Epcot, the second park to open at Disney World, will be my second journey report. I visited Epcot twice during my recent trip to Disney and, while I like the park, it's my least favorite. That said, Epcot offers a mix of experiences for guests. There are some thrills, some educational experiences, and some good dining and scenery. My recent visit occurred during the Flower and Garden Festival, which supplemented the visit with special topiaries and food offerings. Overall, Epcot is worth a day exploring and enjoying all that it has to offer.
First ride: Living with the Land. This ride is neither thrilling nor overly exciting, but is probably one of my favorites at Epcot. It seems to fall through the cracks with Disney's general clientele, but for me, it's quite the opposite. I make sure to ride it every time I visit Epcot for the reasons that Living with the Land takes you through the gardens of Disney and unveils the curtain and takes you behind it. It's a very unique ride that cannot be found anywhere else. The ride is essentially a tour of the gardening processes that Disney uses to maximize their crop output while still remaining environmentally efficient. For smaller children, Living with the Land may be dull, but once you understand the importance of the environment, Living with the Land becomes intriguing. Oh, and there are some excellent hidden Mickeys inside of the ride which always makes a ride more fun.
For something more thrilling, we headed over to Test Track. This was my first time riding the re-imagined Test Track, and I can say there is a drastic change. The old Test Track featured the raw mechanical components of a car, but the new version is more of a futuristic take on the old Test Track. Instead of the gears and bolts of cars, it's now about testing a car's performance and efficiency. First off, this new re-make seems to be a hit with park guests, because the line was consistently longer than it was with the old Test Track. For our wait, the line stretched outside of the queue house, so we knew we were in for a long wait. Once inside, the new theme is evident - a huge screen shows a process for aerodynamic efficiency, which conveys more of the test track feel than ever before - the ride is genuinely about experimenting with different factors of a car, and inevitably testing that car.
After waiting for an hour or so, some cast members directed us to the creator studio where a group of two can design a car that will be tested while the ride is occurring. The computer takes the design process step by step, from first drawing the sketch of the vehicle to adding flame decals. I appreciated this, because that means that anyone of any age can participate in this step of Test Track. My only complaint with this is that the time limit of about three minutes to design a fully functioning car was a bit slim. I finished just in time, but the people that were not rushing through this process may not have had time to finish. I know adding more time to this process would decrease capacity, but adding even a minute could make a dramatic difference and would allow designers to think through the choices in the design process thoroughly.
Once the design process is complete, there is only a few more moments of waiting before the queue leads to the station where you board the vehicles. The first thing I noticed was the detail in the restraint system; it was specifically crafted to mimic the design of a real seat belt. While it's a small detail and more or less an obvious choice, it's still unique. The car moves forward to the restraint check station, and then we're off. Test track starts off driving at a moderate pace, then prepares for a "capabilities test". Basically, they are going to test each of the designed car's ability to perform in everyday conditions. While this is happening, the room is dark, except for the lights that illuminate certain effects that the Imagineers wanted. for example, there is supposed to be a storm in this room, so they created that effect with projectors and modern lighting technology to give the ride a much more futuristic appeal. The darkness in these rooms allows the ride to use misdirection to enhance the thrills. During one of the tests, the car swerves off the road suddenly, but riders could not have ever guessed it, because the only thing illuminating the path is a bright yellow lane line, which misdirects the riders. You may think the vehicle will turn left, but instead it steers right - things like this fulfill the first half of the ride.
Now, does this cheap thrill of misdirection get old? Not really. The ride only relies on it a few times, and the other thrills are supplied by a dynamic, changing speed of our car. Besides, the fancy lights and show effects distract us anyways. The next stage moves form the short, quick sudden changes in direction to the aerodynamic efficiency. This is a tame section of the ride and offers a break from the thrills. In this section, the ride vehicle passes through a chamber, where fog appears to trace the outline of the vehicle, as shown by a mirror on one of the side walls of the chamber. This presents a cool effect, and prepares us for the next section of the ride. The car enters the responsiveness test, which returns back to the use of misdirection for the thrills, but this time, a large truck suddenly emerges, so the vehicle swerves out of the line of destruction. This is the shortest part of the ride, and was not fully executed - it was almost an afterthought instead of a full section. The final section is the most thrilling, and I was excited to see how it compared to the old Test Track's climax.
