Epcot has long been a favorite of mine. As you can imagine, I have been somewhat obsessed with Walt’s original vision, if you know what I mean (I did write the book Walt and the Promise of Progress City). I also enjoy the permanent World’s Fair that took that project’s place.
This was the first time in a long time that I have been to the park without some special event going on. No Food and Wine, no Flower and Garden, and no holiday celebrations. I had forgotten what the place felt like just on its own. It was an odd sensation.
Using my scale of exceptional/acceptable/regrettable, I will walk through my most recent experience. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
REGRETTABLE: WDW MAPS
As an urban planner, I have always been fascinated by maps. You can tell so many stories with one. A good map can guide the guest through unfamiliar surroundings using representations of iconic landmarks. The best seem to also understand the guests point of view.
Recently, WDW updated their maps so that they look like the ones found on the internet. This means they have placed North at the top. Now, on a typical map, this is just fine. For the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this is no big deal. That is how the park’s are organized. The story for the other parks is a different matter completely.
The Epcot map places the entrance and Spaceship Earth at the top. The map does not tell you where to go; it tells you where you have been. I watched as guests turned their maps upside down so it made sense. The Epcot map actually is somewhat close in scale when it comes to the attractions and land mass. The result is a rather sparse map suggesting there is a lot of open space between the pavilions of the World Showcase. I don’t think this is what Disney intended.
For Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a goofy place to begin with (no pun intended), the map makes no sense. If you ever felt the park’s layout was just an afterthought, the map will only reinforce the feeling. In some ways, you can make out the giant hidden Mickey, however, in this version he is sporting a cone shaped nose much like Jack of Jack in the Box. This is a case of where the maps were not broken and did not need to be fixed.
ACCEPTABLE: PLAY IT SAFE GAME IN INNOVENTIONS
Whether you like Innoventions or wish Communicore was back or just think these big barns could be used for a more creative purpose, the attractions inside represent the state-of-the-art of Corporate interactive public communication. I spent a little time checking things out, wishing they still had the Innoventions road maps. Those seem to be a thing of the past.
The Play It Safe game is intended to teach families about fire hazards in their home. The premise is pretty simple. You can play as an individual (as I did) or in a small group. A handful of groups are clustered into either the red team or blue team and the competition begins. Each group will be sent to a room inside of a house with a special flashlight. Shine the lit on a display and it will illuminate either hazards or regular household items. If it is a hazard, you push a button and score points. Hit the button on the wrong item and you lose points. There is a clock to put the pressure on and every few minutes you move into another room to start all over.
It works. Each team member must place their light on the object for the scoring to happen. This forces the little ones to understand what their parents may have found or visa versa. There is that second of shared knowledge acknowledged that reinforces the message.
ACCEPTABLE: INNOVENTIONS REST AREA
It seems when the weather gets really hot & muggy or it is raining, Innoventions does not seem like such a bad idea. I am not sure they meant this, but there is one spot that rises above the rest. The Test The Limits game is very popular with children because it gives them a chance to make a lot of noise, feel like they are destroying things, and gives them a chance to create a lot of havoc without bothering anyone. What better way to keep the young ones occupied while the parents take a seat near by one of the curved benches near the exit. There is a tremendous lack of seating within Innoventions and this is an example of doing it right. As an example of doing it wrong….
REGRETTABLE: THE INNOVENTIONS GAME WALL
So your parents pony up almost $100 to get you through the front gate in Epcot. What do you do? Race to Innoventions and start playing video games that are already on the market. Even though each station had a guest playing games, you would think they could find a better use of thier time while on vacation. Plus, the seating for adults is just awful. A couple of benches tucked to the sides and that is all. Maybe it is just me, but this is like watching kids wearing headphones and listening to an iPod while touring the parks. You have to ask yourself, are they not stimulated enough already?
ACCEPTABLE: THE SMOKING AREA
IN EPCOT’S FUTURE WORLD
Over the years, Disney has tried to cover up the 1970s modernist design sensibilities from Epcot’s Future World. Thankfully, they have not been completely successful. My favorite bathroom in all of Walt Disney World can still be used at the Odyssey at Epcot. Another spot I discovered can be found if you go to the left side of Future World (Mission Space, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and Test Track) on your way toward Mission Space. Turn left and you can see an outdoor space designed in the Brutalist tradition. What appears to be a canyon carved into the ground is now a smoking area with shade. This style of public space was very popular at the time. It is as if the Earth shifted in sharp angles to create a sunken garden. Kind of. In general, I have noticed that many of the smoking areas within Walt Disney World tend to have wonderful views and this is no exception. Next time you have to light up, step back in time.
