Epcot Archives

September 2, 2014

Landscaping the World - Epcot - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead

Yesterday I discussed the landscaping found in Epcot's Future World. Today I'll finish this park with a look at World Showcase.

The main entrance into World Showcase always contains manicured hedges and brightly colored ground cover or flowers. In November and December, this area is used to display the yearly Christmas tree.

World Showcase Entrance

Christmas Tree

This spot is also used for the annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. The first picture below was taken during one of the earlier events. The following picture was taken of this same location, but in 2014. Notice how much more detail the horticulturists are adding to these topiary figures today.

Old Topiary

New Topiary

The pyramid of the Mexico Pavilion is supposed to be located somewhere in the tropical regions of this vibrant country. To help us believe the story, the structure is bordered by a lush forest.

Mexico Pavilion

Mexico Pavilion

Mexico Pavilion

On the other side of the promenade, La Hacienda and La Cantina are presumed to be located along an arid coastline. Once again, landscaping helps us believe this. Here, the plants are succulents and cactus with a rocky ground cover. The occasional potted plant also helps us believe that water is at a premium.

Mexico Pavilion

Mexico Pavilion

Mexico Pavilion

Trees play an important part of the Norway Pavilion design. After all, this Scandinavian country has a number of thick forests. To introduce guests to the pavilion the Imagineers placed two stands of trees near the entrance.

Norway Pavilion

Within the pavilion, trees can be found in abundance.

Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

At the back of the pavilion is a lovely garden. For years, a deciduous and two pine trees occupied this space and provided welcome shade. When I visited recently to take pictures for this article, I found that these trees were gone. I don't know if this is a temporary or permanent change.

Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

The meadows of Norway are represented by a garden of wild flowers found outside Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.

Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

The exterior of the Kringla Bakeri og Kafe was modeled after structures found in the Setesdahl Valley of Norway. Sod roofs were once common in this part of the country. Before the sod is placed on the structure, birch bark is laid across the roof as the watertight element. The main purpose for the sod is to hold the birch bark in place. In addition, sod is an excellent insulator and its heavy weight helps stabilize the structure.

Notice how the flowers are missing in the second roof photo.

Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

China is known for its gardens. So perhaps that is why one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Walt Disney World can be found in the China Pavilion at Epcot. Once passed the Gate of the Golden Sun, you cross a bridge which traverses a lovely lotus pool surrounded by a typical Chinese garden. These gardens were inspired by those in Suzhou, a large city located adjacent to Shanghai.

China Pavilion

China Pavilion

Care was given when the Imagineers selected the plants for this garden. As always, they wanted to tell a story. For example, this Contorted Mulberry tree tells two stories. First, it was selected for its beauty. In China, this tree provides florists with a number of possibilities. Its foliage is large and turns golden in the autumn before the leaves fall. In the winter, its twisted branches add beauty to any garden or flower arrangement.

China Pavilion

China Pavilion

But this mulberry tree was also selected to represent China's silk industry. Silk moths lay their eggs on mulberry leaves and their offspring feed on the greens until entering the larvae stage. At that time, the caterpillar encloses itself in a cocoon made from one single strand of silk. This strand can range in length from 1,000 to 3,000 feet, which can be unraveled and turned into thread. The famous Silk Road came into being sometime between 206 BCE - 220 CE. Although many goods were traded along this route between Asia and the Mediterranean, its name came from the magnificent silk textiles produced in China.

Another plant found in the China garden is the camellia. This beautiful bush with dark green leaves and an array of different colored blossoms is a native of eastern Asia. It was cultivated in China and Japan for centuries before being exported to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. In China, camellias are known as cháhuā (flowering tea) as many specimens are suitable for brewing.

China Pavilion

China Pavilion

How can we speak of Asia and not think of bamboo? This member of the grass family is widely used in China as a building material and as a food source. In Hong Kong, contractors use bamboo scaffolding (rather than metal piping) when building skyscrapers reaching 30 to 40 stories high.

China Pavilion

China Pavilion

The water lily can also be found in this lovely Chinese garden. These plants are native to the tropical climes of the world and are a common sight in Southern Chinese ponds. Much of this plant is edible.

China Pavilion

China Pavilion

The Germany Pavilion does not have a formal garden as found in the China Pavilion, but landscaping still helps shape the mood here.

To the left side of the pavilion is Snow White's wishing well. This is a great spot to have your picture taken with Walt's first princess. But if you check out this spot when Ms. White is busy cleaning the dwarves' cottage, you can see some interesting living details. The landscapers have allowed vines and other plants to grow up the side and beneath the roof of this structures. This helps us believe that the well has been here for years and not just a prop.

Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

The Germany Pavilion features a lovely park with a number of tree-shaded benches that look out onto World Showcase Lagoon. This is a wonderful spot to sit and relax for a few minutes when your tired feet can take no more. This area is also a great spot to watch Illuminations.

Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

Within the platz you'll find a smattering of landscaping. The first instance is the flowerbed that surrounds the statue of Saint George. Once again, notice how the plants change over the months and years.

Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

Hanging baskets are also represented in the Germany Pavilion.

Germany Pavilion

And on the upper floors we find window boxes filled with geraniums. Non-living geraniums, that is.

Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

The first annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival was held in the spring of 1993. Each year since the festival's inception, the always beautiful Epcot is transformed into an even more magnificent park with the addition of topiary, displays, and thousands of additional plants and flowers. If you've never attended this event, it is worth considering when planning your next trip to Walt Disney World.

One of the early exhibits for this festival was a garden railway built next to the Germany Pavilion. Each year, a miniature town and train was erected for the delight of guests, then at the completion of the event, the layout was dismantled. However, the layout became so popular that it was eventually decided to make it a year-round exhibit. The display features LGB trains and structures.

Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

LGB stands for Lehmann Gross Bahn (Lehmann Big Railway) after the company's founder, Ernst Paul Lehmann. All locomotives, track, and accessories are built to run in rain and snow, which is why the Epcot train continues operating even during summer downpours. LGB trains are "G" gauge (scale), meaning the track's rails are 45 mm (1.772 in) apart. During the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, LGB often has a booth in this area selling their wares, along with some specially designed Disney engines and cars.

The Italy Pavilion owes its inspiration to opulent 16th century villas of the Italian Renaissance. It's interesting to note, most of the landscaping seen here can be found growing in terracotta pots. Terracotta is Italian for "baked earth."

Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion

Italy Pavilion

However, the Italy Pavilion does have a few plants that have put down more permanent roots. The first of these is an olive tree which pays homage to the olive industry so associated with this country. In fact, Italy is second only to Spain in world production of this fruit.

Italy Pavilion

Next to the Neptune Fountain is a long, stone wall. Planted here are grape vines. This, of course, represents Italy's wine industry. Italy produces approximately one-fifth of the world's wine, making it the largest producer in the world. Italy cultivates grapes in virtually every region of the country and has thousands of vineyards. Italians also lead the world in wine consumption. Per capita, they drink 18½ gallons a year as compared to 6½ gallons in the U.S.

Italy Pavilion

The horticulturists of Walt Disney World often use substitute plants for the actual variety when selecting species for the countries of World Showcase. After all, the weather in Central Florida is vastly different from that found in many of the regions represented. The only wine-producing grape that will grow in the hot and humid climes of Orlando is the Muscatine grape. This grape is native to the Southern United States and creates a sweet wine. This is not a varietal you would commonly see in Italy.

Two Southern Live Oaks anchor The American Adventure. Currently, the flowers beneath these trees create a five-pointed star. At Christmas time these will be replaced with poinsettias, as will hundreds of other flower beds around Walt Disney World.

The American Adventure

The American Adventure

The American Adventure

The fountain in front of the theater's main entrance is also transformed into a garden at Christmas time which will provide space for a Christmas tree.

The American Adventure

The American Adventure

Since opening, the America Gardens Theatre has used trees to help shade the audience. These were recently swapped out for a new variety.

The American Adventure

The American Adventure

Gardens play an important part in Japanese culture. The Imagineers kept this in mind when designing the Japan Pavilion and devoted much of the available space here to landscaping.

Originally transported to Japan from China, the Japanese garden has evolved over time and taken on a distinctive look of its own. While Buddhist gardens were designed for meditation and contemplation, gardens of the nobility were intended for recreation and aesthetic pleasure. As gardens grow and mature, they are constantly sculpted to maintain and enhance the overall experience. In Japan, gardening is considered a high art form.

Japan Pavilion

Japan Pavilion

A typical Japanese garden contains a number of elements in its design. These include water, rocks & sand, bridges, architecture, lanterns, fences, trees & flowers, and fish. All of these can be found in the Japan Pavilion garden.

Water - Japanese consider water to be a life source and thus is abundant at the Japan Pavilion.

Japan Pavilion

Rocks & Sand - Rocks in Japan represent the enduring nature of the Earth. Most of the larger stones found at the Japan Pavilion were imported from North Carolina and Georgia since boulders are scarce in Florida.

Japan Pavilion

Bridges -- Bridges symbolize transition, the passing from one segment of your life to another. In other words, "We have made it this far. Do we want to turn back? Do we wish to continue on the same path? Or change direction?"

Japan Pavilion

Architecture -- Traditional Japanese architecture has been characterized by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Inside, sliding wooden doors were used in place of walls, allowing for the customization of space depending on the need.

Japan Pavilion

Lanterns -- Stone lanterns were introduced by tea masters to guide guests through their gardens to the tea ceremonies held in the evening.

Japan Pavilion

Fences - Fences are often used in Japanese Gardens to compartmentalize. It's not uncommon for several types of landscaping to be displayed in one area. A fence can add beauty and helps divide one section of the garden from another.

Japan Pavilion

Trees & Flowers - Evergreen trees are symbols of eternal life and are plentiful at the Japan Pavilion. Because of the climatic difference between Japan and Florida, only a few trees native to Japan can be found at the Japan Pavilion. Some of these include the Sago Palm, the Japanese Maple, and the Monkey-puzzle tree. Azaleas, native to several continents, including Asia, can also be found here.

Japan Pavilion

Fish -- Koi are simply domesticated carp that are used to decorate ponds and water gardens. They were first bread by the Japanese in the 1820's for their distinctive color. They were virtually unknown to the outside world until 1914 when they were exhibited at an exhibition in Tokyo. Interest was immediate and the hobby of keeping koi spread worldwide.

Japan Pavilion

Rock gardens (Karesansui) are associated closely with Zen Buddhism. Unlike traditional gardens, rock gardens have no water feature. Instead, gravel or sand represents the sea, ocean, rivers, or lakes and sometimes the sky. Raking the stones provides two benefits. First, the patterns are esthetically pleasing and represent waves or ripples. However, achieving this "perfection" is not easy and raking allowed Zen priests to concentrate and meditate while performing this task. When viewing the rock garden at the Japan Pavilion, ask yourself, "Are the large rocks islands in the water, or are they the tops of mountains protruding above the clouds?"

Japan Pavilion

Until the recent addition of Spice Road Table, the Morocco Pavilion had one of the more unusual gardens found in World Showcase. Here, a large waterwheel directed water into a Chahar Bagh (Persian for four gardens). The classic design of a Chahar Bagh has a fountain or holding trough at the center of the garden which flows into four channels at right angles to each other. The four channels are often associated with the four rivers of Paradise as described in the Koran. These waters flow to the four quarters of Heaven.

Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion

As Morocco is an arid country, lush gardens are not the norm here. In the Morocco Pavilion we see evidence of this as all of the growth is contained in small gardens or in pottery.

Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion

Morocco Pavilion

In the France Pavilion we find a kiosk surrounded by a ring of trees. Sights like this were once a common scene along Parisian streets. The kiosks served as information boards and displayed advertisements and newspaper articles. The ones seen in the France Pavilion are plastered with the works of French artists, many promoting upcoming exhibits.

France Pavilion

There is a lovely park-like setting bordering the "Seine." Although not accessible to the public, this area of the France Pavilion was inspired by the famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by pointillist artist Georges Seurat. In reality, this was better illustrated before International Gateway was build and the embankment installed.

France Pavilion

France Pavilion

It was the Imagineers' desire to create an urban ambiance in the France Pavilion that reflects perpetual springtime in Paris. To achieve this, landscaping plays a vital role. Flowers, blossoming trees, and colorful plants can be seen everywhere. With this foliage, it was hoped that an atmosphere, capable of inspiring an impressionist artist, would be achieved.

France Pavilion

France Pavilion

France Pavilion

France Pavilion

France Pavilion

France Pavilion

Jardin à la française (French formal garden) is a style of landscaping based on balance and symmetry. The idea is to impose "order" into nature. This style of gardening reached its apex in the 17th century when landscape architect André Le Nôtre used his talents at Versailles. In the decades that followed, this style was widely copied by other courts of Europe. A recreation of this gardening technique can be seen in the France Pavilion.

France Pavilion

Between the France Pavilion and International Gateway is an elaborate fleur de lis.

fleur de lis

Behind The Tea Caddy and The Queens Table shops in the United Kingdom Pavilion is a wonderful example of an English cottage garden. In days of old, homeowners would work small patches of their land and grow food items to help supplement their diet. A variety of fruits and vegetables were often planted. Herbs were also found in these gardens, but they were usually planted for medicinal purposes rather than as a seasoning. As the country became more prosperous and fruits and vegetables easier to obtain, flowers began to find their way into these plots. Today, cottage gardens overflow with greenery and color.

United Kingdom Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion

The row houses at the back of the pavilion face out onto Disney's version of Hyde Park. Anyone familiar with the real Hyde Park knows that this replica has been scaled down considerably. This area is one of the most peaceful in World Showcase. There are a number of park benches throughout the square and this is a wonderful spot to just sit, relax, and soak in the ambiance.

United Kingdom Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion

In the early years, a topiary of Mary Poppins could be found here. With the advent of the annual Flower and Garden show, we began to see less and less topiary in Epcot during the rest of the year. By reducing their numbers during the non-festival months, it became more special during the event.

United Kingdom Pavilion

Across from Hyde Park is a hedge-maze fashioned after the Somerleyton Hall Maze created in 1846. Note, the bushes are about 2½ feet tall so only the youngest of children would find this puzzle challenging. However, it's very common to see adults maneuvering through this classic English maze.

United Kingdom Pavilion

Near the UK Pavilion restrooms is a typical English Renaissance garden and a fountain.

United Kingdom Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion

Even though vast portions of the China and Japan Pavilions have been given over to landscaping, when most people think of gardens and World Showcase, they think of the Canada Pavilion and Victoria Gardens. This lovely area was inspired by Butchart Gardens found in British Columbia.

In 1888, Robert Butchart began manufacturing Portland cement in Ontario. He was successful and eventually moved to British Columbia, attracted by the rich limestone deposits found in this area. In 1904, he put down roots here and opened a new factory.
As the years passed, the pit near his home grew deeper and deeper and eventually the deposits of limestone were depleted, leaving an ugly eyesore. However, his wife Jennie, conceived a plan for resurrecting this bleak pit. From farmlands nearby, she requisitioned tons of top soil and had it hauled by horse and cart to the pit. Once the wasteland was covered with nutritious earth, she began to plant an array of trees, shrubberies, and flowers and bit by bit transformed this hole-in-the-ground into the lush garden it is today.

Although Disney's Victoria Gardens can't compete in size with the original Butchart Gardens, they are stunningly beautiful. Flowers are always in bloom and the grass is always verdant green. The Imagineers even included Canada's national symbol, the maple tree. A stand has been planted adjacent to the gardens. And here's an interesting fact for you. The snowy winters of British Columbia haven't been forgotten. During the colder months of the year (by Florida standards), the Disney horticulturist plant white flowers and white-leaved shrubberies to suggest snow. As spring approaches, these white patches are scaled back to the shaded areas beneath the trees to suggest lingering snow. You can see an example of this in the fifth and sixth picture.

Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion

Canada Pavilion

Well this finishes up the landscaping of Epcot. I hope you've enjoyed our trip around the world looking at the lush growth that graces these pavilions. Check back next week when I'll be discussing the landscaping of Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

September 1, 2014

Landscaping the World - Epcot - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead

Epcot encompasses about 300 acres. I realize that once you subtract the buildings, walkways, and World Showcase Lagoon this number is diminished greatly, but this is still an enormous amount of property to landscape and maintain.

In case after case, Disney uses trees to create a visual barrier. Take a look at these Epcot examples.

Row of Trees

Row of Trees

Row of Trees

Row of Trees

Many people, including myself, often compare Future World with Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. When Epcot was new, this was a fair comparison as both areas promoted science and technology. Today, that association becomes weaker as Tomorrowland has become a far more fanciful land than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the architecture found in Future World and Tomorrowland still has some similarities. In both cases, the Imagineers were trying to envision a future with grand structures and massive expanses. Nevertheless, there is one major difference between the two. That difference is landscaping.

The Imagineers learned their lesson with Tomorrowland. As wonderful as this futuristic land was, they found out that people wanted some trace of nature. Concrete is cold. Plants are soothing. To that end, the Imagineers corrected this shortcoming and filled every nook and cranny of Future World with greenery and flowers.

Take a look at the Epcot ticket booths. The massive columns that support the overhang are surrounded by plants. A short walk away, the main entrance is augmented with more planters.

Ticket Booths

Main Entrance

For a long time, the entrance plaza of Epcot was filled with squat planters containing low growth and small trees. This area was open and provided guests with a vast expanse.

Epcot Forecourt

Epcot Forecourt

Epcot Forecourt

For the Millennium Celebration, the Imagineers removed most of these planters and replaced them with 35 granite monoliths ranging in height from 3 to 19 feet. On their surfaces was room for approximately 700,000 one-inch-square photo etchings. Many people loved this addition while others felt it blocked off the panoramic view of this area.

Epcot Forecourt

The grounds of Epcot are magnificent year round, but each spring, the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival transforms this park from fantastic to spectacular with the addition of even more plant life and topiary. Although this article will not be focusing on that event, it must be mention when discussing the first flower bed guests encounter when entering the park.

Epcot Flowerbed

Each year, this simple planter is transformed for this annual event and greets guests with a fantastic array of color and fancy.

Flower and Garden

Flower and Garden

Guests encounter a well-tended symmetrical garden when approaching Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth

A number of years ago, a large awning was built behind Spaceship Earth. It was a desperately needed addition as shade was difficult to find in this area. To secure this covering, massive cables were attached to anchors on the ground. To help "hide" these anchors, potted plants have been positioned nearby.


Awning Anchor

When Epcot first opened, a very unusual palm tree grew directly behind the Spaceship Earth lounge. Today, two such trees grow in this flower bed.

Palm Tree

Palm Tree

From the very beginning, the Imagineers have used foliage to soften and hide the massive walls and windows of Communicore/Innoventions. Here are a few examples.

Bushes Hiding Buildings

Bushes Hiding Buildings

Bushes Hiding Buildings

For many years, a garden and flagpole sat in the middle of Communicore/Innoventions Plaza. It was removed when the stage was added behind the fountain to make up for the lost pedestrian space and provide more viewing area for performances.


Missing Flagpole

In Future World West we see a number of planters gracing the entrances of The Seas with Nemo and Friends, The Land, and the Imagination Pavilions. Once again, this was the Imagineers attempt to distance this area from Tomorrowland. Besides flowers, massive trees fill this space.

Future World West

Future World West

Future World West

Future World West

Before Nemo came to Epcot, the foliage in front of the Living Seas Pavilion played a much smaller role in creating an atmosphere. This can be seen in the first two pictures. Today, this area is thick with lush growth as can be seen in the third and fourth pictures.

Nemo and Friends

Nemo and Friends

Nemo and Friends

Nemo and Friends

Flanking the Land Pavilion to the north and south are two vast expanses of lawn. Technically, these spaces are place holders for future pavilions. Of course, I wouldn't hold my breath of anything happening soon. So to make this area more attractive, the Imagineers have planted a number of shrubs and sculpted them into fanciful hedges.

Future World Lawn

Future World Lawn

When Epcot opened, a group of palm trees graced the entrance to the Land Pavilion. These were replaced a few years ago with shade-producing deciduous trees.

Land Pavilion

Land Pavilion

Beneath these trees is a simple water garden and a patchwork of ground cover and river rocks. The various colors and textures create a beautiful work of art.

Land Pavilion

Land Pavilion

Perhaps the most celebrated garden in all of Walt Disney World can be found inside the Land Pavilion. The "Living with the Land" attraction takes riders on a 14 minute journey through tropical and temperate greenhouses, highlights aquacell farming, and discusses a multitude of innovative growing techniques.

Living with the Land

Living with the Land

Living with the Land

Living with the Land

The primary draw factor for the Imagination Pavilion is an "up" waterfall and playful fountains. Still, plants play a part in the overall design. Take a look at the sign out front. It is overflowing with growth. In addition, the base of the pyramid features a number of planters. This can be seen in both the old and new color schemes.

Imagination Pavilion

Imagination Pavilion

Imagination Pavilion

For a number of years, a topiary of Figment graced the upper terrace of this pavilion. But alas, he has been retired.


Here's a little known fact about Epcot. When the park first opened, Future World West was supposed to represent the right brain, the artistic side. This was represented by curving walkways, rounded planters, and water features. Future World East was supposed to represent the left brain, the logical side. This was represented by the straight walkways and angular planters. Some of this has been removed over the years, but it is still evident if you look for it.

The landscaping of the Energy Pavilion is rather modest. A simple flowerbed follows the straight lines of the reflecting pool. However the sides of the building are flanked by thick growth. This lush landscaping was selected to help tell the story of the prehistoric world we're about to enter.

Energy Pavilion

Energy Pavilion

Energy Pavilion

Inside the Energy Pavilion, the Imagineers needed to create an entire world of ancient growth. For the foreground scenes they replicated a forest of realistic looking plants. For the background scenes, nearly 500 running feet of murals were created.

Energy Pavilion

Energy Pavilion

Mission: Space is flanked on each side by a large stand of trees. Besides framing this futuristic structure, these trees help hide backstage buildings from guests' view.

Mission Space

Mission Space

The pavement in front of Mission Space contains a number of curved lines embedded in the concrete. These are supposed to represent the orbits of planets and other space objects. Notice how the floral design surrounding the attraction's marquee follows this same pattern.

Mission Space

Mission Space

Near the Mission: Space shop is a sloping wall. Take note of how the hedge is cut to match the incline.

Mission Space

When Epcot opened, there was an attraction in Communicore called Electronic Forum. Here, guests would enter an "electronic" theater where each seat was equipped with four buttons labeled A through D. On stage was a cast member who would asked topical questions and guests could voice their opinion by pressing one of these buttons. The answers were immediately tabulated and projected on an overhead screen. The results were also shared with recognized research-based organizations. Outside this theater were dozens of television monitors broadcasting news programs from all over the world. One channel even broadcast live from the House of Representatives. To make all of this communication possible, two huge satellite disks were positioned nearby.

Satellite Disks

The Electronic Forum only lasted a few years before it was discontinued and this area was converted into additional shopping space. However, the outdated satellite disks remained until the early 2000s. Today, these disks have been replaced by trees.

Replacement Trees

That's it for today. Check back tomorrow when I'll be discussing the gardens of World Showcase.

April 24, 2012

International Gateway, Showcase Plaza, & Millennium Village - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead

Yesterday I discussed Epcot's International Gateway. Today I'll cover Showcase Plaza and Millennium Village.

Showcace Plaza

Showcase Plaza is located at the entrance of World Showcase. This is the area surrounding the two Tower Shops. Early plans for Epcot called for a modern structure to be located here that would house the American Adventure. However, the Imagineers didn't want it to look like Disney was showing favoritism to the United States and eventually moved this attraction to its current location at the back of the park.

