A week ago today, we (my parents and I) took a day-long holiday Walt Disney World’s Epcot. You gotta understand that this is something I’ve wanted to see ever since it opened in October 1982 — but, firmly rooted in Arizona, we always went to Disneyland next door in California for our Disney getaways. As a longtime Disneyland fan, it was interesting to compare and contrast the two parks. Having fun in a casual way that wouldn’t overtax the parents was the main objective, but I planned everything in advance to take advantage of the best times to ride each attraction.
We started off the day dragging ourselves out of bed for the shuttle’s 7:30 a.m. pickup. Sure, our flight arrived really late the previous night and we we in no mood to get up, but I had a fully packed day planned with lots to see so there truly was no alternative. We arrived at WDW’s central transportation hub to board the monorail entering Epcot. It was there, unfortunately, that my mom discovered she forgot to bring our three-day passes. Damn! Instead of heading all the way back to the hotel, we decided to buy one-day passes and hope that a Disney employee could spread some pixie dust and get us a partial refund on the other passes.
Seeing Epcot’s Future World unfold via monorail was (I hate to say it) a magical experience. My heart jumped when Spaceship Earth could be spied in the distance peeking over the trees. Getting closer, I was surprised to find the place a bit smaller in scale than what I imagined. I pictured us trucking along all day going from pavilion to pavilion, but in reality they’re all relatively close together. We bought our passes and entered the park. Upon arrival, we made a beeline for the Test Track attraction to get Fastpasses. For those who don’t know, a Fastpass allows you to go on a ride using a faster moving line later on in the day, providing you go back to an attraction during the time frame printed on the ticket. This early jostling with the crowds was a bit trying, so my mom suggested a little break with coffee and pastries. It was nice, and I flung some pieces of cheese danish at the aggressive white seabird hanging around.
The first ride we went on was Mission:Space. This is one of the newer attractions that has undergone criticism for not being “futuristic” enough, but I actually found it enjoyable in a low-key way. Guests play the role astronauts piloting a claustrophobic spacecraft to Mars, coached along by Gary Sinise. I was planning to do the wimpier version of the ride, with no spinning, but the parents insisted on playing it dangerously. The experience wasn’t too bad, but the odd moments of disorientation gave my stomach a pronounced queasiness that wouldn’t let up for an hour or two. It was weird, but the only thing that truly bothered me was the constant cold air blowing in my face. After the ride finished, we trudged down a spartan, flourescent-lit, too-long hallway — a very un-Disney like ending.
One ride down, several more to go. Onward to the Universe of Energy pavilion to ride on something called Ellen’s Energy Adventure. This was Disney’s attempt to liven up an older ride by framing it in a film with hip, young celebrities like Ellen DeGeneris, Alex Trebek and Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Unfortunately the film basically screams “1996″ and suffers from having a squishy, corporate-safe message (offshore drilling is the best thing ever!). Long, tedious, shoulda been skipped — even the part where the ride vehicles go through dioramas with audio-animatronic dinosaurs let me down. And Ellen was so annoying!
By this time we were due back at Test Track, Fastpasses in hand. I’ll say it now: the outside of this building sure is ugly. Cheesy banners and scaffolding everywhere; certainly not something that inspires wonderment in the possibilities of the future. The inside queue, seemingly inspired by the local Home Depot outlet, doesn’t improve things. We only had to wait about five minutes to board our “car”, and once the ride got going it was fun, if a little on the brief side. I’d love to go on the speedy outside section of track during a hurricane. The ride dumps you into a GM showroom and gift shop, not exactly a transporting experience.
After that I was getting thirsty, so we checked out the Coca Cola-sponsored Club Cool in Innoventions. This is a little area in which guests can sample — free! — various sodas sold throughout the world. The bitter Italian soda is the most notorious offering, but there’s also a German lemonade, a Mexican apple soda (my mom’s favorite), and the best one of all — a light-tasting Chinese watermelon soda. This little diversion actually made for one of the highlights of the day (we ignored the rest of Innoventions).
The park was starting to get crowded, so I decided to fit a visit to the recently refurbished Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the giant golf ball. This had one the longest lines in Epcot, but we toughed it out and got on in about 15 or 20 minutes (the longest wait during our entire trip). Despite technical difficulties with the ride vehicles’ computer screens, it was a lovely and inspiring journey. I loved Judi Dench’s narration and all the detailing in the various audio-animatronic figures. This is Epcot the way it should be.
Reaching high noon, we trekked to the other side of Future World to get a Fastpass for the Living with the Land ride. On the way out of the pavilion, my parents insisted on taking a detour from the schedule — they wanted to see the Lion King movie (sigh). Okay, fine. It was cute and nicely animated, addressing pollution for the kiddie set, but also skippable for anyone over the age of eight. We also took an unscheduled stop at the former Wonders of Life pavilion, which was holding some exhibits relating to Epcot’s annual Flower & Garden festival. I waited outside on the patio and took a moment to call Christopher and bug him about how he’s working and I’m not!
With the afternoon sun blazing away, we took shelter in another renovated pavilion, The Seas with Nemo and Friends. Now, the idea of riding a clamshell to meet Finding Nemo creatures sounds like something too irresistible to pass up, but in reality the entire pavilion was a bit of a letdown. The Pixar overlay seemed a bit like a cheap afterthought (the exterior, with the “mine” seagulls and a waterfall, was a lot more creative), and the sealife exhibits were beautiful but not any more impressive than what you’d find at a real aquarium. All in all, I took a bunch of blurry photos and left pretty quickly.
It was here that we trucked over to the Land pavilion to use our Living with the Land fastpasses. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect of this ride. But I unconditionally love boat rides of every kind, so we decided to give it a shot. The ride takes guests though greenhouses and aquariums showing new methods of growing produce and fish. That might not sound like much, but I was totally enthralled. Who knew? This made up for the Land pavilion itself, which had all the ambiance of a shopping mall food court.
Throughout the day we were going through Future World in roughly counter-clockwise order. That put the Imagination pavilion next, but I decided to skip it entirely. Instead, we went to the butterfly tent set up as part of the Flower & Garden festival. This tent was crowded and there weren’t many butterflies (which kinda had me worried for their safety), but there were some great topiary and flower displays around the lagoon that connected Future World to Epcot’s other half, World Showcase.
Well, this entry has gone on too long — and we’re only halfway though the day at this point! — so I will write about the gorgeous sights of World Showcase tomorrow. Photos from the day can be viewed in my WDW flickr set.