Jolene goes to Epcot
We visited Epcot on the fourth day of our Disney World trip, after one day in Animal Kingdom, then two days in Magic Kingdom. Our stomachs and wallets were ready, and we were willing to overlook our tired feet and humidity-tormented hair.
Epcot stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Originally, Epcot was built to be a living, functioning community focusing on progress and technology. Although that vision was never brought to life in its truest sense, it is obvious that Epcot centers around those same ideals, from its idealistic Future World to the diversity of the World Showcase.
Epcot is sort of in the shape of a figure eight, with Future World at its entrance and the World Showcase surrounding a body of water in the back of the park. It's safe to say that this is my second favorite Walt Disney World Park after Animal Kingdom, and I sincerely wish we'd had more time to spend at Epcot.
Because of the dates we chose for our trip, our visit to Epcot fell during the beginning of the International Food & Wine Festival, an annual celebration of all things culinary, including live demonstrations, extra international food booths, hands-on workshops and seminars for foodies wanting a more in-depth experience with their food. Our game plan was simple: Do all the rides in the morning, don't eat any one large meal but eat as many things as possible.
Upon entering the park, I was so awestruck by the gargantuan sphere that has become the icon of Epcot. The sun was already bright, even at 8AM, and the light seemed to accentuate the majesty of it all. The futuristic sculptures and sharp angles made us feel like we were entering alien terrain, and we felt a strong, concealed sense of adventure buzzing in the air. Perhaps it was our own curiosity mixed with rave reviews, or the sheer mystery of this park that can seemingly be out of place at Disney World.
We took advantage of the extra morning hour to enter the park an hour before the general opening and headed straight for Test Track, a ride themed after an actual test track used to test cars. Since I was a kid, Test Track is the one ride I've been absolutely dying to get on at Disney World. Even though we were exhausted, on the last half of our trip, with sore feet and almost-sunburns, I was indescribably excited to finally ride Test Track.
To our dismay, the ride was already closed, probably due to technical difficulties. I had a backup plan for us, so we headed over to Soarin' Over the World. Disney's California Adventure aficionados will be very familiar with this ride. It is one of the most popular rides at Epcot, and even though I've ridden it several times in Anaheim, I wanted to ride it at Epcot, too. Even though my original plans were thwarted, I was already being drawn into the charm of Epcot during our walk to Soarin'. Our temporary detour gave us a sneak peek of "The Land," an area we would experience more later.
The good news is after I checked the app, I saw that the wait time was 30 minutes for Test Track, so we walked over. It was considerably less than 30 minutes, and I got to live out my childhood dream of riding it! It was more intense than I thought it would be, and I can see where Radiator Springs Racers is strongly based on Test Track.
Next we tackled Mission Space. I'd like to mention there is some controversy surrounding this ride: it is described as a centrifugal motion simulator that simulates an astronaut's experience being launched into space. There are two versions of the ride, green (more tame) and orange ("extreme"). I spent many hours reading about guests' experiences, getting totally sick on orange, being spooked by the actual barf bags in the pods, and being concerned about claustrophobia. The extreme version sounded absolutely horrifying, and my travel buddy Jennifer suffers from motion sickness. It didn't seem like a good idea but... we went for it anyway.
Let me tell you, I can see where the warnings come in, but I was totally fine. I was a bit lightheaded after the ride, but it was some serious fun, and I wanted to ride it again! I would have if we'd had the time. All of the details of the ride felt so real. Granted, I am not an astronaut and know extremely little about anything space-related, but Disney yet again does an amazing job of creating an atmosphere and environment that really convinces guests they are really going into space.
As much as I loved it, I would not recommend this ride for anyone who is claustrophobic or gets very bad motion sickness. The ride felt a lot like those carnival rides where you stand against the sides while it spins - the pressure on your body is the same, and it feels more intense for particular people. I did hear from a cast member that the ride used to be really intense, but they toned it down due to complaints.
You can watch a POV video if you're curious about Mission Space!
I'd like to give an honorable mention to The Seas with Nemo & Friends. At first, my intention of getting on the Finding Nemo ride was solely to say we did every ride in the park. Finding Nemo is a dark ride mainly for kids, and it uses projections and animations to tell a story similar to the film. To my surprise, once it ended, we got off in a totally different place from where we'd gotten on, and it was an actual aquarium! There were manatees, dolphins, sharks, sting rays, sea turtles and plenty of fish. It was incredible, and I was totally surprised by it!
Next, we did Spaceship Earth, which I LOVED (even though Jennifer fell asleep when we got stopped toward the end). That giant sphere you see in every photo is actually a ride, which is Spaceship Earth. It's a slow, dark ride that goes through the development of humanity and mankind's progress in technology, using narration, screens, and animatronics. It reminded me of the people mover in structure, with a screen at every seat. There is a really stunning part of it once you get to the "top" and I would ride it again just to see that part.
Lucky for you all, I will be reviewing everything I ate in another post, to prevent this one from being an entire novel. Can you tell I love Epcot?
