at: Disney World
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Epcot is how often it gets
underestimated… relegated to least-favorite or not-as-interesting
status when compared to the other three Disney parks.
a way it’s easy to understand why. The Magic Kingdom, for all
of the jokes that can be made about its age, still packs the visitors
in and may just about unanimously be considered the top park in
the Disney World family. (Hard to fight the “it’s a small world”
lovers.) Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom boast some
interesting thrill rides and unique features.
A walk around a lagoon to visit some countries and look in stores?
Yeah… seems forgettable enough when you’re thinking about it or
checking it out from home.
yet every time I visit the place it ends up being surprising.
I can’t say it moves above the other parks for thrills and excitement.
But when you consider that my visits to the Animal Kingdom often
result covering everything, and having lunch, by about 1pm… and
that Epcot can easily turn into a park you visit a second time
during your stay… there is more here than you may realize.
is not a destination to toss to the side.
may simply be one of the best attractions in any Florida theme
park. I’m not saying it’s the most exciting… most innovative…
most creative… or even the most entertaining. But when you combine
the show content of the ride with its overall design, toss in
the ability for pretty much the entire family to take part, and
then add in the way you feel after the experience… yeah… amazing
I guarantee you that when you unite Soarin’ with a visit to Journey
into Imagination and its play area, you will be stunned to see
the reaction you get from children.
Track remains a thrilling part of any visit to the park.
solid… perhaps unexpectedly… as the park is, none of this is to
say the park isn’t showing its age.
Ellen Degeneres. Think she’s great. I search out her show when
I’ve got the television on in the afternoon. Ellen’s Energy Adventure
(which already was a ride with more than a decade on the tires
when it was updated with her presence) is a slow and now outdated
experience. The show itself lasts roughly 45-minutes and you feel
just about every tick of those minutes.
Earth? Same idea. Has a moment or two… needs help.
this is not a throwaway theme park on the Disney property. Don’t
make the mistake of assuming it isn’t for the kids or that all
of the good stuff can be covered by noon.
is alot of fun to be had here… and some truly exceptional experiences
if you know where to look. And a good foundation is still in place
for tomorrow… if a few details are dusted off and brought up to
we went on:
Journey into Imagination
Ellen’s Energy Adventure
Maelstrom (Norway pavilion)
Gran Fiesta Tour (Mexico pavilion, Terry and Bob rode, I believe
with Mike and Louise)
Living with the Land
Mission: SPACE (Terry and Bob once, Richard and Mike twice)
Soarin’ (second visit, Terry decided to pass on the second trip)
We split up into three groups and went in different directions
for lunch. Ellen and Richard took off for Italy. Mike and Louise
headed to Morocco. Terry and I ended up in China.
ate at Nine Dragons, and decided to order a sampling of appetizer-type
dishes to share…
Vegetable and egg fried rice
General Tso’s chicken dumplings
A dumpling special (featuring steak and cheese, shrimp and chicken)
food was outstanding, but something strange led up to this meal.
It was hot on our Tuesday visit. Really hot for late September.
I can’t say it was hot like some visits in the past… like one
I vividly recall in late August, where our clothes were drenched
and we felt like we had melted into the blacktop... but it was
draining early on for all of us.
the six of us, even when we think we’re heading to different conclusions,
have ended up in the same place. A few comments… some back and
forth… a few double-checks… and there we are at Yosemite, or on
a boardwalk at Madeira Beach.
time though, the combination of hunger and a desire to get out
of the sun ended conversations and split us up pretty quickly.
can’t tell you too much about Ellen and Richard or Mike and Louise
and the meals they had. I’m not even sure of the exact location
they ate at. What I can tell you is all four of them said they
enjoyed their meals.
to Terry and I… well… our meal was brilliant in every way.
