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The Outpost in Epcot's World Showcase

Jack Spence Masthead


Today's article will focus on the “almost” pavilion of World Showcase " that “bump in the road” along the promenade " the “what's this here for?” collection of huts. I'm talking about the Outpost located between China and Germany.

As we know, Disney had grandiose dreams of filling World Showcase with a multitude of nations. There were even plans for an outer ring of countries if ever the promenade filled to capacity. But alas, this didn't come to pass. Epcot opened with nine countries and was later joined by Norway and Morocco. But other nations were well along in the planning stages before they were eventually scrapped for various reasons. Some of these included Israel, Spain, and Equatorial Africa. In fact, Equatorial Africa was so far along in planning that it was actually included as a “future project” on the opening day Epcot map. And during the Disney TV special “EPCOT Center: The Grand Opening Celebration” which aired on October 23, 1982, host Danny Kaye interviewed “Roots” author and Project Adviser Alex Haley about this soon to be added pavilion.


Early Epcot Map


The continent of Africa is made up of many poor nations. And building a pavilion at Epcot is an expensive proposition. So Disney proposed a pavilion that included a collection of African countries, rather than just one. This multi-nation concept would help distribute the costs among several countries. After much searching and many negotiations, Letters of Intent were signed by Kenya, Senegal, and Ivory Coast.

Equatorial Africa was going to be an exciting pavilion and plans for a number of attractions were on the drawing board. The first of two films, “Africa Rediscovered,” would be narrated by Alex Haley and would present the abundant wild life of the area, the history of this region, and discuss modern-day Africa. The second film, “Heartbeat of Africa,” would focus on African music and conclude with a laser show synchronized to the sounds of native instruments.

Another exhibit would feature a large tree house. From its heights, guests would look down on a jungle watering hole bathed in perpetual moonlight. A diorama of trees, boulders, rushing waters, and actual scents of nature would highlight a rear-projection movie of animals advancing to drink in the night.

And of course, no World Showcase pavilion would be complete without live entertainment. So a small amphitheater was to be carved into Disney “rocks” to showcase African dance and music.

Here are a few concept drawings for the African Pavilion.


Equatorial Africa Concept Art

Equatorial Africa Concept Art

Equatorial Africa Concept Art


The African Pavilion was schedule to open sometime in 1983, but as negotiations continued to drag on, it was decided to build a temporary African placeholder where guests could grab a snack and pick up a souvenir. This was done for two reasons. First, this would pacify guests who had heard about the future Equatorial Africa Pavilion on TV and seen it on Epcot maps. But also, the area between China and Germany is large. Something of interest was needed along this route to help give World Showcase a more completed look.

Unfortunately, the Equatorial Africa Pavilion never came to pass for a number of reasons. First, the political unrest of the region made it difficult to carry on negotiations with the various nations and their less than stable governments. Not to mention, these nations were already squabbling amongst themselves for top billing at the pavilion. Then there was the problem of money. Most African countries simply couldn't afford or justify spending the amounts needed to build a World Showcase pavilion. However, Disney was able to find one sponsor, a company located in South Africa. But apartheid was a major issue in the 1980's and Disney thought better of associating itself with this political bombshell. Eventually, the project was shelved. And with the opening of Harambe at Disney's Animal Kingdom, any thoughts of a future African pavilion along the World Showcase promenade probably died as well.

Officially, the African themed area located between China and Germany is known as the Outpost, although many call it African Outpost or Refreshment Outpost. Since the Outpost was constructed as a temporary placeholder, there is precious little information about this area of World Showcase available in books and on the internet. So in order to present you with a backstory, I tried to deduce what the Imagineers were thinking when creating this mini-pavilion by examining the details. Here's what I came up with.

The Outpost is a small trading center located along a rural roadway somewhere in West Africa. Local merchants bring their wares to the stalls each morning and supply travelers with the necessities of their journey. Part of this story can be seen in the signpost that points the directions to various far-a-way locales " very far-a-way indeed.


Sign Post


The Outpost has three areas: seating, shops, and refreshments. I'll start with seating.

Travelers need a place to rest before continuing along their journey and the umbrella covered tables and chairs that line the World Showcase Lagoon fulfill this need. This is a fantastic spot to stop and rest your weary feet. Although the wall behind some of the tables is high and cuts off much of your water view while seated, this is still the perfect spot to relax and people watch. It's also a decent spot to stand and watch Illuminations.


Outpost Seating

Outpost Seating

Outpost Seating


On the other side of the wall, three African canoes can be seen. These belong to some of the local inhabitants of the village who probably sell their catch at the nearby stalls.


African Canoes


Like in other regions of the world, the first boats in Africa were dugout canoes, a craft made by hollowing out a large tree. In Africa, the rainforests provided the ancient people with an abundant supply of trees for the construction of boats, and waterways for fishing and hunting. As civilization progressed, so did the construction methods of canoes. African Teak (iroko) was the favored wood due to its durability.

