Grab your passport and your poncho, because we’re continuing the rainy refrain from last column with a Best Week Ever visit to Epcot, or as I now call it, Wetcot. Recently, I’ve been on a mission to photograph the menus for every single eatery — table service, quick service, and vendor cart — inside the Walt Disney World parks, as part of our ongoing effort to provide you with the most complete and current WDW menu information anywhere on the internet. (If you think tracking down every food venue across four parks sounds stressful, pity Laurel’s poor fingers as she inputs thousands of items into our database.) But despite my practical purpose in visiting Epcot last week, I couldn’t help but pause for a moment to appreciate some of the park’s overlooked wonders, thanks to the wrath of Mother Nature.
It all started with cheerful blue skies, fluffy clouds, and blazing sunshine as I arrived in early afternoon. Don’t be fooled: this is Central Florida, where the weather can turn on you twice as fast as a spinning teacup.
Here’s what wait times were like in Epcot as I was riding the tram in. Not too ridiculous, considering that this day was predicted as a 9 out of 10 on our crowd calendar.
I had to chuckle as I spotted this construction wall signage near the tram drop-off. Perhaps it’s a not-so-subtle signal to the folks transforming Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After?
As always, no problems passing through the entry touchpoints, which have definitely become my favorite element of MyMagic+.
This sign advertising the new American Music Machine, an a cappella act, was positioned just inside the entryway. I was hoping to catch their last show of the day, but (as we shall see below) it was not to be…
Inside Future World, Spaceship Earth had barely a 15 minute standby wait, and the central plaza was refreshingly uncongested.
Several entrances into Innoventions West have been sealed off, and most of the exhibits inside are now behind black curtains.
One corner of the building was being used as a private meeting area for some sort of special event, with an impressive multi-monitor setup displaying Google Earth images of the park in one corner.
I’ve heard no solid plans for what will happen in that space long-term, but a rest area with seating and cell-phone chargers is slated to open any day now. In the meantime, the photographs of my visit to the once-popular diversion speak for themselves:
I can’t visit Future World West without popping my head into The Land. Does anyone else remember when the balloons hanging from the ceiling moved?
While inspecting the menu at the Sunshine Seasons cafeteria, I noticed this display of snacks for guests with special dietary needs, including gluten-free and nut-free. If you fall into that every-growing category, be sure to swing by The Land if you get the munchies at Epcot.
I had a few minutes to kill while waiting for the Garden Grill upstairs to open, so I opted for a cruise through the greenhouses. Living with the Land‘s dimly lit opening scenes are a real torture test for smartphone cameras, but I keep trying to get a good picture of those prairie dogs…
…and I’m still trying…
Of course, the naturally lit greenhouses make much better photography subjects.
Exiting The Land, I noticed that the snack cart along the path to Imagination is selling healthy snacks like fruit, cheese, and hummus. It’s great to know there’s a lighter option when you just can’t handle one more turkey leg or churro!
On my last trip to Epcot I experienced the Tomorrowland movie preview, which (though well done) basically convinced me that I didn’t need to rush out and see the film. (Based on the box office results, I don’t seem to be alone.) Now the Magic Eye Theater is temporarily screening a 10 minute segment from Pixar’s Inside Out, a movie I can whole-heartedly endorse.
Oddly, while the film itself was released in 3-D, the preview is only in 2-D, and aside from some brief wind and lighting there are hardly any in-theater effects. I can only dream of what Disney’s Imagineers could do with these characters, either inside the Imagination pavilion or at the former Wonders of Life in Future World East.
By the way, Michael Jackson fans should take heart: not only does director Pete Docter proudly sport a Captain EO button in the Inside Out preshow video, but the musical space ranger and his crew of creatures will return to Epcot on July 19th.
You can’t exit the Imagination pavilion without playing in the leaping fountain. (What, it’s just me?) But look at the gathering clouds in the background…
Here’s another tie in to the new Pixar flick.
This “emotion garden” of adds a welcome splash of color, but is it really fair to burden innocent flora with our psychological baggage?
Moving along to World Showcase, let’s start with a panoramic from the northernmost point of the central lagoon. In order to get this view for Illuminations, you’ll need a special package or FP+, and even then you’ll have to arrive early. However, 4 p.m. is probably a little too early.