Showcase Plaza

Showcase Plaza

World Showcase Concept Drawing

Disney makes a lot of money by the selling of souvenirs - so much so that it affects their bottom line. The Imagineers were keenly aware of this when designing Epcot. However, early plans called for a more "adult" park and the Imagineers didn't feel plush Mickeys and Princess costumes should be seen in such grand pavilions as the Universe of Energy and Spaceship Earth. It was also decided that the shops in World Showcase would only carry merchandise manufactured in each individual nation. This concept would completely rule out the selling of Disney branded souvenirs, the big money maker, in half of the park. At the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, a shop could be tucked into every nook and cranny, but not at Epcot. So what were they to do?

There first solution was to build one large shop in the Communicore section of Future World. (This area is now called Innoventions.) This shop would be named Centorium (now Mouse Gear) and would be Epcot's version of the Emporium found on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. Notice how similar the names Centorium and Emporium are. This was no accident. Disney wanted guests to make this connection. Centorium would sell the typical Disney souvenirs guests clamor for - the same items that were sold at the Emporium. But savvy marketers and designers knew that many guests would miss this shop completely, so there needed to be more locations where guests could buy Disney branded merchandise. Enter the Tower Shops.

To make sure most everyone had a chance to buy Disney souvenirs, the Imagineers placed two stores at the entrance to World Showcase. These would be known collectively as the Tower Shops and individually as Disney Traders and Port of Entry. Unless guests took one of the smaller east or west walkways leading from Future World to World Showcase, they would walk by at least one of these stores.

Port of Entry

Disney Traders

Disney Traders and Port of Entry were designed with a nonspecific international look. These buildings would feel at home at any port around the world where they would process people and goods entering and leaving a country. In the early years, this theme was more apparent inside the shops, but with few exceptions, Disney merchandise now hides many of the buildings' interior details.

Disney Traders Interior Details

Disney Traders Interior Details

Disney Traders Interior Details

Disney Traders Interior Details

Disney Traders still offers an international feel with multinational vignettes displayed around the ceiling.

Disney Traders Interior Details

Disney Traders Interior Details

Disney Traders Interior Details

Disney Traders Interior Details

For the most part, Disney Traders has been given over to plush characters, especially Duffy and his international costumes. The story of Duffy can be read on posters located on the exterior of the building.

Duffy Display

Disney Traders Duffy Exterior

Here is the official Disney version of how Duffy came into existence.

One day, Mickey was getting ready to set sail on a long sea voyage. Minnie made Mickey a special teddy bear to take with him so he would never be lonely.

Mickey loved the bear and named him Duffy. Mickey and Duffy sailed around the world. They visited all sorts of exciting places and made lots of friends along the way.

Mickey and Duffy took pictures with their new pals and made memories that would last a lifetime.

At the end of their voyage, Mickey and Duffy sailed back home to share all their magical memories with Minnie.

To further promote Duffy, a permanent Meet-&-Greet area has been built for him across from Disney Traders.

Duffy Meet-&-Greet

Duffy Meet-&-Greet

It's interesting to note, an identical bear to Duffy was sold at Walt Disney World shortly after Y2K. However, he did not sell well and was quickly discontinued. This same bear was also sold at the Tokyo Disney Resort during this time, but unlike the U.S., he was given the name Duffy and became a cult phenomenon with the Japanese. Wanting to capitalize on this success, the American marketers reintroduced Duffy to the U.S. parks, gave him a backstory, and aggressively promoted him. When Duffy was first reintroduced to Walt Disney World, he was to be an exclusive item and sold only at Epcot. But within a couple of weeks of his debut, he could be found at all of the parks and resorts.

Although Duffy's popularity in the U.S. still lags significantly behind his Japanese brothers, he has proven to be successful.

The second shop in Showcase Plaza, Port of Entry, mainly sells Disney clothing and other Disney branded souvenirs. The only international theming remaining in this building is an overhead globe.

Port of Entry Merchandise

Port of Entry Merchandise

Port of Entry Globe

It's no accident that the Friendship Landings are located near the Tower Shops as they would provide services to the travelers leaving and arriving from these ports.

Friendship Landing

Friendship Landing

Friendship Landing

Friendship Landing

The East Friendship Landing (near Disney Traders) provides water taxi service to the Germany Pavilion and the West Friendship Landing (near Port of Entry) provides transportation to the Morocco Pavilion. Often between 11am and noon, only one Friendship boat is available for transportation across World Showcase Lagoon. Note, the boat may skip the East or West landing during this time and only make three stops along its journey.

Between the Tower shops is a vast area designed to offer unparalleled vistas of World Showcase, including IllumiNations in the evening. However, sections of this expanse are often rented to private groups or organizations.

Showcase Plaza

Near the railing of this plaza is a telescope. From it you can catch close-up views of the World Showcase nations. And the good news is, it doesn't require a coin to operate. It's free.


The last point of interest in Showcase Plaza is Refreshment Port. Once again, notice how the word "port" has been incorporated into the name to help guests understand they're on a journey around the world. In addition, the architecture is very similar to the Tower Shops.

Refreshment Port

Refreshment Port is a snack bar that currently offers Chicken & Cheddar Poppers, Chicken Sandwiches, Crispy Fried Shrimp, and other goodies. To see the complete menu, click here.

To see the sights of International Gateway and Showcase Plaza, check out the video below.

World ShowPlace Events Pavilion

The last topic in my World Showcase tour is about the World ShowPlace Events Pavilion. This temporary structure, although now probably permanent, is used to host Disney events and is rented to private organizations for convention activities. It is located between the United Kingdom and Canada Pavilions.

So how did this "not-quite-up-to-Disney-standards" events pavilion come into being?

As the new millennium approached, Disney knew this would be a wonderful marketing opportunity. Since this would be a worldwide celebration, it was decided that Epcot would host most of the Disney World celebrations because of its "international" theme. To help kick things off, one of the best Walt Disney World logos ever created was designed and Mickey's sorcerer's hand was built above Spaceship Earth holding the number 2000.

WDW Millennium Logo

Spaceship Earth

But Disney needed more than a new logo and Mickey's hand to entice visitors to visit Walt Disney World over their 15 month celebration. They needed a new attraction.

Ever since Epcot opened, guests have continually asked, "When are you going to add new countries to World Showcase?" So Disney decided to do just that - well, sort of. They came up with the idea of Millennium Village, a spot along the World Showcase promenade where nations not already represented at Epcot could join in the festivities and spotlight their country. To house the new nations of the Epcot community, Disney built a 60,000 foot, tent-like exhibition hall between the Canada and United Kingdom Pavilions and dubbed it Millennium Village. The hall's construction was simple and inexpensive so that when the celebration ended, it could easily be dismantled.

Millennium Village

Millennium Village

When Millennium Village opened on October 1, 1999, more than 50 countries had signed on to be part of the celebration. Some exhibits consisted of little more than a small area where cast members could chat with guests about their homeland. Other countries presented interactive exhibits where guests could play games, watch movies, or participate in some sort of cultural ceremony.

A bit of controversy did arise around the Israel exhibit before the Millennium Village opened. The Arab League threatened to boycott Walt Disney World if Jerusalem was depicted as the capital of Israel. However, Disney would not allow the Arab League to see any of the advance plans. Eventually, the matter was settled at the United Nations when Disney gave its word that Jerusalem would not be mentioned in this context.

A few other events and additions came to Epcot to help celebrate the new millennium. Some of these were:

Millennium Central -- a re-themed area in front of the Fountain of Nations

IllumiNations 2000 Reflections of Earth - an updated nightly fireworks show

Tapestry of Nations - a new parade for World Showcase

The Millennium celebration ended on January 1, 2001. Overall, the Millennium Village was successful and drew daily crowds. However, I personally don't believe it "hit a home run." In many ways, its concept was similar to Innoventions. It contained many great exhibits, but these exhibits required time and energy if you were to get anything out of them. Most guests want to be entertained when visiting Disney World. They don't want to "study."

After Millennium Village closed, it was decided to keep the "temporary" pavilion and use it to hold special events at Epcot. Since the pavilion already had an adjacent kitchen, this facility would be able to feed large groups and play a major role each year at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

World Showplace Entrance

This concludes my tour of World Showcase and its many pavilions and facilities. I sure hope you've been paying attention because in the weeks to come, there is going to be a test! Don't worry. It will be open book.

April 23, 2012

International Gateway, Showcase Plaza, & Millennium Village - Part One

Jack Spence Masthead

I'm going to start this two-part blog with Epcot's International Gateway. Most people give little thought to this spot along the World Showcase promenade. In fact, International Gateway is not technically part of the promenade. It lies on a small spur off of the main walkway between the France and United Kingdom Pavilions. And unless you're staying at one of the Epcot deluxe resorts, you've probably never ventured from the main thoroughfare to see what's here. And I understand this. There really isn't any need for the average guest to check out this area. But like almost everything at Walt Disney World, there is a story behind this unassuming spot. I'll begin today's tale in Europe.

Part of the inspiration for Disneyland came from Walt's visit to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was greatly impressed by the theming of the buildings, the manicured grounds, and the cleanliness of the facility. Seeing this park helped him realize that his visions for a theme park were possible. However, there was one aspect of Tivoli Gardens that Walt did not like. The park sat on a city block and had four entrances, one on each street. Walt wanted to control how people first entered and experienced Disneyland and this would require one entrance only.

The pictures below show two of the entrances to Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens

As we know, Disneyland was laid out in a "hub & spoke" design. All of the lands radiated from the center of the park. This mandated that if there was only one entrance, all guests would experience Main Street before venturing into the other realms of the park. This worked wonderfully and Walt could "control" his guests' first impressions.

However, Walt broke his own rule when the Disneyland monorail was extended to the Disneyland Hotel in 1961. Now guests could board the monorail at the hotel and enter Disneyland via Tomorrowland.

Monorail at Disneyland Hotel

Monorail in Tomorrowland

The idea of a monorail running through Tomorrowland was at least discussed when the Magic Kingdom in Florida was being planned. This can be seen in an early concept drawing. Whether or not a Tomorrowland Station would have been included had this idea advanced, I do not know.

Concept Drawing of the Magic Kingdom and the Monorail

Now let's switch gears and move to Epcot in the mid 1970's.

One famous Disney legend revolves around the evolution of Epcot. In the planning stages, Future World and World Showcase were to be two separate parks -- each to require its own admission ticket. But as plans progressed, it was realized that neither park offered enough to fill a visitor's entire day. So the Imagineers literally pushed the models of Future World and World Showcase together to create one, large park.

During the first few years of Epcot's operation, both Future World and World Showcase opened at the same time, 9am. However, because the park is not laid out in the "hub & spoke" design like Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, but rather two large circles, guests tended to experience everything in Future World in the morning hours. They would not even venture to World Showcase until the afternoon and evening, leaving Future World deserted after dark. So it was decided to stagger the opening times - 9am for Future World and 11am for World Showcase - with some attractions in Future World closing at 7pm. Even on the busiest days, you can still enjoy World Showcase almost crowd-free if you tour this area between 11am and noon.

I have often wondered why the Imagineers didn't place the entrance to Epcot between the Mexico Pavilion and Test Track (then World of Motion) or between the Imagination and Canada Pavilions. If they had done this, guests would have had a choice which area to visit first and the park would have filled more evenly.

When the World Showcase promenade was being designed, the Imagineers wanted a level walkway all around the lagoon. This would aid in pedestrian traffic and make it easier for the omnibuses to navigate the 1.3 miles around the promenade. In addition, a small fleet of Friendship boats was planned to ferry guests across World Showcase Lagoon. However, the boats needed an out-of-sight dock were they could be cleaned and maintained each night. A spot was selected behind what is now the Outpost located between the China and Germany Pavilions. However, this location would require the boats pass beneath the World Showcase promenade. The only way to have a level walkway and a bridge high enough for the boats to pass beneath would be to install a draw bridge - which is what they ultimately decided to do.


Friendship Boat


Before International Gateway, a waterway already existed next to the France Pavilion. It was modestly landscaped to look like the Seine River in Paris.

The Seine River

This next picture was taken from an early Epcot guide map, before the addition of International Gateway. Notice there is only one bridge depicted (even though the waterway (the Seine) was omitted from the map). In the second picture, you can see the walkway between the United Kingdom and France Pavilions as it appeared in 1983, before the addition of International Gateway. This area contained only a simple sidewalk lined with benches, trees, and lampposts.


Before International Gateway

Sometime after Michael Eisner's appointment to head the Disney Company in 1984, a vast new hotel complex was planned for the land just west of Epcot. It was to contain two non-Disney hotels (the Swan and Dolphin) to satisfy a contractual agreement with the U.S. Steel Company and three Disney owned-and-operated resorts, the Yacht, Beach, and Boardwalk. Here are the opening dates for each:

Walt Disney World Swan - January 13, 1990

Walt Disney World Dolphin - June 1, 1990

Yacht Club - November 5, 1990

Beach Club - November 19, 1990

Boardwalk - July 1, 1996

The Imagineers knew that the deluxe Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian Resorts had monorail service to connect them to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The Imagineers also knew that guests of these new deluxe "Epcot" resorts would want some sort of special theme park transportation if they were to compete with the "Magic Kingdom" hotels. Their solution was twofold.

First, they would create a "backdoor" into Epcot to be called International Gateway. This would allow guests staying at this new resort area easy access into the park. And second, they would complete a waterway all the way from International Gateway to the entrance of the recently opened Disney/MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios). Along this waterway, an expanded fleet of Friendship boats would make stops at the two theme parks, the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach, and Swan & Dolphin resorts

The logical spot to berth the expanded fleet of Friendship boats would be at the existing dock located behind the Outpost. However, the only bridge on the west side of World Showcase (the bridge into France) was too low for the boats to pass beneath. A second bridge would need to be constructed. This left the Imagineers with two choices, build another draw bridge (expensive) or build a bridge high enough for the boats to pass beneath (less expensive). But this second choice would require a slight rise in the walkway's elevation and the promenade would no longer be level all the way around World Showcase. As we all know, the less expensive option was selected.

The first picture below is of the existing France bridge which is too low for the Friendship boats to pass beneath. The second picture was taken in 1989 and shows the new, second bridge under construction. The third picture shows the completed bridge. The fourth picture is of the new island that was formed during construction and the elaborate viewing area created here for IllumiNations. However, don't count on this spot being available come 9pm as it is usually rented to groups and organizations for private parties.

France Bridge

Second Bridge Under Construction

Second Bridge Completed

Newly Landscaped Island

To help you understand the transformation this area went through, I have created a "before and after" animation. The buildings at the top right of the picture are the United Kingdom Pavilion. The buildings in the lower left are the France Pavilion. Note, the "before" photo is just a rough approximation of what this area originally looked like.

Bridge Construction

For those of you wondering about the demise of the World Showcase omnibuses, I can't find any definitive information on the subject. According to Birnbaum's Official Walt Disney World Guide, they ran until sometime in 1996. So the rise in elevation along the World Showcase promenade probably did not play any significant role in their being discontinued. I suspect they were retired for two reasons, safety concerns and budget cuts.

International Gateway opened on January 12, 1990, just one day before the Swan, the first of the deluxe Epcot resorts. Here is a picture of International Gateway under construction and a current-day shot of this area as seen from the France Pavilion.

International Gateway Under Construction

International Gateway as seen from the France Pavilion

Since International Gateway is located directly across "the Seine", the architecture needed to complement that of the France Pavilion. To do this, the Imagineers combined elements from the Belle Epoque (the beautiful age) of Paris with an old style European customs house that might be found at a port of entry.

International Gateway

Guests arriving at International Gateway via the Friendship boats dock at a nearby landing. From here it is just a short walk to the backdoor of Epcot.

Friendship Landing at International Gateway

Friendship Landing at International Gateway

International Gateway Entrance

In the early years of International Gateway, a tram similar to those used in the parking lots circled Crescent Lake and stopped at the various hotels before returning to Epcot. However, this mode of transportation was eventually discontinued as it was felt the Friendship boats were adequate and the trams posed a danger to pedestrians sharing the same walkway.

For those guests who choose to walk to International Gateway from their resort, it takes about 15-20 minutes from the Swan & Dolphin and 10-15 minutes from the Boardwalk, Yacht, and Beach Resorts.

Just like at the main entrance to Epcot, admission tickets can be purchased at International Gateway from one of the two ticket booths. Lines are rarely long here. Near the ticket booths are large, seldom crowded restrooms.

Ticket Booth


Just beyond the ticket booths are bag check and then the turnstiles leading into World Showcase. The turnstile hours of operation at International Gateway are the same as those located at the main entrance.

Bag Check


Once inside the park, strollers, wheelchairs, and a limited number of ECV's are available for rent. Guide maps and Times Guides are also found in this area. In addition, a small number of lockers can be rented here.

Stroller & Wheelchair Rental


International Gateway features one shop, World Traveler. The interior of this shop is designed in the Art Nouveau style. This form of decorating uses flowing lines that incorporate plant and floral inspired motifs. Art Nouveau flourished in both America and Europe and reached its peak of popularity around the turn of the 20th century. The "international" motif of this building is further enhanced with posters promoting foreign travel. The merchandise sold here consists of Disney souvenirs and some refrigerated bottled beverages to cool down with.

World Traveler Shop Exterior

Travel Poster

Travel Poster

World Traveler Shop Interior

International Gateway is a fantastic perk when staying at one of the deluxe Epcot resorts. In the morning, it's wonderful not to worry about buses or parking, and enter Epcot via this hassle-free entrance. And at night after Illuminations, you can bypass the hordes of people cramming into Future World on their way to the parking lot. I like International Gateway and would eagerly recommend staying at one of the hotels that accesses Epcot's backdoor.

I started this article discussing the addition of a second entrance into Disneyland and later a backdoor into Epcot. Here are the other parks that feature a second entrance:

Disney's California Adventure - the second entrance is located behind the Grand Californian Hotel and enters into the Golden State section of the park. At one time, a third entrance into California Adventure could be found in the Paradise Pier section of the park and catered to guests staying at the Paradise Pier Hotel across the street. However, this entrance is no longer in use.

Tokyo DisneySea - the second entrance is via the Mira Costa Hotel and is used exclusively by resort guests.

That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when I will discuss Showcase Plaza and Millennium Village.

September 25, 2011

The United Kingdom Pavilion - Part One

The United Kingdom Pavilion

When the Imagineers set out to design World Showcase, it wasn't their intent to recreate a particular time and place within a country. But rather design a space that represents the memories one might bring back with them after a visit to that nation. And so it is with the United Kingdom Pavilion. The buildings here offer a stroll through time. Each structure represents a different era in British history, but the facades are so skillfully crafted that the transition from one to another is seamless. As with all of the World Showcase pavilions, the detail here is exquisite. When visiting, spend some time examining the finer points. But before we start with the architecture, let's begin with the United Kingdom Pavilion's town center, Britannia Square.

Town squares can be found in settlements and cities around the world. They are usually located in the center of the community and were used as a gathering spot for the citizens. Typically the ground was packed hard or paved to support merchant's carts, musical concerts, and political rallies. These squares were often surrounded by meat and cheese markets, bakeries, and clothing stores. Usually, some sort of structure marked the center of the square. In earlier centuries, this was often a well. In time, fountains, monuments, and statues replaced the well as the square's centerpiece. When Britannia Square was being designed, a statue was originally proposed to anchor this gathering place. Several kings and queens were considered as well as Lord Nelson, Lord Byron, Robert Burns, and William Shakespeare. But in the end, a sundial was selected as it made no political or social statement. For those of you who never realized this was a sundial, I have included a close-up of its face.

Britannia Square



The United Kingdom Pavilion doesn't have a ride or a movie like some of the other World Showcase nations. But it has something equally entertaining - a pub. There are many places to imbibe along the promenade, but none beats the Rose & Crown. This is the quintessential spot to whet your whistle.

As with cultures around the world, the people of Great Britain have been brewing and drinking alcohol for centuries. When the Romans arrived at the British Isles, their network of roads gave birth to the Inn. It was here that a traveler could obtain lodging and refreshments. After the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons established alehouses. These were private residences that opened a room of their home for the selling of ale. In time, these homes became meeting places for the locals to discuss politics, gossip, and arrange communal help for their villages. The word "pub" comes from the shortening of "public house." Pubs required a license from the local magistrate which regulated gaming, drunkenness, undesirable conduct, and other directives. Pubs often had frosted or distorted glass to shield customers from the street traffic outside. Pubs were also often owned by breweries, making ale and beer a better value than wine and hard liquor. Many of these traits can be seen at the Rose & Crown.


Fully Licensed

Distored Glass

The Rose & Crown incorporates four different pub styles prevalent in the United Kingdom into one structure. The establishment's main entrance represents a street pub from the Victorian era of the 1890's. This architecture features brick and wood paneling.

Victorian Pub

Country or "provincial" pubs of the 17th and 18th century featured slate roofs and plaster exterior walls with stone-quoined corners.

Country or

The Dickensian-style pub includes half-timbered walls, a flagstone terrace, and slate roof.

Dickensian-style Pub

And finally, the waterfront or river pub is characterized by stone exterior walls, a clay roof, and decorative doorway.

Waterfront Pub

Outside the River Pub section of the Rose & Crown is a recreation of a lock found on the Grand Union Canal. The Grand Union Canal stretches 137 miles from London to Birmingham with branches that reach Leicester, Slough, Aylesbury, Wendover and Northampton. Along its route are 166 locks. This canal was used for the transport of goods (primarily coal and building materials) between communities.

Rose & Crown Lock

Grand Union Canal Plaque

It's interesting that the Imagineers chose to honor Thomas Dudley as the lockkeeper at the Rose & Crown Lock. Although Thomas Dudley was born in Yardley Hastings, a village near Northampton, England, his real claim to fame took place in the American Colonies. It was here that he served several terms as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was the chief founder of Newtowne, later Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the early years of Epcot, the Rose & Crown Lock contained gates (as can be seen in the above picture), but these have since been removed. Why? I don't know.

Rose & Crown Lock

Rose & Crown Lock

The Rose & Crown has two sections, the pub and the restaurant. In the early years, everyone entered through the front door of the brick structure. This can be seen in an older picture advertising both establishments. In later years, the entrance to the restaurant was moved to the side of the building and guests now enter the eatery through the Dickensian-style façade.

Pub and Dining Room Entrance

Pub Entrance

Restaurant Entrance

Inside the restaurant you'll find three dining rooms, each with a decor to match its exterior. Although subtle, there are distinct differences. The first picture corresponds to the Victorian era, the second to the Dickensian-style, and the third to the River or Waterfront design.

Victorian Dining Room

Dickensian-style Dining Room

River or Waterfront Dining Room

The Rose & Crown Restaurant also offers outside seating. Those tables that sit waterside offer outstanding views of World Showcase Lagoon. This is the perfect spot to enjoy a late night supper and watch Illuminations. Note, these tables can be requested, but not guaranteed.

Outside Seating

Outside Seating

Unfortunately, Americans often poke fun at English cuisine. Please do not let these jabs deter you from trying this great restaurant. Some of my best Epcot meals have been had here. I especially like their Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. It's scrumptious!

Like all Disney World restaurants, the Rose & Crown menu is continually changing. To see their current selection, click here. Reservations are suggested, but lunchtime meals can often be secured at a podium out front at the last minute.