I'd like to take a break from my chronological storytelling to mention two things that made our day particularly fun: The Epcot Passport and Remy's Ratatouille Hide & Seek Scavenger Hunt. The Epcot Passport is $11, and even though it is made for kids, it becomes a great souvenir for Epcot world travelers. The passport set comes with an actual passport and stickers.
At each World Showcase stop, we looked for "Kidcot," an area where cast members stamp passports (usually for kids) and sometimes even draw something or write in a different language. We visited every stop, and there were some really awesome additions to our passport, from beautiful Arabic writing to Japanese doodles.
In addition, we did the seasonal Scavenger Hunt. I'd read about the passport on a Disney blog, but I had zero clue Remy's Scavenger Hunt was going on until a cast member asked us if we wanted to participate. While reluctant at first, my mind was changed after I saw the available prize cup. At around $8, it was a cute souvenir to add to my collection. This scavenger hunt proved a bit more difficult, since we had to spot a Remy statue at each location, and see what he was posing with. Once we found the statue, we would stick the correct sticker on the designated space. For instance, maybe the Remy we find in China has a garlic clove. We'd take the garlic clove sticker and stick it on China.
Before we headed to the World Showcase, we finished up the attractions in Future World, including Journey into Imagination with Figment and one of my favorite attractions, Living with the Land. Both are slow rides; Journey into Imagination is a whimsical ride celebrating the five senses and how our imagination plays into them. It is a very dated ride but it screams nostalgia. Living with the Land is a boat ride that takes you through the hydroponic farms Epcot uses to grow sustainable food. It really brings the acronym Epcot to life!
The first part of our day was pretty much complete - we tackled Future World and all of its rides, and we attended a Food & Wine Festival Seminar; the rest of our day was devoted solely to the World Showcase, a stunning 1.25 mile lap around Epcot's World Showcase Lagoon, complete with authentic cuisine, imported trinkets and cultural experiences. When we arrived at the World Showcase, we used our FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After. I am not a fan of Frozen, but I think my trip to Disney World subliminally changed my mind a little bit. The ride is really neat - it is a boat ride appropriately placed in the Norway Pavilion, and it features all of your favorite characters like Olaf and Sven. Elsa makes a pretty awesome appearance, too. I'm glad I had a FastPass+ for it though, since I really don't care much for the film. At least our picture is cute!
Once Frozen Ever After was under our belt, we backtracked and started our 11-Pavilion tour. Each pavilion in the World Showcase is impressively immersive. The architecture, music, and cast members change. One particular detail I found incredible was that the cast members working in each pavilion are actually from the country being represented. In the Germany Pavilion, all of the cast members spoke to each other in German. If you are facing World Showcase Lagoon, the pavilions are as follows, clockwise:
We began in Mexico, and everything was so stunning and impressive! The pyramid in Mexico was such a gorgeous center-piece, and really made me realize how much detail was put into each section of the World Showcase. Unbeknownst to most guests, there is a ride within the pyramid, past the artisan vendors and live Mariachis. The ride is called the Gran Fiesta Tour, and it is based on a film that I grew up watching: The Three Caballeros. I am of Puerto Rican descent, so I loved seeing all of the Latinx and Hispanic cultures presented in that animated film. It was a treat for me to ride the ride, but it was also disappointing to see it so empty. Do yourself a favor and enjoy the peaceful boat ride in the Mexico Pavilion!
We continued around each pavilion, searching for the Remy statue and visiting each Kidcot station to fill our passports. Norway, China, Germany, each pavilion was so incredibly special and intricate.
It sounds cheesy, but I really do recommend getting the Epcot Passport. It's a reasonably priced souvenir, and it is really fun to interact with the cast members, as they are from all over the world.
We literally spent the rest of our day eating and drinking through every pavilion. Each one was so different from the next! I fell in love with Epcot that day, and it became my second favorite Disney World park, after Animal Kingdom. I only have a couple regrets: not catching the Voices of Liberty at the American Pavilion (I didn't check the show times ahead of time, so I didn't plan that well), and I wish we'd spent less time in Future World, if only to get more time at the World Showcase. We were scrambling to finish the tour by the end of the night!
Lastly, we grabbed a spot at the Italy Pavilion to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. I'm going to be honest here, if you can't tell already, I'm a complete sucker for night/fireworks/light/water shows. I love them, probably at an irrational level. That being said, I really didn't care for Illuminations. I'd heard lackluster reviews, but a little part of me was still excited because, well, I love those kinds of things. However, by the end of the show I completely agreed with those reviews. The fireworks were nice, but nowhere near the spectacular we'd seen at Magic Kingdom. There was no real theme, and the small light-up glove was difficult to see from where we were.
By the end of the night, we were exhausted, but we were so happy. As travelers, we enjoyed the cultural exploration in Epcot, the amazing food, and forgetting we were still in Orlando. Similar to Animal Kingdom, Epcot doesn't have the in-your-face presence of Mickey Mouse, but the Disney Magic is subtle and versatile, branching out beyond cartoons and theme park expectations.
So there you have it, my spectacular day at Epcot!
Until next time,