In Defense of World Showcase

by Steve Russo, staff writer

I'm certain you've heard it before: "You're going to Disney World… again?" That question typically comes from a relative, friend, or coworker, and I won't even attempt to get into the implications of that query. I'm sure you reply, as we all do, with what it is we enjoy about the World, knowing that our response is likely falling on the proverbial deaf ear. Their minds were made up eons ago and nothing we say or do will change that. As many before me have said… either you get it or you don't.

"Wouldn't you rather spend your money traveling to see something real, not Disney's artificial version?" I will admit that there was a time when I fumbled for a bit with that one. Now? Not so much. You see… I actually prefer Walt Disney World's version of the world than the real one. The real world has crime, poverty, hunger, financial crises, war, etc. I find none of that at Disney World and that's how I prefer my vacations.

"Yes, but you can't visit the Louvre or see Big Ben at Disney World." True, but I can see the Eiffel Tower, visit an English pub for a Guinness served up by a bartender with an authentic British accent, and dine in an authentic German Courtyard—plus I can do all that in a single day without the time and expense of a trip to Europe.

I understand the reasons for international travel. I really do. The thrill of seeing something you've previously only seen in photos or on television; the adventure of visiting new places and immersing yourself in a different culture; seeing first-hand some of the history and artifacts from previous generations. I get it, and with apologies to Austin Powers: if that's your bag, baby, then go for it. I'm quite content to get my international flavor from Epcot's World Showcase and to prove my point, I offer the Top Ten reasons why visiting World Showcase is better than the real thing.

Reason #1 – Cost

We frequently stay at our Disney Vacation Club home resort, Disney's Boardwalk Villas. I can walk from my room to China, to visit the Tomb Warriors, in about 15 minutes. The cost would be next to nothing assuming I've already used my Park Hopper or Annual Pass today. In fairness, a percentage of the cost to fly to Orlando and stay at the Boardwalk should be factored into the overall cost. But that pales when compared to the real thing.

A quick check of Travelocity tells me a flight to China will set me back between $1,500 and $2,000 depending on the number of airlines used and stops made. That says nothing of ground transportation, hotels, etc. I can fly to Orlando for about $300 round trip. Advantage Disney.

The Tomb Warriors. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #2 – Time

The flying time from my home to Orlando is about three hours. Add on a couple of hours to arrive early at the airport, security check, Magical Express, etc. As I mentioned, the walk from the Boardwalk to World Showcase is about 15 minutes. Heck, you can make it from any Disney World resort in less than an hour, even allowing for bus delays.

My flight to Beijing? 20 hours and 38 minutes with two stops. Folks, I avoid doing something I enjoy if it's going to take 20 hours. 20 hours on a plane? Please!

Mexico. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #3 – Safety

Of course I know that Walt Disney World is not entirely without crime but one of the reasons I enjoy vacationing there is the sense of safety—something you won't have visiting any major city in the world. I've yet to read about a kidnapping in the Mexico pavilion or a mugging outside the Chefs de France (although there is that pesky bank robbery in the Great Movie Ride).

France. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #4 – Architecture

Yes, I know. Disney World is artificial. It's Imagineering's image of what they'd like us to see; but if you've studied World Showcase at all, you'd know that the Rose and Crown Pub was painstakingly designed, so from varying vantage points it accurately depicts: an English street pub, a waterfront pub, and a country pub. You'd also know the exterior design reflects the Elizabethan period of the late 16th century while its interior decor mirrors Victorian architectural forms of the 1890s. How much touring of the British Isles would it take to encounter all that? Did I mention they also serve beer there?

I was watching television recently and caught a scene of Venice. I froze the scene and asked my wife what it reminded her of and she immediately said it was the Doge's Palace—something we had only experienced in Epcot. I'll grant you that the construction material in Epcot is not real Italian marble but I've never been one to need to feel a building. It looks quite real.

I know a few people that have visited Paris and said there's nothing quite like sipping a coffee at a table at a sidewalk café. Well, I can do that at World Showcase—although I admit the kid at the next table might be wearing mouse ears and brandishing a light saber; but I can live with that.

China. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #5 – Food and Drink

OK, I'll concede this one. I know from my limited international travel that what World Showcase provides is an Americanized version of an authentic dining experience from each of its countries (in some respects, I would even include the America pavilion in the same category and that's somewhat sad). Alas, many (most?) of our American palates actually prefer the tamer versions of the spicier and saucier international cuisine.

