Walt Disney World continues to be the most visited vacation spot in the world. But what makes it such a desirable destination? How is always in the top spot; what is its secret? Aside from the cutting-edge attractions, shows, rides and performances, Walt Disney World always strives to give its guests the latest in technology and up to date current themes which affect our lives now and in the future. Guests can be assured nothing will be stale or boring. Walt Disney once said…”Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world” And the Imagineers have always ensured Walt’s edict will always be carried out.
Look what has happened here in the last year and what will happen in the coming years. The New Castle light show, Mickey’s new Meet and Greet, the Launching of the new Disney Dream Cruise ship this year to be followed by the Fantasy in 2012. Star Tours has been updated and re-imagined. And let’s not forget the doubling in size of Fantasyland, with its new rides and attractions! Walt Disney World will always be fresh and innovating.
But in the constant morphing occurring here, many classic and not-so-classic attractions have to go to make room for the new. Witness the demise of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, replaced by Winnie the Pooh. Throngs of guests were upset, but let’s face it. No matter what Disney does, some one’s feathers will be ruffled, you cannot please everyone. With this said, how many remember EPCOT’S Communicore? Every Disney fan knows that the present EPCOT is nothing like the one Walt had originally intended. He had a marvelous idea of a city of the future where everyone worked, no poverty, first-class public transportation and more. But as idealized as this was, many did not think it would make a good attraction.
After Walt’s passing, it was decided to make EPCOT an international melting pot of nations on one side, called World Showcase and an area reminiscent of the 64-65 New York World’s fair which showcased all the new technology and ideas at the time, called Future World. At its heart were two semi-circular buildings behind Spaceship Earth. The name was a combination of “Community and Core” The two buildings were known as Communicore East and West. It was considered the Hub of EPCOT because it brought all the concepts and ideas into one place. Another interesting note… Much like Main St. in the Magic Kingdom, Disney described Communicore as “Future World’s global Main St. of Ideas and inventions” And like Main St. guests had to pass by it in or out of the parks. But in 1990, the international gateway opened by France, making it now a moot subject.
As the “Hub” of EPCOT, Communicore highlighted the experiences of the nearby pavilions. In the Energy Exchange section of Communicore, next to the Universe of Energy, guests could further understand the concepts of energy learned in that pavilion. Communicore although in two buildings, east and west were further divided into Southern and Northern sections, accessible by covered walkways. The northern sections were the busiest and experienced the most changes. The Northeast sections contained the EPCOT computer central, Travelport, Energy Exchange and the Stargate Restaurant. EPCOT’s computer central was first sponsored by Sperry and later by UNISYS. Its attraction, the Astuter Computer Revue was the first and quickest show to go. In a second floor theater that overlooked a colossal room were some of the parks computers were located a show was performed for guests explaining the role of computers at EPCOT. A projection of actor Ken Jennings about the size of a foot sang and danced his way across the computers explaining their functions. Needless to say, this show was poorly received by guests and Disney cancelled it in January 1984. It was replaced by a show called “Backstage Magic” which ran until October, 1993.
Other interactive displays in Computer Central were a population clock, utilizing wooden humans to depict the USA’s current population numbers which changed with each passing second. Another guest favorite was the robot SMRT-1. Chrome and purple, he was on a pedestal ringed by phones where guests could ask trivia questions and play games. Another cutting edge piece of techno was the “Compute-A-Coaster” Guests could design their own roller coasters on screen. They were coached by a lisping beaver to make sure you did it right. Of course the new “Sum of all Thrills” in Innovations East shows just how far we have come in simulation design! Other displays included the “Flag Game”, “Great American Census Game” and the “Get Set Jet Game” all utilizing the new (At that time!) touchscreen technology.
Across from Computer Central was the Travelport by American Express. (You will note that Communicore was deeply sponsored by third party companies) Passing a large red globe at the entrance (Which had depictions from around the world) you entered booths with touchscreens with previews of destinations from all over the world. There was an American Express travel desk nearby where guests could pose questions to hosts and hostesses. In the same building was Exxon’s Energy Exchange. In this interactive, industrial themed Exchange, guests could perform hand’s-on experiments on how energy is utilized. In a touch-screen video game, you could take a car around town, vying for best fuel economy. You could pedal bicycles that would measure how many watts you could produce, or spin a wheel and see if you could light a bulb in front of you. All great hands-on stuff. Where the Electric Umbrella is now was the Stargate Restaurant. This is the one area that when changed over to Innovations in 1994 to remain untouched, except a different décor.
The South East part of Communicore housed the store “Centorium” which sold “Gadgets from the future” and art pieces. This melded into the now familiar “Mouse Gear” Also down the hall was the Electronic Forum where guests could take a poll; on a variety of not-too controversial subjects. Utilizing push-buttons on the armrests, guests were prompted by a Cast Member to break the crowd down demographically, and the votes were displayed, showing the differences between Adults, Men, Women and children. The Poll was discontinued in March, 1991.
Across the plaza, was Communicore West. The Northwest quadrant contained “FutureCom” and EPCOT Outreach. Outreach was followed by “Ask EPCOT” and finally the “EPCOT discovery Center” Here guests could get information on anything Disney or EPCOT. There was a research counter staffed by Cast Members who would also answer your queries. If they did not have the answer, they would mail it to you! Another interactive exhibit similar to Computer Central was FutureCom. Filled with interactive stations, the emphasis was on communications. One exhibit that was amazingly prophetic was the” Age of Information.” Remember in 1982, computers and their jargon was barely entering our lexicon, touch tone phones were still new. Although not entirely accurate, it did predict all of the things we now do on the internet, i.e. booking hotel rooms, paying bills, ordering products but with emphasis on the telephone and television as the devices to be used.
Another exhibit was the Fountain of Information. Here several types of communication media made up the fountain…Televisions, film, book, magazines, records, radios, video, laser and audio discs and much more. In the Southwest quadrant, there was the Sunshine Terrace Restaurant. A portion of the area was to be used as a Tron Arcade after the 1982 Disney movie Tron. But this never panned out. It did become the residence of the “Expo Robotics” in 1988. This exhibit showcased robots in feats of skillful maneuvering. The star of the show was a robot arm named “Pixel”. From the Terrace Restaurant; it turned into the Pasta Piazza, then the FountainView Espresso and Bakery. It is now “Edy’s” Fountain View Ice Cream.
But as stated in the beginning, Disney always needed to keep things fresh and up to date. In January, 1994 it closed and was re-designed into “Innovations” a more diverse take on current Science and Technology. When Pasta Piazza closed in 2001, it was changed into the EPCOT Character Connection, now known as the” EPCOT Character spot”. The Expo Robotics area became the Walt Disney Imagineering Labs, which closed in October, 1997. In June of 1998, that became “Ice Station Cool” and then “Club Cool” where you can still sample coke products from around the world. And the SMRT-1 Robot was displayed in the Concourse Steakhouse until it fell and sustained some damage, it was then sold.
You can see that changes go on at Walt Disney World on a continuing basis. Remembering Walt’s quote that we’ll continue to grow as long as imagination is left in the world, guests can be assured that when they visit, they will always encounter the latest and greatest. Not all will agree with the changes, but this is what makes Walt Disney World theme parks the models all others are judged by.
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.