Disney World looks ahead to another celebration next month: EPCOT’s 40th Anniversary

in Disney Parks, Featured, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

spaceship earth epcot and moon

Credit: D23

On October 1, 1982, eleven years after the opening of Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort, The Walt Disney Company welcomed Guests to experience a new Disney Park–one that would take them on a journey of discovery that asked the questions, “what does the future look like, and how can we embrace that future?”

For some lifelong Disney Parks fans, it may seem like the opening of EPCOT was only yesterday, but the unveiling of Disney World’s second theme park took place 40 years ago this October, and while all eyes have been on the Walt Disney World Resort’s 50th anniversary celebration since October 1, 2021, true Disney fans know that the 50th actually really belongs to Magic Kingdom alone.

Walt Disney World Resort Opens - D23
Opening Day at Magic Kingdom/Credit: D23

Though EPCOT Center would open some 16 years after Walt Disney’s untimely death following a short battle with lung cancer, fans knew it was coming, as Walt had all but prophesied the advent of new areas, new lands, new parks, and new experiences at Disney World shortly after he purchased thousands of acres of swampland in Central Florida.

“Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland: the blessing of size,” Walt once said about the Florida Project, later named Walt Disney World. “There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.”

EPCOT Was Walt Disney's Radical Vision for a New Kind of City | HowStuffWorks
Credit: HowStuffWorks

And the next step in the Disney World parade after Magic Kingdom was a theme park called EPCOT Center, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. On October 1, 1982, EPCOT opened, and though it wasn’t the same EPCOT conceptualized by Walt Disney himself, the finished product, as it were, was one that took on a personality of its own–and Guests were pleased.

On This Day: Epcot opened at Walt Disney World in 1982
Opening Day at EPCOT/Credit: FOX35 Orlando

Guests enjoyed an opening day ceremony of pageantry and culture, and throughout the park, that culture, along with new ideas and before-its-time technology, filled every space, beckoning visitors to immerse themselves in every single facet of EPCOT Center–and the Disney magic was palpable, though in very different ways from Magic Kingdom’s approach eleven years earlier.

“May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire and, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.” – Official Dedication, Oct. 24, 1982 

A one-month-long celebration of EPCOT’s debut showcased the park’s 5 pavilions in Future World, as well as 9 pavilions along the World Showcase promenade.

Today, the park, simply called EPCOT, continues to reward Guests’ curiosity, inspire imagination, and wow the senses with unique international festivals throughout the year. The EPCOT of today boasts four neighborhoods: World Celebration, World Nature, World Discovery, and World Showcase.

Walt Disney once proclaimed that “EPCOT will always be in a state of becoming,” and during no time in the park’s history has that been more apparent than now, as Disney continues to foster EPCOT’s growth and evolution with the biggest transformation to take place inside the park in its 40 years.

Per Walt Disney World News, here are just some of EPCOT’s milestones over the last 40 years–and even before the park’s opening:

Here’s a look at some of the milestones in the 40-year history of EPCOT: 

1965 

  • Nov. 15 – Walt Disney and his brother Roy publicly announce plans for Walt Disney World Resort in a press conference held in downtown Orlando, Fla. 

1966 

  • Oct. 27 – Walt Disney records a film outlining plans for the Florida Project, including details for Walt Disney World Resort and the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). 

1978 

  • Card Walker, President and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, announces plans for EPCOT at the International Chamber of Commerce and presents concepts to President Jimmy Carter, the ICC’s keynote speaker. 

1979 

  • Oct. 1 – After years of planning, construction begins on EPCOT. 

1982   

  • Sept. 24 – Walt Disney World Cast Members and their families and friends are among the very first to experience the new theme park before it opens to the public. Special preview days give Cast Members a sense of pride and help ensure the park is ready for the Guests to come.  
  • Oct. 1 –EPCOTopens with five Future World pavilions – Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination, and The Land – and nine World Showcase pavilions representing Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, and the United States. 
  • “Carnival de Lumiere” debuts as the theme park’s first nightly fireworks show, replaced in 1983 with “A New World Fantasy” and in 1984 by “Laserphonic Fantasy.” 
Carnival de Lumière – disneyavenue
Credit: DisneyAvenue
  • Oct. 24 – EPCOT is officially dedicated by Card Walker, Chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions. 
  • A new four-mile extension of the Walt Disney World Monorail System opens, extending from the Ticket and Transportation Center to EPCOT. 

1983   

  • Oct. 1 – On the park’s one-year anniversary, Horizons (now MISSION: Space) makes its debut in Future World. Featuring a first-of-its-kind ride system, the attraction gives Guests a glimpse of what life might be like in the future. 
  • March 5 – The ride-through attraction Journey into Imagination (now Journey into Imagination with Figment) opens. 

1984  

  • Sept. 7 – EPCOT World Showcase expands with the opening of the Morocco pavilion. 
  • June 3 – The France pavilion in World Showcase opens its second signature restaurant, Bistro de Paris. 