Today, fish provide the main source of protein for millions of people living from coast to coast in the tropical areas of Central Africa " and canoes continue to play a large role in the feeding of these hungry souls.

Travelers need to eat and the nearby stand provides for this need. The current proprietor has cleverly changed the trading post's name from “Outpost” to “Refreshment Coolpost” to attract business. This can be seen on the overhead sign that has been crudely repainted. Also notice the water tower on the roof which provides the stand with clean water and water pressure.


Refresment CoolPost

Refresment CoolPost

Refresment CoolPost


Refreshment Coolpost is sponsored by Coca-Cola. Few places at Disney World flaunt an advertiser's product so blatantly. But this display works on several levels. First, we see a number of burlap bags containing kola nuts scattered around the area. Kola trees are native to West Africa and are used to add caffeine and flavoring to Coke and other cola drinks.


Kola Nuts


In the same area are a number of crates ready to be shipped to faraway lands, all of them labeled Coca-Cola in the destination's native language. This area obviously has a bottling plant nearby and the Outpost acts as a distribution center. This can be deduced from various details. First, several of the crates are labeled FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE, and KEEP ICE COLD. From these messages we have to assume the crates are filled with bottles of Coke. If these crates contained kola nuts, no such labeling would be necessary. In addition, an old Chevy woody is loaded up and ready to make local deliveries.


Crates of Coca-Cola

Crates of Coca-Cola

Crates of Coca-Cola

Crates of Coca-Cola

Chevy Woodie

Chevy Woodie


Also found in this area is a number of Coca-Cola vending machines. These are obviously used mechanisms that are being shipped out to poorer regions. While browsing this area, be sure to open a few of them for some surprises.


Coca-Cola Vending Machines

Coca-Cola Vending Machines


It's interesting to note, Coke has used the word “Cool” at several other locations in Walt Disney World. Two can be found in other sections of Epcot with “Cool Wash” and “Club Cool.”


Cool Wash

Club Cool


Mixed in among the crates and vending machines are several sets of African drums. Kids love to burn off energy here, pounding to their heart's content.


African Drums


The tapered drum above is called a djembe. It was originally the instrument of the Mandinka people but has gained greater popularity in large regions of Africa over time. It is carved from a single piece of wood and covered with goat skin. It is used mostly for seasonal celebrations, weddings, baptisms, and festivities held immediately after Ramadan.

Currently, there is no regularly scheduled entertainment at the Outpost. However, at one time, African storytellers could be found in this area where they would regale guests with Nigerian folktales and music.

The Outpost offers a limited selection of food and drink. Hot dogs and chips are as close to a real meal as you'll find here. Other offerings include soft-serve ice cream, cookies, frozen slushes, beer, and of course, Coke products. To see the complete menu, click here.


Refreshment CoolPost


The last section of this little settlement is the trading center. Here, merchants open their shops each day and sell their wares to the travelers passing through on their way to more exciting destinations. The structures here range from a permanent building to makeshift huts. I'll start with the more substantial of these, Village Traders.


Village Traders

Village Traders


Village Traders is housed in a mud house, a common sight in West Africa. The construction of these structures is relatively inexpensive and the materials are readily available. The components of a mud house are as follows: wood poles for the wall and roof support, elephant grass for the thatch, and straw and mud for the walls. In some cases, cow dung may be mixed in with the mud and straw to cut down on insects. A mud house is typically round as this aids in support. These buildings will normally last for about ten years, but eventually, termites will eat away at the support timbers and the structure will need to be rebuilt. But since everything used in construction is natural, it is all biodegradable.

Apparently, business has been good for the owners of Village Traders as they were able to build a more permanent, wooden structure adjoining their mud house.


Wooden Structure


On the outer walls of Village Traders are a number of masks. Masks like these are a common sight in Sub-Saharan and West Africa. Although their exact implications vary from one tribe to the next, they share a commonality of being used in spiritual and religious events and ceremonies.


African Masks

African Masks

African Masks


Village Traders sells a collection of African handicrafts and Disney souvenir items. For those of you who search out the Coin Presses, there is one located here.


Village Traders

Coin Press


Although there are a number of face painting stations located around Walt Disney World, the one at the Outpost is especially fitting. Face painting (which is often accompanied by body painting) has its roots in many cultures around the world and the African continent is especially known for this practice. Tribal and cultural face painting serves an array of purposes. Some people have used it to aid in hunting and camouflage. Others have used it in warfare to create fearsome countenances that would scare their enemy. And to some, religious and spiritual experiences can be enhanced with the decoration of the face.

At the Outpost, nothing this steeped in meaning is available. Instead, talented artists offer lighthearted, and a few scary, designs for kids and adults.


