Did you know that Epcot was never intended to be a theme park?
Walt Disney was enamored with human innovation, and when he first envisioned the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, he saw a suburban living area where humanity could come together in the name of advancement. It was to be a community for technology and innovation. Think Eureka. But when Walt Disney died in 1966, the plans were abandoned because honestly, what corporation wants the responsibility of an entire city?
In the 1970s, Magic Kingdom had become so popular that the company wanted to expand and add another park to the resort, and so the original plan for Epcot was revisited – this time as a park instead of a city. Epcot sprawls across 305 acres (twice the size of Magic Kingdom) and while it isn’t a city of inventors and artists as Walt Disney had envisioned, it is a celebration of the future and of world cultures, sticking true to the values of the original plan, if not the design.
Epcot opened in 1982.
As a kid, I hated Epcot. I have a distinct memory of having a tantrum outside of Body Wars, and moping all around the World Showcase. I think a lot of kids felt this way, with various levels of drama. There are no rides and limited characters and so much boring adult stuff!
Adult me appreciates the adult stuff, y’all, but you know what else? There’s a lot more kid stuff than there used to be, and even more is coming! More on that later….
This visit, Epcot was hosting the annual Food & Wine festival, so if you’re hesitant about visiting, that alone should call to most adults. Each of the permanent countries had their own specialties, but booths scattered across the World Showcase offered treats from Brazil to Russia. I saw more “Drink Around the World” groups than I could count.
Unfortunately, we didn’t partake in the Food & Wine Festival for two reasons:
- The Disney Dining Plan stuffed us with so much food, just the idea of more made us groan.
- We never actually made it all the way around the world.
We did get this fun picture in front of the cake, though.
That said, the entire park smelled amazing. If I did it all again, I’d go without the dining plan and eat my way around the world instead – yum!
We spent a lot of time in Future World, the front half of the park where the legendary “giant Epcot golf ball” (as my Dad calls it) sits. Future World is where most the attractions sit, and is a good starting point for any tour of the park. You’ve got Spaceship Earth at the heart of it, then branching off to either side are the Land and Sea Pavilions.
In the Sea Pavilion, you can join Marlin and Dory on their search for Nemo again and visit the aquariums. There’s a little playroom for younglings in this pavilion as well, as some cool photo ops if your kids love sea creatures. You can learn a bit about the manatee and if you feel like forking out some extra cash (as if Disney wasn’t expensive enough) you can actually scuba dive in the aquarium itself. And yes, there are sharks in there. Small ones.
We spent more time in the Land Pavilion – partially because we had a lunch reservation there, partially because there’s just more to do. The Land Pavilion is all about appreciating our planet and sustainability. Our first meal in the parks was at the Garden Grill, a slowly rotating panoramic restaurant with character meet and greets. What I really loved about this restaurant is that everything is grown at Epcot – it’s completely sustainable. Plus the food was amazing. More on dining in future posts.
Then, of course, there are the rides in Future World.
Test Track is a favorite, with a standby line that usually lingers around an hour or so. This is a sort of stop-and-go coaster where you are supposed to build the most efficient vehicle possible. Naturally, that means you want to add rocket launchers and make the most ridiculous car you can, because… why not? The folks next to us managed zero efficiency. Their car looked like something out of Mad Max.
I really like Spaceship Earth, which is a dark ride that takes you through communication evolution, starting as early as group hunting in the Stone Age and riding through Greek philosophy and the moon landing until a final descent where you design your own future on a screen. The descent is super cheesy, but I like the first half of the ride. Disney’s animatronics both fascinate me and creep me out a little.
Other rides include:
- Soarin’ – In the Land Pavilion, this immersive visual ride flies you through some of the great sites of the world, complete with sensory additions (they blow wind, pump aromas in the room, it’s wicked).
- Living With the Land – a backstage boat ride that takes you through Epcot’s agricultural area.
- Journey Into Imagination – This one is a classic! It’s undergone many changes throughout the years, but the current evolution has Figment (the purple dragon, you’ve probably seen him and wondered what he was?) and Dr. Nigel Channing (played by Eric Idle).
- Magic Eye Theatre – This is a 3D theatre that used to show Michael Jackson’s Captain EO. Right now, there are a bunch of adorable Pixar shorts playing and Piper is the sweetest thing ever.
