In the early 1980s, people were optimistic about the future. The generation who grew up watching the moon landing were infiltrating the workforce, bringing with them a wave of hope and a new dream for the future. This is, at least, the general vibe that Disney World’s EPCOT Center projected when it opened in 1982.
Unlike the predecessor park, Magic Kingdom, EPCOT was not filled with cartoon characters or goofy adventure rides. Instead, most of the attractions had some connection to science, history, communication, geography, and all around an educational theme. The park was essentially split into two areas: World Showcase, a dedicated world’s fair display of eleven countries, and Future World, that looking-forward zone of the park with architecture that would feel at home on a space station.
Future World was split into several zones, such as The Living Seas and World of Motion, each represented by a themed set of icons. One of these areas, opened exactly one year after the park launched, was known as Horizons.
The music of Horizons played in the entryway.
Walking in that direction of the park felt like a step toward the future. Guests were treated to a building that felt like a spaceship. Inside, an over-the-top theme song with reinforced as positive message to park goers (“If we can dream it, then we can do it”). Beyond that, passengers hopped aboard omnimover vehicles that did not make a complete stop. The experience of boarding a moving car was already a great start to the entertainment ahead.
Horizons was a dark ride that explored people’s projection of the future throughout time, starting with the Jules Verne vision. Throughout the animatronic tour, a conversation about the future played from the speakers in each individual car. The dialogue was both thought-provoking and incredibly campy.
Riders experienced what the world of tomorrow may be like. Futuristic homes were on display in the city, space, and under the ocean. Immersion was key to the success of Horizons. During a section featuring futuristic fruit growth, passengers were treated to the scent of fresh oranges.
Perhaps, though, the most innovative feature of Horizons was the ability for riders to choose their own ending. Buttons in the moving vehicle represented the choices of the Sea Castle research base, the space station Brava centauri, or Mesa Verde which represented farmlands of the desert. After making a selection, the omnimover cars became motion simulators through the riders’ choice. The Mesa Verde scene was an incredibly expensive undertaking miniature model construction.
Leaving the ride, one couldn’t help but consider the future. Would these depictions come true? Would we really have robots that cleaned up after our cats? As one final touch that added to the experience, departing guests passed a gargantuan mural depicting the world of tomorrow.
Despite a development cost of $60 million, Horizons was permanently closed in 1999 to make way for a new ride and a changing approach to theme of EPCOT. The somewhat-educational theme has dwindled over the years, cartoon characters are making their way into the park, and the future is now. However far in the past it feels, Horizons was a much loved attraction by a loyal fan base who will never forget the smell of oranges.
How about you? Did you ever experience Horizons? Share your story in the comments!