Before I move to the new version's finale, the old Test Track had vehicles preparing for a crash test, where the vehicle sped towards a seemingly solid wall, but only at the last moment would that wall break away, leaving the riders safe. The new version features the same ride system with the wall, but a much different theme. The power test is in this place, where the vehicle accelerates, and the wall of course breaks away, and we are sent down the winding, twisting concrete track that accelerates the car to speeds of 65 mph. This section was still thrilling, but I enjoyed the older version, because of the sudden, dramatic climax. Just when the car is about to be hurled to the wall, the thought of "Wait....... are we really going to crash into that wall?!?" lurches into the heads of some first time riders. But then the wall breaks apart, and the track provides a rush of thrills that serve as a great climactic point. The new version does not do justice to the old version's finale, but still is a fun way to end the ride.
Once the high speed section concludes, riders return to the station, and then head off to the scoring room where the results are shown. My car did fairly well, just a few points off from the tops of the day. However, the end result would have been more exciting if the designers knew why they scored high and what they did that set them apart. For me, it just seemed to be a random combination of elements that I happened to choose that set my car up for success. I was expecting the ride to justify the results in some way, but Test Track only ranked the cars at stages in the ride, merely providing a checkpoint of how well each car was doing. Far from the thing I was looking for, but still a fun ride with a good use of misdirection. The day that the park figures out how to make riders bite their fingers with anticipation for the results of their car and has people returning to tweak and perfect their design in hopes of higher scores, then Epcot has a world class ride.
Moving over to something entirely different, we decided to walk around World Showcase and tour the Flower and Garden Festival. The thing that brought me in was one of the entree items, the ghost pepper dusted tilapia. I am a fan of spicy food, so this was a must try for me. Urban Farm Eats is the cart that offers this item, and can be located near the entrance to World Showcase. As for the tilapia, it was perfectly cooked with the right amount of crisp. The spice factor isn't extremely intense, but doesn't need to be. The spice dusting left the perfect amount of fire on my tongue, and the slaw that is paired with the dish perfectly coexists with the fish to cut the heat, while still providing an acidic component to the dish. To sum things up, it's a great item, and probably one of the best things I've ever eaten. Definitely a must try!
The entire World Showcase has these small food carts set up, and you can sample entrees from the eleven countries. Throughout this whole area there are some elaborate topiaries set up, which adds an extra touch to the festival. The World Showcase area is special, because you can experience the cultures of eleven countries in under an hour. The Flower and Garden Festival resides mainly in this section, and the best way to fully experience the festival is to just walk around the section. We didn't have the time to stop in at each country's pavilion, but there is still a sense of the culture outside on the pathways. We did stop at a few pavilions, such as Mexico.
While walking by the Mexico pavilion, Three Caballeros: Gran Fiesta Tour can be easily missed. This is not the greatest ride ever made by Disney, but on a normal occasion Three Caballeros has little wait and offers a decent ride experience. The ride uses boats to move riders through the sets, and provides a relaxing experience. The ride follows the Three Caballeros through Mexico and showcases the culture of this country, and with Donald Duck as the guide, the ride takes a less serious approach. I have to applaud the sets for this ride; I was not expecting such a level of detail for a smaller ride, but still, it was clear that the Disney touch was present. The ultimate room features an elaborate fireworks display of the lights on the ceiling of the room, which made the ride stand out to me. The use of video screen technology is also present, and while at first I wan't a big fan of it, I soon realized it allowed the ride to tell the story more effectively. I was not expecting much, and this ride exceeded my expectations.
