19 April 2016

Tomorrow's Windows

When Horizons first opened in 1983, there was a lot of information to cover and guests had a lot of questions about the view of the future. Luckily, those early Cast Members were given a booklet containing a ton of details about the attraction, its place in EPCOT Center, and how its vision of tomorrow was formed. Looking back at tomorrow is what Horizons did best, and in doing so today, I find myself drawn a little more to the story of the attraction than the science of its tomorrow. Luckily for me, the Cast Member booklet also went scene by scene through the attraction, allowing the possibility of reliving the attraction in a very different manner. Also, it’s fun finding the details that change between concept to reality! Want to stroll down memory lane? Come on, take a look at 21st century living, through the pages of the Cast Members’ booklet.

The queue and load concourse is styled as a transportation center of the future. Here, we are immersed in an environment of tomorrow. The public address system announces arriving transports and pages passengers bound for exotic locations. Three projected “travel posters” highlight our destination in this future adventure: Sea Castle, a floating city; Mesa Verde, a desert farming community; and Brava Centauri, a space colony.

Stepping onto a moving conveyor, we begin our journey as we board suspended gondolas accommodating four passengers each.

As we move through a short tunnel, our narrator tells us that we are not the first to travel forward in time; “People have been dreaming about the future for centuries.” Shifting clouds and floating images of early inventions trail his words.

is the theme that unites the next five scenes. This whimsical, lighthearted recollection gives us a taste of what some dreamers of the past thought the future might look like.

A leading visionary of his time and one of the earliest writers of science fiction, Jules Verne predicted that space travel would one day be a regular occurrence. In this scene, Verne’s bullet-rocket blasts off for the moon with Verne himself and two animals as passengers. Next, we pass by the “Man in the Moon” with the rocket ship lodged in his eye.

One concept of futuristic mass transport systems was envisioned by the 19th-century artist, Robida. His stylized view of rush-hour rapid transit was created over a hundred years ago.

The dreamers of the 1930’s put their own stamp on designs for the future. The work of visionary artists was most often published on the covers of cheap “pulp” science fiction magazines. In this setting of an art deco apartment, we see various hair-brained contraptions and mechanical wonders that were supposed to make housework obsolete, including a rather overburdened housework robot.

In more recent times, dreamers’ visions of the future have come to us through the media of television and film. Against a neon backdrop, three screens provide glimpses of the future world from classic science fiction films and television programs.

This dimensional set reveals a 1950’s conception of the future. City lights twinkle as a futuristic monorail glides along its guideway. The sky above is dominated by helicopters, jetpackers, and rocket ships.

“OMNISPHERE” (Omnimax Theater)
After passing through another transition tunnel where the shifting lights and projected colors of the “lumia” set the mood, we begin a gradual ascent past the two giant concave screens of the “Omnisphere.” Here, through spectacular projected imagery, we visit micro- and macro-worlds and the far reaches of inner and outer space. The startling imagery surrounds us above, below, and on all sides with wonders both natural and manmade; the space shuttle rising skyward atop a fiery pillar; graceful floating colonies in space; the microscopic landscape of the revolutionary computer chip; the architecture of growing crystal structures engineered by man for the age of technology; the mystery of the DNA molecule and the minute diatoms that inhabit our aquatic frontier and the enormous power of the sun being harnessed to build the future. Today, “if we can dream it, we can do it!”

is the theme of the next twenty scenes. In this section of the attraction we explore some possible habitats of the future, envisioned by the activities of an extended-family group.

We travel through a tunnel to a three-dimensional urban environment of the future, Nova Cite. It is dusk, and as we glide past, advanced transportation systems (mag-lev trains) and habitable megastructures are visible throughout the community. Our vehicles near an apartment decorated with unique plants that are the result of genetic engineering. Inside, a married couple are speaking and we recognize the man’s voice as that of our narrator. The conversations and observations of this couple (the grandparents of an extended family) will be the narration for the rest of our trip. At the moment, the grandmother is conversing with a miniature holographic image of her daughter at a desert-farm community. Here, we can see how science and technology will enhance future lifestyles.

A desert scene follows, representing one of our brightest potentials for feeding the growing population. Moving past desert mesas, we come upon Mesa Verde, the desert-farming community. In the distance, a field of genetically engineered citrus tress (we can even smell the blossoms) are being harvested by robotic fieldhands. This arid desert has been transformed into a garden paradise. Overhead, giant solar-powered airships silently carry a cargo of harvested produce across the skies. Standing by a large console in the glass-domed control room, a farmer supervises the various mechanical harvesters via a video screen, while keeping in touch with her husband on another screen. Leaving the control dome, we see a jet-powered hovercraft idling at its landing pad outside the farmer’s home.

