The Worst Day Ever at Epcot

The Dawn of a New Era was in truth a stormy one. Spaceship Earth. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The Dawn of a New Era was, in truth, a stormy one. Spaceship Earth. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Those who love Disney know that Epcot Center opened October 1, 1982. This was one of the most ambitious construction projects ever carried out anywhere, and the deadlines for making it all work were very difficult. Yes, the park opened on time on October 1st. But that doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing afterwards. Days and weeks were spent keeping the boat afloat. And no day was worse than October 5, 1982.

A copy of an old interoffice memorandum in my possession shares what happened. The duty manager in his report provided a downtime summary–in other words, how long attractions that day were broken down, with guests consequently unable to enjoy them. There’s a lot of scribbling, but included are these numbers:

  • The Universe of Energy was closed for some 7 hours overall
  • Spaceship Earth was closed for some 5 hours overall
  • Magic Eye Theater (showing Magic Journeys) closed for for some 4 hours total
  • Mexico (Rio del Tiempo ride) closed for some 3 hours total
  • Harvest Theater (home to the film Symbiosis) closed for some 2 hours total
  • China (360 film Wonders of China) closed for some 3 hours total
  • Canada (360 film O Canada!) closed for some 2 hours total
  • American Adventure too the all time closure of 9.5 hours total
  • World of Motion was closed 5 hours for its corporate dedication that day
  • Kitchen Kabaret was closed but it’s not listed.
  • Monorails were also closed for some amount of time, but it’s not listed.
Even the monorail system was something you couldn't depend on that day. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Even the monorail system was something you couldn’t depend on that day. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The only ride attraction that seemed to work without problem was Listen to the Land boat ride. That along with Impressions de France was about all you could depend on. And remember that there was still no Journey Into Imagination, The Living Seas, or Horizons.

Thank goodness for France. Photo by J. Jeff Kober
Thank goodness for France. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

There were 19,190 total guests in the park, though the estimation was for between 13,000 and 17,000. That means they may well have been understaffed to accommodate the total number of guests. Thankfully, they chose to open the park in what was an off season time of year, where numbers were relatively low.

Still, to make life even more painful the temperature that October day came to a high of 90 degrees. So you have some context, the average high in October is usually 84 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s above average temperature. But worse is the 1.92 inches of rain that fell during that day. The average for the month of October is 3.31 inches. So in one day they had more than half the average rainfall for the month! That was a soaker day!

You can imagine how guests felt that day–especially those who had long anticipated visiting Epcot Center.

In an attached note, the manager who created the report noted “Record breaking day for guest relations the refunds/comp tickets for downtime complaints, etc.” Some 780 comp tickets were given to guests who accepted the invitation to return another time.  Moreover, $5,658 dollars were refunded to those who wanted their money back. Given that the standard one day entrance fee into Epcot was $14.00, that came to some 400 guests receiving compensation. That’s an outstanding number of people. Imagine a handful of Guest Relations staff handling that many refunds. There was probably a bad line just to redress your frustration.

That same manager in his note would conclude with these words, “The worst day of my life!”

In truth, it didn’t get too much better the next day or week or three. It would be months for some of the attractions like Universe of Energy to work out its kinks. But the good news is that Epcot survived its longest day ever and has gone on to being one of the most popular theme parks in the entire world. For the rest of us, what’s the lesson?

  1. Even the best of the best have really bad days. You’re not alone.
  2. Always take care of your customer. If you take care of your guest, your customer will take care of you.
  3. As Walt Disney stated, “Keep moving forward.”

One thought on “The Worst Day Ever at Epcot

  1. Jeff- Enjoyed your EPCOT worst day piece. Hope you are doing well. I retired from the Houston Zoo last June and am doing some zoo-based conservation work and loving it. I hope we keep in touch. See my new e-mail. Rick

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