My Disney Top 5 - Things to see in Epcot's Italy Pavilionby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Barry is a pretty Irish name, which makes perfect sense because my father is indeed Irish. He's not only Irish though, there's apparently Scottish in there as well and his mother was Hungarian. My mom on the other hand is more of a pure breed. She's 100% Italian. My mom is so Italian her maiden name is Italiano, which literally translates quite simply to…Italian. Can you imagine me being named Chris American or if my dad was named Michael Irish?
Where am I going with all of this? The bottom line is I was raised pretty Italian. My mom came from a big family—they all lived on the same block in Queens—so Italian was all around me, all the time. I've even said that my dad pretty much became Italian once he married my mom (He converted for the food and wine). So, when I'm in Epcot, one of my most favorite places on Earth, which country do I spend most of my time in when I'm in World Showcase? The answer is, shockingly, not Italy. As a matter of fact, I'd have to say that the Italy pavilion is probably my least visited pavilion in World Showcase. I've certainly spent some time there, but not nearly as much as I have in the other 10 countries surrounding the lagoon.
As I'm sitting down to write this article all about the Italy pavilion, I'm trying to figure out why someone who was raised in an Italian family would spend as little time as I have over the years in a pavilion dedicated to the culture and cuisine of Italy. After all, my wife is 100% German, and time spent in the Germany pavilion is a must do for her each time we're in World Showcase. However, I think that I can trace the lack of time spent in Italy to two things: food and the kids.
Here's the thing about dining in Epcot's Italy pavilion. I was raised with both a mom and a grandmother whose Italian cooking was second to none. On top of that, I grew up in New York, Queens to be specific. You'd be had pressed to find better Italian food anywhere than in New York City and its boroughs. Even now, living out on Long Island, my town has a big Italian community. The point is, I'm never too far away from top notch Italian cooking or excellent Italian restaurants. When I'm on vacation in Florida, or anywhere else for that matter, it never dawns on me to eat Italian food so we have never been to any of the restaurants in the Italy pavilion.
As far as the kids and World Showcase go, when they were younger the rides of Norway and Mexico attracted them as did the toy shop in Germany, the Pokemon and Hello Kitty section of Mitsukoshi in Japan, the Winnie the Pooh shop in the United Kingdom and the market in Morocco. Italy had no toyshop, no rides and no characters and it had food that we were never that interested in eating, so, we kind of stayed away most of the time. We visited, saw the things that we wanted, shopped in the shops, appreciated the beauty and once the kids were done at the Kidcot Fun Stop, we moved on.
Over the years, I have begun to appreciate several things about the Italy pavilion. So, let's count them down with my Top 5 things to see in Epcot's Italy pavilion.
5 – Murano Glass in Il Bel Cristallo
This is a shop that we have always stopped in since our first visit to Epcot way back when. Located inside a replica of Venice's famous Doge's Palace, this isn't really the shop to bring the little ones. It is however, the shop to find expensive Italian handbags, perfumes and fragrances, porcelain figurines, jewelry, and my favorite thing here, Murano crystal and glass.
Through these doors you'll find Il Bel Cristallo and all of its wonderful gifts. Photo by J. Jeff Kober
I've always loved colored glass, whether it was collecting colored sea glass on the beach or searching for vintage colored glass bottles at antique fairs and shops. This is where I stop for something to bring my parents back home from a trip to Epcot. I've always done well with a Murano glass Christmas ornament from Il Bel Cristallo. My wife and daughter over the years have also come home with Murano glass earrings and bracelets. It's something special to bring home from a very special place.
4 – Wine Tasting at Enoteca Castello
Across the piazza from the aforementioned shop is a small building that resembles something you'd find in Northern Italy's countryside. Inside you'll find a quaint little shop with gourmet coffees, small delicious individual chocolates for sale, and a wonderful counter for wine tasting. It's hard to beat Italy when it comes to red wines.
Sample some of Italy's best wines at the counter in Enoteca Castello. Photo by Brian Bennett.
If you don't have the time for a more in depth wine tasting in the back of the Italy pavilion at the Tutto Gusto Wine Bar, then this is the choice for you. You'll find plenty of options to try ranging in price from $7 - $13. There are even wines made specifically for the Disney parks, which means you can truly find a wine here that you won't be able to find anywhere else. Stop in for a tasting while the kids are decorating their Duffy the Bear in the adjacent Kidcot Fun Spot.
3 – Gelati
Here's an often-overlooked treasure in Epcot. Each country has a small snack and beverage stand. When it comes to Epcot most people don't think there are options for ice cream other than Mickey shaped ice cream bars or American-style soft serve. You'll be so glad you're not one of those people when you're enjoying a refreshingly delicious cup of gelato from this small stand on the fringe of the Italy pavilion.
