A Light in the Attic
There’s a light on in the attic.
Thought the house is dark and shuttered,
I can see a flickerin’ flutter,
And I know what it’s about.
There’s a light on in the attic.
I can see it from the outside.
And I know you’re on the inside… lookin’ out.
- Sheldon Allan Silverstein
Each of the original sponsored pavilions in EPCOT Center’s Future World included a lounge for executives and employees of the sponsor company to meet and relax while visiting the park. Most guests would never notice these private spaces since they were often hidden behind unassuming doors or in less than noticeable spaces, often on the second floor up above the guests. This tradition continued through the years to include later additions like the Red Planet Room inside HP’s Mission: SPACE and Test Track’s VIP area which lets visitors look down on guests as they enjoy the ride. Over the years, as pavilions lost their sponsors, many of the lounges closed their doors and became storage or event space. Often, park management transformed these rooms into offices for operations.
The corporate lounges for United Technologies (Living Seas), MetLife (Wonders of Life), Kodak (Journey Into Imagination), and Kraft (The Land) are still largely unused by any guest. The only original attraction that still includes an operating VIP area is Spaceship Earth. Situated above Project Tomorrow, Spaceship Earth’s post-show, is the Siemens VIP Center, originally called Base21. The entrance is just beyond the exterior door on Project Tomorrow’s west side and might as well be any other “Cast Members Only” door. Once inside, the contrast to the rest of Epcot becomes obvious. The small room is clean and bright and has obviously not been exposed to the wear and tear of millions of guests. Inside the door is a wall mounted information screen with a numeric keypad. A PIN code, generated by a Siemens employee, allows access to the VIP Center. Directly across from the entrance is a frosted glass door etched with the Siemens corporate logo. Once the guest keys in the PIN, the room lighting changes from white to a deep red, and the frosted glass door becomes transparent. Seconds later, the formerly opaque door sides open automatically. Guests then pass into a room with a decorative corporate displays, a couch, and beyond a spiral staircase leading up next to an elevator. Visitors to the VIP Center barely have enough time to take in this scene and process what just happened, before the elevator opens its doors and live voice invites the guest on board.
After a short ride up, the elevator opens into a reception area. To the left is a concierge desk where guests have their VIP status confirmed by a Siemens host and are given a short tour of the space before being given free run of the lounge. Beyond the front desk, a small beverage and snack area sits beyond a ring of lounge seats. Moving further, inset into an interactive wall of screens explaining what Siemens does, are, in this writer’s opinion, the nicest restrooms Epcot has to offer. A wireless cell phone charging station is another perk of access, and the Siemens host provides an adapter to anyone who asks. A short hallway curves toward the lounge. On the interior arced wall is another display using more electrochromic glass. A guest accessible touch panel controls some of the interior lighting, including an illuminated glass block floor that curves around from the entrance, back into the areas set aside for conference meetings and presentations. The conference room includes retractable projectors that deploy down from the ceiling and a videoconferencing system. Once in the main room, a large, curved wall of picture windows overlooks Innoventions plaza, providing an excellent view of the tarps above and pin trading station below. How many fans of EPCOT Center would love to see that view from 1982? Thought so. By far the best reason to find a way to visit the Siemens VIP Center is the exclusive access to Spaceship Earth. Behind the concierge desk is a door that leads to a small set of stairs. This is where it starts to feel like Epcot controlled territory again. At the bottom of the stairs, a sign greets guests informing them that they “are now entering the attraction area”. Beyond the door, guests find themselves in the unload area of Spaceship Earth where a Cast Member is waiting to direct visitors into their time machine vehicle for a wait-free ride.
While it is completely appropriate for paying sponsors to have these private rooms inside the park, it’s unfortunate that the lounges in the pavilions that lack sponsors haven’t been used in much of any way. Even the Siemens lounge sits empty and quiet much of the time. Underused space inside some of the most expensive real estate in Orlando just doesn’t make good sense. Original EPCOT Center fans would love to visit these hidden spaces. Just seeing the park from a different vantage point would be a huge thrill, and opening these rooms up and using the space for attractions for all guests would create a new draw in Future World, one that it needs badly. The second floor of Journey Into Imagination, once home to Image Works, an interactive playground of color, sight, and sound, is the most glaring example of empty attic space in Epcot. The cordoned stairwell in Imagination’s gift shop taunts guests who remember the glory days of the Rainbow Corridor as it seems to cry out for a new reason to exist. A re-imagined Image Works could even leverage some of same technology Siemens has already brought into the park, albeit currently only for it’s private guests. Additionally, the Siemens lounge includes technology that is current, but feels more futuristic than the rest of Future World! That’s a problem. These empty spaces provide a great opportunity to create complete pavilions, as opposed to just rides, opening more exhibits and areas where guests can wonder at their own pace. Visitors to Epcot want new experiences in new spaces and opportunity to be inspired by their surroundings. If only Future World could attract the attention of the one additional corporate sponsor it really needs, the Walt Disney Company.