For any Disney fan, there are two dates that are ingrained above all else in their minds: July 17th and October 1st. The latter is a doubly special date as it was both the opening date of the Magic Kingdom along with all of the Walt Disney World Resort in 1971 and E.P.C.O.T. Center in 1982. I was not present at either of these special occasions, but I remember Epcot’s opening as one of the biggest things to a small child growing up in Lancaster, California on the opposite side of the U.S. Luckily, 35 year later, I was able to be at Epcot for a special celebration that not even a downpour could keep hundreds of fans from saying “I Was There!”
With lots of commemorative merchandise and food options, guests had plenty of ways to help celebrate!
As guests gathered around the Fountain of Nations stage for the special celebration moment the rain moved in, we all stayed and knew that just as with every special moment in the parks Walt and now Marty wouldn’t let the rain ruin it!
Once the sun broke through, it was time for a very special celebration with performances from opening day Epcot entertainers Mariachi Cobre and Voices of Liberty along with special words from Melissa Valiquette (vice president, Epcot) and George A. Kalogridis (president, Walt Disney World Resort).
As many park guests just went about their day, a few hundred diehard Disney Fans — all members of D23 — headed to World Showplace for a few hours of great fun to celebrate the day with the D23 Fanniversary.
Michael Vargo, Vice President of D23, opened the day with some special words before turning over the stage to Daniel Joseph (principal special effects illusioneer at Walt Disney Imagineering) and Michael Crawford (author and Disney historian) to look at some of the EPCOT Center Attractions of Yesteryear.
The tour through the past of EPCOT Center included a look at an opening day attraction that lasted just a few months in the Astuter Computer Revue and a crowd favorite Cranium Command. As we found out, that was one of the first projects Pixar’s Pete Docter worked on that may or may not have had some influence on a movie he wrote a few years later called Inside Out.
As the day went on, we were given a great lunch (in a tote to keep) as we were presented with EPCOT35 – Things You Didn’t Know with Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Director Jason Grandt, Show Writer Diana Brost, and Disney Legend Tony Baxter.
A few of the “Things We Didn’t Know” included a special tongue in cheek look at the “first thing built” at Epcot, a tip from Jason Grandt that “if you ever do anything with trolls you must give them wicked eyebrows,” and what the EPCOT logo represents.
The Walt Disney World Resort Ambassadors Brandon Peters and Ken Facey took the stage to share what Epcot has meant to them before introducing the “Epcot Dreamers and Doers” panel: Jim MacPhee, senior vice president, Walt Disney World Parks; Rick Allen, general manager, Future World; Disney Legend Bill Sullivan; Imagineers Alex Wright, Wyatt Winter, Zach Riddley, and Jason Grandt; and former Imagineer Patrick Brennan.
The “Epcot Dreamers and Doers” panel talk about the history of EPCOT, and showed off their personal history, from its very early days all the way up to current day.
My favorite story of this panel and probably the entire day was Jason Grandt telling about how when he took over working on Epcot for Patrick Brennan and the advice Patrick gave him “don’t mess up my park!” This panel was one of the highlights of the day not only for the stories but also for the rare photos like this one of the construction workers’ day in the park before opening so they could show off their hard work to their family and see how special of a project it is they were working on.
To wrap of the day, we had the Epcot Entertainment Thought The Years panel lead by Melissa Valiquette, Epcot vice president; Randy Carrillo, leader, Mariachi Cobre; Christopher Stewart, general manager, Epcot Entertainment; and Show Directors Marsha Jackson-Randolph and Forrest Bahruth.
Throughout this panel, we heard stories of Epcot entertainment of the past including the origins of Mariachi Cobre dating all the way back to before Walt Disney World or Epcot was even opened when panel member Randy Carrillo performed at Disneyland.
Guests were also treated to look at some of the highlights of Epcot entertainment including the often forgotten Barbie Birthday Party show at Epcot ’94.
The afternoon’s events were wrapped up with a special farewell moment dedicated to Disney Legend Marty Sklar as a group sang their way through some classic EPCOT Center turns before being joined on stage by the Fab 5 for the big finale.
D23 Guests were then free to shop at the special Epcot 35 pop-up shop or head out and enjoy the rest of the day in the park.
As night fell on Epcot guests “gathered here tonight, around the fire — as people of all lands have gathered for thousands and thousands of years before us — to share the light, and to share a story.” IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth on this special night included a one time only celebration finale as part of Epcot 35.
And with the final shell of pyro, so started the long walk out of one of the best days I have ever spent at Epcot. From the opening celebration to hearing classic EPCOT Center music while leaving and everything in-between, it was just perfect! Remember, if you want to know about what is going on in the parks, follow the Disney Parks Blog and for some of the best events for any Disney Fan join D23 The Official Disney Fan Club!
Our main correspondent for Walt Disney World and the Orlando area and a heck of a paleontologist if he does say so himself.