Epcot, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was basically Walt Disney’s lifelong dream and was to be the planned city of the future, where the latest technologies and innovations of American industry were to be used. After Walt Disney’s death in 1966, the project fell dormant before it was taken up in the 1970s as a showcase for the imagination of entrepreneurial wonders and concepts of the future and realised as a theme park in the early 1980s.
Despite its initial success, Epcot constantly faced the challenge of keeping up with global progress, which led to the park losing relevance and becoming partially outdated as early as the 1990s. To maintain visitor numbers, Disney introduced seasonal events such as the International Flower & Garden Festival and the International Food & Wine Festival. In the mid-1990s, the park’s original edutainment attractions also began to be phased out in favour of more modern and exciting attractions. As a result, many of the attractions in the Future World pavilions were either reworked or replaced altogether.
In November 2016, Disney announced that Epcot would undergo a major redesign to help make the park more timeless while preserving its original vision. Shortly after, the Ellen’s Energy Adventure themed ride closed to make way for Epcot’s first roller coaster: Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind.
Probably the most imposing structure in Epcot, it is home to the Spaceship Earth dark ride. The geodesic dome right at the entrance of the theme park offers a 15-minute ride inside that shows how advances in human communication have helped shape the future one step at a time. Passengers ride in an endless ride along a track that spirals up and down the sphere. Scenes depicting important breakthroughs in communication throughout history are shown – from the development of early language through cave paintings, to the use of hieroglyphics, the invention of the alphabet and the invention of printing, to today’s modern advances.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends
Epcot theme park consists of many very large pavilions. One of these is The Seas. The entrance to the pavilion is through the dark ride The Seas with Nemo & Friends, where you first ride along scenes from Finding Nemo before you get to the real highlight of the ride and ride through a large aquarium. However, this is rather on the bleak side and so you leave the dark ride, which is initially very enjoyable, with rather mixed feelings at the end.
In addition to a look at the Caribbean Coral Reef Aquarium and a very deceiving enclosure for Caribbean manatees, there is another attraction at The Seas: Turtle Talk with Crush. The interactive show gives young children the chance to hang out with Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo, and practice their Australian dialect a little. Unless you have children in this age group with you, it’s best to skip the show.
The huge pavilion The Land is home to the flying theatre Soarin’ Around the World, the boat ride Living with the Land and the impressive 4D film Awesome Planet, as well as a larger food court and the interesting revolving restaurant The Garden Grill, where you not only meet Chip and Chap, but also get a glimpse of the dark ride part of Living with the Land.
Living with the Land
Living with the Land is an extremely relaxed boat trip. After an initially very impressive dark ride, which is meant to symbolise the mighty power of nature, you sail for quite a while through greenhouses that give a glimpse of modern agriculture.
Soarin’ Around the World
The Flying Theatre Soarin’ Around the World was long considered one of the best dark rides in the world. In the meantime, however, there are similar attractions all over the world and the technically impressive theatre in Epcot is losing more and more of its significance thanks to its mediocre film. The flight over the world’s landmarks is quite nice, but basically you just fly from one fade to the next. That’s a shame, especially since other theme parks usually focus on the nearby surrounding area and offer a much more rounded overall experience. Here, I would actually wish if they would limit themselves to America’s landmarks.
The Imagination Pavilion nowadays mainly consists of the dark ride Journey into Imagination with Figment. The little dragon Figment has been the theme park’s mascot since the original version of the dark ride.
Journey into Imagination with Figment
In Journey into Imagination, Dr Nigel Channing (played by Eric Idle) leads us through the five laboratories of the Imagination Institute on Open Day. We are accompanied, much to Dr Channing’s displeasure, by the dragon Figment.
In the Sound Lab, Figment interrupts the experiment and reminds the passengers to listen with their imaginations. After Dr. Channing loses his train of thought, a Train of Thoughts is literally heard passing by before Figment belts out a little song.
In the Sight Lab, Figment interrupts the eye test by manipulating the test image. A karaoke session follows to the song One Little Spark and the message that you should unleash your imagination instead of trying to capture it.