If you really want to sample haggis, you need to travel to Scotland (as an aside, haggis will be offered in the Scotland booth at this year's Food and Wine Festival and I might, repeat "might", try it). Each of us could probably name a Chinese restaurant in our home city that offers more authentic fare than Nine Dragons.

But (and here I go again)… When I stop for a beer at the Rose and Crown, for about 30 minutes I can immerse myself in the surroundings and convince myself I'm in an authentic British pub. I know a meal in Japan is not the same as actually dining in a Tokyo restaurant but, for my purposes, it's as close as I need to be.

United Kingdom. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #6 – The people and culture

The folks that work in the pavilions around World Showcase are from the host country and they relish any chance to talk about their homeland. They seem to enjoy answering questions and sharing the differences between their culture and what they've found living and working in the USA. I'll grant you it's not first-hand experience but it's more than enough to satisfy me.

Many of the countries offer samplings of their art and history from the aforementioned Tomb Warriors of China; to Morocco's Gallery of Arts and History with its display of the science, music and technology of that country; to Germany's Oktoberfest with its yodelers, dancers and a few jolly musicians in lederhosen. I could go on.

Morocco. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #7 – It's filtered

I mentioned I have done a bit of international travel, and as with all travel, you have to take the good with the bad. Every area has its seedier side—the part of town to avoid. In some cases, you'll only discover it accidentally and, trust me, that's not much fun. At World Showcase, we're presented with only the good, the wholesome, and the photogenic aspects of foreign lands. While some would call that artificial, I maintain it's the part I want to see.

Canada. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #8 – Variety

You may have visited our neighbors to the north (Canada) and south (Mexico). You might have taken a wonderful trip to Europe and visited France and Italy… or the United Kingdom. But how many of us have the resources and time to have visited all of the nations represented in World Showcase? Admittedly, it's a mere snippet of the culture but World Showcase offers that sampling opportunity for a fraction of the cost—in time and dollars.

Japan. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #9 – Shopping

Yes, I'm the person that rants whenever Disney announces new "shopping opportunities" at the World. I can't swing a 9-iron at Disney World without knocking six Stitch plushes off a shelf (say that five times fast). However, I do believe World Showcase is a bit different.

Sure, I can buy Twining's Tea in my local market and I could probably find a sombrero and a Beatles T-shirt on Amazon but there's so much more in World Showcase's shops. Each pavilion sports its own stores and offers merchandise specific to that country. I would venture that many items are so unique that you couldn't find them in your home city (unless, of course, you live in Tangier).

Italy. Photo by Steve Russo.

Reason #10 – Illuminations: Reflections of Earth

Yes, I know I'm stretching it here but I promised a Top 10—not nine. I often say that I could close each day standing around World Showcase lagoon watching this wonderful display of fireworks, lasers and music… and it's only available at Epcot.

Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Photo by Steve Russo.

Before the responses come in, labeling me an uncultured moron, let me add that I realize that a tour around World Showcase is NOT equivalent to the real thing. There's so much more one may gain from actually visiting another nation, viewing first-hand its art and architecture, absorbing its culture and spending time with its people. By all means, if you have the resources and the time, have at it.

I'm only suggesting that many of us might prefer to avoid the cost, the time and the travel headaches associated with international travel, and to me, Epcot's World Showcase offers many of the benefits—without the hassle.

As always, thanks for reading.


  1. By Silvercat

    And another thing - the world is a changing place. There are no longer quaint, British pubs on every street corner in the real UK - it's now more likely to be a chain such as Wetherspoons, or a Harvester pub/restaurant. A lot of the Harry Ramsden's fish & chip shops are now gone, too. So I think that the UK section of World Showcase is almost preserving our history now, and whilst it offers a sanitised, idealistic and somewhat nostalgic experience every time one visits that part of Epcot, I don't necessarily thing this is a bad thing. The authenticity and history of a country quite often no longer exists any more.

    The art and architecture of a country changes all the time too, not always for the better, as does it's people. The real world only too quickly shows us the run down and the unsafe, warring sectors of society - give me the sanitised version almost every time, please!

  2. By vampireanneke

    You forgot an important benefit of the World Showcase... it's in English! One of the scary things about traveling to some of the countries offered is not knowing the language. Be immersed in a foreign land not knowing the language, or the currency, or the transportation system. You can still experience the foreign languages if you talk to the workers but you don't have to struggle with basic communication.

