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Spaceship Earth Refurbishment & Updates

As part of EPCOT’s reimagining, Walt Disney World planned a multi-year Spaceship Earth refurbishment and overhaul. Unfortunately, that project was delayed indefinitely due to the parks’ closure, and the iconic ride is currently open. However, enhancements are still planned and occurring, as we’ll discuss here. (Updated February 21, 2021.)

In this post, we’ll cover what we know about the reimagining Spaceship Earth, the planned new scene, why the project is delayed, and what actually is happening to and around the geodesic sphere in EPCOT’s main entrance plaza. We’ll also discuss what this news likely means if you have a trip planned for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and beyond.

Let’s start with the reimagining delay. Suffice to say, a lot has changed since this time last year. This reimagining project was announced last year on February 25, with Spaceship Earth slated to close on May 26. That ended up being true…but only because all of Walt Disney World closed less than a month after the announcement and remained closed until mid-July. When EPCOT reopened, Spaceship Earth returned with it…

During the closure, all construction projects halted in the parks and the Walt Disney Company announced a $900 million decrease in capital expenditures spending during the current fiscal year. This was mostly due to postponed construction and refurbishment projects that will still happen down the road–but it also includes budget cuts and other scale-backs in spending resulting from the financial hits of closing Walt Disney World.

When EPCOT reopened after its four month closure, Walt Disney World had quietly removed concept art and scenes from the Epcot Experience overview video. Most notably, this included the segments on Spaceship Earth and Cherry Tree Lane in the United Kingdom. (The below scene is now gone.)

Following that, Walt Disney World released this statement: “As with most businesses during this period, we are further evaluating long-term project plans. The decision was made to postpone development of the Mary Poppins-inspired attraction and Spaceship Earth at this time.”

Suffice to say, it’s going to be a long road to recovery, and Walt Disney World will almost certainly continue cutting costs along the way–in addition to the $900 million already cut or deferred. In the near term, the Spaceship Earth reimagining is “easy” to cancel because work has yet to begin, the existing attraction remains operational, and the replacement will not be a marketable addition that will cause a huge number of first-time guests to book trips to Walt Disney World.

It’s worth nothing that there are some overdue issues with Spaceship Earth that will need to be addressed at some point in the not-too-distant future irrespective of the reimagining. The ride needs track work, among other things, and a lengthy refurbishment will be necessary within the next few years. Perhaps after Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary ends in 2023?

The good news is that some enhancements are still occurring to Spaceship Earth, they’re just happening outside the iconic geodesic sphere. Let’s take a look…

First, EPCOT’s main entrance plaza reimagining has been completed and the construction walls are down, revealing the iconic prismatic pylon fountain in front of Spaceship Earth!

Three acrylic pylons standing over 16 feet tall and featuring the park’s logo surround the fountain and hearken back to the creation of EPCOT Center.

This completes the first phase of EPCOT’s massive overhaul, as the construction walls that have lined the front of the park for over a year are now down. The new entrance plaza looks nice. The greenery and use of water work well together, and purportedly “celebrate a harmony between humanity and the natural world.”

Even more is on the horizon for the 50th Anniversary, as Walt Disney World has announced new lights that will shine across the reflective panels of Spaceship Earth, connecting to one another and resembling stars in a nighttime sky. This permanent new lighting will continue beyond “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” as a defining feature of the park. Here’s concept art released by Disney, followed by a longer statement from Imagineering:

“The dazzling, permanent new programmable lighting system will debut as part of Walt Disney World’s 50th Celebration and will continue to live on as a defining feature of EPCOT.

EPCOT is a park about the best of us – what is possible when we embrace the power of imagination and humanity’s ability to make impossible things reality when we work together. We are all connected. That is the theme and the expression at the heart of our work across EPCOT and at the heart of this stellar new visual experience coming soon to Spaceship Earth. 

Spaceship Earth is a unique structure recognized around the world. To honor this idea, our Imagineers have created custom lighting features that literally emerge from her unique architecture. These features will shine across Spaceship Earth’s silver panels and “connect” with one another, resembling shimmering stars in a nighttime sky. 

Spaceship Earth has maintained her classic multi-color lighting design for nearly 40 years – a legacy the team working on this project are keen to preserve. Her classic look will be maintained and accentuated through new colors and intensity in programmed expressions that extend into the new main entrance fountain and the entire World Celebration area that continues to take shape before our eyes.”

