Of all of the parks, Epcot has done the best job of beating me into submission in order to make me appreciate it. As most people already know, Epcot has the steepest learning curve when it comes to enjoyment. It isn't the standard park, where you wander in, go on some rides, buy some souvenirs, and leave after the fireworks. Granted, you still do all of these things in Epcot, but these activities are interspersed with incredibly varied and more than occasionally strange activities.
As I've grown older, the Epcot experience has become watered down, as more and more standard rides replace the unique attractions that used to make up the park. This is an odd situation, as I always used to complain there weren't enough rides there, and then when there are more, I'm unhappy. Actually, that's not too odd; that's pretty much my standard line of thinking.
I'm pretty sure my parents didn't like Epcot, as I have very little memory of going there compared to the Magic Kingdom, or even then-MGM. More specifically, the whole concept of Epcot seems like something my dad would absolutely despise due to its heavy handed doses of "environmental hippy nonsense". My lack of exposure to the park left me with fragmented memories of what the park used to be like.
I remember sitting in a theater and watching video that was meant to be through the eyes of a kid, while you are meant to be sitting inside his brain. Luckily, it only took a couple minutes on a site dedicated to extinct Disney attractions to discover that this was Cranium Command. This wonderfully bizarre concept eventually got the axe, presumably because keeping it open conflicted with Disney's plan to leave the Wonders of Life pavilion closed to the public for years until finally removing it from park maps.
The other vivid memory I have is the part with the trolls and going backwards on Maelstrom. I couldn't for the life of me think of what ride this would have been on, as I completely forgot they had rides in the part with the countries. I also remembered a boat ride through a greenhouse, but I was pretty sure that didn't involve trolls.
Clearly my childhood memories of Epcot aren't the typical Disney fairy tale-esque memories, as almost all mine involved trolls and children's brains.
Upon returning to Epcot, which was the first time I wrote about it here, I was incredibly unimpressed. That seemed to be an awkward period, where Epcot was starting to shy away from some of its "Look how cool the future is going to be" theme, and more into more "Look, here's a ride... just go on it and be happy" territory. It still doesn't feel like Epcot has truly settled into whatever new personality the park wants to be. It has a lot more thrill rides, and still has a lot of educational entertainment, but the balance feels off.
That said, I can't really explain how I came to like Epcot so much. The clichť among adults is that they love Epcot because you can walk around the World Showcase drinking beer and alcohol from all different countries. I understand this line of thinking, but it just doesn't apply to me. I have no objection to wandering around faux-foreign villages inebriated, but I can't seem to get into that. First of all, I don't even like beer that much. I hate Guinness and all those other dense beers, and don't like almost anything that's vaguely dark. So I could be drinking one of the best beers to come out of Germany, and I would just be thinking "Ugh, this is thick and cost $16 for the souvenir stein." I am not the target market for quality beer.
I think one of the main reasons I like Epcot is due to the very imbalance I mentioned earlier. It has the two things I love most about parks: rides and antiquated-to-the-point-of-stupidity attractions. On that note...
You could argue that I have been unfairly harsh on Spaceship Earth, if you consider comparing it to a Ferrero Rocher filled with fecal matter to be harsh. In all fairness, that comparison speaks mostly to the juxtaposition of the exterior and what's actually inside. Spaceship Earth's building is an incredibly beautiful and simple design, and without a doubt my favorite park icon. Now that they got rid of that awful wand and "EPCOT" sign hanging off the side and went back to its classic look, it looks even better.
What I always found so humorous about Spaceship Earth is that it leads you to believe what is inside is going to be nearly as impressive as the outside. Instead, what you get is a slow moving trip through history. This certainly wouldn't be bad, if not for the fact that the ride animatronics were almost as outdated as the ride's content. Kids having webcam conferences to do homework? Seriously? Those are the ideals from the mid to late 90's internet commercials where the parents were downloading information for their kid's dinosaur report. A webcam has never been used by anyone for anything educational. The vast majority of webcam usage is people taking pictures of what they are having for lunch to put on their blog. No one cares.
