Welcome one, welcome all, to the second of my travel posts from my recent trip to Orlando, Florida! In my previous post I did a guide (of sorts) to Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and now we move onto the first of my Disney World guides/recaps. Whilst planning out my recaps of the four parks, I decided I should do a sort of reverse/ascending order, starting with the park which I liked least or, rather, my fourth favourite because, let’s face it, Disney World is amazing so I didn’t actually dislike any of the parks! But today I’m here to bring you my thoughts on Epcot!
The second oldest of the Disney World Florida parks, Epcot stands as a celebration of human achievement and technology and feels like a sort of homage to the idea of a World Fair. In fact, it was originally a concept that Walt Disney had for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (aka EPCOT) that could be the ideal blueprint for urban living for the next generations. When he died, the project was reimagined into what became Epcot.
Nowadays, Epcot is split into two distinct areas: Future World and the World Showcase.
Future World is exactly what it sounds like – if you imagine what people would think the future was full of when conceiving the park. Ever seen the iconic golf ball-esque structure that dominates Epcot’s entrance? Yeah, that’s Spaceship Earth, a dark ride which features the voiceover of the glorious Dame Judi Dench who narrates the story of, well, the Earth and how advances in human communication helped to take us from prehistoric man to the modern and mass communications we’re used to nowadays. I’m not sure if you could call it a ride in the traditional sense – it’s more of your Haunted Mansion speed of “ride”, which meant I actually enjoyed it! (However, I did feel strangely motion sick in the final bit where it tips your ride car slightly back to see an infinite star field and to give you the angle to descend from the top of the ride back to the loading area so word of warning to those susceptible to sickness!) Also I now have officially heard the infamous “Remember how easy it was to learn your ABC’s? Thank the Phoenicians—they invented them” line.
We bypassed Test Track because it constantly had a huge wait time – no surprises there. I also am not really bothered by cars so… the concept doesn’t hugely appeal to me. Have I missed out? Probably, so says other people, but I’m kind of fine with that.
One ride I did brave, however, was Mission: Space. I wasn’t that brave though because I was a wimp and stuck to the Green Team/Less Intense Training as opposed to the Orange Team/More Intense Training – mainly because of my tendency towards that pesky previously mentioned motion sickness. The green option doesn’t spin you so you don’t feel those centrifugal forces that make Mission: Space so iconic, but you do still get to feel like part of the crew and Gina Torres gives you a mission just the same as everyone else! We rode Mission: Space twice and on the second go round we were the only ones in our capsule so the two of us had to do the work of a four-man crew! (Of course, we landed safely because we’re great astronauts and did Gina and Gary proud.)
Another iconic ride, Soarin’, was ticked off the list and it was everything I imagined but also hilarious. The queuing area is themed like a retro airline, think Pan Am, and then Lemony Snicket himself (ok, Patrick Warburton) dressed as an airline captain gave us the safety briefing. Then to the ride itself: you sit down in rows of seats, and your restraint for the ride is basically an airplane seat belt. The ride lifts the seats to a height so that you can see the concave screen onto which the images of soaring above the earth are projected. The ride operators actually encourage you to just kick your flip flops and sandals off where you’re sitting because they’d fall off anyway. One guy with a crutch just left it right in the middle of the floor – don’t know why it made me laugh but it really did! Because of the position of the seats when elevated, depending on which row you’re on, you can probably see a lovely view of people’s feet swinging aimlessly back and forth above you. The ride video is what it says on the tin: you “soar” above the world nowadays (not just California) and it was super cool. It was realistic enough that it gives you a view of what flying over the world would look like, but it’s not so realistic that you get a chance to feel the effects of swooping over the world (i.e. motion sickness). Also, whatever smell they pump into the room during swooping over the Taj Mahal needs to be bottled and sold, stat!
We also popped by The Seas with Nemo & Friends to say hi to all the gang – Nemo, Dory, and even a turtle or two with Crush! Although the Nemo connection is cute and all, it’s actually not the ride bit of the attraction which I enjoyed most but rather the aquarium attached to it. There’s a pair of rescued manatees just chilling in there (so interesting!) and my personal favourites, the stingrays, and it’s very, very easy to lose an hour or two in there – as me and Liz can attest to!