1985 

  • Sept. 24 – Lotus Blossom Café opens, the first of two new restaurants to open in the China pavilion.
  • Oct. 23 – The China pavilion’s table-service restaurant Nine Dragons Restaurant begins serving Guests.  

1986   

  • Jan. 15 –The Living Seas(now The Seas with Nemo & Friends) opens. The centerpiece of the pavilion is a 5.7-million-gallon aquarium – the world’s largest at the time – that’s home to more than 200 species of marine life.

1987 

  • The EPCOT Daredevil Circus Spectacular opens in Future World. Dubbed “The Greatest Show in Space,” it featured a variety of daredevil circus acts performed in and above the CommuniCore area of the park. 

1988  

  • Jan. 30 – “IllumiNations,” a new nighttime spectacular, premieres. The new show incorporated the World Showcase pavilions for the first time with rim lighting and special projection effects. 
  • June 3 – World Showcase expands with the opening of theNorway pavilion that introduces Maelstrom, where Guests board Viking boats to discover the country’s natural beauty, traditions, and modern cities. 

1989 

  • Oct. 19 – Wonders of Life pavilion opens in Future World. Beneath a giant gold dome, three humorous attractions offer a fun look at health and fitness. The pavilion also includes state-of-the-art, hands-on activities, live comedy shows, and a fast-casual restaurant. 

1990 

  • November – The first phase of the EPCOT Resort Area opens with the debut of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (Nov. 5) and Disney’s Beach Club Resort (Nov. 19). The following year brings Walt Disney World Swan Hotel (Jan. 13) and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (June 4). All within walking distance of the theme park, the collection of resorts significantly expands lodging and convention options. 

1994   

  • April 29 – The inaugural EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival debuts. 
  • July 1 – Innoventions pavilion replaces Communicore, featuring interactive exhibits and demonstrations of emerging technologies. 
  • Nov. 21 – Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, a lively interactive 3-D adventure, opens in the Journey Into Imagination pavilion.
  • Nov. 25 – The Candlelight Processional moves to EPCOT from Magic Kingdom, where it had been presented since 1971. With the move to America Gardens Theater, the show was able to expand to multiple nightly performances throughout the holiday season. 

1995   

  • Jan. 21 – “Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable” debuts in The Land. The 20-minute, 70mm film features Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa in a story about the importance of respect for the natural environment 
  • Sep. 15 – Ellen’s Energy Adventure debuts, bringing a new storyline and humor to what was previously Universe of Energy.  

1996   

  • Sept. 28 – The first annual EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival makes its debut.
epcot food and wine festival beer
Credit: Disney Parks

1999 

  • March 17 – Test Track opens in Future World. The park’s first thrill attraction, it takes Guests on exhilarating twists and turns in a test vehicle. 
  • Oct. 1 – TheMillennium Celebration begins at EPCOT. The 15-month event marks the debut of the popular nighttime spectacular, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, which would run for 20 years. Also new is Millennium Village – celebrating the cultural achievements of 25 countries – and the Tapestry of Nations parade. The celebration also brings pin trading to the forefront for Disney collectors everywhere. 

2000 

  • Oct. 1 – The Art of Disney shop opens in Future World, selling Disney artwork, prints, and other collectibles. 

2003  

  • Aug. 15 – Mission: SPACE opens in Future World. The attraction takes Guests on a simulated training spaceflight to Mars. 
mission-space
Credit: Disney Parks

2004   

  • Nov. 16 – Turtle Talk with Crush opens in The Living Seas. The first-of-its-kind attraction enables Crush from Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” to talk with Guests, as he learns about humans and shares his stories of life in the ocean. 

2005   

  • May 5 – Soarin’ Around the World opens in The Land pavilion, taking Guests on a breathtaking aerial adventure over iconic California locations. 

2006  

  • Oct. 1 – “The Year of a Million Dreams” begins. Across EPCOT and the other Walt Disney World theme parks, Dream Squads surprise thousands of Guests with an array of prizes, from special attraction access, and merchandise to Disney vacations. 
  • Nov. 26 – The Living Seas pavilion is transformed to become The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion. Its official dedication will take place Jan. 24, 2007. 
year of a million dreams
Credit: Disney Parks

2007 

  • April 6 – Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros opens inside the Mexico pavilion. A reimagining of the pavilion’s opening-day boat ride, El Río del Tiempo (River of Time), the updated attraction features Donald Duck, José Carioca, and Pistoles Panchito from Walt Disney’s 1942 film “Saludos Amigos.”
gran fiesta tour epcot
Credit: Becky Burkett
  • April 25 – The Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future exhibit opens at Spaceship Earth. The series of exhibits showcases advances in medicine, technology, and energy management. 
  • Oct. 1 – The 25th anniversary of EPCOT is marked by a rededication ceremony and a gallery showcasing memorabilia from the park’s history. 

