Spaceship Earth at EPCOT lit up at night with the fountain in the foreground

I Visited EPCOT for the First Time Since the Eisner Era

Theme parks are places where we can capture a childlike wonder. If we have nostalgic connections to a theme park, they are places where we can recapture our childhood memories. When we don’t have that deep connection, we can have a completely fresh perspective when visiting a theme park. That’s what happened to me recently.

As a theme park fan, I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t been to EPCOT in 20-something years—until recently. And what a rare opportunity it was.

I can’t say for sure exactly when my last visit was—my memory is fuzzy about the year—but I can tell you for sure that it was before Test Track and Mission Space were built. The Dreamfinder still had a presence in the park, and Wonders of Life was alive and well, being years away from its fate as an urban explorer’s playground.

Since so much time has passed since my last visit, my recent trip to EPCOT this past week was almost like visiting a new park. Many of the attractions were new to me, and the experience as a whole let me see the park from an unattached perspective. Basically, I’m not all that nostalgic for EPCOT; I don’t have a strong bias for the way things used to be nor do I think Disney "is ruining EPCOT."

EPCOT is one of the most visited parks in the world and among the most important to theme park fans. I hear endless conversations, arguments, and hot takes about EPCOT. It’s a park that, to say the least, means the world to countless Disney fans.

Now, strap in. Here are my impressions from my first visit to EPCOT in over two decades.

The Rides

Spaceship Earth

The last time I rode this, I was very young, and Jeremy Irons was the narrator. If I remember correctly, the ride had more of an emphasis on unity and community, making the point that we’re all passengers of Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth has since been updated. It seems it’s all about communication now—almost as if the ride painfully needs a sponsor to make sense. I loved all the show scenes and taking a journey through the history of record-keeping and storytelling, but it seems this ride has lost its overall purpose at some point. Perhaps a possible update would give the ride a well-rounded story from beginning to end.

Don’t get me wrong—I think Spaceship Earth is nice. I’m all for a classic dark ride with educational value. Not to mention, the structure as a whole is an engineering masterpiece; more on that later.

If I had to change one thing about this ride, it would be that downward descent. A ride like this deserves a proper finale. Instead, during the final stretch of the attraction, riders sit in darkness and interact with the onboard screens, which were way too bright and a bit tacky in my opinion; I would rather have simply enjoyed the peacefulness of the moment, relaxing in the dark and soothing final moments before stepping back into a busy theme park.

Journey into Imagination with Figment

I’ll admit that this is probably the one attraction that I do have some biases toward. Strangely, it probably was among my highest anticipated ride for this visit because I was so curious about what the attraction had become. All I knew was that it had suffered a far fall from its glory days.

This ride has gone through a lot of changes—none of which really have been improvements. Preferring the original is not an unpopular opinion. I don’t remember too much about the original Journey into Imagination from my visits as a kid, but I do remember being inspired by its message. The song, the characters, and the takeaways from this ride were all special.

The ride still captures some of that magic (emphasis on some) and still has a few animatronics that makes the experience worthwhile. But, let’s face it: This is not the original. Journey into Imagination with Figment—despite having EPCOT’s signature character—is not a headlining attraction in the park.

All that said, I went into this with low expectations knowing this wasn’t the Journey into Imagination of years past. The ride certainly exceeded my low expectations, but the potential this ride has hangs over it like a dark storm cloud. If you didn’t know any better though, Journey into Imagination with Figment is still cute, but it’s not a must-do attraction necessarily.

The Seas with Nemo & Friends

I never really hear anyone talking about this ride—good or bad. It seems to be forgotten about, and I now can now see why. This ride has been at EPCOT for years and years, being a unique journey through an actual aquarium, but it now carries a Finding Nemo theme.

I mistakenly assumed the Nemo & Friends additions would be a light overlay to the existing aquarium ride. Unfortunately, my expectations were way off, and I spent most of the ride waiting to see actual fish. From what I could tell, the aquarium didn't make an appearance in the ride until the final show scene. Everything in the ride leading up to that point seemed low effort and missing the level of detail the Disney brand built its following on.