Dragons was enclosed and air conditioned… so we were sitting down,
in a cool room, out of the sun. That was incredibly rejuvenating
on it’s own.
service was fantastic, with everything we asked for quickly provided,
and all of the food served hot… almost as if it were plated immediately
next to our table.
the food… delicious.
decision to share rice and some smaller dishes resulted in a very
reasonable check for tableside service… under $40 which includes
the tip, and we tipped well.
we left the restaurant, Terry and I felt better and more energetic
than we had all day. Just a wonderful meal and a fantastic experience.
note… it began pouring about thirty minutes later, around the
time we met up with Ellen and Richard and were closing in on seeing
Mike and Louise. That broke the heat for the day, led to several
jokes about the ponchos we all bought, and adjusted a few plans.
But it didn’t change our overall experience in the park, and all
of us felt significantly better after eating.)
best of the best:
Test Track deserves mention. Normally I would tell you this is
strange… for a ride to remain the centerpiece of a theme park
over decades (Test Track debuted more than ten years ago)… but
Disney seems to do this again and again. Space Mountain… Tower
of Terror… where the must-do favorites remain must-do visits over
does add to the list of must-do attractions in each park, and
so we must include Soarin’. This ride has been a part of Epcot
for several years now, having been added during the Disneyland
50th anniversary ride exchange in 2005. (And… if you do the math
that comes up since I will mention Disneyland and a 2005 trip
in the next segment of this article… you may notice that Jay,
Justin, Terry and I visited Disneyland during the 50th anniversary.
Soarin’ is at the California Adventure park (as Soarin’ Over California,
and we didn’t go there).)
you can’t underestimate the importance of Soarin’ for Epcot. Remember
in my introduction I mentioned that Epcot gets the short straw
when compared to other Disney World parks? Well… Soarin’ gives
the park a true second ace on its roster. There are rides… say
like Norway’s Maelstrom… that are fun and nice and people love
them. I do. But others yawn a bit on Mexico’s Gran Fiesta Tour
and Maelstrom… using that description of nice instead of thrilling
Track and Soarin’ though… top notch stuff.
going to include Nine Dragons here, under the premise that: (1)
it was incredible, and, (2) I’m trying to include what we did
on this trip. Terry and I have enjoyed several meals in other
Epcot locations in the past. And, Ellen, Richard, Mike and Louise
ate in different spots at Epcot. For the two of us… Nine Dragons
was a great stop on this visit.
If there is one park where it makes sense to splurge on a meal…
here it is. In past visits we have gone to several restaurants
at Epcot (I believe I’m thinking of you, Teppan Edo in Japan...
since you changed your name since my last visit), and just about
without exception we’ve enjoyed them all. This is a park with
plenty of ways to avoid chicken fingers, burgers and fries if
you want to.
interesting thing about Epcot is how it divides itself more than
any other park. It really is two sections. When you are out in
the World Showcase, you simply don’t make plans to head across
to Future World if there are reasons you’d want to come back.
A fast pass… meal break… shopping necessity might create the trip
back and forth and back again, but you would pretty much never
park is full of surprises. In the second section of this article
we arrive at Islands of Adventure. Well… we went on more rides
at Epcot than at Islands of Adventure, and the presence of long
lines had absolutely nothing to do with that. (In fact, if they
did interfere, we would have boarded twice as many rides at Islands
of Adventure, because the lines were longer in Epcot.)
thing is… it’s more than wandering through the gift shops of different
praise (or complaints):
I don’t want to sound too giddy about Epcot. The reality is… a
facelift is needed, as beautifully exemplified by Ellen’s Energy
about adding some countries? I don’t know what the procedure is
(or would be), but could picture some terrific opportunities created
by Greece, Australia, India, Egypt and many others.
I wasn’t dazzled by Captain Eo… which was an incredible disappointment
(way… way… way outdated, and funny only because of how bad it
seemed… though I will admit I absolutely understand why it was
brought back, and I was very interested in seeing it since I never
saw the original run)… but let’s see room created for old attractions
like Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (which only recently left, but
was a fun adventure) or Cranium Command for the nostalgia buffs.
