I honestly didn't know what to write for today, but I knew that I had to write something. It is the 46th anniversary of Walt Disney World, after all. It is also the 35th anniversary of EPCOT Center. I would love to be there today, but living in Upstate New York, and having saved all of our money for our upcoming trip in February, that's just not possible. But I was there for Epcot's 25th anniversary, so I can talk about that.
I was a cast member at the time, living just outside of the Lake Buena Vista district. Earlier in the year, nobody was sure if there would even be an anniversary celebration. As late as August, we had heard nothing about it. Not even acknowledgement from the company that the date was approaching and important.
Disney hadn't had a major anniversary celebration for one of their parks since Walt Disney World's 25th anniversary in 1996. The Florida property's 30th was overshadowed by 100 Years of Magic, a celebration of what would have been Walt Disney's one-hundredth birthday (which oddly lasted from October 1, 2001 — two months before his actual birthday of December 5th — through December 31, 2002 — almost a month past his 101st). Their 35th anniversary was similarly ignored in favor of Disneyland's global 50th anniversary, The Happiest Celebration on Earth (which, again was extended well past the actually anniversary date). Disney World's 40th and 45th passed by with very little fanfare.
So when it came to acknowledging the silver anniversary of Disney's first second gate park, we had low expectations. We figured there might be a couple of pins, maybe a quiet re-dedication, some disposable buttons for cast members, and that's about it. I don't know whether it was public opinion, fan petition, or one little spark of inspiration, but sometime around early September, Disney nonchalantly announced a daylong celebration for October 1st, with special guests and events, and several limited edition items. And as luck would have it, it was my day off!
I planned on showing up early, at 8am. If you know me, you know that doesn't happen. My friends and I got there at about 9:30. By then, there was already a long line for pins. We waited for at least 45 minutes, maybe even an hour or more. I got one of each of the limited edition pins I could, and a Figment plush limited to 1,982 units. My friend bought a t-shirt reproducing an opening year design that had a painting of Spaceship Earth with the text "The 21st century begins October 1st, 1982." (Ⅰ was actually wearing a threadbare original, a hand-me-down from my brother which he got on his first Disney World vacation in 1983.) We also picked up a special Epcot guide map made specifically for that one day, as well as a 25th anniversary events times guide.
Unfortunately, the merchandise line was so long that we missed the re-dedication ceremony (although we were standing right behind the fountain stage where it was held), which featured a partial recreation of the original opening ceremony with dance, a flag parade, fireworks, and speeches from some of the original Imagineers and then-current executives. Later, we made our way to the Circle of Life theater in The Land pavilion for an hour or so long talk from former head of Imagineering, Marty Sklar. He talked about the concept and creation of EPCOT Center, the construction, opening day, and changes to the park. I don't remember most of it, other than the fact that he was very entertaining.
After Marty Sklar, I realized I should have gotten a Figment for my brother, who worked at Journey into Imagination during his Career Start Program (read about his experiences here). We ran all over Future World, from the Innoventions pin station, to Mouse Gear, and finally back to the I-mag gift shop before I found one of the last plushies available anywhere. I bought it, and gave it to him that Christmas.
The rest of the day was kind of a blur. We hoped to ride the newly refurbished Spaceship Earth, but it hadn't reopened yet (although the atrocious Epcot/2000 wand had been completely demolished in time for the event, as promised). At some point during the festivities, I ran into an old internet friend whom I had known for about five years via AOL, but only met in person once. We also made two new friends, whom I am still in touch with to this day. One of them is now married to the friend who came with us. It's a small world, after all.
We all made our way to the Japan pavilion, which is typically one of the best locations to watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Unfortunately, an atypical autumn rainstorm dumped on the park for most of the rest of evening. The wind and rain not only left us cold and wet, but also delayed IllumiNations for about a half-hour. On top of that, my decision to watch the fireworks from Japan backfired horribly, as the wind was blowing hard from about five degrees east of due north, pushing all the smoke directly into our faces.
At the end of the long-awaited fireworks, we were treated to a four minute medley of music from Epcot's first quarter-century, during which they shot off more fireworks than in the entire rest of show. It was intense and magical — a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget.
On our way out, I looked out for whatever leftover souvenirs I could snag. Although most of the LE items were sold out, I did manage to grab a handful of anniversary maps and times guides. I brought some into work the next day, and one of my coordinators used the laminator to preserve at least one of each. I still have all of them in a Sterilite bin in my cellar. I really ought to frame them someday.
Later that week, I went to Company D, which is a backstage store that sells cast member exclusive merchandise, and bought several limited edition pins commemorating the event. I kept one for myself, and in the coming weeks, I took the rest to the Innoventions pin station and negotiated trade deals with Disney Vacation Club members, Annual Passholders, and Disney Cruise Line guests for the exclusive limited edition pins only they could buy. I put them all on a special 25th anniversary lanyard. I still have them all in a suitcase in my closet.
I've only ever been to a Disney Park on the day of its anniversary once since, and that was the 10th anniversary of Disney's Animal Kingdom, but that was pretty uneventful (see comments below). Unless I can somehow miraculously be at the Magic Kingdom for its 50th in 2021 (doubtful), Ⅰ don't think anything will be able to beat Epcot's 25th. I'm disappointed that I got there late, and missed the re-dedication ceremony, and didn't get myself one of the limited edition T-shirts (it wouldn't fit me anymore anyway), but I have a day's worth of irreplaceable memories and a couple of new lifelong friends from the experience.
Maybe on October 1st, 2032, my son can be working at Walt Disney World in time to attend EPCOT Center's 50th anniversary in person.