The Secret History of Disney Rides: Spaceship Earth

in Walt Disney World

epcot fountain

Credit: Disney

When Guests go to EPCOT at Walt Disney World, they will notice the giant ball that encompasses the entire entrance of the theme park. Spaceship Earth is the main centerpiece for EPCOT, and unlike Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom, it houses an entire ride within the structure!

spaceship earth
Credit: Inside the Magic

Related: Disney World Ticket Prices Increase For Next Year

Spaceship Earth truly is a magnificent creation that every Disney fan recognizes, and if you want to take a deep dive into the attraction, that is exactly what we are going to do today. Get ready to become a Spaceship Earth expert as we learn where to find Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, discover the story of Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, and understand which displays can be seen at Spaceship Earth.

epcot spaceship earth lighting
Credit: Inside the Magic

Before we start thanking the Phoenicians, let’s get in our ride vehicle and travel through time!

Related: Annual Passholders: How to Get Help with Disney Park Pass

Story of Spaceship Earth at EPCOT

Knowing what Spaceship Earth entails regarding the storyline is very important for this attraction since it is such a story-based ride. So in the next few questions, we will fully flesh out all the questions regarding the attraction.

epcot spaceship earth lighting
Credit: Inside the Magic

What is the Spaceship Earth ride at EPCOT about?

Spaceship Earth is an attraction that allows Disney Guests to travel through time and discover how technology and communication were invented and adapted throughout the ages. The attraction serves as a highly entertaining history lesson in which Guests can watch animatronics from different time periods worldwide create language and understand the complexities that language and communication have undergone throughout time.

Concept art for the reimagined Spaceship Earth attraction at EPCOT, courtesy of Disney.
Credit: Disney

According to Disney, this is what Spaceship Earth’s description entails:

Back to the Beginning
Witness the landmark moments of amazing innovation that made today’s spectacular communications technology possible.

Travel back to the dawn of humanity, when early man painted on cave walls. Watch new ideas spread like wildfire with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. The wheels of time turn ever faster as we enter the modern age of media, from newspapers announcing the end of the Civil War to the televised broadcast of the moon landing—and beyond.

All of these great moments are brought vividly to life using elaborate sets and advanced Audio-Animatronics figures during this inspirational, 16-minute, Omnimover-style attraction.

Forward into Your Future
Once you’ve returned to the present day, you’ll have a chance to design the kind of future you want to live in using the touch screen inside your vehicle. Answer several brief questions and get ready to see what your tomorrow looks like!

The Story Behind the Spaceship
It’s the flagship attraction of Epcot and the signature symbol of the park. To create the experience inside the iconic geosphere, Disney Imagineers assembled some of the world’s greatest talents.

The all-star roster includes Academy Award® winner Judi Dench as the narrator and Emmy® winner Bruce Broughton, who conducted a 63-piece orchestra and 24-voice choir for his musical score. If you listen closely, you’ll notice that the music for each scene features styles and instruments appropriate to the era, transitioning seamlessly into the next—no small feat.

epcot spaceship earth
Credit: Disney

What is the future of Spaceship Earth?

The future of Spaceship Earth is a little muggy at the moment, as the COVID-19 pandemic affected many of Disney’s future development plans for attractions and lands within all of its theme parks. Some projects were deemed priority projects, whereas others were set aside for now.

During the 2014 D23 Expo, it was announced that Spaceship Earth was set to undergo a major refurbishment that would shut down the attraction for quite some time. The attraction was originally meant to close on May 26, however, Disney then released that the refurbishment would be put on hold. The ride would continue to operate as-if for the foreseeable future.

“We had a lot of massive plans in the parks, and we continue to have big plans,” Chapek said during an earnings call earlier in the year. The CEO noted that Disney would need to do “certain trimmings” from a financial standpoint. That being said, Chapek was still dedicated to bringing more changes to the Disney Parks, which means that Spaceship Earth’s future may still indicate a forthcoming change.

Credit: Disney

Considering Disney already had plans to update the attraction, it would not be too shocking to see the attraction one day undergo the previously planned refurbishment.

That being said, with the 50th anniversary around the corner, it seems unlikely that Disney will touch the attraction anytime soon, especially since nothing has been announced regarding any changes in the foreseeable future.

world celebration spaceship earth
Credit: Disney

We do know that Spaceship Earth will have a permanent new lighting package installed for the 50th anniversary celebrations, which will illuminate the entire globe with points of light that connect on every triangle on the globe.