I may be in the minority, but The Seas with Nemo & Friends feels like one of the few ways the park has downgraded since decades past. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not opposed to change; things don’t always have to stay the same. But, I was disappointed in the quality of this ride and the complete waste of the unique aquarium features this venue has. Although, to be fair, the walkaround aquarium exhibit was one of the highlights of my day.

Final comment I’ll make about this: As long as kids like this ride the way it is, I’m fine with it.

Test Track

I can still remember back to when this ride opened—seeing a few commercials for it and hearing buzz about it at school. That, however, was my only connection to this ride; I’ve never actually been on it. Sadly, that means I missed out on Test Track 1.0.

Ignorance is bliss. I know people miss the original version of Test Track, but I hardly know the difference. I’ve seen some pictures of what it used to look like, but none of that made a difference to me as I stepped into that building for the first time ever in 2022.

My first impressions were that the aesthetic was ironically and unironically lovable at the same time. But as far as E-ticket attractions go, this might be one of the funniest that Disney has put together. I just love the thought that people wait an hour to experience the world’s largest Chevrolet advertisement.

The queue is lined with Chevrolet propaganda. The interactive preshow lets guests kill time by letting them clumsily design a cartoonishly outrageous Chevrolet of their very own. The ride itself practically has a Chevrolet dealership in the middle of the action. And let’s not forget how riders exit into a gift shop that is stocked with Chevrolet’s latest and greatest: yes, full-sized Chevrolet vehicles. I was tempted yet afraid to talk with the wandering cast members carrying tablets around the fleet of Chevrolets.

Anyway, product placement aside, the ride was enjoyable. The indoor portions were nice, and the race around the track was just about how I expected it to be, which is a good thing. It certainly wasn’t worth a 20-plus-year wait for me. I should’ve ridden the fan-favorite Test Track 1.0.

For some reason, I have a strong urge to buy a Chevrolet all of a sudden.

Mission: SPACE

This might be the most infamous attraction at Walt Disney World. I’ve heard horror stories to steer very clear of Mission: SPACE. But, I’ve been on the world’s tallest coaster as well as some of the oddest and most intense attractions out there—I was not going to miss this one.

Mission: SPACE simulates (as much as a theme park ride can) the actual sensation of being blasted into orbit. I’ll admit—once I entered the ride vehicle, I was nervous. The very first thing I noticed was the strong smell of vomit. After listening to a safety spiel that overemphasized what not to do to avoid throwing up, I sat in the claustrophobic cabin as a vent pumped fresh air directly into my face and a stash of barf bag were to my immediate left within arm’s reach.

My heart was pumping. What was I doing to myself?! All the warning signs were right in front of me: run.

The ride started, and I sat in anticipation. I waited, and waited, and waited with tension. The ride was spinning reasonably fast, and I watched the screen in front of me show the interplanetary mission. Now floating in the weightlessness of space, I quickly realized all the record-breaking coasters I’ve done in my life prepared me for that exact moment.

Turns out, Mission: SPACE is not nearly as bad as the world made it out to be. I’d actually go as far as to say I’m a fan.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

This might be cheating, but there’s no way I can sum up my thoughts about Cosmic Rewind in a few paragraphs. I might post a full review in the future, but wow. The surprises, the design, the vibes—everything about this ride was an absolute party. Now, if only they’d drop the boarding groups so guests (without Lightning Lane) can ride it more than once per day.

Edit: Read my full review here.

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros

I have fuzzy memories of riding El Rio del Tiempo, but I can hardly remember what it was like. Riding this attraction after its conversation into The Three Caballeros decades later, it was essentially like a never-before-seen attraction to me. As someone who adores slow-paced boat rides and top-tier scenery, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

This ride feels like the ultimate hidden gem at Walt Disney World. It has incredible sets, gags, music, and much much more. My only regret is that I couldn’t spend all day riding this attraction.

Gran Fiesta Tour isn’t technologically groundbreaking by any means; it’s calming, sensational, comforting, lively, classic—I could keep going—and entertaining in all the best ways. Its finale with the concert and fireworks is such a satisfying payoff that other attractions should take notes from.

