The Norway Pavilion was the last nation to be added to World Showcase. Its soft opening occurred on May 6, 1988 and its official debut followed two months later on July 5. Crown Prince Harald V attended the ceremony and the festivities were broadcast live to Norway.
The original idea was to create a Scandinavian Pavilion with elements of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden being showcased. As negotiations with the various countries progressed, it was the corporate investors in Norway who eventually came up with the $30 million required at that time to sponsor and build a World Showcase pavilion, thus securing an "exclusive" national showplace. Disney would also contribute one-third of the construction costs. In 1992, the Norwegian investors sold their interests to Disney; however, the government decided to continue sponsorship and signed a five year agreement with $200K annual dues. This contract was renewed for another five years in 1997 but in 2002 it was allowed to lapse. Now, Disney is solely responsible for the pavilion.
The sea has always played an important part in Norway's history. So it was this aspect of Norwegian life that the Imagineers focused on. The 58,000 square-foot pavilion is designed to look like a coastal village. The communities of Bergen, Oslo, Alesund and the Setesdal Valley were used as inspiration.
The focal point of the Norway Pavilion is the Stave Church. The Disney version is based on the Gol Stave Church in Norway dating back to1212. The first picture below was taken in Epcot, the second of the Gol Stave Church. The similarities between the two are remarkable.
The wooden statue out front of the Stave Church is that of Olaf II, King and Patron Saint of Norway.
As a young royal, Olaf Haraldsson took park in Viking raids throughout Europe. During his travels, he converted to Christianity and then returned to Norway, where he subdued his rivals and proclaimed himself king in 1015. He unified the country and forcefully completed Norway's conversion to Christianity. In 1028, angry Norwegian noblemen rallied around Knut the Great (King of Denmark and England) to force Olaf II from the throne and exile him. Two years later, Olaf II was killed in battle while attempting to regain Norway's throne. Today "Saint Olaf" is regarded as the Patron Saint of Norway and a symbol of national independence.
Norwegians were excellent woodworkers. This came from their long Viking history of shipbuilding. So when Saint Olaf brought Christianity to Norway, the people used this skill to build Stave Churches. The first of these structures were constructed around the year 1050AD and used post and beam construction with vertical plank walls. Christian designs were intermixed with pagan Viking motifs, such as the interwoven dragon motifs, finials, and beautifully carved doors. Of the over 1,000 Norwegian Stave Churches built in the Middle Ages, only 28 survive today.
Inside the Stave Church are a number of displays. One features another likeness of King Olaf II Haraldsson dressed in traditional garb. The fabric and clothing styles are based on samples unearthed by archaeologists and the colors are based on naturally occurring pigments from the area. The weapon and jewelry are accurate to the era. A Christian cross can be seen hanging from his neck.
The Vikings were merchants, pirates, explores, and warriors. Their travels took them as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, as far west as Greenland and Newfoundland, and south to the Iberian Peninsula and the Straights of Gibraltar. A map inside the Stave Church chronicles their exploration routes.
Another display showcases a model of the Oseberg, a well-preserved Viking ship discovered in a large burial mound in 1904. The ship had 15 oar holes on each side, allowing it to accommodate 60 rowers. It also featured a large square sail that would allow the ship to reach speeds of up to 10 knots - a stunning velocity for the day. Since there were no lower decks, all hands worked, ate, and slept on the main deck, regardless of the weather.
One of the Oseberg's most remarkable features is its meticulously carved curving prow. The mere sight of a Viking prow struck fear in the hearts of medieval European villagers who called the ships "dragons of the sea," and associated them with violence, pillage, and plunder.
The actual ship can be seen in the opening sequence of the "Spirit of Norway" movie presented after experiencing the Maelstrom attraction. As the film begins, we see a young boy standing next to the Oseberg in the Viking Ship Museum in Norway.
There are several other exhibits within the Stave Church that are worth your time. It won't take more than ten minutes to read all of the signage and look at the displays.
Disney tries to staff the World Showcase pavilions with individuals from the various countries. If nationals aren't available, Disney hires people who have lived in that nation for extended periods and are knowledgeable about the land and customs. The Norway Pavilion is no exception and it takes approximately 150 cast members to keep things running smoothly.
