June 25, 2024

Photos & Review: Moana’s Journey of Water Exemplifies EPCOT Edutainment!


Journey of Water Inspired by Moana is a new water exploration trail, officially opening in October 2023 as one of the final pieces of the EPCOT overhaul. This Walt Disney World attraction review shares our

Journey of Water Inspired by Moana is a new water exploration trail, officially opening in October 2023 as one of the final pieces of the EPCOT overhaul. This Walt Disney World attraction review shares our thoughts on the experience, night photos, comparisons to other attractions, and commentary about how it fits into EPCOT.

Let’s start with some quick background for those who are unfamiliar with Moana’s Journey of Water in the EPCOT’s newly-rebranded World Nature area, which is dedicated to understanding and preserving the beauty, awe, and balance of the natural world. In addition to Journey of Water Inspired by Moana, World Nature includes The Land and The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilions.

Moana’s Journey of Water is essentially on the outer edge of World Nature, and the backside of the walkthrough abuts World Celebration. Most of that area of EPCOT is still behind a sea of construction walls, and will be the last area completed. That includes CommuniCore Hall, which is really the only thing of substance left to debut after Moana’s Journey of Water. The rest of World Celebration is basically just trees and stuff.

Turning to the review, there are a lot of different ways to approach Moana’s Journey of Water and opinions of it can (and will) vary widely based on the context and considerations. Normally, we review things in a vacuum. Which is to say that the surrounding circumstances, construction, and operational realities are ignored.

This is how Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has been our #1 attraction Walt Disney World (technically, tied for #1), despite it using a virtual queue, having frequent downtime, and other frustrations. Same goes for TRON Lightcycle Run scoring well despite being a clone that took way too long to build.

Our general view is that all of these variables can inform perspectives and color opinions, but they’re more worthy of discussion prior to opening. A first-timer walking into Magic Kingdom today probably won’t care how long TRON took to build–it’s immaterial to them. But someone who visited the park last October while it was somehow still under construction and missed it might feel differently.

In any case, we do want to briefly address a few such considerations with Moana’s Journey of Water…

The first is pretty much the same frustration fans have faced with all recent Walt Disney World additions: construction duration. Journey of Water was announced over 4 years ago, and like the rest of the EPCOT overhaul, it has been plagued by delays. Some of this is attributable to the pandemic, closure of the parks, and the plans for World Celebration changing as a result.

Even though Moana’s Journey of Water is not part of World Celebration, it’s close enough to the central spine that it absolutely has been impacted by that. Frankly, while 4 years is way too long to build an interactive water walkthrough, most of the blame for the delay is attributable to the uncertainty with World Celebration and the CommuniCore construction.

Despite it being nearly finished for months, I suspect Walt Disney World has hesitated in opening Moana’s Journey of Water due to the construction walls around the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit™️. That’s because there likely were/are operational concerns about crowd flow through this area once Moana’s Journey of Water opens.

In particular, the big question marks with Moana’s Journey of Water are hourly capacity, overcrowding, and where to put the standby line amidst the sea of construction walls surrounding the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit. The current corridor is already cramped due to the construction, and there’s not a ton of space for a physical standby line in this area until more walls come down.

Hopefully, these are only issues in the near-term. If you visit in the next couple months, you might encounter chaos and crowds that color your opinion of Moana’s Journey of Water, and determine that it’s “not worth it.” If you visit in 2024, you might encounter zero crowds or construction walls, no line whatsoever, and a completely comfortable experience.

When it comes to the location of Moana’s Journey of Water relative to World Celebration, there are also permanent considerations. One of the complaints we’ve heard on this front is that the walk-through destroyed the symmetry of the former Future World–in particular, the Innoventions or CommuniCore buildings.

If you look at an aerial before/after view of World Celebration, you’ll see this is true. The buildings behind Spaceship Earth were previously perfect symmetrical, and that has been carried over on the other side, with the reimagined Connections Cafe and Creations Shop. Meanwhile, the Moana Maze and CommuniCore Hall are not.

This is a weird one. When I’m navigating a theme park, I’m not thinking about aerial symmetry. As much as I liked components of the former central spine and Innoventions, its symmetry was not one of the things that made me a lifelong fan. Maybe I’m just a simpleton, but the symmetry complaints strike me as a ‘Very Online’ perspective, and one that would only come to mind when looking at concept art or overhead photos. Is anyone actually thinking this while walking through the park? (Maybe I’m the minority.)

I have many complaints about World Celebration (many!), but symmetry is not one of them. Not only that, but I think complaining about Journey of Water replacing symmetrical buildings requires taking a very idealized or even abstract view of EPCOT and ignoring what it was actually like in 2019. Innoventions may have been symmetrical, but it also had serious dead mall vibes. Something had to be done.