How extensive are Disney’s plans to renovate Spaceship Earth?

When Disney originally planned to overhaul Spaceship Earth, it seemed that the attraction would undergo some major upgrades. When the announcement was made, Disney Parks Blog noted:

You’ll visit Egypt, which is part of the current version of the attraction, but it will be an Egypt like you’ve never seen before, transformed through the power of light. Throughout the attraction, you’ll hear new narration and see how light plays a central role in our shared human journey, coming to life in dynamic ways in a celebration of the magic that’s possible when we all come together.

Mickey and Friends EPCOT
Credit: Disney

As we mentioned in the past, Disney noted that the attraction would move from an experience focused on sharing the history of human communication and shift towards a focus on a core Disney element: storytelling. A new magical light beam called a “story light” will come to life and guide Guests through each show scene. While select classic scenes from the attraction are set to stay put, a new guide and new narration will be added.

EPCOT
Credit: Zach Riddley via Instagram

The new narration will provide greater insight into the human experience and storytelling that connects Guests from all over the world (and therefore follows through with the mission of EPCOT).

Enhanced show scenes with new technological effects will capture the universal nature of the human experience and bring about something relatable and interesting for the whole family.

What is the history of Spaceship Earth at EPCOT?

Spaceship Earth is quickly developing a powerful history, as it was an opening day attraction with the theme park in 1982.
The attraction has changed in many ways, and one of the biggest changes comes with a change in narration.  The original narrator on the attraction was Lawrence Dobkin, who was then replaced in 1986 by Walter Cronkite. Then, after the 1994 refurbishment, Jeremy Irons replaced Walter Cronkite as the narrator.

walt statue epcot
Credit: Disney

In 2008, Judi Dench took over the attraction’s narration, and when EPCOT finally refurbishes the attraction, the great actor will be replaced by another! EPCOT continues to show progress through the ever-evolving change in narrative voices on the attraction. At the moment, the attraction has undergone four overhauls.

Spaceship Earth is made out of alucabond, a carbon–aluminum compound, and has two spheres to complete the structure. One which supports the exterior, and another which houses the ride. In between the two facades are openings in the panels to collect rainwater and filter it back into the World Showcase lagoon. This is so that rainwater does not run down the sides of the ball and soak the Guests who stand underneath!

Why did Disney choose a geodesic sphere as the home for Spaceship Earth?

To understand why Spaceship Earth is in the shape of a ball, we need to go back to the beginning! Walt Disney wanted to originally create that Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow which would have been something like a permanent World’s Fair driven by new technologies. Eventually, that idea evolved into the EPCOT Center theme park.

Credit: Disney

Spaceship Earth’s design was heavily influenced by Buckminster Fuller, who patented the design of a geodome structure.

Disney Parks Blog went into depth on the way Fuller influenced Walt Disney Imagineering:

That man was R. Buckminster Fuller, a theorist/futurist, who studied how technology could improve our daily lives, including in the area of housing. Two of his major works may sound familiar in terms of Spaceship Earth: First, in 1951, he patented a design called the geodesic dome that was lightweight, cost-effective and easy to assemble. Then in 1968, he published a book called, “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth,” in which he calls people astronauts and describes how the planet needs continual maintenance in order to keep operating, just like a vehicle.

According to Disney Legend John Hench in his “Designing Disney” book, Fuller’s work was a huge inspiration in shaping what would become the park’s icon:

“We assumed from the beginning that we needed a large sphere for the Epcot icon, and we wanted one with enough space inside for an attraction. We were familiar with architect Buckminster Fuller’s experiments with building the geodesic dome he had invented in the 1940s, including the one he had constructed for the Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1953. Fuller’s famous phrase ‘spaceship earth’ also appealed to us.”

epcot festival of the holidays
Credit: Disney

Displays at Spaceship Earth at EPCOT

What displays and exhibits are most popular at Spaceship Earth?

Spaceship Earth has many popular show scenes in the attraction; however, there are a few that Guests talk about quite often. The scene with the Phoenicians has become popular as Judi Dench’s line “Thank the Phoenicians” has resonated with many.

