Next on my tour of Orlando is Walt Disney World‘s Epcot. This ranks as our second favourite park within the resort. Which is rather odd considering it doesn’t hold many rides. But what it does have is fantastic. Plus Epcot is different for many reasons, whether it be its theming or its general desire to be something different and important, particularly when it comes to discovering the world we live in and its variant cultures.
From the moment you step into Epcot you will be dazzled by its progressive ideas. Similar to Cinderella’s Castle within Magic Kingdom Epcot holds its own personal gem in the form of Spaceship Earth (or as I nickname it, “The Giant Golf Ball”). This attraction stands at the entrance of Epcot and its literally as I described it, a gigantic ball held up by stands. But bizarrely it’s not just an object to spectate but rather a fully fledged attraction that you participate with.
Inside you sit within a constant moving transport system that takes you on a journey of discovery (the inner theming of Epcot in general). You are taken back in time were you live through the history of technology and how it both came about and expanded our societies and the world around us. It’s really fascinating, serving as a joyous little sit-down ride were you can simply sit back and indulge, learning brand-new wonders about our technological advances.
What I like the most is the ability to be informed about this journey of discovery through different languages, each given to you by a different celebrity (English being Dame Judi Dench). This adds into Epcot‘s themes of unity, expanding further Walt Disney World‘s ideas for discovering new ways to deliver help in advancing our world and protecting it. This really intrigues me as Epcot differs with Magic Kingdom‘s innocent nature of “believing” and rekindling with your inner childhood in order to have fun and discover new ways to re-invent yourself with happiness.
In that respect, Walt Disney World is all about means of discovery, each Park delivering a new type of proceeding in order to reach that particular verdict. It’s a fun process, one that I hope you can appreciate through these articles. As you reach the end of this animatronic filled ride you come to the fascinating verdict of Spaceship Earth‘s meaning, that our Earth is one gigantic spaceship that we inhabit and build together, thus passing the torch to you in order to discover new means of helping with the continuous progression of our beloved world and everything beautiful within.
So instead of being just a straight-forward history lesson you end up with something really poetic and thought-provoking, which I really like. Of course you can then have a bit of fun on your journey back to the present by building your own future on the screen in front of you, designing a world that best suits you, before getting a fun little presentation of how that world would look and operate.
Mission: SPACE, on the other-hand, is little bit more ride-based. Although it formulates more like a traditional attraction, i.e. being a fun-filled simulator that you participate in, it still holds the feeling of discovery as Spaceship Earth got across. This time you’re made to feel like an astronaut working for NASA as you perform the very first manned trip to Mars, thus discovering what it’s like to travel in space, whilst also experiencing its wonders. This is definitely something that my partner appreciated, but sadly the claustrophobic nature of the ride put her off a bit.
If you can get past this then you’ll enjoy it greatly. It’s made more impressive by feeling genuine as you get walked through by NASA operatives on a screen as you prepare for boarding. Then whilst the simulator undertakes you get the privilege of fulfilling the key roles in piloting the shuttle on its journey to Mars. It’s nothing too complicated, merely pressing the relevant button in front of you when told to do so, and off you go to become the first people to land on Mars (although how long this ride has been going you’re hardly the first anymore, but don’t let me spoil the magic).
The most popular ride within Epcot is none other than Soarin’, a fantastically constructed simulator that makes you feel as though you’re travelling across the world to witness “the Seven Wonders”. But, just like I warned you in my previous article, this ride tends to have a monstrous queue that can last anywhere between 30 minutes to 60 minutes (or possibly longer on a really busy day) so be prepared for a wait (but I will say it’s definitely worth it).
If you can though I’d seriously recommend using Fast-Pass. Sadly though the Fast-Pass system is rather limited in Epcot (and the other Parks) due to the limited number of rides, thus you can only book party queue skips once throughout your day before being forced to book individual bookings for the remainder of your day’s duration. So, fair warning to those of you who were planning on beating the queues all day because it’s virtually impossible unless you want to be split up on each ride.
