As a kid, if someone had asked me what my favorite theme park icon was, Epcot’s Spaceship Earth probably would have been the last one on my list. As a youngster, it never really did much for me. As many refer to it, I just thought of it as the “giant golf ball.” But with age, I can easily say without a doubt that my favorite theme park icon of all time is Spaceship Earth’s geodesic sphere.
I quite literally can’t walk by this impressive structure without stopping to take a photo, or at least pausing for a moment to appreciate it. I’ve seen it in person many times, yet each time as I approach it, it still puts a smile on my face. I respect Spaceship Earth so much that I have a hard time thinking of her as an “it.” For the rest of this article, I will refer to this grand structure as a “she” or “her” the way we do ships sailing across the ocean.
Spaceship Earth is 180-foot-tall and is made up of over 11,000 isosceles triangles. I can’t imagine being in the pitch meeting when someone shared the idea of building this difficult structure as the centerpiece of Walt Disney World’s second theme park. And then on top of that, they wanted to put a ride inside of it. I don’t know many companies that would have said “yes” to an idea like that. Especially in the early 1980s.
As you fall in love with her and walk past early in the day, it shocks you to discover she can become even more beautiful at night. The lighting package that has adorned this silver beauty each night since opening simply “pluses” something that you didn’t think could get any better. That’s not to say she hasn’t gone through some changes through the years.
One major change came along when Epcot was getting ready to celebrate the new millennium. Beside Spaceship Earth, a giant Sorcerer Mickey hand was placed along with the number “2000” for the new millennium. In 2001, the numbers were replaced with the word “Epcot” while Mickey’s hand stayed in place. There were a lot of strong opinions about this change to Spaceship Earth. At the time, I remember not minding it too much, but I must admit it was nice to see her restored to her former self in 2007 as the park celebrated its 25th anniversary.
More recently, Spaceship Earth got a more subtle facelift with the Beacons of Magic addition. While most park icons got a projection mapping overlay to celebrate Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, Spaceship Earth got a bit of extra love with bright points of light placed all over the sphere. They’ve programmed these lights to activate in several different ways.
My favorite is when the points of light are used alongside the traditional Spaceship Earth lighting package. It is a true thing of beauty. My least favorite would be when the points of light are the only lit portion of the sphere or when some eight-bit-like graphics are formed. To me, it cheapens the look of her. Aside from those specifics, they have been doing a fantastic job regularly updating the new lighting package for the changing holidays and festivities. Park guests were recently treated with a Muppet display on Spaceship Earth as “Rainbow Connection” played in the park as part of the Festival of the Arts.
Even if there wasn’t a grand ride inside, Spaceship Earth would still be my favorite park icon. Her exterior beauty is awe-inspiring and her logistical solutions are mind-bending, if you really stop and think about it. I can’t even get a gingerbread house to stand without falling, yet they’ve constructed an 18-story sphere that has stood for nearly 30 years and is engineered to prevent rainwater from simply dripping down the sides and creating a waterfall at its base.
If I could have one Epcot dream come true, it would be to climb to the top of the sphere and stand atop, like we’ve seen Mickey Mouse do. She is a structure unique to Epcot and I hope it remains that way. There are Disney castles all over the world, but only one Spaceship Earth.
What do you think? Are you as impressed by Spaceship Earth as I am? If so, what is your favorite thing about her? If not, which park icon is your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know.
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com. DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.