International Gateway, Showcase Plaza, & Millennium Village – Part One

Jack Spence Masthead

I’m going to start this two-part blog with Epcot’s International Gateway. Most people give little thought to this spot along the World Showcase promenade. In fact, International Gateway is not technically part of the promenade. It lies on a small spur off of the main walkway between the France and United Kingdom Pavilions. And unless you’re staying at one of the Epcot deluxe resorts, you’ve probably never ventured from the main thoroughfare to see what’s here. And I understand this. There really isn’t any need for the average guest to check out this area. But like almost everything at Walt Disney World, there is a story behind this unassuming spot. I’ll begin today’s tale in Europe.

Part of the inspiration for Disneyland came from Walt’s visit to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was greatly impressed by the theming of the buildings, the manicured grounds, and the cleanliness of the facility. Seeing this park helped him realize that his visions for a theme park were possible. However, there was one aspect of Tivoli Gardens that Walt did not like. The park sat on a city block and had four entrances, one on each street. Walt wanted to control how people first entered and experienced Disneyland and this would require one entrance only.

The pictures below show two of the entrances to Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens

As we know, Disneyland was laid out in a “hub & spoke” design. All of the lands radiated from the center of the park. This mandated that if there was only one entrance, all guests would experience Main Street before venturing into the other realms of the park. This worked wonderfully and Walt could “control” his guests’ first impressions.

However, Walt broke his own rule when the Disneyland monorail was extended to the Disneyland Hotel in 1961. Now guests could board the monorail at the hotel and enter Disneyland via Tomorrowland.

Monorail at Disneyland Hotel

Monorail in Tomorrowland

The idea of a monorail running through Tomorrowland was at least discussed when the Magic Kingdom in Florida was being planned. This can be seen in an early concept drawing. Whether or not a Tomorrowland Station would have been included had this idea advanced, I do not know.

Concept Drawing of the Magic Kingdom and the Monorail

Now let’s switch gears and move to Epcot in the mid 1970’s.

One famous Disney legend revolves around the evolution of Epcot. In the planning stages, Future World and World Showcase were to be two separate parks — each to require its own admission ticket. But as plans progressed, it was realized that neither park offered enough to fill a visitor’s entire day. So the Imagineers literally pushed the models of Future World and World Showcase together to create one, large park.

During the first few years of Epcot’s operation, both Future World and World Showcase opened at the same time, 9am. However, because the park is not laid out in the “hub & spoke” design like Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, but rather two large circles, guests tended to experience everything in Future World in the morning hours. They would not even venture to World Showcase until the afternoon and evening, leaving Future World deserted after dark. So it was decided to stagger the opening times – 9am for Future World and 11am for World Showcase – with some attractions in Future World closing at 7pm. Even on the busiest days, you can still enjoy World Showcase almost crowd-free if you tour this area between 11am and noon.

I have often wondered why the Imagineers didn’t place the entrance to Epcot between the Mexico Pavilion and Test Track (then World of Motion) or between the Imagination and Canada Pavilions. If they had done this, guests would have had a choice which area to visit first and the park would have filled more evenly.

When the World Showcase promenade was being designed, the Imagineers wanted a level walkway all around the lagoon. This would aid in pedestrian traffic and make it easier for the omnibuses to navigate the 1.3 miles around the promenade. In addition, a small fleet of Friendship boats was planned to ferry guests across World Showcase Lagoon. However, the boats needed an out-of-sight dock were they could be cleaned and maintained each night. A spot was selected behind what is now the Outpost located between the China and Germany Pavilions. However, this location would require the boats pass beneath the World Showcase promenade. The only way to have a level walkway and a bridge high enough for the boats to pass beneath would be to install a draw bridge – which is what they ultimately decided to do.

Drawbridge

Friendship Boat

Omnibus

Before International Gateway, a waterway already existed next to the France Pavilion. It was modestly landscaped to look like the Seine River in Paris.

