If you missed Part 2, click here to go back and read about Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Disney's parks are often regarded as more kid-friendly theme parks, and while it is certainly true that children can experience a greater percentage of attractions at these parks than they can at many regional theme parks, it does not mean every Disney park is geared specifically toward young children. For example, at the Disneyland Resort guests have their choice between two parks: Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. At Disneyland, with only one exception, no attraction has a height restriction higher than 42", and many of the attractions are slow-moving dark rides or family-friendly thrill rides. This park is clearly designed to be suitable for all audiences, and an average 1st grader could probably handle any ride at the park (assuming they aren't simply afraid of it). Meanwhile, only one attraction at DCA has a height restriction over 42", but the park's headliners are all faster, taller, more intense, more thrilling, inherently scarier, etc. than most of Disneyland's E-tickets. While younger children can enjoy the park, most who are under about 3rd or 4th grade probably won't enjoy the attractions as much, while teens who find Disneyland a bit dull tend to fall in love with DCA.
Walt Disney World is the same with their parks. Magic Kingdom is pretty much accessible to all audiences, as even their most intense ride is just a family coaster. I'd say that Animal Kingdom is probably next in the hierarchy, with rides geared more toward the age group of DCA. Disney's Hollywood Studios skews even older, and I would probably recommend against it for those who don't have teens (or brave 5th/6th graders) in their travel party. But what about Epcot? Well, as the park is now, I'd say it's accessible to kids but geared very much toward adults.
Part 3: The Experimental Prototype Community of "Tomorrow"
There are a few misconceptions that many non-enthusiasts seem to have about Walt Disney World. One is that many believe Disney World is the Magic Kingdom, and when you tell them that the resort has four theme parks they often ask "what are they?" Once Epcot is mentioned, that is often followed by "That's part of Disney World?" If Magic Kingdom or Disneyland is considered the prime example of what a Disney park is, Epcot is the polar opposite. Grounded in reality rather than yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy, Epcot showcases the world of today and the world of tomorrow in a permanent world's fair setting. At least, that's what it tries to do.
Like at DHS, Evan and I arrived a few minutes after opening (Andrew, Brittney, and Dan slept in and met us a little later). Once we got inside the gates, we made our way directly to Test Track.
When Radiator Springs Racers opened, one of the biggest debates that sprung up in the fan community was whether it was better than Test Track. While a majority said it was, there has always been a divide. Since that debate began, my interest in Test Track has increased significantly, so I was excited to finally get to try it out. Fortunately, the wait time was posted at just 30 minutes, and it actually took a little less than that.
After attempting to design the best car we could (I had no idea what I was doing, but tried to use my engineering knowledge as best I could), we boarded the Sim Car for the ride. The ride itself was a lot of fun, but it didn't come together the way I thought it would. Particularly during the first half of the ride, what the car was doing didn't really go with what you were seeing or what was supposed to be tested. I was also a little disappointed that the guest-made cars didn't affect the ride at all...they just show up after each test to show how everyone did. The finale of the ride, however, was far more fun than I thought it would be. I'm used to Racers, but it is easy to tell that when Test Track goes full out, you are moving fast! The finale of the ride is the sole reason I opted to ride a second time later in the day (well, that plus the others hadn't ridden yet), and elevates an average ride to a pretty good one. It's not a travel-worthy ride the way Racers is, but it's not bad by any means.
Once we got out of Test Track, we decided to forgo Imagination for the moment and head to The Land. Of all the Future World pavilions, this seems to be the closest to what Epcot used to be. The entire pavilion is indoors, with a sizable restaurant in the center and attractions around the perimeter. Naturally, we headed for the one that's imported from California.
There has been a lot of controversy over the Soarin' Around the World update. I've heard opinions ranging the entire spectrum, from calling the new film a masterpiece to calling it an insult to other travel films. I'm somewhere in the middle...I like the California film better, but the Around the World film is still good and it has grown on me with each flight. Plus, Soarin' in general is a cool concept (and is a very different experience than a typical movie), so I have no problem waiting 10 minutes to ride.
The Land's other attraction is Living with the Land, an indoor boat ride that is half dark ride and half greenhouse tour. The idea of a 20 minute boat ride about plants doesn't sound very exciting on paper, but for some reason this ride works. No, it's not a super headliner, but it's a relaxing and educational ride with enough to see that it never becomes dull or boring. Plus, those animatronic gardeners have to be the most realistic Disney has ever made ;-). It is rides like this that DCA 1.0 desperately needed, and I'm convinced that if they had tried to make the Golden State more like Epcot the park would have succeeded. Boat ride through Bountiful Valley Farm? Omnimover ride about the gold rush? Figment's Winery Adventure? (on second thought, he probably shouldn't be near that stuff) That would have been more appealing than movies and static displays.
