Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Around the Epcot in Eleven Hours

On our final day of theme park fun we visited Disney’s Epcot.  Like the other two parks, I had quite a bit of built up anticipation for Epcot. The anticipation dates all the way back to a Flat Stanley project I did in third grade.  My Flat Stanley visited Epcot with my grandparents.  Ever since I read about Stanley’s adventures, I’ve been hoping to visit myself.  I mean come on, a place where you can visit over ten countries in one day?  Who wouldn’t want to go?

[The day started off eventfully. It was a bit chilly and overcast at the park when we got there, but luckily the sun came out. I realized I had somehow forgotten my belt back at the hotel we'd just checked out of. I went back, startled the woman who was in the process of cleaning the room, and with some broken Spanish, the belt was retrieved!]

Upon arriving, I discovered that Epcot is sort of a strange park.  It is comprised of two very distinct areas.  First, there’s Future World.  The focus here is on space and technology.  Beyond Future World is The World Showcase (this is what I was excited about.)  According to the Epcot wikipedia page, “The original plans for the park showed indecision over the park's purpose. Some Imagineers wanted it to represent the cutting edge of technology, while others wanted it to showcase international cultures and customs. At one point, a model of the futuristic park was pushed together against a model of a World's Fair international theme, and the two were combined.”  This explains why the park seems so disjointed.

[The futuristic half of the park and the world's fair half are separated by a good size body of water. This looked nice but I think it resulted in a lot more walking because there were no shortcuts. We walked around this over and over throughout the day.]

Entering the park, visitors arrive in Future Land underneath the iconic sphere sculpture.  Inside the sphere is the ride Spaceship Earth.  This ride was amazing; definitely my favorite at Epcot!  Each little car had a touchscreen inside.  When we first boarded, the screen prompted us to smile as it took our picture.  It then asked our names, where we were from, etc.  Little did we know that this information would be used later in the ride.  After gathering information about us, our car took us on a trip that passed through all of human history.

[I had thought since Epcot is a bit less iconic than the Magic Kingdom that it would be less crowded. I was a very wrong dude.]

[Luckily we had already mastered the fast pass reservation system associated with our cool MagicBand bracelets and blew past the line-waiting huddled masses.]

We began with Neanderthals and ended at present day.  I learned a lot.  For example, did you know paper was invented because cave drawings weren’t transportable? Before paper, people had to leave their writings behind every time they moved.  Also, I suppose this is fairly obvious, but I didn’t realize that it was the invention of the printing press that prompted the progression from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance.  Another interesting scene showed Steve Jobs (or some other early computer man) building a computer in his garage.

[Things got animatronic real fast.] 

As we neared the end of the ride, the information we provided at the beginning was put to use.  On our car’s little screen, it played a movie about our lives in the future.  It was so cool!  It showed us flying in a hovercraft as we traveled around the world.  Unfortunately, we didn’t think to record it until it was too late.  Oh well, John took some pretty great pictures!

[There was a cool bit afterwards in the lobby where it marked where everyone who was riding was from on a large map.]

Leaving Spaceship Earth we headed to the show Captain EO a 3D movie featuring Michael Jackson. John was really, really excited about this.  I had no idea he was such a big MJ fan.  The movie was originally filmed in 1986 and shown at Disney Parks around the same time.  However, after MJ’s death in 2010, the film was resurrected as a tribute.  In the movie Michael plays a spaceship captain who saves his crew through song and dance.  I discovered the whole film is on YouTube, if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

[I am simply a fan of awesomeness from the 80's. Myself and Michael Jackson included.]

Anyway, we worked up quite an appetite watching Captain EO and were in need of a snack.  We headed over to the other side of the park, the World Showcase, and popped into Norway.  We had a special Christmas rice pudding (so, so good), lefske (which reminded me of Minnesota), and a salmon and egg sandwich.  We washed it all down with shots of some crazy Norwegian booze.  The waitress told us that if we drank them without making a face, then we were true Vikings.  According to John, I didn’t pass the test. [Womp. Womp. The booze was aquavit, which I was excited about because it was featured in an episode or two of Boardwalk Empire.]

[Lydia didn't take her failure very well, and overcompensated later in the day.]

After our bellies were full, we ran back to the World Showcase for our FastPass reservation at Mission: Space.  This ride was insane.  When you get in line you have to choose between two missions: green or orange.  Green is the milder version, so of course John chose orange.  While waiting in line we were warned multiple times that the orange ride would (not could, would) cause dizziness, motion sickness, and nausea. But John insisted.  As we neared the front of the line we were broken into teams of four and each member was assigned a role such as captain or lieutenant. We eventually loaded into our capsules and were sent to space.  Somehow they made it feel like we were moving really fast, and I could feel the skin on my cheeks being pushed back.  Eventually we made it to the moon, and I was pleasantly surprised that the journey stopped there – we didn’t have to endure the ride back to Earth. I felt a little funny afterwards, and had to sit down.  I’m glad I experienced this ride once, but I’ll never do it again.

