Dewayne Bevil | Sentinel Staff Writer
September 30, 2007

Epcot has always had a futurist bent, but today, the eve of its 25th birthday, we stroll through the past and present of the second theme park built at Walt Disney World. Here are 25 things to know about Epcot.

Coined. Opening-day cast members received a packet with a commemorative coin displaying Spaceship Earth and the text "The dawn of a new Disney era."

Small world, after all. When Epcot opened, it was thought that more national pavilions -- possibly 30 or 35 -- would arrive. But since the original nine, there have been two added: Morocco (1984) and Norway (1988), which brought us Maelstrom, one of two rides within World Showcase. (The other one is Mexico's Gran Fiesta Tour.)

The price was right. Prices from 1982: Soft drinks at Odyssey restaurant, 65 cents and 80 cents; bottle of Beck's beer, $1.50; Epcot sweatshirt, $10; Pringle of Scotland wool tam, $18.50; Leather jacket from Canada, $300. Price of an annual pass to Epcot and Magic Kingdom in 1982: $100.

Sweatin' to the Epcot. On opening day, there were live TV reports by Today anchor Jane Pauley and weatherman Willard Scott. After the 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting, WESH-Channel 2 joined The Richard Simmons Show in progress.

Cheers! During the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Disney expects to go through 33,000 bottles of wine and champagne, 600,000 forks and 2.1 million napkins.

(E)OMG! Captain EO was a 3-D presentation but so much more: a caped Michael Jackson playing the leader of a band of furry outer-space warriors. EO featured two Jackson songs, moonwalking and a group dance-off, plus in-house fog and lasers. Very '80s. EO was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and also starred Anjelica Huston as The Supreme Leader. The film left Epcot in 1994, and the space is occupied by "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience."

Not so fond of the wand. In 1999, in conjunction with the company's millennium celebration, a structure representing Mickey Mouse's arm waving a wand and featuring the number "2000" was erected next to Spaceship Earth. The script later was altered to read "Epcot" but, to some Disney fans, was considered a gaudy irritant. Its dismantling began this summer.

The need for speed. Test Track, a move that would rev up Epcot, encountered speed bumps on the way to its debut. The ride was announced in February 1996 with an opening date of spring 1997, which was pushed to August 1997 . . . then October 1997 . . . then "next year," meaning 1998, after testing revealed woes with computer software and wheels allegedly coming off the cars. Delays eventually gave this indoor-outdoor thrill ride an opening date of January 1999.

Name game. EPCOT begat Epcot Center begat Epcot 94 begat Epcot 95 begat just plain Epcot.

It's all wetsuit. Certified divers can take part in Divequest, an additional-fee excursion into the ginormous aquarium within The Living Seas. Folks can access sealife, including sharks, and be observed by landlubbing parkgoers.

Nation hopping. A not-uncommon-but-in-no-way-Disney-sanctioned activity is the "drink around the world" game featuring libations of World Showcase. For instance, a drinker meandering counterclockwise could consume Moosehead in Canada, Harp in United Kingdom, Grand Marnier orange slush in France, Tangierine cocktail in Morocco, sake in Japan, Sam Adams in America, a bottle of Chianti Classico in Italy, Beck's in Germany, maotai in China, Carlsberg in Norway and finish with Mexico's margaritas. But should you really need a designated driver for theme parking? We recommend being more selective.

Thinking globally. By opening day, Disney had hired 90 World Showcase Fellowship Students to represent the countries. Today, that role is filled by 1,300 "cultural representatives." (Thirty-two of the originals recently had a reunion in Germany.)

World beat. In Ellen's Energy Adventure, when the Jeopardy! announcer says the program is sponsored by energy and intones "Energy, you make the world go 'round," it's a cheeky nod to the previous attraction on the site. The original ride featured a catchy song titled "You Make the World Go 'Round."

Welcome, welcome. Epcot is the sole Walt Disney World park with an alternate entrance for guests. The International Gateway, built in 1990, is tucked behind the United Kingdom pavilion and allows entry from Disney's BoardWalk and the Swan and Dolphin hotels.

Hot enough for you? Nineteen torches ring the Showcase lagoon and make their fiery presence known during the IllumiNations show (left). (Epcot Vice President Jim MacPhee refers to the spectacle as the park's "goodnight kiss.")

Face the music. There are 550,000 tiles on the Leave a Legacy monuments at the front of the park, Disney says, but the stamp-sized likenesses of heads no longer can be added to the project. And that's the way it was. Broadcaster Walter Cronkite's voice has been heard in two distinctly different attractions. He provided the narration on the Spaceship Earth ride, beginning in the mid-1980s. (He was later replaced by Jeremy Irons.) Cronkite also hosted, through a voiceover, the annual "Holiday IllumiNations" fireworks show. His voice can be heard wishing holiday cheer in the current seasonal addition to "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth."

In the beginning. Meg Crofton, current president of Walt Disney World, was working in a small telecommunications equipment room backstage on Oct. 1, 1982, watching the Epcot opening ceremonies on a monitor.

Westcot goes south. In the early 1990s, plans for a Westcot, a West Coast edition of Epcot, were considered by then-Disney honcho Michael Eisner. But by the mid-'90s, the idea was scrapped. Plans reportedly included a 300-foot version of our 180-foot Spaceship Earth.

It smells like a million dollars. Amongst the current retail offerings: David Beckham's cologne, Instinct, at Sportsman's Shoppe in the United Kingdom pavilion.

Fur flies. The early years of Epcot were relatively free of traditional Disney characters, but more have seeped in. Donald Duck and pals now squawk away through the Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico, and The Seas' newest stars are Finding Nemo characters. And now, costume characters are permanently stationed at Innoventions for autographs and photographs.

It's your imagination. The character Figment was developed for Epcot, but on rare occasions has made appearances outside the park.

Initial reaction. Sure, EPCOT stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. But there are fun variations. Our favorite clean one, courtesy of a tram driver: Every Person Comes Out Tired.

Heads up, thumbs down. The Orlando Sentinel's front-page headline following the opening day of Epcot was SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEPCOTALADOCIOUS! Even the sight of it is something quite atrocious.

Source: Orlando Sentinel