Continuing around Future World, we paid Nemo a brief visit inside The Seas, then headed to Epcot's icon attraction...Spaceship Earth. Housed inside a geodesic sphere at the entrance to the park, this is a 15 minute Omnimover attraction about the history of human communication. Like many of Epcot's attractions, it sounds boring on the surface, but the attraction is extremely well done and may be Disney's best application of the Omnimover technology (sorry Haunted Mansion). Yes, the ride could use a bit of an update, but when large-scale animatronic dark rides are becoming less and less common, I'd almost rather see this left than have screens take over. Besides, even in its current state, this was the most popular ride in Future World on the day I visited.
We next headed over to Mission: Space, another ride I was highly anticipating. When it was announced at D23 that this attraction would be receiving an upgrade, I was initially slightly disappointed since it meant the ride would likely be closed during my visit. Fortunately, the upgrade was quick, and the ride reopened over a month before my scheduled arrival in Florida. The ride itself is an elaborate motion simulator attraction, but the simulator capsules are mounted on a centrifuge so riders feel the forces. This also isn't just a passive ride...astronauts are given tasks to perform in order to ensure the flight goes smoothly (spoiler...it doesn't). I tried both the Earth and Mars Missions (also known as "Green Team - Less Intense Training" and "Orange Team - More Intense Training"), and I have a hard time picking which I preferred. Both are a whole lot of fun, and the experience feels real enough without feeling so real that it might panic some guests. I was very surprised to see this ride only pulling 10-15 minute waits...in my opinion, this is the best ride at Epcot.
With that, it was time to experience the Imagination Pavilion and its signature attraction: Journey into Imagination with Figment. Now, even when Disney has a misfire and creates a lackluster attraction, they usually wind up with something that's at least worth one ride. This attraction falls into that category, as it is difficult to understand how bad the ride is without experiencing it. The first half of the attraction is a dull tour of the Imagination Institute, with Dr. Nigel Channing talking about how senses affect the mind and Figment showing up to mess with each experiment. Eventually, Channing gives up, so guests are taken on a tour of Figment's house, followed by a finale that seems more influenced by drugs than imagination. I don't know what the Imagineers were on when they came up with this one, but it certainly isn't what the ride is supposed to contain. It's not as awful as Superstar Limo, but this is definitely one of the weakest efforts at Walt Disney World.
At this point, Evan and I purchased our gift cards for the Food and Wine festival, then we retreated to Club Cool while waiting for everyone else to arrive. I did Coke's soda tasting experience in Las Vegas years ago, but it was fun trying all the exotic drinks again. Word to the wise, however...avoid the Beverly (or better yet, try to get others to drink it). Once everyone else arrived, we re-rode a couple of the Future World rides, then it was time to go snacking around the world.
I've done the Food and Wine festival at DCA in the past, and while the few items I've tried were good I never really got the love for the event. In my opinion, the Knott's Boysenberry Festival is a much better value and has much better offerings for those in So Cal. Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, on the other hand, is a whole different caliber of event. Over thirty booths surround the World Showcase, each with unique offerings from the country they represent. Neither budget nor stomach space permitted sampling everything I was interested in trying, but I did manage to try around a dozen items. I've also got some bad news for the foodies out there...I'm not a food photographer, and didn't think to take pictures (Douglas H, James K, and James R (and possibly others on here)...I've failed you all). I recommend checking out the Disney Food Blog for pictures...they're more into that sort of thing.
Our first stop was Hawai'i, as Andrew highly recommended the Kalua Pork Slider. Pork is not really my thing, but this was good. I think it was more the pineapple than the pork that I particularly liked, or maybe it was because we didn't have a regular lunch on this day and it was 1 P.M. by the time we started on the food, but it was a great way to kick off our tour.
From here, we headed toward Canada, home of the famous Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. For $5, the cup of soup is a little on the small side, but it is so rich and creamy that it is enough. It is served with a pretzel roll, the perfect accompaniment for dunking. I can definitely see why this is so popular...it was one of my favorites.
While in Canada, we also took in a viewing of O Canada. If I ever saw a CircleVision movie when it played at Disneyland, I have no recollection of it. Therefore, this was a new experience, and it was quite interesting. Seeing a movie projected in 360 degrees is a different sensation, and while I prefer a normal viewing it works well for a travel film like this one. The movie was decent, but probably not something I'd go out of my way to see again. It also doesn't help that I've been to Canada several times, so about a third of what was shown I recognized.
Moving toward the UK, we made stops in Scotland and Ireland for our first round of desserts. At Scotland, I was torn between the Fresh Potato Pancake and the Tipsy Laird. I ultimately opted for the latter, which turned out to be a mistake...the whisky taste of the cake was a bit too strong for me, and I ended up tossing two-thirds of it. The Warm Chocolate Pudding at Ireland was much better...a brownie-like cake with Irish Cream Custard on top, this ranks up there with my favorites.
