In Defense of World Showcaseby 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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.