We approach the home past a lush garden with a three-tiered waterfall and tropical flowers surrounded by a natural rock landscape. Inside, the house is designed to blend with the desert landscape. Dad fixes a cake in the kitchen while his son plays with the voice-activated pantry. In the communications center, a talking computer gives a chemistry lesson to the teen-age daughter who appears to be more interested in talking to her boyfriend on the television screen.

We leave the desert habitat, and arrive in the sub repair room of Sea Castle, the floating city (visible through a large rear window of the workshop). A young man continues his conversation, via teleview, with his girlfriend at the desert far while he repairs a mini-sub with the aid of an interactive diagnostic computer and laser-welder.

Traveling over the dive chamber, we can see a small submarine and various diving equipment laid out, awaiting the next expedition to be launched from this floating city.

Class is in session in this computerized school of tomorrow. The teacher emphasizes underwater safety as she instructs her young pupils in preparation for a dice along with their class mascot, Rover, a seal.

Passing through an airlock, we dive towards the ocean floor. Ahead, in an undersea restaurant, people are dining while watching a dolphin play just outside their windows. The children from the classroom swim by with their instructor.

The tall stalks of a kelp forest, a cultivated undersea farm, sway gently in the ocean currents while a submarine takes samples. The kelp grown here is harvested for biomass in energy production. Further on, an ocean mining operation is visible; manganese nodules are being vacuumed from the sea floor.

As our vehicles rise toward the ocean surface, the boy’s submarine appears. Suddenly the entire environment shifts and changes; the deep ocean becomes a starfield in the void of outer space and the submarine transforms into a spaceship that disappears from sight behind a floating space colony.

We drift past a construction site where an astronaut is maneuvering beams into position to build a solar-energy power station. A woman in a space vehicle lends him assistance. In the distance are three space colonies with space craft arriving and departing.

We enter an airlock chamber, which leads from outer space to the interior of space colony Brava Centauri. An intercolony transport is in the process of refueling.

Leaving the airlock chamber, we enter an observation tube and are greeted with a breathtaking view – a space city spread out in all directions “below” us. This unique revolving city clings to the inside surface of a spherically shaped, free-floating environment.

The zero-gravity recreation center is brimming with the latest in healthful recreational equipment. A woman is cycling down a bike path from her hometown on Earth, with the help of a simulation device. A body scanner monitors her condition and displays results nearby. In the background, the shadows of a group playing zero-gravity basketball are visible.

In the colony’s main shuttle docking bay, a family of new arrivals are getting their first exposure to zero-gravity. A boy and his dog are floating in the air, while his parents wait at a nearby elevator. In space, two astronauts control the movement of an asteroid being readied for transportation to Earth.

On the other side of the technical lab is the manufacturing lab, tended by automated robot arms. Inside six illuminated globes, perfect crystals are being grown for “high-tech” applications back on Earth.

Passing through the lab, we enter the colony’s community area. A space family is involved in a holographic party-line conversation, showing off their year-old child to friends and relatives. One screen features our narrators in Nova Cite, another shows their teenage granddaughter in Mesa Verde, while the boy from Sea Castle appears on the third screen.

As our ride vehicles accelerate into space through the launch tube, we view three aerial images promoting tourism. The images recall the three habitats presented in the previous “Tomorrow’s Windows” section of our journey to the future. Highlighted here re the transportation vehicles used in each of the different habitats.

Leaving the floating colony, we are surrounded by the void of outer space. Lighted panels appear on the doors of out vehicles, presenting our choices for a simulated ride through one of the three habitats we have visited. Once we have made our selections, majority rule in each vehicle determines which experience we will have.

As we depart for the habitat of our choice, our point-of-view on the high speed “ride” is from either a desert hovercraft, a mini-sub, or a space craft.

At the conclusion of our ride, we must return from the future to the present. But, as our narrator points out, the most exciting aspect of traveling into the future is that the journey never really ends… there’s always a new horizon.

Having completed our unique experience of traveling through the future, we return to the FuturePort concourse where we disembark from our ride vehicles. The extensive mural here and in the exit area illustrates man’s journey from the past into the future.

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