Celebrating 40 years of Epcot

In 1982, Walt Disney World Resort invited guests to imagine what the 21st century would bring by creating a park that showcased ideas and technologies that had never been seen before – and for the last 40 years, Epcot has continued to evolve through innovative attractions, experiences, and festivals. 

40 Years of Epcot - Opening Day
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney World

Following the Oct. 1, 1982 opening of Epcot – then called Epcot Center – a nearly month-long celebration introduced guests from around the world to the park’s five Future World pavilions and nine World Showcase pavilions, culminating in the park’s official dedication on Oct. 24, 1982.

At the dedication ceremony, Walt Disney Productions Chairman and CEO Card Walker proudly carried on Walt Disney’s forward-thinking legacy when he said, “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.”

40 Years of Epcot - Card Walker dedication speech

Now home to four neighborhoods – World Celebration, World Nature, World Discovery, and World Showcase – Epcot is in the midst of the most significant transformation in its history as it prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Here’s a look at some of the milestones from the first 40 years of Epcot:

Nov. 15, 1965 – At a press conference in Orlando, Fla., Walt and Roy Disney publicly announced plans for Walt Disney World Resort.

Oct. 27, 1966 – Walt produces a film that outlines plans for the “Florida Project,” including details for Walt Disney World Resort and the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (E.P.C.O.T.) 

40 Years of Epcot -  Walt's Epcot presentation
Photo courtesy of D23

Oct. 1, 1978 – Walt Disney Productions President and CEO Card Walker announces plans for Epcot at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and presents concepts to the ICC’s keynote speaker, President Jimmy Carter. 

40 Years of Epcot - Concept art
Concept Art courtesy of D23

Oct. 1, 1979 – After years of planning, construction begins.  

Sept. 24, 1982 – Walt Disney World cast members, their families, and friends are among the first to experience the new theme park before it opens to the public.

Oct. 1, 1982Epcot opens with five Future World pavilions – Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination, and The Land – and nine World Showcase pavilions representing Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, and the United States. 

40 Years of Epcot - Germany Pavilion

Oct. 23, 1982 – “Carnival de Lumiere” debuts as the theme park’s first nightly fireworks show (replaced in 1983 with “A New World Fantasy” and in 1984 by “Laserphonic Fantasy”). 

Oct. 24, 1982 – Epcot is officially dedicated.

40 Years of Epcot - Opening Day

1982 – A new four-mile extension of the Walt Disney World Monorail System opens from the Ticket and Transportation Center to Epcot. 

40 Years of Epcot - Monorail

Oct. 1, 1983 (The park’s first anniversary) – Horizons (now Mission: Space) makes its debut in  Future World, featuring a first-of-its-kind ride system that gives guests a glimpse of what life might be like in the future. 

March 5, 1983 – The ride-through attraction Journey into Imagination (now Journey into Imagination with Figment)  opens. 

40 Years of Epcot - Journey into Imagination

Sept. 7, 1984 – World Showcase expands with the opening of the  Morocco  pavilion. 

June 3, 1984 – The France pavilion in World Showcase opens its second signature restaurant, Bistro de Paris. 

Sept. 24, 1985 – Lotus Blossom Café opens (the first of two new restaurants to open in the China pavilion).

Aug. 31, 1985 – The “Skyleidoscope” daytime spectacular debuts on World Showcase lagoon featuring 70 flying, swimming, and sailing vessels, colorful streamers, and fireworks.

Oct. 23, 1985 – The China pavilion’s table-service restaurant Nine Dragons Restaurant begins serving guests.  

Jan. 15, 1986The Living Seas (now The Seas with Nemo & Friends) opens with a 5.7-million-gallon aquarium – the world’s largest at the time – with more than 200 species of marine life.

Sept. 12, 1986 – The 3D film “Captain EO” premieres at the Magic Eye Theater in the Journey Into Imagination pavilion. 

1987 – The Epcot Daredevil Circus Spectacular – dubbed “The Greatest Show in Space” – opens in Future World featuring daredevil circus acts performed in and above the CommuniCore area of the park. 

Jan. 30, 1988 – The new “IllumiNations” nighttime spectacular premieres, incorporating the World Showcase pavilions for the first time with lighting and special projection effects. 

June 3, 1988 – World Showcase expands with the opening of the Norway pavilion, including Maelstrom, where guests boarded Viking boats to discover the country’s natural beauty, traditions, and cities. 

40 Years of Epcot - Norway Pavilion

Oct. 19, 1989 – Wonders of Life pavilion opens beneath a giant gold dome in Future World with three humorous attractions that offer a fun look at health and fitness, state-of-the-art hands-on activities, live comedy shows, and a fast-casual restaurant. 

November 1990 – The first phase of the Epcot Resort Area opens with the debut of  Disney’s Yacht Club Resort  (Nov. 5, 1990) and  Disney’s Beach Club Resort  (Nov. 19, 1990). The following year, Walt Disney World Swan Hotel  opens Jan. 13, 1991, and the  Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel  opens June 4, 1991, all within walking distance of the theme park.

