Friday, May 26, 2006

Enjoying Epcot

You can’t deny that this is one of the nicest times of year to experience Epcot’s wonderful landscaping, thanks to the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. Although the walkways unfortunately get clogged with all sorts of flea-market-style stalls that look a bit out of place, it’s a small price to pay for some of the most attractively designed and impeccably maintained landscaping in any theme park in the world.

I’ve received a couple of e-mails from readers who say I complain too much on this blog about what’s wrong with Epcot.

To a certain degree, they miss the point – this blog isn’t for complaining, it’s for pointing out shortcomings and waxing nostalgic for what used to be so right about Epcot … and how to make it right again.

That said, my last visit to Epcot left me thinking more about why I do love the place so much. (And, yes, for those who are wondering, I have a professional job and career, a great home life and a full social life outside of my fascination with Epcot!)

I’ve traveled to Asia, Europe, Latin America and all around the country for work and for pleasure, and yet … if you give me a choice of any destination for a vacation, I’ll likely choose Walt Disney World and spend most of my time at Epcot. Aside from the sheer beauty of the landscaping and grounds (even in non-festival periods), there is a great deal still very, very right about Epcot.

In no particular order, some memories and impressions that I hope will remind you of why Epcot, even in its current, less-than-stellar state, is like no other place in the world:

* The American Adventure remains one of the most elaborate, most stirring, most wonderful examples of multi-media presentations anywhere.

* There are quiet spots galore – inside the Japan and Morocco pavilions; near the Universe of Energy; the English gardens in the United Kingdom pavilion; on the path between Communicore West and The Land (and many others) … and in these places, the architecture, the walkways, the ambient music and the beautifully designed details all add up to make wonderful, calm moments.

* The exhibits within the World Showcase displays seem often to go unnoticed by guests, but add terrific texture and background to the experience. Without them, Epcot would be lacking, and it’s always nice to see that Disney still cares enough to have someone design and curate these exhibits, which really make a visit to Epcot rich and educational for those who care about such things.

* Spaceship Earth remains remarkably unchanged, despite its upgrades and refurbishments over the years, from its original concept, and still makes many riders think again about how and why humans have a need to communicate.

* The pleasure of dining at Epcot is unmatched. (Sadly, Restaurant Akershus has become an all-character locale – I’ll blog about that development at some point!) I have had some truly memorable meals, and despite the fact that guest are wearing flip-flops and t-shirts, the servers never fail to impart a sense of authenticity and genuine hospitality.

* Illuminations. Has there ever been a better combination of fireworks, music and imagery? Even the most jaded person who has visited Epcot with me has never failed to be impressed by the show. Here’s hoping it will go on for many, many more years.

* Despite my misgivings about Mission: Space as an experience, the pavilion’s exterior is absolutely breathtaking and a beautiful addition to Future World.

* Chinese acrobats: never the same show twice. And always fun.

* Rice cream from Kringla Bakeri og Kafe is … well, they should call it Rice Dream, really.

* The short film at the end of Maelstrom is overlooked by the vast majority of guests, but immediately instills a desire to visit the country.

* The Fountain of Nations, with its synchronized music-and-water shows, is as much an attraction as anything else at Epcot. It feels spontaneous and alive in a way many other attractions at Walt Disney World don’t. I could go on. I won’t, but I could.

What are your favorite places in the park? What are your memorable moments? I’d like to hear.

No matter how misguided Disney’s efforts to “improve” Epcot are, no matter how little Disney management “gets” the park, no matter what happens … it’s clear to me that Epcot’s core concepts are so fun and exciting that little bits of them will always remain to provide pleasure and demonstrate why Epcot, unlike any of the other Disney theme parks, is one to which many of us can return over and over and over without getting tired of it.


Anonymous said...

Some favorite memories:

Having the fortune of timing my monorail ride to coincide with Illuminations. :)

The potato tacos at the Mexican counter-service eatery. I do not have words for how good they are.

Like yours, the English gardens

Watching the trellis light display at Christmas time on a pretty empty evening, in a very cold wind with hot chocolate and a warm sweater.

Escaping to the park the day after one of the hurricanes in 2004 and finding to my delight that not only was it open and had very little foliage damage, it was completely deserted, with delicious air conditioning and cast members that were definitely more talkative and friendly than I had ever seen them before. I had never had a more enjoyable day at Epcot! I went a full 20 minutes without seeing another person who wasn't a cast member. Felt like I owned the park and that it had opened just so I could tour it privately.

Epcot82 said...

Nice! Thank you so much for sharing. What a great experience that must have been after the hurricane.

Anonymous said...

I love the film at the end of Maelstrom; I never skip it. It always makes me want to visit Norway.

My favorite part of the Maelstrom ride proper is when you go down the hill right next to the enormous oil rig. I saw a show on The Discover Channel about how they built and floated "The Troll," an enormous Norwegian oil rig, that looks very much like the rig in the ride. That's a very cool part.

Matt Arnold said...

I'm sure you are familiar with the counter service restaurant outside the Mexican pyramid. My grandfather and I took shelter from a torrential downpour under the umbrella of a patio table there. The pyramid was still visible on one side through the rain. The lagoon was still visible on the other. The deluge overwhelmed the drains of the patio, which filled with some inches of water. We propped up our feet.

Ducks swam around our chairs.

You might find this particular EPCOT memory an odd example to include, but it was actually very unique and pleasant. The memory of sitting in an impromptu wading pool for ducks has stayed with me for years.

Anonymous said...

You've hit the nail on the head. Although I'm glad the booths are in Future World and not plopped down between World Showcases.

I've always loved the inside of the Mexico Pavilion. I thought it was Disney design at it's best. A market at night with the glow of a volcano in the distance. You just felt like you were anywhere but, EPCOT.

Epcot82 said...

Somehow, those Central Florida downpours always seem a little nicer at Epcot!

Anonymous said...

After all these years, Epcot has still managed to keep its spacious settings. I love sitting in the Floridian heat under one of those huge geometric topiary trees near the Universe of Energy. With the UoE music booming from the pavilion and the wide-open space around me, its like heaven.

BJ Nemeth said...

I usually visit Walt Disney World once a year, for the Marathon held in early January. And Epcot is always on the top of the list for my friends and I. (My former roommate would always stop at the Mexico pavilion for a margarita DURING the final mile of the Marathon, which runs through all the major theme parks.)

No trip to WDW is complete for us without eating the authentic Fish & Chips from the British pavilion, followed by dessert crepes from the French pavilion. We usually spend some of that time relaxing on the bridge between the two areas (Britain & France), which we call the "English Chunnel." (Not quite the English Channel, but not quite the Chunnel, either.)

We'll also sample at least one Epcot restaurant that we've never tried before.

We also go out of our way to meet the native people in each land, and talk to them about their home culture and their time spent in America. It's great fun, very enlightening, and our photos with those castmembers are among our favorites after the trip.

Epcot82 said...

That's one way to run a marathon! Thanks for the great comment -- World Showcase is definitely something that, to date, no one else has been able to replicate.