The Seine River

This next picture was taken from an early Epcot guide map, before the addition of International Gateway. Notice there is only one bridge depicted (even though the waterway (the Seine) was omitted from the map). In the second picture, you can see the walkway between the United Kingdom and France Pavilions as it appeared in 1983, before the addition of International Gateway. This area contained only a simple sidewalk lined with benches, trees, and lampposts.

Guidemap

Before International Gateway

Sometime after Michael Eisner’s appointment to head the Disney Company in 1984, a vast new hotel complex was planned for the land just west of Epcot. It was to contain two non-Disney hotels (the Swan and Dolphin) to satisfy a contractual agreement with the U.S. Steel Company and three Disney owned-and-operated resorts, the Yacht, Beach, and Boardwalk. Here are the opening dates for each:

Walt Disney World Swan – January 13, 1990

Walt Disney World Dolphin – June 1, 1990

Yacht Club – November 5, 1990

Beach Club – November 19, 1990

Boardwalk – July 1, 1996

The Imagineers knew that the deluxe Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian Resorts had monorail service to connect them to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The Imagineers also knew that guests of these new deluxe “Epcot” resorts would want some sort of special theme park transportation if they were to compete with the “Magic Kingdom” hotels. Their solution was twofold.

First, they would create a “backdoor” into Epcot to be called International Gateway. This would allow guests staying at this new resort area easy access into the park. And second, they would complete a waterway all the way from International Gateway to the entrance of the recently opened Disney/MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Along this waterway, an expanded fleet of Friendship boats would make stops at the two theme parks, the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach, and Swan & Dolphin resorts

The logical spot to berth the expanded fleet of Friendship boats would be at the existing dock located behind the Outpost. However, the only bridge on the west side of World Showcase (the bridge into France) was too low for the boats to pass beneath. A second bridge would need to be constructed. This left the Imagineers with two choices, build another draw bridge (expensive) or build a bridge high enough for the boats to pass beneath (less expensive). But this second choice would require a slight rise in the walkway’s elevation and the promenade would no longer be level all the way around World Showcase. As we all know, the less expensive option was selected.

The first picture below is of the existing France bridge which is too low for the Friendship boats to pass beneath. The second picture was taken in 1989 and shows the new, second bridge under construction. The third picture shows the completed bridge. The fourth picture is of the new island that was formed during construction and the elaborate viewing area created here for IllumiNations. However, don’t count on this spot being available come 9pm as it is usually rented to groups and organizations for private parties.

France Bridge

Second Bridge Under Construction

Second Bridge Completed

Newly Landscaped Island

To help you understand the transformation this area went through, I have created a “before and after” animation. The buildings at the top right of the picture are the United Kingdom Pavilion. The buildings in the lower left are the France Pavilion. Note, the “before” photo is just a rough approximation of what this area originally looked like.

Bridge Construction

For those of you wondering about the demise of the World Showcase omnibuses, I can’t find any definitive information on the subject. According to Birnbaum’s Official Walt Disney World Guide, they ran until sometime in 1996. So the rise in elevation along the World Showcase promenade probably did not play any significant role in their being discontinued. I suspect they were retired for two reasons, safety concerns and budget cuts.

International Gateway opened on January 12, 1990, just one day before the Swan, the first of the deluxe Epcot resorts. Here is a picture of International Gateway under construction and a current-day shot of this area as seen from the France Pavilion.

International Gateway Under Construction

International Gateway as seen from the France Pavilion

Since International Gateway is located directly across “the Seine”, the architecture needed to complement that of the France Pavilion. To do this, the Imagineers combined elements from the Belle Epoque (the beautiful age) of Paris with an old style European customs house that might be found at a port of entry.

International Gateway

Guests arriving at International Gateway via the Friendship boats dock at a nearby landing. From here it is just a short walk to the backdoor of Epcot.