One other strange aspect of the ride was that it was narrated by Jeremy Irons. I can see the reasoning, as he does have an awesome voice, but what kind of future are we headed towards when our journey is narrated by Scar and the bad guy from Die Hard 3?
At the same time, I have always love those kinds of so-bad-they're-good rides. For example, rides like Escape From Atlantis at Sea World, where the brutally awful sets and magic seahorse-related plot push it over the line from bad to incredible.
So when I heard they were updating Spaceship Earth, I was skeptical. Were they basically just polishing everything up, like the "it's a small world" update? As more information on the updates came out, it became clear that this was going to be a huge overhaul. I had no real hopes for it, as it seemed like there was only so much they could do with it.
Apparently the anticipation had grown exponentially due to the ride's long closing for refurbishment. While we were there, Spaceship Earth almost always had a long wait. Again, I enjoy Spaceship Earth, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Even with the ride being closed for so long and even with all of the updates to the ride, it was still strange to see such a long wait for the ride. It seemed like waiting forty minutes in the sun to go sit in a rigid blue seat and take the SATs.
We waited until one of the nights we were at Epcot for dinner, as the line had vanished by that point. I'll alleviate the suspense you are surely feeling as to whether or not the improvements to the ride are any good. Unless I am overlooking something completely obvious, the refurbishment of Spaceship Earth is the single best overhaul of any ride, ever. No joke.
What is weird is that while every part of the ride got polished up, the ride didn't change that much. The entrance to the ride is still the same, it's got that same weird mural that looks like it should be painted on the side of a van, and the same sign warning you that the ride is "SLOW MOVING". At first, even the ride vehicles look the same. Then, when you sit down, you'll notice the new touch screen in front of you. As it begins, it asks where you're from, then you get your picture taken as you ascend for the ride.
The ride isn't completely different; the plot is still very similar. What has changed is that there are new effects, both big and small, turning the ride from a simply looking at animatronic figures to a more full fledged experience. The new animatronics are much better as well, as they now mostly look and move like real humans. Instead of the creepy robots with jerky movements, they now look like actual people with creepy realism. Most of the outdated content has been discarded. The focal point of the ride is now solely on the history and evolution of how we communicate. Fortunately, they have no people on webcams or doing other stupid things. Our "communication in the future" is mostly left up in the air, as the narrator questions how our future will be affected by communication, rather than giving possibilities that will seem ridiculous in five years.
Speaking of the narrator, it is no longer Scar. He has been replaced by Judi Dench, which is a great improvement. Not only does her voice have great listenability (that is not a real word), we now have our future narrated by M rather than a treacherous lion.
As you descend, the screen in front of you prompts you to answer a few questions about what you would like your future to be like. Questions like would you prefer space or undersea, suburbs or cities, etc, which they use to design your future. When your future is designed, you see a Flash-esque animation of you in the future, with the cartoon body's face being replaced by your face, from the picture taken during your ascent. This may seem mildly entertaining, but the sheer ridiculousness of your not-very-accurately cut out face over the cartoon body and all of the bizarre situations you see as your "future" transform it into a rather surreally hilarious experience.
Unfortunately, I am apparently going to die before my future is realized. I have come to this conclusion since despite going on the ride four times, my face never appeared in the animation. Amy's did three out of the four times, so she has a 75% chance of surviving, which seems like decent odds. I tried positioning my face in different places, and doing everything I could to get my face to show up, but to no avail. As a result, Spaceship Earth, a ride based on the history of communication and the promise of the future, has left me depressed about the fact that I will not have a future.
After the ride, there is a new area with lots of activities, which I was not able to do because they were all taken up by selfish children who think Disney World is meant for them, and not overgrown man-children who whine about it on the internet.
The complete, and completely successful, overhaul of Spaceship Earth is not the only difference since the last time I wrote about Epcot. As good as the new Spaceship Earth is, it is not even close to the best ride in the park, which is Soarin'.
Essentially, Soarin' is a hang gliding simulator. Yeah, I wasn't too impressed either when I heard that. We had tried to go on Soarin' a few years ago, but due to us foolishly assuming Disney transportation would be remotely efficient, we didn't make it back to the park in time for our Fast Pass. And yes, you will require a Fast Pass for this ride. Unless you get to the park well before it opens, and get on line immediately, there will be at least an hour wait for this ride. And that is during a down period. A ninety minute wait is the norm for this ride, but upwards of a three hour wait isn't unheard of.
