Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Top 10 Changes (A Wish List)

It was an illuminating experience to recently scour the 'net and see what's been written about EPCOT Central. There are, it seems, still many people (Disney employees is always a good guess) who insist that EPCOT Central and EPCOT fans would like to see Disney, its theme parks and EPCOT in particular stay rooted in the past!

Untrue. The root of that belief is likely in the idea that what we'd love to see is EPCOT return to the concepts and theme that made it such an unprecedented and amazing park in the first place.

So, here's an off-the-cuff list of the Top 10 Changes EPCOT Central would love to see at EPCOT -- presented with a hope that you'll share your own additions, and that EPCOT will continue moving forward into a brighter, more exciting future.

10) Train the Cast
While many cast members are absolutely wonderful at their jobs, it's far too easy and common to encounter cast members who are either a bit too socially oriented (ignoring guests for the sake of chatting with each other) or really have no idea what they're doing there, which is unfortunately particularly true of World Showcase cast members. This is not meant to criticize those cast members who are fantastic at their jobs! Rather, it's particularly important at EPCOT because every cast member has a chance to communicate, both through action and through conversations with guests, the basic theme and concept of EPCOT.

9) Bring Back the Buses
Watching an old (yes, "back to the past" -- oh, how awful!) video feature on EPCOT Center, it was terrific fun to see the old double-decker buses that Disney used to offer as transportation -- one of the reasons the walkways around World Showcase are so fantastically wide. Considering how many guets use ECVs and other assistance given the sheer scale of World Showcase, and seeing the ambience and charm they brought to the area, it would be great to see Disney bring these back both as "color" and as transportation alternatives (just like on Main Street -- or, wait, do they offer the "omnibuses" anymore?!).

8) Spruce Up Space
For anyone who rides the attraction, the very, very long exit area of Mission: Space has to be an enormous letdown. Everything about the entry queue is detailed, dramatic and mood-setting. And then, after the ride, there's a long hallway with white walls and what seem more like hospital stripes than theming. Would it be so difficult to add some dramatic lighting and perhaps a large-scale mural to the exit area ... anything to prevent this area from being so unrelievedly boring? It's as if Disney's saying, "That's it, show's over, move along." (And speaking of the exit to Mission: Space, has there ever been a full house at the Advanced Training Lab? The poor cast members there are sometimes reduced to carnival barkers begging people to take part.)

7) Reinvigorate the Restaurants
EPCOT Center used to have, hands down, some of the best dining experiences in Walt Disney World -- perhaps in Central Florida. But recent changes have resuilted in the Coral Reef Room serving only a few fish entrees; the original Alfredo's being converted into a rather standard-fare Italian restaurant; and a general lowering of standards that's likely good for Disney's bottom line but results in one less reason for guests to come back over and over. A great meal with food you don't usually get at home used to be a terrific motivator to visit EPCOT after a full day at another park, but EPCOT's dining choices are less and less appealing lately.

6) Expand World Showcase
A recent EPCOT Central reader argued that World Showcase should stay as it is, with the focus being on upgrading the pavilions already there. That would be fantastic, and would certainly result in more reason to visit EPCOT -- so, in a way, it's easy to endorse that point of view. And since there were some really stellar concepts back in the '80s that never came to pass (the original drawing of the Rhine River Cruise is still perpetually haunting and compelling!), EPCOT would do well to acknowledge that we know more about the world and have more opportunity to travel since 1982. And so do guests from other countries. So, perhaps it's time to aggressively court the tourism boards and major corporations of Brazil (a huge driver of Disney business), Spain, Russia or India? If Disney's worried about not recouping a major investment in World Showcase, consider this: An addition offers the opportunity to market a new attraction no one can emulate -- Universal, Sea World and Busch Gardens have no thematic ability to offer a pavilion that opens a new window on the world for many guests. This is unique to Disney, and it's eminently marketable.

5) Restore the Fountain of Nations
The Fountain of Nations is one of EPCOT's small wonders, offering a show many guests don't even realize is part of the entertainment ... until they watch it with great wonder. In 1994, a show called "Splashtacular" was performed on the south side of the fountain, and a stage was built to accommodate it. Now, that stage is in a sad state of disrepair, while the fountain itself (during three recent visits) had misaligned nozzles and some sections that didn't work. The Fountain is an integral, wonderful part of EPCOT Center and Future World -- it would be great to see it restored.

