Epcot's Africa pavilion is the reason fans are wary of Disney's big park announcements coming true

40 years ago, EPCOT Center was supposed to open an Africa pavilion in World Showcase. The reasons why it was never completed are why fans are wary of Disney's big announcements today.
A Hippo swims through the Safi River at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando. Photo credit: Brian
A Hippo swims through the Safi River at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando. Photo credit: Brian /

D23 had some big announcements for Disney, including a renovation of Dinoland USA into an Encanto/Indiana Jones section as well as a new Test Track, among other plans. That's gotten folks really excited but also a tad wary as well and for good reason.

The sad truth is Disney has a long history of attractions that were announced but never built. Who can forget that before the pandemic, Epcot had plans to have a Play Pavilion, a Mary Poppins ride in the United Kingdom area, and a new Spaceship Earth? None of those came about. 

It's hardly new as older fans like me can remember "The Disney Decade" promised in the early 1990s with ideas from Disney's America theme park in Virginia to a Russia pavilion for World Showcase and scores of other rides. It's why people can have reservations about buying Disney going so far with these big ideas. 

What's striking about it is that 40 years ago, one of the biggest promised attractions that was never built was supposed to open. It was to be the first huge addition to the new EPCOT Center and would have paved the way for more additions. Its absence is still felt and it stands today as the epitome of Disney promising big but never delivering:

The Equatorial Africa pavilion for World Showcase. 

The missing part of World Showcase

Guests of World Showcase have long been bugged by the long stretch of land between China and Germany. It seems perfect for some pavilion but aside from a refreshment center, nothing has been there. But had the Imagineers gotten their way, that would have been different.

When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, the first maps showcased that section would have had Equatorial Africa, a pretty good addition to the park. Artwork and even full-scale models showed how guests would enter through a 60-foot tree house with a vista showing screens of actual animal footage. Thanks to the fun "smellizer" technology and wind effects, guests would totally believe they were in the African savannah watching animals graze.

While no ride was planned, there would have been two great shows. The Heartbeat of Africa would begin with guests seeing tiki drums playing in a great light and music show. It would then lead to a show on Africa's history packed with music, ending in a jazz concert.

The second show, Africa Rediscovered, was researched by Alex Haley, author of the acclaimed novel Roots. It would have explored the rich history of the land and its future. Sounds Safari would take guests over and around caves, rivers and jungles with special effects making it seem like beasts would lunge out at any moment. 

There would have been an open-air theater of African performers, an art gallery and while no restaurant was in the original plans, it likely would have been added later. 

The area seemed a sure thing with a book on EPCOT Center talking about it and it was shown on maps with "opening in 1983." In fact, a CBS special on the park's opening had host Danny Kaye meeting with Alex Haley, who showed a model of the pavilion and talked of "see you next year."

So, with so much going for it, why was ground never even broken on this place?

Why there's no Africa pavilion

The key issue was Disney wanted the pavilion to represent central Africa, so reached out to various nations, with Kenya, Senegal and the Ivory Coast signing letters of intent. However, the political situation in Africa in the early 1980s was, to put it mildly, chaotic. Just as Disney was reaching a deal with a nation, there'd be a regime change and the new government not caring about a theme park attraction. Not to mention, even the nations who seemed open to sponsorship lacked the funds to do so.

Supposedly, there was one country that had the resources to sponsor the pavilion: South Africa, which was in the era of apartheid. Needless to say, having an African pavilion sponsored by a nation that refused to recognize Africans as equal citizens was terrible optics and a headache Disney decided to avoid. 

Throw in how Disney themselves were facing some economic problems in the early 1980s and the pavilion kept being pushed back and eventually just never made, which is why all you get today is the refreshment stand. 

The legacy of the Africa pavilion

To show Disney never throws anything away, it's clear the Harambe section of the Animal Kingdom utilized several of the plans and ideas for the Africa pavilion. That finally brought those ideas to fruition to showcase the continent wonderfully.

But the true legacy of Equatorial Africa at EPCOT is to show that there's no project so big that Disney won't back out of not building it in the end due to various complications. It's why fans keep their expectations tempered for such big announcements, as all one has to do is look at that long stretch of land in World Showcase to see how not all of Disney's big ideas come to fruition.