Friendship Landing at International Gateway

Friendship Landing at International Gateway

International Gateway Entrance

In the early years of International Gateway, a tram similar to those used in the parking lots circled Crescent Lake and stopped at the various hotels before returning to Epcot. However, this mode of transportation was eventually discontinued as it was felt the Friendship boats were adequate and the trams posed a danger to pedestrians sharing the same walkway.

For those guests who choose to walk to International Gateway from their resort, it takes about 15-20 minutes from the Swan & Dolphin and 10-15 minutes from the Boardwalk, Yacht, and Beach Resorts.

Just like at the main entrance to Epcot, admission tickets can be purchased at International Gateway from one of the two ticket booths. Lines are rarely long here. Near the ticket booths are large, seldom crowded restrooms.

Ticket Booth

Restrooms

Just beyond the ticket booths are bag check and then the turnstiles leading into World Showcase. The turnstile hours of operation at International Gateway are the same as those located at the main entrance.

Bag Check

Turnstiles

Once inside the park, strollers, wheelchairs, and a limited number of ECV’s are available for rent. Guide maps and Times Guides are also found in this area. In addition, a small number of lockers can be rented here.

Stroller & Wheelchair Rental

Lockers

International Gateway features one shop, World Traveler. The interior of this shop is designed in the Art Nouveau style. This form of decorating uses flowing lines that incorporate plant and floral inspired motifs. Art Nouveau flourished in both America and Europe and reached its peak of popularity around the turn of the 20th century. The “international” motif of this building is further enhanced with posters promoting foreign travel. The merchandise sold here consists of Disney souvenirs and some refrigerated bottled beverages to cool down with.

World Traveler Shop Exterior

Travel Poster

Travel Poster

World Traveler Shop Interior

International Gateway is a fantastic perk when staying at one of the deluxe Epcot resorts. In the morning, it’s wonderful not to worry about buses or parking, and enter Epcot via this hassle-free entrance. And at night after Illuminations, you can bypass the hordes of people cramming into Future World on their way to the parking lot. I like International Gateway and would eagerly recommend staying at one of the hotels that accesses Epcot’s backdoor.

I started this article discussing the addition of a second entrance into Disneyland and later a backdoor into Epcot. Here are the other parks that feature a second entrance:

Disney’s California Adventure – the second entrance is located behind the Grand Californian Hotel and enters into the Golden State section of the park. At one time, a third entrance into California Adventure could be found in the Paradise Pier section of the park and catered to guests staying at the Paradise Pier Hotel across the street. However, this entrance is no longer in use.

Tokyo DisneySea – the second entrance is via the Mira Costa Hotel and is used exclusively by resort guests.

That’s it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when I will discuss Showcase Plaza and Millennium Village.

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32 Replies to “International Gateway, Showcase Plaza, & Millennium Village – Part One”

  1. Hi…is it possible to get to the main entrance of Epcot from the International Entrance without entering the park? We are staying at the Dolphin and would like to ferry to Epcot and then catch the monorail to go check out the monorail resorts. Thank you.

  2. Jack – We will be renting a car since we’re staying off-resort (sadly). We usually just do 1 portion of a day at Future World, then spend several days at Epcot and strolling the Boardwalk, so I’m familiar with the International Gateway (and LOVE your history lesson!!!). Here’s my question … WHERE SHOULD WE PARK that will get us near the International Gateway (either by walking from the ESPN Club end of the Boardwalk or by boat)?

  3. Just brilliant, as always Jack.
    Hubby and I had been inquisitive about International Gateway for years and often wondered if you could use it even if you were not staying at one of the Epcot resorts. As Brits we have to leave a few years between visits (cost of flights to blame for this!) but eventually we got to use IG in 2008 as we had an ADR for Spoodles(now Kouzina)on The Boardwalk. We decided to get the Monorail from The Grand Floridian, where we were staying, to Epcot then walk through Future World, past the United Kingdom Pavillion and on through IG to our destination….PHEW! Lovely to do but my goodness me I hadn’t really allowed enough time so we ended up running to be on time for our ADR! We just hadn’t realised how long it would take but on subsequent visits we have been able to “take our time and smell the roses” in this delightful area on Disney property.
    Thanks again for keeping the Magic alive for us over here in The UK.

