A man-made lake surrounded by green vegetation with a large golf ball-like structure in the background
USA

The Highs and Lows of Epcot

Life has been coming at me fast and furious since we got back from our trip, and I’ve been doing a terrible job of getting these posts up. We’ve already been back for over two months! I promise I will post everything eventually. It’s just taking (a lot) longer than expected. So, without further ado…

A large golf ball-like structure with palm trees in front of it

As with a lot of the parks on our trip, I did very little research about Epcot before we visited. AJ has been to Walt Disney World several times, and I counted on him to know what to do and where to go, for the most part. I had heard of it, of course, and I knew that it had different pavilions representing different countries. For some reason, I had pictured these pavilions as huge tents with several different snack and beverage counters, various cultural arts displays, and live performances from natives of each country.

I wasn’t exactly wrong on all counts, but the reality of Epcot was somewhat of a disappointment for me. It was the park I had been looking forward to the most. Because of my expectations, it ended up being the one that I enjoyed the least of the whole Global Tour.

Full disclosure, I was a bit cranky from the heat, humidity, and lack of sleep. My body was still adjusting to walking 20,000+ steps every day. And unlike Animal Kingdom, which we visited the next day, Epcot’s attractions didn’t capture my imagination enough to make the very long day worth it for me.

A blonde woman with a reddish pink shirt sits slumped against a wall
Tired Katie

Even so, there were a few things that I enjoyed immensely. I don’t hate everything, I promise!

The Rides

Several of the rides at Epcot feel pretty dated. I’m sure there are people who visited Epcot when they were younger, like AJ, who are full of nostalgia for these rides. Visiting for the first time as an adult, I was pretty bored by them. The two main exceptions are Frozen Ever After and Soarin’ Around the World, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Future World West

Soarin’ Around the World

The very first ride we booked it to when we arrived at the park a little before its 9:00am opening time was Soarin’ Around the World. Although this is not the original Soarin’ ride, it was my first experience with any Soarin’ ride. I’m afraid of heights in some circumstances, something I really had to come to terms with on other parts of this trip. But, I found that the knowledge of being safely strapped into a ride that probably millions of people have survived before made any fear I may have felt dissipate. It actually ended up being my favorite of the day.

The ride consists of three sections of three rows of seats. Once everyone is strapped in with their belongings safely stowed beneath their seats, the seats hoist everyone off the ground, feet dangling, to form a stack of nine rows in the air, all facing a large screen. Then a video takes the riders on a journey around the world, seemingly flying high above the sights. There are even special effects to simulate wind and various smells.

AJ, Becky, and Jason had all been on Soarin’ multiple times before in California and/or Florida. Apparently if you’re seated near the edges of the screen, some of the images can get a little distorted. They requested that we sit in the middle of the middle row, if possible, so we could have a good view.

A bearded man with a baseball cap makes a goofy face for a selfie
Evidence of AJ’s boundless energy

The Seas with Nemo & Friends

After that, we hit some of the other rides in Future World West. The Seas with Nemo & Friends is a pretty enjoyable dark ride with some original animation and a cool effect at the end with the animated characters appearing to swim in a real aquarium.

Living with the Land

Living with the Land is very educational. Guests ride in a boat through various “climates” and then through Epcot’s real greenhouses, which actually grow food for some of the restaurants in Walt Disney World. It’s not a bad ride. It’s just a little boring. I feel terrible for saying it.

Journey into Imagination with Figment

The final ride we went on in Future World West was Journey into Imagination with Figment. Figment is a little purple dinosaur who helps us use our imaginations by taking us through the five human senses. Which, first of all, seems like it’s more about reality than imagination, but whatever. Anyway, I just can’t with this ride. It’s so hokey.

Future World East

Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth is located inside the famous Epcot… golf ball? What is that thing supposed to be? Anyway, it’s in there. It’s a look at technological innovations throughout human history. This is another ride that could desperately use some updating. It seemed very old-fashioned, not only in the way it presented the information, but also in the things that it presented. They’ve added a brief mention of cell phones at the end of the ride, but other than that, it’s all pretty 1980s.

Mission: SPACE

Mission: SPACE is a space launch simulator that uses centrifugal force to mimic the g-force of a rocket launch. There is an option for a “less intense experience,” but we, of course, did the intense one. Even though I didn’t look to the side, as you’re warned not to, I still felt a little off for a couple of hours afterward. This is definitely not a good ride for people who get motion sickness. That said, the “Mission to Mars” theme appealed to me, and I think it’s an interesting ride.

Three people wait in a futuristic-looking space for a ride
Becky, Jason and I waiting for Mission: SPACE

Test Track

We did Test Track near the end of the day. I was, admittedly, pretty over it by then. AJ loves this ride, so he had fun creating our car design in the queue before the ride. I half-heartedly participated, wishing I could just go to bed. We ended up with a blue race car with sparkle stars and comically large wheels. The ride itself was fun enough, although our blue sparkle car didn’t do so well in the “race.” You get going pretty fast on this one – up to 65 mph!