Reservation Podium

Anyone who has toured Epcot between May and October knows that it can be hot and exhausting. During these months, the Rose & Crown Pub is just what the doctor ordered. Folks can stop in for a cold brew and relax and reflect upon their day. The atmosphere is congenial and the air-conditioning welcoming. And for those of you searching for something less intoxicating, a number of soft drinks are available.

Rose & Crown Pub

Rose & Crown Pub

One of the highlights of the Rose & Crown Pub is the Hat Lady. This eccentric American has made the United Kingdom and hats her passion. Her collection of headwear is extensive and each has a tale. During her performance, she will select a hat then regale the audience as to how it came to be in her possession and sing an appropriate melody. She also knows a long list of the best loved pub songs and encourages the bar patrons to sing along. The Hat Lady is extremely popular. Be sure to check the Times Guide for her schedule and arrive early.

Hat Lady

The pub can get crowded so an auxiliary bar has been set up outside and dispenses a variety of brews. Nearby, a number of shaded tables offer a wonderful atmosphere to sit and unwind. But don't for a minute believe you're having an original idea when you say to your drinking companion that this would be the perfect spot to watch Illuminations. Almost everyone already knows this and these tables are occupied well over an hour before the show.

Outdoor Bar

Outdoor Seating

The Rose and Crown bears the Latin motto 'Otium Cum Dignitate' ('Leisure with dignity').

Otium Cum Dignitate

My favorite Epcot people-watching spot is located in this same area. Four benches line the promenade and offer outstanding vistas of people as they run, walk, skip, limp, and trudge by. It's also in this spot that the World Showcase Players set up an impromptu stage and select guests to help tell a lighthearted story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. If you like puns and groaners, you'll love this show. Once again, check your Times Guide for performance days and hours.

Park Benches

World Showcase Players

On the south side of the Rose & Crown is Yorkshire County Fish Shop. As you might guess, this is the spot to order that English gastronomic tradition, fish and chips. The menu is quite limited at this counter service restaurant; besides fish and chips, the only other food offerings are a side of chips and short bread. Soft drinks and ale are also available. By the way, for those Americans that don't know, chips are what we call French fries. A limited number of tables and chairs are located nearby.

Yorkshire County Fish Shop

Yorkshire County Fish Shop Seating

Across the street from the pub is The Tea Caddy. This structure was inspired by the childhood home of Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare. This style of architecture was common in the 1500's and featured half-timbered walls and a thatched roof. Due to fire regulations, the roofing material here is actually plastic rather than straw or rushes. Larger homes of this era often had multiple fireplaces to help distribute the heat evenly. The largest of these hearths was used for cooking. This can be seen within the interior of The Tea Caddy.

The Tea Caddy

Anne Hathaway House


The Tea Caddy is sponsored by Twinings. This purveyor of teas, coffees, and hot chocolates was founded in 1706 by Thomas Twining. It is generally accepted that Twinings was the first to blend Earl Grey tea. The firm's logo was created in 1787 and is one of the world's oldest in continuous use. Besides a large assortment of teas, The Tea Caddy also sells brewing paraphernalia and a collection of shortbreads, shortcakes, biscuits, and other munchies to complement this steaming brew.

Twinings Tea

Tea Paraphernalia

Shortbreads, Shortcakes, and Biscuits

Twinings Logo

The Queen's Table is housed within buildings representing Elizabethan architecture prevalent in the 1600's. This architectural style was named for Queen Elizabeth I and is noted for having gable barge boards, diamond-shaped wooden moldings, trefoils, clovers, and chevrons. To add authenticity, the Imagineers designed the building on the left to lean ever so slightly. A close observer will notice crests in the leaded-glass window of the two-story structure. These are those of the four major United Kingdom schools, Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, and Edinburgh.

The Queen's Table

School Crests

The Queens Table sells Heirloom-brand bone china tea services. (Royal Doulton is no longer available here.) In addition, Alice in Wonderland tea sets and other table accessories can be found in this lovely shop.

The Queens Table Merchandise

The Queens Table Merchandise

The Queens Table Merchandise

Behind The Tea Caddy and The Queens Table is a wonderful example of an English cottage garden. In days of old, homeowners would work small patches of their land and grow food items to help supplement their diet. A variety of fruits and vegetables were often planted. Herbs were also found in these gardens, but they were usually planted for medicinal purposes rather than as a seasoning. As the country became more prosperous and fruits and vegetables easier to obtain, flowers began to find their way into these plots. Today, cottage gardens overflow with greenery and color.

The "homes" that face onto the cottage garden were taken from set drawings from the Mary Poppins movie.

Entrance to the Cottage Garden

Cottage Garden Homes

Cottage Garden Homes

Cottage Garden

Cottage Garden

Alice and Mary Poppins frequently show up near the entrance of the cottage garden to pose with guests.

Mary Poppins

That's it for Part One of the United Kingdom Pavilion. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.

September 3, 2011

Epcot's France Pavilion - Part One

I would never say that one World Showcase pavilion is more beautiful than another. Each is picturesque and captivating in its own way. But I would certainly be willing to use different adjectives to describe each pavilion. For example, I would call Morocco mysterious. Serene would work well to describe Japan. And one might use rugged to express feelings about the Canada Pavilion. But when it comes to the France Pavilion, enchanting is the word that comes to mind for me.

Visiting the France Pavilion is like taking a step back in time. The years between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I (1871-1914) were characterized by unusual political and financial stability in western and central Europe. Modern inventions like the motor-car, railroad, aeroplane, cinema, gramophone, and telephone began to emerge and become common place. Art Nouveau was in fashion and impressionist such as Renoir and Matisse were making names for themselves. During this time, the designs of Baron Georges Eugène-Haussman to modernize Paris, came to fruition. Boulevards were widened and a seven story height limit on buildings was adopted. This era would later become to be known as the Belle Epoque (beautiful age). It's this time period in French history that the Disney Imagineers chose to recreate in World Showcase.

The waterway running next to the France Pavilion represents the Seine as it flows through Paris. In the years before International Gateway, it had a far more peaceful appearance than it does today.

Seine River (old picture)

Seine River (new picture)

Guests touring World Showcase counterclockwise enter the France Pavilion via a pedestrian bridge. This overpass recalls the old Pont des Arts, the first metal bridge in Paris.

Pont des Arts Bridge (Epcot)

Pont des Arts Bridge (Paris)

If you arrive at the France Pavilion at opening (11am), you might be greeted by French cast members proudly displaying Drapeau Tricolore (Tricolor Flag) or singing and waving joyously to welcome you to their Epcot country.

France Pavilion Cast Members

France Pavilion Cast Members

When crossing the "Pont des Arts" bridge that leads to the France Pavilion, be sure to look down on the banks of the Seine. Here you can see an easel and painting. If you study it carefully, you'll notice a budding artist is painting an impressionistic interpretation of International Gateway across the river. Once across the bridge, you can find another artist has also been struck by the beauty of the area.

Banks of the Seine

Oil Painting

International Gateway

Oil Painting

Pont des Arts Bridge

Just like in the real Paris, tourists can't help but notice the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance. Built at approximately 1/10 scale of the original, this 69 foot recreation (sitting atop a 34 foot high building) uses forced perspective to make it appear larger than it actually is. The Imagineers used blueprints from Gustave Eiffel's 1889 original to design their model. So detailed is this recreation that a close observer might notice tiny elevators and turn-of-the century beacon lights.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Before I continue, I would like to answer a question that I am frequently asked. "Why aren't there any people in your pictures? Do you have special access to the parks?"

I have no special privileges. As far as Disney is concerned, I'm just an average guest (unless I've been invited to a press event.) I do nothing that any of you can't do - if you're willing to take the time and expend the energy.

In the case of the France Pavilion, I arrived at International Gateway ten minutes before World Showcase officially opened. Once the rope was dropped, granting me access to the countries, I was at the front of the pack. I walked quickly and safely toward the pavilion, snapping pictures all the way. Since I knew that the vast majority of my fellow early-birds were heading for Boulangerie Patisserie to secure a delicious pastry, I needed to shoot the outside courtyard and seating area for this eatery before they could make their purchases and settle in. After that, I dashed from building to building, and interior to interior, taking pictures as fast as I could. I knew that I had about 20-30 minutes of people-free opportunities to get the shots I wanted.

Like I said, you could do this too - if you wanted to give up some of your valuable touring time for the sake of people-less pictures. But is that what you really want to do on your vacation? Probably not.

When you first set eyes on the France Pavilion, it's difficult to decide what to discover first. The rich architecture, the manicured landscaping, the multitude of colors, and the layers of texture are mind boggling. The foot of the "Pont des Arts" bridge is a wonderful spot to stop and take it all in.

France Pavilion

The city of Paris is represented by the main thoroughfare of the pavilion (as seen in the above picture). The small towns and provinces of France can be discovered on Le Petite Rue, a small street found in the back of the pavilion.

Le Petite Rue

Le Petite Rue

Some of you might have noticed the ugly green metal boxes lining the wall that separates the pavilion from World Showcase Lagoon. In Paris, boxes similar to these line the embankments of the Seine. Containing rare books, artwork, and modern-day souvenirs, bouquinistes (secondhand booksellers) hawk their wares from these boxes, just like their ancestors have been doing since the 1500's. Note, nothing is sold from these boxes at the France Pavilion.

Green Merchant Boxes - Closed

Green Merchant Box - Open

More street vendors can be found in this same vicinity. For a few francs (okay, for a few dollars), artists will draw your caricature or personalize a parasol. And if your gastronomical pallet needs to be satisfied, you can sample a glass of French wine or indulge in a crépe, espresso, or cappuccino at a nearby booth.

Merchant Stall

Cast Member and Parasol

Merchant Booth

Kiosks, like the ones seen in these next two pictures, are a prominent sight along Parisian streets. They serve as information boards, advertisements, and newspaper stands. The ones seen in the France Pavilion are plastered with the works of French artists, many promoting upcoming exhibits.



There is a lovely park-like setting bordering the "Seine." Although not accessible to the public, this area of the France Pavilion was inspired by the famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by pointillist artist Georges Seurat. In reality, this was better illustrated before International Gateway was build and the embankment installed.

Banks of the Seine

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

It was the Imagineers' desire to create an urban ambiance in the France Pavilion that reflects perpetual springtime in Paris. To achieve this, landscaping plays a vital role. Flowers, blossoming trees, and colorful plants can be seen everywhere. With this foliage, it was hoped that an atmosphere, capable of inspiring an impressionist artist, would be achieved.

Flower Pots

Flower Bed

Flowering Trees and Fountain

Flowering Trees and Kiosk

Hanging Flower Baskets

Jardin à la française (French formal garden) is a style of landscaping based on balance and symmetry. The idea is to impose "order" into nature. This style of gardening reached its apex in the 17th century when landscape architect André Le Nôtre used his talents at Versailles. In the decades that followed, this style was widely copied by other courts of Europe. A recreation of this gardening technique can be seen in the France Pavilion.

French formal garden

Four Disney characters are on hand at the France Pavilion to pose for pictures. Marie from the "The Aristocats" and Aurora from "Sleeping Beauty" meet guests near the kiosk at the foot of the "Pont des Arts" bridge. Belle and Beast from "Beauty and the Beast" greet guests at a location between the France and Morocco Pavilions. A sign board in these areas list the times.



That's it for Part One of my France Pavilion review. Check back tomorrow for Part Two and my video.

November 17, 2010

Letter Perfect - Epcot - Part Three

Today I'll be discussing the various typefaces used at Epcot.

Epcot Center Font

Epcot went through several name changes. First there was EPCOT Center. Then, in 1994 the named changed to Epcot 94 and the following year, Epcot 95. But it's expensive to change a park's name annually so in 1996 a new logo was introduced. The font went from a bold sans-serif typeface to a thinner serif font with some creative artwork thrown in for good measure. The "O" became a globe and the "C" became the bracket holding the globe.

Epcot Font

In the early years, only one font was used in Future World to designate all of the pavilions. Although the colors and presentation would change from building to building, the letter's shapes remained constant.

Future World Fonts

Today, all of the pavilions sport their own, individual fonts, but the directional markers found throughout Future World still use the original typeface.

Signpost Font

Let's start our tour of Future World with Spaceship Earth. In some respects, this font is similar to the original EPCOT Center font - thick, sans-serif letters. One of the most obvious changes is they are slightly italicized. Of course SIEMENS, the attraction's sponsor, uses its corporate typeface.

Spaceship Earth Font

Spaceship Earth Font

Innoventions recently received a new font. It's playful and inviting and hopefully will make you curious enough to venture inside.

Innoventions Font

Once inside Innoventions, there are a host of activities to enjoy. Here are just a sample of the interesting signs and letters you'll encounter.

This first sign is pretty straightforward. "Where's" and "the" both use hot colors and the word "Fire?" has flames drawn one each letter.

Innoventions Font

The Velcro Exhibit is silly and calls for a cartoonish style. Notice that all three words use a different typeface.

Innoventions Font

Check out this next sign. Note how the letters look like they're being blown by the wind.

Innoventions Font

This next font plays double-duty. First, the title calls for a grand typeface. This is a "great" adventure and it requires impressive letters. But in addition, people take their money very seriously. Even though the attraction uses a cute piggy bank, the font still represents stability - something you want when trusting someone with your hard-earned cash.

Innoventions Font

The "Electric Umbrella" has two distinct signs. The interior sign appropriately uses neon lighting inside the letters to play up the "electric" element of the name. The exterior sign also highlights this feature, but in a more subtle way. Take a look inside the letters. You can see "current" drawn in.

Electric Umbrella Font

Electric Umbrella Font

Besides the obvious gears incorporated into the "Mouse Gear" sign, the letters are made out of a textured metal to emphasize the industrial nature of the name.

Mouse Gear Font

"Club Cool" uses a "cool" font. It's that simple.

Club Cool Font

The lettering for "THE SEAS with Nemo & Friends" is the exact same font used in the movie posters for "FINDING NEMO." The letters' colors were selected because they match clownfish Nemo. This allows guests to easily associate the film with the attraction.

THE SEAS with Nemo & Friends Font

Although the letters are thinner, much of the lettering inside the pavilion is very similar to the title out front.

THE SEAS with Nemo & Friends Font

Bruce the shark lives in an area of the ocean that contains quite a bit of junk, including a sunken submarine. He's labeled his home with a collection of discarded signs. If you look closely, the middle sign once said "Club" and the "Cl" has been painted over with an "S" to create "Sub."

THE SEAS with Nemo & Friends Font

At one time, "The Land" was sponsored by Nestles. Although not identical, the typeface used on this pavilion is very similar to its former underwriter. But more than shape, color plays a part in this sign's story. "The" uses green letters. "Land" sports brownish-orange letters. And the background is blue. All of these are "planet earth" colors.

The Land Entrance Sign

"Soarin'" uses several tricks to make us think of flight. First, the letters are blue to indicate the sky. A darker shade than "skyblue" was selected so the characters would contrast better against the white clouds. The font leans to the right, giving us the feeling of movement. And finally, an arc reaches to the clouds, symbolizing flight.

Soarin' Sign

Color and letter placement help tell the story of the "SUNSHINE Seasons" food court. The word "SUNSHINE" uses a very thin, sans-serif font to signify the rays of the sun. "Seasons" uses green letters to represent plantlife and is set atop autumn colors.

SUNSHINE Seasons Sign

This sign out front of the Imagination Pavilion is designed to look like a giant camera lens. The word "IMAGINATION" uses a very thin, sans-serif font. This was done so the letters would match the calibration hash-marks on the opposite side of the lens.

Imagination Sign

The font used on the "Journey into Imagination" attraction is a bold sans-serif font. Normally, such a typeface would be enough to grab our attention. But in this case, the letters are downplayed in favor of other factors. First, the white letters are placed on a colorful background with a grid that matches the pavilion's pyramid. The banner is placed slightly askew, giving it a feel of informality. And finally, Figment can be seen adding his own touches to the sign.

Imagination Sign

The "ImageWorks" sign uses one of the most ingenious fonts at Walt Disney World. A collection of gizmos, gadgets, and things have been woven together to create crazy letters. This lets us know a world of exploration lies ahead.

ImageWorks Sign

The font for "Test Track" is simple. However, the fact that the letters lean to the right makes our mind think motion. Also, the letters are supported by a structure that creates the look of a roadway.

Test Track Font

A second typeface is used at the "Test Track" pavilion. This lettering has a slight stencil look to it. This forces our mind to believe that this is an industrial facility.

Test Track Font

Test Track Font

"Mission: Space" has a very futuristic font. Notice how the "S" and "P" and the "C" and "E" are joined together at the top.

Mission Space Sign

A second, more contemporary font was created for the "International Space Training Center." On it's own, you probably wouldn't give this lettering a second glance. It's the surrounding artwork that gives it a galactic aura.

International Space Training Center Sign

The typeface for "Universe of Energy" is simple and clean - just like we wished energy could be.

Universe of Energy Sign

On the other hand, the font used for "Ellen's Energy Adventure" is fun, as the Imagineers hope you'll find the show.

Ellen's Energy Adventure Sign

Coming up with fonts for the World Showcase nations would not pose too much of a challenge. Dozens already existed that conveyed the charm and feel of these far off locales. But coming up with a typeface that would project an international flavor without singling out a particular nation would prove a little more challenging. Below is the logo selected to represent this area of EPCOT Center in the early years.

World Showcase Font

Unlike the pavilions in Future World, most of the countries of World Showcase do not have signs out front designating their nationality. The Imagineers hoped their design would be sufficient to tell the guests where they are. The first stop in our journey around the world will be in Canada.

The "O'Canada!" movie has two fonts. The first is the clean lettering found out front of the pavilion. Notice how "Circle Vision" curves downward in the middle. This helps guests understand that the movie is presented in 360°.


O'Canada is shown deep in a mine so it's appropriate the signage look like it was created out of old timbers.


The large hotel in the Canada Pavilion is representative of those built by the national railroad as the country expanded westward. These were elegant hostleries which offered fine accomodations and services. The font for "Le Cellier" Steakhouse reeks sophistication and style.

Le Cellier Sign

"Victoria Gardens" are manicured and formal. Not a blade of grass is out of place nor a bloom left on a branch after it's time. The letterface here is stately and dignified.

Victoria Gardens Sign

The "United Kingdom" has numerous signs - far too many to display them all here. The "Rose & Crown" sports a somewhat formal font in gold letters. This style is commonly seen on such establishments in England.

Rose & Crown Font

A number of the shops in the UK Pavilion display decorative signs. The typefaces used could be considered "Old English" or "Old World."

United Kingdom Font

United Kingdom Font

"The Queen's Table" recalls royalty and demands an elegant font. A script seems to fit this bill nicely.

Queen's Table Sign

The France Pavilion represents the Belle Époque or Beautiful Age. The architecture here recalls the designs of Baron Georges Eugene Haussman and represents the last half of the 19th century. All of the lettering is authentic to this era and a great variety is used.

France Font

France Font

France Font

Art Nouveau fonts, similar to that used on the Paris Metro signage, can also be seen on several signs in the France Pavilion.

France Font

France Font

A few of the signs in the Morocco Pavilion use a stylized form of traditional Latin letters to give the feel of the Arabic alphabet like at the Tangierine Café.

Tangierine Café Font

Other signs list the name of the shop or restaurant in both a stylized font and in actual Arabic.

Morocco Font

Morocco Font

Morocco Font

Mitsukoshi is the predominate participant in the Japan Pavilion. They sponsor the Department Store, Teppan Edo, and Tokyo Dining. In all three cases, the Latin letters barely hint at Asian characters. However, notice the variance in the actual Japanese letters. These are two different forms of writing used in Japan.

Mitsukoshi Sign

Teppan Edo Sign

Tokyo Dining Font

On the other hand, Yakitori House uses a much stronger stylization in its lettering.

Yakitori House Font

If you study this exit sign closely, you'll notice it looks like it was written on rice paper.

Japan Exit Sign

Although several different "stately" fonts are used in the American Adventure, it's more interesting to note the signs' coloring. For the most part, all of the signs in this area are white with gold lettering. This is even true inside the pavilion.

American Adventure Font

American Adventure Font

American Adventure Font

In Morocco, Japan, and China, most Americans are unfamiliar with their words and alphabet, but that's not the case in the Italy Pavilion. Here, the Imagineers used Italian terms since Americans can usually pick out a word or two that is similar enough to understand.

Italy Font

Italy Font

Italy Font

Italy Font

Unlike the Italy Pavilion that uses many different styles of typeface, the Germany Pavilion almost exclusively uses "Old World" fonts. But similar to Italy, an American can often pick out a word that helps them understand the merchandise inside.

Germany Font

Germany Font

Germany Font

African Outpost is a poor area. The signs here use old wood and in many cases, are hand painted.

African Outpost Font

African Outpost Font

Notice how this entrepreneur used the existing "Outpost" sign and with a little paint created a new merchandising stand.

African Outpost Font

It's also obvious by the many crates and machines scattered around his establishment as to what product the merchant specializes in.

Coca Cola Font

This largest sign in the China Pavilion uses a simple serif font for all of the words except China. "China" looks as if it was painted with a brush using an ancient art form of calligraphy writing called Shuta.

China Font

Other signs in China use stylized Latin letters alongside Chinese characters.

China Font

China Font

A number of the signs in the Norway Pavilion used stylized fonts to make you think of Scandinavia while others are extremely plain and simple.

Norway Font

Norway Font

Norway Font

Norway Font

Like the many other nations at World Showcase, the Mexico Pavilion uses stylized typefaces to transport us South of the Boarder.

Mexico Sign

Mexico Sign

Mexico Sign

That's it for Epcot. Check back tomorrow for my final blog about fonts at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

October 12, 2010

Universe of Energy

Energy Logo

Do you know why the Universe of Energy Pavilion is located where it is in Future World?

During the planning stages of Epcot, the Imagineers had a different concept for the Energy Pavilion. Early ideas called for a "solar energy exhibit" that would feature a large building sporting a solar dish and a parabolic shaped mirror that would concentrate sunlight into a superheated receptacle. These can be seen in the concept drawing below.

Concept Art

When Exxon came on board as the pavilion's sponsor, they wanted to place less emphasis on solar power and more on fossil fuels. In the end, a more balanced look was conceived that covered a broad spectrum of energy options. However, the Imagineers still wanted to demonstrate the advantages of clean solar power. After much thought, they eventually abandoned the solar dish in favor of photovoltaic cells--which convert light directly into electricity.

Photovoltaic cells

It's important when harnessing solar power to maximize sunlight exposure. To achieve optimal conditions, technicians studied the arcing sun in Orlando for a year and finally determined that a due south orientation with a roof tilted at 30° from horizontal would do the trick. It was then determined that the northeast corner of Future World would be the best spot for the Universe of Energy.

The Energy Pavilion is 20 feet high above the entry doors and 60 feet high at the rear of the building. Atop the roof are 80,000 three-inch, wafer-shaped solar collectors situated in 2,200 panels. At optimum times of the day, these cells create 77 kilowatts of DC current that is then converted into AC current. This electricity is used to help power the battery operated ride vehicles. It's estimated that 15% of the attractions power comes from these photovoltaic cells. The triangle-shaped building (although actually a square when viewed from above) has more than 180,000 mirrors that add beauty to the structure and enhance the concept of solar power. The side panels of the building are painted in shades of red, orange, and yellow to signify fire or energy.

