Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Looking Back: Epcot Center, Welcome to the 21st Century (Oct. 2, 1982)

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"Good Morning Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls. All of us at Epcot Center are glad to have you as our guests today. We welcome you and hope your find your day with us to be a most enjoyable one.

Walt Disney was a dreamer and a doer. A man who cared about the world and its problems. He believed that people could develop solutions to problems if equipped with information, technology and opportunity. Epcot Center has been created to showcase prototype concepts and technologies that may someday serve people everywhere. This is the essence of Epcot Center. A collective endeavor by people, for people, in the hope for a better world.

From all of us of the Disney family we hope you enjoy your stay in Epcot Center. And now we ask, for your safety and those around you, that you walk slowly and carefully to your first destination. Have a great day and welcome to the 21st Century."

- Epcot Center opening announcement.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Dancers perform at Epcot Center's opening ceremony.

I've always loved Disney's 70's version of the 21st Century. Everything was silver and shiny. It was like living in the world of "Logan's Run" without the age limit. I was nine or ten when I first started hearing about Epcot. It sounded like "Star Wars" in park form to me. Then my parents took me a few months after it opened.

I was disappointed. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. The rides were educational!!!!!!! Every ride seemed to tell the same story. First the Greeks did something, then the Romans improved it, then Galileo improved it till we reach the 1920's and flappers took the world by storm. Then we found out what life would be like in the future.

I was told you needed the new three-day ticket because it would take three days to see everything at Epcot. Unfortunately you only needed half-a-day to ride the rides and another two-and-a-half to shop for French knick-knacks. The highlight of my day was using a video phone to make dinner reservations and building a roller-coaster on a computer with a lisping beaver.

It took me a few years to realize how great a park Epcot was. Those educational rides I found so boring at 11-years-old became the thing I missed most about the park in the 90's. These weren't just cardboard cutouts of the latest Disney cartoon hit with black lights shining on them. They were original concepts developed by the brilliant Imagineers like George McGinnis, X Atencio, Frank Armitage, Tony Baxter, Roger E. Broggie, Claude Coats, Rolly Crump, John Decuir, Jr., Blaine Gibson, Yale Gracey, Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, John Hench, Alan Horais, Fred Joerger, Bill Novey, Herbert Ryman, the Sherman Brothers, Ward Kimball and Stanley "Mickey" Steinberg. These are the Imagineers who truly brought Walt's dream to reality.

Epcot will celebrate its 35th anniversary on October 1st, 2017.

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on Oct. 2, 1982. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with previously unreleased photos taken by Times staff photographer Fred Victorin.

EPCOT IS HERE

By Helen Huntley

Times Staff Writer

WALT DISNEY WORLD – With a flourish of brass and an assortment of first-day glitches, Walt Disney Productions formally opened its $1-billion Epcot Center on Friday morning.

More than 20,000 people poured through the gates for a firsthand look at the spectacular new tourist attraction just outside Orlando, surprising even the most optimistic Disney officials by their numbers.

However, none of those who joined the first-day crowd could beat Dick and Paula Cason and their four teenage children, who got up at 4:30 a.m. and arrived at Epcot three hours before opening in order to be first in line.

"We told the boys to jump out of the car and run for the gates," said Cason, who lives in nearby Winter Park. He said the family bought Epcot tickets in August.

Their reward for being first was a VIP welcome from Disney Chairman Card Walker, a lifetime admission pass for the family and an assortment of small gifts from the countries represented in Epcot's World Showcase section.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Epcot's "First Family" received lifetime passes to the park.

Cason said he was thrilled about it all, although the children were a bit worried they would be caught playing hooky from school.

As for Walker, he said Epcot's opening marked the most exciting day in his 45-year career with Disney. The new attraction took three years and 25-million work hours to build – a tribute, he said, to American productivity and technology.

Florida Gov. Bob Graham also was enthusiastic, saying the new Disney enterprise fits right in in a "state which has always lived between magic and reality."

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Governor Bob Graham (second on left) watches the activities.

Not everybody was happy with the opening hoopla, however. Most of the crowd was kept outside the gates until the ceremonies were over, and some of those who didn't like waiting the extra 40 minutes responded with chants and boos.

They all got in when the pageantry ended with the release of thousands of balloons and hundreds of doves and pigeons which flew off over the monorail track.

Walker said the size of the crowd surprised Disney officials, who had planned an October opening specifically because this is the state's slow season for tourists.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

TIMES | Fred Victorin

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Crowds stream under Spaceship Earth after the opening.

Disney officials declined to say exactly how many people trooped through Epcot's gates, saying they don't like what financial analysts do with that sort of information. They did say that as of 5 p.m., 35,562 people had been to either Epcot or the Magic Kingdom, and that Magic Kingdom attendance was off only slightly.

