Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Whole Lot Less for a Whole Lot More

Just a few months ago, when gas prices were at their highest and the signs of an imminent economic meltdown were everywhere, The Walt Disney Company did what it did best -- it raised the price on a one-day, one-park ticket to $75.

A scant three and a half years earlier, the price was $59, which means that prices rose by more than a penny every single day in that time.

Today, a family of four who has one day to visit Disney's properties in Orlando (and that's not something that happens infrequently) would pay $300 for admission alone. In itself, that figure would be astonishing, but let's assume that family chooses to go to EPC-- er, Epcot for the day. Here's what they'll find:

  • Touringplans.com reported this weekend that Disney has unceremoniously shaved an hour off of the opening hours of Epcot -- and, indeed, a scan of the Disneyworld.com website shows that on Fridays beginning in January, World Showcase will be open to the general public (that is, non-Disney Resort guests) from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., or nine hours a day. That family of four is paying $33 an hour to visit Epcot.
  • The same website also reports that Disney is removing the Viking ship from the Norway pavilion. No doubt, this is a minor development in the scheme of things ... but it's also indicative of where Disney's collective head is at. The ship is an example of the detailed "plussing" that has always been a hallmark of Disney's theme parks. Removing it may not seem like a big deal at all, but given the hugely important role Vikings played in Norway's history (and, indeed, world history), it's really not such a minor thing. Losing the ship means losing an integral part of the theming of this pavilion.
  • From January 5 to March 22, the Universe of Energy* (aka Ellen's Energy Adventure, which is how it's listed on Disney's website) will be closed for refurbishment. Of course, attractions routinely need to be refurbished, and if there are any changes or improvements to the Universe of Energy, it will be cause for praise. However, keep in mind that ...
  • Wonders of Life remains closed. An entire pavilion with two major and multiple minor attractions remains a not-quite-literally empty shell, shut off to all guests, and rather vividly displaying Disney's lack of interest in maintaining the integrity of Epcot. From January to March, literally half of Future World's east side will be closed.
  • Park maintenance continues to be wanting. As EPCOT Central has pointed out before, directional signs don't match, the Fountain of Nations is in disrepair, and public areas aren't patroled nearly as much as in the past. Adding to the disappointments that park guests experience, older Audio-Animatronic figures, notably in the American Adventure and Living With the Land, are creaky and slow, desperately in need of some "spare parts," at the very least. The first image that accompanies this post is of a sign that hasn't been touched up for more than a year -- the word "West" was simply removed and the sign wasn't redesigned or replaced, indicative of how Disney takes more money from consumers but doesn't put it back into the simplest of fixes at its parks.

Remember, all of this comes at the highest price for park entry in Disney's history.

What other industry raises prices to record levels, then cuts back on basic services, functions and even hours of operations? Airlines, perhaps. But does any business want to be compared with the airline industry?

EPCOT was already suffering. If the park experiences a further decline in attendance, let's just hope Disney doesn't try to blame it on the "theme" (what little is left) and acknowledges that there's just a limit to how much the public will accept.

When we pay more we expect more.

When we get this much less and the price goes through the roof, we're entitled to be unhappy about it.

*Also worth noting is that the Epcot section of Disneyworld.com doesn't even list the pavilion as a major attraction. Like Gran Fiesta Tour, The Circle of Life or Honey I Shrunk the Audience, it's classified simply, and rather sadly, under "Other Attractions." Confusingly, however, Universe of Energy is listed as a "Pavilion," separate from Ellen's Energy Adventure. Got that?

LAST-MINUTE ADDITION (I'm allowed these frivolities!)
A coomment to the main post implied that Epcot Central doesn't "like" EPCOT because the blog is filled with compalining. There's a difference between criticizing and complaining, though some don't agree with that. Here is one of the "rare" complaint-free blogpsots that offers thoughts on what can go very, very right during a visit to EPCOT Center (dang it, I mean Epcot):
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I EPCOT. Honest.

The photograph above is a perfect example of why. I’ve traveled to many points of the globe, and there are few memories more lovely to me than standing on the edge of World Showcase Lagoon at night, after Illuminations has ended and the crowds are leaving.

The view is magnificent, there is blessed isolation (even amid many people) – it’s serene and beautiful. Click on the picture for a larger-sized version.It’s just one of the many reasons I love EPCOT Center (yes, I know that’s no longer the official name).Several people have subtly accused me recently of concurrently bashing EPCOT and caring too much. For the record, I don’t want to do the former and I could never do the latter.