  4. Jack,

    Curious how they handled the pedestrian flow while the new bridge was under construction.

    Jacks’ Answer:

    Even though I was there, I have no memory of this. I too was wondering. I guess it’s possible that guests couldn’t make the complete circle — but that seems very un-Disney.

  5. One other interesting tidbit of info about the world traveler shop, it is (at least is was 4 years ago) the only spot where you could get a pressed penny for China and Japan. When we visited in 2008, we thought our boys would enjoy a “collection” of items from each country in Epcot and to keep the cost of this down, we encouraged them to get a pressed penny from each pavillion. (also, searching for the machines is a great way for Mom and Dad to get to see more of them!)

    When in China, we were unable to find the machine anywhere and asked a CM for help. We were told that the stores in both China and Japan do not sell Disney themed merchandise so the pressed penny machine at International Gateway is where you have to go to find them!

    Really loving your insider info on World Showcase!! Thanks as always

  6. Hi Jack, fun reading blogs as usual! I have a theory as to why the entrance wasn’t located between Future World and World Showcase. It was always important to have the “weenie” front and center when guests entered the parks. Since Epcot’s weenie is Spaceship Earth, I would think that would have been extremely challenging to position that directly in front of an entrance that at the split to World Showcase and Future World.

  7. Jack —
    Great article as usual ! I love staying at one of the Epcot ‘deluxe’ hotels and being able to walk in to the park via the backdoor. It is a great place to get your tickets renewed without waiting either ! And I must say — World Traveler is one of my favorite places to shop at Epcot, they have a wide variety and you don’t have to carry things as far.

  8. Another fantastic post. Thank you for covering one of my favorite places.

    I usually stay at the Epcot resort area when I visit Disney, and I always looking forward to stroll into Epcot using the “backdoor”.

  9. Fantastic and interesting read, Jack. As a DVC owner at Boardwalk, I am a frequent visitor of the International Gateway, and being so familiar with the area, it was great fun to see the “before” pictures!

  10. Thank you Jack. I know some more information about the international gateway from Epcot. My parents and i found out that it takes you from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to all the beautifully designed hotels and to Epcot. It is calming and relaxing to take it this way. It is easier to get to world show case and all the other attractions and you won’t get so much wet when it is raining and ADA Accessable. They also have the schedules of both the theme parks and maps of the parks. The captain tells you how long the parks are open and when the last boat departs the piers and sometimes gives good advice if you miss the boat back to your resort.

  11. Great Article Jack!

    I have a funny story about the International Gateway.

    As many times as I have been to WDW over the years, my family and I had never ventured over to the Boardwalk area. On one of my daughter’s first trips, we met a few friends down at the Boardwalk for some pizza and walked around afterward. My husband needed to use the facilites and we ended up at the restrooms to the International Gateway. Since it was at night, I couldn’t quite see very much of the surroundings but, I could tell something was going on. When I approached a security guard to ask if we needed a ticket to get to the “party” that seemed to be going on, he very kindly replied “Yes ma’am you would need a ticket to Epcot to get into the party.” Needless to say I was quite embarassed that I never put it together on my own where we were exactly. Especially since many of my close friends and family know me as the “Unofficial Disney Tour/Tips Guide”.
    From now on I think I’ll check things out in the daytime as well!!

  12. Thanks again for another interesting and informative write up.

    As many have expressed above it is a great way to enter the park without all the lines. And to enter it early and see the World Showcase so empty is unique. Always like a picture then and another about 5 hours later.