Frozen Ever After

I have memories of riding Maelstrom as a kid—mostly memories of being scared of the swarming darkness and larger-than-life trolls. Besides the hugely eerie feeling only a kid can feel on a theme park ride, I didn’t have a deep connection to Maelstrom. I wasn’t heartbroken when the ride shut down to make way for a new story.

This may rile up EPCOT purists—if I haven’t already—but I find Frozen Ever After to be incredibly fitting in this area. It’s a catchy sing-along journey with movie-worthy, magical moments that nearly gave me goosebumps. Well, maybe it was the frigid atmosphere that gave me chills, but Frozen Ever After will put a warm smile on the faces of kids and the kids at heart.

Remy's Ratatouille Adventure

The newly integrated Lightning Lane put a downer on my Ratatouille experience; the estimated standby wait skyrocketed while I was waiting, and the actual line itself came to a prolonged standstill several times because Lightning Lane guests took a heavy priority. That was just my experience one time, but it was enough to somewhat sour my first ride on one of EPCOT’s newest additions.

As for the attraction itself, this is stunning. Remy's Ratatouille Adventure is a new ground-up ride that feels momentous. The facade is almost golden as the light hits it and shimmers across the entrance plaza. As for the queue, it has blissful nighttime rooftops as you eventually shrink down to the size of a rat for the ride.

This ride feels like a mellower version of Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It has fun sequences, huge sets that make you feel tiny, and a few neat effects that work in conjunction with the action on the screen in front of you. And of course, this adventure has the sweet smell of fresh bread being baked. The ride is just as tasty as it sounds and is a wonderful addition to World Showcase.

Overall Impressions

I want to talk about the park as a whole for a bit. Quickly before I do, it should be noted that I didn’t bring up every attraction in the park—namely the fan-favorite Living with the Land, which I enjoyed (don’t worry).

Starting with the entrance, EPCOT is absolutely beautiful. The new, retro fountain gives off an incredible first impression, but what’s just behind that fountain is the most stunning icon in any park.

Spaceship Earth really is the prettiest girl school. From the early hours in the morning until walking to the parking lot at night, she has everyone’s attention. It seemed like every guest walking around Spaceship Earth couldn’t help but pull out their phone to take a picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if people tripped over each other while they gawked and walked in amazement at Spaceship Earth.

The sheer simplicity of the look met with the stunning stature of the structure itself were really breathtaking—especially with a picture-perfect lighting package. Spaceship Earth lit up with sparkling color schemes under the wonder of a nighttime sky truly made EPCOT at night among the most magical settings in all of Walt Disney World.

I had forgotten what Spaceship Earth looked like in person—like what it really looked like to see the icon up close and from around the park. Wow. I was amazed throughout the day. I couldn't stop myself from turning around to take a glance at every chance.

The area formerly known as Future World—which is now sectioned off into the World Celebration, World Nature, and World Discovery neighborhoods—is where I had the most fun in the park. The collection of rides here was the highlight of my day, and the unmatched ‘80s architecture creates an environment that no other theme park has. Each pavilion has its own personality, making them all iconic in their own way.

Of course, as of fall 2022, construction walls are the biggest downside to the front half of the park. They cover a lot of scenery and turn a beautiful park into an ugly one in some areas. The walls are only temporary, supposedly, but it still is worth mentioning.

Onto World Showcase, each land here is a wonderful celebration of culture. It’s amazing to be able to do it all in a day with convincing detail, delicious food, and memorable attractions. Getting lost in a place like World Showcase is easy with all the little corners to explore and things to try out.

The current nighttime show, Harmonious, gets a lot of flack, but I really enjoyed it. Maybe the barges are bulky during the daytime, but the music and visuals as heard and seen around the entire lagoon made it all worth it. Being in an audience so large around a massive lagoon was quite special to be a part of.

I wish I could go on about every detail of the park and my day there, but I’ve gone on long enough. EPCOT, I’m already looking forward to visiting you in the future. See you soon, hopefully.

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