Wednesday, June 29, 2011

EPCOT: First Time Visitors

I've heard more than one kid say that EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is boring. Apparently a lack of Pixar characters makes stuff boring to kids these days. Maybe I'm just an odd bird, but I've always loved EPCOT. I also eat soup outside in 90 degree weather, so maybe my opinion doesn't count. But on a typical day, I'll even claim that EPCOT is my favorite park at Disney World.

EPCOT began as Walt's dream. Originally it was his plan to create a utopian city where citizens could live and work alongside sophisticated technology and well-planned out community events. Sadly, Walt died before The Magic Kingdom was completed and the powers-that-were at the time decided that EPCOT would be better off as a business. In 1982, a decade after the opening of Walt Disney World, EPCOT opened and is now the fifth most visited theme park in the world.

EPCOT is divided into two lands, Future World and The World Showcase. Future World is home to lots of fast-paced and educational attractions while The World Showcase is a bit like a permanent world's fair. Unlike other Disney parks, there aren't really parades at EPCOT. There is a fabulous fireworks display that I'll discuss more below.

You can reach EPCOT via car, bus, or monorail (bonus points if you ride on the Tronorail!). You're greeted by the sight of a massive sphere that looks a little bit like a

Maybe one of the reasons that kids don't care for EPCOT is because it's not necessarily attraction-heavy. But you can certainly spend days at EPCOT and still not see everything it has to offer.

Future World
  • Spaceship Earth: Narrated by Dame Judi Dench, this slow-moving attraction time-travels its riders through the development of human communication. This ride is pretty spectacular and thanks to some recent updates, it very technologically savvy.
  • Innoventions East and West: These plazas feature booths or exhibits sponsored by different technology companies. Kids will love exploring the different exhibits that often feature interactive games that show how technological advancements are used in day-to-day living.
  • Ellen's Energy Adventure: This 45-minute attraction will provide valuable and fun lessons about energy and energy conservation. Click on the link to learn more!
  • Mission: Space: Click the link to get Josh's take on this fast-paced space adventure.
  • Test Track: This ride is super fun and just the tiniest bit scary. Help test car features on this specially-designed course that takes you through everything from Belgian bricks on the road to a near-miss with a transfer truck. This is a popular ride so be sure to grab a Fast Pass!
  • The Seas With Nemo and Friends: This attraction took the place of The Living Seas and until 2005, the aquarium that houses this ride was the largest in the world. Climb aboard a Clammobile and follow Nemo, Marlin, and Dory through their deep sea adventures. You'll even see something really surprising at the end! You'll also have a chance to explore the aquarium and visit Crush at Turtle Talk with Crush. Kids will love this!
  • Living With the Land: One of my favorite EPCOT attractions, this boat ride takes you through several biomes featuring fun animatronics before swooping through EPCOTS greenhouses. Surprisingly, a lot of the food grown in these greenhouses ends up on plates around the World! Check out my blog post about the Behind the Seeds tour for some pics of the greenhouses.
  • Soarin': My friend once said that this is her favorite ride because it doesn't have a plot line involved. You just ride for the fun of it. Board a hang glider and literally soar over the United States of America. Don't forget to take a deep whiff when you pass over the orange grove! **If you get motion sick, pop a Dramamine about an hour before boarding this attraction. You WILL get sick.
  • Journey Into Imagination with Figment: This ride is now a former shell of one of my favorites. What used to involve the Dreamfinder and a dragon named Figment now features Dr. Nigel Channing and Figment. Kids will enjoy this ride and boys will especially love the skunk smell during the "smell" lab. Kodak recently severed its sponsorship with this ride, and I wager there will be yet another major overhaul on this attraction.
  • Captain EO: This show which was replaced by Honey, I Shrunk the Audience recently replaced the classic Rick Moranis show (in my opinion, to capitalize on Michael Jackson's death). This 4D show is kind of confusing and may scare small children. I love Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and even I find this short movie difficult to follow. The setting is space and Michael Jackson does a lot of dancing and singing and then (out of nowhere) Anjelica Huston appears. I personally expected more out of the Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, but the 1980's were crazy, so who am I to judge?
The World Showcase
This land is my FAVORITE! While there are only two "rides" there are so many things to see, explore, and EAT. For the kiddos, there's plenty to see and learn. KIDCOT is a program that challenges your youngsters to travel from country to country and learn about different cultures. Ask a Cast Member for more information. Another new activity that looks like fun is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. I've never participated in this particular activity, but I know that kids really enjoy it. Your child will be issued a special cell phone (complete with that iconic Kim Possible dum, dum, da-dum) that can actually activate different things throughout the park. Ask a Cast Member for more information.

Each country pavilion is staffed by citizens of that particular country. Morocco actually sponsors its pavilion (through tax payer's money?) but all other pavilions are sponsored by private businesses. On the opening day of EPCOT, representatives from each country poured a bucket of water from their home country into the Fountain of Nations.

