June 30, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Three - Epcot

Our second (and last day) at Epcot occurred on the third day of our trip. The kid's favorite park, the Magic Kingdom, would comprise the next to come. Therefore the photograph seen above is from the day before, a clear misrepresentation of our activities. But it's a darn nice photo with a story all it's own. More on that later.

With an early morning Fast Pass of 8:30am the next day for the Magic Kingdom's arguably most popular attraction, Splash Mountain, we'd have to plan our last Epcot day really well in order to be rested for the morning. With two little kids, the whole game plan changes. No complaints here, though. We love being with them! All four of them.

The only way to travel to Epcot.

In my mind, there's only one great way to get to Epcot, and that's via the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center. Love, love, love seeing the park from that elevation. The problem is, unless you're staying at the hotels on that circuit, you've got to do a little work to get there. But it was worth it. The lagoon sparkles from that high, the countries seem inviting, and guests riding the "Highway in the Sky" get a great idea of the vastness of the park. 

We arrived in the park a bit later than we planned, making me wonder if we could still use our first Fast Pass of the day. We were almost thirty minutes late to the hard to get Test Track, and I'd heard some horror stories compared to showing up late at Disneyland for your reserved spot. Turned out, it wasn't a problem, and our second ride was just as much fun as the first.

A nice perk in Future World.

Gotta admit here- I needed a cup of Joe, and I wasn't the only one. Off to both Club Cool (for all of us), and then a stop at Starbucks (for the adults). I find Club Cool very fun. Really fun, actually, and certainly worth ten or fifteen minutes or more to look around and taste some strange and incredible flavors of Coke products all over the world- and all for free. I expect this to go away by the time Future World gets its makeover.

My son-in-law was particularly excited to drink Inca Cola (I think that was the name) as he'd first had it while serving the people of Peru during a mission trip. I enjoyed all the melon flavors, and even the infamous Beverly from Italy was better than I remembered. I'm a gin and tonic guy, so maybe my taste buds have moved to move bitter flavors as I've gotten older. The kids loved the whole experience as they're always game for trying something new.

Still needed my coffee, and I really did not want to wait in that line, but we did. Another surprise of excellent and speedy service. 

Take note of this- after a couple of days in the parks, today was the first time I purchased something for myself. An Epcot Starbucks "You are Here" mug. Too cool to pass up as I have the original one already, a gift from my daughter after their first trip. Where was all the really great and unique stuff to buy? In days past, I had no problem finding souvenirs that had to come home with me. Not this trip.

With all the changes, I was glad to see this original park mural.

Now that we had some hot liquid in us, it was time for something to eat, but that Fast Pass thing meant a delay to ride Spaceship Earth first before the time limit expired. The grand old gal still holds up well- no, not Judi Dench, the attraction. Pretty sure it would have been a disastrous decision to replace this with the once proposed Time Racers roller coaster. (Really, don't believe me, look here for some concept art of a transformed Future World. Don't forget to enlarge the image.) But then again, the Universe of Energy is (misguidedly) becoming a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, so what do I know? 

Guttenberg's printing press changed the world,
bring God's Word, the Bible, to all.

The experience into the sphere is just classic EPCOT Center. Great Imagineering of old. Thankfully, the suits have some respect left for those who came before them, mostly choosing to leave the iconic attraction alone. Yes, the descent is truly horrid. Really bad and just uninspired. Hopefully that will change done day soon. Yet, nothing in all of Future World is as epic to me as this landmark ride. Is it fast? No. Is it cutting edge? No longer. Is is great? Yeah!

Hopefully the Ratatouille expansion will mean 
more terrific places to grab a bite.

Time for a bit of food, and France won the draw- easily. Wasn't breakfast, and it was way too early for lunch, but we truly needed a snack to hold us over until our 3pm reservations. Again, crowded but fast, and delicious food! My daughter's Quiche Lorraine was a standout, easily matching the delicate and distinct flavors of Paris. (She really knows what to order in a restaurant!) The cast members were friendly and even a bit talkative, taking time to engage the kids at their level. Again, very old school Disney. The grandkids themselves are quite relaxed speaking to adults, and politely and sweetly responded, keeping the conversation going. 

