WDW Day One 1/2: Epcot World Showcase
Wednesday I outlined our day at Future World in Walt Disney World’s Epcot. Today I look at our afternoon/evening at the other side of Epcot, World Showcase. This was an inspiring and fun-packed segment of the trip and in a way it made up for the small disappointments in Future World. The W.S. pavilions, each devoted to a specific country, have a timeless appeal and luckily they haven’t been as “Disneyfied” as the rest of Epcot.
We set off by exploring the pavilions in counter-clockwise order around the large lagoon in which they were situated. This meant encountering Mexico first, but before that we needed to hightail it to Norway to get Fastpasses for that pavilion’s Maestrom boat ride. After that (and a bathroom break), it was time to check out Mexico. Unlike other pavilions, Mexico is mostly situated indoors in a gorgeously fake environment meant to be evocative of a remote village surrounded by volcanic mountains. A restaurant patio is situated near an indoor lagoon in which diners can watch people riding the pavilion’s boat attraction, Gran Fiesta Tour. This was a neat effect, reminding me of the Pirates of the Caribbean/Blue Bayou setup in Disneyland. Unfortunately at the time we were there it was both crowded and noisy (a live mariachi band was playing), so we quickly made our way to the boat ride queue. Gran Fiesta Tour is another WDW ride that recently underwent a renovation, this time in the form of an overlay with animated sequences starring The Three Caballeros (only one of whom is Mexican). Although it isn’t earth-shatteringly great, it was a pleasant diversion which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought. Tableau with dancing dolls were lively and fun, and the animated sequences weren’t too intrusive.
Onward to Norway — for some reason, I ended up spending more time at this pavilion than any other (or so it seemed). We needed to kill some time before the fastpasses took effect, so we took in a nice little exhibit on Vikings in the reproduction stave church. At some point my parents decided to relax with beer and wine in the café, which annoyed me since it was only an hour before our dinner reservations. The Maelstrom boat ride was also fun, even if it’s less about Norway than about passing a bunch of scary trolls in a big Viking ship. The ride ends with making guests wait to enter a theater showing a travelogue film. Upon being released, most of the people we were with bolted for the exit. After sitting for another five minutes with no film showing up, we did the same thing.
The next pavilion on our tour was China. For the Flower & Garden Fest, this pavilion was decorated with cool little seed topiaries depicting the animals of the Chinese New Year. Since it closing in on dinnertime, we just milled around browsing the shops. Although the Beijing Olympic mascot merchandise was tempting, I decided to buy something cheaper — a lovely blue silk shoulder purse. I have no idea what I could use it for:
I also bought a bag of a Chinese candy called White Rabbit (pictured further below), which is kind of like a subtly sweet vanilla Tootsie Roll wrapped in edible rice paper. Ever the weird candy connoisseur, I was hoping to get a wide variety of goodies from around the World, but alas I only ended up with stuff from China and Japan.
The afternoon sun was setting, almost time for our 5:00 p.m. dinner reservations in the Germany pavilion next door. My dad picked out the Biergarten, which coincidentally was one of my top choices since I love German food. Biergarten is a buffet-style eatery with live music and communal seating with eight to a table. I was looking forward to meeting the guests we’d be seated with, but unfortunately they were a dud. They didn’t speak a word to us or even look in our direction! (And, no, they weren’t a foreign tourist family.) Luckily the restaurant made up for that in every other department. Our server was gracious and eager to talk about her hometown of Frankfurt, and the food was deliciously filling. I had (among many other dishes) two schnitzels with hunter sauce and two apple strudels for dessert. Waddling out of the restaurant, we browsed some of the German shops. I was so hoping to find some of my favorite chewy raspberry candies in the candy shop, but alas they had mostly gummy bears.
Italy was next on the agenda, and since that pavilion has no attraction it was a brief visit. We only spent about five minutes there, but I got some good photos of the pavilion’s faux Renaissance architecture. At this point, the sun was setting and we bolted to America for another bathroom break. A viewing of the audio-animatronic extravaganza The American Adventure was to be in store, but the next showing wasn’t starting for at least a half hour.
While mom waited in the pavilion, dad and I took a quick trip next door to Japan. It was beautifully crafted with a pagoda and nice gardens. I checked out the Mitsukoshi department store, hoping to find some cool toys — maybe a Kubrick Disney action figure or some hip Oswald the Lucky Rabbit branded stuff? Unfortunately, they had a bunch of Hello Kitty, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh merchandise that’s already familiar to most Americans. Exploring further, I did find a couple of things to get. One was this wonderful cat-shaped teacup which I bought for Christopher:
In the candy section, several bags of a gummies made by a company called Kasugai caught my eye. These were in a dizzying array of flavors; I picked out a pineapple one. What a treat — very flavorful and delicious!
After my dad and I breezed quickly through a cool little exhibit on vintage Japanese tin toys (boy, I wish I could’ve stayed longer), we went back to the American Adventure to meet up with mom. This was a beautifully mounted and super-corny show hosted by audio animatronic versions of Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. Things got so sugarcoated and patriotic that I almost felt guilty that I was moved by the ending. This is one of the best shows in WDW from an imagineering standpoint — the craftsmanship on display is top-notch.
By the time the show let out, it was nearing the end of the day and the showing of Epcot’s nightly IllumiNations fireworks display. Five minutes before starting time, we managed to snag a great viewing spot on the island located between the French and British pavilions. We found some empty spots on the stairs and it was nice just to get off our feet. The show was beautiful, although I was a teensy bit disappointed given the hype I’d previously read. Mostly it’s lots and lots of fireworks — beautiful, awe-inspiring fireworks, but fireworks nonetheless.
With the closing of IllumiNations it was closing time on our Epcot day. Unfortunately we never had time to visit the Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada pavilions, but I did get to look at the buildings on the crowded walk out of World Showcase. Trudging to the monorail ride back to the WDW transportation hub, I was impressed with the efficiency Disney has to move thousands of bodies where they want to go in a timely manner. Everybody got out in a timely manner with little jostling or stress. We returned to the hotel room exhausted but happy that we had a first day to remember. Tomorrow we’d be back on our way to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.