On January 9, 1999, I took the day off of work and headed to Epcot with a small bag filled with snacks. After just over 15 years in operation, Horizons was announced to be having its last day of operation. I spent the entire day continuing to go around and around, clinging to the memories I had made since I was a kid. After nearly 20 trips that day, I was the last guest to step off the ride before it closed for good.
There was something absolutely magical about the attraction that still fascinates me to this day. It remains the greatest dark ride of all time and here are 10 reasons why:
10. Proximity From Guest To Show Scene
Let me explain. Normally, when you ride an omnimover system, your field of vision is blocked at least partially depending on which direction the car is turned. For example, as Doom Buggies leave load at Haunted Mansion, your field of vision is blocked by the car ahead which happens several times throughout the ride.
Horizons had a unique ride system that featured cars that were suspended in mid-air and driven from the top and behind the rider. Each vehicle was a long bench that faced outward with an unobstructed view of each show scene giving guests a perfect view every time.
Thanks to the bench seating, you could fit four guests easily within each car. This meant their hourly capacity was 2,784 guests, which rivals people eating attractions like it’s a small world and the Wedway Peoplemover. Even if the line was out the door and was using extended queue, it rarely topped 20 minutes.
8. An Unofficial Sequel to the Carousel of Progress
The common thread between Carousel of Progress and Horizons was the original sponsor for both attractions: General Electric. In one of the original pitches to GE, the idea was Horizons would be a proper sequel to the classic attraction.
In many ways, it still was. The Carousel of Progress follows a family through several generations and demonstrates how past technology influences what we see today. It ends with the kids becoming a little older, but not fully grown and how they use current gadgets and gizmos. Horizons picked up where the Carousel family left off. We’re now following them into the future and they’re going off to college.
Are they the exact same characters? No, but the family dynamic is pretty similar. The mother and father have sent their kids to college and they keep in touch via holographic video phone. Even “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” played in one of the “Looking Back at Tomorrow” scenes.
7. Details, Details, Details
My favorite detail in all of Horizons had absolutely nothing to do with the ride, special effects or new technology. There were all kinds of details crammed into this ride. My favorite? Just as you were entering the desert farming scene, roughly three feet from your car stood a small waterfall. As you rounded the corner, you could hear the water rushing down into a small pool at the bottom (and occasionally get a few drops of water on you).
At the bottom of the falls near the water’s edge was an animatronic kitten that was scanning the pool. Her motions frantically twitched back and forth as she thought she saw something move underneath the surface. Every few seconds, a fish would jump out and the kitten would paw at it, trying to snatch the fish from its natural habitat. After over 16 years of trying, that kitten never caught that fish… nor did it grow older, for that matter.
6. The Orange Smell
Just after your vehicle passed the kitten and the waterfall, your nostrils were smacked with the scent of fresh oranges. The scene depicted futuristic harvesting machines on a “desert farm,” which just so happened to be an orange grove. Thanks to a fairly hidden scent cannon, the aroma filled the air just long enough for you to take in a strong whiff on what I consider to be the greatest artificial smell to be featured in an attraction ever.
In a world filled with depressing images of what our future will be like if we don’t change our ways, Horizons gave us hope that a future could be better than we ever imagined. Even in 1983, Imagineering understood the world was changing and that the way people communicate, work and play was all changing rapidly. While we may not currently have space colonies or classrooms underwater, the hope was that we could all work together to further explore our potential as a species. More than any other pavilion at Epcot, past or present, Horizons made us feel like the future was going to bring us together.
4. Omnimax Screens
Although I’ve never dropped acid, skimming across a microchip ten-stories-tall was pretty trippy. Thanks to two omnimax screens tipped on their side, Horizons ride vehicles entered a dome where they were suspended in mid-air amongst two huge screens.
You could get lost in the DNA chain or feel the rumble of a space shuttle taking off. The sounds echoed, the screens were overwhelming and the entire thing just swallowed you up. The audio in your vehicles had to sync up perfectly with the action on screen and even this was a new technological breakthrough for a ride.
3. Horizons Represented Epcot
“EPCOT Center celebrates human achievements and innovation born from imagination. It is a showplace dedicated to entertain we hope, with a purpose. Our goals for EPCOT Center are quite clear; we want to first entertain, then inform and inspire all who come here and above all, to instill in our guests a new sense of belief and pride in mankind’s ability to shape a world that offers real hope to people everywhere in the world.”
– E. Cardon Walker, Epcot Dedication Plaque
With every other attraction, you could certainly check several of those boxes laid out by Card Walker in 1982, but Horizons truly was the embodiment of what Epcot was trying to achieve.
2. Linked Storylines
The overall story arch of Horizons was fairly simple.
Act One: Past – Examining how we used to look at the future.
Act Two: Present – This scene was represented in the omnimax domes and was our current view of what we were doing today to create a better future.
Act Three: Future – Based on what we know now, this is what the future can be.
In addition, the queue gave us glimpses through actual windows of what future living could be like in the desert, space and undersea. Not only are these concepts fleshed out in the ride, so are the transportation vehicles used in each scene. There are literally dozens of props, characters and themes interwoven throughout the entire ride and far too many to list in this small space.
1. Choose Your Own Ending
Long before any ride had attempted it, Horizons had three different endings to the attraction that was completely chosen by the riders in each vehicle. Based on the majority of the vote, guests could end their journey by going through the dessert, space or undersea. It’s as if each omnimover ride vehicle hooked itself on a miniature simulator and was able to fly around complete with realistic vibrations under the seat to match the action on screen.
No matter how many videos I see of the ride on YouTube, nothing replaces being there, smelling those oranges and being in that ride vehicle. For dark ride fans, it was like a spiritual experience. Hard to describe and it really did have a strong impact on my life. Did I miss any points that you enjoyed about the ride? Let me know in the comments below.
Come back to Theme Park University and we will discuss the construction of Horizons, go behind-the-scenes and discuss the Horizons that never was! Many thanks to Martin Smith who was so generous to share his collection of photos he has acquired of Horizons over the years. Take a moment to visit his site MartinsVids.Net!
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