World, Here I Come
First-time visitors to Orlando, Florida are often swamped with decisions: Which Disney park should you see first if you only have a minimum amount of time to spend in Florida’s prime tourist destination? If you’ve chosen EPCOT, you’ve made a wonderful choice! This Disney park offers so much more than Mickey-Ear souvenirs and character sightings (although EPCOT has been known to host a few kooky characters). EPCOT is divided into different sections, ranging from futuristic to cultural. By far, the most exciting aspect of the park is World Showcase.
In World Showcase, you can visit recreations of eleven different countries and experience their people, their products, their food, and their architecture. The pavilions are so realistic, each with their own aura, that you’d almost swear you just stepped off the plane and are ready for a world excursion. There are endless tips to help you see everything, but perhaps you’re just interested in seeing things the average tourist may miss. All of these “countries” have their own surprises, so get ready to see the EPCOT you never knew. Countdown to some great experiences as you navigate through World Showcase.
– 1. CANADA. Most people start at the opposite end of the park at Mexico, but you can also start here, in Canada Pavilion. You’ll notice Renaissance French architecture and lovely gardens, and as you wind back in to the shops, you’ll find a small, rustic building that shows a 360 degree movie. Due to special dimensions and illusions, standing there makes you feel as if you are really flying across Canada. If you find yourself dreading motion sickness or get dizzy at experiences such as this, it probably isn’t the attraction for you
– 2. UNITED KINGDOM. Thatched cottages and small but regal homes give the impression of medieval London. There’s even a pub here to indulge your English food fancies. But perhaps the quirkiest attraction is a staple of “real” England – red phone booths! Step inside and give someone the opportunity for some entertaining pictures. Also, United Kingdom’s “maze,” tucked around the bandstand and behind the buildings, is like a tiny park to sit and reflect
– 3. FRANCE. This is a great pavilion was lots of things to explore. If you wonder why the Eiffel Tower model soaring in the distance isn’t the dark color you’re used to seeing, it’s because this pavilion is set in the 1800s in France. Right after its construction, the Eiffel Tower was indeed this pale color. Stop in at the Impressions de France, a different kind of theatre. It’s a 200 degree “virtual reality” movie like Canada. You can fly over the French mountains, sit in the passenger seat of a carriage while the Eiffel Tower looms ahead, and view fantastic countryside footage. I can personally vouch for the exciting effect this movie produces. For just a few moments, I could actually convince myself I was clip-clopping along Paris’ busy streets!
– 4. MOROCCO. The low, unassuming buildings draped with pots and woven blankets send you through the culture of Aladdin, the mystic splendor of the Middle East. When you see a tall gilded tower, you will soon discover that it is a prayer minaret. In Marrakesh, Morocco, the Katoubia minaret stands as the twin to EPCOT’s. You can enter a replica of a Moroccan house to get the feel for a foreign land. Be sure to keep an eye out for the fancy detail and gilded decoration that can be found here.
– 5. JAPAN. Japan Pavilion has some of the most stunning architecture in the whole World Showcase. The otherworldly pagodas reaching to the sky, quaint bridges, and ponds filled with exotic fish are gorgeous beyond comparison. The plant life, exotic and refreshing, is most beautiful here. When you enter “Japan,” you’ll notice a pagoda stretching five stories tall. It is modeled after a pagoda from the 8th century called Goju-no-to.
– 6. AMERICAN ADVENTURE. This may not seem like a very exotic pavilion since we already live in this great country, but it too has its surprises. The classical-style theater, with its animatronic feature presentation also known as American Adventure, is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the sun-drenched park. The theater is a quiet place to relax and take in this great show. Unlike other structures in EPCOT, the American architecture isn’t made to resemble a certain building, but many. The
“plantation” house is a combination of Boston, Philadelphia, colonial Virginian and Williamsburg architecture. It was made of clay, worked on until it resembled old brick.
– 7. ITALY. This pavilion is certainly one of the most elegant, sporting replicas of the Doges Palace and St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Watch out for the mimes in impeccable costumes and masks that lend to the classical, mysterious feeling of Italy. You might come across a huge decorative monument, complete with an ornate Roman arch and a statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.
– 8. GERMANY. This is a very comforting “country” to visit for many reasons, not the least being the unique gothic chateau architecture that Germany is famous for. One of the houses, the Biergarten, is modeled after a building in the Bavarian city of Rothenburg, a medieval town with many surviving ancient structures. When the clock turns a new hour, watch it carefully; colorful figurines will dance forward merrily from this replica of Munich’s Glockenspiel.
– 9. CHINA. Step inside the Temple of Heaven, the huge multicolored pagoda, and look up. The ceiling is stunning, covered with unbelievable golden designs. It’s worth the time it takes to come to EPCOT because you can see architecture like this without having the leave the country. This room is also fascinating because of the “sound system” it possesses; if you speak aloud, you can hear what your voice actually sounds like. The pond and plant life running under the gateway to the temple are a touch of peaceful serenity; stop to check out the fish.
– 10. NORWAY. There is a replica here of a medieval church that now stands in Oslo, known as the stave church. Many people don’t realize you can enter this church and get an amazing sense of medieval Norwegian life. If you’re lucky you can catch a folksy band singing in their native tongue, a sound which is both cheerful and haunting. Don’t be afraid to go closer to the “Viking” ship you’ll find perched in the pavilion; it’s a play area for children (and those of us who don’t wish to grow up) with swings and all sorts of fun entertainment.
-11. MEXICO. The huge Aztec temple dominating the Mexico pavilion shows us what life in the country was like before Spaniards arrived in the 1500s. This temple is a representation of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (an Aztec god). Many visitors might bypass El Rio del Tiempo, River of Time, as a “sweet, gentle ride,” and while it is admittedly gentler than theme park rides generally are, this can be very refreshing after a full day of walking. As the boat sails along you see animatronic figures, Mexican scenery and handicrafts, and a stunning display of “fireworks” slashing across the ceiling. This is an indoor ride (also ideal if you happen to catch EPCOT on a rainy day!)