Canada’s gardens are serene and sophisticated…
…but its gift shop selection is not. Animal Kingdom made headlines by briefly introducing poop-themed candy, but Epcot has been selling this stuff for years with barely a peep.
The lumberjack show outside Canada doesn’t get high marks from the hardcore Disney fan community (especially those who loved the Off Kilter ensemble they replaced) but they appeared to be drawing a decent crowd as I passed by.
The sky was looking increasingly angry, so I hustled through the U.K. and across the bridge to France. Next door in Morocco, I paused when I spotted a surprisingly long queue snaking through the pavillion’s normally placid back streets.
It turned out to be folks waiting to meet & greet with Aladdin and Jasmine, who were apparently on a brief break from their well-appointed photo op.
Walking a few yards from North Africa to Japan (only in Epcot!) I poked my head into the often overlooked art gallery. I’ve heard whispers that the days could be numbered for the Spirited Beasts exhibit in here, so I snapped a few shots of the anime-inspired displays.
In New York City, the celebrated Pearl River Market is becoming yet another victim of rising rents, and my favorite place in the world to shop for cheap colorful chopsticks and crazy candy will soon close. That leaves Epcot’s Mitsukoshi department store as the next best substitute (sans the “cheap” part).
This may be the only theme park gift shop outside of Japan selling dried squid snacks!
Pokemon for sale in Epcot: appearing soon at a Universal theme park near you?
Say sayonara to your hairdo, because it’s tsunami time. As I was hoofing it from Japan to the American Adventure, the sky spit open and emptied the contents of Lake Michigan over Lake Buena Vista.
I and the other huddled masses yearning to stay dry hovered under the American Adventure overhang, caught in limbo between the Noah-worthy downpour and the Arctic blast of the attraction’s air conditioning.
After twenty minutes without any letup, I took a lap around the American Adventure’s lobby exhibits. At the risk of dragging the “real world” into Disney, I wish everyone would take the time to inspect the Kinsey Collection of African American historical artifacts, especially in the wake of recent events.
The American Adventure lobby artwork is also a must-see for fans of Disney’s legendary artists like Herb Ryman and Robert McCall.
The rain was still showing no signs of slowing, so I sprinted next door to the Liberty Inn for a snack. This is not one of my go-to spots in World Showcase, so I decided to try something a little different. The Louisiana-Style Shrimp turned out to me a Creole-esque stew of seafood, onions, and peppers, ladled over a lump of undistinguished rice.
The flavor profile wasn’t exactly wrong — there was a buttery hint of real roux in the base — but definitely too under-seasoned to be authentic, and I could find no hot sauce on the condiment bar to compensate. The shrimp themselves managed to be both rubbery and mushy at the same time, which is not a good texture. If I’m in this neighborhood again and have a craving for shellfish, I’ll give the crab cakes a try.
Thankfully, the Liberty Ale (an “exclusive” brew that tastes suspiciously like the Safari Amber sold at Animal Kingdom) helped wash down my meal, restoring freedom to my tastebuds just in time for the rain to slow.
Dodging between the remaining drops, I made a quick circle through Italy…
…and the shops of Germany…
…mostly to inhale in the caramel shop.
Now that the storm had blown over, from China I could see the crane that is constructing Soarin’s third theater.
Nothing is visible of the Frozen construction from Norway’s central plaza…
…but themed construction walls along the path to Mexico hint at the attraction coming next year.
One last country to visit on my walk around the world. Mexico’s pavilion may be based on an outdated stereotype of the country’s culture, but the interior’s eternal twilight is still endlessly enchanting.
Looking back at World Showcase while exiting into Future World East, I love how Morocco’s architecture and color scheme compliment DHS’s Tower of Terror in the distant background.
Here one reason why we don’t recommend using your Tier 1 FastPass+ selection on Test Track. On rainy days like this, the ride can shut down for hours after a storm, wreaking havoc with FP+ return times.
Finally, we finish where we began: Spaceship Earth. This ride was a major inspiration for my early interest in Epcot, and I still love riding it to this day…
…even though my hair produces, um, interesting effects with the finale’s image recognition system.
What do you like to do at Epcot in the rain? Where do you think Seth should go for his next Best Week Ever? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!