Epcot (formerly known as EPCOT Center), stems from Walt Disney's idea of an Utopian Community where people would live, work and play while testing out the latest technology advances available. Walt felt technology would help better improve a society. Sadly, Walt's vision would prove unreachable mainly due to the fact that legislating the behavior of a population would simply be impossible.
In 1982, The Walt Disney Company was still determined to bring this aspect of Walt's vision to life by turning EPCOT into a permanent world's fair, meant to inspire guests to learn and make more positive choices regarding the world we live in.
Some of the first plans made for EPCOT were announced in May 1974. The plan was to create a permanent international showcase to entice guests when they first walked in. Here nations from around the world could participate and demonstrate their culture within their own pavilions. This we now know as World Showcase an it was the primary piece of construction for EPCOT. Over time, it was assumed to be the main focus because there was no set plans for Future World yet.
The original concept art for World Showcase shows it as two connecting semicircular buildings that would connect all of the pavilions. Each pavilion's entrance would have the same amount of outside signage despite how much space was inside for each one. This was done to show guests that not one pavilion had a better attraction than any other one. World Showcase would also to include a Courtyard of Nations, a high rise observation tower and 30 pavilions set for each nation to display its culture to guests. World Showcase and its original concepts were supposed to be the main draw for the original EPCOT plan.
The plan for World Showcase was presented in July 1975 in a ceremony at the Contemporary Resort. Disney invited dignitaries from Iran, New Zealand, Belgium, Venezuela, The United Kingdom, Romania, The Philippines, The USSR, Israel, Mexico, Italy, Greece, Germany, Denmark and Australia to listen to their concepts. Contrary to popular belief, the current countries in World Showcase today are not run by their governments nor do they pay for them to be there; they were not asking for countries to pay in order to have their country represented. Rather, they felt the idea itself was enticing enough that countries would pay to participate because they would see the value in doing so.
Sadly, two years after this concept was introduced, there was a very discouraging response from foreign sponsors. It was decided that World Showcase and Future World, the project's second phase, would be built at the same time. This way, companies providing funding for Future World would be able to use money to fund the entire EPCOT project.
Even after World Showcase was complete, they still advertised countries to look out for that would be debuting which included Spain, Israel and Equatorial Africa. These ideas sadly fell through due to failure to secure negotiations and corporations to support the idea. The idea for Equatorial Africa has some aspects which we see in Disney's Animal Kingdom today. This indicates that even now there is still space to add countries to World Showcase even though Norway was the last to be added back in 1988.
Viewing the World
When World Showcase opened with EPCOT Center, it could be reached by the Friendship boats, taking a quick stroll from Future World or Double Decker buses that went around the world. The Double Decker buses were discontinued around the 1990s, being used last for a 15-minute "Characters on Holiday" Show featuring a few characters who would come out, sign autographs and take photos with guests.
Mexico Pavilion's centerpiece was an Aztec inspired pyramid surrounded by tropical foliage. Inside was the El Rio del Tiempo meaning "The River of Time." It was a six-minute boat ride showing representations of Mexico's culture: Ancient, Colonial and Modern. The inside of the courtyard was created by Imagineering to purposefully set a relaxing mood for guests. They also offered Atmospheric dining, we know it today to be San Angel Inn. The entrance of the pyramid invites guests to take a look at variety of exhibitions before going into the plaza. Near the Lagoon is the La Cantina de San Angel, serving up fast food and Margaritas.
This Pavilion was the last introduced into World Showcase. Its cobbled village square setup was sponsored by a few Norwegian corporations and showed off the architectural styles of its culture. It also has a Stave church which served as a gallery and a castle, which we know as the Akershus Restaurant. It was modeled after the Akershus 14th century fortress found in Oslo Harbor. Its main Attraction was Maelstrom, which was a 10-minute boat ride in dragon-headed longboats. Starting in a 10th century viking village, it continues through a fantasy forest where trolls live, who curse the boats and send them back downriver. At the time this ride system was unique to this attraction. After the ride guests were invited to watch a five-minute film about the people of Norway and their culture. Malestrom had its last voyage on October 5, 2014, making way for Frozen Ever After.