Universe of Energy Exterior

Universe of Energy was an Epcot opening day attraction (October 1, 1982) and underwent a major refurbishment in 1996. The original show was very serious as was most of Epcot in the 1980's and early '90's. But in typical Disney fashion, the Imagineers tried to educate us while at the same time, entertain us.

One of the most memorable features of the first incarnation of this attraction was the eight minute preshow featuring the "Kinetic Mosaic." The Kinetic Mosaic consisted of 100 three-sided panels arranged in four rows of 25. This "mosaic" screen measured approximately 15x90 feet. Two sides of each panel were covered in a white coating suitable to act as a projection screen. The third side was coated in a non-reflective black. Each panel was connected to a servomotor which allowed it to rotate right and left. As five projectors presented a movie detailing our many energy options, these panels occasionally rotated to add a new dimension to the film presentation. This screen was the brainchild of Czech film director Emil Radok who also directed the movie. The preshow ended with a great song, "Energy (You Make the World Go 'Round)." This piece was written by Bob Moline and sung by John Joyce.

Kinetic Mosaic

Kinetic Mosaic

After the preshow, guests were directed into Theater 1 where they boarded one of six vehicles, each capable of seating 97 people. After safety announcements were made and the lights dimmed, the vehicles, all sitting atop a giant turntable, rotated 180° (on a cushion of air) to face a movie screen measuring 157 feet wide by 32 feet tall. Here, guests viewed a four minute hand-animated film that depicted the beginnings of life on earth and the formation of fossil fuels. We were told that much of the earth's present supply of energy was created during this primeval era when great reptiles ruled the land. This gave us a nice transition from the film to the AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs we were about to see. The film was narrated by Peter Thomas.

Entering Theater 1

When the movie completed, the turntable rotated back 90° and a large, soundproof dividing wall (12 feet x 92 feet x12 inches) was lowered into the floor, clearing the way for our journey back to a primeval world inhabited by dinosaurs.

Entering Primeval Diorama

At the time, this "moving theater" represented a giant leap forward in amusement park transportation. Never before had so many people been transported all at one time. And to top it off, there was no visible track. Instead, a 1/8 inch thick wire is imbedded in the floor following a designated path. Onboard computers sense the wire which emits a low-level radio frequency and guides the vehicles through the attraction.

For power, each vehicle carries eight automotive batteries. Of course, these batteries need to be recharged frequently so within the attraction's two turntables are "charging plates" that contain electromagnets. The magnets work in conjunction with onboard magnets that create an electric current that is transferred to the vehicle's batteries. No actual physical connection is made between the charging plates in the floor and the onboard magnets. This technology, although improved, can also be seen on the Great Movie Ride and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

In the Primeval Diorama section of the attraction, the Imagineers recreated this prehistoric era with great care and precision. Fossil references where used to accurately recreate leaf patterns and needle clusters, even in areas too remote for most guests to notice. Lightweight foam and plastic was used for the creation of many of the plants and the materials mimic the actual movement of foliage in the wind.

Imagineer at Work

Imagineer at Work

It's also in the Primeval Diorama that the "theater" breaks apart and the vehicles move to create a single-file line through the swampy landscape. This configuration affords everyone an optimal view of the dinosaurs. Once your vehicle starts moving, it takes approximately seven minutes to travel through this section of the attraction.

If some of the dinosaurs look familiar, that's because Disney had already created similar scenes for the "Ford Magic Skyway" attraction at the New York World's Fair and later in the "Primeval World" diorama added to the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad in Anaheim.




Here is a list of the dinosaurs seen in the Universe of Energy.

" Dragonfly
" Large Millipede
" Edaphosaurus
" Brontosaurus
" Trachodon
" Allosaurus
" Stegosaurus
" Pteranodon
" Ornithomimus
" Elasmosaurus

Most people don't realize that they are actually traveling through five geologic periods representing 300 million years. These include Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. In many cases, the differences are subtle, but important when trying to convey the passage of time necessary to create fossil fuels.

Also in the first incarnation of this attraction, several heaters were strategically placed in the Primeval Diorama along with machines that dispensed a sulfur-like odor. This was done to help recreate the volcanic atmosphere we were visiting. But sadly, these effects are no longer in use.

Leaving the diorama, we traveled back to the "present" and onto a second turntable in the "EPCOT Energy Information Center."

Energy Information Center

Once all six vehicles were reassemble into their original theatre formation they were rotated 90° to face a 210x30 foot wrap-around screen. Here, guests viewed a twelve minute live-action film that took them on an in-depth look at current and future energy resources around the world and how technology would help us meet our energy demands. To capture the footage, three 70mm cameras were mounted on a special rig. Angled mirrors and precise synchronization blended to create a seamless film.

From Theater 2 and the Energy Information Center we returned to Theater 1and a grand finale. Side walls that were covered by curtains at the beginning of the ride now sported enormous mirrors that reflected computer generated laser-like images being shown on the rear and front screens. Another forgotten Epcot song, "Universe of Energy" ended the adventure on a high and hopeful note. This piece was written by Al Kasha & Joel Hirschhorn, Academy Awards winners for their motion-picture themes for Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. John Joyce, who sang "Energy (You Make the World Go 'Round)" earlier in the attraction, also sang this closing number.

From day one, Epcot was criticized as being an "adults only park." And even though the Imagineers had included humor in the "World of Motion" attraction and whimsy into the Imagination Pavilion, guests wanted lighter fare than what was being offered. In January 1996, after a thirteen year run, the Universe of Energy Pavilion was closed for a major rehab. Although it opened intermittently during the year to accommodate the summer crowds, the total refurbishment was not completed until September 15th of the same year when it reopened as Ellen's Energy Crisis, but quickly re-named Ellen's Energy Adventure.

Ellen's Energy Adventure Sign

For the most part, the exterior of the attraction remained the same. The only significant difference was a new paint job. Gone were the warm "energy" colors lining the sides of the building to be replaced with a rainbow of hues. Note, the original color scheme returned a few years ago.

New Color Scheme

The first significant change guests noticed after the rehab was that the Kinetic Mosaic had been removed. This saddened many as this was truly a Disney original that never ceased to amaze. In its place, an eight minute movie begins with Ellen welcoming us to the pavilion. We then transition to her apartment where her neighbor, Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' drops in for a visit and the subject of energy is discussed. Eventually Ellen falls asleep and dreams she's on the game show Jeopardy with Albert Einstein and her old school chum, Judy Peterson played by Jamie Lee Curtis.

Ellen's Apartment

Jeopardy Dream

After the preshow, we move to Theater 1 and take seats in one of the six vehicles. By the way, there are no bad seats. It really doesn't matter where you sit. Like the earlier incarnation of this ride, the theater rotates 180° and we watch a six minute movie that starts with the Big Bang and the formation of the universe, our sun, and planet earth. Eventually, we land in the era of the dinosaurs where Ellen and Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' are waiting for us. After some humorous dialogue and an explanation of how fossil fuels were created, the theater rotates back 90° and we move into the Prehistoric Diorama in the same fashion as before.

Besides a new story, technical improvements were also made to the show. One of the most noticeable was an enhanced sound system. Subwoofers were added that allow you to "feel" the Big Bang and new "in screen" speakers add realism when characters move from one area to the next.

Another change made during the 1996 rehab was the addition of interesting pigmentation added to the dinosaurs. Instead of looking like dull lizards, they now sport spots and patterns. Take a look at the following two pictures.

Dinosaurs without Spots

Dinosaurs with Spots

An AudioAnimatronics replica of Ellen was also added to the diorama for some additional humor.

Ellen with a Dinosaur

After we complete our journey through the Primeval Diorama, we arrive at Theater 2. While our vehicles regroup, Willard Scott can be heard broadcasting from KNRG radio. Get it? KNRG - K ENERGY. Ha ha.

Another movie is shown here that covers much of the same subject matter as in the original attraction, but once again, it's done with a humorous touch. A keen eye might notice actor Michael Richards of Seinfeld fame playing a caveman.

Michael Richards as a Caveman

The show finishes with us moving from Theater 2 back to Theater 1 and Ellen and Judy Peterson playing Final Jeopardy with a showdown question. If you want to know the answer and don't have a trip to Walt Disney World planned for the near future, you'll have to watch my video to find out.

Final Jeopardy Question

During the transition between theaters, announcer Johnny Gilbert makes two interesting comments. The first "If you would like to have your own energy nightmare, place a self-addressed, stamped envelope under your pillow, or check us out on the web at" Just for the record, this is a fictitious website.

He also says: "Some contestants on Jeopardy will receive a year's supply of energy. Energy, you make the world go 'round." This comment is in reference to the song that played in the previous version of this attraction.

From beginning to end (including the preshow), Ellen's Energy Adventure takes about 45 minutes. Cast members will warn you of this in advance and you need to pay heed. Once seated in the moving theaters, you are stuck and a bathroom break is out of the question. You are also warned that dark places and loud noises may scare younger travelers.

In 2004, after 22 years of sponsoring Universe of Energy, Exxon-Mobile dropped their association with this attraction.

If you're looking for thrills, skip the Universe of Energy. There are none to be had here. Only the most timid child would be frightened by the AA dinosaurs. But if you're looking for a relaxing 45 minutes sprinkled with humor and information, then this is a great attraction. I've heard Ellen's jokes dozens of times, but they still make me smile. And the Moving Theater and the Primeval Diorama still impress me.

Disney World can be hectic - that's an understatement. So it's nice to occasionally sit back and enjoy a slow moving attraction that allows you to catch your breath. To see a much condensed version of the show, check out my video. Enjoy.

Reminder: If you send a comment, you must type "blog" in the appropriate field or your comment will end up in the Junk Folder.

September 22, 2010

Givenchy – Grand Opening in the France Pavilion

Hi all,

Before I discuss Givenchy, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.


Givenchy Logo

Today, September 22, 2010, Givenchy opened its only stand-alone retail location in the United States. Where? The France Pavilion at Epcot. Located in what was once the "library" section of the pavilion (with a "Beauty and the Beast" stained-glass window backdrop), this 400 square foot shop offers the entire line of Givenchy fragrances, cosmetics and skincare.

Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop

Givenchy Shop

To celebrate their association with Disney, Givenchy has created a fragrance to be sold exclusively at Epcot, eaudemoiselle de Givenchy (eau de toilette vaporisateur spray). Ladies, I'm a guy and know very little about perfumes. All I can tell you is that it smelled good to me. If you're curious, you're going to have to check it out for yourself.

Exclusive Epcot Fragrance

Givenchy also offers limited edition scents. Each year, three flowers are selected from various countries around the world. After the harvest, these flowers are used in the creation of three unique fragrances. In much the same way a vintage bottle of wine is packaged and marketed, these scents are dated and once they run out, there are no more.

Limited Edition Frangrances

Limited Edition Frangrances

Another feature of Epcot's Givenchy shop is a complete makeup counter, complete with experts to help you select and apply the appropriate product. And as a learning tool the associate will be happy to apply the makeup to only half of your face then allow you to take over under his guidance for the second half. If you decide to purchase their products, you will be provided with a complete, step-by-step chart so you'll know exactly what to do once you return home.



Guys, if your girl decides on one of these makeovers, I see two options for you. You can be dutiful and stand there during the transformation or you can cross the street and partake in some wine tasting. But when I think about it, there is a third option since Givenchy also offers a number of men's fragrances for you to try.

I chose not to inquire about prices since this is a constantly changing item. If I quoted you something now, it would not necessarily reflect the price when you visit. However, I was assured that the prices are not inflated here at Epcot. Items in this shop will be priced identically to those at Macy's back home.

For those of you with sensitive noses or allergies I will tell you, the aromas in this shop are not overpowering. I have asthma and I am susceptible to such things, but it was not an issue here. One of the Givenchy cast members suggested that it could be because they use all natural ingredients in their perfumes.

So next time you're in the France Pavilion, be sure to check out this latest shop. If you want to pamper yourself with a nice non-Disney souvenir, this might be a good spot.

September 16, 2010

La Hacienda de San Angel & La Cantina de San Angel

Hi all,

Before I discuss La Hacienda, I need to let you know of a change in the way you will be posting comments. Because we have been getting a lot of junk email, we have had to implement a new procedure. After sharing your thoughts, there is one more box that needs to be completed before you press "Post." At the moment, you need to write the word "blog" (without quotes) in this field (this word could change periodically). This will let the computer know that a real person is writing us and not some automated program that generates spam. If you don't complete this field correctly, your comment will end up in a "junk" folder.

Thanks for your help and understanding.


If you've visited Epcot during the last year, you may have noticed that the counter service restaurant in the Mexico Pavilion (Cantina de San Angel) has been surrounded by decorative plywood while this establishment underwent a transformation. Construction is now complete and today, September 16, 2010, two restaurants now stand were there was once just one. A newly designed La Cantina de San Angel will continue to serve counter service meals and a new La Hacienda will offer table service dinners starting each evening at 4pm.

La Hacienda and La Cantina

The entrance to La Cantina is located near the bridge that brings guests into the Mexico Pavilion. Just inside are five windows where you can place your order. Although the menu is new, it still offers some of your favorites like Tacos de Carne, Nachos, and Empanadas de Queso. Three varieties of Margaritas and Dos Equis beer can also be purchased here. To see the complete menu, click here.

Counter Service Windows

Counter Service Window

The outside seating area takes advantage of the view of World Showcase and a breeze from the water is refreshing. La Cantina can accommodate 150 guests. However, from 11am until 3ish, guests can also sit in air-conditioned comfort inside the adjacent La Hacienda. The following pictures are of La Cantina only.

La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area

La Cantina Seating Area

But the real excitement comes with the opening of La Hacienda de San Angel. This 250 seat table service restaurant will open each evening at 4pm. Designed to resemble different living areas of a hacienda, one room creates the feel of a living room while others capture the charm of a grand salon, pantry, and artist's studio. Original pieces of art adorn each room and unique chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The entrance is located across from the pyramid.

La Hacienda Logo

La Hacienda Entrance

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

La Hacienda Seating Area

The restaurant is beautiful and that in and of itself is worth a visit. But many will want to plan their meal here to coincide with the presentation of IllumiNations. The Imagineers knew this so they designed large and tall windows to give everyone in the restaurant a great view of this nightly spectacular.

Views of World Showcase

Views of World Showcase

The menu will feature starters like queso fundido (warm cheese with poblano pepper and chorizo) accompanied by fresh homemade tortillas. Entrees include a mixed grill for two with flank steak, chicken, chorizo and vegetables or a seafood version with grouper, shrimp and scallops; roasted shrimp in pepper garlic broth; flank steak with spring onions, refried beans and cactus leaves; and grilled red snapper with roasted corn and cactus leaves. Dessert specialties include chocolate churros, sweet tamales and fruit empanadas. To see the complete menu, click here.

Chef with Food

Last night I attended a press event to kick off the opening of these two new restaurants. The evening began on the deck of La Cantina where we were treated to amazing margaritas and samples of many of the dishes that are served in La Hacienda.


Samples of Food

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

Samples of Food

I sampled several different tequila drinks (they were small and I quit drinking well before IllumiNations so I could drive home safely). All were very good, but I think the "Classic Margareta" is by far the best. It had a good strong flavor that made me pucker and smile.

I also enjoyed the many food samples that were being distributed by smiling waiters and waitresses, but without a doubt, the "Tacos de Camarones" were the best - outstanding in fact. The menu describes this dish as follows: Fried shrimp, chipotle-lime aioli, cabbage, lime and salsa verde, all served over flour tortillas. I had seconds and thirds of this taste treat.

Tacos de Camarones

I have to be honest with you. I've had hit-and-miss experiences at the San Angel Inn, the restaurant located inside the Mexico Pavilion. I think the atmosphere is fantastic, but the food just misses for me. However, I have every intention of returning to La Hacienda de San Angel. If what I sampled last night is any indication of my future meal, I'm going to be a happy camper.

All three restaurants in the Mexico Pavilion are run by Palmas Services LLC. Their founding began in Mexico City in 1963 when they converted a seventeenth century hacienda into an internationally acclaimed eatery, Restaurante San Angel Inn. The Palmas group also operates the restaurants and lounges at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. Here, I really enjoy the Pepper Market but I have marginal feelings when it comes to the Maya Grill.

I have created a short video that highlights both La Hacienda and La Cantina. However, since this was a press event, I was not able to shoot people-free shots. You'll have to look through the guests enjoying their appetizers and cocktails to see the restaurant.

As the evening progressed, we ventured inside of La Hacienda for more socializing and opening ceremonies. The speeches ran for almost twenty minutes but I have edited it down to a mere six. The last two minutes show the official ribbon-cutting complete with Donald and Mickey.

As I said earlier, I have every intention of returning to both La Cantina and La Hacienda. The views are spectacular and the food that I sampled was delicious. Reservations are strongly suggested for La Hacienda and can be made online or by calling 407-929-3463.

August 12, 2010

Living with the Land

The Land pavilion at Epcot focuses on man's impact on Planet Earth and his efforts to learn from the past in order to create a promising future. The structure was designed to look like a futuristic green house, emphasizing our dependence on plants, especially food, a requirement for our survival. Encompassing six acres, this is the largest pavilion in Epcot and is roughly the same size as Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. This structure houses three attractions, Soarin', The Circle of Life, and Living with the Land.

The Land Pavilion

The Land was an opening day pavilion at Epcot (October 1, 1982) and was sponsored by Kraft Foods. Kraft ended their sponsorship on September 26, 1993 and Nestlé took their place. Nestlé oversaw several pavilion makeovers during their tenure but decided to end their affiliation on February 13, 2009. Currently, The Land Pavilion has no corporate sponsor.

The Land Marquee

Today's blog will focus on the Living with the Land attraction. But before we begin, I have an important message to share with you from The Secretary.

Good morning Mr. Phelps.

A noted artist from a country friendly with the West has created beautiful murals leading up to The Land pavilion.

Tile Mural

So ingenious is his design that the south wall is an exact mirror image of the north wall right down to the very last tile. Pictured here are close-up shots of the two sides illustrating this unique design.

Left Mural

Right Mural

However, an evil Imagineer has cleverly hidden a rogue tile within the murals throwing off the delicate balance, thus threatening peace among the World Showcase nations.

Rogue Tile

Your mission, should you decide to accept, is to find this tile, share its location with your friends and family, then experience the Living with the Land boat ride.

Should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed by Disney security, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

This blog will self-destruct in five seconds.

During Kraft's sponsorship of The Land, the boat ride portion of the pavilion was called "Listen to the Land." When Nestlé entered the picture, the attraction was given a minor refurbishment and the name was changed to "Living with the Land." The attraction can be found on the lower level of the pavilion at the bottom of the "down" escalator.

The Land Interior

Living with the Land Sign

If you arrive first thing in the morning, this attraction has no wait and you can often ride all by yourself. But between 9:30 and 9:45, people start to exit Soarin' and a line ensues. FastPass is available, but if the line is 20 minutes or less, I suggest riding at that time.

In an effort to make the queue more interesting, a mural was envisioned featuring inspirational quotes from world leaders, philosophers, scientists, and writers. As the idea began to develop, Walt Disney Imagineering President Marty Sklar suggested that children be included with this distinguished group. Several children's environmental organizations were contacted and one, Kids for Saving Earth, volunteered to run a story about the mural in its newsletter. They received more than 800 submissions, of which 10 were selected for the mural.

Living with the Land Queue

Insperiational Message

Insperiational Message

We all know about "hidden Mickeys," but did you know about the hidden prince and princess? This can only be seen from the FastPass line, but if you look closely at the wall, you can see a prince leaning over and kissing his princess. It's subtle, but once you see it, there is no doubt.

Hidden Prince and Princess

Our fourteen minute journey begins at the loading dock where we board 20-passenger boats that travel in tandem. The attraction can accommodate 2,400 people an hour.

Loading Dock

The first sight along our journey is rather ominous. Here we see a video monitor reminding us that the entire attraction is under surveillance (all Disney attractions are). There is also a reminder to remain seated at all times. This warning is becoming more and more common and the cast members take this rule very seriously. I recently witnessed three teenaged girls being escorted off of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and out of the park because they repeatedly ignored warnings to sit down.

Surveillance Monitor

Our boat first travels to a tropical rain forest where a storm is raging. We're told that while the wind and rain may appear to be violent and destructive to us, to nature it represents a new beginning. Beneath the surface of the land, roots trap water from the flowing mud, extracting nutrients and minerals. These elements, combined with sunlight, create the diverse living systems of Earth. Although the rain forests make up only a small portion of our planet, they contain more than half of its plant and wildlife species.

Rain Forest

Rain Forest

We travel next to the desert where we learn that this seemingly hostile climate is also teeming with life. The plants and animals that call these sandy expanses home have learned to avoid the sun and make use of what little water they can find.


As our journey continues we come to the American prairie. The narrator explains that this area was also once a bleak desert, but over time, water and nutrients made their way into the soil creating rich farmland.

In the original version of this attraction (Listen to the Land), we were told how nature continually changes the face of the planet. In the prairie scene it's explained that a lightning storm has set fire to a field of wild grass. This in turn stirs up a swarm of locusts that lay waste to the plains. The lightning, flames, and the insect swarm can still be seen in the distance.

American Prairie

The next scene brings us to an American farm at the turn of the 20th century. We are told that in our quest to feed a growing nation, humans have had a bigger impact on the land than Mother Nature, sometimes with negative consequences.

Be sure to take a close look at the mailbox. The route number is 82, the year Epcot opened.

American Farm

American Farm

American Farm

We travel into a barn where a hundred years of farming history is presented via film clips and narrative. We're told that although man has made mistakes, these can be reversed and we can feed the planet while living harmoniously with the land. We're also told that Epcot is playing a part in the solutions of tomorrow by testing innovative techniques in the greenhouses we're about to visit.

History of Farming

The next portion of the tour takes us through five working food production areas, Tropics Greenhouse, Aquacell, Temperate Greenhouse, Production Greenhouse, and Creative Greenhouse.

For over twenty years, these sections of the tour were narrated by a cast member positioned at the front of the boat. This was deemed necessary as the crops were continually changing and the information shared with the guests needed to be current. However, on August 20, 2006, the spieling cast members were eliminated and a prerecorded narrative was added as a cost saving measure. The spiel is voiced by Mike Brassell who also narrates the Tomorrowland Transit Authority at the Magic Kingdom. The spiel is updated periodically as the greenhouses are replanted with new crops.

Mike Brassell

The Tropics Greenhouse is located inside a geodesic dome and features crops native to Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and portions of the southern United States. These regions are home to the greatest diversity of plants on the planet. Most of us are aware of papaya, banana, cacao, coffee and rice which are grown in these areas. But other, lesser known plants such as jackfruit, fluted pumpkins, and dragon fruit are showing great promise as they have high nutritional value and are well adapted to grow in soils unsuitable to other vegetation.

Tropical Greenhouse

During your travels, be sure to look for pumpkins and squash shaped like Mickey Mouse. This bit of Disney magic is achieved by placing a plastic mold around the budding vegetable and forcing it to grow into this famous shape.

Mickey Mouse Shaped Squash

Our journey next takes us to the Aquacell. This section of the tour introduces us to fish farming where we learn that more than 200 species of aquatic animals are grown today in tanks like these and man-made ponds. Cultivated fish account for almost fifty percent of the seafood consumed around the world. The Land pavilion grows about 5,000 pounds of fish each year. Much of this is served at various Walt Disney World restaurants.

If you're wondering why this area is bathed in red light, it's to help prevent the growth of algae.



In the Temperate Greenhouse we learn that cross breeding has created plants that are more resistant to disease and insects. Some of these hybrids can even survive where water and nutrients are in short supply.