4) Plan for Change
One of EPCOT Center's key design downfalls was that it required rather significant capital investments every few years to keep it up to date. But less than two years after it opened, a new Disney regime came in and -- giving them huge credit and praise -- turned attention to othe areas of Walt Disney World, investing in the once-brilliant Disney-MGM Studios, building some magnificently themed resorts, and improving the overall infrastructure. EPCOT Center briefly received some TLC, with the opening of the Morocco and Norway pavilions as well as the addition of the Wonders of Life pavilion. But after a while, Disney seemed to lose interest and didn't upgrade the major pavilions on a regular basis -- both giving guests fewer reasons to return, and letting them become woefully outdated. As Disney (hopefully) improves and invests in Future World pavilions, it must be careful to ensure that they keep up with rapidly changing technology and reflect changes in the world around us. The easy, unpleasant way to do this is create an attraction with little basis in reality, such as Mission: Space or The Seas With Nemo and Friends. They're both decent attractions, but have little place in Future World. (Mission: Space could have been part of a brilliant overhaul to Tomorrowland, and Nemo would have been a natural for Fantasyland). The harder way is more rewarding for everyone: A thoughtful upgrade like Spaceship Earth, which adds some fun, new elements (some of us really do like the on-screen fun on the descent!), and tries very hard, mostly successfully, to reflect what we know of the world. In two or three years, a couple of million dollars in one or two new scenes along with new narration will create a vibrant new version of the ride -- at a tiny fraction of the cost of a brand-new pavilion. Careful re-thinking of Future World attractions can go a long way toward keeping them fresh.

3) Create Unique Merchandise
Virtually every retail location at EPCOT, as well as much of Walt Disney World, seems to have decided to stock the same merchandise. In 1999, when Centorium became Mouse Gear, its products also became Mouse-oriented. Now, too many stores stock too many of the same items. Even World Showcase has become more Disney-oriented, with fewer and fewer "homegrown" options. Shopping at EPCOT should be unlike anyplace in the World. As an example, take a look at a store like Mombassa Traders at Animal Kingdom, which offers wonderful, eclectic items. I'm all for Mickey t-shirts and Disney memorabilia -- but does EPCOT have to be just like everywhere else?

2) Bring Back Akershus
This almost made the No. 1 spot -- it seems that vital. Here's a thought: Give us back the unusual, tasty, charming restaurant for all guests that used to exist at Akershus prior to the Great Princess Invasion and -- a serious proposal here -- turn the Odyssey restaurant into the Princess Odyssey. It's a huge, underused facility that has no real theme and doesn't seem to fit in to the rest of EPCOT. It's a big chunk of real estate that should be "monetized." Make that EPCOT's big Princess dining location, and restore the sense of national culture and authenticity to Restaurant Akershus. It's a win-win for everyone!

1) Do Something Absolutely Extraordinary
What does this mean? Not a clue. But someone at Imagineering does. Give us an EPCOT game-changer, something that is so exciting and different and unexpected that it brings a new infusion of life, a renewed sense of purpose and a restored meaning of theme to EPCOT. Wow us. Amaze us. Prove all of us naysayers wrong and show us that Disney is still the most exciting, imaginative, innovative, forward-thinking, creative, brilliant designers of theme-park entertainment anywhere. Remind the world what EPCOT means. Do something that really blows us away. There's enormous room to grow at EPCOT ... both literally and figuratively.

Show us what it means to be inspired by the world in which we live.

It's an amazing place. Remind us of that.


Anonymous said...

I think a mural at Mission: SPACE has to be Horizons-related. That would rock. The Princess Odyssey thing is certainly an interesting proposal. Another plus to it would be the fact that first aid is next door, and if a little girl hurts herself, and has to go there, Cinderella could visit her. Just a thought.

The Wonders of Life situation annoys me. I e-mailed them and I got a generic reply saying that nothing is planned. Why not just re-open it until a decision is made. I managed to sneak past the plants and bench blocking the entrance, with a camera to take a look, and didn't get spotted by a single Cast Member. I never went in when it was open, as I never noticed anything to the left of Mission: SPACE until my second trip, by which time WoL had closed.

