Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Epcot

August 16, 2010, 11:13 AM · LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida - After more than six weeks, two countries and several thousand miles on the road, we wrapped up the theme park visits on our annual family roadtrip with a visit to Laurie's home park, Walt Disney World's Epcot.

This is where Laurie played in the old Disney All-American College Orchestra back in 19*cough**cough*. And it's the Disney park I miss most, living on the West Coast. Sorry about that vote a couple weeks ago, folks, but there really isn't any doubt in our minds that whenever my family visits just one Disney theme park in Florida, it's going to be Epcot.

Epcot's the third-most popular theme park in the country, behind the two Magic Kingdoms. But it remains in form more the permanent World's Fair it was designed to evoke when it opened in 1980 than what most folks envision when they think of a theme park. I can't think of another park I've visited that lacks a roller coaster, or even a single carnival-style spinner ride. But Epcot, still, offers neither.

In tribute to my favorite Epcot attraction, I offer these Impressions de Epcot:

Narrative story-telling at its finest

Imagine this seemingly impossible task: To tell the story of America's history, in less than 30 minutes. Don't make it a whitewash - you've got to address slavery, Native American genocide and the fight for women's suffrage. You'll need to cover the Civil War, too, and don't forget that this show will play in one of the states of the former Confederacy, the side that lost that war. And, by the way, this is for a theme park attraction, so you've got to leave viewers feeling upbeat and entertained.

Disney's American Adventure nails it.

American Adventure at Epcot

The animatronic detail in this show remains stunning (watch Mark Twain's cigar tip light up with every inhalation), even as the end-of-show video montage grows longer. As we exited, I noted that the final clip had to summarize 30 years of U.S. history when it debuted in 1980. Today, it covers 60 years. Yikes, I feel old now.

By the way, we also started up a rousing game of "which celebrities will be cut from the film on the next edit?" as well as "who will be added?" My vote? Bye-bye, Tiger Woods; Hello, Barack Obama. (I'd love to read your picks, too, in the comments.)

Stunning visual design

How can you not take a picture of Spaceship Earth?

Spaceship Earth and the fountains at night

The park's iconic geosphere commands your attention from throughout the park. Its clean, uniform design looks great from every angle, unlike some other theme parks' visual "weenies." (I love Hogwarts Castle, but as one TPI reader has pointed out in an e-mail to me, the forced perspective really doesn't work when you approach it from the Jurassic Park side.)

Epcot's Spaceship Earth, with rainbow

Okay, double rainbow jokes commence in 3, 2, 1....

Food, wonderful food

Some folks drink their way around the world. My family eats. The highlight of my visit yesterday?

Corvina en mole verde at San Angel Inn in Epcot

The corvina en mole verde ($26) at San Angel Inn. Corvina's a saltwater fish, similar to sea bass (in fact, it's sometimes sold under that name). San Angel Inn's presentation was served on top of addictively rich Mexican creme rice, and topped with a thin slice of serrano ham. It's listed under "Chef's Recommendations" on the menu, and well keeps that promise.

I should note, though, that as much as I enjoyed the food in World Showcase, my wife and I found two chicken dishes at The Land food court in Future World absolutely inedible - I'll follow up on that and other Disney food experiences from the week in a post tomorrow.

Impressions de France remains the greatest theme park movie ever filmed

So there. You might prefer other films, but I'll always remain a fan.

The French pavilion at Epcot

We had the misfortune of sitting in front of a group of, uh, rather intoxicated ladies yesterday, who were eager to rip the show apart, making fun of the theater, the host and other guests sitting around them as the film began. But Saint-Saens' melodies and director Rick Harper's visuals soon silenced them. No, they weren't asleep. By the end of the movie, all I heard from the row behind me was a single "wow," then applause.

Thanks, Epcot. Until next time.

Replies (21)

August 16, 2010 at 11:24 AM · Epcot is awesome. It's huge, beautiful, and diverse. If I got one day at the World there's no doubt where I would spend it.
August 16, 2010 at 12:40 PM · I never get tired of seeing shots of Spaceship Earth. Your report makes me long to return!
August 16, 2010 at 1:17 PM · I was there yesterday!
August 16, 2010 at 1:38 PM · I have simple tastes. Those "sparkly" pathways beside spaceship earth as darkness falls put a lump in my throat every time. That's where I feel the Disney Magic the most
August 16, 2010 at 2:20 PM · Once again I log on to this site and read somebody worshipping EPCOT.

