A visit to Epcot
The whole family heads to Orlando in 2005


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume One: Florida.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on April 2, 2007. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

About the park…

An absolute stunner of a park. And yes, that matters. Because if you ask anyone to list their favorite Disney World parks and give points for ranking them first to fourth… I guarantee you that Epcot will finish fourth. It may not be unanimous if you do it as a group vote, but it will be close to unanimous. Very close. In fact…

When we were sitting down to discuss the trip, an unnamed member of our traveling group didn’t think we would be heading over to Epcot at all… at least not as a full group. Not a park that the kids will enjoy was the primary reason given in defense of the thought.

Well… we wound up at Epcot twice. And that person was thrilled with every moment inside the gates, stating this park created some of the best memories of the trip.

People may tell you Epcot is really two small parks, and there is some truth to that. The World Showcase does have a couple of rides and attractions, but is primarily a walking tour of the countries represented. The Future World section is mainly rides and attractions. It’s supposed to be an educational opportunity at times… but I’m not so certain I’ve ever really taken that away from the park when I’ve visited.

The schedule almost never varies… and it’s an operating schedule worthy of note. Future World opens at 9am… while World Showcase follows two hours later at 11am. And yet, more than any other Disney park experience I have ever had in dealing with closing times, Epcot truly exemplifies the idea that lines and money allow for flexibility. For instance -- quite often long lines at Soarin’… a ride in Future World that should be shutting down around 7pm… remain moving long after 7pm.

Rides that I know Tigg and I went on, because I was there…

Mission: Space – Actually, Tigg didn’t go on this one. The grandparents had taken the grandkids, and Nick, Kris, Kei and I went on this ride while Tigg waited outside for us. It was pretty good, but I didn’t personally enjoy it as much as other rides in the park.

Spaceship Earth – In a very strange way, I would compare this ride to the Great Movie Ride at Disney-MGM Studios. Why? Because it’s an easy ride that has some fun moments and you won’t be upset you went on it. That said, for me, unlike the Great Movie Ride it isn’t something you should be upset about missing.

Test Track – A couple of women started talking while we were in line. At first I only heard bits and pieces of what they were saying, but it became apparent they were talking about our group’s orange shirts. When I asked them about it, they mentioned having seen a group wearing green shirts just like these the day before. Turns out they were in the Magic Kingdom too. The ride was great… a run showing recreated samples of tests performed on new cars while they are being designed. In short… a Disney story for a thrill ride that doesn’t have a Disney history. In this case though, it works very well. This isn’t a roller coaster… but it has some speed and twists and turns. This isn’t a simulator… but it uses braking, bumpy roads, and sharp corners to build some excitement.

Journey into Imagination – This is the second version of the ride since it opened, and it is still a lot of fun. The girls loved it, and Ky had fun after the ride… getting off you are led into a creativity-park sort of place where the kids can play. On one visit Tamsin volunteered for Doctor Allbright and was made a scientist.

Honey I shrunk the Audience – The scoop and run was on in here. Naya was not happy about the show at all, and Tigg pulled off the “grab the child, make way I’m coming through” escape quite well. Basically this is a takeoff of the Honey, I shrunk the Kids movie, where an awards ceremony is supposedly taking place and the audience is shrunk by accident. This enables the show to include multiple surprise elements.

Journey into Imagination – Hey, I’m listing them in order according to my notes, and on our second trip to Epcot… yes, second trip, not bad for the park many felt we wouldn’t even spend one full day at… we began day two by heading back to visit Figment again.

Soarin’ – This ride was brought in as part of the Disneyland 50th anniversary celebration that was held in Disney parks around the world… with rides being recreated at other places. The original is at the California Adventure in Anaheim. All I can say is wow. Might have been the unanimous pick as the best ride any place at Disney World for this group on this trip. I’m not sure if I would say that on another visit… hey, never ridden on Expedition Everest, which wasn’t open during this trip and is open now… but it was the most impressive ride on this trip. The idea here combines a hang glider ride experience over California with a ski lift type chair. Keep an eye on this ride because of lines… use the fast pass if necessary.

Rides others supposedly went on according to my notes, and I want to preserve them here, but I wasn’t on them…

I don’t know of any. The grandkids were taken on a character run, but my notes don’t show anything being done by anyone else that we didn’t all get to at some point. Actually… wait… hold on…

The Maelstrom – My notes say someone went on this ride in Norway, but I don’t recall it from this trip. I have been on it before and loved it. Normally I place it on the must-do list. It’s a great combination of a flume and a boat ride. Has a good surprise that makes it worth the trip. No clue who went on it from our group and no one is saying.

Places we ate at, or food we enjoyed…

The annual food and wine festival was going on, and we tried a few things. I was especially impressed by an ice wine, a chocolate crème brûlée, and a pistachio baklava.

