An in-depth look at EPCOT's Journey of Water Inspired by Moana at Walt Disney World

Sep 07, 2023 in "Journey of Water Inspired by Moana"

Journey of Water Inspired by Moana overview
Posted: Thursday September 7, 2023 8:40am ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

Walt Disney World is on the cusp of unveiling its highly-anticipated Journey of Water Inspired by Moana at EPCOT, a walk-through experience designed to entertain and educate. Nestled within the park's World Nature area and featuring elements drawn from classic EPCOT water attractions and the hit animated movie Moana, this immersive experience has already garnered significant buzz. 

As Imagineers put the finishing touches on EPCOT's newest attraction, here is an in-depth look at what you can expect - from interactive water play areas to educational elements - when Journey of Water opens to guests on October 16, 2023.

Watch the video below for a tour of Journey of Water Inspired by Moana. (4K YouTube)

Bridging the Past and Present: Journey of Water and EPCOT's Legacy of Water Attractions

Disney announced back in 2019 that Journey of Water Inspired by Moana would be coming to Epcot as part of the park's massive redevelopment project. It was a new direction for EPCOT, leaning into existing movie franchises and aiming to make the park more accessible to families with younger children.

The pandemic delayed EPCOT's transformation, and construction began on Journey of Water in June 2021. Just over two years later, Walt Disney Imagineers are completing the finishing touches for what Disney says will be a "late 2023" opening.

The idea of a water playground is familiar to EPCOT, with the park originally including the Fountain of Nations, leapfrog water jets, the upside-down waterfall at the Imagination pavilion, and several splash pads, one of which is still available in World Discovery.

Work on the original leapfrog fountains by Mark Fuller led to the formation of WET Design, which would go on to create some of the world's most impressive fountain displays, including the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Designers have incorporated some original EPCOT concepts into an educational and entertaining experience centered on the water cycle with a touch of Moana.

The choice of Moana was an interesting design decision. Some Disney fans saw it as another character IP invading EPCOT, moving it closer to a Magic Kingdom-type park. In contrast, others welcomed the addition of a familiar character, appealing to all ages, especially younger children.

Moana's inclusion in EPCOT comes at a time when she is also expected to have a significant presence in a future expansion of Disney's Animal Kingdom, as revealed by Disney Parks head Josh D'Amaro at last year's D23 Expo. Some argue that the entire Journey of Water experience would better fit Disney's Animal Kingdom, a park that is centered around lush vegetation with themes of conservation and education.

Ignoring the argument of which park Journey of Water belongs in, question marks also surround whether it is in the best place within EPCOT. While being part of World Nature, Journey of Water sits on the very edge of the area close to Spaceship Earth, and it would seem to have made more sense for it to be slotted in between The Seas and The Land pavilions, freeing up the space for a more impressive and more extensive attraction in World Celebration on the former Innoventions site.

What is Journey of Water Inspired by Moana?

In its most basic form, Journey of Water is a walk-through experience that offers lush landscaping, water features, and some education on the water cycle, with a little bit of Moana thrown into the mix.

Journey of Water will be experienced on different levels by different guests. Some will see it as a splash pad, others as a nice place to walk through, some as a learning experience about water, a homage to Moana, and others as a mix of all these things.

The educational aspect requires guests to read signs. There isn't any narration, animatronics, live actors, or video screens, but the information is presented clearly and in simple terms that any guest can understand.

The attraction explores the water cycle through the signs, landscaping, and interactive elements. As you move through the trails, you will see how rain rejuvenates landscapes and streams into wetlands that nurture unique ecosystems. The streams unite and gather strength as they move downhill, eventually going underground to become springs or widening into rivers that sustain life. The land also plays a role in this cycle, guiding water's flow while being shaped by it. Finally, the cycle concludes in the ocean, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between water and all forms of life.

Journey of Water is not a detailed learning experience on the level of the original EPCOT pavilions like the Living Seas and Universe of Energy. Set expectations accordingly from the education perspective.

Where Journey of Water exceeds expectations is in the interactive water play areas. Notably, designers built play capacity into the experience, where each section has multiple setups of the same effect. This configuration means guests are not standing around waiting for others to finish an interaction before they can try it for themselves. An example is where the water streams act as strings on musical instruments. Four sets of water columns are set into the rockwork widely spaced, giving enough capacity for groups of guests to try it out without much of a wait.

Most water effects and interactions are sensor-driven and seem very accurate and precise. Water responds to waving arms and jumping in a way that seemingly gives guests control of it. There is a nice effect with streams of water falling above a tunnel, and as you enter, the curtain of water separates and quickly closes after you pass. It's an exact effect that keeps you perfectly dry.

 

Several laminar flow effects are in use, which are famously used in the Imagination pavilion's leapfrog fountains. These streams of water maintain a clear tube-like state and appear to fly through the air, gracefully gliding over guests' heads on the walkways.

It is worth noting that in some areas, there are two paths to follow - dry and wet. If you wish to avoid the possibility of getting slightly damp, take the dry path. One area at the trail's end features pop jets, similar to the splash pad near Test Track. Jets of water will randomly emerge from the ground as guests pass through. This area is off to the side and can be easily bypassed, but it is very popular with kids looking to get even more hands-on with the water.

