Okay, so now it is decision time. I have one day free before IAAPA starts, and a whole bunch of choices. I had visited BGT and Old Town. I would be at Universal on Friday night; as a coaster nut the most obvious choice would be the Magic Kingdom...but I would be there Saturday night, and apparently the park would be open to us before that night's party as well. And I really wasn't in the mood for LongWorld. 8-) So partly in deference to my travelling companions and partly through logical progression, we opted to visit EPCOT.
It should be noted that EPCOT is an acronym for "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow", but that somehow most of those elements have been forgotten sometime between concept and execution. Experimental? Well, EPCOT is completely different from any other permanent amusement park. Prototype? Well, Test Track is a prototype ride concept, but apart from that, EPCOT is not very prototypical. Community? That got dropped from the plans and is now being constructed as the City of Celebration, FL. Tomorrow? Disney learned its corporate lesson from Tomorrowland. EPCOT is clearly grounded in the cutting-edge of TODAY.
Okay, so EPCOT isn't exactly what Walt envisioned. What it is instead is quite probably a better product anyway. It doesn't resemble a community so much as a World's Fair...perhaps they should have called it EXPO instead. We parked close enough to the entrance to avoid a tram ride to the gate, then entered. Once inside, we headed to a kiosk below the giant golf ball. There, a group of information booths awaits. Each booth contains a camera, monitor, speaker, and microphone, and each booth is connected to live operators who give advice and take meal reservations. An interesting idea, although I am somewhat unaccustomed to the idea of making dinner reservations at a park. As it turns out, our first two choices were already booked for the evening; I hate to think what it must be like during the peak season!
Having made arrangements to have dinner in Morocco, we proceeded to the lake, where the World Showcase was about to open. It did, and we strode through, heading immediately to the English pub for lunch. A delay here gave us just enough time to visit the Canadian exhibit across the way. The focus of that presentation is "Oh, Canada!", a film presented in 9-strip CircleVision 360. The film is looking a bit dated...Toronto sans Skydome comes to mind...but extremely well done. One interior shot in particular...an upward tilt shot in a cathedral...is particularly awesome when you consider the complexities of shooting in CircleVision. The only sour note of that show is that nine 35mm projectors make quite a racket and are clearly audible inside the theatre. But that is quite a minor point. We proceeded to our lunch at a nice English pub, where we sat on a patio where we could hear the Japanese drummers at work.
As I munch on my chips, I'll take a moment to draw a comparison of style between Busch Gardens Williamsburg and EPCOT's World Showcase. At BGW, you move smoothly between the various European countries. When you are in a themed area, every element is carefully designed to plant you inside a stereotype of the country. At EPCOT, the style is very different, far more international. Rather than transporting you between countries, EPCOT does a good job of emulating a World Expo, with pavilions of different countries almost overlapping one another. In some ways, it is almost like a carnival, except that instead of trying to attract customers by having flashier rides and joints, it is the cultural displays that attempt to attract you and bring you in off the midway.
After lunch, as the bulk of the crowd headed for the World Showcase, we returned to Future World. Specifically, our target was "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" (HISTA).
WARNING: Spoilers follow. I'll give you a chance to avoid them. Don't leave just yet...
It is interesting how the World Expo theme keeps coming up. I attended both the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, TN, and AmeriFlora '92 here in Columbus, and one thing I remember about both of those events was multi-image slide and video presentations. It seems that expos are the one place where you see those types of presentations. In fact, I seem to recall seeing a listing in the EPCOT guidebook for a film that played at AmeriFlora and at the world expo in Seville that year. Well, I wasn't thinking about that at the time, but now it makes sense that HISTA's pre-show included a very nice multi-image slide show from Kodak that looks like it was lifted from an expo pavilion. From the pre-show room, we filed into a large auditorium. What followed was possibly the most effective use of 3D imaging I have ever seen. The theatre looks a lot like any big auditorium with a large stage, a small lectern, and a large video monitor. The entire 3D film, then, was shot in such a way as to realistically reproduce what a live stage presentation might look like. No cutaways...the point of view remained consistent throughout. The show itself was well done, decently plotted, and I must say, EPCOT is the only place I can think of where people pay $40 to be sneezed on and flogged with rubber hoses.
[Click here for the spoilers]
Okay, you can come back now.
We continued our tour around the grounds, with a visit to the Land pavilion. Rather than riding the boat ride, we paid a small premium for a longer, more involved walking tour of the greenhouses. This is a working farm, with an interesting variety of crops, most of them growing hydroponically in a greenhouse where most of the insect pests are controlled with natural predators. The greenhouse has some interesting automation systems as well, for those of us who are interested in that kind of thing. What I found intriguing is the drive mechanism for the boat ride. As nearly as I could tell, it is nothing more than a big Lazy River with water jets pushing the boats along.
