage on the side of the road, you get that annoying cart at the exit to the Haunted Mansion.

Epcot82 said...

Hmmm ... not sure I agree, Captain. Cleaning up the clutter has to do with the park's carefully designed exterior spaces (which I recently read, in Salon, compared to a 1970s college campus!). Letting them breathe.

But the beauty of having those clean, sleek lines of buildings devoid of ornamentation was partly that they gave no clue to the amazing things inside. Clutter it up (in the right way) on the inside! Pack in the fun!

Spartan design is great for the exterior at Future World ... not so great for the exit area of a major pavilion.

Unknown said...

I've seen better science projects from middle school students that inform me more then the stuff at EPCOT does. Very very sad to see.

Maybe if EPCOT actually held a year round science fair project/festival to grant a scholarship to smart children, it might spice things up at EPCOT a bit and get people interested again.

Anonymous said...

Yes and no.

While post show is a key to the ride/attraction, I always find myself trying to run to the next ride or talk with my group about the ride than look around.

While some of the rides are boring at the end, I'm glad disney puts more effort into the PRESHOW than the postshow, because that is where it gets really boring, and that is where it get really slow

Anonymous said...

EPCOT82: "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."

Thank you! You hit the bull's eye again. I am a non-American. I love Disney parks, and this year again, I'll spend my savings on a holiday in Florida. I also love America, and I want my Americana when I'm at Disney!

The show in the American Adventure is impeccable, still top notch. But on the whole, my interest in America's heritage is still better catered to in Liberty Square than in EPCOT.

I've always thought that, since, well, most visitors to EPCOT are American, the AA naturally should be different from the other pavilions. After all, what's the point in American shops or exhibitions, when you are presenting them to American audiences in America?

But the way you present it, I've changed my mind. Bearing EPCOT's educational and inspirational goals in mind, and with the increased number of non-American visitors, maybe the AA should take it's cue from some of the other pavilions a bit more.

I would love exhibitions on America, it's people, it's history and culture. Educational, thought-provoking, maybe controversial, but with a stark positive tone that has no shame in taking pride in America and it's achievements. One would think it would (have) served a great purpose in the past few years. (And even if it didn't, I for one would love it!)