Spaceship Earth opened at Epcot (then EPCOT Center) in October 1982, and is sponsored by Siemens. It is a slow omni-mover attraction, themed to be a time machine carrying you throughout the events of human history, from prehistoric man to the modern era, and the progress of communication and human accomplishment throughout the ages. It is composed of a series of scenes of human evolution, made up of detailed sets and animatronics, a wave of sound effects, narration and a musical score playing all the while. The ride is about 15 minutes long, and takes patrons all the way up to the top of the geodesic sphere before turning the omni-mover cars backwards and returning patrons to the exit.
While you can’t reach out of your Spaceship and touch the animatronics, there are opportunities for sense of touch to be tickled aboard Spaceship Earth. During the first scene, you ease past a video of a group of Neanderthal hunters trying to take down a Wooly Mammoth, and a breeze sweeps through, mimicking the wintery scene depicted in the video. At the end, as you descend back to Earth (backwards), your video screen comes to life and you are invited to answer a few questions using the touch-pad, your future soon to be depicted there based on your answers.
A few different smells are piped through this attraction, but none as prevalent as the one you’ll smell during the sacking of Rome – the smell of Rome burning is pretty strong and acrid. You’ll also recognize the scent of incense during the scene depicting Muslim and Jewish scholars, as well as that depicting Christian monks working on duplicating religious texts.
I know that this will be the most underutilized sense while on board a ride at Walt Disney World, but we’ll try anyway. When you’re done at Spaceship Earth, you may want to check out Electric Umbrella – decent as far as counter-service goes, and right around the corner.
The Spaceship Earth theme is absolutely fantastic, and one of my favourite ride themes in all the parks. The music changes based on the era you are visiting, and with the solemnity of the scene itself – the music is more subdued during scenes like the sack of Rome, and more upbeat during the invention of the printing press and the evolution of communication. The scene depicting the advent of the computer is alive with sound – a futuristic cacophony of the whirs and bleeps and bloops of machinery greet us in the most vibrantly lit scene of Spaceship Earth, seconds before we see a young Steve Jobs bent over a personal computer in his garage in California.
We can’t mention “sound” without a nod to the narration, performed by Dame Judi Dench. She’s the only narrator I’ve ever known on this attraction, but she is widely panned by those that remember past narrators like Walter Cronkite and Jeremy Irons with fondness. I like her narration, but could do with a more academic approach – the simplistic and somewhat inaccurate claim that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet (moreso that the narration says the Phoenicians invented the “A-B-Cs”), for example.
Spaceship Earth is a true feast for the eyes. The animatronics are great, and the sets depicting various feats of humanity throughout history are beautifully rendered with striking detail. One of my favourites is Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, as well as the scene showing an Egyptian at the water’s edge, pounding reeds flat into papyrus – paper. There are also the first scenes introducing us to modern communication – the telegraph, for example.
Of course, there is also the visual beauty of the exterior of Spaceship Earth. It is an 18-storey geodesic sphere, greyish-beige in colour, composed of over 11,000 isosceles triangles and supported by 3 giant legs. It took over two years to build, and is a marvel to behold. Whether during the day or at night (and especially at dusk), the structure is a treat to photograph, and is second only to Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom in terms of most enduring theme park icons.
Here’s a POV ride-through video.