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Journey of Water inspires at Epcot
3.75 (out of 5)
When Epcot first opened in the early 1980s, Future World, the land that greeted visitors as they entered Disney World’s second park, featured the brutalist design–stark, hulking buildings, vast concrete plazas, a monochromatic palette–that was then in vogue. It was cold and stark, like the future we imagined for ourselves. As part of the park’s multi-year transformation, which is scheduled to wrap in December, Disney is rebranding the front of the park and divvying up Future World into three smaller lands: World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature. The term that the Imagineers are using to describe the reinterpreted spaces, “neighborhoods,” conveys the warmer, more human-scale tone they are bringing to their 21st-century vision for the prototypical community of tomorrow.
The new Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana is emblematic of the new Epcot. The walk-through trail, which features engaging, interactive experiences that trace the precious commodity, is the anti-Future World. Lush, intimate, and filled with color, the stunning area is meditative, yet playful. It is an oasis amid the theme park tumult.
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Located in World Nature, which also includes the existing The Land and The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions, Journey of Water is slated to open October 16. Visitors will also be able to meet the wayfaring princess at Epcot starting on that date. I got a preview of the attraction a few days ago while I was covering Destination D23.
As its name implies, the tranquil trail is largely about water, its importance to the planet, the paths it takes on its way to the creatures who live on Earth, and the role we human creatures must play to help conserve the vital resource. Secondarily, the attraction is “inspired by Moana,” the popular Disney animated film and its title character, who has an abiding connection with the ocean. There is no attempt to retell her story, but there are some subtle–and one not-so-subtle–nods to the movie.
“We figured Moana would be a great character to use, because she is a protector of nature,” explains Kate Worth, a project coordinator for Walt Disney Imagineering who worked on the attraction.
Visitors may recognize the melody of one of the film’s songs, “We Know the Way,” playing as they embark on the trail. The reinterpreted recording is a more gentle version of the song created specifically for the attraction. Eagle-eyed guests can discover Moana and some of her co-stars etched into artifacts along the trail. The big Moana moment, however, comes when visitors round a bend and encounter the movie’s goddess, Te Fiti, represented as an oversize topiary. Smiling above a reflecting pool with water dancing all around her and Spaceship Earth looming in the distance, she is quite a sight.
Each scene that guests encounter is a different part of the water cycle, from rain to stream to sky, and back down to Earth. There are trail markers to help provide context. The inclusion of the intellectual property, Moana, notwithstanding, the attraction is something of a throwback to Epcot’s original focus on edutainment. Rest assured, there is plenty of ’tainment.
Pass your hands across the kids’-eye-level “rain harps,” and you’ll find that you are plucking corresponding musical notes. You could walk (or if you dare, run) through a waterfall in a cave that mysteriously ceases flowing at the precise moment you would get soaked. Get your park posse to jump high, and fountains will mimic your movements.
If it sounds as if Journey of Water is a frantic free-for-all, however, it’s not. While there are fun activities, things to discover in nooks and crannies, and kinetic motions throughout the trail, the overall vibe is hushed and almost ethereal. The music is soothing, the landscaping is glorious, and there are benches on which to sit and contemplate the water-filled space.
We are “bringing the ‘park’ back in theme park,” Worth says, adding that the reimagined World Celebration neighborhood that will be opening later this year will also feature a canopy of shade trees, benches, and a relaxing, verdant environment in which to sit and watch the world pass by. I think that’s a great development.
When I visited Shanghai Disneyland, I was struck by how its landscape design and layout contrasted with Walt’s original park in California. The Chinese people, it seems, value open, green space, and Disney accommodates them with an abundance of winding paths, shady spots, picnic areas, and lovely gardens designed for people to congregate. It’s nice to see that aesthetic emulated at Epcot.
Visiting a theme park shouldn’t always be about rushing from one kickass, overstimulating attraction to the next. Sometimes, as Moana would surely agree, it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey.
What do you think about having a lovely place to chill out at a theme park? When did you first visit Epcot? Are you looking forward to the changes Disney is making to the front of the park?