The Best of Walt Disney World - Epcot

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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Epcot has been my favorite park since I first visited Walt Disney World in 1984. One would think that writing an article about my selections for the top Epcot attractions would be a piece of cake, right? One would be wrong.

The problem, if we can call it that, is that I find almost nothing to dislike about the park. I've had my complaints over the years—typically when they change something I don't think needs changing (Horizons or Image Works, anyone?).

To clarify, when I say "almost nothing to dislike," I've left room for the entire Imagination pavilion. I once enjoyed Journey to Imagination, the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience 3D film and the second floor Image Works. Sadly, each of those attractions was replaced by a version that falls woefully short of the original.

However, this isn't a column to lament what's wrong, but rather, one to celebrate what's right with Epcot.

Top Five Epcot Attractions

For the Magic Kingdom I listed the top seven, mainly because there are so many attractions in that park. I've scaled it back a bit for Epcot but, as you'll see, I've taken a few liberties and combined things.

Soarin'


Soarin'. Photo by Steve Russo.

Soarin' has its detractors and more than a few who think it's time to change the film. While I would welcome that change, this ride remains, to me, a representation of all that is right with Disney parks. It has the right amount of thrills without being too scary for the meek among us. It's not jarring, as some of the coasters are, for the frailer guests. Moreover, it continues to deliver a wonderful combination of gorgeous scenery while simulating flight—one of my favorite things.

Test Track


Test Track. Photo by Steve Russo.

I have to admit that it's taken me a while to adjust to the new version, but it's grown on me to the point where I now consider it an improvement over the original. While it's fun to design your own test car and experience a few of the "tests" it goes through, the real fun is speeding through the turns on the outdoor loop.

The best testament I can offer came from my (then) 7-year old grandson. As the ride began, he had his face buried in his dad's arm. By the time we hit the outdoor run, he was giggling and grinning from ear to ear.

Mission: Space


Mission: Space. Photo by Steve Russo.

I really like this attraction but sometimes can't fully embrace it knowing it replaced Horizons, one of my all-time favorites. Nevertheless, we can't deny the great theming and technology at work in this building. When you hear "Ready for launch," you'll want to hang on.

World Showcase


World Showcase – France. Photo by Steve Russo.

I know. World Showcase isn't really an attraction but the combination of the national pavilions, shops restaurants, films, exhibits (and the views) is certainly one of my favorite things about Epcot. We all have our preferred films—and whether yours is Impressions de France (my favorite) or the comedy of Martin Short in Oh, Canada, there's a lot to do here.

The Maelstrom in Norway, at least in my opinion, doesn't hold up well as an attraction when compared to its Future World counterparts, but coupled with the excellent film, it's a great way to spend 20–30 minutes. I would say the same for the outstanding Voices of Liberty and the American Adventure.

World Showcase also boasts some of the best live entertainment at the World; Serveur Amusant in France and the World Showcase Players in the United Kingdom are not to be missed. World Showcase also hosts two highly regarded annual events: the Flower and Garden Festival in the spring and the International Food and Wine Festival in the fall. Have I yet mentioned Holidays Around the World or the concert series Eat to the Beat or Flower Power? I could go on.

Spaceship Earth


Spaceship Earth during the Flower and Garden festival. Photo by Steve Russo.

Admittedly, this is a nostalgic selection but one I felt compelled to make. I miss the older narrations and the dulcet tones of Walter Cronkite. I also agree with many that contend this attraction has become an E-ticket on the way up and an A-ticket on the way down. Nevertheless, to me, it's still enjoyable and an important memory of the first Epcot I knew. I ride it every trip and I really don't want to see it go away.

Honorable Mentions

  • Illuminations: Reflections of Earth – there are some strong indications that it will be replaced soon, but it remains a favorite of mine.
  • Turtle Talk With Crush – this is still fun, but time, and the introduction of Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor in the Magic Kingdom, have taken some of the luster off the technology.
  • Living With the Land – this relaxing and informative boat ride through fish farms and hydroponic gardens is always interesting.
  • Ellen's Energy Adventure – I probably won't have much support here but I like this attraction. I just wish it didn't require a 45-minute commitment.

Top Three Epcot Table Service Restaurants

What I said last month is still true: "Selecting restaurants is always difficult because individual tastes are so different." It's even more difficult at Epcot because there are so many choices.

Chef de France


Yes, it's a rat. Photo by Steve Russo.

I selected the Chef De France for its almost universal appeal. It's a visually attractive restaurant, particularly after dark when it's so beautifully lit, that screams "upscale" but is very comfortable inside for everyone. I've never felt out of place in "theme park attire". The food is good, the prices reasonable (remember to insert "for Disney World") and where else can a waiter uncover a cheese tray to reveal a rat?

Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria


The best pizza in Florida? Photo by Steve Russo.

This is another "comfortable" place (if you haven't already guessed, that's one of my criteria). It's been said that you can't find good pizza in Florida but I think Via Napoli dispels that claim. The pies are made with imported flour and special water and are cooked in one of three wood-fired ovens. If pizza is not your preference, there are a number of other Italian entrees available.

Rose and Crown Pub and Dining Room


The Rose and Crown. Photo by Steve Russo.

The Rose and Crown is one of my favorite places in all of Walt Disney World. It's often a first stop for me, shortly after checking in at the Boardwalk, for a Black and Tan to knock off the dust of traveling. I've enjoyed it for a beer in the pub or lunch/dinner in the dining room. If the weather's appropriate, it's hard to beat patio dining with a view of the World Showcase Lagoon.

Even though it's made my top three, I have lowered its ranking a bit. There's been some tinkering with the menu recently and I can't say that I agree with what's gone missing. Nonetheless, it's still a favorite—at least for now.

Honorable Mentions

  • La Hacienda de San Angel – this was a bright spot on my one visit there.
  • Monsieur Paul (formerly Bistro de Paris) – I haven't yet been here, but the reviews have been favorable.
  • The Garden Grill in the Land pavilion – is an old favorite that provides a character meal with a comfort food-type menu.
  • Le Cellier Steakhouse – I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this. It's been a favorite of many for a long time. Unfortunately, my personal experience (after three tries) was mostly negative, so it's not a favorite of mine. There was a menu change a while ago as it made its way to a Walt Disney World "signature" restaurant—essentially now requiring two credits on the Disney Dining Plan. Since that change, I seem to hear very little about Le Cellier, but I'm not entirely sure why.
  • Teppan Edo – I enjoy this quite a lot but Japanese teppanyaki-style steak houses are ubiquitous, so there are usually better options.

Top Three Epcot Counter Service Restaurants

Sunshine Seasons

This food court on the lower level of the Land pavilion seems to be a favorite with everyone. It's quite large and offers a ton of choices including deli sandwiches, sushi, pastries, an Asian menu and seafood. The food is usually quite good and reasonably priced.

Yorkshire County Fish Shop

If fish and chips are your thing, this is your place.

Liberty Inn

Yeah, it's burgers and chicken—but sometimes that's what we crave.

Honorable Mention

Sommerfest, Lotus Blossom Cafe and the La Cantina de San Angel are three I wouldn't hesitate to recommend if you've a hankering for bratwurst, egg rolls, or tacos, respectively.

The feedback on the Magic Kingdom article was great—some agreement on my choices and a few good recommendations thrown in. Let me know where I'm right and where I'm… not so right and… as always, thanks for reading.

Comments

  1. By jms1969

    While I certainly won't dispute Soarin' and Test Track being #1 & #2, I have to take a bit of an issue with Mission Space being #3 here...although I am an astronomy buff who should be the perfect target audience for the ride, it's just never been my thing. The tiny view window makes the attraction seem "cheesy" to me, and the overall ride effect isn't that impressive. I think there are ways that would be so much more effective to bring the wonders of Space to the park.

    Fortunately, we have the perfect replacement that was totally neglected...the Living Seas/Nemo. The current version of the ride mixes the amazing variety of sea life in the tank with the Nemo characters, and the chance to explore the tank at your leisure afterwards is always fun. I'd probably move "Golfball" Earth up to third, even in it's current weaker version, then put the Living Seas in 4th.

    I can't disagree with "World Showcase" as a whole being on the list, but I do think that the fact you have to take it as a whole to get there tells you something. Yes, it's a wonderfully themed area that really takes you to the places being represented, and is classic Disney, but it's always disappointing to me that they can't have some better individual attractions as part of it. Without better rides, the area loses a large part of its attraction for kids...wait a second, that might be what makes it great!

    My three favorite table service restaurants would be some combination of Le Cellier (we've had only good experiences), Coral Reef (always something interesting to watch while eating a great meal), and the San Angel Inn (I know I'm not in the majority here, but it has a lot of fond memories and I've always enjoyed the food). As far as counter service goes, as long as Yorkshire County Fish Shop (my clear #1) is included, I'm fine, and there's no reason to disagree with any of the other selections!

    Looking forward to the rest of the series...

  2. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by jms1969 View Post
    While I certainly won't dispute Soarin' and Test Track being #1 & #2, I have to take a bit of an issue with Mission Space being #3 here...although I am an astronomy buff who should be the perfect target audience for the ride, it's just never been my thing. The tiny view window makes the attraction seem "cheesy" to me, and the overall ride effect isn't that impressive. I think there are ways that would be so much more effective to bring the wonders of Space to the park.

