The Wonders of Moroccoby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
We all have our favorites stops when we visit Epcot's World Showcase. When I go, I always have a ham and cheese croissant and whatever French pastry that strikes my fancy at France's Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie. I visit Japan's Mitsukoshi Department Store, stroll past the bonsai trees and reminisce about my trip to the real Japan a few years ago. The "oops, how did I get outside again?" feel of the marketplace in Mexico's pyramid always makes me smile, no matter how many times I visit.
I'm sure you have your own must-do list when taking your walks around World Showcase. I'm also willing to bet that the bazaar within the Morocco pavilion is on very few of your lists. Morocco, while beautiful and interesting, is a country most of us don't know a lot about—and while we all get a glimpse of the pavilion as we make our way around World Showcase, the real treasures here aren't what you see along the lagoon, but rather, deep within the structure itself.
On a recent visit, I took the time to the meander through one of the most impressive environments the Disney Imagineers have ever created, and was very impressed with what I found,.
The Morocco pavilion was actually the first "expansion" pavilion to be added to Epcot, on September 7, 1984, after Epcot's initial grand opening. It's also the only pavilion in which the country's government actually aided the Imagineers in the design. King Hassan II sent Moroccan artisans to Florida to design and create the many mosaics. The buildings also have religious significance, so you'll notice that during Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, the lights on the pavilion do not light up.
The main structure at the pavilion is the large tower you see at the entrance. It's a reproduction of the Koutoubia Minaret of Marrakech.
Another interesting fact for those of you who've wandered by the Tower of Terror in Disney's Hollywood Studios is that its pinkish color was a design choice. The Imagineers knew the structure would be visible from the front of the Morocco pavilion, so the upper part of the tower and the color scheme were designed to blend in and not upset the visual.
Now, getting to the merchandise, the shops within the Morocco Bazaar are:
- The Brass Bazaar – features carved wood items, decorative brass, mirrors, ceramic tiles, and instruments.
- Marketplace in the Medina – the outdoor market with woven baskets, sheepskin wallets, and straw hats.
- Casablanca Carpets – advertised as having hand-knotted carpets and rugs, as well as glass lanterns and wall sconces.
- Tangier Traders – has fine jewelry, clothing, shoes, and handmade daggers (yes, daggers).
- Fez House – not even sure if this is an official shop, but home of the traditional Moroccan fez (hat).
- Souk-Al-Magreb – the most "general" of the shops, situated right on World Showcase Lagoon with some of the goods you can find within the pavilion.
I list the shops in order up front rather than my usual walk-through, because the store names and advertised goods within each are almost beside the point. I found that what's in the shops doesn't necessarily match the store names. The goods I found were strewn everywhere in a mish mosh, and I mean that in the best possible way. The fun in shopping here is the treasure hunt atmosphere. I enjoyed meandering my way through the various alleys and stumbling on interesting visual after interesting visual.
I'll instead focus on what I think were the best treasures I came across while visiting the marketplace.
First up are the wide variety of colored glass lanterns. These come in may different colors and are made of glass framed with brass. They come in different sizes, but the most common is approximately 18 inches high. They are electrical, use simple bulbs and when plugged in, and spread beautiful colors on the walls. They come at (in my humble opinion) a reasonable price, of $34.95.
The next group of items are those made of Thuya wood. As described at the pavilion, "its unique fragrance, along with its delicate texture qualified Thuya wood to be used for decorating the interior trim of the finest automobiles, such as Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW, and Rolls Royce. Thuya grows in only two places in the world, Morocco and Chile".
The hand-carved wood items do have a nice smell and beautiful texture. The items available include candle holders, plates and my personal favorite, boxes in all shapes and sizes. Ostensibly for jewelry, the boxes can be used to store any kind of small items or just be decorative items themselves. The hand-carved inlaid wood is worth checking out.
If you want a truly Moroccan item that relatively inexpensive, you have to check out the fez hats. The round, pill box-shaped hats come in different colors, though red and white seem to be the most common. They are readily available at the bazaar and make for great souvenirs.
Steering back towards housewares, I loved the large number of ceramics available. There was a wide variety of vases and plates available throughout the different shops. There are so many different colors and sizes that you're bound to find one that would look great in your home. These are all hand-made in Morocco, so are a little on the pricey side. A smaller vase will run you $44.99, but bear in mind that these are hand-crafted and imported from your pavilion host.
For your home, there are also really nice decorate pillow cases. Perfect for throw pillows, these come in many different colors with painstakingly elaborate designs. In varying degrees, they all shimmer, due to the fabric type and the sequins.
If you want clothing, again, there's a wide variety available, all with that Moroccan flair. The are many beautiful (I've used a that word a lot in this article) dresses, most in the $50 to $100 range. One item that caught my eyes were decorative pairs of slippers. They just looked really comfortable and will run you $49.95.
If you want Disney-type merchandise, this really isn't the place to get it. The closest thing I saw was a pair of funny T-shirts with cartoony pictures of camels wearing fez hats. That kind of adds to the charm of the place though. At a time when Walt Disney World has come under criticism for selling the exact same thing in every shop, the Morocco pavilion is a place where you can only get truly special and sometimes one-of-a-kind merchandise that truly symbolizes the host country,
The imagineers did a great job in replicating the experience of walking through a Moroccan bazaar. The store names don't necessarily match the contents and the offerings are kind of topsy turvy, but that's actually a good thing. They encourage you to wander and explore and treat it as a treasure hunt. Wandering through the pavilion, you really do get the feeling that you're in a different place.
Next time you're wandering around World Showcase, I encourage you to take a stroll of the beaten path, and whether you make any purchases or not, you'll be glad you entered a different world for a bit.