  • Mexico: This pavilion is housed inside a Mesoamerican pyramid and features several Mexican restaurants and a boat ride called Gran Fiesta Tour which stars the Three Caballeros. This ride used to feature a short history of Mexico told through animatronics, but Donald and his buddies took over several years ago.
  • Norway: This pavilion features one of Josh's favorite rides, Maelstrom. This boat ride takes you back in time and allows you to experience mythological Norse elements alongside oil rigs, puffins, and polar bears. This pavilion also features lots of stores, dining, and a Stave church that houses an exhibit on Vikings. There are lots of photo-ops in this pavilion! Keep an eye out for Disney princesses in this pavilion!
  • China: This pavilion is home to Reflections of China, a "circle-vision" film all about China. Throughout the day Chinese acrobats perform and an exhibit featuring the famed Terra Cotta soldiers is quite popular. There are also several eateries and stores to explore. Fun fact: Christina Aguilera's video Reflection was filmed here. This is a great place to meet Mulan and Mushu.
  • Germany: Best part of this pavilion? Karamel-Küche, a Werther's Caramel store! This is also a great place to meet Snow White and Dopey.
  • Italy: In a word, this pavilion is yummy. It's home to one of my favorite restaurants, Tutto Italia. It's also a great spot to snap some photos and hear some Italian classics from The World Showcase Players and Sergio, the Italian juggler. Sometimes Pinnochio shows up here.
  • The American Adventure: Okay, I know it seems kind of lame to have an American pavilion in an American theme park. But this pavilion is actually kind of cool. The main attraction? The American Adventure, an awesome animatronic show narrated by Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. I'm not overly patriotic at all and even I get goosebumps during this show. Be sure to arrive early enough to hear the a cappela group, The Voices of Liberty. The rotunda was designed specifically for their performances and it's amazing!
  • Japan: This pavilion is home to one of my favorite entertainers, Miyuki the candy artist. This lady, who hails from Japan, creates literal masterpieces out of sugar. There are also traditional Japanese drummers that play throughout the day. The stores in this pavilion are especially fun because they feature jewelry. You can even select an oyster and harvest a pearl from it!
  • Morocco: This pavilion is my favorite to explore, mainly because if I weren't a teacher I'd probably be an aspiring belly dancer. Just kidding, Mom. The King of Morocco actually sent his personal artists to create many of the tile work and murals throughout this pavilion and it's all quite beautiful. This pavilion makes me feel like Doris Day, a la The Man Who Knew Too Much and it's home to some really fun restaurants. The entertainment currently featured is a band called Mo'Rockin, a band that sets traditional Arabic tunes to rock music. And yes, there's a belly dancer. This pavilion is a great place to meet Aladdin, Jasmine, and sometimes the Genie.
  • France: This pavilion has a certain je ne sais quoi that's really fun. Impression de France is a panoramic movie that guides guests through France's historical cities and structures. There's plenty of eateries to visit, including the Boulangerie Patisserie, which is especially delicious. Throughout the day, Serveur Amusant performs a comedic juggling act that's really entertaining. This is also a great place to meet Belle, Beast, Marie, and Princess Aurora.
  • United Kingdom: My husband, who hails from Ireland, LOVES this pavilion. Probably because he can get fish and chips all day long. Who knows? Home to many stores and Josh's favorite, The Rose and Crown Pub, the United Kingdom pavilion has lots to explore. It's also a great place to meet Alice, Peter Pan, Wendy, Mary Poppins, and Winnie the Pooh. Recently, many of the stores began featuring Royal Wedding gear. If you have a spare moment, pop into the Rose and Crown Pub and check out Mrs. Pam Brody. She's a pianist with a penchant for big hats and she's FABULOUS.
  • Canada: Need to grab some poutine, eh? The Canadian pavilion features lots of plaid and moose accents. There's also a "circle-vision" movie called O, Canada featuring Martin Short. There's also a Celtic rock band called Off-Kilter that plays in the afternoons.
EPCOT is an excellent placed to meet characters, especially at the EPCOT Character Spot. Be warned, you'll wait in line for quite a bit of time. If you're a Disney Visa cardmember, head on over to Innoventions West between 1:30 and 4:30 for a private meet and greet with the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto) without the hassle of lines. Just flash your card and get a complimentary picture!

EPCOT is home to IllumiNations, Reflections of Earth. This fireworks display is, in a word, amazing. This was Josh's first Disney fireworks experience and he literally watched it open-mouthed the entire time. In this show, all countries and nationalities are celebrated like a grown-up version of "it's a small world." Gather 'round the fire pit and enjoy this awesome pyrotechnic display.

If you're looking for thrills, spills, and education, then EPCOT is the park for you. I've barely scratched the surface of things available at this park. So:

To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome.

Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney's creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all.

May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere.--E. Cardon Walker

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