  3. By mikedoyleblogger

    This is silly. You don't need to have been to any of the actual countries to recognize that all World Showcase consists of is miniature courtyard shopping malls. Thinking that it's anything at all like actually being there is like riding Space Mountain and thinking you were really in outer space.

  4. By DwarfPlanet

    Kind of like going to Animal Kingdom and thinking you were in a real zoo.

  5. By MikeandReneePlus5

    I enjoyed the article.

    I think and even better case can be made for the safari in Animal Kingdom. I can see all the animals and I don't need to get any malaria shots or fly to Africa to do it.

  6. By Jimbo996

    It doesn't do you any favors to think World Showcase is a replacement for the many featured countries. Epcot is a theme park that offers a taste. It's a worlds fair type of entertainment.

    Let me do a point by point analysis of your article.

    COST - You might save some bucks with DVC (as I have with my timeshare), but traveling to Orlando is a small fortune for the general public with tickets, hotel, rental car, and airfare. It might actually be cheaper to visit certain places like China that has a cheaper standard of living. Your quoted airfare prices of $1,500 to $2,000 is not how you should plan your vacation. It is the whole package and you can find a good deal for overseas traveling with tour guide. When I looked up the airfare to Shanghai, China, 3 months in advance, it is around $1255 for a round trip. Most China tours start from Shanghai then up north to Beijing, then return to Shanghai. Or can end in Hong Kong.

    TIME - Okay, there's nothing you can do about this.

    SAFETY - There's nothing worse than minimizing the potential crimes that occur in Orlando. I have not experienced any safety problems with my overseas traveling, but I do avoid Mexico and I am as vigilent in Orlando as I have been in Paris and Venice.

    ARCHITECTURE - You have to see the real thing. It should be in your bucket list. The Forbidden City in Beijing was the most amazing thing I've seen. Venice and Paris is magnificent. There's nothing comparable to walking the real cobblestone streets in Europe. It is just as taxing as you can imagine, and the most rewarding thing to experience.

    FOOD AND DRINK - Okay, you won't get sick because the food is tailored to American stomachs, but there's nothing like downing a spectacular German beer with eating lots of soft pretzels in Germany. My roommate got sick and threw up. Also, that time I went to Thailand and was in the bathroom all night long in Bangkok. Food appreciation doesn't kick in until you're in the country for a few days. You'll never get there when you're in World Showcase countries for less than an hour each. Some restaurants have an American name like McDonald's. You haven't experience Japan if you haven't had their Japanese inspired chicken sandwiches in McDonald's. I enjoyed the noodle soups in Hong Kong's McDonald's. My kid will only ask for the soft serve ice cream and chicken mcnuggets while in Taiwan.

    PEOPLE AND CULTURE - This depends. You really won't have much contact with the natives since you don't speak the language, but you will have opportunties to talk with your local tour guide and other locals that might know English. To avoid an international incident, you probably shouldn't have much contact and its safer too. Avoid the scammers who will know an easy target. Been solicited in Thailand. Hah!!! You wouldn't know how it feels until it happened. Was ripped off at a Thailand shop once (sold a damage product without realizing it).

    FILTERED - Even at a foreign country, you won't see the downside. You won't have the time. Nonetheless, at Amsterdam, everyone wanted to see the window fronts. Another item checked off my bucket list.

    VARIETY - I refer to a guided tour. Just like you can see many major cities in China, you can do the same in Europe. See London, Paris, Amsterdam, Heidelburg, Venice, Florence, Rome, Athens in one 3 week trip.

    SHOPPING - There's no advantage in actual shopping in World Showcase and in the foreign countries. You can thank free trade. The many products like Swiss chocolate can be found in Target, Walmart, Pier Imports, and many grocery stores and supermarkets. Very few popular items cannot be found here in the USA. The advantage for foreign travel depends on the products sold. Because of the VAT and other high tax penalties, the foreign products are actually more expensive at there. You might want to whip out your iPhone and look up the items. You can save a buck.

    ILLUMINATIONS - That's a reason to see the show. Maybe you should visit Tokyo Disneyland to see their spectacular shows.

    World Showcase is nice to visit, but foreign travel shouldn't be avoided.