The main draw here is a 19-minute Circlevision 360 film called "The Wonders of China: Land of Beauty, Land of Time." It shows footage of China's sights including Mongolia, The Yangtze River and the Forbidden City. Disney was the first Western crew to photograph some of the sights included in the film. It is housed in one of Imagineering's greatest recreations. It was based on designs of the 1420 Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest in the Temple of Heaven.
The boutiques and food serve as this pavilion's main draw, particularly Biergarten Restaurant. Entering Germany Pavilion gives you a sense of entering a Fairy tale village. It conveys the architectural designs of various cities found all over Germany. There is a statue in its Town Square of St. George, Patron saint of Soldiers, slaying a dragon. There was a boat attraction planned in the original concepts and the building was even constructed but it was eventually shelved.
Imagineers made a recreation of the Venetian Campanile of St. Marks and was masterfully done. Its central plaza has a replica of the Doge's Palace and the waterfront is detailed with Gondolas and Barbershop Moorings. It also boasts wonderful restaurants.
Imagineers had trouble trying to figure out how to represent America because it was not one of the original pavilion concepts. It was supposed to be a two level structure on stilts in a transitional area near Future World. It was to be the gateway to World Showcase, however, there was concern that setting its design apart from the others may show favoritism. They abandoned the original idea for a Georgian style brick building that houses the American Adventure, a 29-minute film hosted by Audio-Animatronics. You can also see the Voices of Liberty perform inside. The waterfront was given an outdoor amphitheater to showcase a variety of acts.
The centerpiece for this pavilion is the Torii gate, which is found throughout Japan at the entry to ancient shrines. This one is entry to Disney's shrine to Japan's heritage and architecture. Nearby is a Pagoda adapted from the Seventh Century Horyuji Shrine in Nara. Its five stories symbolize earth, wind, water, fire and sky and is topped with a Sorin with wind chimes. This pavilion contains an art gallery, several restaurants and a Mitsukoshi Department Store.
This pavilion's fate laid on the drawing board for a long time and did not actually debut until two years after the rest of World Showcase on September 7, 1984. Morocco was fully involved in the creation of their pavilion. They brought in 19 Moroccan artisans to work on the extensively detailed mosaic artwork seen throughout the pavilion. The pavilion is divided into the new city and the old. The new city has a replica of the Koutoubia minaret of Marrakesh which leads into the courtyard that includes a replica of the Nejjarine Fountain. This turns into a gate leading into the Old city. There are many stores and restaurants here as well as any more replicas showing off the beauty of Morocco.
Paris was the key influence for the representation of this pavilion. Imagineers invoked the beauty of France through sidewalk cafes, a small park inspired by George Seurat's painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," a Boulangerie, a bistro and, of course, the Eiffel Tower looming in the background. A gorgeous replica of Les Halles, a once famous Parisian market was created. And as you stroll to the UK pavilion, you travel over the once famous Pont des Arts bridge. There is also an 18-minute film, Impressions de France, which gained its inspiration from the Palais du Cinema.
This pavilion is an perfect balance of British architecture featuring Tudor, Elizabethan and Victorian Buildings. Replications include Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace, Belgrave Square row houses, Hyde Park and a Shakespearean cottage. The waterfront has the Rose and Crown British style pub.
This pavilion shows off the architecture and geographical beauty of its country. The Hotel du Canada is modeled after Ottawa's Chateau Laurier and shows off the French Gothic Architecture. The Canadian Rocky Mountains houses a Circe vision theater called, "O Canada!" This pavilion houses a restaurant and a miniature replica of the Butchart Gardens.
There were many other pavilions that were considered for World Showcase but simply did not make it. The original plans went from 30 pavilions to 17 to eventually the 11 we know today.
Some plans included Venezuela, Israel, Equatorial Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Greece and Russia.
Learning about World Showcase and its origins, What countries would you love to see represented here today?