World Showcase

Mexico: Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros

This is a boat ride that follows Panchito and José as they try to find the missing Donald Duck in time for The Three Caballeros concert. It has similar animatronics to “it’s a small world” and a distinctly Mexican flare. It’s cute, classic Disney, and would be enjoyable for little kids.

Norway: Frozen Ever After

This was my second favorite ride of the day, after Soarin’. Sure, we could all maybe stand to take a break from hearing “Let It Go,” but I thought the ride was really quite well done. The animatronic Olaf, in particular, is some of the best Disney has to offer. There were also some surprise elements that woke me up a bit, which I appreciated.

Believe it or not, those are the only two actual rides in the World Showcase. Ratatouille is in progress at the France pavilion (along with a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster in Future World).

A pretty string of floral lights with traditional Norwegian archetecture
Part of the queue of Frozen Ever After

The Shows and Displays

Mexico: Remember Me!

This is a Coco-inspired exhibit featuring work by Mexican and Mexican-American artists. It focuses on traditional Día de Muertos artwork. I found it to be a great mix of cultural exploration and Disney flair. There are rumors that the Gran Fiesta ride will also eventually be re-themed to Coco. We’ll just have to see, I guess.

Norway: Stave Church Gallery

Focused on four Norse gods, this exhibit appealed to my Viking side. It’s quite a lot like a museum, so those with kids might have to read the explanations to them and explain a bit. Still, I think it’s worth a look for both kids and adults.  

China: Reflections of China

Like all of the films shown at Epcot, this one felt a little propaganda-y to me. It’s meant to be an introduction to the country and culture. It’s obviously not the whole story, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. On the practical side, there aren’t any seats in the theatre, which has 360 degrees of screens. For a very tired lady with sore feet, that was not a good thing.

Four people look down at the camera and a tiled ceiling is visible above them
Flattering angles in the China Pavilion!

China: House of the Whispering Willows Gallery

At the moment, this gallery features artwork from the Shanghai Disney Resort. Since we went to the actual Shanghai Disney Resort later in the Global Tour, I kind of just skimmed through the exhibit, figuring I’d be seeing it all in person soon enough. If you aren’t planning a trip to Shanghai anytime soon, you might want to take a little more time than we did.

The American Adventure: The American Adventure

It turns out that the pavilion and the film are named the same thing. The film lays it on pretty thick, and I found myself rolling my eyes at the old-fashioned animatronics, sappy music, and sentimental tales. I was also tearing up by the end, and not just because I was tired. What can I say? I love my country and am scared for it. Reminders of that are emotional for me.

The American Adventure: The Voices of Liberty

Speaking of tearing up, I was also fighting back tears listening to this group of very talented singers perform a capella in the pavilion building before watching the film. They perform, not surprisingly, American songs – from classics to more modern tunes. Their rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was absolutely gorgeous. Disney, why can’t you have high-quality performances like that at every Disney World park? I’m looking at you, Hollywood Studios!

A group of people in 1800s American clothing sing
The amazing Voices of Liberty

Japan: Matsuriza

We caught a little bit of this Taiko drum show as we browsed around the pavilion. They perform on a stage at the base of the 5-story pagoda. In hindsight, I wish we would have seen more, but what I saw was a display of rhythm, artistry, and strength. I’d recommend checking this one out.

Japan: Bijutsu-kan Gallery

This gallery explores the Japanese obsession with cute things, known as kawaii. We sort of browsed casually through it, having no idea just how relevant the information would be when we got to Japan.

Morocco: Gallery of Arts and History

Though we really enjoyed the immersive nature of the Morocco pavilion, somehow we missed this one. It’s a shame, because it looks like an interesting display of traditional arts and crafts.

Morocco: Fez House

I appreciated three things about Fez House, which is a representation of a traditional Moroccan home. 1. The mosaic tiles were beautiful. 2. It was a quiet place to meditate. 3. It was several degrees cooler than the outside air.

A blonde woman and a bearded man smile among Moroccan-inspired buildings
AJ and I in the immersive Morocco Pavilion

France: Impressions de France

Similar to the films at the Chinese and American pavilions, this is an idyllic look at France. It focuses mostly on historic sites and monuments. The film features the music of French composers, and the theatre has seats, which were both pluses for me.

Canada: O Canada!

With Martin Short narrating, I found the Canada film to be more entertaining than the others, although still cheesy. Featuring cities like Vancouver and Montreal, the gorgeous mountains of Banff, and lots of winter sports, this film was at least a little aware of its own sentimentality.

Illuminations

Epcot’s answer to the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show is, understandably, not as good. How could you possibly top Magic Kingdom fireworks? This show takes place at Epcot’s lake, with guests lining up all around the perimeter to catch a look. We had a pretty good spot, but my main issue was that the globe they use in the middle of the lake for the projections is so small. It was pretty difficult to see the images.