    Here is a question for you. Why does Disney require you when exiting through here to finish all alcoholic beverages? I can fully understand when leaving a park through the front, but since you travel from here to more Disney owned property where adult drinks are again offered, I wondered why.

    Jack’s Answer:

    To be honest, I don’t know. However, my guess is Florida liquor laws. I suspect Disney only has a liquor license for “within” Epcot. And “within” the restaurants or at the pools of the Epcot Resorts. I’m guessing that “officially” if you purchased a beer at the Stormalong Bay pool at the Yacht & Beach, you’d be required to finish it before exiting the pool area for the promenade. That’s my best guess.

  13. Hi Jack

    I like nothing better than walking from the Boardwalk area down to the ‘back door’ at Epcot. Just strolling in the sunshine is very relaxing. When my daughter was smaller and still using her stroller, I’d often leave my husband and son to get a boat and enjoy the peaceful walk down to Epcot.

    Being a Brit I don’t mind walking and it’s nice to walk to a park rather than get on a crowded bus, or a tram from the parking lot.

    Thank you for another great blog!

  14. I have never really heard the history on this part of Epcot, so thank you for that. More work happened here than I originally thought.

    I am intrigued by the third entrance to Disney’s California Adventure for the Paradise Pier Hotel guests. Where was it located exactly in the park?

    Jack’s Answer:

    The Paradise Pier entrance was near Mulholland Madness (next to the dinosaur).

  15. Hi Jack,

    I remember taking the Friendships to the International Gateway from Hollywood Studios about 7 years ago. It was a nice relaxing alternative to the buses (albeit a loooong one). Do they still offer this trip?

    -Chris

    Jack’s Answer:

    Yes. The Friendship Boats run between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios with stops at the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach, and Swan & Dolphin. The entire trip takes almost 30 minutes.

  16. Jack,

    Nice article, and especially good work on the animation for us visual learners. I miss the old Showcase – ESPECIALLY the Omnibuses! Their loss makes me really sad. My brother and I have often lamented the lack of parking or non-hotel-based-entry to the WS, as we hardly ever want to do Future World and the walk out of the park after close is depressing… everything’s shut down and it’s like leaving a store in the center of the mall after the mall closes. Deserted and gloomy. NOT the memory you want to carry with you as you leave!

    Dan

  17. We love using the International Gateway when staying at an Epcot resort. However, the bridge from the United Kingdom to France is one of the most difficult in WDW to navigate when pushing a wheelchair. You definitely work up a sweat going up this long,steep slope, especially in the summer.

  18. HI Jack,
    As always a great blog- who knew something so small could have such a great history to it and in 2 parts none the less. I never would have thought there was this much to write about for this area. I have stayed in a few of the hotels in my travels to disney and enjoyed this back entrance. It is so nice to avoid the crowds and craziness at the end of the night especially after enjoying illuminations. Looking forward to part 2.

    BOnnie

  19. The back door to Epcot is One of the major reasons why Boardwalk and Yacht club are our favorite resorts. Especially during the Food and wine festival. Having a way to bypass alot of the crowd and get in and out is really nice. Makes going back to the hotel for a break quick and easy.

  20. Very interesting! I love the International Gateway! I love staying in those hotels during the Food and Wine festival. You are always only a few minutes away from popping in and sampling some of the yummy food! I also find the walk to and from to be extremely peaceful. At the end of the night, I love the short and QUIET walk back as opposed to the craziness at the main entrance and on the buses! I usually don’t bother with the boats either. I found I could walk back to the hotel faster than the boats would get me there.

  21. Thanks for another great article Jack! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and always find your articles interesting. I’m a regular traveler to Disney World and really enjoy learning about the details. Makes the trips even more enjoyable when I know the backstory behind the Disney elements. Thanks for all your efforts!