Many of the Norway cast members wear a costume inspired by the traditional national folk attire, the bunad. The designs are typically elaborate, with embroidery, scarves, shawls, vests, and a multitude of buttons. Women's dresses are long and gentlemen wear knee pants. Even today, the bunad is often worn at weddings, folk dances, and on Constitution Day (National Day) celebrations. The Disney version of the bunad is slightly less elaborate for practical reasons as it must be worn daily and laundered often.
The backdrop of the Norway Pavilion is Akershus Fortress (or Castle). Construction on the real fortress began in the 1290's and it guarded the City of Oslo. The fortress has never been captured by a foreign army but it did surrender without combat to Nazi Germany in 1940 in the face of a German assault. Today, portions of the fortress are used to house offices for the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. Other sections contain the Norwegian Resistance Museum.
Looking at the above picture, you can see that both natural stone and smooth masonry were used in the construction of the fortress. This is also evident at the Norway Pavilion. In addition, one of the fortress' steeples has been recreated.
If you look closely at many of the fortress walls at the Norway Pavilion, you'll see decorative pieces of iron embedded into the masonry. These were not placed here for adornment, but for construction purposes. In days of old, rock and brick walls were much too heavy and had a tendency of sagging and collapsing under their own weight. In medieval times, buttresses were often used to rectify this problem and fortify the walls. But the use of tie-rods could often accomplish the same thing for a lot less money and labor. In these cases, a long iron rod ran between parallel walls. The decorative caps anchored the ends of the rods in place. This would hold the wall in a vertical position.
The fortress' military importance has not been forgotten here at Epcot. A number of gun turrets can be seen in the walls and atop the structure.
The Norway Pavilion has a wonderful stage for live entertainment. At one time, a lively group played folk music and demonstrated festive dance steps several times each day. But alas, their performance was terminated some time ago and not replaced. I have to assume Norway's entertainment was eliminated due to budget cuts. However, the stage is used in December when Norwegian storytellers recount their customs and traditions during the holiday season.
A detail I really love at the Norway Pavilion can be found on the turret closest to the China Pavilion. If you take a good look at the structure, you can see that several windows have been closed off with bricks.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall was named for the fortress in which it is located. The restaurant is beautiful. The intricately carved wood beam ceiling and arched windows give the main dining room a church-like ambiance. Another dining room is enclosed by whitewashed stone and is reminiscent of an ancient castle chamber. And a third seating area feels like a cozy inn or cottage.
Lunch and dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is served buffet-style. The cuisine hints at Norwegian. Breakfasts are served family-style, meaning all of the food is brought to the table and everyone digs in. This meal is definitely American in flavor. All three seatings include visits by the Disney princesses. Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, Princess Aurora, Mulan, and Mary Poppins all make the rounds and pose for photographs. A Disney photographer is also on hand to capture the magic. Note, the princesses appear on a rotating schedule so there is no way to guarantee which royal beauty will be appearing on any given day. These meals are extremely popular and advanced reservations are an absolute must.
I must use this moment to editorialize. "Akershus," as the restaurant used to be known, was one of my favorite World Showcase eateries. I enjoyed the reasonably authentic Norwegian food, the lovely cast members, and the wonderful atmosphere. Sometime in 2004, Disney decided to start offering "princess" breakfasts here. This would make the Norway Pavilion the only World Showcase nation to offer breakfast or a character meal. The meal was an instant success. As is so typical with Disney thinking, "If a "little" is good, "more" must be better." So in 2005, Disney started offering princess appearances at lunch and dinner as well - at a premium price.
I totally understand that character meals are a cash cow for Disney and they make children (and their parents) extremely happy. But not everyone is rejoicing at this conversion. By going overboard to please one group of guests, Disney has completely abandoned another group. I have no children and I have no desire to have my meal interrupted by a Disney character. And I certainly don't want to pay a premium price to be subjected to unwanted table guests.
All I ask is that Disney give up character meals during lunch at the Norway Pavilion. It's not fair that I can no longer enjoy this restaurant. And as I mentioned in another blog, if the demand for character meals is so great, let Restaurant Marrakesh or Nine Dragons offer a princess meal at lunch. Both of these restaurants could use an incentive to entice diners to their establishments for the midday meal.
Okay, I'll get off of my soapbox now and continue with my review"¦
Well, maybe not. I think it's time for a breather. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.
The previous post in this blog was Pounding the Pavement at Walt Disney World.
The next post in this blog is Norway Pavilion in Epcot - Part Two.