What I don’t like is that the people in charge of EPCOT and of Disney’s Theme Parks & Resorts division don’t seem to care very much at all. They want EPCOT – all of the parks, really – to be easily marketable, to be almost interchangeable. That’s why you’ll now find Nemo at Disneyland, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and EPCOT. It’s why Mickey Mouse is at every park … lest anyone forget that they’re at a “Disney park.”

In this way of thinking, “Disney Parks” are all the same. The joyful individuality they used to have is stripped away; walking through Disney-MGM Studios you’re reminded less and less of the glamour of Hollywood and more and more of the ubiquity of Disney. Likewise, EPCOT has lost its grand themes and has become about buying more Mickey merchandise (even the shops of World Showcase have taken on a sameness).

That’s what I don’t like.

What I do like?

Ahhhhhh … that list is almost too long to detail, though
I did take a stab at it several months back.

I love that EPCOT was designed to celebrate the best in mankind’s nature, and still does that to a certain degree. The ingenuity of humans is on display, and that makes me happy.

I love wandering around EPCOT and just … looking. At nothing in particular, just taking in the feeling of being there, the festive environment of World Showcase and the implicit majesty of Spaceship Earth hovering above everything, almost everywhere you go.

I love Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, which is still perhaps the single best attraction of any sort Disney has ever created (and, yes, I know that’s saying a lot, but I love it that much).

I love the moment the curtain rises in the Universe of Energy and you begin moving forward into the world of the dinosaurs; no matter how cheesy and silly the attraction has become, that moment still holds power.

I love rising into Spaceship Earth, despite the jerky, lurching feel that the attraction has taken on. I love hearing Jeremy Irons’ voice intoning, “Like a grand and miraculous spaceship, our planet has sailed through the universe of time.” Wow. Gets me every time!

I love staring at the artificial reef in the Living Seas (oops, the Seas) pavilion; yeah, Sea World is great, but there’s something about this place, about watching the silent little oceanic dramas playing out in front of you, that is really spectacular.

I love Ice Station Cool, though I love it a little less without the igloo (which is strange, because that comment absolutely contradicts everything I generally say and feel about what Disney has done to the old Communicore); it’s one of the most unexpected, meaningless little throwaway, commercially driven attractions, but I still get a sense of discovery about the way other people live when I go in there – oddly, it kind of (as Foxxfur commented) conveys the spirit of EPCOT.

I love the Fountain of Nations, whether it’s performing or not; it’s a bold visual feature, and it just “works.” I love the “upside-down” and leaping fountains in front of the Imagination pavilion; how fun are they? They’re one of the few holdovers from 1982 that haven’t changed at all, and they don’t need to.

I love Listen to the Land. I imagined that I would hate it when they took away the cast members, but I have to admit it works well now, and it’s genuinely compelling and insightful. Even the interior films and limited-motion animatronic figures seem to have thought and care put into their creation.

I love the “splashdown” moment in Maelstrom, when you suddenly feel as if you’ve been transported to the North Sea. That one moment and the entry into the Norwegian fishing village are two perfect little “show” moments that absolutely transport you to another time and place. (For that matter, I still love the Norway travelogue that plays after the ride, no matter how impossibly and unbelievably dated it has become; Norway seems like a fascinating place.)

I love that EPCOT is there to discover at your own pace. If you’re in the vast majority of guests who just care about getting a ride fix and moving on, you’ll get your fill at EPCOT. If, however, you like to move at your own pace, you could (even still) spend three or four days solely at EPCOT and not discover everything there is to see and learn.

Much of EPCOT still works. It’s the parts of EPCOT that are so clearly clearly “malfunctioning” that get me angry and agitated, simply because so much of EPCOT works so well, these problem areas seem that much worse.

EPCOT is still a wonderful place. It has a spirit, and try as they might, they can never quite take that away. The planning, design and execution of EPCOT Center was so strong, a lot of it still shines through, even 25 years later. Try as they might, they can’t take it away completely.

I wish they would quit trying.

What do you love about EPCOT? I'd really like to know! I hope you'll post a comment and share your thoughts, especially you Disney folks (and I know you're out there). Don't worry, when you choose "Anonymous," you really do remain anonymous ... no one will know it's you. (Even
me!) posted by Epcot82 at


Bobby said...

While I enjoy your blog and often agree with much of what you write, I'm wondering if there's anything you actually still enjoy about Epcot. It would be nice to see a positive post on occasion (unless you feel the park completely does not deserve it).

Epcot82 said...

Bobby, I wouldn't write about it if I didn't feel it deserved it, wouldn't spend half of my trips wandering through the park.

I have posted similar ruminations in the past, and perhaps it is time to do so again, lest I be breanded solely "complainer."

Some of the service in the parks, particulalry from College Program students, is the best I have seen anywhere. In the past five years, I have traveled to 12 different countries and rarely found employees as eager, enthusiastic and happy to share their own personal stories.