Finally, some info about the now-delayed reimagining of Spaceship Earth. (In other words, the below details and concept art are subject to change if/when the refurbishment actually starts.) As previously shared at the most recent D23 Expo, the next iteration of Spaceship Earth will focus on the story of humanity, following our long journey from prehistoric humans to today brought to life.

Many of the existing scenes in Spaceship Earth will remain in the attraction, but updated with new technology and blended together with brand-new scenes to tell a story about our shared human experience. Throughout the reimagined Spaceship Earth, you’ll hear new narration and see how light plays a central role in the human journey. The attraction will come to life in dynamic ways in a celebration of what’s possible when we all come together.

The only substantive detail of what you can expect when this Spaceship Earth returns is the aforementioned “story light” plus one known scene. 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.” (As shown in the new concept art above.)

Per Walt Disney Imagineering, this will be the Spaceship Earth’s fourth “and most ambitious” update since EPCOT Center’s grand opening on October 1, 1982. Of course, that could very well be marketing puffery. It’s not as if Disney is going to tout this as “eh, maybe the third-most ambitious update ever, give or take.”

For my part, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Spaceship Earth reimagining. The major rumored changes are occurring later in the attraction to scenes that I don’t think are particularly strong at present. From my perspective, there’s little chance that the future 180top and scenes thereafter can be a downgrade from the current incarnation of Spaceship Earth. Ditto the new narration.

Moreover, Imagineering has made some tremendous strides with technology since the last Spaceship Earth overhaul, and several of those could be implemented to nice effect. I’d imagined plenty of projection mapping will be used, but if we get some of that Mystic Manor-esque ‘magic light dust’ that’d be icing on the cake.

Suffice to say, this is one scenario where rumored details about the overhaul of Spaceship Earth corroborate Imagineering’s statement of ambitiousness. With that said, what follows here is rumor–but thus far all of the past rumors about the scope and specifics of Spaceship Earth’s overhaul have been corroborated, so we give these a reasonable degree of credibility.

The first element of the rumor is that all scenes will be refreshed prior to the Industrial Revolution, with more significant changes for the scenes following that. It’s anticipated that the 180top will be drastically reimagined utilizing the latest in projection mapping tech. During the ~2-year closure there’s also likely to be track replacement, new load and unload stations, and a new post show. There’s definitely going to be a new exit area.

Second, this refurbishment is expected to last approximately 2 years. We’ve tried to nail this down more specifically, and all we’ve heard is that it could last anywhere between 18 and 30 months. That’s obviously a pretty significant swing, but there is one way to explain the vast disparity.

That explanation is the central spine work behind and around Spaceship Earth. This is pure speculation on our part (and not credible rumor), but it would make sense to keep Spaceship Earth closed for as long as the core of the park behind the icon is being worked on.

As of February 2021, there are still temporary corridors that bypass the center of the park and take guests directly into Future World East & West. The one exception to this is the area around the exit of Spaceship Earth, which dead ends behind the exit of the attraction.

The central spine of the park behind Spaceship Earth has been razed, and likely won’t be finished until 2023. However, work is progressing nicely on the MouseGear reimagining and replacement for Electric Umbrella. It’s entirely possible that both of those projects are finished by late 2021, potentially allowing for one path to open. That’s hard to envision right now given the core is literally nothing but dirt right now, so 2022 seems more likely for that.

On a tangential note, we’re left wondering whether the Spaceship Earth reimagining project might begin around the time other new additions. Both Harmonious and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure are anticipated to debut in Summer 2021. It’s entirely possible that, rather than waiting until Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is over for the project, Imagineering could start it this summer.

However, we think that’s pretty unlikely unless structural or track work is urgently needed, necessitating a more immediate downtime. If not, it’s likely that Imagineering will delay the project until the end of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and the start of Epcot’s 40th Anniversary.  While we don’t expect a huge celebration for Epcot’s 40th, an extension of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary doesn’t seem unrealistic. These mega-events have lasted 18-24 months in the past, and having large portions of the EPCOT reimagining finished by October 2022 would make it easier for Imagineering to take Spaceship Earth down for repairs and updates around that time. It’s unlikely that Walt Disney World will release an official timeline for this reimagining project until the scope of work congeals, but we’ll keep you posted as more becomes known!

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Your Thoughts

What do you think about this Spaceship Earth closure and reimagining? Thoughts on when the project will occur–if at all–now that it’s been delayed indefinitely? Excited for the exterior enhancements? Could you handle Spaceship Earth being closed for 2 years? Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts here? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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