Anonymous said...

#6 - Expand the World Showcase, this needs to be done. Yes some of the Countries could instead get rides of films instead, but it is time to open a new country. And think about this, a new country means more dining options. If you open a country like Spain and add a sit down restaurant and a counter service restaurant. The profits from these two restaurants could offset the building of the new pavilion. Epcot is the Dining park, so give us new dining options.

I love the Idea for making the Odyssey a Princess location. If they need to infuse Epcot with Characters, at least they can put them in places designated for characters, like the Character Spot. And keep them out of the other places in the park.

Also, welcome back. And thank you for restarting to post on your blog again. I love your insight to my favorite place on earth.

Josh said...

Hear, hear! And glad to have you back!

David Landon said...

Great ideas, especially changing the Odyssey into the Princess restaurant. And I agree with you about the Coral Reef; it's sad that the Red Lobster menu offers more seafood choices.

And concerning #8, is Bob McCall still around? Maybe they could hire him to paint a suitable mural for Mission:Space.

Scott said...

I don't even look at Akershus now that it's a Princess Dining Experience. (I have two boys have little to no interest in princesses - I can't even get them to commit to viewing Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.) I also don't care for buffets. Was Akershus a buffet? Our first trip to Epcot we sort of skimmed over it, and the next visit it was Princess-ized.

Unknown said...

Most of this is pretty good stuff. Some is easier said than done (staffing problems), and some aren't worth the hassle (buses), but this is mostly on point. The big gripe I have is number 2. The Odyssey serves an important function, as EPCOT is the event and convention park, and needs a convention center. In addition, it makes absolutely NO thematic sense at all to re-theme this building to a princess area. Arkeshus is at least in a midieval castle. Some quibble about french and arabic princesses in a norweigan castle, but they are just wet blankets.

It isn't for me, but it is very successful, and brings life to a restaurant that was perpetually underutilized. One of the smartest things management has done in recent years.

Epcot82 said...

Well, the "Saw" movies are very successful, but that doesn't make them something everyone likes -- and Disney's parks were founded on the idea of entertainment that all ages could enjoy together. EPCOT is a park that traditionally does appeal more to adults, but it has always emphasized entertainment that everyone can participate in. Given the rather substantial outcry from adults without kids or adults with teens to the changes at Akershus, it seems there could be a more appropriate place.

EPCOT does have a number of conventions and activities, and it appears many of them are held at the old (and nicely hidden) Millennium Pavilion or (sadly) at the defunct Wonders of Life. There are certainly opportunities, and since most of these events take place after park hours, there certainly seems to be opportunity to better utilize and monetize this space, while creating a solution that truly satisfies everyone. (Well, apparently almost everyone!)

Anonymous said...

And, if I'm not mistaken, the second floor of the Imagination pavilion from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Scott: Yes, Akershus used to be a buffet. If you went to the buffet and filled and cleaned your plate 7 times, you were Viking of the Day and you got a certificate to prove it. LOL! My boyfriend was Viking of the Day once.

And it was good fare. :)

Epcot82 said...

The "bord" way of eating (smorgasbord, etc.) is a Scandinavian way of life. The wonderful thing about Akershus and Biergarten (which too many people are afraid to try, in my book!) is that the food is constantly being served up fresh. It's hard to find a "stale" item. Akershus was delicious. I honestly don't know about the Princess dining location -- without children (and without reservations months in advance), it's just too daunting to even consider trying! If that makes me biased, OK ... but there are SO MANY locations for kids to meet the characters, and there was just ONE Norwegian restaurant that served such enjoyable, leisurely, authentic offerings.

Anonymous said...

Zach is right about the current Epcot admins putting more and more events in the Odyssey pavilion. It is a nice place to hold events (I've attended a couple CM events lately), but I feel it is a cheat to the guests to utilize such a large building for selfish reasons.

