(A version of this article was published for Pirates & Princesses on April 9, 2022.)
“To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome. Epcot is inspired by Walt Disney’s creative vision. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire, and above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man’s ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.” – Card Walker, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, October 24, 1982.
Welcome to EPCOT Center – inspired by Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Unlike any other theme park to come before or since – EPCOT Center (now known simply as Epcot) has been around long enough to inspire generations of people worldwide, to share common goals of peace, hope, and progress.
There are many pavilions and attractions in Epcot that stand true to this mantra, but the one that most clearly and completely shared these values hosted its last guests well over two decades ago. Come take a peek into the future with Horizons – a truly legendary attraction.
The Perfect Pavilion
When EPCOT Center opened in October 1982, it only contained a fraction of what it boasts today. Nine world nation pavilions surrounded the World Showcase Lagoon (Morocco and Norway opened several years after the park). Several Future World pavilions had yet to open as well, including Horizons, The Living Seas, and Wonders of Life.
Horizons was the first of these three non-opening day pavilion additions to Future World. The concept for an attraction looking at life in the future was an anchor of the EPCOT Center project right from the start. It was (and still is) the only attraction in EPCOT’s history to incorporate all of the elements of the park’s spirit – communication, energy, transportation, anatomy, imagination, education, and humankind’s relationship to the land and the sea.
The original ride concept didn’t come from Disney storytellers. It came from Reginald Jones and Jack Welch, then-current and future CEOs of General Electric (GE), the pavilion’s sponsor. The original concept would have focused on electrical pioneer Thomas Edison’s body of work and progress, up to the origin of GE. The theme shifted focus to the future of American life, intended as a sort of spiritual successor to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. The theme was tweaked again to incorporate a more global society. Disney Imagineer George McGinnis (the last Imagineer hired by Walt Disney before he died in 1966) led the development of the attraction.
What’s In a Name?
We can’t imagine calling this fan favorite attraction anything other than Horizons, but during the concept phase, the attraction was initially named “Century 3”, to recognize the third century of American existence (1976–2076). The name was great for that feel of Americana, but EPCOT was meant to celebrate the worldwide community (and appeal to guests around the globe) so the name was changed to “Futureprobe.” Let that sink in for a minute… Futureprobe, while sounding forward thinking, also sounded a bit…intrusive. After further debate, GE and Disney officials settled on the name Horizons.
From Future Past To Future Present
Horizons opened in October 1983, a year after the park opened. Both the pavilion and the attraction tied together all the concepts of EPCOT with a look toward a promising future. The attraction experience functioned like a two-act story, bridged with a larger-than-life intermission.
Act One took a look at “past visions of the future.” These were ideas of the future as perceived from the era of visionaries such as French science fiction author Jules Verne and French illustrator Albert Robida. Some of the wacky gadgets and steampunk-inspired machines from the science fiction view of the future were proudly on display here.
Since the future never turns out exactly like we think, this look back at “a future that never was” proved to be a creative way to set the stage for Act Two.
But first, the bridge. Between Acts One and Two, guests traveled through a tunnel of sorts, surrounded by two gigantic OMNIMAX screens. These dome-shaped screens were cutting edge technology at the time – precursors to modern IMAX screens. The screens introduced guests to several advancing technologies such as computer processors, ocean exploration, and DNA research, that served as a bridge between the past and current visions of the future.
Following the bridge was Act Two – an optimistic look ahead to the future of society. Here, guests saw how technology could allow the human race to further expand, and colonize such unreachable areas as outer space, the ocean floor, and vast deserts. The aroma of an orange grove successfully blooming in the desert stands tall as one of the most famous scents in all of Disney Parks history. Through aromas like this, animatronics, other visual effects, and well-directed sound effects, guests on Horizons saw quite clearly how life might be for them in the future.
It was here, after Act Two, that Disney Imagineers introduced the first interactive simulator ending in theme park history. Before concluding the ride, guests were offered the choice of which path they wanted to take back to the FuturePort. With the push of a button, guests could choose to travel back from the space station Brava Centauri , from the desert farm of Mesa Verde, or from the Sea Castle research base. This interactive conclusion was ahead of its time – fitting with the attraction’s progressive theme.
Check out a ride-through video of Horizons, as published by Resort TV1:
Horizons is widely considered to be the “spiritual successor” to Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, which was initially sponsored by GE at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. Where Carousel of Progress followed a typical American family through the generations of the 20th century, Horizons focused on a family of the future, showing off innovative and imaginative technologies employed by the family, living in any of the various environments explored in Act Two.
The End Of An Era
Horizons dazzled guests for a decade. But in 1993, after ten years in operation, GE decided not to renew its sponsorship of the attraction. The attraction strode on valiantly for about another year, before closing its doors to guests in December 1994. Horizons remained closed for about a year, before being pressed into service in December 1995 to satisfy guests in EPCOT while Universe of Energy and World of Motion were closed for refurbishments. The attraction’s second life lasted a little over three years, until it closed permanently in January 1999.
Disney gave no public reason for closing Horizons, but the lack of corporate sponsorship was likely the biggest reason. There was also speculation that the attraction building was experiencing structural problems. Whatever the reason, the building was demolished in July 2000. In its place rose the attraction we know (and some love) as Mission: SPACE, which opened in October 2003.
In the Past, But Still Present
The future of Horizons may have ended over two decades ago, but fans can still find some loving nods to the EPCOT classic in several current day attractions.
In its successor attraction Mission: SPACE, the center of the gravity wheel in the attraction queue has the classic Horizons logo, and a stylized version of the logo also appears on the front of the checkout counter in the Cargo Bay gift shop at the exit to the attraction.
Also, following the attraction’s 2017 refurbishment, a new mural added to the entrance features the space station Brava Centauri orbiting the Earth (you need to stand close to see it, it’s pretty small).
Hungry for a bite? Blast into outer space for a meal at Space 220. This new themed restaurant in Epcot blasts guests into space before they enjoy a cornucopia of cosmic fare. Watch carefully during your ascent before dinner, and your descent after dessert. The Horizons show building is shown in place of the current Mission: SPACE building.
Do you miss the trusty old robot butler from Horizons? You can visit his charming friend in the post-show futuristic city scene in Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain (though he’s not as well dressed as the steward from Horizons).
Horizons still resonates with so many EPCOT fans – even those too young to have ever experienced it in person. The attraction’s optimistic vision of the future offers hope and encouragement to upcoming generations, and it paints a picture in which humankind is able to put aside social differences and use technology to reach infinity and beyond.
Enjoy your return trip home. But please take home this important and inspiring message.
“If we can dream it, we can do it (yes we can).”
These words – first coined by writer Sheralyn Silverstein as “If you can dream it, you can do it” – were not spoken by Walt Disney himself. But sung by happy, hopeful children, this phrase sums up the spirit of Horizons, and EPCOT as a whole. Never stop dreaming, friends, and always keep doing!
Thanks for riding, and please follow along here for additional articles in this series. We’ll continue to explore many other former attractions and experiences from Walt Disney World, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Sources referenced in writing this article include:
All Ears – Why EPCOT’s Iconic Horizons is Still Beloved 20 Years After Its Closure
Theme Park Tourist – Horizons: Why Disney Demolished Epcot’s Best Ever Attraction
Laughing Place – Disney Extinct Attractions: Horizons
Magic Made Today – FINALLY, the Origin of “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It”
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