Some interactions require teamwork for the best results. Coordinated waving or jumping at the right time adds an element of gameplay to the attraction.

A meet and greet with Moana in a specially built area will be available once Journey of Water Inspired by Moana officially opens on October 16.

There is music based on the movie soundtrack playing in the background, and there are some nods to the movie in the signage and rockwork. Some guests will be disappointed with how little Moana content there is with an experience bearing her name.

Journey of Water Inspired by Moana is a fun and entertaining experience, particularly for those with young children. It is the type of attraction all Walt Disney World theme parks could benefit from. While everyone values big E-ticket class attractions, experiences that don't require long lines and hours of time are equally as important. Journey of Water fits that need very nicely and is a valuable addition to the park, even though it may be in the wrong place, and could do more to educate as well as entertain.

Plan to spend around 15 minutes at Journey of Water. That should be plenty of time to walk around and see everything. If you have younger children, that time could be longer. Disney has yet to announce how it plans to manage demand, but some form of queue will be required, at least in the early days. Capacity could be higher, and Disney will need to limit the number of guests on the trails to operate effectively. The walking trail is entirely outdoors, so expect closures in inclement weather, and be aware that there is not much shade from the sun. That may change in future years as more of the larger trees grow in.

You will find a couple of benches near the beginning of the walk-through, but designers clearly don't want guests to spend an extended amount of time inside the attraction. While nothing stops guests from working their way back through the pathways, most guests we saw during the previews were following through the trail in a one-way direction from the entry to the exit.

There is a single restroom about halfway through, and there is only one way in and one way out of Journey of Water. You cannot cut through the area on the way to Soarin' or any other part of the park.

Although operating hours are not yet available, Journey of Water includes a comprehensive lighting package that looks beautiful after sunset. Aim to visit Journey of Water during the daytime and after dark to see the water effects in both modes.

Finally, be aware that there are rules for guests entering the interactive water areas. Namely, swim diapers are required for young children, kids under 12 require adult supervision, and no glass is allowed on the wet deck.

Journey of Water Inspired by Moana Previews and Grand Opening

Walt Disney World Annual Passholder and Disney Vacation Club Member previews begin September 24, 2023. Learn more about Journey of Water previews. Journey of Water will officially open to all guests on October 16, 2023.

Concluding Thoughts: A Splash of Ingenuity Worth Exploring

In summary, Journey of Water Inspired by Moana is a refreshing addition to EPCOT's evolving line-up of attractions. While it may not offer the in-depth educational experience of some of the park's original pavilions, it successfully blends entertainment, interactivity, and a touch of education in a way that will likely resonate with visitors of all ages.

The attraction addresses a current gap in the Disney parks experience: the need for lower-intensity yet engaging experiences that don't require waiting hours in line or buying Lightning Lane passes. Although some questions remain regarding its precise thematic fit within EPCOT and the relatively minimal inclusion of Moana elements, the experience is a welcome nod to the park's legacy of innovation and a glimpse of its future direction.

As Disney finalizes plans for managing guest demand and operating hours, one thing is clear: Journey of Water is a splash of ingenuity worth exploring, both in daylight and under the park's evening glow.

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Virtual Toad20 days ago

I have to wonder if there ever was a commitment, even in the blue-sky phase, of a complete redo of Future World West into a full-on Adventureland or Animal Kingdom-esque exotic setting. It seems unlikely given the general lack of focus plus the already extravagant conversion of the central hub into a more natural setting. It boggles the mind further why there's no direct entrance to Moana from the hub as the thematic inconsistency would be a lot less jarring. Have it serve as the "gateway" to World Nature, like the Oasis area of AK, and that would begin to at least make a little bit of sense. Back to FW West, I just can't see modern Disney doing a full-on retheme of that scale in addition to the ton of money and time they already spent on everything else. Perhaps it could have made more sense to put the trees and natural elements they used in the hub in FW West instead, making the area look a lot more like what you'd expect from "World Nature," and leave the hub as it was. Still, there's the prominent architecture of the Seas and Land to deal with, not to mention Imagination still sticking out like a sore thumb. Plus, what ultimate value would there be in taking part of what sets (or used to set) Epcot apart and turning it into something you already did much, much better somewhere else? Tweak the Moana message more toward conservation of water (and the benefit for the ecosystem) and it's automatically a nice fit for AK, fitting in visually as well as thematically. The "theme" of Moana (water! conservation! nature! science! (ip)) might technically fit modern "Epcot" but the placemaking and location are a mess. The more likely scenario is that it's simply the result of an awkward but insistent IP mandate, shoehorned into the park and designed by committee, made up of individuals doing their best to interpret and follow orders which were flawed from the outset. Which is exactly why it's such a mess.