Drip irrigation is also displayed in the Temperate Greenhouse. Here, the exact amount of water and nutrients needed to grow perfect vegetables are delivered to each plant individually. This produces higher yields with less impact on the environment.

This room is also where you'll find the nine-pound lemons. Imagine the pitcher of lemonade one of these fruits could produce.

Drip Irrigation

Nine Pound Lemon

In the Production Greenhouse we're introduced to more innovative farming methods. Lettuce is grown by using the Nutrient Film Technique. This system uses a thin film of nutrient solution that flows through plastic channels containing no solid material. In time, root matting develops in the shallow stream of recirculating solution. Disney grows over 27,000 heads of lettuce a year with this system.


The "tomato tree" was developed by Chinese scientists. These plants live longer than traditional tomato plants and produce significantly more fruit. One of The Land's tomato trees lived 16 months and produced 32,194 tomatoes with a total weight of more than 1,151 pounds.

Tomato Tree

The final phase of our tour brings us to the Creative Greenhouse. One of the farming techniques seen here is the Integrated Aquaculture System. This method combines hydroponic crops with an aquaculture system populated by fish. The plants' roots are bathed by the nutrient-enriched water from the fish tank. The water is cycled through a series of filters before it is circulated through the plants and returned eventually back into the fish tank.

Integrated Aquaculture System

Another innovative growing method suspends plants in the air. The plants are moved through a chamber by a conveyer system where nutrients are sprayed on the exposed roots. As the plants continue their journey, excess water drips into the rocks below where it's collected and reused.

Plant Conveyer System

Many of the vegetables grown in the Living with the Land attraction are served in the Garden Grill Restaurant located on the entry level of the pavilion. This rotating restaurant revolves every 45 minutes and offers views of the rain forest, desert, and prairie scenes experienced at the beginning of the boat ride. This eatery has gone through several name changes over the years. Originally it was called the Good Turn Restaurant. On May 2, 1986 it reopened as the Land Grille Room. And on November 16, 1993 it became the Garden Grille.

Open only for dinner, the Garden Grill offers family style dining featuring grilled beef strip, turkey breast, sustainable fish, and a variety of side dishes. Being a character meal starring Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale, reservations are strongly suggested.

Garden Grill Restaurant

If you arrive at Epcot first thing in the morning, you might want to make The Land your first destination. Grab a FastPass for Soarin', then experience the Living with the Land attraction and see The Circle of Life movie. By the time you've done both, your FastPass will be ready and you can go hang gliding over California.

If you find that the Living with the Land attraction only whetted your appetite for this type of information, you can learn more by taking a backstage tour called "Behind the Seeds." This excursion takes small groups on a walking tour of the greenhouses with a knowledgeable guide who can answer many of your questions. The sign-up desk is located near the entrance to Soarin'. There is a small fee for this tour.

Behind the Seed Sign-up Desk

I took the Behind the Seeds tour a couple of years ago and you can read my review by clicking here.

Mike Bachand took this tour in May and you can read his review by clicking here.

As usual, I have created a video of the Living with the Land attraction. Even with editing, it is rather long running at 13 minutes - I wanted to capture the entire ride. I hope you enjoy it.

August 6, 2010

Via Napoli

Yesterday (August 5, 2010) Disney held grand opening ceremonies for its newest Epcot restaurant, Via Napoli. I was on hand to capture the festivities and sample the food. Yea!

Via Napoli Logo

Located in the Italy Pavilion, this restaurant is operated by Nick Valenti, Restaurateur and CEO, Patina Restaurant Group and will be the first authentic Italian pizzeria to ever open in the park. The Patina Restaurant Group currently has over 50 restaurants in California, New York and Las Vegas.

The company was formed by combining two organizations: the public restaurants of Restaurant Associates in New York and the Patina Group in California. The company was established as Restaurant Associates / Patina in 1999 under the leadership of CEO Nick Valenti. In 2006, Valenti and his partner Patina Group Founder Joachim Splichal bought the company and named it the Patina Restaurant Group. The Shidax Corporation of Japan is also an investor.

Pictured here are Nick Valenti on the left and Joachim Splichal on the right.

Nick Valenti on the left and Joachim Splichal on the right

As with every grand opening at Walt Disney World, the occasion was marked with a big celebration. The morning began with two hilarious Italian women clowning around and stomping a few grapes. This was followed by Disney Ambassador Clay Shoemaker welcoming us to the event. Next came Epcot Vice President Dan Cockerell and Nick Valenti sharing their excitement about the opening of this new venue. And of course no celebration would be complete without Mickey and Minnie joining in. Instead of a traditional ribbon cutting, a grape vine was cut to officially open Via Napoli.

Hilarious Italian Women

Dan Cockerell

Mickey Mouse

Ribbon Cutting

If you'd like to see the festivities for yourself, check out this seven minute video.

The Italy Pavilion is the smallest of the World Showcase pavilions. To me, it always had an incomplete feel about it when you entered the back areas. But with the addition of Via Napoli, this area takes on new life. The architecture and design is based on a mix of traditional Italian styles. Florentine architect Stefano Nardini (of Magris & Partners) working in conjunction with Rick Swisher Architect created a stunning addition to the World Showcase landscape.

Via Napoli Exterior

Via Napoli Exterior

The interior of the restaurant is very spacious (9,760 square feet) and the tables are spaced a good distance from one another. I like this as I hate to be seated so close to another party that I can overhear every word they say. The dominate feature in the dining room is the extremely long table. It was never explained whether this table would be used for very large parties or shared by numerous groups. Via Napoli can seat 250 inside and 50 on the outside, covered patio.

Interior Seating

Interior Seating

Patio Seating

Via Napoli also features a show kitchen that invites guests to walk up and watch the chefs create their magic. Architect Nardini brought some whimsy to the kitchen by creating three wood-burning ovens and named them after the active volcanoes in Italy, Mount Etna, Mount Vesuvius and Stromboli. Each oven was given a face reflecting the gods whose mythology surrounds each volcano's history.

Volcano Ovens

Chef at World

For a better idea of what the restaurant is like, check out my two minute video which shows the exterior and interior seating areas and the kitchen.

Before we sat down to eat, I spent a few minutes talking with Epcot VP Dan Cockerell. I asked him why Disney was adding more restaurants to World Showcase. I figured that there were already enough eateries to satisfy everyone. But apparently I was wrong. Dan told me that there is enough interest and demand, especially at dinner, to justify more restaurants. Epcot has become known for a place to find a unique dining experience and reservations go quickly at some of their more popular spots.

The full name of the restaurant is "Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria." So as you might expect, pizza is the main focus of this establishment. But for those of you who would like something else, other Italian fare is available like lasagna, chicken, and pasta dishes. To see the complete menu, click here.

My experience at Via Napoli yesterday is not what you'll enjoy when you eat here. Since I was an invited guest to a press event, I did not order off of the menu. Instead, servers wandered the restaurant passing out samples of some of the offerings.


The first item I tried was the Fritto Misto. This is an assortment of just-fried seasonal vegetables, calamari, and cheese. This appetizer sells for $24 and is meant to be shared by the table. For me, the best item here was the corn-crusted asparagus. It was great. Please note, for the most part I cannot attest to the portion size that you'll be receiving since we were being served "all you can eat" samples.

Fritto Misto

Next I tried the Arancini. Cheese lovers rejoice. Here you get four fresh risotto balls filled with mozzarella and a side of meat ragú dipping sauce. I thought these were delicious and so did everyone else, but I think $10 is a little steep for only four.


We were not offered any non-pizza entrees, but we were provided with a good quantity of pizza to sample.



Overall, I'm a fan of thick-crust pizza but this thinner-crust pizza was excellent. And the variety is wonderful. This is not what you'll take home from Dominoes. This is gourmet, Neapolitan style pizza with toppings like calamari, artichoke, eggplant, prosciutto, and arugula. Of course, traditional toppings like pepperoni and mushrooms are also available. We were told that one of the reasons the crust is so wonderful is because the water is calibrated specifically to the pH found in Naples.

The pizzas come in three sizes, Individual $16, Large $27, and ½ Meter to Share $36. I felt these prices were a little high, but I spoke with some friends who ate here a few days earlier at a "soft opening" and they said the pizzas are large. They got the ½ Meter for four people and were stuffed by the time they were done. $36 divided by 4 is $9 so that's not too bad.

We sampled several desserts but I have to say, the Tiramisu, was to die for. $8 Once again, this is a sample size shown here. I had seconds of this taste treat.


The Gelato Frizzante is billed as Ice Cream Soda "Italian Style". It's made with San Pellegrino's "Aranciata" and vanilla gelato. $9 I liked this dessert. It had a sparkling quality about it. It was almost "fun" to eat/drink (it's served with a spoon and straw).

Gelato Frizzante

I was disappointed with one dessert, but I think that's because they only served us half of it. The Zeppole id Caterina $10 consists of ricotta cheese fritters served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Unfortunately, they only offered us the fritters. This item really needs the dipping sauces to be experienced correctly.

A gluten-free dessert is also available. This is chocolate cake with whipped cream. If they hadn't told me it was gluten-free, I never would have known. It was wonderful.

Gluten-free Dessert

If you like sangria, then give Via Napoli's a try. I enjoyed the one glass that I sampled, but unfortunately, couldn't find a waiter with a second glass. Darn. I had to make do with a glass of sparkling wine instead. Shucks.

Also offered are Acqua Fresca. These are Via Napoli's signature house-made seasonal fruit juice coolers. Please note, a glass costs $5 for 14 oz. and there are no refills. I tried the Limonata. To me, it tasted like lemonade - and $5 is a lot to pay for ONE glass of lemonade. One of my dining companions tried the Strawberry flavor and was treated to real bits of strawberries in the glass. This helped justify the price.

Overall, my impression of Via Napoli is very good. I like the atmosphere and the food was outstanding. I have heard complaints that the pizza is too expensive. But others tell me the portions are large. The rest of the prices are typical of all Disney restaurants. If you're looking for a bargain, then look for a restaurant off property. But if you're looking for a unique Disney experience, then give Via Napoli a try. I certainly intend to go back and dine here as a regular guest.

Via Napoli, will begin taking reservations August 6th for September 10th arrivals and later. The restaurant will be in a "soft opening" walk-in phase with no reservations from August 5th through September 9th. This restaurant is part of the Disney Dining Plan and accepts Tables in Wonderland.

I want to draw your attention to one more thing. Allears reader John Kurowksi's experienced this restaurant a few days earlier and wrote a great report. He covers a few things I have not. Click here to read it.

Here's a picture of me and a Mickey Mouse pizza that was made specifically for the press event.

Jack Spence and a Mickey Mouse Pizza

Buon appetite!

April 9, 2010

Epcot's Horizons - Part Two

In Part Two of my Horizons blog I'm going to take you on a ride through this great attraction.

Horizons Building

As many travel ads say, "Getting there is half the fun." When guests entered the Horizons building, they found themselves in FuturePort, a Transportation Terminal of the future. A large departure board listed some of the destinations we could travel to from this terminal. If you notice, HORIZONS is highlighted and leaving via SHUTTLE from gate 4A and is NOW BOARDING. Also in the terminal were large octagonal windows showing pictures of far off locales. These represented the travel posters of the future. All the while, overhead speakers announced the arrivals and departures from other far off locations.

Destination Board

Travel Posters

Shortly after we were seated in our car, an on-board announcement proclaimed, "Horizons One is now departing. Our final destination today - the twenty-first century." But before we visited the future, we were transported into the past to see how previous visionaries predicted life would unfold in the coming years. Our vehicle passed by drawings of the Icarus legend, early renderings of flying machines, and a man studying a cage full of birds. Eventually we came to our first Audio-Animatronics vignette. Here we saw Jules Verne and a chicken floating in a bullet-shaped spacecraft. This scene was inspired by his work "From the Earth to the Moon" in which he uses a canon to propel his spacecraft toward this celestial body.

From the Earth to the Moon

The next scene comes from French filmmaker Georges Méliès' movie "A Trip to the Moon" (Le voyage dans la Lune) made in 1902 which was based loosely on both "From the Earth to the Moon" and "The First Men in the Moon" by H. G. Wells.

A Trip to the Moon

A Trip to the Moon

As our journey continues, we see how another Frenchman, Albert Robida, visualized the future. Robida was a prolific illustrator and during the late 19th and early 20th centuries he created hundreds of drawings depicting the future. The next scene in Horizons portrayed his conception of Paris in 1950 using stylized enlargements and animations of a number of his illustrations. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of this section of the attraction. So I'm posting two of Robida's renderings to help give you an idea as to what this portion of the ride was like.

Robida Illistration

Robida Illistration

Next we jump to the 1930's and possibly the most memorable scene in the attraction. This vignette takes place in a high-rise apartment where we find a robotic butler attending to the household chores. Meanwhile, his owner contemplates the good life while staring out at a vibrant city through floor to ceiling windows.

1930's High Rise Apartment

Nearby, another gentleman receives an automated haircut and shoeshine while getting a custom suntan. With just a flick of a switch he can choose rays from the Bahamas, Hawaii, or Florida.

On the second floor, a woman takes a bubble bath while watching television. The channel selected features a young man singing "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" from the Carousel of Progress attraction. This same rendition can still be heard on this Magic Kingdom favorite.

Further on, a multi-armed robot multitasks by pouring the cat milk, washing dishes, sweeping the floor, and flipping eggs all at the same time - with dubious results.

Multi-Armed Robot

Our next stop is Neon City. Here, brightly colored strands of light created a two-dimensional vision of our future. A keen observer could even make out the outline of Disneyland and Monsanto's House of the Future. Also presented in this section were old movie and television clips that foretold our future, including some footage from the Disneyland TV show.

Neon City

Neon City

As our journey continued, we entered "present day" and were surrounded by two huge OMNIMAX screens. The ride vehicles were positioned perfectly to afford everyone the optimal view. For the next two minutes we were immersed in visions of the sun, colonies in space, microprocessors, crystals, oceans, the launching of the space shuttle, and a DNA molecule. It was an impressive sight, indeed.


As we exited the OMNIMAX room, we're told that these marvelous inventions and discoveries are the building blocks for our future. As we turn the corner, we see what lies ahead in twenty-first- century Nova City and we're introduced to the narrators whose voices we've been hearing from our vehicle's speakers. Seated in a modern living room is a couple in their mid-sixties, still active and youthful-looking due to advances in medicine. The husband is playing a Theremin-organ, an instrument that can be activated without actually touching the device. Named after its Russian inventor, this device senses hand movement. One hand controls the pitch while the other controls the volume. If you want to play with a modified version of this technology, head over to the Imagination Pavilion and check out the ImageWorks section at the end of the ride.

Nova City and Grandfather

While hubby is busy composing music, his wife is chatting with their daughter in Mesa Verde via a three-dimensional holographic televiewer.

Nova City and Grandmother

Looking out their windows we see fantastic Nova City. Here, mag-lev (magnetic levitation) trains were depicted. These trains, which float above the track, are not slowed by friction and thus can travel more rapidly than their predecessors. The message" Far off places are closer than ever.

Nova City

Nova City

We next pass by an array of unusual fruits and vegetables. We're told that these are the products of genetic engineering. This scene provided a nice transition as we entered the far off farming community of Mesa Verde.

Genetic Fruits and Vegetables

In Mesa Verde, we saw that once barren desert had been transformed into fertile land. The scent of oranges filled the room. We were also introduced to the city couple's daughter, who, after seven years of college has become a hydro-cultural engineer. Using voice activated controls, she directs automated harvesting of the crops while talking with her mother in Nova City. Notice the hover craft in the second picture. This prop can be seen today on the Tram Tour at the Walt Disney Studios Paris.

Mesa Verde

Hover Craft

Nearby, the "farmer's" husband could be seen in their kitchen, tending to their son. He was also hard at work baking a birthday cake for an upcoming party. Notice the role reversal between husband and wife. This concept was far more dramatic in the 1980's.

Husband and Birthday Cake

In the family room next door, we meet the farming couple's daughter. She is supposed to be doing her homework, but instead is talking to her boyfriend via a large-screen picture phone. This telephone conversation was used as a transition device to move the story from the desert to the ocean.

Farmer's Daughter

When we arrive at Sea Castle City, a new floating community, we see her boyfriend working on his one-man submarine. The boyfriend is actually played by Tom Fitzgerald, the Disney Imagineer who was the main story writer for the attraction.

Boyfriend and One Man Sub

Tom Fitzgerald

As we explore Sea Castle City further, we observe a classroom where young children are learning to scuba dive. At the underwater resort, windows look out into the ocean and we see guests peering into the deep and diners enjoying a meal at a submerged restaurant.

Underwater Classroom

Underwater Resort

Continuing our ocean journey we see kelp farming on the water's surface which provides both food and fuel. On the sea floor, a robot harvester collects manganese-rich nodules. As we dive deeper, light grows dim and we transition to the inkiness of outer space. Floating before us are astronauts working on various pieces of equipment and a space colony rotating in the distance. We enter the space colony and see a community complete with roads, residences, lakes and even a sports stadium.

Working in Space

Brava Centauri

As we look closer at some of the facilities within the colony, we discover a weightless gym complete with cycling and martial arts classes. And at the docking port, we're introduced to the Nova City couple's son and family as they arrive at Brava Centauri and become accustomed to weightlessness for the first time.

Arriving at Brava Centauri

We're told one reason for colonizing space is to develop new industries and create products superior to those manufactured on earth. Crystals, which can be grown larger and purer, show promise in this endeavor.

Growing Crystals in Space

The final vignette shows the family coming together from their various locations to celebrate a birthday. With the use of three-dimensional holographic televiewers, it's almost like everyone is actually in attendance.

Birthday Party

After the birthday party, the following announcement was made: "Attention Horizons passengers. You are invited to choose your own flight path back to the FuturePort. Please look down at the lighted panels in front of you. Press one of the three ride choices: Space, Desert, or Under Sea. Everyone can choose, majority rules. All passengers, make your selections now."

As you continued to move forward, privacy screens were lowered to each side of the vehicle as you moved in front of a monitor. A 31-second video then played showing the simulated adventure selected. To be honest, I was never blown away by this effect. After the elaborate nature of the rest of the attraction, this portion of the ride was somewhat anticlimactic - but it was unique and made me want to ride again just so I could experience all three endings.

I hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I know many people mourn the loss of this wonderful attraction. I know I do. It was nice to be entertained with Disney magic for almost fifteen minutes. But times have changed and the public now wants more thrills than this sedate attraction offered.

In October 1986 I visited Walt Disney World carrying one of those gigantic "portable" video cameras.

Jack with Video Camera

In those days, we did not have video editing equipment. What you shot was what you got. While on that trip, I filmed a reasonable portion of the Horizons attraction. I have taken that video, added a few still pictures and a new soundtrack in an effort to make a presentable presentation for you to watch. It's a long way from perfect, but I hope it brings back some pleasant memories for you. Enjoy.

April 8, 2010

Epcot's Horizons - Part One


I miss Horizons. This was a wonderful attraction that allowed me to be immersed in science fiction and science fact with a touch of Disney magic. It was grand in scope and possibilities. I'm sure when the Imagineers were designing Horizons they believed they were creating another Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion - an attraction that would live on and on. But alas, it didn't work out that way. What is to follow is a brief history of this once illustrious attraction and then a trip down memory lane as we take one last ride.

Horizons' Logo

Horizons officially opened on October 1, 1983, exactly one year to the day after the opening of Epcot. Sponsored by General Electric (GE), the story of Horizons was designed to be a sequel to the story presented in another GE sponsored attraction, Carousel of Progress.

Carousel of Progress - Disneyland

At the New York World's Fair, Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, Carousel of Progress told the story of a family dealing with new technologies in the 20th century. Horizons continued this story by presenting us with a family living in the 21st century. But unlike Carousel of Progress where the family remained physically close, in Horizons adult children move to the desert, beneath the ocean, and out into space.

The Horizons building was unique in its design. Imagineer George McGinnis and architect Bill Norton created a structure that looked like a spaceship to some and a giant multifaceted gem to others. In either case, their desire was to present viewers with a structure like they had never seen before - something that would help guests transition their thinking from the present into the future.

Horizons Concept Drawing

Horizons Building

During the early planning stages of Horizons, the attraction was to be called Century 3. This was to honor the third century of the United State's existence, 1976-2076. But as Epcot began to take on a more international flavor with the inclusion of World Showcase, it was decided that a less "country specific" name was in order. Next came the name FutureProbe. However the word "probe" had a negative connotation and it too was abandoned. Finally the name Horizons was selected as the word conveyed the future ahead of us. It's interesting to note, the name "Century 3" could be seen on a space vehicle during the ride.

Century 3 Space Craft

Representatives from GE worked closely with Imagineers during the development of this attraction. Early concepts centered around the inventions of Thomas Edison and the creation of the General Electric company. As time passed, the idea evolved into a presentation of America's progression into the future. But like the attraction's name, a more international subject was needed. In order to appeal to a global audience, it was finally decided to offer a view of man's future as seen through the eyes of scientist and authors both past and present. But unlike the original Carousel of Progress whose focus was on technology, Horizons would put the emphasis on humanity.

Horizons' ride mechanism was similar to the Peter Pan attraction in the Magic Kingdom. Vehicles were suspended from an overhead rail and the track determined the direction the carriage faced. The ride had 174 vehicles that each held up to four guests. Horizons had a capacity of 2,784 riders per hour and lasted a little over fourteen and a half minutes. Fifty-four Audio-Animatronics figures and 770 props were used on 24 sets. In addition, twelve projectors and two Omnimax screens were incorporated into the ride.

The show was narrated by a couple living in the future and voiced by Bob Holt and Dena Dietrich. Holt was primarily a voice actor who also appeared in a number of movies including Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks." Dietrich guest starred on many television series but is best remembered for playing Mother Nature in Chiffon margarine commercials.

Bob Holt

Dena Dietrich

Horizons was unique in that it allowed guests to select their own ending to the ride. Toward the end of the journey, riders could choose between Desert (Mesa Verde Reclamation Project), Ocean (Sea Castle Floating City), and Space (Brava Centauri Orbiting Station) from buttons position in front of them. As the vehicle continued to move forward, individual monitors appeared before each car and a 31-second video was played showing a simulated adventure over land, under water, or through space. To create the videos, scale models were built and a camera swept across and through the futuristic terrains. These models were some of the largest ever created at the time.

From October 1, 1983 to March 10, 1985, GE sponsored two attractions at Disney World, Carousel of Progress and Horizons. But when their ten-year Carousel of Progress contract expired, they chose not to renew. GE also sponsored various incarnations of IllumiNations from January 30, 1988 until September 21, 1999.

The closing of Horizons came on January 9, 1999 and was generated by several events. First, changing public tastes. Most guests were no longer content to sit for almost 15 minutes and watch one vignette after another pass by. Lines for this attraction were practically nonexistent in the later years. Next, General Electric, sensing that this attraction had seen its day, let their contract expire. This forced Disney to pick up the operating costs for a tired attraction. And finally, it was alleged that along with major roof problems, a sinkhole was discovered under the building in 1998. Something needed to be done.

Some sort of Space Pavilion had been envisioned for Epcot since the parks inception so Disney decided that maybe now was the time to move forward with this idea. But the first step would be to demolish the Horizons building. For a number of months during 2000, cranes and bulldozers chipped away at the building. A large amount of the structure's materials were recycled.