    Fortunately, we have the perfect replacement that was totally neglected...the Living Seas/Nemo. The current version of the ride mixes the amazing variety of sea life in the tank with the Nemo characters, and the chance to explore the tank at your leisure afterwards is always fun. I'd probably move "Golfball" Earth up to third, even in it's current weaker version, then put the Living Seas in 4th.

    I can't disagree with "World Showcase" as a whole being on the list, but I do think that the fact you have to take it as a whole to get there tells you something. Yes, it's a wonderfully themed area that really takes you to the places being represented, and is classic Disney, but it's always disappointing to me that they can't have some better individual attractions as part of it. Without better rides, the area loses a large part of its attraction for kids...wait a second, that might be what makes it great!

    My three favorite table service restaurants would be some combination of Le Cellier (we've had only good experiences), Coral Reef (always something interesting to watch while eating a great meal), and the San Angel Inn (I know I'm not in the majority here, but it has a lot of fond memories and I've always enjoyed the food). As far as counter service goes, as long as Yorkshire County Fish Shop (my clear #1) is included, I'm fine, and there's no reason to disagree with any of the other selections!

    Looking forward to the rest of the series...

    Thanks for the comments. I, too, have always enjoyed the San Angel Inn and probably should have given it a mention.

  3. By DwarfPlanet

    Okay my thoughts:
    Soarin is a great ride we have loved it since it first appeared at DCA and including it in WDW was a great decision.

    I am still a bigger fan of the old Test Track, I think the inside part should have been reimagined with Cars characters. Otherwise the outside part I don't think changed abit. Adding the build a car really helped in forgetting how long you were in the queue, but again I think they missed the mark when they could have had folks upgrading a Cars character.

    Mission Space looks to have huge potential, my family loves the E-ticket version but yours truly has gotten older and rides with scenes that don't match what my body is telling me make me ill now. So I have only experienced the non-moving portion, which is okay but have only rode it once.

    In World Showcase DW and I love this part of the park and the shows there. We love how the show CM's interact with the crowd. I would make World Showcase its own seperate Top X category even though it is part of EPCOT

    I would add Illuminations in the top 5 list even though we don't like the "try to find a good place to see from" set up.

    Spacehip earth is always there and I always like to ride it, its one of those attractions I just personally like.

    Turtle Talk with Crush is one that I think was a great addition and it could compete for a place above, while we rode Nemo it wasn't a wow a factor ride so I wouldn't add it.

    We've never done a sitdown restaurant in EPCOT but we do always stop by for Fish Chips in England.

  4. By DisneyGator

    Epcot is definitely my favorite Disney park, and I'll miss it as it's been 18 months since my last visit and probably another 2 years at least before I walk her glorious pathways.

    The top of my list has to be the World Showcase. It's THE reason I love Epcot. All the live entertainment, great food, fantastic music and views. And tied at the top is Illuminations, as I can't imagine WS with RoE, or RoE without WS. Let's hope that the rumors of a change are the same rumore we heard 6 years ago that turned out to be false. There simply is no way to make that show any better.

    As for food, man are we on the opposite sides of the argument. I've never even been to your top three because they seemed so .... I don't know, they seemed so not me. You didn't even mention my favorite place: Akershus. The cold and hot foods there are so different and good, plus you get to have 5 princesses doting over you at lunch, and I'll never be too old to turn that down. And what about Biergarten? Super yummy food and great ambience. In fact, the ambience is as good as San Angel, but without the bad service and bland food.

    And then to leave out Tangeriene Cafe, that's a mortal sin, pal. We love that place! The gyros are some of the best around, and I've tried a lot of gyros. But it's the baklava that sets this palce apart. They make it perfect. And did you actually put in Liberty Inn? Of all the burger places at WDW, this one is the most plain. Not even a fixin's bar. I hit this place on my very first visit and I'm still kicking myself for not going anywhere else to eat.

    Still, loved the article. Can't get enough of Epcot.

  5. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post

    Still, loved the article. Can't get enough of Epcot.

    Well, we're in agreement on that ;-)

    Thanks for the comments and your post is the reason why it's so difficult to review Walt Disney World restaurants - everyone's tastes are different!

  6. By Boundyman

    I like Epcot too. I would have a different top five. Spaceship Earth would be my number 1 because I like how its stayed on target even with the changes. American Adventure is my number two. It has a great show, but does need some updating. The Mexico boat ride was my favorite when I was a kid, but I think adding the Three Amigoes has made it a bit goofy so its down to number 3. Space Odessey is ok, but the attraction need more so I put it at number 4. I like the newer version of Test Track, but I liked it better when it was Wheels of Motion, so its my number 5.

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