I get that Epcot isn’t the perfect place for something like a
roller coaster, the concept of futuristic themes does provide
a fairly limitless set of options. Their recent excursions into
nature movies… such as the widely praised films Earth
and Oceans… could be great springboards for several environmentally-themed
pavilions or renovations.
~ ~ ~
I need to kick this off by saying something sort of important…
I like Universal Studios. I really like it. There’s something
different here… that perhaps is a bit of an escape from Disney.
They’re not afraid to build a roller coaster simply because they
want a roller coaster… with a weaker support story, but the potential
of a great ride. They’re not afraid of making changes… though
I do wonder about some of the changes they make.
look at some additions since the last time I went to the original
Orlando park… The Simpsons and Men in Black rides… and I feel
the urge to think about multi-day passes or add them to my future-visit
is… something about Universal almost always leaves me underwhelmed,
confused, or somehow disappointed. That’s in part why I haven’t
been to the Universal Studios Orlando property since 1999.
was 1999. Jay and Justin had joined Terry and I on a February
trip to Orlando. When you leave the airport, you will begin to
see billboard after billboard of rides and events to think about.
And, back then a new attraction, Twister… Ride It Out, had opened
at Universal Studios.
had planned on visiting the park (Islands of Adventure had yet
to cut their ribbon that year), and eagerly headed over to see
the recent addition to the park’s roster. The first disappointment
came when we begin to realize it wasn’t a ride at all… it’s a
show. You go through the line and pre-show, and get led into a
kind of observation area. A simulated tornado is formed in the
middle of the room… an absolutely horrendous fake cow drifts by…
and then you get sent into the gift shop.
there’s something to the Disney support story and eye for detail
California. Jay, Justin, Terry and I decided to add Universal
Studios Hollywood to our southern California trip. We head down
to the lower lot and get in line for Revenge of the Mummy. And…
in summary… it sucked.
in mind… the ride opened in 2004.
on that trip, we went to Anaheim and spent a day at Disneyland.
Near the end of our visit, we went on the Indiana Jones Adventure.
Every detail of this attraction… from the line on the way in to
the ride itself… absolutely destroyed Revenge of the Mummy. Indiana
Jones joined Disneyland in 1995.
can’t believe this is an accident. It happens too often… again
and again and again. I’ve found examples on both coasts where
similar sources or ideas all favor Disney. (I just mentioned archeologist-themed
ideas in California that I believe are quite fair to make. How
about we place Doctor Doom’s Fearfall against the Tower of Terror?
That covers Florida. And in this essay, I’m going to mention parking
and the trips to and from your car. Disney just kicks Universal’s
behind up, down and sideways.)
again… I like Universal Studios. At some point, I will almost
undoubtedly find myself in one of the Universal parks again. I
feel the need to make that clear up front, because the reality
is this day was a bit of a Universal let down.
we went on:
Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Ellen, Richard, Mike, Louise)
Flight of the Hippogriff (Bob, Terry)
Dragon Challenge (Ellen, Richard, Mike, Louise)
Jurassic Park River Adventure
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (all once, Bob twice)
Doctor Doom’s Fearfall (Richard, Mike)
The Cat in the Hat (Bob, Terry, and I don’t remember but it
We debated eating at several places, including thoughts of Three
Broomsticks in the Wizarding World. Hungry after Jurassic Park,
we ended up deciding not to backtrack in a direction the exact
opposite of the way we planned on moving to continue with the
rides after we ate, and we ended up at Thunder Falls Terrace.
be honest… it was nothing more than fine, and the orders we placed
weren’t that memorable.
best of the best:
I always have enjoyed Spider-Man… rode it twice on this visit,
and multiple times on a trip in the past… so I’m going to include
enjoyed the detail and effort that went into constructing the
Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As I have said in a separate
effort about this trip, it just may be the most beautifully built
and impressive area in any theme park on the planet.
I debated it, and I think I will… let’s give a nod to Popeye &
Bluto’s. We had a really great time on it, laughing hysterically
while getting drenched, and ended up with a fantastic group shot
when we got off the raft. (An attendant was fabulous and took
the picture for us.)