Being in World Showcase already, I was thrilled for a bit of time there. Of course, we weren't the kids, and although they didn't complain, we realized at their ages, there really isn't a lot for them. There were the Kidcot Fun Stop stations, where coloring pages were the order of the day. We didn't do these. We did keep exploring, pointing out the interesting things to look at all around. There's really only a few rides, so I certainly understand the need for some in theme attractions on the side of the lagoon in the U.K. and France. There's the two boat cruises so close to each other in Mexico and Norway, and then not another ride to be found in World Showcase. (Attractions, shows and character greetings, yes. Rides no.)

Were additional rides planned? Yes. Germany's Rhine River cruise, rumors of gondolas for Italy, a Mt. Fuji thrill ride (inspired by Disneyland's Matterhorn) and Meet the World theater show for Japan were all once on the docket but never built. Instead the suits let the park wilt away, preferring to rely on the Food and Wine Festival and other events to draw in the crowds. Bad move, and with the successful competition of Harry Potter attractions at Universal, they've finally seen the error of this mindset- even if it is only the financial loss they took.  Finally, new attractions are coming to this side of the park. (Thank you, Universal! Keep the pressure on.)

Since the suits have recently committed to Ratatouille, that will help bring some variety. I'm not thrilled about the cartoon invasion of Epcot, but I do understand it to some degree. (The suits did not ask for or take my bold suggestions on how to save Epcot. I wish they had.) As of this date in time, the Rat film is my favorite of the Pixar movies, and I am happy I'll find a trackless adventure with Remy to enjoy. Honestly, though, I wish they had let the gifted Imagineers go through with those non-character rides and saved the characters for the Magic Kingdom. Since this is the chosen direction, at least Ratatouille fits its location.  

More Italy- at least more pizza- but no gondolas.

Admittedly, I am really looking forward to a charming, music filled dark ride of Mary Poppins in the U.K. pavilion. It's about time she's honored with an attraction. After all, it's one of Disney's landmark films and one of the most loved. (More details about Imagineer Tony Baxter's original concept can be found here.) It's what will come next that concerns. If the announced Future World additions are any indication, eventually only the settings for the attractions will differenciate this park from the Magic Kingdom. (Post trip, I found myself thinking about how I would build Epcot, particularly World Showcase. I thought about sharing it as part of my trip report. However, instead I'll save it for a separate post. No doubt I'd have been great Imagineer!)

The lightest crowd we saw all day.

We spent a good part of our day exploring the World. The crowds were heavier than our first day visit, and the weather much hotter, so we tried to get inside a few more shops as we toured. The bazaar in Morocco was fun, and the candy shop in Germany was packed with people anxious to buy sweets.

One of our great plans was to let our daughter and son-in-law have a date while we took the kids. (Or was it us who wanted the date with our grandkids?) They chose an Epcot day and a chance for a meal in one of the restaurants in World Showcase. After much deliberation, they chose Canada's Le Cellier. (An excellent choice in my mind.) We decided for our date, a meal inside the German Biergarten with a live band sounded like fun.

Afternoon heat brings cute rosy faces ready for the AC!

We all opted for a late afternoon meal, and went our separate ways, but planned to meet up later in the evening. It had been much more than a couple of decades since we ate at the Biergarten, and I had heard mixed reviews on the food. The fun aspect of it all was the deciding factor.

"Date night" with Grandma and Grandpa.

Gladly, there was nothing to be concerned about! My meal was just first class! I tried the schnitzel, the meatballs, the ham, the salads and the vegetables. All absolutely delicious. (So were the desserts!)

My good friend Len Yokoyama told me it has been years since he photographed this location. I tried my best to get some good shots for him, but in this area, I failed miserably. Sorry, Len. Rest assured not much has changed from what I can tell. When you do get there again, I know you'll get much better shots than I did.

Do not miss this meal and show!

The restaurant was less than a third full it seemed, but it didn't stop the band from going all out. What a great show it was! The band put their hearts into it, making it fun for both adults and children. We discovered from talking to some of the staff that many of these performers were part of the original team that came from Germany to serve in Florida back at the park's opening year. Wow!

Who is having more fun?

We also discovered that you can stay on beyond the meal and enjoy as many shows- and all the beer you want- for as long as you want. That is something not widely known. 

Nothing could match the opportunity to dance a bit with our little dates.

Beyond the wonderful time together, it was smart to get out of the heat and blaring sun. The rest did us well, and we were ready to get back to the outside world for some additional adventures. I did once again notice that indoor locations and inexpensive places to eat were all too often not synonymous. Is it greed on the part of the Company, poor planning, or has no one thought of that? On this note, I will tend to believe it is, unfortunately, the first option. 