Face Painting

Face Painting

Face Painting


At Mdundo Kibanda, you can watch Andrew Mutiso and members of his team carve wood and soapstone into beautiful works of art. Feel free to engage these talented artists in conversation. They'll be happy to explain the process of taking raw wood and turning it into a thing of beauty.


Mdundo Kibanda

Mdundo Kibanda

Mdundo Kibanda Artist

Andrew Mutiso

African Art


The latest vendor to set up shop in the village takes up residence in Bead Outpost. This entrepreneur arranges for old Disney guide books and other out-of-day Disney paper products to be sent to his family in Uganda. Here, the paper is hand rolled into beautifully colored beads which have been strung into necklaces and bracelets. The finished product is extremely durable and water resistant and makes a wonderful gift for yourself or a friend. You can actually wear a bit of recycled Walt Disney World with these pieces of jewelry.


Bead Outpost

Recycled Beads


That's it for the Outpost. As I said at the beginning of this article, this area was never intended to still be standing 29 years after its construction, but here it is. Although not as immersive as the other World Showcase nations, the Outpost does offer more than most guests think. So on your next trip to Epcot, try not to rush through this area. There are details to be discovered here.

As always, I have created a video showcasing the Outpost. Enjoy.




The previous post in this blog was Chimpanzee - Disneynature - World Premiere.

The next post in this blog is International Gateway, Showcase Plaza, & Millennium Village - Part One.

Comments (22)

Tony:

Jack, I noticed the very first photo in the series is from an old opening day map from EPCOT Center. I believe it sold for a few years after opening in 1983. I was wondering if there was an official name for that map so I could find and purchase one through the web. Thank you in advance for any information you can provide concerning this map.

Jack's Answer:

This map was one of those giant maps that measures approximately 4 feet by 3 feet. They haven't been sold in years. The only title on the map says "Walt Disney World EPCOT Center"

Good luck finding one.

Dave:

Hey Jack,
That is a great review of an area that is largely overlooked, including by myself. Next time we're there, which will be in October, we'll make sure we stop and smell the Kola nuts!!

Peggy:

I love the music, where can I find it?

My daughters would love the beads, we will be sure to visit when we are there soon!

Jack's Answer:

The music can be heard at Pizzafari in the Animal Kingdom. At one time, Disney sold "burn your own CDs" where guests could select from a wide selection of Disney music. This is where I got this piece of music. Unfortunately, this service is no longer offered and to my knowledge, this music is not sold anywhere else.

Reagan:

Jack,
Thanks for another great article. Years ago my husband wanted an African mask and delayed purchasing it during our WDW vacation. The following year he again put it off. I heard about that mask for two years! Finally the next year I told him that would be our first stop at WDW. Ever since then, he has always stopped and visited with the artist and has always bought a mask or a carving. We will make a stop there in 33 days, not that anyone is counting!

Josh:

hey jack
I do not often vist the African Outpost because there is not much there to do except rest and get a quick snack. I did not know about the shop with the masks and they look so cool so I will be definetly be visiting there next time. Can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Carolyn:

Good article! Always wondered about the "wasted" space. I must say my teenage son has big plans for the place when he realizes his goal of becoming an Imagineer...

Mark:

Jack,

If I am not mistaken, isn't this the only place outside of the Animal Kingdom where you can get a Safari Amber?

Jack's Comment:

I don't drink a lot of beer, so I'm not really up on this topic. But thanks to another reader, I just learned that Safari Amber is sold at the Outpost -- the only place outside of the Animal Kingdom. I will have to give it a try on an upcoming visit.

Sue V. :

Thanks again for another great blog! I obviously walk by this area too quickly, as I don't know that I've ever noticed the canoes in all my visits! However, the seating area is one of our favorite spots to enjoy our Food & Wine Festival treats from the booths in that area. And the Coolpost has Safari Amber beer - the only place you can find it outside of AK & AKL. I'll spend more time here next time I'm at Epcot. Thanks again!

Jenny Sperandeo:

Hi Jack! We always stop at the Outpost. When the kids were young, we would always snap photos of them playing the drums and posing next to all the Coke products. However, I didn't realize some of them opened up!!! What happens when you do that???????

Sarah:

Hi Jack!

This is a favorite stop of ours. Kids may love pounding on the djembes, but so do adult husbands who love to play any kind of drum! And now I can't wait to open the old coke machines next time we stop. Thanks for the surprise tip!

Sarah

Dave:

Hey Jack,
After commenting yesterday, I was thinking about what you wrote about Equatorial Africa being shown on EPCOT maps as a future "Land".
So,I did some digging in the house and I found a 1982 EPCOT map, and on it as big as life was Equatorial Africa (future) listed.
I just guess that I'm that much of a pack rat to save stuff like that!!
At that time they had to be really serious about building on the site to have it on a map and to have them as souveneirs.