Bocabear20 days ago

I agree! That is exactly it...It is a sore thumb in the visual organization of the front of the park. It visually looks comepletely out of place... If indeed they had built a rockwork archway or monument at the hub with "World Nature" on it...and then added additional elements to the two pavilions that echoed the design and feeling of Jurney Of Water, it might have felt like it fir within the fabric of the land, but the entire attraction is visually at odds with the very modern pavilions with very manicured, modern looking gardens... Honestly some sort of a monument at the hub that would inform guests that they are heading into World Nature would have made a ton of sense and would have cemented the identities of the areas... If the monument matched a design motif for the area, even better...

TrainsOfDisney20 days ago

Yeah, that’s what I was saying - I’d like to see the original concept. Plenty of very expensive work was done at Epcot that has no direct ROI.

Bill Cipher20 days ago

I think the rockwork and pavement detailing in Journey of Water is, very intentionally, supposed to be a step towards shifting the setting of World Nature to have a lush, naturalistic visual identity. It looks like DAK or Adventureland because they wanted to change the setting. It feels out of place because the rest of World Nature was not updated to match this. This is pure speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if more elaborate plans included expanding this visual identity throughout the area, but they would have likely been budget cut because that wouldn't provide any direct ROI.

Disstevefan120 days ago

No @MisterPenguin , I tried to answer the best I could as a consumer, not a theme park expert.

Disstevefan120 days ago

Not faulting you at all! I am sure Iger agrees with you and if he doesn't I am sure the imagination design committee who approved the EPCOT redesign agrees with you. I have only been going to EPCOT since 1984ish. I am only a consumer of the parks, not an expert like you are. As for articulating as to why Moana feels out of place, (for me and me only apparently) the bamboo motif Moana has, does not feel "EPCOTy" to me in the area my heart knows is Future World. While I understand this walk through is supposed to edutain about water cycles, to slap Moana on it was just to add IP for the sake of adding an IP, or make it recognizable for the little kids. Moana just feels out of place there for me. Remember Ice Station Cool? Yes, Ice Station Cool WAS OUT OF PLACE, but I thought it was so cool to have snow in EPCOT and I loved going into the super freezing tunnel and seeing the frozen man, so the fun outweighed it being out of place for me. Things I like - some of these were done for WDW's 50th but I will include them here: The removal of the tomb stones from EPCOTs entrance and I like the colorful walls thy put the memory tiles. The return of the spires in the entrance. The flags in the entrance. The points of light added to SSE, and the corresponding lighting in the entrance plaza. The removal of the pin trading spot and moving it where the camera spot was under SSE. I am even OK with the removal of the Electric umbrella and having Walt there in a little garden area. I am OK with innovations west becoming creations and connections and even the very sanitary club cool :( free soda is free soda. Things I do not like: The loss of the fountain of nations. I wish they modernized it with new fountains and maybe a water screen and come up with a show where SSE lights play along with the new fountain and as I said a water screen. The loss of innovations east. I wish they simply gutted it and made that space a festival center with a REAL STAGE and seating. Could you imagine watching a show in air conditioned comfort and seated - glorious! The stupid, awful rust elements all over the place. Rumor has it the rust comes off onto folks clothing. Good show Disney. As much as I dislike Guardians taking over The Universe of Energy at least the queue feels EPCOTy to me, like Space 220 feels very EPCOTy to me. It seems Guardians is a fun ride, but I would much have preferred they kept the very cool ride system UOE had and the attraction just be re themed to show is life beyond fossil fuels. I am not an expert. I am just a consumer.

lazyboy97o20 days ago

It was always intended for its location. The site had to become area development because they were making way for the Festival Center.

TrainsOfDisney20 days ago

I think the reason so many people mention DAK is the pavement, rockwork, and lighting all point toward DAK / Adventureland - since the rest of Epcot, even world of nature itself, has either 1980’s or 2024 modern / futuristic vibes. That’s why I keep saying I would like to see how the project evolved - because if all of works of nature had this adventure / DAK theming feel to it, I could see it being a much more natural fit.

lazyboy97o20 days ago

The difference between EPCOT Center and Disney’s Animal Kingdom can probably best be contrasted as “humans taming nature” vs “nature taming humans.” Journey of Water never really takes that step towards humans taming. It’s more abstracted. Oddly enough, by holding back on the Moana story they stay away from it because that is very much a story of conquering nature (like Zootopia it contradicts its intended metaphor). The big caveat though is that the new neighborhoods of Epcot are incredibly poorly defined. Anything vaguely earthly related would fit World Nature. More importantly though, it’s just incredibly poorly sited. It sits off to the side. There’s a reason so many for so, so, so long assumed it would be closer to the existing pavilions, because it’s actual physical placement doesn’t really make sense.

peter1143520 days ago

Yeah. I should know better than to expect them to actually make a valid argument

MisterPenguin20 days ago

Uh, oh. You're just going to get a larger meme!

peter1143520 days ago

Again. It’s not my fault you don’t understand theme parks. Can you articulate why it doesn’t fit?

Disstevefan120 days ago

;)

peter1143520 days ago

In this day and age you are correct. Everything is debatable. But it objectively fits Epcot perfectly. Just because it looks different than other things in the park doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit the park.