Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
I'm quite fond of saying, "You don't really know squat until you're 30." There's something about turning 30 that seems to put a lot of things into focus. You're certainly not a kid anymore. Typically in your 30s you might find yourself with a career and a family. Quite possibly you're a homeowner. Reality is very different than it is in your 20s. At least, that's how I looked at it. I know the notion of turning 30 elicits dread in a lot of people but I felt like I actually began living a "real life" after I turned 30. Not to say that I grew up. I'm 44 as I write this and Lord knows that hasn't completely happened yet. Yet, my 30th seemed to usher in a whole new outlook on things. The importance of family and my home and who I really was seemed to be a lot clearer.
I'm going down this road today, of course, because this past Monday, October 1, 2012, Epcot turned 30 years old. There's been a lot said out there in cyberspace lately about this watershed mark for the second and possibly the most ambitious Walt Disney World theme park. Indeed, Epcot has grown and changed over its three decades. It's somewhat removed from Walt's original vision. It's not actually the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow as was his intention. Nor is it really fair, at least in my eyes, to refer to Epcot as just a theme park. It's much more than that. Somewhere in between Walt's vision for the future city of tomorrow and the classic World's Fairs of the last century sits this wonderful, fascinating place that we've all grown to love over the last 30 years.
I usually prefer to write my Top 5 lists from a more specific point of view, seeking out the smaller details that may often go overlooked at Walt Disney World. This week, however, in honor of Epcot's 30th, I thought I'd paint with some broader strokes and celebrate the overall appeal of the place. With that said, let's take a look at the Top 5 Things to Love About Epcot.
As an icon, Spaceship Earth stands alone. It's not a castle. It's not a giant tree or a giant sorcerer hat. It has a certain sense of otherworldliness to it. This 18-story geodesic sphere is a one of a kind structure; the first of its kind to be built. A tremendous amount of thought and innovation went into its completion. On top of that, they put an attraction inside of it, which is quite an impressive use of interior space. Aside from the science and ingenuity, Spaceship Earth is just so awesome to behold. It's the focal point of the park and of the area. The mere site of it elicits a certain emotion from first-timers and veteran visitors alike. Despite the otherworldliness that I mention above, it also manages to stand as the main symbol of the possibility of humankind, something that is so essentially Epcot.
Sorry to boil things down to such a primitive choice, but the food at Epcot is the best on Disney property. Sure, you can still get a hot dog or a funnel cake, but you can also get the awesome Tabouleh rolls at Sunshine Seasons in the Land pavilion. How about a delicious bratwurst from Sommerfest in the Germany pavilion or the Shawarma Platter with a Moroccan Mint Iced Tea at the Tangierine Café in Morocco? The chocolate crepes from Crepes des Chefs de France? Don't forget to grab a Grand Marnier orange slush from Les Vins des Chef de France right next door. Say hi to some princesses and enjoy the delicious traditional kjottkake from Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. I've barely scratched the surface.
Following up on number 4, the Annual Epcot international Food and Wine Festival takes the best destination for food and drink in Walt Disney World and ramps it up quite a few notches. Enjoy the literally 1.5 million appetizer-sized portions that are put out each year. If you haven't been, and like to eat…go now. It's not just food though, Epcot gets even more beautiful each spring when the International Flower and Garden Festival takes over each spring. Words and pictures just aren't enough to describe how many flowers you will see all over Epcot's sprawling grounds. It's an amazing site to behold. Add in World Showcase's wonderful Holidays Around the World and Candlelight Processional during Christmas time and you'll see why Epcot's celebrations are quite simply top notch.
Legendary Imagineer Marty Sklar tells the story that they had two separate parks in the Epcot development stage. There was a Future World and there was a World Showcase. The giant models existed side by side until one day Sklar and Imagineer John Hench literally pushed the two of them together and the park we now know as Epcot was physically born. It makes you think about the possibility of a World Showcase all on its own. That might have been a great thing, especially in one of its originally proposed locations, alongside the Transportation and Ticket Center across from the Magic Kingdom. But I prefer their solution.
I think the notion of one half of the park being devoted to technological and natural discovery fits in perfectly with the cultural discovery in the other half of the park. World Showcase is an amazing example of Disney's Imagineers at their finest. The attention to detail, the design, the landscaping and the atmosphere all combine to form what has become one of my favorite places to be…not just at Walt Disney World but for that matter, anywhere.
My number one choice may not be a concrete thing but I feel it really is the number one thing to love about Epcot. There truly is nothing else like it. There are a few Magic Kingdoms in the world. One could try to compare the Universal Studios parks to Disney's Hollywood Studios. And even though Disney's Animal kingdom is "Nahtazu," to quote an early ad campaign, many of the experiences can be found, albeit on a less grand scale, at other high end zoos like New York's Bronx Zoo, or in a theme park like Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa. And then there's Epcot. It's the only one of its kind.
Is it that no one else has been able to pull it off? Not quite. It's more like no one has even attempted to pull off something on as grand a scale as Epcot. I have a collection of memorabilia from the 2 great New York World's Fairs of the last century, 1939 and 1964-65. I wasn't born until '68 so I never got to experience the glory that was a World's Fair. Epcot is the closest I'll probably ever get to that kind of experience and for that, I'm grateful.
But Epcot is much more than a permanent World's Fair isn't it? Epcot is special. It's a tangible feeling that you get as soon as you glide through on the monorail. It's how you feel walking around World Showcase at night or waiting for the park to empty out at closing and then watching the Innovention Fountains perform their magic. Epcot has a feeling that draws you in. Some may say that it's a shame that the Walt Disney Company wasn't able to build exactly what its founder wanted with his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. One wonders what that would have really been. I wonder as well, but I'm also pretty darn happy with what they did build. Epcot is a spectacular place that celebrates the world that we live in. We've been blessed with it for the past three decades and I can't wait to see what each new decade brings.
So there you have it, my personal top 5 reasons to love Epcot. This was a tough one for sure. There are so many things to love about this place. How about Soarin'? What about the gardens of the Canada pavilion? I always love looking up and watching the monorail glide by or that moment when you finally reach the peak of Spaceship Earth and are staring up into the "stars." How many hours have I spent in my favorite Disney Store anywhere, MouseGear? Is there anything better than ending a day at Walt Disney World watching Illuminations from your favorite spot around the lagoon? What about dining at the San Angel Inn and watching the boats drift by? I could go on and on. What I'd rather do is just wish Epcot a Happy Birthday and say, "Thanks for 30 wonderful years!"
These are my favorite things about Epcot. What are yours? Click on the Discuss this article on MousePad link below and let me hear your thoughts.
(Send an email to Chris Barry)
Chris Barry lives on Long Island in New York with his wife and three kids. He has had a lifelong love of cartoons, comics and animation. Those who know him well say he has truly, "earned his Disney PhD." Chris has been involved with Television Production for 20 years and began his career working with The Muppets at Jim Henson Productions in NYC. Currently teaching TV Production to high school students, Chris has been writing about many different facets of The Walt Disney Company for several years now.