Why a giant golf ball? That’s the question that comes to mind when I think about Spaceship Earth. Let’s flashback a little over 30 years ago. Disney wants to build a new theme park that will be an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT for short). They also want a centerpiece for this park, but it needs to be something other than a castle. It needs to be optimistic, hopeful and something all mankind can relate to. What better shape than a sphere? A shape that reflects the Earth, the very ship we are all on each and every day of our lives.
Disney enlisted the help of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury to help bring this concept to life both inside and out. Bradbury helped write the original storyline for the ride and contributed to the exterior design. The shell of Spaceship Earth was inspired by the United States pavilion from Expo 67 in Montreal. This shell eventually came to life using over 11,000 isosceles triangles forming almost 4,000 points. Inside the shell the design is just as impressive. Two structural domes make up what appears to be one globe. The upper dome is supported on a ring held up by six legs that dig 160 feet deep into the Earth. The lower dome is hung from the same ring completing the sphere. The entire project took over 26 months to build. When it was finished this 18 story geodesic sphere became a true architectural achievement.
So, when someone in your family says, “Look the giant golf ball”, you can tell them Spaceship Earth is much more than just that. Actually, it is a symbol of our ability to create, innovate and work together. To do all of this clear communication is key and that brings us to the theme of the ride itself.
So, what is inside? As the name suggests you are about to explore the history of Earth, specifically that involving mankind. What may be a little misleading is the Spaceship part. You will not be blasting off like a rocket at high speeds or pulling G’s like those on Mission Space. Instead you will feel more like you are floating through time as the ride utilizes an omnimover system.
Since this is our first featured omnimover ride, allow me a moment for a quick explanation. These ride systems feature a continuous chain of ride vehicles operating slowly along a track system. At entrance and again at the exit there is a conveyor belt moving the same speed as the vehicles, making it easy and quick to load and unload passengers. Side Note Take notice of the cast member at the end of this conveyor belt walking in place. I have wondered how many miles a shift they walk. It looks like a good way to burn off those dark chocolate Mickey Mouse ice cream bars! Ok, back to the system. Another cool feature of an omnimover is the vehicles’ ability to rotate passengers to specific spots and viewing points as the ride progresses. You are literally shown what not to miss. What will that be? Well, let’s get back to the ride to find out.
As you step from the conveyor belt into your ride car with your favorite person beside you, you can sit back, relax, and prepare to be educated over the next 16 minutes. The theme of the ride is exploring communication through the ages. Some of mankind’s greatest achievements in history are depicted through well-crafted audio-animatronic characters.
Like all good history lessons the ride starts at the beginning. Before you know it your omnimover vehicle has passed through a time tunnel and is swiveling around to show a giant screen depicting cavemen working together to take down a giant wooly mammoth. Next, the discovery of fire is portrayed through a group of animatronic cavemen. Take notice of their cave paintings and see if you can spot the one the magically comes to life. As an artist I just love seeing the portrayals of art throughout history. My favorite example is the beautifully recreated scene of Michelangelo lying on his back as he paints the Sistine Chapel. This is one of several scenes throughout where I wish I could hit the pause button. The detail of the audio-animatronic characters and the environments the imagineers have created for them to occupy is something to behold. Of course, these examples of art are just one way we are reminded of our ability to communicate.
The development of language, the written word and modern technology all show how vital communication is to us all. From the Phoenicians to the Gutenberg printing press to Walter Cronkite broadcasting our first steps on the moon you are taken on a historic journey. As you experience these critical moments in history pay attention to the music. The musicians in the group will appreciate the ride’s score, which features instruments appropriate to each scene’s era in history. The attention to detail in both sight and sound is a great example of what makes Disney so special.
Once the ride reaches the interior summit your omnimover car will swivel you 180 degrees. As you make the descent backwards you are treated to a sky full of stars and a wonderful look at Earth from high above.
By now you will hopefully have recognized the voice of your narrator. If not, spoiler alert, the smooth British accent is that of Dame Judi Dench. I love that you can be bestowed the title of Dame or Sir in England. As her narration comes to a close your journey through history shifts focus to the future. Along with your co-pilot you will decide what your ideal future looks like by making a series of multiple-choice selections from the interactive video screen in front of you. At the end of these questions you will be given a look into your ideal future. This is a fun interactive element to the ride that riders of all ages should enjoy.
Once you return to the present and step out or your vehicle you can spend some time in the Project Tomorrow area. This space includes a variety of interactive exhibits. Some may want to spend more time here than the actual ride. For me the most appealing spot included a giant globe that projected your face over the geographical area you are from. For my nephews it was Oklahoma. Which reminds me, the photo used here will be taken back at the beginning of the ride. If you aren’t aware of what’s going on you will wind up with a lovely candid moment like my wife and nephew did. Both had a portion of their foreheads showing in the frame and nothing more. When we arrived at the globe we had a good laugh at the floating foreheads invading Oklahoma.
As you can see Spaceship Earth is a ride that you will not want to miss. This is not a high thrill ride, but it is a unique ride that tells a story in the way only Walt Disney World can. The audio animatronic characters and their scenes may be the most impressive collection in one ride in all of Walt Disney World. Kids and adults, young and old will all find something to enjoy. Rides that can entertain the whole family like Spaceship Earth does is one of the biggest reasons I love Disney World. The fact that Disney continues to update this ride with new music, fresh narration and ever changing prospects of what tomorrow may bring, make it a ride you and your family will want to experience each time you visit.
Now that you have hopefully added the ride to your trip let’s take a minute to discuss when to ride. If you have seen the movie Wreck-it-Ralph then you are familiar with the “beacon”. This bright blast of energy is a mesmerizing end to the Cy-Bugs in the game “Hero’s Duty”. Well, in some ways Spaceship Earth is the human equivalent of the Cy-Bugs beacon. No, you aren’t vanquished upon entering the beacon of Spaceship Earth, but all visitors seem to be mesmerized by the giant landmark and unwittingly flock to it immediately after passing through the ticket gate. That means the best time to ride is NOT when you first enter the park. Instead, I recommend making your way to Soarin’ or Test Track, whichever you don’t have a Fastpass + reservation for. After that enjoy exploring the rest of the rides in Future World. By the afternoon you will discover the masses of humans have disappeared deeper into the park and now you have a short wait if any at all. Don’t be scared off by a short line outside either. Due to the omnimover system this ride moves very quickly. Also, don’t miss a great photo op here after the sun goes down. Once Spaceship Earth is lit up at night it takes on a whole new beautiful look.
Well, that wraps up our exploration of another great ride! I hope you will take to heart the theme of Spaceship Earth and focus on communication this week. When it comes to Disney World, communicating with our family is crucial for the enjoyment of all along for the ride. Now go make each day a ride worth taking!
Let’s hear your story about Spaceship earth! Please leave comments or questions below.
Follow the WDW Ride Guide on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/wdwrideguide
To subscribe to the podcast visit www.wdwrideguide.com/subscribe.