The Best of Walt Disney World - Epcotby Steve Russo, staff writer
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' 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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
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 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.
- 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
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.
Yeah, it's burgers and chicken—but sometimes that's what we crave.
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.