A short hop across the "English Channel" (aka the International Gateway) brought us to France. As this was one of the busiest booths, we didn't sample anything here, but we did take in a viewing of Impressions de France. Widely regarded as one of the best theme park movies, I wasn't quite as enthralled with this film as others are, but it was still an excellent movie that showed off many aspects of the great country of France. While France is another country I've visited (and probably one I've seen more of than Canada), I still found this movie very enjoyable. The musical score is excellent as well, though the opening bars did give me flashbacks to the old Disneyland Space Mountain (which used an arrangement of Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals for its soundtrack). Unlike the other films, this one doesn't feel dated, and because any update is likely to include a gratuitous cameo of Disneyland Paris I hope it stays as it is.
As we headed toward Morocco, the Belgium stand was calling my name. And what else do you get at Belgium than a Belgian Waffle? I opted for one with a chocolate topping, which resulted in a very sweet waffle. I was considering grabbing a Berry waffle as well, but I wasn't feeling four desserts in a row.
We spent some time exploring the Morocco and Japan pavilions, and my friends stopped at the Japan booth (that one didn't have anything to my liking), then it was time to visit America.
Of all the Epcot attractions, The American Adventure may be the one I knew the least about. This show doesn't seem to get talked about much, yet my friends raved about it. I went in expecting something like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln...a movie with limited animatronics. Instead, this show features animatronics throughout, with the short scenes bridged by movie clips and other collections of images. The show chronicles America from the colonial period up to modern times, with a series of vignettes to tell the stories of people that lived in each time period. My friends were right about this one...the show is very, very good, and I would probably consider this Epcot's best attraction. It blends technological wizardry with outstanding presentation to create a wonderful presentation that should be on the must-see list of every Epcot visitor.
By the time we got out of the American Adventure, I was ready for some non-dessert food, so I headed over to Hops & Barley to pick up the Smoked Beef Brisket and Pimento Cheese. While one of the less unique offerings, the beef had a nice barbeque flavor it was served on garlic toast, which the cheese complemented nicely. Plus, it was probably the most filling thing I got all day. Unfortunately, this was definitely a knife and fork dish, so we found a table to relax at for a bit.
Once done, we resumed our tour of the world. By this point, it was pretty clear we'd easily be able to complete the park in a day, so we took it easy and strolled through Italy and Germany, taking in the sights of each area. Italy was the most underwhelming of the World Showcase pavilions (except perhaps the United Kingdom), as it was simply a miniature recreation of Piazza San Marco, which I visited while in Venice.
Germany, on the other hand, was small but very nicely decorated. I went and examined a model railway nearby while my friends made purchases at the Spain booth, then I headed to the Germany booth to pick up two items: Schinkennudeln and Apple Strudel. For whatever reason, while I'm not the biggest fan of pasta dishes I really liked the Schinkennudeln. It was extremely cheesy, with just the right amount of ham mixed in to balance out the flavor. The Apple Strudel was pretty good as well, though I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I'd gone a little easier on the desserts earlier. I thought about buying a Roast Bratwurst for completeness (I am part German, after all), but decided against it...it's never really been my thing. A couple of my friends grabbed beers from the Brewer's Collection, then we did the traditional Food and Wine trashcan meal before continuing on.
Following Germany, the World Showcase contains an empty area called the Outpost. Supposedly, this area is supposed to represent Africa, but to me it just felt like a filler area. Presumably this is where the next pavilion will go, should Epcot add another in the future. Beyond this area comes China, one of the nicer pavilions. We arrived just in time to watch the last couple minutes of the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats performance, then headed over to the China booth. Here, I picked up a Spicy Chicken Bao Bun, which was exactly as described. Unfortunately, this probably wound up being my least favorite item at the festival...it was really dry and could have used some sauce, plus the chicken just wasn't that good. We also took in a viewing of Epcot's other CircleVision production: Reflections of China. This show is an update of the original Wonders of China, and is itself scheduled to be updated in the near future. After seeing it, I can see why...this is the cheesiest of Epcot's country movies, and it did nothing to make me want to visit China. The film does have some outstanding shots of the country, but overall it was lacking. I'm curious to see what Disney does with the new film, and whether or not they can resist showing off their Chinese parks.
