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Monday, April 8, 2024

EPCOT Part Eleven: Celebration

As the company expanded the Florida resort, it made several adjustments to EPCOT that were geared towards silencing the early complaints and filling the park. More traditional attractions replaced some of the exhibits and special events were planned to attract guests to EPCOT from Magic Kingdom. New hotel projects were announced in an effort to capture more of the money being spent by Disney’s guests. The company saw unprecedented revenue increases in Florida as it was not only convincing guests to stay on property but to also extend their stays. This led to the resort’s most successful theme park launch on a small parcel of land behind EPCOT- Disney MGM Studios.

Unlike the grand openings of both Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, the opening of Disney MGM Studios was huge. Thousands of guests flocked to the park from day one, making it the most successful grand opening in the resort’s history. The park had been severely under built, sparking a massive construction boom as the company sought to improve capacity and offer more attractions. Star Tours, which had opened in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland and was supposed to be located in the same location at Magic Kingdom was hurriedly shoehorned into the park. As the park’s closest neighbor, EPCOT became the beneficiary of its popularity; guests who arrived at an at capacity Disney MGM Studios were steered to EPCOT.

With this building boom going on, company executives sought to make better use of the company’s vast landholdings. New hotels were springing up from the swamp just about every year. The company was only constrained by its ability to finance these projects. Disney CEO Michael Eisner sought a project that would be easier to finance and wouldn’t eat up too much of the company’s revenue or credit lines. In the early 1990’s, he settled on a project that could be billed as a realization of Walt Disney’s original vision of EPCOT- the master planned community of Celebration, Florida.

Celebration, Florida would be an all new town built on land de-annexed from the Walt Disney World Resort. The master planned community was to be financed by the sale of houses and property within its borders. The company would be able to show Wall Street that it was making use of its surplus land without spending its own money. While the company was still suggesting to guests that EPCOT the theme park was the same EPCOT that Walt Disney spoke about on his show, it would now also suggest that Celebration would be a realization of Walt’s dream of a planned city. In actuality, neither of these suggestions were true.

While Celebration would be a nice subdivision, it was actually the antithesis of Walt Disney’s EPCOT. The EPCOT of Walt Disney’s dreams would have featured mixed use development where people would live near where they worked and played. A reliable, efficient transit system would eliminate the need for a car. Celebration, on the other hand, would be just like any other subdivision where people have to own several cars and commute long distances to go to work or shop. In the end, Celebration would look more like the subdivisions that surrounded Disneyland in Anaheim than the futuristic city of tomorrow that Walt Disney had envisioned.