EPCOT – Celebrating 40 Years of Inspiration, Imagination, and Possibility

On October 1, 1982, EPCOT Center opened its gates for the first time. Originally pitched by Walt Disney as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, EPCOT Center has always been about imagination, innovation, and the possibility of a better tomorrow. This was something Walt Disney was very excited about. During a video shot to share his ideas about EPCOT, Disney said, ” But the most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project—in fact, the heart of everything well be doing in Disney World—will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it E.P.C.O.T spelled E-P-C-O-T: Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Here it is in larger scale. E.P.C.O.T will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world of the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.”

The dream of EPCOT continued to live on and evolve in the coming years. The actual experimental prototype city of tomorrow turned into a new type of theme park that celebrated the ideas that Walt Disney had for EPCOT. EPCOT Center was built on Walt Disney’s ideals and would open to the world nearly 18 years after he originally recorded that video. This would be a park that embraced the dream of “ingenuity and imagination.

When Epcot Center opened in 1982, that future was the 21st century. Guests were invited to imagine what life would be like living in the 21st century. This park focused on showcasing the ideas and technologies that could take the world into a better future. With its opening on October 1st, a monthlong celebration of its opening began. During this time, guests from around the world would be introduced to EPCOT Center’s five Future World pavilions and nine World Showcase pavilions.

The official dedication of the park took place on October 24, 1982, during a formal grand opening celebration that took place over the course of three days. During this time Disney Chairman and CEO Card Walk continued on Walt Disney’s legacy with the park’s official dedication.

Chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions Card Walker officially dedicates EPCOT on Oct. 24, 1982 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Disney)

May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.”

– Epcot Center Official Dedication, Oct. 24, 1982 

Today the park is known as EPCOT and it “inspires curiosity, imagination and wonder through its international festivals, innovative attractions and cultural experiences.” The park is now made up of four neighborhoods that include World Celebration, World Nature, World Discovery, and World Showcase. As has always been the case, the park continues to grow and evolve. Currently, its biggest transformation is underway with new attractions, dining options, shops, experiences, and new ideas being introduced. Walt Disney once said that EPCOT will “always be in a state of becoming.” As EPCOT celebrates 40 years and looks to the next 40 years, this continues to be the case. EPCOT continues to come up with new ways for guests to experience the magic of possibility.

That magic of possibility goes back much further than 40 years, however. It goes back to the very inception of the idea of Walt Disney World and EPCOT more than 50 years ago. Below is a look at some of the benchmarks in the history of EPCOT.

1965 

  • Nov. 15 – Walt Disney and his brother Roy publicly announce plans for Walt Disney World Resort in a press conference held in downtown Orlando, Fla. 

1966 

  • Oct. 27 – Walt Disney records a film outlining plans for the Florida Project, including details for Walt Disney World Resort and the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). 

1978 

  • Card Walker, President and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, announces plans for EPCOT at the International Chamber of Commerce, and presents concepts to President Jimmy Carter, the ICC’s keynote speaker. 

1979 

  • Oct. 1 – After years of planning, construction begins on EPCOT. 

1982   

  • Sept. 24 – Walt Disney World Cast Members and their families and friends are among the very first to experience the new theme park before it opens to the public. Special preview days give Cast Members a sense of pride and help ensure the park is ready for the guests to come.  
  • Oct. 1 –EPCOTopens with five Future World pavilions – Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination and The Land – and nine World Showcase pavilions representing Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom and the United States. 
  • “Carnival de Lumiere” debuts as the theme park’s first nightly fireworks show, replaced in 1983 with “A New World Fantasy” and in 1984 by “Laserphonic Fantasy.” 
  • Oct. 24 – EPCOT is officially dedicated by Card Walker, Chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions. 
  • A new four-mile extension of the Walt Disney World Monorail System opens, extending from the Ticket and Transportation Center to EPCOT. 

1983   

  • Oct. 1 – On the park’s one-year anniversary, Horizons (now MISSION: Space) makes its debut in Future World. Featuring a first-of-its kind ride system, the attraction gives guests a glimpse of what life might be like in the future. 
  • March 5 – The ride-through attraction Journey into Imagination (now Journey into Imagination with Figment) opens. 

1984  

  • Sept. 7 – EPCOT World Showcase expands with the opening of the Morocco pavilion. 
  • June 3 – The France pavilion in World Showcase opens its second signature restaurant, Bistro de Paris. 

1985 

  • Sept. 24 – Lotus Blossom Café opens, the first of two new restaurants to open in the China pavilion. 
  • Aug. 31 – “Skyleidoscope” debuts on World Showcase lagoon. The daytime spectacular featured 70 flying, swimming, and sailing vessels, colorful streamers and daytime fireworks. 
  • Oct. 23 – The China pavilion’s table-service restaurant Nine Dragons Restaurant begins serving guests.  