You hit the nail on the head with train the cast, though. I think that can be expanded to more and more locations using the Cast Deployment System as well. Since people are put in the system with proficiencies (and the places I've worked, the management won't utilize the proficiencies correctly), everyone has equal opportunity to draw every task. This is fine when we're slow, but when EU is slammed to the walls with six registers open, the last thing we need is our counter and registers full of individuals with a weaker knowledge of English and our kitchen full of squeaky females complaining how gross the raw meat going on the broiler is and taking her sweet time.

That is nowhere near an excuse for the cast. I want to rip heads off occasionally due to how un-Disney my coworkers are being, but if the cast followed our basics as told, I think it would take the focus off of the administration's lack of updates on Epcot.

Sara C. said...

I'm an avid reader of your blog, but a first-time poster.

I just wanted to mention that on my last visit to EPCOT Center (Saturday 1 November) I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the museum in Morocco had been revamped; it now focuses on the Moroccan Art of Adornment and was a pleasant breath of fresh air for the pavilion (one of my absolute favorites).

My mother and I spent a good 20-30 minutes taking in the new exhibit. While it does have some issues in design (I'm trained in Anthropological Museum Work), it is a nice little update. I took several photos of the interior, should anyone wish to see them.

Brian S said...

I adore your blog and EPCOT. Thanks for returning to posting here!

I agree with the sentiment of returning the busses, but even the very wide WS pathways are already crowded.

I have, for years, advocated a people-mover system that could circumnavigate WS and maybe even FW. It would be a tribute to Walt's plan for the original EPCOT that featured people-movers prominently, and the technology is may more affordable than monorail construction.

Most importantly though, it is really impossible to spend an active day in EPCOT and avoid severe foot and leg pain and physical exhaustion. It is really poor hospitality to create something that is absolutely impossible for people to enjoy without discomfort.

In the hands of Imagineers it could also be a magical whirlwind tour of the globe and across time and space.

I volunteer to join the Imagineering story design team for the project ;-)



Drew Rigefsky said...

Hey, many time reader, first time poster.

What about that completely useless space that the Outpost currently takes up? I'm sure we can fit a country in there - at least it gives me something more to do than to GAG myself at Akerhaus. Honestly, the parents need something to do while they're schlepping the kids off to the failure of half these pavilions to either entertain or educate.

I really would like to see either Switzerland (complete with mini-Matterhorn), which may be problematic for its small space, or Russia, who could do a lot by putting in a replica of St. Basil's and the Red Square. Heck, even put feelers out there to see if India's interested. AT LEAST DO SOMETHING WITH IT other than put that lame Outpost there.

Anonymous said...

God bless America for giving us armchair critics like this guy.

Anonymous said...

I have a comment about the Reinvigorate the restaurants part. Have you checked out Japan's new re-vamped Tokyo Dining? I heard it's absoulutely extraordinary and that the hospitality and the moderness of the restaurant is really something. I haven't checked it out though. And there's talk that they're going to do something innovative with China's...though I wish that one would stay the same. But you always have some very good points. Keep up the good work. :) -Mike H.

Anonymous said...

All i can say, is that Epcot would be a much better place if they read and valued the opinions of this blog and others like it.

Anonymous said...

the fountain was behind walls and is looking pretty good if I am right as good as it looked in the 90s. Lets just say the belagio fountain isnt any better and the new lighting effects are amazing. its nop perfect but you have to look had and compare to see whats wring with it. they replaced the whole bottom step or at least changed it. I went there and no fountain that means 2 years without the fountain.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing you've never eaten at the Mitsukoshi restaurants in the Japan pavilion. Mitsukoshi Ltd. trains the cast members hardcore on what hospitality is. When I went with my sister last weekend, they were always bowing, saying "konichi wa" to us. I had a conversation about my favorite anime to the waitress we had. They were ALWAYS smiling. I felt giddy with all of those Japanese girls smiling at me! lol. Five star hospitality in the whole entire pavilion. In Germany, a leider hosen-clad cast member was dealing with a jerk complaining about his food. He looked upset, but when it was my turn to order my brauts, he had a smile on his face and said "Hallo" quite cheerily. I found the same when I recieved random "bonjours" in the France pavilion. Maybe I was just lucky that day, but I found the "hellos" and the constant smiles quite overwhelming and impressive last weekend. Don't get me started about the Canadian girl. She was quiet but she was cheery and smiley. A smile from her just about made my day. ;)