Going over to a larger ride, Soarin' is arguably the flagship ride of Epcot. The concept is simple: flying. Passengers are placed in front of large video screens that simulate flight. This alone could be considered low tech by some, but it works. The execution of this idea is flawless. The curved video screens allow for a view without defined edges, it's only the footage of Soarin' in front of riders. The "aircrafts" are equipped with wind vents, to further simulate the flight experience. The footage projected onto the screen is breathtaking - it captures a flight over the redwood forests, a moment above the Golden Gate Bridge, and even a scenic hangglider's view from hundreds of feet in the air, overlooking the mountains.
The scenic footage is breathtaking enough, but Disney does not stop there - they incorporate as many elements of sense as they can. Sight is a given, the projection screen. The next thing they do is provide a relaxing and majestic soundtrack to complement the arial footage. The next sense they incorporate is smell, and while you are sailing past the redwood forests lined with evergreens, the pleasant scent of evergreen tree fills the air. While diving over the orange groves, the scent of orange seeps into riders' noses. This is one of the elements that elevates Soarin' and classifies this ride as an immersive experience. The scents provide a proof that you are there within the scenes, you are really soaring over the forests, the snowy slopes, and the shores of California.
The final component that lifts Soarin' into the upper class of rides is the astonishingly authentic flight experience. That you feel like you are actually flying is an understatement. The comfortable seats allow you to relax for the flight and prepares riders for the flying experience. The footage was carefully shot in order to induce your brain into a flying trance. We really know that we're not flying, but it feels like it as the cool, crisp air hits our faces. Sensory overload is achieved by the stimulation of four senses at once, and that is why the flight effect is so strong. My only minor complaint is that there is no transition between the footage, so the flying reel used on Soarin' feels like a slideshow of video clips. That can be easily forgiven, though as it does not detract from the experience majorly. The ride may be gimmicky, but it does not matter in the slightest. Yes, you are just sitting in front of a video screen, but there is so much more that elevates Soarin'. Pure thrills? None. The vehicles do not move, or fly, but it's what happens in our brains that allows us to thinks we are flying. This is a different, new generation ride experience, more than a roller coaster or thrill ride. Soarin' is more than a simulation . . . it's an experience like none other.
Although there are some attractions that I absolutely enjoy at Epcot, this is my least favorite park of the four inside of Walt Disney World property. Epcot has the theme, but it is not used well. When this park opened, it was initially meant to be a utopia, a future world that would be the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow (EPCOT). The plan was never realized; instead, Epcot is now two areas - Future World and World Showcase. The problem is that with this plan, there is no justification of why they are together in the same park, but separate. The current layout of Epcot is set so that Future World is in front section of the park, near the entrance, and World Showcase is located in the back section. These two sections clash in their current form, not seeming to relate. A better layout for these two sections would to have Future world in the center of the park, and World Showcase encircling the future world - that would be a better, more purposeful layout. The outside countries would showcase different cultures throughout the world, and Future World in the center could represent a utopia, which is a completely different form of a society, so in the center it would be highlighted.
The second flaw to Epcot is that either the rides are good, or the theme is. In Future World, the attractions lead the experience, while the theme lacks. The section is meant to be set in the future, but still is lost in the time period when it opened. There is a risk of a future themed section, because the vision of the future is always evolving. Epcot has not had any major revisions, so the theme seems to be dull and outdated. The rides in Future World are not visible and concrete - there are no clear glimpses of attractions, all of the views of Future World consist of drab buildings and outdated color schemes. This section is not horrible, but it lacks a clear overall theme. On the other hand, World Showcase features grandiose pavilions, that are appealing to the eye. The attractions in this section are lacking. The only major attraction is the Three Caballeros, and besides from that there is nothing notable. While I still enjoyed visiting Epcot, there are some flaws that prevent it from making a memorable experience. Nothing here goes above and beyond except for Soarin' - other than that, Epcot does not exceed the limits. Epcot is not unified - the two sections are apart and lack a coexisting vibe.
Coasters are my passion. It's what I do, it's who I am.