Usually, when you get a Fast Pass, it tells you to come back in about four hours, and if you don't get a Fast Pass by 3:00-4:00, they're most likely gone for the day. As much as I like this ride, there is no way in hell I would wait on the standby line. If we can't get a Fast Pass, we just don't go on. For some rides, a longer wait doesn't seem as bad. A forty minute wait for Everest isn't fun, but with the great theming and details of the queue, as well as the line consistently moving, the wait doesn't feel as bad as it could.
On the other hand, the Soarin' queue is brutal. At one point, there are video screens, and seemingly people playing video games, but I honestly don't know what the deal with that is. You essentially are waiting in an undecorated white room for hours. Compounding the depressing atmosphere of the queue are the depressed looks on everyone's faces who realize not only have they been standing in line for an hour, they still most likely have another hour to wait.
And when you finally get to the turnstile to be let in? Another line. We are having fun now!
This turnstile is where they split you up to go to one of the concourses, where you will be let on to the ride (eventually). When you are ready to go in, you watch a safety and precaution video. Continuing in the Disney tradition of having famous (in most cases) actors performing the videos, our captain is Patrick Warburton. Or you may know him better by his real name, David Puddy.
Explaining the ride will not come close to justice, but to give some idea of what the ride is like: You enter a large room that contains a huge screen, and rows of seats that go three benches across and three benches deep. When the ride is about to begin, the rows lift out and up. After the lifting is done, there are now three rows of seats, one on top of another.
The ride consists of the benches simulating the hang gliding movements and sensations, while fans give the feeling of wind, rushing movement, and even the scents of some of the scenery. The ride is indescribably immersive, and despite the fact that the concept of the ride borders on stupid, the whole experience is incredible.
The other new addition to the park is the fact that The Living Seas has been completely overtaken by Nemo. This began not so subtly, as large chunks of this area were covered with a thick coat of Pixar a while back. Despite the fact that Nemo has been ruling over this land with an gimpy orange fist for a while, it didn't fully hit home until he got his own ride here.
In terms of enjoyment of the actual ride content, The Seas With Nemo & Friends is on par with Snow White in the Magic Kingdom. You go on it because it's there, you are mildly entertained, nothing too amazing, you get off the ride and check off that you've done it. I think The Seas is a much better ride than Snow White, I just have similar reactions to both. Nemo has some interesting things going for it, the biggest one being the very well done integration of the CG characters with real sea life in the aquarium. There are a couple other things that raise the enjoyment level of The Seas for myself, but they are due to stupid reasons.
First off, you enter and exit the ride on a conveyor sidewalk, which for some reason I am a big fan of. Sometimes, this is my favorite part of the whole ride... on Peter Pan, certainly. On rides such as the Haunted Mansion, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Space Ranger Spin and others, it is simply a wonderful addition to the ride. Oddly enough, I don't get into other uses of the conveyor belt, such as while exiting Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, or the entire lazy cretin people mover system they have at Universal.
I am also a fan of the ride vehicle, which is a fancy Doom Buggy that looks like a sea shell. One possible reason is that they vaguely remind me of the Trouble Bubbles from GI Joe. In case any blue or red laser fire comes near me, but never close enough to pose any real threat (which is how shooting the enemy works, according to the show), I know I've got proper shielding.
Another reason I like these vehicles is they have no restraints. I know that if for some reason I wanted to get out and walk around the ride, I could. And I appreciate being given that trust.
An attraction that has gone through major changes that I am not a big fan of is El Gran Fiesta starring the Three Cabalerros. This is the ride in the Mexico pavilion that used to be El Rio del Tiempo. This was one of those antiquated rides that was perversely enjoyable due to how dated and strange it was, as well as the fact that the ride was tucked inside a building that made it feel like a secret. The ride has been completely overhauled, so that now the ride involves the other two caballeros chasing after Donald. The new ride isn't bad, but it has certainly lost a bit of its charm. Also, I just looked it up and apparently Cabalerro means "knightĒ or ďcavalier", so I don't really understand the title of the ride or the old movie starring them. I always assumed it meant "bird", since that's what they all are, although "The Three Birds" certainly would sound like a dull movie.