A bearded man makes a grossed-out face as a blonde woman kisses him on the cheek in front of Venetian-inspired architecture
Grossed-out AJ in the Italy Pavilion

The Food

We didn’t plan ahead much on the food here. If we had, I think the experience would have been much more rewarding. For some reason, I was thinking that Epcot was full of little food stands where you could buy sampler sizes of traditional meals in each country. That was not really the case, and by the time we were looking at day-of reservations for the sit-down restaurants, we couldn’t find any for the restaurants we were interested in.

I’m sure the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is very crowded, but I think it may have been a little bit closer to what I was expecting. I wish our trip would have lined up with it. Alas, we were there just a little too early.

Anyway, here’s a look at the food and drink we did try!

Norway: Midnattssol Bakeri

This little bakery was standing in for Kringla Bakeri og Kafe while it was being renovated. As any good Scandinavian-American would do, I dutifully purchased some lefse (a Norwegian potato tortilla-like thing that is spread with some combination of butter, sugar, and cinnamon and rolled up). I also recommended it to the others, and Becky bought one too. It was some of the worst lefse I’ve ever had. Mrs. Olsen’s brand in the grocery store is better. It was way too thick for lefse and the dough was basically flavorless. Oh, Norway pavilion, what are you doing? You had one job! I felt bad that I had recommended it, because it was awful.

AJ got some rice cream, a recipe that he had actually made from a Disney cookbook before. That was really good. Okay, Norway pavilion, you are somewhat redeemed.

A white rice cream with red fruit on top and a rolled patsry on a wood table
The great rice cream and terrible lefse

China: Joy of Tea

I was in need of extra caffeination, so when I saw the name of this stand, it was like it had been placed there just for me. I ordered a lychee-flavored iced tea. It was super sweet but very delicious. I got a sugar rush to go with my caffeine.

Germany: Sommerfest

We almost had lunch at the Biergarten Restaurant, but it was kind of pricey and we didn’t have a reservation. So, AJ and I split a pretzel from here, and I had a lovely German Pilsner. The pretzel was just okay. It was not as good as the ones you get in Germany, but at least they had mustard to go with it. The beer was excellent.

Japan: Kabuki Cafe

I got a little sushi snack here, which was pretty standard, like any supermarket sushi. Nothing to write home about, but at least it had a little protein. AJ got a strawberry Japanese shaved ice. He couldn’t finish it because, believe it or not, it was too cold!

A red cone of shaved ice
AJ’s very icy shaved ice

France: L’Artisan des Glaces

This was probably my favorite place of all the food places we went to in Epcot. They had delicious strawberry sorbet with a very smooth texture.

Future World West: Sunshine Seasons

When we couldn’t get a reservation at the Rose and Crown in the UK pavilion, we went here. I was desperate for some real food after what I’d been eating for the rest of the day! This is a quick service restaurant with something for everyone. I ordered an Asian noodle salad, and they kindly replaced the shrimp with chicken for me. I was also impressed that they had a dairy-free (vegan) coconut milk yogurt fruit cup, which I very much enjoyed. AJ got a gargantuan turkey club sandwich. Once he figured out how to eat it, he said it was very tasty.

The Shopping

With a long trip still ahead of us, AJ and I weren’t about to go crazy shopping at Epcot. Not only were we trying to save money, we were also trying to conserve space in our suitcases. Still, it was fun to browse. Here are some, but not all, of the shops we stopped into.

Future World West: Club Cool

We popped in to this sticky-floored shop to enjoy the free samples of sodas from around the world. Some of them were very unusual for American tastes, with fruit flavors that we usually wouldn’t think of for a soda. The weirdest one was Beverly from Italy. It’s actually quite bitter. I think I was the only one in the group who didn’t hate it.

A soda machine with international sodas
Club Cool’s Flavors Around the World

Germany: Karamell-Küche

Jason, who is allergic to chocolate, particularly enjoyed this shop. It’s all about the Werther’s caramels. Pretty much every Werther’s flavor imaginable is here, including some that I’d never seen in a grocery store before.

Germany: Glas und Porzellan

This shop has some great Christmas ornaments, along with a touristy assortment of beer steins and other German knick knacks. Becky bought a nice ornament for her and AJ’s mom. They will deliver purchases to your hotel if you’re staying on property, so we didn’t have to worry about carrying around a breakable item all day.

Japan: Mitsukoshi Department Store

With our trip to Japan only days away, we didn’t do much more than walk by the items in this store. If you’re not planning to be in Japan any time soon, it seems like a great place to purchase Japanese items. They had everything from Japanese candy to traditional craft-inspired items to Hello Kitty and other Japanese characters.

United Kingdom: The Tea Caddy

If “tea” is in the name, you can bet I will be taking a look. This is a store full of Twinings tea, and they have a lot of very interesting flavors. I purchased Earl Grey with Jasmine, a combo of two of my favorite tea flavors that I had never seen before. It ended up coming in handy for those tea emergencies on the trip.

A large golf ball-like structure at night, lit up with blue and pink lights

Well, there it is! I’ve finally managed to write the post about Epcot. I’d certainly be excited to check out the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, but other than that, I can live without a trip to Epcot for a good long while.

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