"The reaction has been outstanding," Disney Chairman Walker said. He attributed the attendance to a good marketing campaign, a lot of press attention and a tremendous curiosity among people in the Orlando area.

"It looked like a lot of kids stayed home from school," he said.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

With the Monorail overhead crowds make their way to The Land.

Walker said he expects Disney will exceed its original estimates of 8-million new admissions the first year Epcot is open. The Magic Kingdom had 13-million visitors last year and is the world's largest tourist attraction.

The treats waiting inside Epcot's gates were worth the wait, most visitors seemed to say as they hiked from one pavilion to the next, clutching their maps.

"I think it's going to be much nicer that the Magic Kingdom," said Jim Stathis of Belleville, Ill. A Disney fan (he's spent eight vacations at the Magic Kingdom), he said he'd promised his 15-year-old daughter Natalie that he would take her back for Epcot's opening day.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

TIMES | Fred Victorin

His verdict after seeing just a few of the sights was "very well done."

The first impression Epcot gives is one of physical beauty, with its striking architecture, futuristic-looking fountains and well-tended gardens. Boats glide across the 40-acre lagoon, sparkling in the sun. By night, the lagoon's periphery turns into a fairyland of lights.

Nearly everything that was supposed to be ready for opening day made the deadline, but a few of the pavilions were incomplete. The ride-through attraction "Journey into Imagination" won't be ready for about another month. Still coming in the "Communicore" pavilion are a video game arcade and an "electronic forum," where visitors will be able to register their views on different issues. Other attractions also are planned.

What was open, however, provided visitors with more than they could see in one day. One doesn't simply breeze through the big pavilions in the Future World section. "The Universe of Energy," for example, is a 45-minute tour, not counting waiting time to get in.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Journey Into Imagination included a 3D movie with music by the Sherman Brothers.

The energy pavilion, like all of those in Epcot's Future World section, provides entertainment with an educational twist. It's a mixture of films and slides and a ride through a primeval forest featuring huge dinosaurs and a volcano. Those who find their interest piqued can visit the nearby "Energy Exchange" exhibit, which includes a model of an offshore oil rig, solar-powered appliances and light bulbs powered by hand cranks.

Other pavilions in Future World deal with communications, computers, energy, transportation, agriculture and creativity. Most of them have films and ride-through exhibits. The agriculture exhibit, "The Land" has a "kitchen cabaret" with singing fruits, vegetables and dairy products crooning the praises of good nutrition.

Future World's six pavilions are sponsored by Exxon, General Motors, the Bell System, Kraft, Kodak, Coca-Cola, American Express, and Sperry.

The other major section of Epcot – World Showcase – consists of pavilions representing nine countries. It's heavy on restaurants and gift shops, but there are some theater-style and ride attractions and a lot of live entertainment.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

The leap-frog fountains became a favorite of children wanting to cool off.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Water fountains welcome you to France.

One of Epcot's best features is its use of films, which were shot on location all over the world. Many of them are spectacular, such as those in the Chinese and French pavilions. The imagination pavilion has a delightful 3-D film that had the audiences laughing and trying to grab objects that appeared to be jumping out at them off the screen.

Lines were the biggest problem on opening day, and they weren't helped any by technical difficulties that shut down many of the ride-through attractions periodically during the day. Walker attributed the problems to "gremlins" and "gnomes."

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Musicians inspired by Mary Poppins entertain in England.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

"Frankly it would have been nice if we'd had another week to shake down and run those things around the clock," he said. He said it probably will take a month to have all the rides running smoothly.

Walker and other officials also acknowledged there were problems with food service Friday. Reservations were a must at any of the nicer restaurants, and even the fast-food restaurants had long lines – leaving some visitors complaining about hunger pains.

Epcot's odd-sounding name generated some comments Friday, but Disney officials were quick to defend it.

"Everybody's picked on us and said, 'Will you please get rid of it?'" Walker complained. The answer, he said, is "no." The name is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow – a name thought up by the late Walt Disney.

Disney's vision of Epcot was a city where people would live and work. Nobody lives at Epcot Center, but the name will remain.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

These double-decker buses didn't last long. If you don't want to walk these days you'll have to take a boat.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

In Mexico, El Rio del Tiempo, with music by X Atencio, was a favorite way to escape the heat.

Epcot is currently open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, with a variety of multiday passes available.

This is the third of a three-part series about the origins of Walt Disney's Epcot Center.

Read Part 1 of Walt's Epcot dream.

Read Part 2 of Walt's Epcot dream.

To order reprints, license or download any Times image from this gallery, or to see other Epcot photos, please visit the Times image archive.

Jeremy King

Twitter: @TBTimesArchive

e-mail: jking@tampabay.com

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