What’s great about Soarin’ is the inclusion of Patrick Warburton (Disney fans will know him as the voice of Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove, Kronk’s New Groove, and The Emperor’s New School, whilst broader fans will know him for voicing Joe Swanson in Family Guy) within the pre-boarding video as he guides you through the does, and don’ts, and what to expect from your unique flight experience. This is a neat little touch that I really appreciate (and it certainly put a smile on my partner’s face, particularly when you pretended it was Joe giving the speech).
You then get levitated in your row seating in front of a massive screen where you watch as the landscape changes into the “Seven Wonders of the World”. Although the ride itself doesn’t particularly rock, or deliver an intense experience into making you believe your actually flying, the clever usage of air and smells and the whooshing affect of the imagery all but give you the perfect imitation that your flying through these exotic and beautiful sceneries, before ending up back at Epcot where Tinkerbell is there to greet you.
It’s one of the great highlights of Walt Disney World and one that should be experienced because you won’t be disappointed, and like everyone else that rides it, will be dazzled by its inspiring imagination and attention to this wonderful world we live in, whether it be the natural wonders of Earth or the spectacular sites we have added on top. Also, there was a really cute little girl sat next to me on one of my goes this year who made me chuckle through her innocence, inquisitive nature, and curiosity which ultimately reminded me of my own little niece.
Nearby Soarin’ there’s a neat little ride called Living with the Land in which you participate in a gentle boat ride to learn about the different styles of growth, from natural progression within the wild, to man-made manufacturing, and how scientists have been trying to bring these two elements together in the best possible way. Epcot, in fact, has there own research centre which you get to ride through as the narrator explains the Park’s important work in developing new and heathy ways to live off the land, thereby bringing the ride full circle with its unique meaning of discovery.
The last ride on my list today is Test Track. This is certainly the odd-ball of the bunch (and to a lesser extent the kiddy attraction The Seas with Nemo & Friends) as it isn’t really about discovery but rather you just enjoying a good thrill ride. Unless the discovery is about how a car works, in which case that’s as close as you’re going to get to discovering something on this ride. For the most part it’s all about having a good old-fashioned adrenaline rush, similar to Space Mountain.
Easily Test Track is my favourite attraction at Epcot, which is funny because I don’t pride myself for liking fast and furious rides, and yet with the likes of this and Space Mountain it appears I’m all for high-speed attractions. I guess as long as it’s not a massive roller-coaster I’m usually game as high-speed rides are normally fun to participate in (I think what I don’t like the most is that horrible tickling sensation in your belly).
This ride also demonstrates one of Epcot‘s other highlights, i.e. sponsorships, with Chevrolet sponsoring Test Track (although before the 2012 refurbishment it was sponsored by General Motors), whilst Coco Cola sponsors a nearby drinks shop called Club Cool to which you can buy lots of different Coco Cola merchandise as well as try different drinks from around the world (for free may I add!), adding in further Epcot‘s willingness to showcase different cultures and their ways of life.
Anyway, Test Track. The ride is a massive high-speed simulation of how vehicles are tested within the four unique categories of displaying the car’s capabilities on the road, i.e. capability, efficiency, responsiveness, and power. The ride has seen some changes since my first visit in 2008, to which the attraction used to be a literal “test track” to show you how the vehicles were tested within the labs, forcing you to become an actual “test-dummy”.
Now it’s far more technical through you now actually being involved within the testing process, to which you can design your own vehicle during the queuing process and then watch and see how it progresses throughout the ride as it’s tested within the four categories. It grants the ride that extra piece of involvement as it becomes a somewhat competition with the rest of the passengers to see who built the best car.
Regardless of this aspect it’s still a fun-filled ride as you whizz through the different tests as you swerve through different weather conditions and terrains before going outside to race along the final hurdle, shooting up to speeds of 64.9 miles per hour (making it the fastest ride in Walt Disney World). Although I swear it feels a lot of faster. Either-way, it’s a really, really, really good ride that I could go on over and over again. In fact, I did just that.
Here’s a tip, if you want to skip the really long Wait-Times and don’t mind being split up within your group (unless of course you’re on your own, in which case, it doesn’t really matter) then go for the Single-Rider queue were you’ll be put on a random car with random strangers, but hey, you get on a lot quicker. I looked at the Wait-Times: normal queue – 40 minutes; Single-Riders queue – 5 minutes, and it was pretty much a walk-on, and so I rode the ride three times in a row and had myself a blast whilst my partner chilled out on the side-lines. So yeah, look out for Single-Rider queues because they really do come in handy.
