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Friday, April 18, 2008

THE FUTURE IS IN ORLANDO AT DISNEY'S EPCOT

Three years ago we visited Universal Studios in California where a one-day visit is sufficient. In Feb., '07 we thoroughly enjoyed California's Disneyland where we needed three days (with breather days between) but could have used four for comfort, but it has been years--maybe 15+ since we visited Disney World in Orlando, and WOW this is not the Disney World of bygone days. You gotta come here--and you've gotta come with plenty of time!

Epcot is fantastic--but it's big and diverse. Rob and I weren't sure if one day would do it for us, so I did a lot of checking in the multitude of guides in Barnes & Noble and online and then planned a potential itinerary. When we checked into Sheraton Vistana Resort, we bought our One Day ticket and made dinner reservations at the Rose & Crown Restaurant (a good spot to view Illuminations: Reflections of Earth at 9:00 P.M.) We thought Illuminations would be a spectacular fireworks display as we’ve seen in Disneyland and Disneyworld.

Epcot is divided into two distinct sub-sections, Future World and World Showcase. We decided to spend the morning at Future World and the afternoon at World Showcase, ending at the Rose & Crown Inn and Restaurant for dinner in the United Kingdom. Allison, Mike (from England) and I visited there years ago, and so there is a special pleasant nostalgia associated with this part of Epcot.

Future World looks at the present and the future, and the exhibits and rides hint of possibilities. If you remember the Disney created GE exhibit, It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow at the 1964 World’s Fair, you also know how much of that has come to pass. Today’s Future World does the same thing, and exhibits that are just fun today will be commonplace tomorrow. We went on some incredible rides in Future World! We began with Mission: Space. There are already tourist space travelers, but someday travel will not be limited to the extraordinarily wealthy. Rob and I, I admit, took the less intense training--we skipped the spinning part of the ride that simulates weightlessness--and took off to Mars. In our four-man ship, I was the pilot; Rob was the navigator, and we had a bumpy landing--and a lot of fun!

Next we climbed aboard a "clamobile" at The Seas and went looking for Nemo. This ride was amazing, and at times combined the real (and super) aquarium with projections of Nemo and his friends. They appeared to be swimming among the real sharks, porpoises and other fish. Pretty cool. We spent a lot of time looking at the aquarium which is always fascinating and a bit eerie when you get a close-up look at those beady fish eyes. There is a special tank for two manatees that have been rescued. These manatees, endangered, harmless vegetarians often mangled by motor boats, eat 100 heads of lettuce each per day! Disney is involved with all kinds of scientific projects with companies and governments, and their study of manatees is one of them.

At The Land, we skipped the Soarin' ride because we rode that in California last year, but I recommend this hang gliding flight if you have a chance. Instead we rode Living with the Land, and this was fantastic. It was Rob's favorite ride of the day. Living with the Land is a boat ride through amazing greenhouses and fish farms. Disney works in tangent with the government to develop new and more productive ways to farm while reducing dependence on fertilizers and chemicals. They also experiment with ways to grow produce in otherwise hostile environments so that countries having problems now might someday be able to become more agriculturally productive. We viewed regular gardens, hydroponic gardens, and air gardens where the roots are sprayed with water and kept moist without soil. Some fruits and vegetables were awesome sizes, but I got a real kick out of seeing a hanging squash in a plastic container shaped like Mickey Mouse. As it grows, it will shape itself into my favorite mouse. Pretty neat!
In Imagination!, we went on Journey Into Imagination with Figment, a kind of purple dragon character that has been part of the Disney cast for a while. I can't remember when I first met him, but it must have been here at Epcot years ago. He's a cutie, and the message--free the imagination and wonderful things will happen--is absolutely true!

On a one day visit, there are attractions we chose to forgo, but we enjoyed everything we saw in Future World before we headed over to World Showcase, exhibits of different countries and some of the things that make them special. We began with Mexico where we passed through the market square with its bright shops and beautiful Mexican products, past the Mariachi band where we paused to listen for a while, and headed to the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros who you might remember from your youth as Donald Duck, Panchito, and Jose Carioca. This musical boat ride was resplendent with colors, scenes of Mexico, animated fireworks and enough enhancing images to make us want to head to Mexico--which we're doing in April! This pavilion captures the atmosphere of Mexico, reflecting many aspects from the historic to the modern, and it does so with music and color and a good feeling for live. Viva Mexico!

We moved on to Norway, picked up FastPass tickets for Maelstrom and moved on to Germany for some lunch at Sommerfest--bratwurst, and sauerkraut washed down with Beck's Pilsner. From Germany we headed back to Norway to ride Maelstrom, a Viking boat voyage. Very nice. We disembarked in a Norwegian village and saw a film on Norway. Made us think that Scandinavia should be close to the top of the "to visit" list. Such a wonderful world. So many places....

We came to China with just enough leeway to still find bench seats and get ready for the Chinese acrobats. This act has stayed vividly in my mind since my last Epcot visit, and we were not disappointed this time. The flexibility and precision leaves one in awe. China is an amazing pavilion. Inside there is a Circle-Vision 360 presentation, Reflections of China giving the some of the history of this long-lived yet diverse and adaptive land and culture. Sometimes it is a bit political; sometimes there are slight jabs at the west. I remember the movie from my last visit, but I don't remember feeling any political connotations. Different time, I guess, and I'd term it ironic rather than offensive. The movie is breathtaking! There was also a marvelous exhibit featuring scale models of the Terracotta Warriors, and exhibits featuring Chinese art and Chinese music. Even the store in China contained many interesting and tempting products--beautiful tea sets and chopsticks, for instance. Lovely brocaded jackets and jewelry cases. Rob joked that it's just like everywhere else in America--the labels say "Made in China." China was the most ambitious and, for us, the best of the showcases although the best show was our own The American Adventure, the "inspirational story of America and its people" featuring animatronic figures like Mark Twain, Ben Franklin, F.D.R., John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and films of M.L.K. Jr., Rosa Parks, etc. This 30 minute show was really moving, and we loved it.

By this time, it had become a long day, and it was time for a coffee break at the Liberty Inn. If there is one complaint I have about this place is that all they serve is liquid Coffee Mate. Several theories, but no proof so no speculation here. At least it wasn't flavored Coffee Mate.

Japan is another fantastic place though it consists primarily of three restaurants. However the outdoor show of syncopated drumming combined with movement is out of this world!











By the time the drummers finished, it was time to head to The Rose & Crown at the United Kingdom. We had time to go into the shops, and we picked a birthday present for Michael. Unfortunately we did not realize that by the time the Illuminations program ended, the shop would be closed, so that ended that idea.

Epcot works for everyone! That's pretty unusual. Actually, Orlando works for everyone in some ways, and there is no reason to think age and mobility are limiting factors. There are wheelchairs and motorized chairs for anyone who needs one, and they do get used. Every ride is accessible, and in the map, you will see which ones fit your accessibility needs. This is one fantastic place. Just give yourself time. We saw everything we wanted to see and rode every ride we wanted to ride in Epcot in one day. My pedometer had us walking about 8.5 miles. To make this possible, remember we were in Epcot out of season, so we had short or no lines although we did use FastPass a few times. A more comfortable pace and probably more realistic for most of the year would be two days at Epcot.

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