In the Smell Lab, Figment then transforms into a skunk and blows a foul smell into the noses of the passengers. Dr. Channing then breaks up the tour of the Institute, whereupon Figment literally turns the open house upside down and invites them on a tour of his realm.
The finale of the tour takes place in the Imagination Institute. After Dr. Channing also gives free rein to his imagination, the journey literally ends with a bang, for all of a sudden an extremely imposing stage set appears, in which several Figments and Dr. Channing together tune into One Little Spark.
Journey into Imagination is a nice dark ride that is quite surprising, especially on the first ride. The ride system used and the large stage sets stand out positively, but the Imagination Pavilion itself is less so. In its original version, the pavilion was much larger, e.g. the now manageable Imageworks used to take up an entire floor. The pavilion now looks bare for the most part.
Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival
Like the Discoveryland Theatre at Disneyland Park, the Magic Eye Theatre at Imagination Pavilion was once home to the 3D spectacular Honey, I Shrunk the Audience! before the show was cancelled in 2010 following the death of Micheal Jackson. Between 2010 and 2015, the Captain EO Tribute ran until the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival moved in here as well. The timeless short films are a perfect fit for the pavilion, even if most visitors will already be familiar with them.
The Disney world exposition World Showcase is a mirror of the American world view. The individual pavilions differ only in their architecture, but otherwise they all consist of restaurants and souvenir shops. In contrast to a real World’s Fair, no one is interested in the cultural offerings and at the time of the Covid pandemic, there were no staff from the respective countries to give the World Showcase a touch of authenticity. The whole thing is then topped by the favourite activity of adult Epcot visitors: Drinking Around the Globe. Depending on whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise around the lake, at some point they are all drunk and have usually spent a hell of a lot of money along the way.
We start our walk counterclockwise and immediately encounter the Canada Pavilion. The extremely appealing pavilion is one of the few that can offer an attraction. Unfortunately, however, the Circlevision 360 film Canada Far & Wide was not being shown at the time of my visit.
After a short detour through England, we were immediately drawn to the French pavilion, where Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure was waiting to be tested by park visitors. Thanks to the active reservation system, however, my visit slot was not until the evening.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
While the World Showcase doesn’t really stand out with its rides, the French pavilion has been even more impressive since this year with its dark ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure; because we are in an Americanised version of Paris, the city of love and especially that of the rats. Even though Paris is not the cleanest city, it is mainly about Rémy the rat and his family, known from the Pixar film Ratatouille. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is a copy of the dark ride Ratatouille L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Remy located in the Walt Disney Studios Park near Paris.
After the cars have left their starting position, it seems as if they are driving around randomly at first, but shortly afterwards they all drive along a narrower corridor. On the roof of the Gusteau’s, Rémy is currently pondering the current evening menu in his own restaurant and oh what a miracle, it will probably be ratatouille.
Rémy tumbles through the skylight and we slide down after him. A short tour of the restaurant’s kitchen follows, during which the young chef Linguini helps us to escape unrecognised. The path now leads through the restaurant’s pantry where Emile, Rémy’s brother, once again stuffs his stomach full of grapes. Linguini also successfully covers up the way through the kitchen before we are discovered in the restaurant’s dining room by chef Skinner. Although Linguini helps us to escape quickly, Maître Skinner is always on our heels, but before he can grab us, he rather falls into a mouse trap. We finally reach the kitchen of the restaurant La Ratatouille, after a little champagne shower we end up with the other rats, whereupon we reach the final stop of our journey.
Despite the admittedly very loose adaptation of the film, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is an extremely successful dark ride where you would always find new details even after the tenth ride. In contrast to other dark rides in Orlando, however, the dynamics of the ride are not very exciting and so the question ultimately arises as to whether one would even want to take the extremely long waiting time for the ride, including the prior reservation in the app. At least the Paris dark ride seems to lose out to other local dark rides in its Orlando version, which is a shame.
Passing the beautiful Morocco Pavilion and the equally impressive Japan Pavilion, we are now drawn to the American Adventure Pavilion, where the show American Adventure awaits us in a huge theatre.
Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain take us on a journey through the history of America. The characters in the show give an insight into American life in the past by discussing current events of their time. The eras include the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Centennial World’s Fair of 1876 (representing American industrialisation) and the Great Depression. The presentation culminates in a musical film montage depicting famous moments and people in American history from the post-World War II era to the present.
Reflections of China
Passing the overly kitschy Italy Pavilion and Germany Pavilion, we are now drawn towards the China Pavilion, where the Circlevision 360 film Reflections of China awaits us in a replica of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven.
The show is narrated by an actor playing Li Bai, an ancient Chinese poet, who takes the viewer on a tour of the Chinese countryside and historical structures and buildings. Sights include the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, Hunan, Guilin, Suzhou, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Frozen Ever After
The Norway Pavilion is home to the Frozen Ever After dark ride, which I did not test due to time constraints. Since its opening in 2016, the extremely popular dark ride based on Disney’s Frozen has by far the longest waiting times in the park.
A little fun fact on the side: other versions of the dark ride are currently being built at Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea and Walt Disney Studios Park in Marne-la-Vallée near Paris.
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
In the Mexico Pavilion, day turns into night. Inside the large pyramid, next to the very nice San Angel Inn Restaurante and La Cava de Tequila bar, is the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros dark ride. Here we accompany José Carioca and Panchito on their search for Donald, who has gone sightseeing through Mexico. In the evening they finally find their buddy again, whereupon the three caballeros give a little concert together and the great ride comes to an end.
Neben dem World Showcase befindet sich die Themenfahrt Test Track. Die von Dynamic Attractions konzipierte Anlage kann man im Grunde als einen sehr komplexen Powered Coaster bezeichnen, wobei der Antrieb über Reifen auf einer Lauffläche von statten geht. Dies erlaubt für ein realitätsnahes Erlebnis auf unterschiedlichen Straßenbelägen.
A good video explaining the technique of Test Track can be found here.
The ride itself offers an insight into the ride tests of the automotive industry. In the original version, the car was subjected to several tests: a gradient test, a test for different road surfaces, a test for the anti-lock braking system, a heat test, a cold test and a corrosion test. In the new version, each passenger assembles a car, which is then tested and evaluated against the cars of the other passengers. In both versions, a test with several hills and tight hairpin bends follows, whereby we can only narrowly avoid a truck in the last bend. Last but not least comes the highlight of the ride: a crash test. At the last second, a gate opens and gives way to a course with several steep banked curves. Here we accelerate to a top speed of about 65 mph (~105 km/h). After a lap around the main building of the ride, we slowly reduce our speed, whereupon we approach the end of the ride.
Test Track is an absolutely brilliant dark ride, but the current version and the focus on the work of the development engineers have taken a bit of a toll on it. The previous version was dedicated to the work of the test engineers and thus created a thoroughly coherent experience.
Bold concepts need someone to execute them. One of these bold concepts is Mission Space. On two missions, brave astronaut aspirants can embark on a training flight to Mars or around the Earth. While the nacelles of the green mission (Earth) move similar to a flying theatre and the accelerations result mainly from the movement of hydraulic pistons, in the orange mission (Mars) this movement pattern is significantly amplified with the additional rotation of the centrifuge, producing accelerations of up to 2.5 Gs.
You can find a good video on the movement of the orange mission here.
Mission Space is a wicked simulator and probably the most intense ride attraction in all of Orlando. The ride is quite stressful due to all the superimposed movements and can quickly lead to motion sickness in some people, which is why there are barf bags available within the gondolas of the orange mission. The acceleration of the green mission is not quite as wild, which is why this mission should be preferred by anyone who gets sick quickly.
Epcot offers a lot and just as well nothing. The huge amusement park convinces with its regular festivals and the concept of a permanent world’s fair, but in the end you always do the same thing: eat and drink something. The number of good restaurants here is shockingly high, but Epcot simply lacks rides and other offerings. With the imminent opening of the new Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, this gap may close somewhat, but a visit to Epcot will only really be recommendable once the current restructuring is complete.
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