[Lydia was audibly shivering in her space boots while we waited.]

Our final ride in Future Land was Soarin’.  First, we loaded into seats that left our feet dangling.  Then we were lifted in front of a big movie screen that showed images of different parts of California such as Napa Valley and the Golden Gate Bridge.  We were supposed to feel like we were flying over California.  But I wasn’t very impressed.
Soarin’ was our last FastPass reservation, so it was time for lunch.  We ate in Morocco at Restaurant Marrakesh.  The first thing I noticed was that every single waiter looked like Aladdin. They were all male (which I thought was weird) and had on cute little hats and vests. John had lamb shank and I had the most delicious couscous I’ve ever eaten.  It had big juicy dates and hunks of beef in it.  We also sampled Moroccan beer and mint tea.  While we ate, we were treated to live music and a belly dancing show.  It was a pretty awesome lunch!

[My belly was dancing from all the delicious food.]

[Outside the restaurant was a really cool little mock-marketplace with little shops everywhere.]

Leaving Morocco we passed a kiosk advertising the chance to become secret agents.  Of course we had to check it out.  The worker at the kiosk explained that something weird was happening in the United Kingdom and Agent P (from the TV show Phineas and Ferb) needed our help.  She gave us a cell phone and sent us on our way.  When we arrived in the United Kingdom, Agent P explained that there was a bad guy in the UK that we needed to stop.  Using the cell phone we were given clues that led us around the country.  We visited a red pay phone booth, an English garden, and a store selling soccer jerseys.  Eventually we caught the culprit and saved the day.

John liked this adventure a lot more than I did.  Don’t get me wrong, it was fun, but it just took a really long time.  Every clue was like a five-minute video clip.  Plus if we waited too long between clues, for example, if we wanted to stop and look at something else, the game would time out and we’d have to start all over.  Luckily, I was able to convince John to ditch Agent P, so we could get on with our own adventures.
The rest of the day we spent wandering around the countries in the World Showcase.  We quickly passed through Canada.  Next, we stopped in France.  We glanced up at the Eiffel Tower replica and then watched a movie all about France.  We walked through the United States exhibit and saw Mr. and Mrs. Claus.  Japan was next.
Japan’s exhibit is very comprehensive.  They have a department store that is the chain’s only location outside of Japan.  Inside the store we saw a Japanese lady cultivating pearls.  Next to the store is an art gallery that compares modern day anime characters to ancient mystical creatures.   After exploring the gallery, we did some sake tasting.  John even got to speak a little Japanese.  One of the coolest things about Epcot is that the workers at each country are actually from that country.  So all the workers in the Japan exhibit were actually from Japan.

[This was very strange. Visitors would pick out an oyster from the tank and this lady would pry it open and give you the pearl inside. She was ridiculously enthusiastic about the whole process.]

Anyway, next we went to Italy and took a look at the Trevi Fountain replica.  We also tried some Orangecello and Limoncello.  Next up was Germany where I rediscovered mulled wine.  So good! Another fun fact is that the Germany exhibit is the location of the only Werther’s caramel store in the world.

China was next.  We watched a movie about China on a 360-degree screen.  I didn’t really like it because I felt like I was missing something the whole time.

We returned to Norway for some more food.  As recommended by the Norwegian workers we tried School Bread, which was like a bagel with cream inside, and a raspberry roll up cake.  Both were amazingly good.  Who knew Norway was home to such delicious food?  We also took a ride on a Norwegian Viking boat and looked around the Norwegian store.
Our last country was Mexico.  The Mexican exhibit was shaped like a giant pyramid.  Inside we took a Mexican boat ride, which was reminiscent of the Small World ride at the Magic Kingdom.   We also spotted Donald Duck sporting a sombrero!

At this point we had made it all the way around the World Showcase!  We decided to head back towards the car.  On the way we stopped for the Nemo Ride in Future World.  It was cool because the animated characters were integrated into a real fish tank.  We also watched a weird Lion King themed movie about saving the planet.  The movie, and the theater, we quite outdated.  But it was good for a laugh.
On the way out of the park, we stopped for a few more pictures in front of the iconic sphere.  Including one that replicates a picture of John from his visit over twenty years ago!

[At this point, normal people would probably go home and go to bed. Not us! We headed over Disney's BoardWalk, which is a luxury resort and entertainment area.]

[I thought this was kind of neat. There were lots of places at both parks where you could get your picture taken by the Disney staff. With our cool little bracelets the pictures they took were associated with our account so we could look at them online and of course purchase them if we wished. This product seems to let you pay a flat fee for unlimited pictures. Could be a good deal if you go to the park often enough.]

[Lydia got another firework fix on the boardwalk.]

We drove to Celebration, FL, the town that the Disney company built. By then most of the businesses were no longer serving food, and we were starving, so we took a brief driving tour and then headed out.

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