The relatively unknown gelato stand, Gelati, can be seen to the left of Doge's Palace here in Epcot's Italy pavilion. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Better yet, grab a gelato sandwich—your favorite flavor of gelato between two chocolate chip cookies. I'm a big fan of ice cream, but gelato is really ice cream to the nth degree. When I was in Italy we stayed in an apartment by the beach in Sicily for four weeks right above a gelato stand. I was on a first name basis with the guy behind the counter in no time at all, and we spoke the universal language—ice cream! The gelato at Gelati is delicious but you can also grab an espresso, an Italian Margarita (trust me, try it), or a refreshing Bellini. Try that last drink on a hot Orlando day and you'll be pretty darn happy that you found this place.
2 – The Details in the Doge's Palace
World Showcase is known for many things: dining, shopping, and celebrating a country's culture chief among them. Something else that World Showcase needs to be recognized for is its appreciation of a nation's architecture. Each pavilion has a structure or multitude of structures that recreate buildings famous to their host country. The real beauty of this homage is that it's done with such care and such an extraordinary attention to detail. The Italy pavilion is no exception to this rule. The main focal point is the famous St. Mark's campanile, or bell tower. Tucked right next to it is the aforementioned replica of the Doge's Palace in Venice.
The Doge's Palace in Epcot's Italy pavilion has extraordinary details. Photo by Brian Bennett.
From a distance, this structure is striking in vibrant pink and white much like its namesake in Venice. But, it's what happens when you get real close to it and realize that Disney's Imagineers practically outdid themselves when they designed this structure. The tile work, the statuary, the intricate columns, and the stained glass all come together to leave you breathless if you take the time to stop, look, and appreciate it all. Make sure you do.
1 – Venice by the Lagoon
My favorite spot in the Italy pavilion is outside of the main pavilion itself. If you leave the main piazza and head towards World Showcase lagoon, you come across a beautiful wide expanse of real estate meant to transport you from Florida to Venice. There are bridges going over the "canal." There's a real gondola and some of those famous Venice "barber poles." It's a wonderful place to sit and stare out acrosst the lagoon to the other countries and Spaceship Earth off in the distance. Make sure to walk out there on your next visit. It's a fantastic spot.
The Venetian gondolas in Italy. Photo by Brian Bennett.
One of my all time favorite Walt Disney World moments happened a few years back right there on that beautiful waterfront esplanade in Italy. My whole family and the other family we were traveling with were headed out of Epcot after a long day of fun. It was an Extra Magic Hours evening and the park was about 15 minutes from closing for the night. We were headed out the International Gateway back to The Yacht Club. My daughter and I realized that we were flying home the next day and Maelstrom in Norway would be closing forever in about a week. We decided that we wanted one last ride, so we said our good nights and hightailed it over to Norway. We were just about the last people let into the queue. Obviously other Maelstrom fans had the same idea because the line was pretty long. Anyway, by the time we got off the Viking boats for that final ride, we were pretty much alone walking through World Showcase back to our room at The Yacht Club.
We got to Italy and the Venice area down by the lagoon was completely empty, so my daughter and I took advantage and spent some quiet, peaceful time there gazing out over the lagoon, snapping some photos, talking, and having one of those amazing rare moments of solitude in what's typically one of the busiest places on the planet. It's the kind of moment that you can only have when you stick around for a while after closing, let the park filter out and suddenly you can magically have the whole place essentially to yourself. It was definitely the perfect way to end the day and the trip, and it wouldn't have been the same if we were in any other spot besides "Venice." That moment in Italy will always stick with me.
I guess the question is, will a Queens Italian boy raised on his grandmother's sauce and his mother's killer meatballs, not to mention the best pizza in the world, ever make a reservation in the two restaurants in the Italy pavilion? I suppose I should, in the interest of being a Disney completist. But, despite never having eaten in either of Italy's well-reviewed restaurants, and despite the fact that I typically don't spend too much time there, the Italy pavilion obviously has its charms and has left its mark on my Disney psyche.
I definitely appreciate the architecture, the shopping, the statues, the attention to detail, and its unique waterfront representation of the Venetian canals. And there's no way I can ever forget that amazing half hour or so that my daughter and I spent there by ourselves in solitude taking in all the special Italian Disney magic that this wonderful pavilion has to offer.
That's my take on Italy. As always, I'd love to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below and let me hear your thoughts and I'l see you next time as we head home to America.
You're not missing much by skipping Tutto Italia. VERY expensive, mediocre Italian food. It's better than Olive Garden, but it's certainly not world-class fare. L'Originale Alfredo's di Roma was a fantastic restaurant with some truly memorable dishes. It's a shame they couldn't come to an agreement with Disney to stay. What's sad is that Tutto Italia isn't even as good as some of the other Italian food on property, especially Trattoria al Forno on the Boardwalk.
As for Via Napoli, we're fairly ambivalent about it. It's decent pizza, but we'd just as soon go to Flipper's where you at least get a table that's big enough to hold both the pizza and your plates. The tiny tables at Via Napoli make the whole experience rather unpleasant.