Yakitori House – Kei, Kris, Tigg and I ate here in Japan. It was ok. In reality, all of the food in Epcot is pretty good… so if there’s a style you want, head to that country and enjoy. I would definitely recommend eating in the World Showcase as opposed to Future World.

One other thing about this restaurant… I hated it as a teenager. The menu is not burgers and fries and requires some explanation for children that haven’t had a variety of foods. It was fine on this trip, and now I recognize the names and items a bit more easily, but it was nothing so stellar that it needs to be on your list.

You really need to know…

Pin trading – Tamsin started her pin trading at Epcot, and both girls were quickly brought in to the fun. I was amazed by how fantastic the Disney employees were in doing this. Remember… a 4-year old kid wants to trade a small and seemingly insignificant pin for a big, impressive one with swinging doors or moving parts. Some of these pins are a couple of dollars and others are considered collectibles that will cost you $10 to $15 or more. So it is pretty nice to see the staff making trades with kids at whatever whim a kid has.

World Showcase – Ok… second time this has happened to me, so I have to tell you about this. Let me start by taking you back to 1997.

It was our first trip to Epcot with Tigg and I as a couple (along with Justin and Jay). We had decided to work on collecting something small from every country. While in Germany, Justin was standing at the register with us, and the cashier handed us a print with Snow White on it. Evidently it was one of some special series of prints they were offering for kids, with a different one to be found in each country. At that point of our visit though, we didn’t have time to head back around the World Showcase to countries we had visited already in an attempt to complete the collection.

Now… 2005. Knowing what had happened back then, I asked in the first country (Canada) if they were doing anything for the kids. Turns out… yup… they absolutely were. It was a special mask that the kids could design and color, with little plastic or such tags from every country that could be attached as decorations. These were free. (Well… as free as it gets if you follow my meaning.)

Some unexpected fun we had…

Soarin’ was significantly better than we thought it would be. But at this point, there’s little chance of that being unexpected. If you do even a smidgen of research, the responses to this attraction are glowing.

The kids seemed happier with Epcot than anyone expected. So I’ll go with Journey into Imagination and the masks from the World Showcase as my surprises, and the entire park as unexpected fun for the trip.

Stay away from…

I have to be honest… Mission: Space was an impressive ride for what it tried to accomplish, but it doesn’t live up to the hype for me. I thought Test Track and Soarin’ were easily more fun and simply better rides. Warning, warning, warning… Mission: Space does have a bit of a reputation. If you have any hesitations about the ride… don’t get on. Tigg didn’t. Nick, Kei, Kris and I pretty much all thought it was ok, but I seem to recall all of us being a bit queasy and thinking it was good, it was done, and we didn’t need to do it again.

Personally, and I sort of mentioned this a moment ago, I’ve hit a point where I really prefer eating in the World Showcase when at this park. If the kids are those picky eaters that focus their meals on chicken fingers and fries and nothing else, you might have some problems convincing them to try the sushi. (And… frankly… with sushi, I’d be voting with the kids.) But a little something in Mexico, followed by something in Italy, and then a dessert in France is a nice way to spend an afternoon stroll. Heading to Japan and going to the hibachi-style grill for dinner is amazing. And… for the chicken finger eaters… The American Adventure marks the halfway point of the Showcase, meaning some classic and traditional food options. It’s different, and a perfect example of what Epcot provides that no other park experience offers. I don’t look for many food options in the Future World section of the park. It’s not nearly as good or creative as what awaits in the World Showcase. (And yet… keep in mind the appetites of your young ones.)

To put a ribbon on it…

Ky had a daily nap. Thanks to some lengthy walks between attractions, Epcot would probably rate as his favorite place to climb in the stroller and doze off. And yet, thanks to Figment, it was also one he seemed to really enjoy.

And now… for your enjoyment… one of the favorite stories Tigg has from the trip.

One afternoon, Tigg, the grandfathers and the three grandkids took off, heading back to our rooms in front of the rest of the group. Tigg was going to start dinner, and the remainder of us (Mom, Margaret, Kei, Nick, Kris and I) stayed to wander through Mouse Gears.

Naya had managed to jump into the double-stroller with Ky, leaving Tamsin quite upset about the unfair situation of her walking while her sister got to ride.

Tigg offered everything… reasoning with her (“you can get in once we get off the tram and I open it back up” and stuff like that)… telling her what a good girl she was for walking. And, well, you know how it goes when you try to negotiate with a tired and frustrated 4-year old that has already decided the situation itself is simply unacceptable.

So, Tamsin kept complaining. Finally, Tigg looked right at her and said: “Tamsin, nobody cares.”

The grandfathers stopped in disbelief at what they had heard. They weren’t opposed to it… Tigg was simply firm in her voice and saying something they never would have thought to try. They just didn’t want to laugh out loud.

Tamsin was quiet after that.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com