Saturday, January 30, 2016

A History of Epcot's Living Seas Pavilion

By Kevin Faux

The Living Seas pavilion at Epcot has been a fan favorite attraction since its debut in 1986. The excitement of underwater exploration, exhibits devoted to oceanic study, and the wonder of live aquatic animals have given the attraction a special allure. Although the pavilion has changed over the years, it's always fun to look back at what once was. That's just what we'll do in today's new article as we look back at the history of Epcot's Living Seas pavilion...

The Seas pavilion was a long planned opening day pavilion for EPCOT Center. However, October 1, 1982 saw a large area of open land instead of the pavilion. Extended research and a shift towards a more serious theme delayed development until 1984. As with most of FutureWorld, The Seas location - and look - changed during Epcot's planning. Finally a home was found for this real - just like The Lands greenhouses - research facility.

The Seas was originally intended to be more dramatic with a more 'fantasy' appeal - and with a much larger ride. Guests would enter a large pre-show theater, hosted by the Greek God Poseidon. Poseidon tames a powerful storm, then beacons are used to explore the undersea world. The original coral reef ride would have taken up over half the pavilion. The 'sea cabs' hadn't yet been developed - vehicle of choice would have been a clear glass 'bubble.' Once loaded, guests would have begun their trip in the Cradle of Life scene. Full sized sets and animatronics would have made a totally immersive environment...

Fish and sharks attacking the ride vehicles, shipwrecks, and visual effects would enhance the ride. Finally the ride would enter a clear tube, into a 200ft diameter tank. The tank and visitors center would be on two levels, as in the final pavilion. The lock out chamber would be routed through an upper level restaurant. A backstage tour would allow guests to observe the tank support systems and the pavilion exit would have been via the observation level - an underwater dome. In 1979 the pavilions direction turned more scientific - and the theme and design changed too. The glass roof of 'The Seas' was kept for a time - until the pavilion as built finally emerged. The sea base theme started to materialize, and THE LIVING SEAS was born. Still with glass ride spheres for a time too! For a short while in 1980 there existed a curious hybrid design. Opening day was pushed back again, from 1984 to 1986. Finally in March 1984 construction on the pavilion was underway.

The sea tanks inhabitants were kept at a holding center off the Florida Keys from January 1985. THE LIVING SEAS finally opened on January 15, 1986. Originally, a United Technologies pre-show using slides was held in the holding area. There also used to be two pre-show theaters, used in rotation to keep queuing to a minimum. The journey to Seabase Alpha was similar to that of The Seas - but with a more scientific approach. Not only did this chain tell a story and enhance the attraction it also regulated guest flow. Cut from the original eight sea base modules, Seabase Alpha featured six distinct modules - lower level,  ocean ecosystems, undersea exploration, earth systems, marine mammals (viewing), the diver lockout chamber, upper level ocean resources, marine mammals (research), and underwater viewing module.

In January 1998, sponsorship from United Technologies ended. By the end of 1999, all United Technologies reference had been removed with more changes to come. One of the pre-show theaters had a corridor built right through it. This allowed guests to bypass the pre-show entirely. Sometime in 2002, the sea cabs were shuttered and closed; guests simply walked into Seabase Alpha. The sea cab loading area was simply boarded up - with the ride still intact.

Looking for a new theme, Disney turned to their animated movie FINDING NEMO. FINDING NEMO themed exhibits slowly worked their way into previously scientific Seabase Alpha. THE LIVING SEAS closed for a total retheme on August 20, 2005.

On November 23, 2005 the pavilion reopened - in part. The original exit hydrolators were no more. Glass doors were now the exit - and entrance. Following the construction walls, guests temporarily entered and exited through the same doors. 'Turtle talk' was popular as ever. The final part of the rehab would be very welcome. Outside the pavilion was changing too. New color schemes were introduced to the facade and mural - the later having some new additions. Throughout most of 2006, the pavilion pre-show area was hidden behind construction walls. With seabase open, work continued on the new queue areas and the other new main attraction.

Work had begun on totally removing theater one, the hydrolators, holding areas and seacab queue. Three new themed queue areas now led to - and past - the seacab loading area. From the beach, to under the pier, to undersea, the queue would replace the hydrolator story. With theater one and hydrolator three gone, nine new dark ride sets were installed. The 1986 tank ride track and return loop were retained. This was the final planned phase of the rehab - 280 feet of extra track was added. New projection technology was added into the new show scenes and also into the tank itself. New side facing 'clamobiles' were installed as part of the expanded omnimover ride system. The vehicles facing outwards meant all the show scenes were on the outside of the track - this left the inside of the track free for a new storage and maintenance area.

Finally on October 1, 2006 the walls came down and the exit was just that again - an exit. With a hard opening on October 16, 2006 the fourth and final phase was complete for now. Though the pavilion was open, there was still one final 'extra' phase to do. 'Turtle talk with Crush' closed on January 29, 2007. The pod was restored to a display area though the original screen was left intact. Due to the unprecedented popularity of 'Turtle talk' an extra phase 4B was implemented. Module 1A was closed, its displays moved to 1C and 1A became a new pre-show holding area. A corridor was built through a backstage fire exit linking the module with theater two. The new side entry for theater two - separated from but part of the new queue - was reconfigured. The original theater two exit was in use again, with a new east wall and entry doors. The new, larger 'Turtle talk with Crush' opened February 17, 2007.

The main thing that saw the end of the original Seas was the fact that the pavilion only worked if you experienced everything: the pre-show, the beloved Hydrolators, the SeaCabs, and Seabase Alpha. And really, that is what made it so special. Each of these individual experiences weren’t all that immersive, but all together, they equaled up to an experience that was nearly as immersive as the proposed dark ride would have been. The final straw was when United Technologies failed to renew their sponsorship and the Eisner era, corporate machine took over and the Seas is now left with a mediocre experience that really can be found anywhere. Hopefully one day Epcot's Living Seas Pavilion will return to its former glory. Until then, let's travel back in time and revisit the original Living Seas Pavilion with this fantastic tribute video...


Kevin Faux is a Canadian Disney fan all the way from Nova Scotia. Kevin has been on countless trips to Walt Disney World and loves to collect Disney music. He looks forward to sharing his love of Walt Disney World history with the readers of Disney Avenue.

You can find Kevin's articles here.

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