Our last stop on the tour around the world was Mexico, yet another country I've visited. Unlike the other pavilions, Mexico is entirely indoors. Housed inside a Mesoamerican pyramid is a Mexican marketplace at night, with a restaurant on the water. The whole area reminded me a lot of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean with a Latin American twist, especially as Mexico is home to an actual ride. Gran Fiesta Tour, a boat ride in the same vein as It's a Small World, is a whirlwind tour of Mexico as riders follow Panchito and Jose of the Three Caballeros on their search to find Donald. While the cheese factor is high, I surprisingly found this ride quite enjoyable, with just enough Mexico content to remain relevant as a World Showcase attraction. It's not a must ride, but it's an amusing diversion.
Once we got out of Mexico, we made our last stops of the festival back in Showcase Plaza. I grabbed a Bougatsa from Greece as my final dessert, and this ended up being a winner. A light crust stuffed with custard and covered in cinnamon...it was almost like a Greek cinnamon roll. Everyone in the group except Brittney ended up getting one...she opted for Banana Almond Soft-Serve Sundae from the Almond Orchard. There were a couple other items I considered trying, but by this point I was pretty full, so I opted to save the remainder of my gift card for next spring's festival at DCA.
By this point, it was starting to get dark, and we decided it was probably time to snag a spot for IllumiNations. I debated trying for one more ride on Test Track or Mission: Space (Dan ended up doing the former alone), but as I'd already done two rides on each and didn't want to miss the so-called greatest nighttime spectacular ever, I opted to pass on them. Andrew led us to his favorite viewing spot in Germany, where we waited by the railing for the show to begin.
As 9:00 P.M. approached, torches around the World Showcase Lagoon ignited. Finally, the lights went out and it was time for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Running continuously since the late 90s, this show has been referred to as the greatest nighttime spectacular at any of Disney's North American parks. Utilizing a number of barges placed out on the lake, the show features pyrotechnics, water fountains, fire effects, and projections to tell the story of Earth. The show has an impressive start, with lots of fire blasting from the inferno barge and a number of firework effects, representing the creation of Earth. Following this rather explosive beginning, a barge carrying a globe of Earth floats out to the center of the lagoon, and projections on its surface display images of famous locations, events, and figures from world history as corresponding locations in the World Showcase are illuminated. Finally, the show ends with a pyrotechnic extravaganza.
So, is it the best nighttime spectacular ever? Well, technically I didn't witness the proper show. As soon as it ended, Andrew turned to me and said, "I'm sorry, AJ, but you didn't get to see the full show. You saw 90% of it, but the globe didn't work." As it turns out, during the finale the globe normally splits open, revealing a large torch and a number of extra fireworks. That didn't happen during our show. With that in mind, I'll say this: The show has a strong beginning, and a strong ending, but the middle is a bit lacking. The middle third of the show is largely just projections on the globe with a handful of additional effects, or essentially what most of World of Color is. When it comes to the pyrotechnic aspects of the show, while they are great and it is a bit different to have them right in front of you rather than high in the sky, there just aren't enough of them for a fireworks show. While I did enjoy IllumiNations quite a bit, I still rank Remember...Dreams Come True, Disneyland Forever, or Fantasmic above it, and I'm not sure I'd camp out for a spot on a future visit (though I'd definitely watch the show again).
In a way, IllumiNations reflects my overall views of Epcot. The park is a really nice park, with a lot of detail throughout and a very unique premise compared to others, but it just doesn't quite live up to the hype it receives. Throughout the day, I constantly had a feeling that Epcot was an outstanding park when it opened in 1982, but it has received a limited amount of updates and has not withstood the test of time. Future World no longer feels futuristic, and the World Showcase needs more than movies about foreign countries and shops selling imported merchandise when all those things can easily be seen on the internet. It is sad that I have to say this, but while I enjoyed visiting Epcot, it is the park I have the least desire to revisit at Walt Disney World.
In the end, Epcot reminds me a lot of Knott's Berry Farm from 10 years ago. It is a park that was once great, but due to a lack of commitment to the original concept and instead treating it like just another Disney park, it is not longer the park it once was. Like Knott's Berry Farm, however, if Disney changes their strategy and begins to treat Epcot like Epcot, it could become one of the greatest theme parks in the world again. It will never be exactly what it used to be, but with proper care it could be made into something better than it would have been.
Gran Fiesta Tour - 7/10
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth - 9/10
Impressions de France - 8/10
Journey into the Imagination with Figment - 6/10
Living with the Land - 7/10
Mission: Space - 8.5/10
O Canada! - 7/10
Reflections of China - 7/10
Soarin' Around the World - 8/10
Spaceship Earth - 8/10
Test Track - 8/10
The American Adventure - 8.5/10
The Seas with Nemo and Friends - 6/10
Overall Park Score - 7.5/10
While many said Epcot required two days, I feel I was able to see pretty much everything of note in one. Either way, there was no time to return again, as the next day we were visiting the ______ Kingdom.
To see all the photos from Epcot, click here.Tweet
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