The general layout and design of the park can't be beat. It's a beuatiful, beauiful park created with the concepts of "destination pavilions," and more to do along the way. Plenty of rest locations, plenty of "hidden," quite areas to get away from it all. On the design side, there is hardly a park that gets it better than EPCOT.

The refurbishment to Spaceship Earth was welcome and handled well. Some carping about the words used in the script and whether it could have done EVEN more ... but the whole renovation, from entry to exit, is a massive leap forward.

There are many, many wonderful things to write about Epcot. It's one of the most entrancing places on earth to me, and I know I am not alone.

Sadly, even if I gave you a $10,000 reward, I think it would be unlikely you could show me a (non-creative) Disney exec who, without prodding, would be able to explain the oncept of Epcot -- its purpose and intent.

I LOVE EPCOT, please know that! I just wish Disney would love it more.

Anonymous said...

The Innoventions sign, while it does need changing, I have to say I prefer the old glowing, electric logo, with all the flashing lights. That being said, however, the signs have got to match, and they aren't at the moment.

Anonymous said...

No more Viking ship?

Not good.


St. Chris said...

What other industry raises prices to record levels, then cuts back on basic services, functions and even hours of operations?

Not just the airlines. When was the last time a gas station attendant asked to check your oil?

I'm glad I have a picture of me and my older son on the Viking longboat, back (in 2000) when you could still climb around on it. Here's hoping they install something new and worthwhile on that spot.

David Landon said...

I agree completely. And I hope against hope that the problems in the economy make Disney feel enough of a pinch that they become interested in plussing the experience again.

Anonymous said...

Just got back from Epcot, and have been there many times, from '83 on.

While I do yearn for some of the things I remember, I have to say that each experience needs to be taken on its own. It is not the same as it used to be, but I, and my family, had a great time at Epcot, and have made many new memories there. It changes, just as we do, through the course of our lives.

I suppose I could have noticed things like the sign, or your indication of "creaky" animatronics at the American Adventure, but I didn't. I suspect that most people won't. Not that they shouldn't take care with these things, just to point out that the park still holds magic in it. We had a great time (even though it was cold! For the first time watching Illuminations with a knit cap on! brrrr!)

Anyway, I noticed a little of that stuff, but my family certainly didn't, they thought it was magical. I'd venture to say that 99 percent of people would say the same thing.

If I was going to get critical, I'd wish again for the original Imagination to come back, that's one of the biggest head-shakers they've ever undertaken. My kids didn't know the difference, of course, but they certainly weren't charmed by the current attraction, and I wish they could have seen the original.

Anyway, it remains a magical place, despite the changes. Lets hope the economy doesn't have dire consequences for the parks.

Epcot82 said...

Atomicmickey, I am really glad you had such a great experience. But that does not excuse Disney! You took along the right mindset and had a great time ... but imagine how much more blown away you would have been had everything been "just right," had the park been maintained properly, had more care over the years been taken to preserve the theme. It may be good enough ... but for Disney, that should not BE enough.

Critifur said...

So why are we, the lovers of EPCOT Center and Disney in general. Why are we not buying stock in the company and making our voice? I own stock in Disney. If enough of us agree on the situation, we ought to band together to make our collective ownership voice heard.

Epcot82 said...

As a longtime shareholder, the sad reality is that individual shareholders do not, even despite the "Save Disney" campaign of a few years back (whose lessons seem all but forgotten) make a difference at all in the direction that the company's management takes. Institutional investors are the only ones to whom Disney (or most public companies) actually bothers to listen. Sadly.

Anonymous said...

When I went to Epcot this summer I got lost - literally - in the layout. How hard is it to add path connections between the entrance, The Seas, and the Universe of Energy? It would make it a lot easier for me to get to Spaceship Earth from the International Gateway. Also, another thing I didn't expect as many pictures don't show this, were the hills in some pavilions, mainly Imagination and The Land. Finally, are you related in any way to 1983horizons1?

Epcot82 said...

Anonymous, I am not related to 1983horizons1.

Personally, I think the layout of the park is fantastic, but its purpose is hard to understand without the original theme in place. Spaceship Earth offered a thematic introduction to the park (both the ride and the visual icon), and it funneled guests into CommuniCore, in which they could spend time learning about various aspects of the world around them, or they could make their way to a pavilion. Each pavilion was intended as a place where a guest could spend anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, so they were meant to be more or less self-contained. But because the theme of communication and the future towered above everything else, while in CommuniCore you were visually isolated from the rest of the park -- except World Showcase, which beckoned from a disance. Communicore was intentionally large and "blocked access" to the rest of the pavilions.