Finally, Epcot has a very unique area (serving as half of the Park in fact) called World Showcase. World Showcase is basically a massive pathway through different countries from around the world, to which you can explore their culture and cuisine. The individual pavilions themselves aren’t too large, but serve enough function to give you an idea of what it would like to stand within that particular country, topped off by the fact that you can interact with staff-members of that culture, adding in more diversity within Epcot‘s unique structure.
It’s a fun and interesting experience. Even if you just walk around this massive area you’ll have a great time breathing in the unique atmosphere. But if you do want to venture there are plenty of stores and restaurants to stick your teeth into, allowing yourself to delve into different cultures and discover their ways of life, and in the process learn a few things and discover brand-new cuisines as well as beautifully crafted ornaments to take home and show off to family members and friends who may have never experienced that particular culture, thus expanding the discovery.
World Showcase includes Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, United States of America, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada. Now, me and my partner didn’t explore every country on our travels but we did venture in a few and found plenty of items to take home with us. We even learnt something incredibly interesting about a sweet here in the UK, i.e. Werther’s Originals, to which they actually originated in Germany. Honestly, this made me feel a little ignorant but nonetheless it was truly fascinating learning something new about an item I naturally assumed was from my own culture, to which I educated my family upon returning home and they too had the same fun-filled reaction.
Our favourite pavilions have to be China and Japan. My partner loves the Japanese culture and loved visiting the Mitsukoshi Department Store which sold all sorts of Japanese merchandise from ornaments, clothing, food, drinks, and even anime. I found myself enjoying the latter the most as I am fond of anime, bringing home plenty of Bleach and Dragonball Z t-shirts. My partner was very much happy indulging in their snacks, specifically Pocky. Even if you don’t venture into Mitsukoshi the pavilion itself holds so much beauty and a calming atmosphere, to which you could easily spend all day sitting by the pond and gazing at the beautifully structured pagoda.
The China pavilion had a fantastic show to watch (which we happened to catch just by accident on our travels around World Showcase, but by heck was it a great accident) in the form of the Jewelled Dragon Acrobats, consisting of some really strong acrobats performing dangerous lifts and stunts, with the incorporation of roller-blade dancers on top of a small stand performing equally dangerous lifts and tricks at high-speed. It was good! Then there’s Good Fortune Gifts which held even more great merchandise for us to buy, to which we ended taking home a beautiful white tiger statue, a cute plushie, and more sweets for my partner (she does love sampling sweets from different cultures).
So, yeah, it was a fantastic experience within World Showcase, a place that can be enjoyed practically all day if you’re willing to spend the time exploring and learning about different cultures. We really enjoyed sampling different elements, making our stay in Orlando that bit more adventurous and educational. Of course the final topping was our experience of Epcot‘s International Food & Wine Festival in which you get to go around sampling different cuisines and beverages from different cultures via stands across World Showcase.
This, again, added to our fun filled days at Epcot and allowed us to once again push ourselves in being adventures, thus trying some really nice dishes from countries we’d probably never have got to try unless visiting this fantastic festival. The best part was the prices were cheap, you didn’t have to pay tax, and the portions were decently sized, allowing us to share each delicious dish as we explored this brilliant setting of wonders.
Plus, there’s so much to choose from, especially when it came to beverages (seriously, you could take up the worst possible drinking game by starting from the Mexico pavilion and drinking a beverage from every single country until you reach your triumphant conclusion at the Canada pavilion, to which by then you’re probably completely plastered [or more likely unconscious in a trolley as your sober companion wheels you back to the hotel]).
The great part about this event is they add in even more countries in order to expand the festival further with brand-new cultures not usually featured within World Showcase. So there’s bound to be something for you to enjoy, or just be adventurous like us, thus trying something new and exciting.
What more can I say, Epcot is just another highlight to Walt Disney World and allows you discover in brave new ways, granting you an even more exciting journey during your stay in Orlando.