A number of the props were acquired by the Imagineers and others found their way to Disney parks around the world. The picture below was taken while I was riding the Tram Tour at the Walt Disney Studios in Paris in 2005. Here we see the submarine from the Underwater City scene and a hover craft from the Mesa Verde farming scene.


That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow when we take a ride on this great attraction.

February 12, 2010

Got A Light? - Part Two - Epcot

In Part Two of my Lamppost blogs I'll be discussing the many variations of these light fixtures found at Epcot. Let's start outside the gate. Leading from the bus stop to the ticket booths are these very modern fixtures, each with a banner. The ticket booths themselves are covered with a large overhang with recessed lighting so no lampposts are found near the entrance.

Lamp Post - Walkway from the Bus Stop

In addition, the large forecourt in front of Spaceship Earth also has no lampposts. In-ground lighting and fixtures located alongside the flower beds provide a low level, muted illumination.

In Innoventions Courtyard we find lamp posts with a somewhat space aged appearance.

Innoventions Courtyard Lamp Post

The lampposts in Future World West are all identical to one another. They're also the same make-and-model as the fixtures out front of Epcot, minus the banners.

Future World West Lamp Post

In keeping with the automotive theme, the streetlamps in Front of Test Track in Future World East look like those that might be found along an interstate or turnpike.

Test Track Lamp Post

In front of Mission: Space the fixtures are sleek and straight, almost as if they were blasting off to the stars.

Mission: Space Lamp Post

There are no lampposts in front of the Energy Pavilion. Low level lighting is all you'll find in this area.

Future World also has some, how should I put this, unattractive fixtures. But what's interesting is that until I started searching for lamp post to picture in my blog, I never noticed them. Even for all their ugliness, they seem to blend in with their surroundings.

Ugly Lamp Post

Ugly Lamp Post

Ugly Lamp Post

As I did in Part One of this series, I want to include a few non-lampposts -- items that have nothing to do with lighting, but scream to be included anyway. This next picture is of a birdhouse located between Test Track and Mouse Gear.

Bird House

The bridge that joins Future World with World Showcase is a transition area. Buildings and fixtures placed here must blend seamlessly with both lands. Here is the lamppost the Imagineers chose to line this walkway.

Transition Lamp Post

Circling World Showcase Lagoon are a number of post not readily associated to a particular nation. There is some variation from one post to the next, but there is a basic style that remains constant as you travel around the promenade. Here are two examples.

Promenade Lamp Post

Promenade Lamp Post

Let's start our journey around World Showcase with Mexico. The bridge that approaches this pavilion features very ornate, wrought iron half-post fixtures.

Mexico Lamp Post

The vast majority of the lighting within the Mexico Pavilion comes from the various marketplace stalls scattered around the area. However, there are several stylish, five-globe streetlamps that were prominent during the colonial period of Mexico's history.

Mexico Lamp Post

In the Norway Pavilion we find a number of different lampposts. Everything from the very rustic to the very fashionable. Some of these "lanterns" would have fit right in with the Castle Akershus, the 14th century fortress fashioned here.

Norway Lamp Post

Norway Lamp Post

Norway Lamp Post

As you would expect, China has some very stylized fixtures. Those along the promenade have a pagoda-like feel while those in the courtyard look like stone lanterns. If you venture deeper into the pavilion, bamboo and decorative globes create illuminating works of art.

China Lamp Post

China Lamp Post

China Lamp Post

China Lamp Post

Most of the lighting at African Outpost comes from the shops and a few bare light bulbs strung overhead. But this area does have one "hidden" lamppost. I want to thank my friend Rob for bringing this to my attention.

African Outpost Lamp

The Germany Pavilion was inspired by villages found along the Rhine and the light fixtures here would be typical of many of these communities. Only two posts are represented here and both are very similar in appearance. Notice the posts all sport baskets filled with geraniums year-round.

Germany Lamp Post

Germany Lamp Post

The Italy Pavilion was modeled after the Doge's Palace in Venice. Here you'll find some of the most exquisite and beautiful lampposts in World Showcase. They complement the architecture beautifully in the day and even more so in the evening.

Italy Lamp Post

Italy Lamp Post

Italy Lamp Post

The American Adventure only has one style of lamppost. It's simple and reflects the colonial design of the pavilion.

American Adventure Lamp Post

The primary lampposts in the Japan Pavilion have blue tops to match the nearby pagoda. This pagoda was modeled after an 8th century structure located in the Horyuji Temple in Nara. Further back in the pavilion large lanterns, reminiscent of traditional Japanese paper lanterns, hang from bamboo poles.

Japan Lamp Post

Japan Lamp Post

Although not a source of illumination, I felt this stone lantern must be included in my tour.

Japan Stone Lantern

The Morocco Pavilion is divided into two sections. The front half, with a replica of the Koutoubia Minaret, represents Marrakech while the back half is the "old city" of Media. However both sections share the same design of lamppost. Pay attention to the detail and you'll notice the post has a spiral design and the colored glass is supported by intricate metal work.

Morocco Lamp Post

The architecture for the France Pavilion recalls the Belle Epoque ("beautiful age") style of design which was prevalent during the second half of the 19th century. The streetlamps also reflect this era. The first posts you encounter are out front of the Chefs de France restaurant.

France Lamp Post

Near the Boulangerie Patisserie the lamps take on a more Art Nouveau design.

France Lamp Post

And finally, in the Galerie de Halles we find lampposts appropriate to this grand marketplace designed by noted French architect Victor Baltard.

France Lamp Post

My next non-lamppost is also found in the France Pavilion. This ornate pole supports a clock and is located in a lovely garden to the right side of the entrance.

France Clock

The United Kingdom Pavilion seamlessly combines a number of locales into a small area. An elegant town square coexists with a waterside pub and rural country dwellings. And the lamppost all blend in naturally with the appropriate surroundings.

United Kingdom Lamp Post

United Kingdom Lamp Post

United Kingdom Lamp Post

As much of the Canada Pavilion is placed in Disney's version of the Rocky Mountains, the lampposts here have a rustic look. Gas lanterns, the type that miners and frontiersmen might have used, are perched on poles and suspended high above.

Canada Lamp Post

Canada Lamp Post

Canada Lamp Post

In the lovely Victoria Gardens, inspired by the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, we find a lamppost befitting of this lovely park. These gardens are the largest (and most labor intensive) of all the Epcot pavilions.

Canada Lamp Post

My last offering in this blog is not a lamppost, but how could I ignore possibly the most famous bit of lighting in the park. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth is a wonderful show and begins each evening with the narrator "blowing out" all of the nineteen torches which surround World Showcase Lagoon. As the show was originally created for the Millennium Celebration, the torches represent the nineteen centuries of the Common Era. The twentieth torch is presented and lit at the end of the show as the globe opens up and it rises from within. Each of the water-side torches stand 27 feet high.

IllumiNations Torch

In tomorrow's blog I'll be discussing the lampposts of the Magic Kingdom.

January 17, 2010

Spaceship Earth -- Epcot's Icon -- Part 2

In Part One, I discussed the history of Spaceship Earth. Now let's take a ride on this attraction as it appears today.

Please note: Flash photography is prohibited on Spaceship Earth. The reason? It's very annoying to those around you. All of the pictures here were taken with a high-speed camera and enhanced with my computer.

Our 13 1/2 minute adventure begins as we travel through a time portal for a journey back in time. Just past the portal, your picture is taken for later use. Be sure to look at the monitor straight-on and smile.

Time Portal

The first glimpse into the past is somewhere around 30,000 BC where we see several Cro-Magnon men hunting a wooly mammoth. Rudimentary communication skills will help them work as a team and down this ferocious creature.

Caveman Fighting Mammoth

The next scene brings us to a time when man lived in caves. A prehistoric shaman recounts a recent hunt to his fellow tribesmen and wall paintings help record his tale for future generations.

Shamon Telling Stories

As we travel forward in time, we find ourselves in ancient Egypt. Here we see a man pounding papyrus reeds to create a crude paper. Nearby, the pharaoh dictates decrees which are copied onto scrolls by his scribe. The scribe (not pictured here) uses a simplified cursive form of hieroglyphics -- a sort of ancient shorthand if you will. The hieroglyphics on the surrounding walls are authentic recreations from actual Egyptian structures.

Making Papyrus



A new era in communications began with the Phoenicians. These merchants were once a dominate trading force in the Mediterranean and carried their twenty-two letter alphabet from port to port. With this new alphabet, most languages could be written using the same characters.


The ancient Greeks refined the Phoenician alphabet by adding vowels. Now the written word could be enunciated. With this improvement came philosophy, logic, and mathematics. The Greeks were also the first to create public schools, which is depicted in this next scene.


The Romans built a vast network of roads across the known world so their armies could maintain order and reach the most distant outposts of their empire. But these roads carried more than soldiers. Ideas and information also traveled along these ancient passageways. In this scene we see a Roman senator handing a message to a centurion with orders to rush the dispatch to Britain.


Much of recorded history was lost when Rome falls and the Library of Alexandria burns.

Burning of Library of Alexandria

Fortunately, copies of many of these books and manuscripts were also kept in Middle Eastern libraries. To the right side of our vehicle we see Islamic scholars from various cultures discussing science, astronomy, medicine, and art. Standing on the observation tower is an astronomer with a quadrant probing the secrets of the heavens. And to the left we see a Jewish wise man studying in a great library.

Islamic Scholars


Jewish Scholar

As we continue our journey, we enter a scriptorium. Literally translated, scriptorium means "a place for writing" and they were found in medieval European monasteries. Here we see monks toiling endlessly to keep up with the ever growing demand for books.

Monk in Scriptorium

Monk in Scriptorium

In the mid fifteenth-century, Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press. His new device now makes information available to the masses. In the background of this scene we see pressmen sorting paper and setting type while in the foreground, Gutenberg examines a page from the bible he is currently printing. This sheet is an exact replica from the Gutenberg Bible on display at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

Johannes Gutenberg

Men working the Press

But religious manuscripts weren't the only documents created in mass. Literature, philosophy, music, and art also flourished in the years to come. The Renaissance rekindled man's pursuit of knowledge and a rebirth of education. Across the aisle from Gutenberg we see a mentor reading Virgil's "Aeneid" to a student and musicians performing a new piece of music.

Mentor Reading to Student


Further signs of the Renaissance are seen as our journey progresses. First we see an artist's assistant mixing paint while he works on his latest masterpiece. And just beyond a sculptor chisels a statue from marble.

Mixing Paint

Artist Painting


Commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel between 1508 and 1512.

Sistine Chapel

During the first portion of our journey, advancements in communications came slowly. Progress was achieved over a period of hundreds and hundreds of years. But as we turn the next corner, inventions arrive on the scene almost in a blink of the eye.

Next we find ourselves in 1865 and the American Civil War has just ended. Steam power has brought the printing press into the modern age and periodicals are common. On a street corner, we see a young boy hawking newspapers.

Steam Powered Printing Press

Marconi's telegraph is seen next as a reporter dispatches the following message: "MAY - 10 - 1869 - OFFICIALS - OF- THE - TWO - RAILROADS - HAVE - GATHERED - AT - PROMONTORY - POINT"." For the first time the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are connected by railroad.


Less than a decade later, Alexander Graham Bell successfully transmitted the spoken word across a wire. By the early 1900's, telephones were becoming commonplace. For the first time, people could talk with their loved ones, even when physically far apart.

Telephone Switchboard

In the 1930's, citizens could keep abreast of the news at their local movie house. Movietone News presented audiences with a vast array of subject matter. Currently showing is a clip of Jesse Owens winning a race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Movie Theater

In 1928 an excited newscaster announces to his radio listeners that Amelia Earhart has just become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Radio Broadcast

Fast forward to 1969. People all over the world were glued to their television sets as Neal Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Walter Cronkite, who once narrated this attraction, can also be seen on this program.

The Imagineers poked a little fun at Mickey in this scene. Next time you ride, take a look behind the couch. The board game Mouse Trap is set up and waiting to be played.

Man Walks on the Moon

1960's Living Room

In the early years of computers, only governments and large corporations could afford them. And their binary language was known to only a handful of people. These large behemoths took up an enormous amount of space and required chilled rooms in which to operate.

Main Frame Computer

Main Frame Computer

It wasn't too long after the main-frame computer became common place in businesses that people started thinking about a home model. In this next scene we see a California garage in the 1960's and a studious young man working on a prototype "personal" computer.

Many people speculate whether this is Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak. But it's neither. This gentleman represents all of the pioneers that helped bring this modern marvel into our homes.

Personal Computer

After traveling through the "Data-Flow Tunnel" we arrive near the top of Spaceship Earth. Here we see our blue and green planet floating in space. Our Time Machine then rotates 180 degrees for the descent back to earth.

Soon the touch-screen monitors on our vehicles come to life and we're asked to select what aspect of our future we'd like to see. The choices are Home, Work, Health, and Leisure. After several more selections, a humorous video transports "you" into the future.

Touch-screen Monitors

Touch-screen Monitors

After exiting the Omnimover, you find yourself in "Project Tomorrow." Here you come face-to-face with a giant globe of the earth.

Project Tomorrow Globe

Shortly after arriving, your picture will appear somewhere on the globe and remain in sight for roughly a minute. Then with a swoosh, your photo is whisked to the hometown you selected at the beginning of the ride. A small white dot will appear on the globe to represent this location. The globe starts out "clean" each morning.

Since Central Florida becomes a mass of white dots early on, I often pick some other city as my hometown. It's fun to see my picture transported to Perth, Australia or Cape Town, South Africa.

Also found in Project Tomorrow are several games.

"Body Builder" is a 3-D interactive game that enables users to assemble a digital human body, simulating the Siemens technology developed to perform remote surgeries.

Body Builder

"Super Driver" is a simulation video game that showcases motor vehicle accident avoidance systems developed by Siemens.

Super Driver

"Power City" demonstrates how to manage power in a growing city.

Power City

I have created a four and a half minute video of a journey through Spaceship Earth. Please note, the narration has been edited due to time constraints. In addition, lighting of the scenes is low, making a few of the sets difficult to see. However, I think you'll enjoy the trip. It's the next best thing to actually being there.

Well that's it for Spaceship Earth -- my favorite Epcot attraction. I realize it's not as exciting as Test Track or Mission: Space. And it's not as inspiring as Soarin'. But I like it and never tire of it.

January 16, 2010

Spaceship Earth -- Epcot's Icon -- Part 1

When planning my vacations to Disney World, I would always request a seat on the left side of the plane. I knew that if we approached the airport from the south, I could see Spaceship Earth as we came in for a landing. This was a major thrill for me as I knew I was almost "home."

Spaceship Earth as seen from an Airplane

Spaceship Earth also had special meaning for me at the end of my vacation. After touring the parks for a week or more, I would always choose to spend my last evening in Epcot. Since I had to get back to my room and pack for an early morning flight, I usually didn't stay for Illuminations, but would leave the park shortly after dinner. But before exiting, I would ride Spaceship Earth one final time. After all, it would be several years before I returned and I wanted to enjoy my favorite Epcot attraction once more. This was always a bittersweet experience, knowing that this was my last adventure before leaving Walt Disney World.

Spaceship Earth Entrance - Late at Night

The early concepts for Spaceship Earth called for the attraction to be housed in a geodesic dome. But the Imagineers wanted to present a more dramatic entranceway than a dome could provide. After all, walking through a doorway on the side of the structure was rather lackluster. They felt that guests should ascend into the attraction from below.

Concept Drawing for Spaceship Earth

To accomplish this, a radical new concept was devised, instead of building a geodesic dome, build a geodesic sphere -- something that had never been done before. Construction would be no easy task. Although still in its infancy, Computer Aided Design (CAD) was required to plan and engineer this project. One of the first challenges was to lift and support the structure above the ground. Six legs, radiating away from the sphere to give the appearance that the globe is floating, were sunk 120 to 150 feet into the earth. This was done as much to carry the weight of this behemoth as it was to keep it from blowing away in hurricane force winds. A 1/16 inch = one foot model of Spaceship Earth was tested in a wind tunnel against simulated winds of 110 miles per hour. Interestingly, no scaffolding or temporary supports were used during construction.

Spaceship Earth Under Construction

Spaceship Earth Under Construction

Spaceship Earth Under Construction

Spaceship Earth is actually two separate spherical structures, one inside the other. The facade of the outer sphere is positioned two feet away from the inner core. A total of 11,324 triangles make up the external surface of the sphere. These triangles are made of a substance called Alucobond. Alucobond is polyethylene plastic chemically bonded to two layers of anodized aluminum -- and are self cleaning in the rain. The panels are spaced one inch apart so they may expand and contract in the heat and cold. In addition, this spacing allows rain to flow between the panels and be collected in an ingenious gutter system. The water is then channeled through the support legs and into the surrounding canals. From there it flows through a retention pond where oils and pollutants are removed before returning it to the environment.

Panels and Drainage System

Panels and Drainage System

In the end, the structure would stand 180 feet tall, have a diameter of 165 feet, a circumference of 518 feet, weigh 16 million pounds, and have a volume of 2,200,000 cubic feet. If Spaceship Earth were a golf ball, the golfer would need to be one mile tall! Construction took 26 months and over 40,800 labor hours. A model used in the planning stages of Spaceship Earth can be seen at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the "One Man's Dream" attraction.

Model of Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth, a term first coined by Buckminster Fuller, was an opening-day Epcot attraction (October 1, 1982) and tells the story of communications through the ages. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury helped Imagineers write the original script.

Many people remember Walter Cronkite as the attraction's first narrator, but he didn't join the show until 1986. In the beginning, Vic Perrin told the story of communication. Mr. Perrin was a character actor in the 40's, 50's, and 60's and is best remembered as the "Control Voice" in the original version of the TV series "The Outer Limits." In the early years, a fog machine created a mist which the Omnimover vehicles (your time machine) passed through on their initial ascent.

In May 1986, Walter Cronkite took over as narrator and voiced the attraction until early 1994. The fog machine was removed at this time and replace with a lighted tunnel representing a time-portal. In addition, the song "Tomorrow's Child" was added to the decent.

In August 1994, Jeremy Irons replaced Walter Cronkite. Three scenes highlighting computer use in the 1980's were removed and replaced with a single scene depicting a boy and girl using the internet to chat between the U.S. to Japan. A completely new orchestration was composed for the attraction and miniature sets were added to the decent.

The present version of Spaceship Earth debuted in February 2008. A completely new script is read by Dame Judi Dench and another new score replaced the old. Also, the decent was completely changed. The miniature sets were removed and each time machine was equipped with a touch-sensitive TV monitor. By answering a number of questions, guests can now choose and watch the type of future they may someday live in.

The Bell System was the original sponsor of Spaceship Earth. But in 1984, Ma Bell was broken up into regional companies and the parent company, AT&T took over until 2002. The attraction had no sponsor for several years until Siemens, the parent company of Sylvania which sponsors Illuminations, took over in 2005.

Bell Systems Logo

AT&T Logo

Siemen's Logo

When Epcot first opened, each Future World pavilion had its own logo. As time progressed, they were abandoned. But when Siemens took over, a new logo was developed for Spaceship Earth. Below are the original and new emblems.

Original Spaceship Earth Logo

Current Spaceship Earth Logo

Here is an early postcard for Spaceship Earth. Notice the scene in the upper right no longer exists.

Spaceship Earth Postcard

To celebrate the new millennium, Sorcerer Mickey's arm was constructed to the side of Spaceship Earth and the number 2000 arched over a portion of the sphere. This new icon stood 240 feet tall and weighed 100,000 pounds. When the celebration ended, the number 2000 was replaced with the name Epcot.

Many hard-core Disney fans were not happy with the decision to leave Mickey's arm and hand. They didn't feel Mickey should be represented so significantly at Epcot. As part of the fourth Spaceship Earth update, the decision to remove the arm was made and deconstruction began on July 9, 2007.

Mickey Arm and 2000

Mickey Arm and Epcot

No Mickey Arm

In the early years of Spaceship Earth, the area at the end of the ride was known as Earth Station. Here you entered a sort of futuristic City Hall. A number of computer terminals lined the walls and guests could have their questions answered electronically or speak with a live person via a two-way camera.

During this time, World Showcase restaurant reservations could only be made on the same day and were secured at Earth Station. At rope-drop, guests would run to this area so they could get their first choice in dining. It didn't take long to realize that only the early birds were going to enjoy a table-service meal at World Showcase. Sleepy heads were out-of-luck. Eventually, this policy was relaxed and guests could make reservations three days in advance. So for those of you who think getting a dining reservation at Disney World is an arduous task today, you can only imagine what it was like in the early and mid 80's.

Earth Station Entrance

Earth Station

Have you ever wondered what's on the second floor of Project Tomorrow (Earth Station)?

Second Floor of Project Tomorrow

All of the Future World Pavilions have lounges in them that are used by the corporate sponsors. This provided the companies with a place to entertain clients, media, and other individuals. This next, unimpressive picture was taken in the lobby of the AT&T lounge sometime in the late 90's.

AT&T Lounge

That's it for Part One. In the next installment we'll take a ride on the current Spaceship Earth.

January 10, 2010

Have a Seat in Walt Disney World - Part 2

Like everything that Disney does, theming is paramount. In this multi-part blog I'll be touring all four parks and pointing out benches, chairs, and other seating options that have been themed specifically for a land or area. For the most part, I'll be concentrating on non-restaurant seating.

Yesterday we covered the Magic Kingdom.

Our next stop on this seating tour is Epcot.

There are very few benches between the turnstiles and Spaceship Earth, yet plenty of seating can be found here. All of the planters in this area have a wide projection that acts as a seat and the fountain's ledge provides a perfect photo opportunity for groups to sit on.

Epcot Entrance Planter/Bench

Epcot Entrance Fountain

The following two benches are located in Future world. The first picture illustrates the seating found within the Innoventions Courtyard and on the walkway leading to World Showcase. Although it can be seen in various colors, its simplistic, modern design remains constant in these areas. The second bench is positioned throughout Future World East and West.

Innovention Benches

Future World Benches

Let's start with Mexico on our tour around World Showcase. The benches here are somewhat simple, being made up of wrought iron ends and wooden slats.

Mexico Bench

The benches in Norway are slightly more detailed than those in Mexico. If you notice, the bench's back is more elaborate than its Latin American neighbor.

Norway Bench

In China we find a traditional Asian design. Pleasant to the eye. Hard on the butt.

China Bench

African Outpost offers a number of tables and chairs. This is a good spot if you need to relax for more than just a couple of minutes.

African Outpost Table and Chairs

In between many of the pavilions you'll find a very generic bench. It was chosen as it would blend into any surrounding without detracting from the distinct national architectures found around World Showcase.

World Showcase Generic Bench

In Germany you'll find another simple slat bench. But you'll also find a number of tables and chairs situated around the Saint George fountain. This is another good spot to while away some time.

Germany Bench

St. George Fountain Table and Chairs

Like China, Italy offers some rather hard seating options. Carved marble might be lovely to look at, but after a couple of minutes sitting on one of these beauties and you'll be back on your feet in no time. For a slightly more relaxing choice, pick one of the nearby metal-work tables and chairs.

Italy Bench

Italy Table and Chairs

The only benches I could find outside of the American Adventure were in the American Gardens Theater -- and these are only available during performances. The seating options here are either on the brick planters or the cushioned tables and chairs adjoining the Liberty Inn Restaurant.

American Adventure Planter/Bench

American Adventure Table and Chairs

Like China and Italy, the seating options in Japan are rock hard.