One thing I have noticed on my last few visits to Epcot is that there are some attractions we just don't bother with for the most part. I've been on Mission: Space once, and don't have much desire to go back. I liked the ride well enough, but apparently not enough to walk the short distance over there, even when the sign says it is a fifteen minute wait.
Test Track usually gets attempted, but mostly half heartedly. If we can get a Fast Pass, sure why not go on? It is described as the fastest ride in Disney history, but that is like describing something as the most frightening ride in Disney historyÖ thereís not much competition. This time, we didnít bother with the ride, as our Fast Passes got blocked out by the ones we got for Soariní, and we were not about to wait on line for it.
While Soarinís queue is boring, Test Trackís is astoundingly annoying. You wait inside a building surrounded by crash test dummies and crash equipment, which seems like something Iíd prefer to not see before going on a ride that involves being in a car. All the while, as your patience grows thin from waiting, you are treated to the wonderful melodies of the nonstop CLANG, BANG, and other assorted loud car-related noises.
After exiting the ride, you get to see concept cars and other vehicles from GM. This is an area for real a manís man, who loves nothing more than a powerful car. So I tend to breeze right through. The last time I rode Test Track, they had terminals where you could enter a contest to win a car. Unfortunately I didnít win the car, but I did win second place, which turned out to be an advertising email from GM five times a week.
Honey I Shrunk the audience is skipped, as is Journey Into Imagination. For a while, I had really been trying to enjoy Journey Into the Imagination, but I just couldn't pull it off. What I realized was that not only did I not like the ride, it genuinely annoyed me. What was strange was that I continued going on the ride, despite knowing it would annoy me. Normally, once I get enough momentum on one of those spirals of stupidity, I keep doing the same thing. However, I am proud to say I now know better, and avoid Figment entirely.
Maelstrom also now tends to not draw much interest. Once we realized that the ride is kind of boring, and keeping in mind the fact that the boat is really uncomfortable, we learned to only go on it if there's no line. Unfortunately, the trolls and going backwards only takes the ride so far.
There is almost nothing to report on the World Showcase, because if there were any major changes, I either didnít notice or forgot.
Usually on trips like these, I will find random, minute bits of strangeness that keep me far more entertained than they should. This time, it occurred in the Beatles gift shop in the United Kingdom. As an obsessive Beatles fan, I love this shop. That said, what I found most interesting in this shop wasnít Beatles related. Although the fact that this shirt was mixed in with Beatles shirt, in a UK gift shop is what I found so funny:
Other than this, there isnít much to tell about this tripís World Showcase experience. Although before we leave this topic I should mention that the faux-Beatles band, British Invasion that plays in the UK pavilion, should stop playing the song Birthday. Come on, you have a very limited number of songs to play during your short set, and you pick Birthday? Bleh.
Arguably my favorite part of the whole park is something I have only discovered on one of my recent trips here. Club Cool, hosted by Coca Cola is a wonderful surprise for people who happen to go in. I donít know if you can describe it as a secret, or tucked away, as it is in the center of Future World, with a huge sign on the outside. Although when you look in, it pretty much just looks like a Coca Cola gift shop.
However, when you enter, you see a group of soda fountains in the corner. These fountains dispense sodas from around the world, for free. First of all, any time you can get something for free in Disney World, you take it. It doesnít matter what it is, you take it. Second of all, the sodas themselves are quite interesting.
As the four or so loyal readers of this site already know, Iím a bit of a soda obsessive. Therefore one can assume that the end result of weird soda + Disney + free is going to = awesome.
The flavors also run the gamut of the reasons to try a new soda. Some are really good, some are really strange, and one is simply awful.
Most of the flavors werenít bad, but not weird enough to be that exciting. Krest, from Mozambique, was just ginger ale. Fanta Kolita, from Costa Rica, just tasted like sugar. Vegita Beta, from Japan, tasted like a much sweeter and thinner V8 Splash. Smart Watermelon, from China, was intensely sweet, like soda syrup they forgot to add the carbonated water to.