You might think of me as cynical, but you must remember, I have been following Disney park trends for years, and I've seen the move away from the Company offering the guests the best of experiences into viewing the popular theme parks (especially the four in Florida) as purely money-printing machines. 

Frozen- and lines- Ever After.

Checking our Touring Plans app and the official Walt Disney World Parks app, we discovered Frozen Ever After had a 40 minute wait. The kids were certainly willing to wait that long for one last ride on it. They knew we weren't coming back to this park, so off we went. Due to a variety of reasons including poor planning on the part of the suits who took the cheaper way out, it actually took over well over an hour to ride. About 75 minutes actually. But we all looked past the wait and enjoyed the cruise for what it was. Yes, the snowgies remained the big hit.

Onward we went. Mission: Space showed a 15 minute wait, so that would be our next and final destination. Of course, we just couldn't pass by China without a look. The film was starting in 5 minutes. I just had to see it.

Home of Mulan. Is that the future?

Surprisingly, the kids paid close attention to the film. At one point at the beginning of the film, my granddaughter said to me, "This is where Mulan lives!" Who said Epcot is no longer educational? This is certainly the wave of the future I believe- a place where Disney's well-known international characters live. 

We ventured into the display on Shanghai Disneyland. I took some photos of concept art I hadn't seen, but I'll save those for later. I was looking for the Terra Cotta Warriors, but I finally realized they were replaced by this promotion of the new Asian Magic Kingdom. 

Always a favorite view!

One more unexpected stop. The kids saw the Mexico pavilion, so we asked about another cruise with Donald. Of course, they said yes- they love the duck- so we jumped into a ten minute line. It really was ten minutes too, as it was close to meal time, just after 5:30pm or so. Diners were filling the available spots at San Angel

Shades of Coco.

The tropical moonlit night next to the indoor pyramid does make for quite an enchanting location to dine. I've always loved the smoking volcano seemingly just beyond that thatched hut. Those Imagineers let no small detail go unfinished if it meant a better attraction or restaurant. For those of you that haven't seen the place, just think of it as Epcot's Blue Bayou.

Cramming them in.

Waiters were much busier than I had seen them before in previous trips. It was certainly noisier! The whole place seemed less relaxed and more hectic. Then I realized why. The tables of the restaurant were pushed much closer together than the last trip to the World, squeezing in maybe 50 or 60 more diners to an already crowded location. Such a shame. 

Will the Three Caballeros head to Brazil next?

Finally making it to Mission: Space, the journey was a great amount more fun the second time for our granddaughter as she knew what was coming. Then the unexpected happed. We got a text from our daughter and son-in-law. Their expensive but excellent dinner was over, and they were heading back to the hotel. It was after 6pm, so we thought about it and decided to join them after a short stop or two.

He is the cutest- not Mickey!

While I purchased some Mickey pretzels, the kids had a short break and enjoyed the water pad. It was still hotter than Hell, (well not really I guess), and this made for a refreshing break. My wife sat with them for a moment so I could enter the Mouse Gears shop, and look for a souvenir or two. After looking around, I left with one Epcot 35th Anniversary mug complete with the original Future World pavilion logos, a couple of key chains for the kids, and a small compass magnet. Nothing else captured my eye. Wow, things had changed. 

Maybe another trip one day-
and maybe even an improved Journey with Figment!

Time for us to go. We headed toward Spaceship Earth and the exit, knowing I would not be returning to Epcot this trip. I gave that some thought and realized we'd been on all the attractions except viewing the Canadian travelogue. In what was a first for me, I had not seen Illuminations on this visit, nor had I spent any time in World Showcase at night. Do you remember that top photo? That was as close as I'd get to my beloved World Showcase at night this trip. No matter. I'll do it next vacation here if there was one to come. 

As a Grandpa, my main desire was to hang out with the kids. I happily did so, looking out for them to make sure they were well rested for their first day at the Magic Kingdom. They are sweet and patient kids, not over-indulged at all, and very appreciative of all they got to do. I wanted them to have a blast the next day! That day was the most important vacation day to them, so it was important to me as well. This was my priority more than anything else I could do. The incredible blessing of doing this trip with them was more than enough. (Special thanks to my daughter and son-in-law.) Guess I've grown up a bit.

Tomorrow, I'd return to the Florida Kingdom after almost a decade. Couldn't wait to see the charming New Fantasyland and to eat dinner at Be Our Guest. Most of all, I couldn't wait to experience those classic Disney attractions with my grandkids, and see their faces. That is the real magic.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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