How many times do I need to voice my disapproval of this 'theme park' before people realise it is a complete waste of time in my opinion. Of course, I understand different people like different things, but it does rankle with me that Americans who have a host of great theme parks at their disposal still choose to visit EPCOT - an empty park with no good attractions!

The food is great at EPCOT, and the theming is OK in the World Showcase section of the park, but the whole place is just old now. It was great and perhaps relevant in the 1980s (I wonder how old EPCOT fans are - were you kids in the 80s perchance?) but it has not aged well.

Like most American parks, they live in their reputation from yesteryear. The only true modern parks in Florida are Islands of Adventure and Animal Kingdom (and even AK is ruined by stupid 'off the shelf' attractions like Primeval Whirl). The fact is, EVERYTHING else has not yet been brought into the 21st century. Compare this to Tokyo DisneySEA, or Disneyland Paris, or even Universal Studios Singapore. There is simply no comparison, but obviously cost-conscious and arrogant Americans are not going to venture outside of the 50 states are they?! That would be too much to ask.

I think it is ludicrous to pay for entry to a theme park where there are no thrill rides whatsoever. At EPCOT, there is Mission: Space, Soarin', and Test Track - adequate rides them all, but hardly anything to whet the appetite. Every other Disney park in Florida has a marquee attraction to draw the crowds, whereas it seems EPCOT relies on IllumiNATIONS and its [overrated] dining experiences.

I saw an article of TPI the other day whereby the author praised Disney for dressing up Mickey and Minnie in Italian attire during the opening of an envelope at EPCOT. So what? It's hardly something like that I call value for money. At the majestic Tokyo DisneySEA in Japan (I recommend researching online about this park, Americans) every Disney character is dressed in the attire of each 'port of call', so it's hardly something to lavish praise upon EPCOT for, is it?

I totally believe EPCOT should not even be a park that charges an admission fee. I think it should be Disney's free entry park, but then guests are charged for riding the attractions and so-called rides, like is the case at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the UK.

2010 saw the opening of a major new world class attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure, and further afield for you Americans there was a new state of the art Universal Studios theme park at Sentosa Resort World in Singapore. I find it absolutely ludicrous that even in this day and age people still harp on about EPCOT and its delicious chow mein! You people seriously need to get out more.

August 16, 2010 at 2:28 PM · Epcot rulz! Glad you made the trip.

I still don't get your love for Impressions, however I admittedly have not been a fan of French cinema since I forced myself to watch the critically acclaimed (yet decidedly unnecessary) films I Stand Alone, and Irreversible. Gaspar Noé and I are not on speaking terms, I assure you. And obviously, some scars just run way too deep.

Incidentally, the final comment about "...adding Robert to the Suicide Watch list..." in the thread you linked ("prefer other films") was a masterful stroke of wit and thinly veiled social commentary. I had forgotten I even wrote it. Thanks for the reminder! =)

August 16, 2010 at 5:14 PM · Great report, Robert. I commend San Angel Inn's effort to serve authentic Mexican food. It may not seem like much to Americans from the south, but to me and my Canadian friends, whose exposure to Mexican food is usually limited to Taco Bell and Mexicali Rosa's, it's a nice treat.

And while we're self-plugging, allow me to refer you to my Drinking around the World experience at Epcot.

August 16, 2010 at 5:16 PM · Sorry to post in two parts - it failed when I tried to post as one.

A "brief" explanation of why I love Epcot...

The anonymous poster is right when he/she says there aren't many worthwhile attractions. To me, there are only six must-see attractions in the park, two of which Robert mentioned above. I even consider the beloved Test Track to be a complete waste of time. For this reason, I try not to think of Epcot as a theme park, but rather as one of the world's coolest markets.

Spaceship Earth is my favourite piece of theme park architecture and it acts as the market's skyscraper. Like many skyscrapers, the ride to the top can be hit-or-miss, but the building itself is beautiful from every angle.

The streets of this market are immaculately clean and are surrounded by architecturally unique landmarks and sprawling gardens. Not to mention they sparkle at night. Free soda is available at a nearby store. A city fountain dances to music and lights every so often, putting on a show that rivals the Bellagio's. Jumping fountains add to the fun.

The interiors of many of the buildings share a likeness with many city museums: they haven't changed in decades. Regardless, the buildings have attractive exteriors and are fun to visit with people who haven't experienced them before and, every so often, a museum will be updated or replaced with something new and fresh.