I don’t think the World Celebration plan was the best, or even a good “something” given the 4 years it took to accomplish. But we’re starting to veer off into reviewing that instead of Moana’s Journey of Water. I’ll just say that I would’ve loved to see a more ambitious plan that had a counterpart to Journey of Water on the other side of Spaceship Earth. How cool would it have been to have a water exploration trail here, and an interactive fiber optics walkthrough opposite it?!

With all of that out of the way, let’s turn to the substantive review of Moana’s Journey of Water in isolation. From my perspective, this walkthrough is an excellent attraction that exemplifies the spirit and original mission of EPCOT Center. It was also very much needed.

As part of the overhaul, there have been a number of things that have attempted to strike the right balance between edutainment and intellectual property, appeasing both diehard EPCOT Center fans and casual guests expecting to see characters. I would argue that no other addition accomplishes this as well as Moana’s Journey of Water.

Journey of Water is an ‘edutainment’ attraction at its heart, walking guests through an environment that engages and educates guests about the water cycle and how it sustains our world. In classic EPCOT fashion, it does so by both showing and telling.

For those who want to have fun or learn by doing, simply interact with the water displays throughout the experience. You may not necessarily learn about the water cycle in an academic manner, but Journey of Water still informs and engages in the most fundamental sense, and can act as a foundation for understanding how water ‘works’ for kids.

You might even say that there’s a bit of learning by osmosis for kids in exploring Moana’s Journey of Water. It reminds me of playing with LEGOs or Zelda Tears of the Kingdom, for example, which can teach structural engineering, applied physics, and problem-solving skills. Somewhat similar idea here.

For those who want to good ole fashioned book knowledge, there are graphics throughout Moana’s Journey of Water that educate about the water cycle. These share the vital link we have with water across our planet, and inspire the important role we all share in preserving this life-giving and life-sustaining precious resource.

I’ve seen some Walt Disney World fans criticize these placards and, frankly, I can’t understand why. Reading signage has been a staple of EPCOT Center since I was a kid. All this does is add a layer of depth for those who want to learn more, or in less of an abstract manner. I cannot fathom how this is a negative–you’re free to ignore these graphics if you don’t want to read or are illiterate. No one is going to force you to learn anything–this is still America!

My biggest surprise was actually how much Journey of Water leans into edutainment and away from the animated movie characters. Although it features intellectual property, Journey of Water is only Inspired by Moana. Aside from the entrance and the towering Te Fiti figure, the references to Moana are minimal–mostly just Easter eggs carved into the rockwork. You could go through most of the walkthrough without ever realizing it’s related to Moana at all. (I know the photos here suggest otherwise, but that’s because I focused mostly on the photogenic components, which are those featuring Moana stuff.)

This is one of the most natural incorporations of intellectual property into EPCOT in years, with Moana being an organic fit for this experience. If anything, Moana is a bit of a pretense–a conduit for “tricking” kids into learning about the water cycle, having fun, and playing with water.

If you told me that Imagineering conceived of this as an IP-free water exploration trail but could only get funding with Moana attached, I’d believe you. It very much feels like an authentic EPCOT experience, rather than a thinly-veiled excuse for more characters and films in the park.

As much as I love Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, this almost feels like the opposite of that. Whereas the queue and preshows of Cosmic Rewind do a great job of weaving together a narrative framework that makes the attraction a plausible fit for EPCOT, it’s still shoehorned. It’s a matter of making lemonade out of lemons, and to their credit, Imagineers did an admirable job with making the Wonders of Xandar feel “close enough” to an EPCOT pavilion.

By contrast, Journey of Water is an EPCOT Center attraction at its heart. It is perfectly at home in the former Future World, and feels like an organic fit to the park. If anything is shoehorned in, it’s the Moana references. Journey of Water could drop those without losing anything. (In actuality, nothing is shoehorned into this–the characters and the edutainment quality meld flawlessly with one another.)

Not only that, but Journey of Water feels like the perfect outdoor counterpart to both the Land and Seas pavilions, showcasing the intersection of the two. It’s an excellent way to round out the World Nature neighborhood, and makes for the perfect little self-contained area. Journey of Water is certainly a better counterpart to those pavilions than whatever was previously inside this area of Innoventions.

With that said, Moana’s Journey of Water is entirely separate from those pavilions once you’re inside the water exploration trail. It’s secluded from both World Celebration and Nature, and the only time you see the rest of the park is when Spaceship Earth is perfectly positioned as a backdrop. I’m sure something could be said about the symbolism of this man-made symbol of the Water Planet juxtaposed against the (also man-made) version of earth’s water cycle. But really, I just think it looks cool.

