Have you ever wished you could travel back through time to witness some key events in history? Or wanted to see what the future might hold for your life? Then Spaceship Earth is the place for you.
This “giant golf ball” holds a special place in my heart. It’s the first attraction our family visited on our very first trip to EPCOT at Walt Disney World. I was excited as I researched this piece to learn these five things about Spaceship Earth that deepened my appreciation for this iconic attraction – and hopefully will do the same for you! But if you want to bypass our trip through time and history, you can skip straight to the nuts and bolts.
1. It’s all about communication.
Spaceship Earth takes you on a journey through the history of communication-related innovation. Riders board a “time-traveling” Omnimover that passes through various scenes, reminiscent of those dioramas that we all built in elementary school. As your vehicle ascends the track, you’ll experience important historical moments from prehistoric times to the present, all brought to life by audio-animatronics, special effects, and engaging narration. You’ll get to witness the invention of writing, the development of the printing press, and observe the explosion of progress during the Renaissance. Your time-traveling adventure comes to an end with the birth of the computer age.
As you reach the top of the ride, you’ll see our home planet, Earth, suspended in space. At this point, your vehicle turns around and you descend backward. During your return to the present day, your vehicle’s touchscreen poses a series of multiple-choice questions, then shows what your future could look like based on your input and some advanced technology that we “just happen to know about”.
(Humorous note: sometimes the descent is a tiny bit bumpy. Once, as we reached to touch our language preference, we hit a bump and accidentally selected Spanish. Fortunately, my high school years came to the rescue!)
The entire ride lasts around 16 minutes, making it one of the longest at Walt Disney World.
2. “Thank the Phoenicians!” (and other geeky tidbits).
Spaceship Earth opened with EPCOT on October 1, 1982. It was designed by Imagineer Gordon Hoopes, who wanted to “create an atmosphere for our guests that raises their spirit and kindles an excitement for the human experience in the future.”
Eighteen stories tall (180 feet) and 165 feet in diameter, it’s the largest free-standing geodesic sphere in the world. Constructing it took about two years and two months. World famous architect Buckminster Fuller named it Spaceship Earth, but it was author Ray Bradbury who decided the ride would take you through humankind’s history.
The Omnimover itself hasn’t changed much since Spaceship Earth opened, except for one detail. Nowadays, when you reach the top of the ride and look at the Earth, you automatically are turned backward to make your descent. Originally, that turn wasn’t automatic. A Cast Member had to turn each car around by hand!
Over the decades, four narrators have provided the voice for Spaceship Earth’s soundtrack. Vic Perrin, Walter Cronkite, Jeremy Irons, and Dame Judy Dench have all taken their turn. “Remember how easy it was to learn your ABCs? Thank the Phoenicians – they invented them,” may be one of the most iconic lines in the story as Dame Judy intones it.
As for the soundtrack’s music, Emmy® winner Bruce Broughton conducted a 63-piece orchestra and 24-voice choir for his musical score. Disney points out: if you listen closely, you’ll notice that the music for each scene features styles and instruments appropriate to the era, transitioning seamlessly into the next—no small feat.
I learned there are too many cool facts about Spaceship Earth to cram into this article. If you search around on the web, there is a ton of Spaceship Earth trivia to surprise and delight the Disney nerd in you!
3. Today, they’ve made Spaceship Earth lighter.
No, it still weighs the same (a whopping 16 million pounds!) But updates have been made making it more spectacular than ever.
Updates to the exterior of Spaceship Earth are nothing new. A giant Sorcerer Mickey hand with the number “2000” for the new millennium appeared that year. In 2001, the numbers were replaced with the word “EPCOT” while Mickey’s hand stayed in place. These additions were removed in 2007.
Then in August 2021, Imagineer Zach Riddley announced the next iteration of Spaceships Earth’s exterior: the new Beacons of Magic lighting system. “Hundreds of lights will connect to create patterns and waves that flow over one of the most iconic structures ever created in Disney’s history.” Since debuting, the lights have been programmed for several different shows, each synchronized to music that’s piped through EPCOT’s entrance. A special show for the Disney100 celebration is planned as well.
In 2018 there was talk about updating the ride experience itself. Those plans were put on hold during the pandemic and now seem to be in limbo.
4. There’s more inside than just the ride!
As you exit the ride portion of Spaceship Earth, you walk through Project Tomorrow, an interactive series of exhibits that kids especially will love to spend time with. (I had trouble tearing my grandsons away from a couple of them!) You can build, create, and play with the technologies of tomorrow. Overhead, you can also see the video from the future you made while riding Spaceship Earth. If you like, you can email it to family and friends from a Project Tomorrow kiosk.
Spaceship Earth was originally sponsored by the Bell Network, then ATT, and then Siemens. For their use, Disney built a VIP private lounge! After Siemens departed, the space was no longer in use by sponsors and is now utilized for special events.
5. The Nuts and Bolts.
Since Spaceship Earth is located at the entry to EPCOT, a lot of people will head straight to it. If lines are long, consider visiting as you leave the park (it’s truly beautiful at night). The attraction also offers Lightning Lane via Genie+ and is open for Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening Theme Park Hours.
Weather doesn’t affect the operation of Spaceship Earth, but guests waiting in the extended queue can be exposed to the elements.
The ride vehicles are cars with two rows of seats that each seat two. There is a small step up from the moving walkway into the moving vehicle. Guests must transfer from an ECV to a standard wheelchair, then to the ride vehicle.
There is no minimum height requirement to ride, nor any health or safety warnings. To be as inclusive as possible, service animals are permitted with caution, check with a Cast Member. And handheld captioning and audio description devices are available for a refundable fee from guest services.
The Bottom Line.
As I mentioned, Spaceship Earth was the first thing my family saw on our 1992 trip to Disney World. To this day, my children remember the awe and wonder they felt as we entered EPCOT that evening. We heard the music, saw the giant golf ball, and knew we were in a magical place. Hopefully, you and yours will experience something similar when you take a ride on Spaceship Earth.
Have you visited recently? What did you think of the new light show? Let us know in the comments!