In the south end of the market resides an ever-changing daily technology conference. Just east of the conference is an eco-farm and experimental greenhouse. This market also features an aquarium with friendly animal experts.

The north market, which centers around a man-made lagoon, has an array of beautiful restaurants serving international food varying in quality and pricing (though the service at every restaurant is exceptional). Street entertainers from around the world perform multiple times daily but will not request, nor will they accept, tips or donations.

In this market, there are no bylaws preventing citizens from having an alcoholic beverage in the street. Smoking is permitted in designated areas only. Public transportation is fast, efficient, and free of charge, though mostly everything is within walking distance. A nightly fireworks performance blows away the expectations of many tourists.

This market doesn't have rundown warehouses, unsightly factories, vandalized parks, litter, gangs, thieves, drug dealers, murderers, piles of concrete and steel, smog, harassing street merchants, filthy public restrooms, dead or dying trees, mesh fences, idling cars, crosswalks, or any of the other various ugly qualities that come with visiting most city markets. This is the kind of market where you can happily blow an entire day sitting in the shade, watching the other happy citizens strolling by, sipping on a cocktail of your choice.

That's why I love Epcot.

August 16, 2010 at 7:42 PM · I still don't get all the venom from our Anon friend (perhaps it is Gaspar Noé lurking in the shadows, still taunting me for my hatred of his tremendously brutal films?!?). Fact is, most Disney fans will readily admit that Tokyo DisneySea is the most beautiful theme park on the planet. But its $4 billion dollar beauty does not in any way lessen the appeal and uniqueness of Epcot, nor any of the other beloved parks here in the States.

So, what's your point? You don't like Epcot? Okay. I guess that means there will be one less person standing in front of me next time I go to experience Mission: Space, Test Track, and Soarin'. You don't like Americans? Okay, join the club. But before you do, you might consider the fact that were it not for an American visionary named Walt Disney, your precious Toyko DisneySea would not even exist today.

August 16, 2010 at 8:34 PM · To the one who seems to hate EPCOT so much, if it is that bad just don't go. I don't think anybody is forcing you to.
August 16, 2010 at 10:53 PM · I'd love to visit Tokyo DisneySea more than any park on Earth, but the matter at hand is the money, as I mentioned in the other thread anon attacked Epcot on. The States' parks are close and convenient. I drove from Kingston, Ontario, Canada to Sandusky, Ohio a few weeks ago on a whim to visit Cedar Point. It's a solid 10 hour drive, but it's just that: a drive. Split four ways, the gas is nothing compared to a flight to Tokyo. Not to mention I can camp for cheap in Sandusky. A one-way flight to Tokyo alone would cost at least three times as much as my entire spontaneous weekend trip to Cedar Point.
August 17, 2010 at 4:58 AM · Excellent report Robert! I think you got the spirit of the park down perfectly. A few things:

1. I too think Tiger Woods will go bye bye along with the Hoyts (though I think they are inspirational to the fullest), and Peter Jennings. I think the later two would get mixed up in the shuffle and nobody would really know who they are. In other words, pretty much the sports players, unless historically known (like Magic Johnson or Jackie Robinshon). Obama's footage is MADE for this show! I mean, we got Jackie Robinson and Sandra Day O'Connor. Regardless what you think of our president, he broke a huge glass ceiling. I would take some inspiration from "Golden Dreams" which is gone from DCA.

2. Suprised that the Sunshine Food Fair was a bit of a dud for you. I always have found their food much more bold and exciting than most counter service places in theme parks and you can get an excellent quick breakfast. In my opinion, its the most underrated place to eat at EPCOT.

3. Mexico, along with Norway, have been on my family's "do not eat list" for some time. Its just we hope that there are more tacos and stuff on the menu, as bad as that sounds. We prefer the outside cantina more (which was AWESOME). Still, on the inside, you can't beat the environment and the food was good, just not what what was expected I guess.

4. Intoxicated guests are the best at EPCOT. Just hang around the United Kingdom area and you will find them. Then again, its the only proper way to experience Impressions (just kidding). However, I am certain that the disembodied spirit narriator is talking to ME!!!!!!!