The park layout wasn't designed for "ease," it was designed for impact. That said, the park has very wide walkways (when they aren't filled with outdoor vendors) and, with the exception of the connection you mentioned -- The Seas to Universe of Energy -- it's fairly easy to get around, or at least it has always seemed so to me.

Most of the pavilions, especially on the west side of the park, are on a slight rise in order to make them more visually appealing.

Again, this may be personal, but I've always loved the rolling "hills" on that side of the park particularly. Functionally, of course, they serve no purpose -- they are wide open spaces because they are "empty" areas in which another pavilion could be built.

Could ...

Anonymous said...

Another (of many (future) ) question:

If EPCOT was build to plan (as in a true Community of Tomorrow), would you go there?

Anonymous said...

If EPCOT had been built to plan, as a true Community of Tomorrow, yes I would go there. At least once, to give it a good look-see.

But...isn't that kinda what Celebration became, sort of?

Sometimes I think the original plans for EPCOT and Celebration got crossed in the wires.

:skritches head:

Anonymous said...

Celebration doesn't have peoplemovers. What's a new town without a WEDway PeopleMover?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I've given up on "Epcot," "epcot," or however they want to spell it nowadays. I can't imagine going to this so-called "new & improved" theme park that really is only "epcot" in name only.

On the other hand, New England is receiving a new museum called the "Connecticut Science Center." I'm seriously thinking about getting a season pass for it once it opens up. If it's everything that it says that it is, I won't ever have to even deal with Eisner, his flunkie protege or whomever else is now in charge ever again.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. But in order for me to still like this park (and avoid a severe state of depression) I will have to stop reading this blog (or, more specifically, the comments, which creates a false assumption that, from my perspective, ALL Epcot (Center) fans are "purists and nobody should visit any Disney Park because of Epcot (Center)'s neglect). Nice pictures, though.

BTW, don't bother replying to this, as I would not read it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your opinion. There are still many wonderful things about Epcot, but far too many little 'plusses' and things that are distinctly Epcot are disappearing into the abyss of Disney corporate shenanigans. Things that once made a big difference don't exist anymore. Where is the tree lighting ceremony? Why are hours being cut to the point of 'scraping by' sometimes (not all the time, I will admit)? Why isn't the little museum behind character spot EVER open anymore it seems? Why sacrifice quality when you can smartly cinch the belt to shave a few dollars elsewhere?

I just want Epcot back. Not even Epcot exactly how it was, because reverting would contradict Epcot in every way. But I want the spirit back.

Anonymous said...

I have been to EPCOT over 50 times and the magic is still there for me! I understand that the "purists" see all the things that need to be fixed or changed, but for me, I still see the things that made me fall in love with the park.

During my last visit (last week), I did notice things that have been mentioned on this sight and others that need attention. But I also noticed things that have been lovingly attended to. The fireworks display is still wonderful, the countries are still magnificant, and the little details that I missed on previous trips still pop up and surprise me.

So THANK YOU Disney for continuing to inspire me and dream and wonder about my next visit!

Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of your posts since 2006 (Can the once-great, unique-in-the-world, visionary, ahead-of-its-time and filled-with-wonder Epcot (nee EPCOT Center) be saved?). It is time that all the efforts you've brought so far resume every aspect you've thought about, from "giving them what they want" to what Disney tryied to show since the beginning and why the matter shouldn't die and go even stronger for evolution. The truth is that you are not alone trying to backup the manager's lack of energy and enthousiasm, but your blog is surely becoming a stone in our thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I love feeling like I'm being transported to so many different parts of the globe and beyond. I love the musical scores that accompany the attractions. And I love the overall peacefulness and serenity of EPCOT. While I am not a fan of really any of the changes made during the past decade and a half, being there still gives me a sense of wonder and excitement, but excitement that I can experience at my own pace. I was just there last May during the Flower and Garden Festival and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the park. They really did a commendable job of adorning the park and it's gleaming pavilions with botanical displays. And of course being a nostalgic person, I love anything left that still resembles the park I first visited as an 7 year old in 1984. Especially the retro space age design. What I've always loved mostly about EPCOT Center is that it's a park where I can and enjoy with my entire family, Grandmother and all. But I will say that past 1995 it's been going in a direction that I don't agree with, and I hope that the powers that be at Disney will eventually take welcome a hint from intelligent bloggers like the ones on this site, to repair the damage that's been done, and improve the quality of the entertainment/education that made EPCOT Center the park of inspiration that it once was. The first step would be to go back to it's roots and redefine it's theme. Everything else will fall into place once they do that. And I think they'd be pleasantly surprised with the success they can accomplish with that first step. At least that hideous Mickey wand is no longer in sight.