Japan Benches

In Morocco we find yet another stone bench. But the nearby fountain is beautiful enough to make you forget for a moment that you're sitting on a hard surface.

Morocco Bench

Morocco Fountain

France offers a wooden bench, but don't plan on leaning back. The support is somewhat lacking. However, sidewalk-café styled tables and chairs are available on the water's edge for a more leisurely moment.

France Bench

France Table and Chairs

One of the most lovely spots in World Showcase can be found in the United Kingdom and there are plenty of benches in this area to sit on and enjoy the atmosphere.

United Kingdom Bench

And of course, one of the most famous seating areas in World Showcase is found on the UK's waterfront. This is a great place to watch Illuminations (and have a beer), but you must stake out your table an hour in advance -- sometimes more -- if you want to watch this nightly spectacular.

UK Table and Chairs

With a view of the Rockies, these simple but stylish benches in the Canada Pavilion are a great place to escape and catch your breath.

Canada Bench in the Rockies

Near the Le Cellier Restaurant we find a more rustic bench, appropriate to the great outdoors.

Le Cellier Bench

With Epcot complete, tomorrow we'll look at Animal Kingdom

October 22, 2009

Sum of all Thrills

On October 14, 2009, a new attraction opened in Innoventions East at Epcot (near Electric Umbrella). "Sum of all Thrills," presented by Raytheon, promises to be a real crowd pleaser and I predict long lines as more people discover this innovative ride.

Innoventions East

Sum of all Thrills Entrance

"Sum of all Thrills" allows guests to custom-design their own roller coaster, bobsled, or jet plane experience, then ride it. Some of you might remember a similar attraction at Disney Quest called CyberSpace Mountain, but I can assure you, this is far more elaborate.

Before riding, you might want to check out the warning sign and the test chairs to make sure you'll fit.

Warning Sign

Test Chairs

Your adventure begins in a briefing room. Here your hosts, Grace and Spencer, provide instructions on how to design your thrill ride. While doing so, they make a strong pitch for studying math and science and how these courses will give you the tools you need to build cool stuff like skyscrapers, high-performance racecars, and especially video games. Parents will appreciate this message that is intended to motivate their young.

Briefing Room

Grace and Spencer

After the briefing, a cast member hands everyone a small plastic card and directs you to an electronic drafting board.

Boarding Pass

Design Tables

Design Tables

The first task, swipe your card. This will associate you and your design so the computer can recreate your ride once you've completed it. After selecting a language on the touch-sensitive screen, you choose what type of thrill ride to develop. The options are Bobsled for a tame encounter, Roller Coaster for a mild ride, and Jet for the intense experience.

Adventure Choice

The next screen provides track options. Loops, corkscrews, hills, dives, and slaloms are all on the menu. You'll get to select three track layouts in all.

Track Sections

Next you use an electronic ruler and knob to design the intensity of the hills and the speed in which to traverse them.


Speed Knob

Once your design is complete, you give it a name (like Winter Avalanche) and then a cast member directs you to a second floor boarding area. Here you are asked to take EVERYTHING out of your pockets and store them in a free locker (key locked).


Now it's time to board. Attached to a significantly impressive robot arm are two seats. After you're seated, the cast member lowers a large apparatus over your head. While doing so you are told that there is an emergency stop button located between you. If at any time the ride becomes too intense, you can slap your hand down on this knob and the ride will immediately stop.


Within each apparatus is a television monitor. Here, an animated video recreates the ride you designed. In the corner of the monitor is a small insert picturing your riding companion. The device even creates "wind" to add to the realism.

The only way to accurately describe this attraction is to show you the robotic arm in action. Note, there are no riders in the video I filmed. For those of you who are curious, the music in the video is "The Rocketeer."

I've ridden this twice. Once with my friend Andrea and once with my friend Donald. On both occasions, I let them design the attraction. Being cautious, both of them opted for a tame experience. At the end of the ride, both of them said they would be more daring on their next visit. I will note that my head did bang against the padded head rest during the journey. This was a little uncomfortable. But other than that, I had a great time and can't wait to ride again. I also want a more intense ride.

The Sum of all Thrills only has four robotic arms, each holding two guests. In other words, the attraction has a low capacity. I predict that as word of this attraction spreads, it's going to become extremely popular. I suggest making this one of the first things you do when arriving at Epcot.

You may be wondering why Raytheon, a defense contractor, is sponsoring the Sum of all Thrills. This new attraction will be a core component of their MathMoveU program with an initiative designed to engage middle school students in math and science and help create the next generation of innovators for the United States. Representatives from Walt Disney World and Raytheon have been working to bring this experience to fruition for about 2 1/2 years. The initial sponsorship agreement will last 3 years.

Disney's Official Press Release

October 11, 2009

Mission: Space

Before Mission: SPACE, there was Horizons. Horizons opened exactly one year after Epcot on October 1, 1983. The attraction used Disney's Omnimover conveyance system and allowed guests to view the future through the eyes of scientist and authors both past and present.


The closing of Horizons (January 9, 1999) was generated by several events. First, changing public tastes. Most guests were no longer content to sit for almost 15 minutes and watch one vignette after another pass by. Lines for this attraction were practically nonexistent in the later years. Next, General Electric, sensing that this attraction had seen its day, let their contract expire after ten years and instead, decided to sponsor Illuminations. This forced Disney to pick up the operating costs for a tired attraction. And finally, it was alleged that along with major roof problems, a sinkhole was discovered under the building in 1998. Something needed to be done.

Some sort of Space Pavilion had been envisioned for Epcot since the parks inception so Disney decided that maybe now was the time to move forward with this idea. But the first step would be to demolish the Horizons building. For a number of months during 2000, cranes and bulldozers chipped away at the building. A large amount of the structure's materials were recycled.

Construction of Mission: SPACE took a little over two years. Compaq was the original sponsor of the attraction, but the company was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2002 and HP took over the contracts. The ride began soft openings in August 2003, and its grand opening was on October 9 of the same year.

Mission: SPACE Sign

The area outside of Mission: SPACE is called Planetary Plaza. If you look at the pavement, you can see orbital pathways and celestial bodies embedded into the concrete. The four large spheres near the building represent Jupiter, Mars, the Earth, and the Moon. The curving lines of the structure symbolize orbits and flight.

Planetary Plaza

The backstory for Mission: SPACE is this. The year is 2036, seventy-five years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. A colony is being built on Mars and the International Space Training Center (ISTC) is preparing astronauts for the journey. They will fly aboard the new X-2 Deep Space Shuttle which is propelled by solid hydrogen and can accelerate from zero to six-thousand in sixty seconds.

ISTC Training

X-2 Deep Space Shuttle

Upon entering the Mission: SPACE compound, trainees are asked if they would like to receive "Less Intense Training" (Green Team) or "More Intense Training" (Orange Team). Once you make your decision, you will be given an appropriate colored Launch Ticket. Notice, the green ticket says "CAUTION" while the orange ticket says "WARNING."

Launch Tickets

I cannot stress this enough, if you're in doubt as to which training session to choose, select the milder version. (I'll go into the ride mechanics later.) When this attraction debuted, only the "More Intense Training" was offered. Numerous guests suffered severe motion sickness during the first several years of operation. Things became so bad that Disney installed barf-bags in each training module within a couple of weeks of opening. However, they soon realized that this wasn't enough and something more drastic was needed to solve the problem. Eventually, a milder version of the attraction was developed (Less Intense Training) and came online in May, 2006. Note, if some members of your party select Mild and others request Intense, you will be separated and you will not ride together.

After you receive your Launch Ticket, take a look at the large model of the moon located behind the cast members.

Model of the Moon

Located on its surface are colored markers. These represent the 29 manned and unmanned landing sites achieved by the United States and the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1976. A single red marker designates the landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. Other manned missions are marked in blue and unmanned missions are marked in clear/white.

Moon Landing Spots

Also in this area are ten plaques containing quotations from people who have inspired and promoted space travel throughout history.

Inspiratonal Plaques

Before entering the Mission: SPACE Sim Lab, you can view a mockup of the training capsule. For those of you who suffer from claustrophobia, this will help you make a determination if this ride is suitable for you.

Simulator Mockup

Once inside the Sim Lab, the queue passes beside a reproduction of the living quarters of a space vehicle. The rooms rotate to create artificial gravity for its inhabitants. If you look at the hub of this assembly, you can see the old logo for Horizons. Disney often acknowledges previous attractions by placing some sort of remembrance in the current ride.

Rotating Space Quarters

Horizon's Logo

On the other side of the room, hanging from the ceiling, is a large model of a spacecraft. If you study the ship closely, you can see where the rotating section (living quarters) would be located on this vehicle.


Also hanging from the ceiling is a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). On loan from the Smithsonian, this is the only LRV constructed that is not on the moon. These two-passenger "cars" were battery powered and had a top speed of 8.7 miles per hour. Designed in 1969, the LRVs were used by Apollo 15, 16, and 17 to explore the surface of the moon.

Lunar Roving Vehicle

As your journey along the queue continues, you'll pass beside a portrait gallery. Here you'll find a number of plaques commemorating milestones in space history. Starting with the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin (1961) and ending with the first X-2 Deep Space Mission with the crew of Bobby O'Brien, Sumi Yamamoto, and Frank Rodriguez (2036).

Yuri Gagarin

Internation Space Station Crew

First Family In Space

First X-2 Deep Space Mission

Across from the portrait gallery is the International Space Training Center Command Area. All activities of your mission will be coordinated from here.

International Space Training Center Command Area

If you watch the small monitors on the console, you might spot a gooney bird come in for a crash landing. Your first thought might be, "This is a strange image to be displayed here." But there is some Disney trivia behind this silly bird. During the preshow for "Flight to the Moon" and later "Mission to Mars" in the old Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom (and Disneyland), this gooney bird set off alarms and flashing lights and Mission Control went into full alert as this "UFO" came in for a landing. It was a corny joke, but was appropriate for the era and for old-timers like myself, it brings back pleasant memories.

The Command Area marks the end of the queue and your adventure will begin shortly. Those taking the "Less Intense Training" will be directed to Briefing Rooms 1 and 2 while those taking the "More Intense Training" will be directed to Briefing Rooms 3 and 4. You will be grouped into teams of four and asked to stand on corresponding numbers on the floor.

Briefing Rooms

Briefing Room

When all of the trainees are in place, the doors behind you close and a short video is presented on overhead monitors. Your mission is explained and some safety procedures covered. For those of you who don't recognize the CapCom, it's Gary Sinise.

From the Briefing Room, flight instructors guide each team around a circular room and ask them to wait on their corresponding numbers.

Team Grouping Numbers

Team Groupings

At this station, each member of your team is assigned one of the following positions: Commander, Pilot, Navigator, and Engineer. During your training session, each position will be called upon to complete two tasks. But don't worry. If you miss your cue, the computer takes over and fulfills your duty. You'll also be given additional safety tips at this time. During this portion of the video, you will see a young lady pull her restraint over her head. Close observers may recognize her from Test Track as she is also in that attraction's safety video and is shown fastening her seat belt while being seated in her vehicle.

Soon, the doors in front of you open and your team enters its training module. Stow any loose items in the bin in front of you, then pull down the safety restraint. A steady stream of cool air is blown into your face to help prevent motion sickness.

Training Simulators

Training Simulators

I have created a short video of the experience. This is an edited version of the actual events.

Now that you've watched the video, let me give you a little information about the attraction's design and mechanics. In association with former NASA advisors, astronauts, and scientists, Walt Disney Imagineering developed Mission: SPACE. Over a five year period, 650 Imagineers spent more than 350,000 hours creating this attraction. The developers said that much of the technology used for Mission: SPACE needed to be invented as nothing already existed that was capable of giving the guests this type of experience.

In each of the four training areas, there is a large, multiple-arm centrifuge. Attached to the arms are ten training modules. In the "More Intense Training" session, the centrifuge spins, giving riders a since of increased gravity and later weightlessness. This force is 2.5 times that of gravity at the earth's surface. When your craft blasts off, you feel and intense pressure on your body. Also, while your module is spinning, it pitches and yaws to add to the effect of movement through space. In the "Less Intense Training" session, the motion simulator effects are used, but the centrifuge does not spin. It seems to be the spinning that causes some guests physical problems. The ride has a capacity of 1,600 guests per hour.

I like the "More Intense Training" session - a lot. So when Disney introduced the "Less Intense Training" session, I thought it would be lacking. But to my surprise, it still delivers a good experience. Certainly anyone who can "stomach" Star Tours, can join the Green (Less Intense) Team.

If you're like me and have ridden Mission: SPACE more times than you can count, I offer you something else to watch during the ride (if your stomach can take it). Pay attention to the small video screen located next to your monitor. An animated simulation of your entire journey is chronicled on this screen.

When your training is complete, you enter the Advanced Training Lab. Here, four different stations offer additional adventures. The first is for the little ones. "Space Base" is a sort of space-aged Habitrail for kids. A number of tubes and enclosures allow them to climb through a variety of pathways.

Space Base

Space Base

At "Expedition: Mars," you command a search and rescue mission, looking for lost astronauts. This computer game offers three levels of play.

Expedition: Mars

Expedition: Mars

"Postcards from Space" allows you to create a short video and email it too friends and family back home. If you want to make someone envious that you're at Walt Disney World and they're not, you can make it happen here.

Postcards from Space

The final Advanced Training Lab attraction is "Mission: Space Race." At this station, two teams compete to create a successful mission. This game is coordinated by cast members and requires a minimum number of players. If you want to experience this event, you might need to return later in the day when crowds have grown.

Mission: Space Race

And like so many other Disney attractions, you exit Mission: SPACE through a themed shop. This one is called Mission Space Cargo Bay - Gear and Supplies.

Mickey at Mission Space Cargo Bay

Right outside the shop is a bench. This is the perfect spot for those of you who choose not to experience any training whatsoever to wait for your friends and family.

Waiting Bench

Mission: SPACE offers numerous warnings before boarding. There are multiple signs posted in Planetary Plaza. There are videos located next to the vehicle mockup. There are overhead announcements. And both safety videos explain what's coming. There is no way anyone can claim they didn't understand what was in store for them unless they paid absolutely no attention as to what was going on around them. Children must be 44" high to ride.

Well, that's what I have on Mission: SPACE. I'm not a fan of the Tea Cups at the Magic Kingdom as the spinning makes me sick, yet I have no problem with the spinning of this attraction. But don't let anyone talk you into the Intense Training unless it's what YOU want to do. It's just not worth ruining the next several hours of your visit to Epcot while you're experiencing extreme nausea.

September 27, 2009

Bistro de Paris - Epcot

I am often asked what my favorite restaurant is at Walt Disney World. But that's a difficult question to answer. There are so many categories from which to choose. There are casual eateries, fine dining, and counter service. And it would all depend on my mood. But if someone were to tell me they wanted to have an elegant meal, within a theme park, I would have no problem giving them a recommendation, the Bistro de Paris.

Located on the second floor of the France Pavilion overlooking Epcot's World Showcase, the entrance can be found on the back side of Les Chef's de France restaurant. Open only for dinner, this eatery was established by Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge and the late Gaston Lenotre and serves creative variations on traditional French meals.

France Pavilion - Bistro de Paris

Bistro de Paris Entrance

The antechamber of the restaurant is simple, but elegant. A number of satin covered chairs and flower bouquets create a graceful atmosphere. The curving staircase is inviting and makes you wonder what is waiting for you at the top.

Bistro de Paris Antechamber

Bistro de Paris Staircase

When your reservation time arrives, a host or hostess will greet you on the landing and escort you up the stairs and to the dining room. An elevator is available for those who wish to ride.

Bistro de Paris Host

The Bistro de Paris is elegantly decorated without being pretentious. Its style captures the sophistication and romance of turn-of-the-20th century Paris. Cream colored walls and maroon upholstery are accented by mirrors, brass sconces, and milk-glass chandeliers. And unlike its downstairs counterpart, Les Chefs de France, the tables at the Bistro de Paris are spaciously arranged allowing diners a more intimate atmosphere.

Dining Room

Dining Room

A number of tables are situated next to the windows, affording guests a wonderful view of the promenade below and other World Showcase countries in the distance. Most of these are tables-for-two and are seated on a first come, first served basis.

Window Table

The tables are set quite simply as appropriate flatware will be brought with each course. The napkins are folded to represent a gentleman's coat.

Table Setting

I dined with my friend Donald and a long-lost out-of-town acquaintance that got back in touch with me after recognizing my name and picture on Allears. Kim was an Imagineer many years ago and played a part in the creation of the Bistro de Paris. We were seated at one of the few tables-for-four next to a window. From here we could see the Test Track building.

View from the Window

The Bistro de Paris cast members are from France and are working at Epcot as part of a cultural exchange program. This adds greatly to the authenticity of the restaurant and it's a lot of fun to engage them in conversation about their country.

A full bar is available and a drink is the perfect way to start your meal and slow down the pace of the evening. The Bistro de Paris is a special place and you don't want to rush the experience. While waiting for your waiter to return with your cocktails, another server approaches the table and offers everyone bread, which is served from a wicker basket. The rolls have a crispy crust and a delightfully chewy center. It would be so easy for me to make a meal of bread and butter alone, but what a waste that would be with so many taste-treats yet to come.

Bread & Butter Service

The first course is a complimentary hors d'oeuvre. This is a pleasant surprise that makes you feel all the more welcome. This appetizer consisted of a puff-pastry filled with a blending of crab and lobster, topped with cucumber slices and a cherry tomato. It was yummy.

Crab & Lobster Appetizer

The Bistro de Paris has an impressive wine list and features French selections from the famed regions of Loire Valley, Alsace, Southern France, Bourgogne, and Bordeaux. The wines also have impressive prices, starting in the $50 range and going all the way up to $1,200. I selected a Pouilly-Fuissé ($59) which is a dry white wine made from the Chardonnay grape. It is pale and refreshing with a delicate flavor.

Wine Service

The Bistro offers an à la carte menu and a prix fix tasting menu consisting of 3-courses, and is available with or without wine pairings. Since I was writing a review, we all tried to order different items so I could present a larger array of descriptions to you. And don't worry; the menu is presented in both French and English.

For an appetizer, Donald ordered the Chilled Tomato Soup with Cilantro and Tapenade Toast ($12). I took a taste and I'd have to say it reminded me a little bit of Gazpacho. I thought it was okay, but I think there are better choices available. However, the Tapenade Toast was quite good.

Chilled Tomato Soup with Cilantro and Tapenade Toast

I ordered the Warm Goat Cheese with Basil and Sundried Tomatoes in a Crisp Shell accompanied by Baby Mixed Greens and Balsamic Vinegar ($13). The goat cheese was flavorful and nicely presented. I would have to say the mixed greens were more of a garnish than an offering, but the balsamic dressing was tasty. Overall, I was pleased.

Warm Goat Cheese with Basil and Sundried Tomatoes in a Crisp Shell

Kim ordered the Smoked Salmon Pastrami, Arugula & Mache Salad with Tarragon, Buckwheat Blinis, and Horseradish & Caviar Cream ($14). He definitely won first prize for his selection. The salmon had a smoky flavor, but you could make out pastrami nuances. And a larger serving of the buckwheat blinis could be an appetizer all by itself. Both were delicious and the presentation was outstanding.

Smoked Salmon Pastrami, Arugula & Mache Salad with Tarragon, Buckwheat Blinis, and Horseradish & Caviar Cream

For an entrée, Donald ordered Seared Sea Scallops and Stewed Fennel with Seafood Safranned Jus ($32). And as you would expect, the scallops were extremely tender and not the least bit rubbery. I took a bite and liked what I tasted - the delicate flavor of the scallops was enhanced by the grilling and safranned jus. Once again the presentation was lovely.

Seared Sea Scallops and Stewed Fennel with Seafood Safranned Jus

I ordered the Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Mushrooms with Forestiere Sauce and Pasta Gratin with Truffles. I have to admit, I was somewhat disappointed with the serving size. Each of the two pork medallions only contained about two bites (maybe three very small bites). However, those four bites were quite enjoyable. The pasta gratin reminded me of very upscale mac-and-cheese. It was okay. Note, all three of my selections (appetizer, entrée, and dessert) were part of the prix fix menu ($44) so it's possible that my serving size would have been larger if I had ordered it à la carte ($30). But I don't know this.

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Mushrooms with Forestiere Sauce and Pasta Gratin with Truffles

Kim ordered the Grill Beef Tenderloin, Beef Parmentier with Peppercorn Sauce and Asparagus ($38). I felt his serving size was much more reasonable. Kim let me sample his beef and it was melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious. This was an excellent cut of beef that had been prepared perfectly. I wish I had ordered it. My only negative comment is that Kim ordered it "medium." I felt it arrived at the table somewhere between rare and medium-rare. Now this was perfect for me, but that's not the way Kim ordered it.

Grill Beef Tenderloin, Beef Parmentier with Peppercorn Sauce and Asparagus

Now comes the best part of any fine meal, the dessert.

Dessert Menu

Donald ordered the Hazelnut Frozen Parfait with Meringue with Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream. Being a chocolate ice cream lover, he was hoping for a larger scoop, but other than that, he was happy with his choice. He felt that the light chocolate balanced nicely with the delicate flavors of the Hazelnut Parfait.

Hazelnut Frozen Parfait with Meringue with Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream

I selected the Warm Chocolate and Almond Cake, Crispy Feuilletine and White Chocolate Mousse, Praline Sauce. I didn't realize until I cut into my cake that in essence, this is the Bistro de Paris' version of a Chocolate Lava Cake. Thick, gooey chocolate oozed out of the creation and onto the plate. The dark brown liquid was rich beyond belief and oh so wonderful. Donald, the chocoholic, was envious of my selection.

Bistro de Paris' version of a Chocolate Lava Cake

And finally, Kim ordered the Warm and Frozen Grand-Marnier Soufflé. After his dessert was placed in front of him, our waiter cut into the warm soufflé and poured in the cream sauce. It looked magnificent. I tried both the warm and the cold soufflés and I would have been extremely pleased with either one as my dessert, but here you get both. Once again, I think Kim made the best choice of the three of us. All desserts are $11.

Warm and Frozen Grand-Marnier Soufflé

The Bistro de Paris is a fine dining establishment, but it's not meant to intimidate anyone. If you've always wanted to try a French restaurant, but were a little nervous about it, think about eating here. This is Disney. They're not going to make you feel uncomfortable.

Our meal took two hours and you should plan on at least an hour and a half - but probably more.

The Bistro de Paris is NOT on the Disney Dining Plan.

Also, being inside a theme park, they have a more relaxed dress code than you would expect for an establishment of this caliber. However, it is more restrictive than other Epcot restaurants.

Men: Khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.

Ladies: Capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts.

Not permitted in dining room: Tank tops, swimwear, hats for gentleman, cut offs, or torn clothing. While T-shirts are now allowed, the policy remains that T-shirts with offensive language or graphics are not acceptable.

Although children are welcome at the Bistro de Paris, there is no children's menu - and the adult portions are not large enough to share.

To make reservations, book online or call (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463 up to 90 days prior to your visit. Beginning October 27, 2009, the dining reservations window will move from 90 to 180 days before your scheduled arrival. Be sure to plan ahead.

September 22, 2009

Test Track - Epcot

I can't discuss Test Track without first talking about the early years of Epcot.

When the park opened on October 1, 1982, it was to be an "adult" park - a place where guests could learn about the challenges facing the world and how the companies involved with Epcot were trying to solve them. And while educating us, Disney would make this dry subject matter palatable and entertaining.