- Mission: Space – I’ve heard this is a very spinny ride? Despite best intentions, we never made it on this one.
- Unnamed Guardians of the Galaxy Coaster. – RIGHT. This is currently under construction where Ellen’s Energy Adventure used to be, and it’s supposed to open in 2019. They were making progress even while we were there – there were definitely pieces missing on Wednesday that had been there on Saturday. I am a huge fan of Guardians of the Galaxy so I can’t wait to see what this one turns up!
Once you’re through Future World and have had your obligatory meeting with Joy, Sadness, and Baymax in their assigned Character Spots, you enter the World Showcase. Depending on what side you’re on, you’ll either entire in Mexico or Canada. We took both routes on different days, hoping that we’d make it all the way around at the end.
We did not.
I think that the World Showcase is where a lot of kids lose interest in Epcot. After all, there are only the three rides – Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico, The American Adventure in the United States, and the newly rebranded Frozen ride in Norway (previously Maelstrom). There are a couple of films as well. Other than that, it’s shops, food, and glorious architecture.
The above sunset shot is from the Mexico pavilion, which we always visit, even if we don’t get around the world! I love the Mexico pavilion. The building itself is gorgeous, and the food in this section is amazing. We dined at La Hacienda de San Angel, which is definitely going to be a repeat for me (more in future weeks). But it’s not just the food… inside the main building of the Mexico Pavilion is stunning.
First of all, they’ve added a whole area to show respect to Dia De Los Muertos since the release of Coco. I’m so happy to see this – I was really hoping they’d rehaul the ride to be Coco-themed, but this is good, too!
Secondly, I love the marketplace here. It’s a series of stalls and carts and feels like a market, not a store. I love the aesthetics. I don’t know if it’s accurate, but I love it. And there’s also a restaurant in here, seated in dim light aside an artificial lagoon. I’ve always wanted to eat at this restaurant, but my husband’s been reading Disney food blogs and he told me the food is so-so at best (which I can’t imagine anywhere in Epcot, but I’m not picky), so we didn’t book there.
Can’t complain, though, because we ended up with amazing food at La Hacienda de San Angel with a great waiter and a window seat where we could watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. This fireworks show at Epcot has been running since 1999 and even though this was my third visit since then (we also went in ’98), I’d never seen it! Very grateful to see it from such a great spot.
That’s something else to know about Disney – if you want to watch a parade or fireworks show, people start snagging the good seats about an hour ahead of time. Sometimes more. Plan accordingly.
Okay, the view was slightly obstructed by palm trees. But we had a 9:15pm reservation for a 10pm show… I’m surprised we got a window seat at all. Everyone else had been there about an hour longer than us.
The other pavilion we spent most of our time in this trip was France. I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever made it to the France Pavilion before, or if I did, I was little and it’s not on film. This pavilion is tiny, but there’s plenty to do! There’s great places to eat in France, plus street performers, and of course there’s Belle.
There are a lot of character meet-and-greets in Epcot that I don’t remember as a child, and you can find about half the princesses along the Showcase road. They do have specific time slots and tend to disappear for 15 minute breaks, so be prepared to wait for them. And don’t feel weird if you’re an adult – half the meet-and-greet lines are families with kids… and the other half are grinning couples, grandparents, and bachelorette parties. Just have fun.
Not gonna lie, I don’t love all of my Minnie Ears now that I look back on them…. Aurora was a little much for me.
It’s all really gorgeous, but there hasn’t been much change in the World Showcase in a long time. There are 12 countries (and that’s loose, considering that “The Outpost” is supposed to represent the entirety of Africa, a whole continent). There’s a lot Disney could do in the Showcase, and it sounds like the Imagineers agree, because rumors galore have started to sprout about the future of this area.
First, and confirmed, is the Ratatoille ride that will be coming to the France pavilion by 2021. Disneyland Paris already has a version of this ride, which reminds me a little of the Winnie-the-Pooh ride in Magic Kingdom.
There are also rumors of a Mary Poppins area coming to the UK pavilion, and the possibility of an India pavilion opened to host something The Jungle Book themed. One way or another, it’s been confirmed there’s going to be some massive expansions to Epcot, and since there’s so much undeveloped land (and originally planned countries that were never built!) I’m excited to see it.