  22. Jack,

    Thanks for this post. I have been going to Disney my whole life but I was only about 3 years old when this took place so I obviously don’t remember it. It’s nice to see pictures of what it used to look like. Epcot’s World Showcase is my favorite places in all of WDW. My family and I used to stay at the Swan and Dolphin often just to be so close to Epcot and to take advantage of the International Gateway. I have many fond memories of being a small child and slowly falling asleep after they shut the lights off on the friendship boat as we went back to our hotel after Illuminations. To this day, even when I don’t stay at a hotel near Epcot, I still take the boat right after Illuminations, but this time to go hang out at the Boardwalk.

  23. Hi Jack,

    Thank you so much for another wonderful article. We love the Epcot resort area, especially the International Gateway. One of our family’s traditions (while visiting WDW) is to make a pre park opening ADR for Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for breakfast, and when we are staying at one of the Epcot resorts, my favorite part is walking through the International Gateway early in the morning and making our way around the World Showcase towards the Norway Pavilion…of course stopping along the way to take pictures of the park with not a lot of people around. This really sets the mood for the rest of our day in Epcot. Another thing we love about International Gateway are the characters that do meet and greets there, a lot of the times the characters are not busy which makes for wonderful interactions with them.

  24. Hi Jack,
    I love the back door too and since Epcot is our favorite park we always try to stay at the Yacht Club. We love this area because you can walk through part of WS before it opens to get to Future World so you can take photos without a crowd around. One day we saw the UK cast members at the flagpole and we have a great photo of them putting up the Union Jack.
    I always enjoy your background stories and photos.

  25. Hi Jack:

    Would you consider the entrance to Animal Kingdom through the Rainforest Cafe to be a “second” entrance? Perhaps technically, but I personally wouldn’t put it on the list.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I never even considered the Animal Kingdom. LOL However, I don’t think I’d count it. However, the hotel entrance at the MiraCosta Hotel at Tokyo DisneySea isn’t much different. Hmmm.

  26. Hi Jack,Can you enter via the International Gateway before the World Showcase opens (to access Future World?) Or do you have to take a bus or car to the front of EPCOT to enter?Very interesting blog post!Karen

    Jack’s Answer:

    International Gateway ALWAYS opens at the same time as the front entrance. You then can walk past the United Kingdom and Canada Pavilions to reach Future World, but these pavilions will not open until 11am.

  27. Another great blog, Jack.

    Although Epcot is beautiful to look at (and photograph), it makes it even more beautiful when you know the hitory and logic behind the design of the areas.

    Thanks again for your exhaustive research.

    I especially like the before & after animation.

    Dan

  28. Ah, International Gateway. With the Beach Club as our home DVC resort, we have made much use of this back door into Epcot. Who knew (well, I guess I should have) that even the entrances to Disney are themed with back stories! As always, thanks for the great info, Jack!

  29. hey jack
    I love learning about all of the history behind the parks and this is another great example of that. Unfortunetly we always stay at value resorts so we dont use the backdoor for Epcot. It seems a lot quicker especially after the parks close. cant wait for part 2 and as always keep up the great work.

  30. Jack,
    Another great visual trip to EPCOT. Thanks! International Gateway is my favorite way to enter EPCOT. I’m so glad you showcased one of my favorite spots in the entire World. The pictures are the next best thing to being there.

  31. Our home DVC is the Boardwalk. I love entering Epcot through “the back door.” I feel like it is my own private entrance. In all the years we have been going to WDW I have rarely seen any kind of line at this entrance. Love it! Thanks again for a wonderful article and pictures. Patti

  32. Jack,

    Thanks for the article! I love Epcot’s “backdoor” and it’s existance is the reason we stay at the Boardwalk Villas or Beach Club villas for the majority of our vacations. Epcot is our favorite park and we love to end almost everynight watching Illuminations. Strolling out the backdoor is wonderful!

    Plus when we want to have a drink we walk right past the hotel bars and into Epcot. We can sit in a bar anywhere. A cocktail is so much more special when your drinking it around the World Showcase Lagoon!

    Thanks,
    Sarah