A Photo Essay at
Yester World

Yesterland.com
Walt Disney World Then and Now
World Showcase at Epcot, Part 1

Epcot Center was just a few months old when a friend and I visited the new park with our cameras in January 1983. I returned to the same spots at Epcot this year to see how things have changed.

This is the first part of a three-part series about World Showcase. We’ll go around World Showcase Lagoon, starting at Mexico. There are links to similar comparisons at the Magic Kingdom and Future World at the end of this article.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, July 22, 2011


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Mexico across World Showcase Lagoon (1983 photo)

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Mexico across World Showcase Lagoon (2011 photo)

The pavilion representing Mexico has a Mesoamerican pyramid as its focal point and entrance. Unfortunately, the “big box” behind it—housing the indoor shops, restaurant, and ride—detracted from the carefully designed pyramid, despite the Mesoamerican ornamentation on the warehouse-like building. While pyramids were part of the Mayan and Aztec cultures, “big box” buildings were not.

Take a look at an original “Friendship” launch in the 1983 photo.

Also, compare the original waterfront Cantina de San Angel quick service restaurant with it replacements, the new La Cantina de San Angel and the new full-service La Hacienda de San Angel, which opened in 2010.

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Mexico exterior (1983 photo)

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Mexico exterior (2011 photo)

As trees grow larger in Disney parks, they can hurt the scale of the themed architecture. Here, they help. The large trees on either side of the pyramid have improved the pavilion by obscuring the “big box” and allowing the pyramid to stand out.

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Mexico exterior (1983 photo)

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Mexico exterior (2011 photo)

In the pair of photos above, 1983 photo includes a World Showcase Transportation bus.

Compare the surfaces of the pyramids in the two photos above. In the 1983 photo, the surfaces are aged (even though Epcot Center was only a few months old), suggesting an ancient pyramid. In the 2011, the surfaces are more uniform—probably not what the original Imagineers intended.

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Mexico interior (1983 photo)

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Mexico interior (2011 photo)

It’s always nightime inside the Mexico pavilion. The big difference that’s readily visible in the two photos above is that lights are now strung across the nightime sky.

A less noticable change is the sign for the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros boat ride, which replaced the original El Rio Del Tiempo boat ride in 2007. Reusing many parts of the old ride, the new ride adds animated characters from the 1944 animated feature The Three Caballeros—Mexican rooster Panchito Pistoles, Brazilian parrot José Carioca, and American duck Donald Duck.

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China (1983 photo)

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China (2011 photo)

Although the paint colors on the ceremonial arch in the two photos above look quite different, that’s probably due to different lighting and the use of a film camera in 1983 and a digital camera in 2011. It’s likely that the paint colors really haven’t changed much. To get the 2011 photo, I had to back up into a merchandise location which wasn’t there in 1983.

The round temple in the center is modeled after the Temple of Heaven (15th century) in Beijing.

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Germany (1983 photo)

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Germany (2011 photo)

The pair of photos above and the final two pairs are from Germany at World Showcase.

When Epcot Center opened in 1982, there was no country simply called Germany. There was West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany) and the Communist country of East Germany (German Democratic Republic). Wisely, Epcot Center ignored the political division. On October 3, 1990, two days after the ninth anniversary of Epcot Center, Germany was officially reunified after a peaceful revolution the prior year.

Comparing the two photos above, not much has changed—except that a somewhat creepy, very tall walk-around doll dressed in a traditional German tracht is posing for a photo with a man. When Epcot Center opened, there were no Disney characters. The company knew that guests enjoy walk-around characters. The solution was to reuse characters from America on Parade, but to dress them in national costumes of World Showcase countries.

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St. Georgsplatz in Germany (1983 photo)

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St. Georgsplatz in Germany (2011 photo)

Looking across St. Georgsplatz, the Platz or plaza (actually place) with a statue of Saint George and the Dragon, not much has changed. The Porzellanhaus (Porcelain House) on the left is now Die Weinachts Ecke (The Christmas Corner). Süssigkeiten (Sweets and Cookies) is now the Stein Haus (selling beer steins). The Weinkeller (Wine Cellar), amazingly, is still the Weinkeller.

Now compare the third floor of the fachwerk building in the center, specifically the odd-looking, half-round canopy above the third-floor window. What’s that about? You’ll have to learn the answer from Kim Possible.

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Toiletten in Germany (1983 photo)

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Restrooms in Germany (2011 photo)

The original signs were more fun, but the current signs are completely unambiguous. Could someone really have misinterpreted the old signs—perhaps reading them as “da men” and “her ren” (what’s a ren; I don’t know, but it belongs to her)?

 

 
Do you want to see more? Yesterland has five other articles comparing Walt Disney World in 1983 and 2011. If you missed them, or you’d like to take another look, here they are:

 

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World Showcase Then/Now, 2
Future World Then/Now, 2
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© 2011 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated August 26, 2011.

Photographs of World Showcase at EPCOT Center in 1983: Werner Weiss and Dennis Derr, January 1983.
Photographs of World Showcase at Epcot in 2011: Werner Weiss, February 2011.