The natural complement to a visit to the Land is a visit to the Living Seas. Here, the preshow is followed by a ride in a (simulated) elevator deep beneah the ocean. Or at any rate, deep beneath the huge saltwater aquarium. This leads to a short dark-ride conveyor running though the tank to a large two-story 'seabase' structure. This is constructed so as to maximize the amount of glass that looks into the tank. The structure includes a round observation area which is tiered so that even with a large crowd, everyone can get a good view. Which we took in for a while, before heading for the exit.
This, of course, is where I expected the whole illusion of an undersea platform to fall apart, as it usually does with this kind of attraction. After going through some incredible journey to get to the platform deep beneath the ocean, your exit is through a bulkhead door, down a corridor, and out onto the midway, right? Wrong. Remember, this is Disney. The exit is through another simulated elevator similar to the one we came 'down' on...though the motion is not nearly as well done. Oh...corporate quiz time here--Given that the major sponsor of the exhibit is United Technologies, whose name is on the 'elevator' threshold? 8-) [Answer]
The gigantic golf ball over EPCOTs entry plaza is called Spaceship Earth, and I still don't quite know why. But inside is a terribly twisted dark ride. Four-passenger cars ride on a roller coaster track...in fact, what I could see of the wheel assemblies, the endless train's chassis looks an awful lot like an Arrow Corkscrew train, only a heck of a lot longer. The ride itself is a dark ride spiralling up through the golf ball past scenes depicting the history of communications technology. My kind of stuff, actually. No, really, I mean it...communications technology is my 'thing' when I'm not riding roller coasters.
Well, the Spaceship Earth ride is quite a decent dark ride, though it is running a bit rough. It is also interesting because as the ride advances, you approach the top of the structure and realize you've been going all the way around. How do you get back down? Well, first of all, the track becomes very steep for that part of the trip, and second, it still winds around. I'll bet that without the outer shell and interior theming, that thing is a real mess of track. Second, since the ride is slow, accommodates just about anyone including hand-held infants, and does not have lap bars, the car turns around backward for the downhill trip. This is a trick that Disney uses a lot, actually.
Once back on the ground, we headed back to one last attraction before dinner. We investigated Test Track, but unlike so many others never did see a car zipping past. So we turned our attention to the Universe of Energy, which is one of the strangest attractions I have ever seen. It begins with a 12-minute movie preshow, then everyone piles into six huge vehicles, which are sitting on a large turntable. Once everyone is seated, the 32-minute ride begins. Well, kind of. It begins with more movie, then the vehicles cruise through a hole in the wall, organizing into a single-file line past a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs. The whole program is based on sources of energy, including this cast of soon-to-be fossil fuels which do a lot of roaring...and I should mention that if you are careless, a couple of them will spit on you. Once past the dinosaurs, the self-powered wire-guided vehicles return to formation for more movie, cruising in the process to the room where we boarded in the first place for the wrap-up to the show. Like the other presentations, the show was really quite good; it is just that the ride, and the way it combines with the movie, is a little odd. Incidentally, like any good expo show, the movie segments are presented on multiple screens. 8-)
Our last stop before dinner was the Norway pavilion in the World Showcase, where we rode the Malestrom. It is an interesting dark ride in large 'wooden' boats, beginning with a lift and a brief cruise. But something goes wrong, and we are sent down. Of course, this is Disney, so naturally the drop is backwards. Fortunately, that drop only goes half-way back to the unloading area, so there is a forward drop as well. It is a neat design as it allows them to pack a bigger, more exciting ride into a smaller space. Remember, this is a dark ride, not a flume, and as such, there is very little splash.
Our dinner was an excellent Moroccan feast at the back of the World Showcase, and we finished just in time for the spectacular laser, music, fireworks, and fountain "IllumiNations" display. The show coordination in that park is incredible...there must be AMX lines running everywhere so that the fireworks show controller can assume command of the building lighting in every corner of the park. You see, virtually every pavilion has a direct sight-line to the lake in the middle of the park, and thus everything is involved with this massive nighttime production.
All in all, EPCOT is a worthwhile experience. I had never been there before, and there are still things I missed...such as the two Innoventions buildings. I am guessing that the rest of my group figured that had I gotten in there, I might never come out. But it is important to go in with the understanding that EPCOT is by no means a ride park. It has some spectacular attractions, though, and unless you are one to visit the park and ride the roller coasters and nothing else, it is certainly worth a visit.
Trivia answer: United Technologies is the corporate parent for Otis. [Return to text]
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--Dave Althoff, Jr.