40 Years of Epcot - Epcot Resort Area

April 29, 1994 – The inaugural  Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival  debuts. 

40 Years of Epcot - Flower & Garden Festival

July 1, 1994 –Communicore is replaced by the Innoventions pavilion featuring interactive exhibits and demonstrations of emerging technologies. 

Nov. 21, 1994 – The interactive 3D adventure “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” replaces “Captain EO” in the Journey Into Imagination pavilion.

Nov. 25, 1994 – The Candlelight Processional moves to Epcot from Magic Kingdom, where it had been presented since 1971, expanding to multiple nightly performances throughout the holiday season. 

40 Years of Epcot - Candlelight processional

Jan. 21, 1995 – The 20-minute, 70mm film “Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable” debuts in The Land, featuring Simba, Timon, and Pumba in a story about the importance of respect for the natural environment. 

Sep. 15, 1996Ellen’s Energy Adventure debuts, bringing a new storyline and humor to what was previously Universe of Energy.   

Sept. 28, 1996 – The first annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival debuts.

40 Years of Epcot - food & wine

March 17, 1999 – Test Track – the park’s first thrill attraction – opens in Future World, taking guests on an exhilarating ride in a test vehicle. 

Oct. 1, 1999 – The  15-month Millennium Celebration  begins at Epcot, marking the debut of the popular nighttime spectacular, “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth,” which will run for the next 20 years. Also new is Millennium Village celebrating the cultural achievements of 25 countries and the “Tapestry of Nations” parade.

40 Years of Epcot - illuminations

Oct. 1, 2000 – The Art of Disney shop opens in Future World, selling Disney artwork, prints, and other collectibles. 

Aug. 15, 2003 – Mission: Space opens in Future World, taking guests on a simulated training spaceflight to Mars. 

Nov. 16, 2004 – The first-of-its-kind Turtle Talk with Crush attraction opens in The Living Seas, enabling Crush from Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” to talk with guests as he learns about humans and shares his stories of life in the ocean. 

40 Years of Epcot - Turtle Talk with Crush

May 5, 2005  – Soarin’ opens in The Land pavilion, taking guests on an aerial adventure over iconic California locations. 

40 Years of Epcot - Soarin

Oct. 1, 2006 – “The Year of a Million Dreams” celebration begins across Epcot and the other Walt Disney World theme parks, with Dream Squads surprising thousands of guests with prizes like special attraction access, merchandise, and even Disney vacations. 

Nov. 26, 2006 – The Living Seas pavilion is transformed into The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion, with its official dedication on Jan. 24, 2007. 

The Seas with Nemo and Friends ride-through at Epcot in Walt Disney World

April 6, 2007 – Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros opens inside the Mexico pavilion as a re-imagining of the pavilion’s opening-day boat ride El Río del Tiempo (River of Time) featuring Donald Duck, José Carioca, and Pistoles Panchito from Walt Disney’s 1942 film “Saludos Amigos.” 

April 25, 2007 – The Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future exhibit opens at Spaceship Earth, showcasing advances in medicine, technology, and energy management. 

Oct. 1, 2007 – Epcot’s 25th anniversary is marked by a rededication ceremony and a gallery showcasing memorabilia from the park’s history. 

40 Years of Epcot - Epcot 25th anniversary

Feb. 15, 2008 – Spaceship Earth re-opens after extensive renovations with an expanded storyline and new narration that follows the history of human innovation from prehistoric times to the 21st century. 

Jan. 28, 2009 – The scavenger hunt-style Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure interactive attraction opens, allowing guests to become secret agents as part of Team Possible to save the world via the Disney Play! App and interact with seven World Showcase pavilions. 

July 2, 2010 – The 3D film “Captain EO” returns to Future World. 

June 23, 2012 – Phineas & Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure opens, replacing Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure with a new quest that took guests on an adventure with Agent P to solve clues and thwart Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s evil plots. 

Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure at Disney's Epcot

Dec. 6, 2012 – The re-imaged Test Track – Presented by Chevrolet attraction, re-opens, allowing guests to design their own vehicles before setting off on a thrilling test drive. 

40 Years of Epcot - Test track

May 30, 2013 – L’Artisan des Glaces Ice Cream shop opens in the France pavilion.

Jan. 20, 2014 – Spice Road Table – inspired by Mediterranean outdoor cafés –opens in the Morocco pavilion, serving small plates, specialty wines, and aperitifs from the region. 

40 Years of Epcot - Morocco Pavilion

June 17, 2016 – The re-imagined Soarin’ Around the World debuts in The Land pavilion, taking guests on a flight over the world’s natural and man-made wonders. 

June 21, 2016 – Frozen Ever After replaces Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion, taking guests on a boat ride through the kingdom of Arendelle. Along with the ride-through attraction, Royal Sommerhaus opens, allowing Queen Elsa and Princess Anna to meet with guests. 