1986   

  • Jan. 15 –The Living Seas(now The Seas with Nemo & Friends) opens. Centerpiece of the pavilion is a 5.7-million-gallon aquarium – the world’s largest at the time – that’s home to more than 200 species of marine life. 
  • Sept. 12 – The 3-D film “Captain EO” premieres at the Magic Eye Theater in the Journey Into Imagination pavilion. 

1987 

  • The EPCOT Daredevil Circus Spectacular opens in Future World. Dubbed “The Greatest Show in Space,” it featured a variety of daredevil circus acts performed in and above the CommuniCore area of the park. 

1988  

  • Jan. 30 – “IllumiNations,” a new nighttime spectacular, premieres. The new show incorporated the World Showcase pavilions for the first time with rim lighting and special projection effects. 
  • June 3 – World Showcase expands with the opening of theNorway pavilion that introduces Maelstrom, where guests board Viking boats to discover the country’s natural beauty, traditions and modern cities. 

1989 

  • Oct. 19 – Wonders of Life pavilion opens in Future World. Beneath a giant gold dome, three humorous attractions offer a fun look at health and fitness. The pavilion also includes state-of-the art, hands-on activities, live comedy shows and a fast-casual restaurant. 

1990 

  • November – The first phase of the EPCOT Resort Area opens with the debut of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (Nov. 5) and Disney’s Beach Club Resort (Nov. 19). The following year brings Walt Disney World Swan Hotel (Jan. 13) and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (June 4). All within walking distance of the theme park, the collection of resorts significantly expands lodging and convention options. 

1994   

  • April 29 – The inaugural EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival debuts. 
  • July 1 – Innoventions pavilion replaces Communicore, featuring interactive exhibits and demonstrations of emerging technologies. 
  • Nov. 21 – “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” a lively interactive 3-D adventure, opens in the Journey Into Imagination pavilion replacing “Captain EO.” 
  • Nov. 25 – The Candlelight Processional moves to EPCOT from Magic Kindgom, where it had been presented since 1971. With the move to America Gardens Theater, the show was able to expand to multiple nightly performances throughout the holiday season. 

1995   

  • Jan. 21 – “Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable” debuts in The Land. The 20-minute, 70mm film features Simba, Timon and Pumba in a story about the importance of respect for the natural environment 
  • Sep. 15 – Ellen’s Energy Adventure debuts, bringing a new storyline and humor to what was previously Universe of Energy.  

1996   

  • Sept. 28 – The first annual EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival makes its debut. 

1999 

  • March 17 – Test Track opens in Future World. The park’s first thrill attraction, it takes guests on exhilarating twists and turns in a test vehicle. 
  • Oct. 1 – TheMillennium Celebration begins at EPCOT. The 15-month event marks the debut of the popular nighttime spectacular, “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth”, that will run for 20 years. Also new is Millennium Village – celebrating the cultural achievements of 25 countries – and the Tapestry of Nations parade. The celebration also brings pin trading to the forefront for Disney collectors everywhere. 

2000 

  • Oct. 1 – The Art of Disney shop opens in Future World, selling Disney artwork, prints and other collectibles. 

2003  

  • Aug. 15 – Mission: SPACE opens in Future World. The attraction takes guests on a simulated training spaceflight to Mars. 

2004   

  • Nov. 16 – Turtle Talk with Crush opens in The Living Seas. The first-of-its kind attraction enables Crush from Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” to talk with guests, as he learns about humans and shares his stories of life in the ocean. 

2005   

  • May 5 – Soarin’ opens in The Land pavilion, taking guests on a breathtaking aerial adventure over iconic California locations. 

2006  

  • Oct. 1 – “The Year of a Million Dreams” begins. Across EPCOT and the other Walt Disney World theme parks, Dream Squads surprise thousands of guests with an array of prizes, from special attraction access, and merchandise to Disney vacations. 
  • Nov. 26 – The Living Seas pavilion is transformed to become The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion. Its official dedication will take place Jan. 24, 2007. 

2007 

  • April 6 – Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros opens inside the Mexico pavilion. A re-imagining of the pavilion’s opening-day boat ride El Río del Tiempo (River of Time), the updated attraction features Donald Duck, José Carioca and Pistoles Panchito from Walt Disney’s 1942 film “Saludos Amigos.” 
  • April 25 – The Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future exhibit opens at Spaceship Earth. The series of exhibits showcases advances in medicine, technology and energy management. 
  • Oct. 1 – The 25th anniversary of EPCOT is marked by a rededication ceremony and a gallery showcasing memorabilia from the park’s history. 

2008  

  • Feb. 15 – After extensive renovations, Spaceship Earth reopens with an expanded storyline. New narration follows the history of human innovation from prehistoric times to the 21st century. 

2009  

  • Jan. 28 – Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure interactive attraction opens. Guests transform into secret agents as part of Team Possible to save the world via the Disney Play! App on mobile devices. The scavenger hunt-style experience interacted with seven World Showcase pavilions. 

