Guests visiting Disney‘s (NYSE:DIS) Epcot in Florida over the past two years might have felt like trading in their mouse ears for hard hats. Major chunks of the park’s core in the front half of the park have been walled off as Disney World’s second-oldest gated attraction undergoes the mother of all makeovers.
It’s just as well. Epcot needs the attention. The job is far from over, and it will put a damper on the resort as Disney World celebrates turning 50 in two weeks. Guests have to navigate around unsightly construction walls to get to the open spaces and available experiences. It will be worth it, and ideally by the time the 18-month celebration of Disney World turning 50 is over, Epcot will be back as the resort’s second most-visited park.
Listen to the land
Epcot was a fixture as the silver medalist in attendance among the resort’s four theme parks until just a couple of years ago. It was a distant third for 2019 in turnstile clicks (the last full year of operations before the early 2020 pandemic shutdown), according to industry and attendance tracker TEA/AECOM. It was the only one of the four Disney World parks that didn’t experience an uptick in guest counts that year.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, we’d probably already see it in fourth place. Disney’s Hollywood Studios — the park that Epcot edged out to grab the bronze in 2019 — fleshed out its offerings that year with Disney’s first Mickey Mouse-themed ride and then a bar-raising Star Wars thrill ride. Epcot is likely in fourth place right now, but Disney is doing a lot to make sure that it doesn’t stay that way.
No Disney World gated attraction is getting as much attention this month as Epcot. On Wednesday, it reopened Club Cool — a popular watering hole where guests get to sample exotic Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) beverage offerings from around the world — after a two-year hiatus. It also opened up its new Creations flagship gift shop. Next week, Epcot opens Space 220, a high-tech restaurant set in a space station with sky-high menu prices to match.
Earlier this month, it began offering select guests previews of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a ride that will officially open along with the resort turning 50 on Oct. 1. The ride in the France section of the World Showcase is a whimsical family-friendly jaunt through the French restaurant from the animated movie Ratatouille. The original version of the ride opened seven years ago in Disneyland Paris, so it’s not exactly breaking new ground. But it adds a welcome diversion to a section of the park that lacks rides. A crepe restaurant is also opening near the ride entrance.
As construction walls continue to come down in the coming months, Epcot will start to regain its appeal. It is still popular for its seasonal food, wine, music, and art festivals throughout the year, but now that rival parks are ripping that page from the Disney playbook, it will need more to stand out.
Updated experiences that are under construction will help, but none more than the park’s first roller coaster, which is going up near Epcot’s entrance. The Guardians of the Galaxy-themed thrill ride (the first “story” coaster, as Disney describes it) will be the exclamation point to the makeover. It should open at some point within the long wingspan of the 18-month birthday party.
Disney is the mother of all entertainment stocks, and part of the art of the House of Mouse is that it also watches over the world’s most-visited theme parks. Its gated attractions surprised the market by returning to profitability sooner than expected in its latest quarter. Now it’s time to see if it can turn its most-neglected time capsule of a park into a thriving destination of the future. Don’t bet against Disney succeeding.
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