2016 – New holiday experiences debut across the theme park as part of what’s now the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. 

40 Years of Epcot - Festival of the Holidays

Jan. 12, 2018 – The Epcot International Festival of the Arts debuts, expanding the park’s festival offerings to all four seasons. 

Aug. 25, 2019 – The historic multi-year transformation of Epcot is announced at D23 Expo. 

epcot park entrance

Full Epcot Transformation Presentation at D23 Expo 2019

Oct. 1, 2019 – “Epcot Forever” nighttime spectacular debuts at World Showcase Lagoon, replacing “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.” 

40 Years of Epcot - Epcot Forever

Oct. 1, 2019 – Walt Disney Imagineering presents the Epcot Experience opens, offering a preview of attractions coming as part of the theme park’s multi-year transformation.

Tour of Walt Disney Imagineering presents the Epcot Experience

July 5, 2019 – The signature dining table-service restaurant Takumi-Tei opens in the Japan pavilion, specializing in wagyu beef, sushi, and signature cocktails. 

Jan. 17, 2020 – Three new films debut around World Showcase: “Awesome Planet” debuts in the Harvest Theater inside The Land pavilion to showcase the beauty and diversity of our planet; “Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along” premieres in Palais du Cinema inside the France pavilion, offering a new twist on the classic Disney movie; and “Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360” debuts at the Canada pavilion, updating the “O Canada!” Circle-Vision 360 film. 

awesome planet

Feb. 19, 2020 – The fast-casual Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts and Barbecue restaurant opens at The American Adventure pavilion serving classic American backyard barbecue and home-style craft brews. 

40 Years of Epcot - Regal Eagle

Dec. 22, 2020 – A transformation of the main entrance is completed with the unveiling of a new fountain, inspired by one that originally debuted with the theme park’s 1982 opening. 

40 Years of Epcot - New entrance

Sept. 15, 2021 – The new flagship Creations Shop store opens in World Celebration, featuring unique merchandise dedicated to Epcot and other Walt Disney World collectibles.

Sept. 20, 2021Space 220 restaurant opens in the Mission: Space pavilion, allowing guests to dine 220 miles above the Earth’s surface.

40 Years of Epcot - Space 220

Space 220 Full Restaurant Experience at Epcot

Oct. 1, 2021 – Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration begins with new experiences across all four theme parks, with Epcot’s Spaceship Earth transforming into a Beacon of Magic at night. As part of the park transformation, World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature join World Showcase as the geographic areas that make up Epcot.

Beacon of Magic Spaceship Earth Show at Epcot

Oct. 1, 2021 – The expanded France pavilion opens with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a new ride-through 4D experience inspired by Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” plus a new French restaurant, La Crêperie de Paris.  

40 Years of Epcot - France pavilion

Oct. 1, 2021 –  The new nighttime spectacular “Harmonious” debuts to celebrate how Disney music inspires people worldwide and features a culturally-diverse soundtrack coordinated with dazzling visuals and fireworks.

40 Years of Epcot - Harmonious

New Harmonious Nighttime Spectacular Debuts At Epcot

April 27, 2022 – Connections Café and Eatery opens in World Celebration, offering guests a new selection of internationally-inspired cuisine. 

May 27, 2022 – The family thrill coaster Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind – one of the world’s largest fully enclosed coasters – opens in the Wonders of Xandar pavilion with several “firsts,” including the first-ever reverse launch on a Disney coaster and ride vehicles that rotate 360 degrees.

40 Years of Epcot - Cosmic Rewind

Oct. 1, 2022 – Walt Disney World Resort celebrates Epcot’s 40th anniversary.

“Epcot is only a short few weeks away from its 40th anniversary,” Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro said at D23 Expo. “And there is so much happening at the park as it continues to its transformation.”

Walt Disney once said Epcot will “always be in a state of becoming,” and there’s no doubt Epcot’s next 40 years will introduce more new ways for guests to experience the magic of possibility.  

Click here for information about visiting Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. No mention of the opening of Via Napoli or Hacienda de San Angel?
    They are two of my favorite World Showcase restaurants

  2. I worked her about this new world during the building of Epcot center in the traffic department shipping and receiving and watching it grow as it was put together. And then opening day and my son as a small child his favorite place to go was Epcot to see how amazing things that they were doing there the living seas the hydroponics. Unfortunately now I live in Tennessee but I wish there was a way I could come back for the 40th it’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since that day. I love for my grandchildren to see just haven’t been able to bring the family back.

  3. I love this type of article & found this interesting & helped me reminisce. I don’t think Ellen’s Energy Adventure opened in September 1995 though as that was when we went to WDW for the first time & we saw the old Universe of Energy Show.

  4. Thanks, Louise… and you’re right! Ellen’s Energy Adventure opened Sept. 1996. I have corrected the article. 🙂