  7. By baylakebeliever

    Hi Steve,

    For us EPCOT helps teach our kids a little about other countries prior to some day traveling there. For instance, next time we go to Ireland we are planning a side trip to France. That came about after see Impression de France, on a visit a few years back. Even though they have studied France in school it took seeing this movie to truly spark an interest. It also helps bring back nice memories of places we have already visited.

    I agree with you about the safety of WDW. We visit WDW every other year to save up DVC points as well as using the alternate summers to see other places. This summer we are headed to Washington, D.C. so I bought my trusty travel guide book about our nation's capital from The Unofficial Guide. I was a little taken back that there was a whole chapter devoted to "avoiding crime and keeping safe in public places". Really, I was which surprised this city girl a whole lot!

    Illuminations, no matter how many times over the last 10 years I have seen this show, it still brings tears to my eyes. LOVE IT!

    At the end of the day like you said, there are those who love Disney with all she has to offer and is trying to portray and those who do not and never will. That's GREAT! It means one less person ahead of me in line for SOARIN !

    Thanks Steve, as always great to hear from you!


  8. By safmouse

    This got a "huh?" response from me until I changed the angle of the article from "better" to "different". Because for some of the categories (architecture, food and culture for sure), World Showcase is NOT better than the real thing. Nothing beats being in an actual country, eating their cuisine, hearing their language, basically "being there."

    And I'd argue part of the true experience of travel is to see the whole picture, not just the "pretty parts." Being in a foreign country opens up your mind in a way that a trip to WDW (fun as it may be) does not.

    I'll give you time, cost and (to some extent) safety though. Not variety--there's a lot more interesting countries outside of what's in World Showcase, and even countries like China are way more diverse than what the Showcase pavilion can hold.

  9. By Clotho

    I REFUSE to compare the two. I think it is foolish for my friends to try and compare or judge between the two and won't engage in it.

    It's like I won't argue with someone about "When you want a burger, why in the world are you going to McDonald's?" For my part, when I crave a burger, I go out and get a good burger. But when I crave McDonald's, I go to McDonald's. They may look similar and claim to meet the same need, but for me they don't at all. They are two totally different flavors.

    And so it is with Disney. Of course world travel is amazing. So is Disney. If I was dying to travel the world, or even a single foreign country, I wouldn't go to World Showcase to scratch that itch. But honestly, I crave Disney far more often that I crave foreign travel. That's just me!

    I am not fearful of foreign travel, or violence or crime when I do. I have money to travel elsewhere. I have time to do so as well. I have a sophisticated palette and love food of all kinds. I support other people's idea of travel, and all the reasons they might love to travel to other countries. But my heart melts for Disney in ways maybe others don't understand, and I don't have to explain that to them. And even if I could, they may not "get it" so why bother? Their needs and desires are theirs, and doesn't make either of us superior to the other. Why compare?

  10. By srusso100

    Thanks to all for the comments.

    To the few who admonished me for suggesting World Showcase is better than or equivalent to the "real thing", it was never my intention to imply that - as evidenced by the closing paragraphs:

    "Before the responses come in, labeling me an uncultured moron, let me add that I realize that a tour around World Showcase is NOT equivalent to the real thing. There's so much more one may gain from actually visiting another nation, viewing first-hand its art and architecture, absorbing its culture and spending time with its people. By all means, if you have the resources and the time, have at it.

    I'm only suggesting that many of us might prefer to avoid the cost, the time and the travel headaches associated with international travel, and to me, Epcot's World Showcase offers many of the benefits—without the hassle."

  11. By Pammer

    Steve, I think some people take your stories way too seriously, instead of in the way they are intended.

    Great article as always though...I enjoyed it!

  12. By WDW1979

    I mostly agree with Steve. I have been to many countries in Asia, Europe and Central and South America, and while there are many beautiful vistas in such countries, they have many real-life drawbacks. I certainly would not want to live in any of those places. And for me it is becoming even more local: while I have always preferred to stay on-site at WDW, more and more I think that staying offsite has increasing safety risks. I will likely pass on staying off-site even of it is a fantastic deal, and even if it is Christmas and on-site prices are high, because I want my family to be as safe as possible.

  13. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    first of all mouseplanet I belive still is a Disney web site . so jimbo 996 don't go to world showcase it is nothing like the real thing. mr russo as a author I am sure you are use to some critics . so may I suggest your next article start out something like this SO AS NOT TO OFFEND JIMBO996 let me preface this by saying ..... thanks again steve hope to see you @ the rose & crown one day .all the best to barb & the family

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