2010  

  • July 2 – The 3-D film “Captain EO” returns to Future World. 

2011 

  • April 4 – House of Good Fortune merchandise location opens in the China pavilion. The new shop sells authentic Chinese merchandise. 

2012 

  • June 23 – Phineas & Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure opens, replacing Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. The new quest takes guests on an adventure with Agent P to solve clues and thwart Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s evil plots. 
  • Dec. 6 – Test Track – Presented by Chevrolet re-opens. The re-imagined attraction allows guests to design their own vehicles before setting off on a thrilling test drive. 

2013 

  • May 30 – L’Artisan des Glaces Ice Cream shop opens in the France pavilion. The shop makes its own ice cream. 

2014 

  • Jan. 20 – Spice Road Table opens in the Morocco pavilion. Inspired by the outdoor cafés throughout the Mediterranean, the restaurant serves small plates, specialty wines and aperitifs from the region. 

2016 

  • June 17 – Soarin’ Around the World debuts in The Land pavilion. The reimagined attraction takes guests on a flight high above many of the world’s natural and man-made wonders. 
  • June 21 – Frozen Ever After opens in the Norway pavilion, replacing Maelstrom. The attraction takes guests on a boat ride through the kingdom of Arendelle. Along with the ride-through attraction, Royal Sommerhus opens, allowing Queen Elsa and Princess Anna to meet with guests inside a charming cabin. 
  • New holiday experiences are found across the theme park as part of what’s now the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. 

2018 

  • Jan. 12 – The EPCOT International Festival of the Arts debuts, expanding the park’s festival offerings to all four seasons. 

2019 

  • Aug. 25 – The historic multi-year transformation of EPCOT is announced at D23 Expo 2019. 
  • Oct. 1 – “EPCOT Forever” nighttime spectacular debuts at World Showcase Lagoon, replacing “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.” 
  • Oct. 1 – Walt Disney Imagineering presents the EPCOT Experience opens, offering a preview of attractions coming as part of the theme park’s multiyear transformation. 
  • July 5 – Takumi-Tei opens in the Japan pavilion. The signature dining table-service restaurant specializes in wagyu beef, sushi and signature cocktails. 

2020 

  • Jan. 17 – Three new films debut around World Showcase. “Awesome Planet” debuts in the Harvest Theater inside The Land pavilion. The new film showcases the beauty and diversity of our planet. “Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along” premieres in Palais du Cinema inside the France pavilion. The new film offers a new twist on the classic Disney movie. “Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360” debuts at the Canada pavilion, updating the O Canada! Circle-Vision 360 film. 
  • Feb. 19 – Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts and Barbecue opens at The American Adventure pavilion. The fast-casual restaurant serves classic American backyard barbecue and home-style craft brews. 
  • Dec. 22 – A transformation of the main entrance is completed with the unveiling of a new fountain, inspired by one that originally debuted with the theme park’s 1982 opening. 

2021 

  • Sept. 15 – Creations Shop opens in World Celebration. The new flagship store features unique merchandise dedicated to EPCOT, as well as other Walt Disney World collectibles. 
  • Sept. 20 – Space 220 opens in the Mission: SPACE pavilion. The new restaurant gives guests the chance to enjoy a meal among the stars, after a simulated flight 220 miles above the Earth’s surface. 
  • Oct. 1 – Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration begins with new experiences across all four theme parks. In honor of the celebration, Spaceship Earth transforms into a spectacular Beacon of Magic at night, illuminating the skies with brilliant colors. As part of the park transformation, three new neighborhoods – World Celebration, World Discovery and World Nature – join World Showcase as the geographic areas that make up EPCOT. 
  • Oct. 1 – The expanded France pavilion opens with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a new ride-through 4D experience inspired by Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille.” A new restaurant, La Crêperie de Paris, offers guests a delicious taste of French cuisine.  
  • Oct. 1 – “Harmonious,” a new nighttime spectacular, debuts with the 50th Anniversary celebration. The show celebrates the way Disney music inspires people across the world and features a culturally diverse soundtrack coordinated with spectacular visuals and fireworks. 

2022 

  • April 27 – Connections Café and Eatery opens in World Celebration, offering guests a new selection of internationally-inspired cuisine. 
  • May 27 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens in the Wonders of Xandar pavilion. The family thrill coaster features myriad firsts, including the first ever reverse launch on a Disney coaster and ride vehicles that rotate 360 degrees. It’s also one of the world’s largest fully enclosed coasters. 
  • Oct. 1 – Walt Disney World Resort celebrates the 40th anniversary of EPCOT, as the park continues its multi-year transformation. 

As EPCOT celebrates its 40th anniversary, it continues to grow and evolve. It also continues to build on the foundation that Walt Disney set in place nearly two decades before it opened. EPCOT is about looking forward with new ideas and hope as it continues to inspire curiosity, imagination, and wonder in new ways. This legacy began over four decades ago and will continue well into the future.

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