Epcot may be Disney's (NYSE:DIS) second most visited theme park in Florida right now, but it will probably be dead last in a couple of years. Between this year's Pandora -- The World of Avatar expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom and the one-two punch of Toy Story Land in 2018 and the galaxy-changing Star Wars Land a year later at Disney's Hollywood Studios, it wouldn't be a surprise if those two parks surpass Epcot's annual attendance by 2020, if not 2019.
Thankfully for Disney investors and theme park fans, it seems as if the media giant isn't going to let that happen. There have been rumors circulating of a high-profile makeover coming to the park, something that may be announced as early as next month, during the D23 conference. It's all unofficial, of course, but Disney's raising more than a few eyebrows by filing for permit plans for canal modifications around the northeastern perimeter of the park. The plans filed last month were issued by the South Florida Water Management District earlier this month, according to an Orlando Sentinel report.
The canals are being modified to allow for possible future changes to parking and backstage areas, but the move would also free up Epcot to revamp a quiet area of the park's Future World, where a sleepy energy attraction and a pavilion that's only being used during festivals could give way to a more relevant and crowd-attracting expansion.
It's been a year since a rumor began to circulate that a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed thrill ride would be replacing Ellen's Energy Adventure. The box-office success of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 -- outgrossing the 2014 original and currently this year's second biggest movie -- would seem to add even more legitimacy to the franchise's appeal.
Three time zones away, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout opened at Disney's California Adventure last month. The ride replaced the park's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, something that would be blasphemous at Florida's Disney's Hollywood Studios. It would also be unnecessary, as Disney's Hollywood Studios -- presently Disney World's least visited park -- will have plenty of ammo in back-to-back summers with Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land.
An entirely different ride devoted to the franchise makes sense in the typically overlooked northeast section of Epcot. An indoor roller coaster was the original rumor, but anything from a high-tech dark ride with gaming elements as a pre-emptive attack on Super Nintendo World, which is going up in a few years at rival Universal Orlando, to a richly themed thrill ride would go a long way toward drawing a younger audience to Epcot.
We know change is coming to Epcot. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek said so last year during the Destination D conference for park enthusiasts. Epcot remains Disney World's slowest-growing park in recent years, and even updating a pair of iconic rides last year failed to move the needle.
Whether it's Guardians of the Galaxy, the Tron coaster that opened at Shanghai Disneyland last year, or some other adrenaline-pumping attraction that jibes with Epcot's Future World theme, something neat is going to happen in that sleepy corridor of Epcot in the coming years. Moving the canals is the first step. Giving Disney a reason to increase parking capacity -- the way it is right now at Disney's Hollywood Studios -- is next.