EXCEPTIONAL: MISSION SPACE PAVILION PLAZA
This is not a ranking for what is inside. Instead, it is a look at the actual building. Most guests either go to the left to enter or the right to walk up the slight ramp toward the FastPass machines. In between in a plaza that I have rarely seen anybody go. Sure there are a lot of people standing on the rocks toward the front for a photo opportunity but few venture into the actual plaza. What a wonderful space. The soaring wings of the building seem to wrap around you. You also get an understanding that these structures really are wings with flush rivets. There is a sense that you are apart from the rest of Epcot, and have entered an outdoor room. It is not the most people friendly space. No where to sit, no shade. But go for a few minutes while Test Track is down. Another Disney zen moment.
EXCEPTIONAL: NEW ENTRY PROCEDURES
I stopped off at Guest Relations to have my annual pass processed so that I could use the electronic kiosks to enter the park. Some 25 minutes later, the very nice lady was able to accommodate my request. As many of you already know, you can enter any WDW resort using a paper ticket, a plastic ticket, or getting your ticket scanned. Those poor slobs in the other lines that are so long. But the scan lines were quick. It only takes one Cast Member to watch over 4 people tapping their cards or wristbands and placing a finger on the scanner. The system was efficient and quick. Not sure about the whole Disney NextGen thing, but this is an improvement.
THE LIGHTNING ROUND
EXCEPTIONAL: THE CREW AT ELLEN’S ENERGY ADVENTURE
My trip was during the time that Hurricane Andrea was rolling through Florida. I am from California. I have never seen that much rain. Wow. But I digress. I was in Ellen’s Energy Adventure when lightning hit and the power went out. I was in the final room at the time and the film was very close to the end. The CMs did as they trained, made all the right announcements, so nobody was concerned. Then the film recycled. This time the audio was off. So two very entertaining CMs reenacted the audio portion of what we had just seen. Yes, they have seen the film a few too many times. People were rolling and most of us really did not want to leave. Brilliant.
REGRETTABLE: SPACESHIP EARTH
Not going to talk about it right now. Just going to remember to bring an iPod with Jeremy Irons or Walter Cronkite next time.
REGRETTABLE: THE SEAS WITH NEMO & FRIENDS
Let’s see. The submarine ride without the water. The cartoon fish at the end are so brightly colored compared to all of the grey fish in the water, the contrast is remarkable. Big empty fish tanks.
ACCEPTABLE: LIVING WITH THE LAND
For some reason, I just love this ride. My first visit to Epcot was in 1996, so I missed the golden era of edutainment. I would like to think that this is the one glimpse into the past. I am not sure why they raise baby alligators. Could somebody answer that?
EXCEPTIONAL: CLUB COOL
EXCEPTIONAL: MY FAVORITE ONE-TWO PUNCH
On every visit to WDW, I make a special effort to catch The Voices of Liberty in the rotunda of the American Pavilion and take in The American Adventure. This may be my favorite way to spend one hour in all four parks.
REGRETTABLE: CONSTRUCTION AT MOROCCO
So sad. I can see a future where the only way to have a good seat to see Illuminations (or its successor) is to pay an upcharge for it. Does this mean the restaurant out back goes away? Who is going to make that trek when the new kid opens out front? And do they have to cut down the trees on the little island in the lagoon to improve the view of the fireworks show?
EXCEPTIONAL: IMPRESSION DE FRANCE
My favorite travelog film at Epcot. Canada is funny (I like addition of Martin Short). China is beautiful and exotic. But France is just perfect. Incredible music, a new crisp, clean digital print, and wonderful scenery. The movie seems to be timeless. Bill Zanetti suggested to me that you rarely see a car and that helps. Mostly, it is the combination of music and ageless vistas that makes for one of the most pleasant experiences in Epcot.
As you exit, the shop has been expanded to include a much bigger bakery with a much larger selection. Now you can buy sandwiches and other items and sit indoors. There is a new ice cream shop with one of the worst policies. After you pay for your ice cream, you must choose your flavor, which is fine. However, you cannot sample one of the exotic flavors before buying it. And even after you have paid for some, you cannot sample any of the others. The ice cream shop was empty virtually every time I passed by.
That is my story. What is yours?