5. Joshua Council's "Drinking around the World" is the most important piece of journalism on this site!

6. To the Anon poster, Really?

August 17, 2010 at 7:19 AM · Redading your column gets me even more excited for our Family trip to WDW in Oct 2010. This is will also be our sons 1st (post prego) visit to WDW....3rd visit in total! WE cant wait!! Epcot here we come
August 17, 2010 at 8:22 AM · I enjoy EPCOT because it is just plain and simple more laid back than the other parks. Sometimes I enjoy going with my wife and just going straight to the world showcase and walking around the countries, tasting the food and drink, and enjoying a leisurly stroll "around the world". It is defintely not a theme park in the classic sense, but if you take it for what it is, it is a wonderful relaxing day.
August 17, 2010 at 10:00 AM · I feel like Epcot is all about the experience. I am not sure where the Anonymous poster is coming from. I think the true measure of a great themepark is could you still have a good time without going on a single ride? To me Epcot is a loud yes to that question. I don't think it needs some large inverted coaster in order to make it better. In fact, I think that would ruin it.
August 17, 2010 at 10:39 AM · Well said Scott B.
August 17, 2010 at 1:42 PM · Peter Jennings was in the ending montage? But... he's Canadian!

Thanks for the strong compliment, Anthony, though I highly doubt my adventures through the drinking glass are all that important.

On the note of Akershus, my family considered it to be the best Epcot, and possibly theme park, restaurant when we visited in 2002. The food was authentically Scandinavian. The setting was beautiful and quiet. The service was professional and friendly. Now, it has become another damn character meal, so we have avoided a return trip. Can anyone comment on Akershus' current quality?

August 18, 2010 at 12:36 PM · I agree that a great theme park has atmosphere. And even though I haven't been to Epcot in over a decade, it still stands out. And mind you, this was before I was able to drink alcoholic beverages.

Epcot is for those of us that CAN'T afford to take a trip to every continent in the world. Sure, it's a lesser experience overall, but it's a different experience. Saying that Americans don't want to visit the rest of the world is ridiculous... yes there are some that don't want to, but isn't the Epcot experience about cast members providing a pseudo-worldly experience? Where else can you see multiple versions of Santa Claus in a few hours?

At Epcot I can go to Mexico without the fear of fake Federales robbing me. At Epcot, I can go to France without worrying about being treated horribly due to being an American. It doesn't mean I don't want to travel. Travel is good when you can afford it. I'd say it's more closed minded to hate Epcot assuming that Americans don't want to travel.

Thrill rides don't make a theme park better... some of the best attractions in Universal or Disney aren't even thrill rides. Pirates of the Caribbean. USH's Studio Tour. MIB.

I'd hardly call Space Mountain, Matterhorn, or Big Thunder "extreme" thrill rides. But they're still fun. Besides, thrill rides aren't for everyone. For every person that loves Splash Mountain, there's the person that adores Peter Pan.

And the obsession with "being 21st century?". I don't get it. Most of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates have "ancient" technology and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Why have a problem with Epcot? All Disney Parks are about atmosphere and the illusion that you're in another world... so how different is Epcot's "Disney-fied" world showcase to something like the entire Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom or even Hollywood Studios? They're not real places, and neither are the Epcot "countries".

August 18, 2010 at 12:46 PM · I want to like Epcot much more than I do, but as it stands its a hodgepodge of very dated attractions, mixed with some wonderful ones, and a few complete wastes of time. "Gran Fiesta Tour," anyone?

Whereas when it opened, I thought it was very clear what Epcot wanted to be and it succeeded. I don't think that's at all clear now.

August 20, 2010 at 7:01 AM · Thanks for the post - am going in Oct. for its International Food and Wine Festival.
August 20, 2010 at 8:08 AM · To the anonymous poster:

Okay it's clear when you go to a theme park you don't look for immersion, you look for just rides. And that's understandable. Epcot isn't about that. Epcot is inspirational. It's there to teach and entertain at the same time. And it does it quite well. Test Track, Mission: SPACE, Soarin' IMO are great rides. Say what you want but I don't think any GM plant would let you go through their test course. Also The Land is just amazing. Living With The Land teaches the public about our agricultural future. Then you have the Seas. Sure Nemo is there but SeaBase Alpha is pretty amazing. Also Innoventions is a great way to learn how to better prepare yourself for the future.

To say the World Showcase's theming is OK, well you really need to take in all the sights. Especially in the China pavilion.

Once again Epcot is about inspiring and and if your not with that well, you don't have to go. I'm sure the attendance will still increase.

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