Before we leave Future World, I’d like to tell you about the fun I had with one area that definitely isn’t a ride but is even more entertaining: Club Cool. Sponsored by Coca-Cola, it hosts a variety of unusual beverages from around the globe. No Diet Coke here, but there is plenty of odd flavours, my favourites being Fanta Melon Frosty from Thailand (DELICIOUS) and Guarana Kuat, a Guarana berry flavoured drink from Brazil (no, no wiser either but I LOVED it). And also… Beverly. Described as very bitter non-alcoholic apéritif, it is VERY bitter, to the point where a lot of people cannot stand the taste of it, especially if you prefer (or sample) the sweeter drinks in Club Cool first. Me and Liz could both handle it quite easily and it was SO MUCH FUN to help ourselves to a shot of it and have amused Americans wait around to see our (presumably disgusted) reaction, only to be horrified when we said we liked it actually. SUCH FUN!
When we were done freaking out Americans, we headed to the showcase. Let me just say, the World Showcase is like nothing else I experienced in my time at Disney. In fact, I’d go so far as saying it doesn’t really feel like you’re in Disney anymore really, probably because there’s no hint of even a slow-moving ride there and because it’s mainly full of slightly tipsy adults thanks to Mexico’s margaritas. Reminiscent of a World Fair, it features pavilions from different countries around the world, specifically United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, and Italy. As Liz put it so beautifully, the showcase well and truly toes the line between “stereotyping” and “racist”. Each pavilion has themed areas, attractions, restaurants, and shops – and it’s principally staffed by people who come from that region too which is a pretty damn cool idea.
When we went to Epcot, it was during the annual famous Food and Drink Festival. This means that the lots of already yummy food in the pavilions is backed up by even more yummy food from across the globe! Liz and I already had our plan of action for Epcot long before we stepped foot in the park: eat our way around the World Showcase. Because the festival was on too it meant we could have small taster portions of the foods on offer and thereby eat more countries more easily!
My favourite area of the showcase overall was probably Mexico but that’s obviously a lot to do with the links to Coco which it exhibits inside and which I’d only seen for the first time on that trip so it was pretty fortuitous timing. Mexico was also where we ate an amazing Taco Trio and churros with a view at La Cantina de San Angel whilst watching the fireworks (more on that later). Speaking of food, it was ALL GOOD but highlights were the red lentil stew in Ethiopia, hoisin duck bao in China, the mixed shawarma platter in Morocco’s Tangierine Cafe (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and the brioche ice cream sandwich in France’s L’artisan des Glaces. Whilst popping into Starbucks for a drink on the way to grab a couple of breakfast kringlas in Norway (YUM, by the way), I discovered I adore Java Chip Frappucinos… which is annoying when they don’t do them everywhere in the UK. (DAMN YOU, UK, WHAT ARE YOU EVEN GOOD FOR?!)
Speaking of, we popped by the UK pavilion, obviously, and it had all the stereotypical tea, biscuits, and pub you can imagine. It was… weird to see that and it was hilarious to me that our contribution to cuisine is basically limited to fish and chips and bangers and mash. We have a lot to answer for, UK.
I will say, I was slightly perplexed by the amount of people proudly (and slightly superiorly) walking around wearing Food and Drink Festival t-shirts but then proceeding to basically only eat at the American pavilion. Sorry, but I don’t really think that’s in the spirit of trying out some dishes you wouldn’t otherwise get to. Which is a shame because you’re definitely missing out if you don’t get in on that Ethiopian stew, seriously!
The last and the main event at Epcot is probably IllumiNations. Taking place on the World Showcase Lagoon, it’s a light and fire celebration of the Earth, keeping well in the spirit of the pavilions which line its perimeter. Everything was a bit trippy and fiery and theatrical (as all good Disney nighttime spectaculars are) and I don’t think I could ever do it proper justice so you should definitely check out a video of the experience that is IllumiNations. I’m glad I got to see it because even though it has all the big fireworks and water effects that are used in other Disney shows too, it has a completely different feel to them, thanks to the music and the way that the various country pavilions light up during the show itself, really helping to hammer home the point (if you hadn’t got it already) that Epcot is a celebration of the World and its people as one.
There we have it, folks, that was my recap/guide/thoughts on Epcot! Have you been to Disney yourself? If so, do you like Epcot and what’s your favourite area of Epcot?