To that point, the layout and staging of Moana’s Journey of Water is excellent. Originally, I was skeptical about this being a self-contained area rather than a water area you could stumble upon while walking through EPCOT, but they made the right call. (This is not a path that you can cut through to get from point A to B in EPCOT. It’s a horseshoe-shaped trail, with the entrance and exit in the same general area.)

Several of the interactive areas feature Spaceship Earth as a backdrop, and are absolutely picturesque as a result–much more photogenic than they’d be if they were simply water features and rockwork. Of course, there’s the Te Fiti towards the end, the reveal of which with Spaceship Earth in the background is about as much of a ‘wow-moment’ as you could possibly get from a walkthrough trail.

Speaking of the rockwork, it’s very nicely done. Imagineering has become incredibly adept at designing rockwork in the last decade-plus, with Cars Land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Pandora – World of Avatar, and even areas of New Fantasyland coming to mind as exemplars. Most of this is attributable to Imagineer Zsolt Hormay, but I’m unsure whether he was involved with Journey of Water. Regardless, the rockwork in Journey of Water is great.

Another thing Imagineering does well is lighting, and that’s also on full display in Moana’s Journey of Water. The light fixtures offer a soft, warm light; focal points have a wider variety of colors and are evenly lit; the water itself is cooler colors; mercifully, they don’t overdue it with deep blues everywhere.

The end result is an experience that, like so many things at Walt Disney World, is much better at night. Moana’s Journey of Water absolutely nails the artificial lighting, with a serene and moody quality. While enjoyable during the day–especially the 47 weeks of the year when Florida is hot–you absolutely must do Moana’s Journey of Water at night. It’s stunning when illuminated, and with Spaceship Earth’s Beacons of Magic dancing in the background.

From my perspective, the biggest question mark in the medium and long-term is interactivity. Moana’s Journey of Water has features that are eerily reminiscent of those found in interactive queues at Walt Disney World from the last decade. If you’re unfamiliar with these interactive queues–exactly. Most of them were disabled long ago.

My fear is that Journey of Water will suffer a similar fate. Already, my visits to the water exploration trail have seen multiple stations temporarily unavailable due to issues. In fairness, that’s to be expected because the attraction is still in previews, and Imagineering always has to work out pesky problems pre-opening.

But it’s also not difficult to envision a scenario where park ops decides certain guest-triggered interactivity is more trouble than it’s worth, or is causing pinch-points and crowding, and puts them on a timer. That certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would make the interactivity less impressive.

With so much gushing, it’s important put Journey of Water Inspired by Moana in context to appropriately set expectations. As should be clear from the above, this is a walk-through water trail and not a big budget thrill ride or family-friendly dark ride. No one should plan a trip around this, and it’s not nearly as good as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind or even Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. (It being a better thematic fit for EPCOT isn’t the same as it being as big of a draw.)

The thing is, that’s fine. Not everything needs to be a blockbuster addition. Walt Disney World needs a wider variety of things to do, and especially tactile experiences where people can actively play and have fun. In that regard, this is an incredible addition. Beyond that, one of Future World’s biggest issues was that it was a concrete jungle with little shade, water, and lushness. This remedies all of those complaints, while also offering kids a place to play and blow off some steam.

Actually, it’s not just kids–it’s adults, too. I had a blast exploring and photographing Moana’s Journey of Water. Much more than I expected, in fact. My view on this previously was that it would (probably) be a needed addition to EPCOT, even if it didn’t appeal to me, personally. As it turns out, it does appeal to me personally. My group of friends had a blast going through on a Saturday night at EPCOT, taking in the views, engaging the interactive features, and seeing one another get hit by the water.

Below are more photos I took of Moana’s Journey of Water during the daytime, sunset, dusk, and night. Its appearance and atmosphere change tremendously over the course of the day, and I’d recommend visiting towards the beginning of the morning and end of the evening if at all possible.

Suffice to say, Moana’s Journey of Water is a much-needed addition to the park that embodies the spirit of EPCOT Center and its edutainment roots. The water exploration trail is wonderfully executed and much more fun than I expected. It’s one of the best additions at Walt Disney World in recent memory (while adding the obligatory “for what it is” asterisk).

I can’t wait to do Moana’s Journey of Water again, and I really hope the team of Imagineers behind this is given more projects in the EPCOT portfolio. The at times underwhelming overhaul is definitely in need of a phase 2 already!

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Are you excited for Moana’s Journey of Water? If you’re also an EPCOT Center purist, are you apprehensive that this will fit the park, or do you think learning about the water cycle makes this exploration trail a good fit? If you’ve experienced Journey of Water, what did you think of the attraction? Where does this rank among the EPCOT overhaul additions for you? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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