Space 220 recently opened in EPCOT at the Walt Disney World Resort. An expansion to the existing Mission: Space pavilion in what is now known as World Discovery, (formerly Future World East,) this new full service restaurant offers a unique themed experience where it feels like you’re actually dining in space.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine restaurant. From what I’ve tasted so far and from the reviews I have read, it offers incredible food. But it’s also an interesting attraction, designed by Disney, that’s unfortunately set behind a paywall, and offers extremely limited capacity.
Maybe since it’s located in a park that hasn’t had a new attraction built from scratch in over a decade, I might be judging the situation more harshly than if it were located elsewhere. But, I feel like Space 220 could’ve been done in a way that more guests of the park could experience the magic of taking a space elevator to a space station, 220 miles above the Earth. (Note: See the video version of this story below for additional visuals.)
Space 220 is run by Patina Restaurant Group, who also run other dining locations at Walt Disney World, including Via Napoli at the Italy Pavilion in EPCOT. The space station itself, as far as I am aware, was designed by Disney Imagineering.
The complete experience involves guests boarding a space elevator, which they call a Stellarvator, (no relation). In the story of the attraction, you then travel 10,000 miles per hour up to the Centauri Space Station. There guests enjoy fine dining with panoramic day and night views of the Earth through the station’s viewports.
Make no mistake, this is an incredible experience. Seeing Earth get further and further away from the window at the bottom of the elevator, while the space station gets closer and closer in the window above, brought back memories of Mission to Mars, (or even Flight to the Moon before it,) at the Magic Kingdom.
The sound effects and bass rumble inside the capsule are perfectly timed to make it feel as if you truly are traveling out of the atmosphere. And then it all goes silent as you enter the void of space. The whole elevator illusion is nothing short of amazing, and it’s something I wish everyone could see for themselves.
That then becomes the problem. Space 220 is a very small dining location. It has limited capacity. Dining reservations are out almost immediately as they become available. And even if you did want to guarantee that you’ll be able to experience the elevator ride and impressive views out in space, you’ll have to commit to $55 per person for lunch or $79 for dinner.
When I first started writing this piece they offered lounge seating by walk-up only, with waits of an hour or longer, but since then even the lounge is now available by reservation, which again, is nearly impossible to get even minutes after becoming available. If you are able to secure a lounge reservation, you will still be expected to purchase drinks, appetizers, or desserts, as this is a restaurant in addition to being an experience.
I am grateful they at least have a lounge option though, so I could enjoy the view, without having to commit to the Prix Fixe priced meals. And depending on the day, you may still be able to wait in a standby line for the lounge, if they’re offering it that day, but there is no guarantee.
I do wonder if this could’ve been designed differently? I wonder if such a well-designed themed experience is somewhat wasted on such a limited audience?
Imagine if the only way to see the aquariums at The Living Seas was to eat at the Coral Reef Restaurant. Or if the only way to see the dark ride scenes of Living With the Land was to dine at Garden Grill.
I can’t even imagine not being able to enter and take in the impeccable theming of the Mexico Pavilion’s pyramid without requiring a dining reservation for the San Angel Inn restaurant inside. I love that they have dining inside, but I am also grateful it’s not the only way to get in.
The limitations put on Space 220 seem to go against many of the other similar experiences that can be found within the same theme park. This space pavilion had an opportunity to expand in a way that everyone could experience the sci-fi future of a space elevator, but instead chose to cater only to those willing to pay extra.
I had a similar feeling when experiencing Savi’s Workshop at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The overall experience of being able to build your own lightsaber was fun, (if not a little rushed due to maximizing capacity). At the end of the demonstration, when the music kicked in and Yoda spoke, it occurred to me that the only way to be here in this moment was to drop $200 in a park most families already paid hundreds to get into.
The new Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser takes it even further, finally delivering on many of the experiences we were promised for Galaxy’s Edge, but only if you’re willing to drop literally thousands of dollars to see them.
Not being able to experience the well-crafted storytelling and immersive special effects developed by some of the best minds in themed attraction design working today without spending more money on top of the money we already spend to visit the theme parks isn’t exactly new, but it feels like it’s becoming more normalized.
Biergarten Restaurant at the Germany Pavilion in EPCOT has always offered fun live entertainment you can only experience by paying for the pricey buffet. A similar experience was part of Magic Kingdom in its early years in the form of the Diamond Horseshoe Review. I guess we’ve always been used to paying extra for stage show entertainment, but when it comes to theme park-esque rides and attractions, like Space 220, it just feels different to me.
To be clear, I believe the food at Space 220 is worth the cost of admission alone, just like I believe the buffet at Biergarten is just as good, if not better, as similarly priced buffets at the resort that do not offer live entertainment. But I wish you could travel to the space station without having to dine there.
I think, just like the Mexico Pavilion, an expansion to Mission: Space could’ve been done in a way that accommodated more than just diners. I know it is being used for the future PLAY! Pavilion, but the former Wonders of Life building is large enough that it could’ve been used as a new space station expansion instead.
Stellarvators could have been constructed between the existing Mission: Space pavilion and dome building next door, (just like the The Sea’s hydrolators of yesteryear). The walls inside could’ve been lined with viewports looking out into space, with the best views overlooking Earth being used for restaurant seating arranged along the perimeter.
Other areas could be utilized for hands-on edutainment exhibits, fulfilling the needs of the future PLAY! pavilion for the park. There is also plenty of additional space where Body Wars was located that could be utilized as the kitchen and other support areas for the restaurant.
You could even allocate space for character meet and greets, if that is important to the PLAY! pavilion as well. This might even be the perfect opportunity to bring back the retro 1980s Mickey and friends rainbow space outfits!
And a lightsaber battle… pic.twitter.com/xBhYIAbmEQ
— Brooke Geiger McDonald (@BrookeGMcDonald) September 20, 2021
And before you say, “but wait, that sounds too cheesy for a realistic space station theme,” just remember that there are dogs in spacesuits and children playing with lightsabers and X-Wings floating by the windows of the current iteration of Space 220. This concept is set in the future, when space tourism is commonplace, so why not lean into what space tourists may enjoy aboard the station besides just dining?
The point is, you could’ve done the same amount of research and development for the technologies needed, but built out the experience to accommodate more than just guests willing to pay for a fine dining experience.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had walking into the Mexico Pavilion’s pyramid for the first time, where it really felt like you were outside, but it was all inside! And I’d hate to think how that experience could’ve been taken away from me if it were placed behind a paywall.
But that’s just my opinion, and I do want to stress that the only reason I chose to write about this is because I enjoyed my Space 220 experience so much, that I wish more people could have the opportunity to see it for themselves.
If you’re lucky enough to secure a reservation, or catch it at a time they’re offering standby for lounge seating, it’s definitely worth checking out at least once.
That’s all for now, but if you’d like to bring a piece of the parks home, Souvenir Scents has candles and wax melts that smell like Soarin’, the Ratatouille ride, and more. Save 15% off every order with my promo code PARKSTOP at souvenirscents.com.
Be sure to check out the video version of this story for additional visuals, and subscribe to the new second channel for more Park Stop videos. Let us know if you’d like to see more opinion pieces like this in the future, (in addition to theme park rumors and news, of course).