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Haven’t been to Disney’s Epcot in a while? It looks totally different

The Orlando theme park finally unveiled sweeping changes to its entrance and a stirring musical fireworks show to finish a multiyear transformation.
 
A new nighttime show debuted Tuesday at Epcot called “Luminous The Symphony of Us,” with fireworks, dancing fountains, lasers and lights, along with two original songs plus new arrangements of iconic Disney hits.
A new nighttime show debuted Tuesday at Epcot called “Luminous The Symphony of Us,” with fireworks, dancing fountains, lasers and lights, along with two original songs plus new arrangements of iconic Disney hits. [ MATT STROSHANE | Matt Stroshane, Photographer ]
Published Dec. 8, 2023|Updated Dec. 13, 2023

LAKE BUENA VISTA — If you haven’t been to Epcot in a while, Walt Disney World’s second-oldest theme park has had some work done. A park known for its focus on modern ingenuity and a world’s fair-type showcase announced in 2018 that it would be spicing up the mix.

Boy has it ever.

After a number of kid-friendly additions over the last few years, big construction walls that have been up for four years came down on Tuesday to reveal the park’s biggest transformation since it opened 40 years ago. There’s more shady seating, dramatic lighting at night and a new nighttime fireworks show with dancing fountains and a sweeping musical score.

Epcot opened in 1982 with the space-themed Future World and an international parade of nations surrounding the World Showcase Lagoon. Some snarks called the park “homework as a ride.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 5 (which is also Walt Disney's birthday), Epcot unveiled its new World Celebration Gardens, which includes Dreamers Point, where they can sit beside a new statue titled "Walt the Dreamer." It represents Disney later in his life when he was imagining ideas for the Florida Project and what ultimately became Epcot.
On Tuesday, Dec. 5 (which is also Walt Disney's birthday), Epcot unveiled its new World Celebration Gardens, which includes Dreamers Point, where they can sit beside a new statue titled "Walt the Dreamer." It represents Disney later in his life when he was imagining ideas for the Florida Project and what ultimately became Epcot. [ KENT PHILLIPS | Walt Disney World ]

Since its transformation announcement in 2018, the park has been slowly working more characters into its lineup, with attractions based on popular movies such as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the animated “Ratatouilleand “Moana.” And its iconic Spaceship Earth dome now puts on a light show at night.

Some purists sniff that it isn’t in keeping with Walt’s original plan for a world’s fair and futuristic theme, but defenders quote his famous line: “Epcot will always be in a state of becoming.”

The old Future World has been subdivided and rebranded into three new “neighborhoods,” bringing the total number of lands at Epcot to four: World Showcase, World Discovery, World Celebration and World Nature.

Construction walls in the middle of the park entrance, which have been up since late 2019, were taken away Tuesday for a first look at the greenery and shade added near the front entrance for the new World Celebration Gardens section.

Visitors can once again walk through the center of Epcot, though the park is not completely wall-free yet. The new CommuniCore Plaza, which will feature a garden and a covered performance stage, is still under construction.

But the redesign makes it feel like there is more elbow room, and they’ve opened the line of sight from The Land all the way to Mission: Space. The expanded seating areas are close to the new Connections Cafe, and are equipped with 110v and USB charging points to keep those smartphones juiced.

Guests arrive for the Epcot 2023 International Festival of the Holidays and are treated to a light show on the Spaceship Earth dome that was installed in recent years.
Guests arrive for the Epcot 2023 International Festival of the Holidays and are treated to a light show on the Spaceship Earth dome that was installed in recent years. [ JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]
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The park also unveiled a new statue of Walt Disney himself posed on a bench. There was a long line of fans waiting an hour or more all day on Tuesday to get a selfie with the “Walt the Dreamer” statue.

The dramatic new fireworks show called Luminous The Symphony of Us debuted Tuesday night, with a sentimental soundtrack of favorite Disney tunes such as “You’ll Be in My Heart” and “When She Loved Me” for a show of fireworks, fountains and lasers.

Spaceship Earth had new lights installed in recent years in between each of the panels on the outside of the structure that can create theatrical effects at night. And now, with the new gardens opened up, the area around the dome is punctuated with dramatic light-up features at night that change and dance in sequence to Spaceship Earth’s new nighttime light show “Beacons of Magic.”

Epcot visitors check out the new fountain near the entrance of Epcot and its iconic Spaceship Earth. Since late 2019, the park has been cordoned off by construction walls after it underwent a huge transformation.
Epcot visitors check out the new fountain near the entrance of Epcot and its iconic Spaceship Earth. Since late 2019, the park has been cordoned off by construction walls after it underwent a huge transformation. [ DEWAYNE BEVIL | Orlando Sentinel ]

The Dreamers Point addition with the statue of Walt eagerly looking forward represents the man later in life, the company said, when he was thinking up the Florida Project, including what became Epcot.

“He sits with a sense of fulfillment, enjoying the beauty of his realized dream: a park that represents pure optimism and truly celebrates the magic of possibility,” a post on the official Disney Parks Blog said.

Scott Mallwitz, executive creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, noted that Walt Disney’s famous quote about Epcot meant that it will never be completed, as it will always “be in a state of becoming.”

Even though its current incarnation wasn’t quite the park that Walt originally imagined, he was right, Mallwitz said.

“We know that guests will continue to change, our behavior will continue to change, the way we interact with our parks, but also our personal devices will continue to change,” Mallwitz said. “Our goal is to set the groundwork for continued evolution.”