2008  

  • Feb. 15 – After extensive renovations, Spaceship Earth reopens with an expanded storyline. A new narration follows the history of human innovation from prehistoric times to the 21st century. 
spaceship earth
Credit: Becky Burkett

2009  

  • Jan. 28 – Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure interactive attraction opens. Guests transform into secret agents as part of Team Possible to save the world via the Disney Play! App on mobile devices. The scavenger hunt-style experience interacted with seven World Showcase pavilions. 

2011 

  • April 4 – House of Good Fortune merchandise location opens in the China pavilion. The new shop sells authentic Chinese merchandise. 

2012 

  • June 23 – Phineas & Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure opens, replacing Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. The new quest takes Guests on an adventure with Agent P to solve clues and thwart Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s evil plots. 
  • Dec. 6 – Test Track – Presented by Chevrolet, re-opens. The reimagined attraction allows Guests to design their own vehicles before setting off on a thrilling test drive. 

2013 

  • May 30 – L’Artisan des Glaces Ice Cream shop opens in the France pavilion. The shop makes its own ice cream. 

2014 

  • Jan. 20 – Spice Road Table opens in the Morocco pavilion. Inspired by the outdoor cafés throughout the Mediterranean, the restaurant serves small plates, specialty wines and aperitifs from the region. 

2016 

  • June 17 – Soarin’ Around the World debuts in The Land pavilion. The reimagined attraction takes Guests on a flight high above many of the world’s natural and man-made wonders. 
  • June 21 – Frozen Ever After opens in the Norway pavilion, replacing Maelstrom. The attraction takes Guests on a boat ride through the kingdom of Arendelle. Along with the ride-through attraction, Royal Sommerhus opens, allowing Queen Elsa and Princess Anna to meet with Guests inside a charming cabin.
frozen ever after at epcot
Credit: Disney Parks Blog
  • New holiday experiences are found across the theme park as part of what’s now the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. 

2018 

  • Jan. 12 – The EPCOT International Festival of the Arts debuts, expanding the park’s festival offerings to all four seasons. 
FOTA food guide featured image
Credit: Disney

2019 

  • Aug. 25 – The historic multi-year transformation of EPCOT is announced at D23 Expo 2019. 
  • Oct. 1 – “EPCOT Forever” nighttime spectacular debuts at World Showcase Lagoon, replacing “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.” 
  • Oct. 1 – Walt Disney Imagineering presents the EPCOT Experience opens, offering a preview of attractions coming as part of the theme park’s multiyear transformation. 
  • July 5 – Takumi-Tei opens in the Japan pavilion. The signature dining table-service restaurant specializes in wagyu beef, sushi, and signature cocktails. 

2020 

  • Jan. 17 – Three new films debut around World Showcase. “Awesome Planet” debuts in the Harvest Theater inside The Land pavilion. The new film showcases the beauty and diversity of our planet. “Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along” premieres in Palais du Cinema inside the France pavilion. The new film offers a new twist on the classic Disney movie. “Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360” debuts at the Canada pavilion, updating the O Canada! Circle-Vision 360 film. 
  • Feb. 19 – Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts and Barbecue opens at The American Adventure pavilion. The fast-casual restaurant serves classic American backyard barbecue and home-style craft brews. 
  • Dec. 22 – A transformation of the main entrance is completed with the unveiling of a new fountain, inspired by one that originally debuted with the theme park’s 1982 opening. 

2021 

  • Sept. 15 – Creations Shop opens in World Celebration. The new flagship store features unique merchandise dedicated to EPCOT, as well as other Walt Disney World collectibles.
creations shop entry
Credit: Disney
  • Sept. 20 – Space 220 opens in the Mission: SPACE pavilion. The new restaurant gives Guests the chance to enjoy a meal among the stars, after a simulated flight 220 miles above the Earth’s surface. 
  • Oct. 1 – Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration begins with new experiences across all four theme parks. In honor of the celebration, Spaceship Earth transforms into a spectacular Beacon of Magic at night, illuminating the skies with brilliant colors. As part of the park transformation, three new neighborhoods – World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature – join World Showcase as the geographic areas that make up EPCOT. 
  • Oct. 1 – The expanded France pavilion opens with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a new ride-through 4D experience inspired by Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille.” A new restaurant, La Crêperie de Paris, offers Guests a delicious taste of French cuisine.
  • Oct. 1 – “Harmonious,” a new nighttime spectacular, debuts with the 50th Anniversary celebration. The show celebrates the way Disney music inspires people across the world and features a culturally diverse soundtrack coordinated with spectacular visuals and fireworks.
remy's ratatouille adventure
Credit: Disney Parks

2022 

  • April 27 – Connections Café and Eatery opens in World Celebration, offering Guests a new selection of internationally-inspired cuisine. 
  • May 27 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens in the Wonders of Xandar pavilion. The family thrill coaster features myriad firsts, including the first-ever reverse launch on a Disney coaster and ride vehicles that rotate 360 degrees. It’s also one of the world’s largest fully enclosed coasters. 
  • Oct. 1 – Walt Disney World Resort celebrates the 40th anniversary of EPCOT, as the park continues its multi-year transformation.

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