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Disney World Turns Its Attention to Turning Epcot Around

By Rick Munarriz - Updated Mar 9, 2020 at 9:21AM

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Disney World's second oldest park has become a laggard at the resort, but big changes are coming.

The makeover at Disney's (DIS -1.31%) once fledging movie-themed Florida park is complete. Wednesday's debut of Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disney's Hollywood Studios completes a two-year revitalization at the park that was dead last in attendance at Disney World when the upgrades began. 

Since Disney doesn't put out actual attendance metrics, we'll have to wait two months for industry watchers Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM to put out their annual update -- but if Epcot didn't slip into last place in 2019, it will surely happen in 2020. Disney's Hollywood Studios is on the rise after the opening of Toy Story Land in 2018, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in 2019, and the first Mickey Mouse-helmed ride last week. Epcot has become a labyrinth of construction walls, blocking off access to the park it used to be as it paves the way for the next-gen gated attraction it will become. 

Epcot's signature landmark Spaceship Earth as night descends overhead.

Image source: Disney.

Like a grand and miraculous spaceship

Disney realizes it needs to sell the public on the transformation of its outdated park. It recently opened an exhibit called Epcot Experience, using high-tech projections to show off the changes coming to the Florida park in the coming years. 

Some of the changes will come soon. Remy's Ratatouille Adventure will open this summer at Epcot's France pavilion. The dark ride shrinks guests to the size of Ratatouille's star rat, racing through Gusteau's restaurant that served as the setting of the popular Pixar film. A celebrity chef-inspired creperie will also open alongside the new ride. It will the third major dining option to open this year, following the Regal Eagle Smokehouse that opened last month and the highly themed Space 220 galactic table-service eatery with its springtime debut. 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will be Epcot's first roller coaster when it opens no later than next year. It is billed as a "storytelling coaster," with rotating seats, and it will be the theme park giant's first ride to feature a reverse launch. 

The timeline after that gets a bit hazy, but the next few years will feature dramatic updates to existing attractions, aesthetic updates, and some additions that will enhance Epcot's thriving festival business. You won't recognize the place in a few years, and that's the point. Epcot was consistently Disney World's second most visited attraction following its 1982 debut until slipping to third in 2017. It's in the process of fading to the fourth and final spot. 

The transformation of Epcot will be the first project carried out under new CEO Bob Chapek's watch. He earned his wings running Disney's theme parks business, so this is not foreign territory for the media giant's new helmsman. With the coronavirus outbreak rattling the industry and recessionary fears growing, the ability to turn things around at Epcot in the coming years will be the first test that shapes Chapek's legacy. 

With Disney's theme parks and studio facing challenges in fiscal 2020, it will have to be the theme parks that take the growth baton until Disney+ is strong enough to offset the declines in the legacy businesses it will replace. Three of Disney World's theme parks are up to the tall order. It's your move, Epcot.   

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