Another popular scene is the one in which Rome is burning. During the scene, Disney’s smelters emit a scent that smells like a burning aroma, and it is one that many scandal companies have tried to replicate so that Guests could smell that moment in their homes whenever they would like!

That being said, the best show scenes in Spaceship Earth are whatever you want them to be! To pick, let’s take a ride through the attraction so we can narrow down our findings!

Tips for exploring Spaceship Earth at EPCOT

What is the best time to explore Spaceship Earth?

Since Spaceship Earth is the first attraction Guests see when they enter the park, the mornings are often hectic on this attraction. Many Guests enter and want to ride the attraction inside the giant ball, and since it is the first thing they see, they hope in line.

Waiting until the later afternoon could significantly reduce your wait time at this attraction. Depending on how busy the park is, wait times can stay consistently long throughout the day.

Moonrise EPCOT
Credit: Disney

How long are the queue times for Spaceship Earth?

If you choose to ride Spaceship Earth in the morning, Guests oftentimes will wait around 40 minutes or more to hop on the attraction. That being said, the ride can also be a walk-on attraction with little to no wait if the park is not heavily crowded. These lower wait times tend to appear during the latter half of the day.

To ensure you have the most up-to-date wait times for Spaceship Earth, be sure to check your My Disney Experience app before heading to the attraction.

Walt Disney EPCOT
Credit: The Original EPCOT

What do you need to know about Spaceship Earth before visiting the attraction?

Spaceship Earth is not a heavily thrilling attraction and takes place on a slow-moving vehicle. Guests should be aware that the ride will last around 15 minutes and that they will be inside a slow-moving ride vehicle in which they must remain throughout the entire attraction.

Spaceship Earth also has interactive elements to it in which Guests can choose their future and watch it play out as a skit based on the choices they made.

Credit: Jonathan Salazar (IG: @TheDisneyPilot)

Where to find Spaceship Earth at EPCOT

Where is Spaceship Earth located?

If you are looking for Spaceship Earth when you enter EPCOT, you will not have difficulty finding it considering it is inside the giant sphere! The attraction line begins right under Spaceship Earth and can be accessed by walking straight after entering the theme park.

epcot entrance pylons
Credit: Instagram/Zach Riddley

Where are the closest dining venues concerning Spaceship Earth?

If you are getting hungry after your ride on Spaceship Earth, of course, you have the entire World Showcase to dine in. However, there are also closer dining locations.

If you head over to The Land pavilion, Guests can dine for a quick service meal at Sunshine Seasons or enjoy a family-style character meal with Mickey Mouse and the gang at Garden Grill.

Also in Future World is Coral Reef which allows Guests to dine with the fish as giant tanks of sea creatures will surround them! Space 220 is also on the way to the opening at EPCOT, and once it is unveiled, the new location will be just minutes away from the attraction.

Mac and Cheese
Credit: Disney

If Guests want a quick snack, there are plenty of snack kiosks in Future World selling Mickey Premium Bars and other ice cream and popsicle offerings, popcorn stands, churro stands, pretzel stands, as well as a Joffrey’s coffee any Starbucks location.

What are other attractions close to Spaceship Earth?

In Future World,  Guests can also ride the majority of the attractions EPCOT has to offer. Mission: SPACE is steps away, allowing Guests to blast off into space and experience real G-force moments. Test Track will allow Guests to design their own car and race with it in a competition against others! It is also the fastest attraction at Walt Disney World!

Related: Living with the Land Gets Incredible New Update at Epcot!

If you want something a little more on the relaxing side, The Seas with Nemo & Friends allows Guests to dive into the film on an omnimover attraction. In the Imagination pavilion, Guests can also ride similar style attractions with Journey Into Imagination With Figment!

EPCOT festival of the arts
Credit: Disney

Once Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind debuts, that will be another attraction to which Guests can hop after riding Spaceship Earth.

So now that you are a well-versed historian on all things Spaceship Earth, I think it is time we hop on over to EPCOT and take a ride!

What do you think of Spaceship Earth? Is it a must-do attraction for you? Let us know in the comments below! 

Ready to plan a trip to EPCOT and Walt Disney World? Contact our friends at Academy Travel for a free no-obligation quote. The team of Authorized Disney Vacation Planners at Academy Travel can help answer all your questions and plan your trip so you can focus on having a magical Disney vacation without any stress. Click here to contact them and begin planning your family’s first Disney vacation!

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