There were also some great sodas. Mezzo Mix, from Germany, was Coca Cola with a bit of orange and was very interesting. I would certainly buy some twelve packs if they sold them in the US. Lift, from Mexico, was an apple flavored soda. Despite the fact that it was apple flavored, it was actually really good. Finally, Kinley, from Israel, is incredible. It is a lemon soda, but wasnít disgustingly sweet, just well balanced and crisp.
Speaking of disgusting, the last soda wins the award for the best reactions from the people who drank it. Beverly, from Italy, was hated by everyone who tried it. I donít know if mixing this flavor with other sodas is truly fair, as this soda doesnít seem meant to be ingested as a thirst quencher. Apparently you are supposed to drink it to stimulate your appetite before dinner. Luckily, we as Americans do not need this, as we have absolutely no problem stimulating out appetites for huge portions served on plates the size of hub caps. The flavor of Beverly reminded me of the bitters you put in alcoholic drink to make them (wait for the surprise) bitter. In alcohol, itís nice. In a non-alcoholic drink? Horrifying.
As awesome as Club Cool is now, I discovered it used to be more awesome. I found out from AllEarsNet.com that this used to be the entrance.
The final two attractions that need to be discussed are attractions that many casual observers would view as rather lame. The first attraction, I canít actually argue since I have never been on it. The map describes Ellenís Energy Adventure as a forty five minute ride with Ellen DeGeneres.
In the last article about Epcot, I touched on what a frightening concept this sounds like. One of the reasons I know that Finding Nemo is an incredible movie is that it enabled me to enjoy something Ellen was an integral part of. The smart writing and wonderful animation distracted me and kept me from contemplating just what is wrong with Portia de Rossi that would make her actually want to be married to Ellen.
Understandably, I had less than zero interest in this attraction. Then when I was looking at some old Epcot memorabilia, they had a picture of what the attraction was like. Apparently, you are in some type of ride vehicle or moving theatre seats, and it involves dinosaurs. Instantly, my interest in the attraction was raised. We actually got up the courage to stand by the entrance to the ride, but just couldnít strike up the nerve to go in. Itís a hard decision; on one hand you have dinosaurs, on the other hand you have Ellen for forty five minutes. After standing at the entrance for literally five minutes, we decided we just couldnít risk it, and left the attraction.
The last attraction we come to is one that certainly doesnít qualify as exciting. Living With the Land is a slow boat tour that shows you different types of, uh, lands. After this, you tour a modern greenhouse.
This is the ride I remember vaguely as a kid, although only very slightly. You slowly go through various set pieces, showing a desert, a Midwest house, a rainforest, and possibly something else. Hey, I donít charge for this information, so it might not always be that accurate.
After this, you see modern ways of growing vegetables, and in some cases growing incredibly large vegetables.
Despite the fact that most of my interests lie with eating Cup Noodles, cereal, and drinking soda, I like to think the fact that I genuinely enjoyed a ride about vegetables sort of gives me some maturity credit.
The biggest problem with this ride is that the narration in the boat is simply not loud enough. The narrator is speaking at a conversational level, which is normally fine. However when you have dumb kids asking dumb questions and their dumb parents giving even dumber answers the whole ride, it gets tough to hear. No, those arenít gophers you sleeveless shirt wearing mouth breather, they are prairie dogs.
The other strange thing about this ride is at the end when they show a bunch of tanks filled with fish. And when I say filled I mean filled. These things are jam packed in there (I will spare the "packed like sardines" comparison), just looking miserable and depressed. So, of course, this is when the narrator says that they serve this fish in the Coral Reef, the seafood restaurant.
Finally, whether leaving or entering the park, you still walk past that monument to people who like to waste their money.
Despite the fact that it still doesnít know entirely what kind of park it wants to be, I continue to like Epcot more and more. Some people might not believe in such a thing as Disney magic. However, if you just think that is marketing hype, then you try explaining how a park that contains rides about vegetables and Monks making hand written copies of the Bible still manages to be entertaining.
Talk to me Now or Later