Shirle:

Were the movies you mentioned ever made, and if they were, are they shown anywhere? Too bad this wasn't finished - I love the treehouse idea of looking down over the area. Maybe they can put together a twist on that idea and do a "soaring thru Africa" project at AK!

Jack's Answer:

I really don't know if the movies were made, but I suspect they were not -- at least not in a completed format. I doubt that Disney would start this project until the pavilion was funded -- which it never was.

Lewis:

Jack,
Long time lurker first time poster...
I think the music in the video is an Africanized version of the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
Thank you so much for your blogs.

Karen Martin:

Jack,
I stopped by the bead station during Food & Wine last October. The cast member allowed me to choose my beads and string them, then he put the clasp on the bracelet I created. Doing it myself made it so much more meaningful and fun. So you don't have to buy the bead jewelry premade. Thanks for the great information.

S:

Jack, I am so amazed that you can find so much detail to bring out in a snack stop and gift shop--I am continually amazed. You are a super hero!

Gavin H.:

Hi Jack,
Thanks for all the great info! I really just wanted to give a big thumbs up to Andrew Mutiso, Master Carver. I met him on our last trip and the experience was simply amazing. He is so talented as well as being generous with his time. We talked and exchanged info, and being that our trip was at an end, I contacted him upon my return home and arranged for a custom piece to be carved. He was beyond accommodating and the drummer/tribesman he crafted is beautiful... a true work of art. I would say to all, make it a point to stop by the Outpost and meet Andrew and his incredible artists!

Marie H. :

Hi Jack,
Thanks again for a terrific blog! We love walking thru here but never knew the story behind it. It was kind of like the "ugly step child". Thank you for the history of this Outpost! I, too, can't wait to open up the Coke boxes when we go in June. And I wished I had kept the old guide maps. I keep them now!

Katie:

Hey Jack,

Thanks for the wonderful post. You said that this is a decent spot to watch Illuminations from. Do you have a favorite spot you watch from? I usually get there early and watch from the bridge between France and the United Kingdom. However, I do like to mix it up every now and again and was hoping you had a favorite suggestion. Thanks!

Jack's Answer:

Actually, I don't have a favorite spot to watch Illuminations. However, I do have one "test" before I pick a spot. I check which way the wind is blowing. I want to make sure I'm up wind from the show so the smoke doesn't blow in my face. LOL

sara:

My now husband and I experienced one of our first magical moments while wandering slowly through the Africa outpost with frosty beverages and Mexican & Chinese snacks in hand... As they tend to do, the little ones were gathered around the drums, but this time there was quite a different sound coming from them. We made our way to the front of the gathering crowd to find an adorable little girl, no older than 3, drumming away with a rhythm and fervor I have rarely seen even in drum circles at some of the best music festivals in the east! Her proud father looked up and just shrugged, and we joked that we hoped he liked the sound of the drums because he'd clearly be hearing them for many years! We stood for a couple of minutes and took in the heartwarming scene, and I thought how magical Disney can be even in it's rarely humble corners. Thanks for conjuring the memory!

Tim:

Thanks for the write up on this overlooked area! The wood carvings are amazing and well worth the look, and it's fascinating to watch the wood carver do his magic.

Lilu:

How unfortunate about the African pavilion. Maybe one day they'll come back to the general idea if Africa ever settles down.

I actually had no idea the Outpost even existed, so this is lovely. It'll be nice to flop down for a while.

Adam:

It's not likely that they'd ever come back to the Africa idea since Harambe in DAK makes a pavilion dedicated to Africa a little unnecessary. It'd be nice if they revisted the area, though. Obviously everyone who walks around the World Showcase cames away from it thinking of all the great places they'd love to see there, little realizing that everyone else has had the same thoughts and Disney just doesn't seem interested.

My votes? India, Greece and Brazil. Or Peru. India if for no reason other than that Disney needs a source of vindaloo and curry that isn't halfway across the World at a resort. As unlikely as any of this is, Greece is even MORE unlikely given how bad off they are financially. And Brazil or Peru? Well, South Africa isn't represented at all! Peru would offer a great chance to show off some pre-Columbian history, and remind people that Mexico and South America are home to some pretty varied cultures. Kids could meet Kuzko and Krunk.

Not that it matters. We ain't seen none of 'em! Still, it seems like something better could be done with the African Outpost. Heck, retheme a bit and make it the Outback Outpost or something. There's not even a nod toward Australia in DAK.

(Which takes me off on a tangent. I'd so much rather see South America or Australia covered in DAK over Pandora. Jaguars, llamas and toucans. Kangaroos, koala bears and wombats. All great, exotic animals totally missing from my favorite nahtazu in America.)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 16, 2012 7:14 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Chimpanzee - Disneynature - World Premiere.

The next post in this blog is International Gateway, Showcase Plaza, & Millennium Village - Part One.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.