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Monday, March 25, 2024

EPCOT Part Nine: Guest Complaints

After its initial attendance problems went away, Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park faced new capacity problems.
Roy had under built the park and it had less than half the number of attractions as Disneyland did at the time. While the park was larger in size than Disneyland, it had far fewer things to do. To resolve this issue, the park quickly began fast tracking new attractions. Roy felt that since the Magic Kingdom in Florida was so close to the actual Caribbean, the park could do without Pirates of the Caribbean. Guests felt otherwise, so a cut down version of the ride was shoehorned into Adventureland. 

Due to Florida’s less hospitable weather, it was determined that the Matterhorn would not work if built at the Magic Kingdom. Park management remembered that when Walt Disney originally came up with the idea for Space Mountain it was not technologically possible. Imagineering had floated an idea to just build the Matterhorn indoors and call it Space Mountain. Walt rejected this idea, but Florida management was desperate to add capacity so it was quickly approved. (Disneyland would later get the Space Mountain of Walt’s dreams in 1977.)

As the years wore on, it became apparent that Roy Disney’s conservatively built resort was not fully taking advantage of the resort’s allure and the same type of tawdry motels that sprung up around Disneyland opened up around Walt Disney World, just further away from the main gate. To fix this problem, Roy’s handpicked successor- Disney CEO Card Walker- asked Imagineering to come up with new ideas for a second theme park and new resorts to provide more on property activities for Disney World guests. There were two competing theme park ideas at the time- a theme park themed to other countries called World Showcase and another that was like a larger Tomorrowland called Future World. Neither idea seemed to get much traction with Disney leadership and plans for larger expansion projects at the resort had stalled.

Expansion plans would soon get on the fast track due to a misunderstanding about what EPCOT was supposed to be.
Guests remembered seeing Walt Disney speak about some sort of ‘EPCOT’, but they seemed to think it was supposed to be a theme park. Guest Relations was still getting questions and complaints from guests inquiring about EPCOT and wondering where it was. With the second theme park planning going nowhere, Card Walker gave Imagineering a new mandate- come up with a new project that the company could slap the EPCOT name on to satisfy guests. 

For anyone who has been to the place eventually called EPCOT, you’ve probably already figured out what Imagineering did to create “EPCOT” the theme park- they put their plans for “Future World” and “World Showcase” together. EPCOT Center would not be the futuristic, real city that Walt envisioned; it would be a massive theme park Frankenstein instead. While this compromise would resolve several problems for the resort, it would create new ones- the biggest one being its high price tag. Since each part of EPCOT Center was originally intended to be a theme park unto itself, building them together at the same time would be very expensive. While the company planned to extensively rely on outside sponsors, it was still making a sizable investment that would eventually cost more than the rest of the company was worth at the time. While the Magic Kingdom theme park had eventually become self sufficient, this huge new investment would place the company’s financial solvency at risk again. Would guests flock to this massively scaled down version of EPCOT? Only time would tell.