If you look at the number of rides we went on at Islands of Adventure,
the count seems to be at ten. (Nine rides noted, with my riding
Spider-Man twice.) And that is amazingly misleading.
Ellen, Richard, Mike and Louise were on the Forbidden Journey,
Terry and I were riding the Hippogriff. (Two rides on the list…
yet no one in our group waited in more than one line.) While I
rode Spider-Man the second time, Richard and Mike had gone to
a total of ten actually involves eight waits in line. And, if
Mike and Richard didn’t go on Cat in the Hat (which is possible),
that means none of us went on more than seven rides at the park.
all went on ten rides in Epcot (Terry sat out the second Soarin’),
and that includes about an hour spent running in place at Ellen’s
Energy Adventure, while not including that Soarin’ had members
of our group visiting it twice.
once we moved outside of the Wizarding World, there were no lines
at any of the rides. Seriously… none of the lines lasted more
than five to ten minutes other than when in the land of Harry
and his friends.
doesn’t add up.)
praise (or complaints):
The following is material I brought over from my “Best
of Florida in 2010” article. If you want to
read the full version, head over there. For now…
some amazing twist of fate and circumstance, we didn’t get hit
by the massive lines that Harry Potter has been swarmed with.
Yeah… it took forever to get in the theme park itself. (Our
“VIP” parking ticket was still at least fifteen minutes from
garage to gate, and no blessing. And then, at the ticket line,
we waited well over thirty minutes for all six of us to make
our purchases and get inside.) The big ride was accomplished
for four of us in around an hour. All we ever saw as far as
unmanageable crowds in Mr. Potter’s World that proved disappointing
took place at the wand shop. The rest was just lots and lots
of people while the rest of Islands of Adventure was bordering
insulting thing about Harry Potter and Islands of Adventure,
and the reason it earns such distinction here, was the ride
restrictions when it came to size. And that insult is delivered
in two ways…
~ It’s not communicated well. Oh sure, they did have a disclaimer
on their web site. And there have been stories in the media.
But they don’t mention a word of it as you’re purchasing your
not just Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It’s another
ride in the Wizarding World… Dragon Challenge. It’s Doctor Doom’s
Fearfall. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is slightly different,
but offers no favors. This is not an isolated dilemma, and these
are not the only rides with problems.
short… and here I am making a vague, sweeping, blanket statement
that isn’t perfectly true, since Jurassic Park River Adventure
is one attraction that is pretty much fine for all riders… if
you’re overweight, every major attraction in this park is off
limits to you.
~ Ok… I hear you. Rides have always had some form of restrictions.
Could be height. May be head and neck problems, heart conditions,
and other medical situations that should be considered before
you step in line.
I’ve seen those kinds of signs before. Safety first. Right?
if this is a major deal in delivering safe experiences… how
come Disney doesn’t have these problems? Why is it that Universal
is unable to prepare and design for these situations?
this same trip, at Epcot, classics like Test Track and thrills
like Soarin’ were no problem at all. Barely months after this
day… different trip, back at Disney… the Magic Kingdom presented
no difficulties with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain,
Stich’s Great Escape, or any other attraction.
what I am left to conclude, by documentation and personal experience,
is that we are expected to believe a leader in the industry
like Universal Studios can’t plan or engineer their most exciting
rides to accommodate a significant number of adults. And yet,
ten or so miles away, another leader in the industry has no
such difficulties with any of their rides.
point of this example is… Universal Studios is not on the same
level as Disney. And as I explored from coast to coast, that’s
a company problem that’s true in just about every way. Heck… the
ride in to a theme park from your car, involving a monorail or
ferry ride, is something interesting and memorable at Disney.
I can still vividly recall about five years ago getting on the
ferry, and then as we rode it across the lake we watched the fireworks
at the Magic Kingdom. Just beautiful. At Universal Studios you
park in a huge garage, and even if you pay extra for the special
parking you still end up walking forever.
differences are substantial.