For those of you who visited Epcot soon after it opened, you might remember that Mickey, Donald, and none of their pals wandered the park. Disney felt that if guests wanted to experience the characters, they could go to the Magic Kingdom. However, parents with children felt differently and were vocal that their offspring were bored. Teenagers too, felt that Epcot offered them little to enjoy. Disney soon realized that they needed to make a few changes in order to appeal to a broader audience.

World of Motion, sponsored by General Motors, was one of the opening day attractions at Epcot. In many ways, this ride was similar in concept to Spaceship Earth. Both took guests back in time so they could witness a topic's transformation through the years. Spaceship Earth discussed communications in a serious manner, whereas World of Motion presented the story of transportation humorously.

World of Motion

World of Motion

The first thrill ride (if you can call it that) to come to Epcot was Maelstrom in July 1988. Located in the Norway Pavilion, this boat ride takes guests past a Viking encampment, through the land of trolls, and eventually into the present. Along the way, your craft reverses direction several times and then sails down a small waterfall. In reality, the sights on this voyage aren't any more engaging than those seen on the El Rio del Tiempo/Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico Pavilion, but the simple "thrills" of Maelstrom gives this ride a continuous line whereas the Gran Fiesta Tour is usually a "walk-on" attraction.


El Rio del Tiempo

The next thrill ride to come to Epcot was Body Wars, opening in October 1989. Located in the Wonders of Life Pavilion, this attraction used the same motion simulators as the ever popular Star Tours, only this time, your craft was shrunk to the size of a blood cell so you could carry out a medical procedure inside the human body.

Body Wars

This attraction never achieved the success Disney had hoped for. Many guests who loved Star Tours, found themselves nauseated after Body War's five minute ride. Whether it was the icky subject matter or the fluid motion of the vehicle, who knows, but people got sick on this attraction. Long lines only occurred during the busiest times of the year. Disney still needed a "wow" factor in Epcot - something that would appeal to the thrill seekers and a younger more adventurous generation.

By the mid-nineties, World of Motion had lost much of its appeal. General Motors, the attraction's sponsor, had started signing one-year contracts (instead of five or ten) until something could be done to shake things up and invigorate the experience. However, it was important that any new attraction would still educate guests and tell a story. Being Epcot, a "serious" park, Disney wanted justification for any "thrill" they designed. With that in mind, the idea of demonstrating to the public all that went into testing an automobile was born. Soon after "Test Track" went from concept to green light. However, things did not sail smoothly from the drawing board to reality.

World of Motion closed its doors on January 2, 1996. It was estimated to take approximately 19 months to gut the WOM building and build Test Track. The first announced opening date for Test Track was to be in mid 1997. But constant changes to the initial designs added huge amounts of time to the testing process. Couple this with extreme tire and axel problems, complicated guest evacuation procedures, computer problems, and overly sensitive safety sensors, the opening was delayed time and time again. It took almost two years to resolve all of the problems. Test Track finally opened on March 17, 1999. However, breakdowns were still commonplace in the beginning and it could take up to an hour to reset everything and restart the ride when it broke down. Today, gremlins visit Test Track far less often and the reset process has been reduced significantly.

Test Track Entrance

Once Test Track opened, it set some records. The track is 5,246 feet long (2,600 feet being outside the building), making it Disney's longest attraction when it opened. California Screamin' at 6,000 feet beat Test Track when it opened in 2001. The People Mover/Rocket Rods at Disneyland has a longer track, but since these attractions are no longer operating, it takes them out of the mix. Also, at just shy of 65 miles per hour, Test Track is the fastest Disney attraction ever built. Expedition: Everest and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster both only reach a top speed of around 60 miles per hour.

In the design phase of Test Track, Imagineers spent many hours at real testing facilities and proving grounds, learning what an automobile goes through to become roadworthy. Much of what they learned is exhibited in the queue. Here, numerous bays display the various components of testing. One of the first exhibits presents a vintage automobile. The sign overhead describes the simple tests that these early cars were put through - nothing compared to the hundreds of grueling examinations a vehicle experiences today.

Old Time Testing

Engine, emission, and corrosion tests are just a few of the topics described along the queue. It is worth your while to read a couple of the signs as you inch your way along in line.

Engine Testing

Emission Testing

Corrosion Testing

Before boarding your test vehicle, you enter a briefing room. Here, you watch a short video describing the tests you and your car will be put through. The director of operations in this video (Bill McKim) is played by actor John Michael Higgins, best known for his roles in "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind." Note, when Epcot first opens each morning, the Briefing Room section of the attraction is bypassed to help alleviate the onslaught of people arriving at Test Track.

Test Track Briefing Room

On the back wall of the Briefing Room are a number of aerial photographs of "test tracks" around the world. There is even a picture of Epcot's proving grounds.

Testing Facility

Aerial View of Test Track

The ride puts your vehicle through a number of examinations. First, the Hill Climb Test is completed, followed by the Suspension Test that takes you over very bumpy surfaces. Next, demonstrations of how the ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) functions and helps a vehicle come to a smooth stop. After that, your car is subjected to extreme cold, heat, and corrosive sprays in the Environmental Chamber. For the Road Handling Test, the car climbs a hill, making numerous switchback turns and narrowly avoiding a head-on collision. The Barrier Test is next followed by the High Speed Test, taking your car outside for a race with the wind.

Be sure to look for the test dummy wearing a Goofy hat.

I have created a short video of the experience.

Here are some interesting facts about Test Track.

* It takes 8.8 seconds to accelerate from 0-65 for the High Speed Test.
* Each vehicle was designed to last for approximately one million miles and travels about 50,000 miles in any given year.
* Each car has three on-board computers and several times the processing power of the Space Shuttle.
* There are 32 vehicles in total, but only 25-26 are on the track at any one time.
* Each car as a total of 22 wheels, although only four are seen by the guests.
* There are six braking systems on each car.
* Each vehicle completes 34 turns during the ride.
* The roadway that runs alongside of the building is banked at 50 degrees.
* There are 85 road signs along the route.
* A 100-degree shift in temperature occurs as your vehicle drives through extreme desert heat and then piercing arctic cold in the Environmental Chamber.
* The ride lasts approximately five and a half minutes.

After the ride, guests walk through a small mockup of an automotive assembly plant. It's here that you can make arrangements to purchase your onboard photo.

Photo Ordering Station

From the assembly plant, you enter the showroom. A number of GM cars are on display and you can browse to your heart's content without an annoying salesman bothering you. And if you do have questions, General Motors employees are on hand to answer any inquiries at the Information Center.

GM Showroom

GM Information Center

It's always fun to drool over the concept cars on exhibit.

Concept Car - Volt

Concept Car

Currently, there is a display that explains what a hybrid car is and how, by combining the best of electric motors and internal combustion engines, outstanding mileage can be achieved.

Hybrid Display

Of course, no attraction would be complete without a stroll through a gift shop. Here you'll find both Disney and GM branded merchandise with an automotive theme. This is also the spot where you can purchase your on-board photo.

Test Track Shop

Like all Disney thrill rides, there are some requirements that must be met before boarding. Children must be at least 40 inches tall to ride and expectant mothers should avoid this attraction. All others must be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back, or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure.


Test Track does offer FastPass. I would suggest picking up these puppies in the early morning. You don't want to have a return time in the late afternoon when you're all the way across the park in the France Pavilion.

FastPass Distribution

There have been rumors that GM will not sponsor the attraction in the future due to its financial problems and government loans. But nothing official has been announced at this time. But you can be sure that Disney will keep this perennial favorite running no matter what happens. Test Track is to Epcot what Space Mountain is to the Magic Kingdom. People want to experience and enjoy this exciting ride for many years to come.

June 19, 2009

Boulangerie Patisserie

One of my favorite spots at Epcot, and probably a favorite of many of you, is the Boulangerie Patisserie located in the France Pavilion. What better place is there to indulge in such decadence? Artistic delights to tantalize the taste buds.

Boulangerie Patisserie

Located toward the back of the France Pavilion, this is the spot to satisfy your sweet tooth. Pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre, one of the trio of chefs who oversee "Chefs de France" and "Bistro de Paris" was responsible for many of the creations available at Boulangerie Patisserie. Sadly, he passed away this past January, but his temptations live on in this wonderful sidewalk café.

Boulangerie Patisserie

Boulangerie Patisserie

Be forewarned, this eatery becomes busy early in the day and remains so until closing. Either arrive at opening, or be prepared to wait in line.

Most people miss the small baking displays near the doors they're so busy to get to the gooey concoctions. It's worth your time to take a moment and look at how beautifully this café is decorated.

Boulangerie Patisserie display

Boulangerie Patisserie display

Once you're fully inside this pastry shop, your eyes widen and your mouth begins to water. Ahead are cakes, tarts, turnovers, éclairs, cream puffs, and much, much more. The Napoleon is my favorite, but I always get powdered sugar all over myself. After you've made up your mind, all you have to do is point and a charming French cast member will be happy to place your selection on a paper plate and tray.

Display Case





Although luscious desserts are the primary draw at Boulangerie Patisserie, a cheese plate and various meat-filled croissants and baguettes are also available. These are perfect if you're in the mood for a light meal.

Cheese & Sandwiches

Here is the current menu.

Boulangerie Patisserie Menu

There are two sides/lines and two cash registers. It's at the register that you order your beverage. Besides the usual Coke products, cappuccino, espresso, and a few other tasty concoctions are for sale.

Two display cases

Register and drink station

After you pay, don't forget to pick up napkins, knives, forks, spoons, and other necessary condiments found on an antique table near the exit.


There are numerous tables right outside the Boulangerie Patisserie. On a pleasant day, it doesn't take too much imagination to make believe you're actually in Paris enjoying your taste treat on a quiet street.

Outdoor Seating

However, these tables fill up quickly and sometimes it's difficult to secure one. If you discover that all of them are occupied, don't despair, more are available just inside the Souvenirs de France shop. Actually, on a hot day, these inside tables are a better choice than their outside counterparts as you'll find air conditioning waiting for you here.

Souveniers de France

Indoor Seating

If you look around the interior of this shop, you'll find it's been designed to look like a train platform. This is also the same shop that the Impressions de France movie exits into. But this takes place on the other side of this large room so these occasional crowds should not interfere with your meal.

Interior of Souveniers de France

I have to believe that 95% of you have already experienced Boulangerie Patisserie and this blog is nothing more than a pleasant reminder of a pleasant spot. But for that other 5%, this needs to be a "must see" on your next visit to Epcot. I can pretty much guarantee that once you try it, you'll become a regular customer.

May 19, 2009

The Great Piggy Bank Adventure

A new exhibit opened today (May 19, 2009) at Innoventions West in Epcot. Called "The Great Piggy Bank Adventure," this attraction teaches children (and adults) the importance of saving and planning for the future.


When I was first invited to cover this event I thought to myself, "Who's going to want to learn about dry financial matters when they visit Disney World?" But Disney has been educating us for years in entertaining ways so I attended this grand opening with an open mind - and I'm glad I did. I had a good experience and I think others can too if they take the time to check out this latest Innoventions attraction.

Shortly after I arrived at the press event I was introduced to Todd Cleary, Director of the Retail Division of T. Rowe Price. We spent the next half-hour discussing The Great Piggy Bank Adventure as he walked me through the various games used to teach us how to save and invest wisely. One of the first questions I asked Todd was how Disney and T. Rowe Price came together to create this new exhibit. I was told that a little over three years ago, Disney decided they wanted to showcase the importance of saving money and felt Innoventions was the perfect spot to accomplish this goal. After scrutinizing a number of financial institutions it was decided that T. Rowe Price and Disney shared similar philosophies and the teaming of the two would be a good match. Representatives from T. Rowe Price and Disney Imagineers then sat down together and tried to come up with a fun way to learn about a staid subject.

At first the Imagineers wanted to create scenarios that allowed the guests to easily save money and win the game. But since T. Rowe Price is a regulated company, it was required that the challenges be true-to-life and teach us that there are hazards along the way and achieving financial security takes some hard work and smart choices. With this new information in hand, the Imagineers came up with four stations that teach us how to invest wisely. These are, Pick Your Dream, Save It, Inflation Race, and Diversify.

I'm now going to walk you through the game and give you and idea of what's in store at The Great Piggy Bank Adventure.

As with all Disney attractions, you start in the queue. It's here that we're first introduced to the hero of our story, P.I.G. (Personal Investment Guide). In the following portraits we can see him enjoying the Ultimate Vacation, a College Education, Retirement, and an Extreme Bedroom Makeover.






Once past the queue we enter a child's bedroom. We tap on one of the touch sensitive screens and our PIG comes alive. After a short explanation of how the game works, we are asked to select a goal, which are the same as the portraits we saw earlier. We're also asked how many people will be playing the game, one, two, or three.



After the selections are made, we're requested to open one of the drawers where we find our own PIG guide which will accompany us during our financial journey.


The second station teaches us the importance of saving money. When we arrive, we place our PIG on a conveyor belt to the left side of the machine. As he moves into the mechanism, our PIG is transformed from a three-dimensional piggy bank into a two-dimensional cartoon character who will now help us learn to save money.



After a brief explanation, coins of various amounts start to fall from the top of the screen. At the bottom of the screen are various buckets labeled, Savings, Candy, Toys, MP3s, and Outfits. The idea is to direct the coins into the pots marked Savings. But just when you think you have all of the levers positioned correctly, a wolf appears and switches the position of the pots. This forces you to constantly change the levers so that your money is being saved rather than spent.


The lesson here is obvious. We need to be constantly aware of how we spend our money and not forget to save along the way.

At the conclusion of the "Save It" game, our PIG is returned to us and we take him to the "Inflation Race" kiosk. We place our hero into a pneumatic tube, push a plunger, and away he goes on his way to help us learn about the dangers of inflation.



On this next screen our PIG floats from balloons and is carried on currents of up and down drafts. Coins, and the wolf, are also present and you must work as a team to maneuver your PIG around the display collecting money and avoiding obstacles (inflation). Once again, when the scenario completes, your PIG is returned to you and you move on to the final station.


At the "Diversify" kiosk we use magic wands to move our money into various pots. Each pot has a growth factor associated with it. The higher the number, the faster your money will grow in that pot. At first you might think that the smart thing to do is move all of you coins into the higher numbered pots, but occasionally the game comes to a stop and the wolf appears. He sneaks around the screen and snatches money randomly from different accounts - and you have no way of knowing where he might strike. Thus we're taught not to put all of our eggs into one basket. We must diversify our money.




We have one final stop along the way. Here we return our PIG and find out if we achieved the goal we selected at the beginning of the game. If you did well, your cartoon pig sprouts wings and flies happily to his destination. If you failed, like I did twice, you land in the mud. The entire game lasts between 15-20 minutes.



I think this is a fantastic way for children to learn the importance of savings. And the debut of this attraction couldn't be better timed with today's financial climate as it is. But I strongly feel that The Great Piggy Bank Adventure is something that a parent should experience with their children. The games are appealing to the younger set, but some of the lessons might be lost without some guidance from an adult. But the good news is, the games are engrossing enough to keep us older folk entertained as well.

If you want to continue the fun once you get home, check out the link below for the home version of The Great Piggy Bank Adventure.

At 10 o'clock, the official grand opening of the event occurred. Dan Cockerell, Vice President - Epcot, Jim Hunt, Senior Vice President - Walt Disney World, Brian Rogers, Chairman and CIO - T. Rowe Price, and Edward Bernard, Vice Chairman of T. Rowe Price were on hand for the official ribbon cutting. And of course, no Disney event would be complete without an appearance from the big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse.



I know that many of you only visit Innoventions when it's raining or you want to escape from the heat. But there are a number of engrossing exhibits here if you'll take the time to explore. Are they as exciting as Test Track or Soarin'? No. But they can be a lot of fun if you give them a chance. And The Great Piggy Bank Adventure falls into this fun category.

March 23, 2009

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2009 – Part 2

The first topiaries you'll encounter when leaving Future World for World Showcase are Mrs. Pots, Chip, Cogsworth, and Lumiere from "Beauty and the Beast." I have to admit, Anita Answer and I were both somewhat perplexed by Chips lips. It looks like he borrowed a pair of Mrs. Potato Head's. Hmmmm.

2009 Flower and Garden Festival - Beauty and the Beast Characters

In keeping with the "Celebrate Springtime" theme, we find characters from the Lion King rejoicing in Simba's birth at the entrance to World Showcase.

2009 Flower and Garden Festival Lion King

2009 Flower and Garden Festival Lion King

2009 Flower and Garden Festival Lion

This year, the traditional arch that guests are accustomed to seeing in this area, is missing. According to Eric Darden, Horticulture Manager of Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival, Disney tries to rotate and change certain features of the event each year to keep things fresh and new. He told me that a particular design or topiary is used for 2-4 years before it is retired or reworked.

A number of shopping venues are available around World Showcase and feature both Disney and non-Disney merchandise with a gardening theme. Two favorites are the Mickey gnomes and the do-it-yourself Mickey topiary.






I'm going to start in Canada and circle the World Showcase Lagoon. The first characters we find are Bambi, Thumper, and Flower.


Even though they're always beautiful and difficult to improve upon, don't forget to take a stroll through Victoria Gardens.



In the United Kingdom Twinings Tea has a number of teacups filled with various kinds of foliage.

Guided tours through the tea garden are presented on Monday thru Thursdays at 3:30 and 6:30 and Friday and Saturdays at 2:30, 3:30, 5:00, and 6:30. You can sign up at the Tea Caddy to learn the history and art of tea blending.


The France Pavilion features a number of topiary in the shape of perfume bottles.


Also in this area is the Fragrance Garden. The Guerlain Company sponsors this exhibit which allows guest to learn about the connection between plants and fragrances. A Guerlain representative conducts 20-minute informative tours of this area daily at 2, 4, and 6pm.

Ten different Guerlain fragrances can be sampled at the Lift & Sniff kiosks in this garden. An informative sign helps you understand the odor's complex blending.


Located between the France and Morocco Pavilions is the Nature Conservancy display. While your kids enjoy themselves in the nearby playground, you can learn how to create an environmentally friendly garden in your own backyard.




In Morocco you can see topiary Aladdin flying on his carpet.


A perennial favorite are the bonsai trees found in the Japan Pavilion. But don't forget, besides the obvious collection near the tori gate, there are additional treasures behind the pagoda.


I'm going to skip the American Pavilion for the time being.

In the Italy Pavilion you can find a large array of container plants. According to Epcot Horticulturalist, Eric Darden, all of the container plants throughout the park must be watered by hand - a task that takes endless hours. Also, his staff plans for a 70% - 100% replacement of all bedding and container plants during the festival.


The other highlight at the Italy Pavilion is the Lady and the Tramp topiary. Who could resist getting their picture taken in front of this romantic spot?


The Germany Pavilion did not have any special landscaping this year, so I'll share a bit of trivia with you. The large LBG train layout next to Germany was once a part of the Flower & Garden Festival. Each year this elaborate layout was assembled just for the event. But due to its popularity, and the expense involved with its construction and deconstruction, it was decided to make it a permanent part of the Germany Pavilion.


Between Germany and Refreshment Outpost is the Pirate Adventure Zone.


This is another beautifully landscaped area designed especially for the kids. Captain Hook, treasure chests, and a rickety boat are on hand for them to explore.





A ferocious dragon and a decorative cow are on exhibit at the China Pavilion.



Over twenty trolls have escaped from the Puffin's Roost and are hiding in the Norway Garden waiting for you to find them.


The Mexico Pavilion did not offer any additional landscaping for this year's event.

As part of the press event, I was invited to attend a reception on the third floor of the American Adventure.


This area was once a corporate lounge for American Express when it sponsored this attraction. It is now used for special events and parties.

As we stepped off of the elevator and into the lounge, we were offered white sangria cocktails adorned with flowers. Appetizers of cheese, fruit, eggrolls and crab-cakes were beautifully displayed on a table in the lounge. In the two corners of the dining area, chefs were waiting to dish up various pastas or carve slices of prime rib and turkey.



For dessert we dined on chocolate flower pots with Oreo dirt and gummy-worms. How appropriate for the Flower & Garden Festival.


Dan Cockerell, Epcot VP spoke briefly then turned the microphone over to Eric Darden who explain what goes into creating the Flower & Garden Festival each year.

Here is a photo I was excited to be given the opportunity to take - a picture of Spaceship Earth taken from the third floor of the American Pavilion.


At 4:45 we were escorted to the American Gardens Theatre for reserved seating to see the Davy Jones concert as part of the Flower Power concert series that takes place during the event.


Davy put on a great show. Although only 35 minutes in length, he packed a lot of memorable tunes into this concert. Most of the audience was made up of my generation - those old enough to remember seeing the Monkees' TV show when it first aired. A number of fans brought old record albums for Davy to sign. And even though he picked up several of them and showed them to the audience, he did not sign any as there simply wasn't time during this abridged concert.

For a 63 year old, Davy still can shake it and move it. Although he made numerous jokes about his age, there was no sign of him slowing down. And since the audience had memorized all of his songs when they were teenagers, much of the gang sang along with Davy, which he didn't seem to mind and even encouraged at one point.

When ending the concert, Davy let everyone know that he's putting on three shows a day with different numbers in each. He encouraged everyone to come back for a later performance - which I'm sure many did.

After the concert, I was tired and decided to call it quits for the day. When I got home I downloaded the 470 pictures I had taken and started to whittle them down to the few I will share with you.

Unlike the Food & Wine Festival, which cost extra if you wish to enjoy its benefits, the Flower & Garden Festival costs nothing more than your price of admission. It's a wonderfully beautiful event that everyone can enjoy and marvel at. I would highly recommend planning your next trip to Disney World around this occasion. I realize that Spring Break coincides with much of this event, but if you're into gardening, you won't be disappointed.

February 27, 2009

Cool Wash – Epcot

I recently wrote about the Everest Shrine at the Animal Kingdom. In it, I pointed out how the shrine is the same shape as the mountains in the background. I thought everyone was aware of this little bit of trivia, but I found that many of you had no idea and were happy that I had pointed it out. Well, I have another bit of trivia that I assumed that everyone knew, but now I'm discovering might not be the case.

Off to the side of Test Track at Epcot you'll find Cool Wash. Designed to look like a car wash, this structure sprays a fine mist on hot guests during the summer and often sells slushy Coke products to cool you down.

Cool Wash Near Test Track in Epcot

But have you ever paid any attention to the intermittent spinning of the two cleaning brushes? When in motion, they take on the shape of a Coke bottle.

Cool Wash Brushes

Cool, huh!

December 19, 2008

Norway’s Viking Ship is Gone

Sad news. The Viking ship at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot has been removed.

This ship was originally built as a children's play area, but a couple of years ago it was deemed too dangerous for the little ones. This month it was removed completely.

I wish Disney had kept it. It was nice to look at even if guests were no longer welcome aboard.

Here are before and after pictures.

Viking Ship

Viking Ship Removed

December 3, 2008

Epcot - New Morocco Exhibit

A new exhibit has opened in the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot. Located in the first building on the left as you enter the country, this new display is titled, Moroccan Style: The Art of Personal Adornment.



As you might guess from the title, the exhibit features clothing and jewelry from this North African country. When you enter the museum, you are greeted by a large display of an ornately costumed gentleman and his steed.



The costume in the center right of the display case (below) is worn by the Garrab, or Water Seller. This peddler is often found in the marketplace. He wears a leather pouch and a number of metal cups around his chest and sells water by the cupful to shoppers and merchants.


This next display features jewelry used to ward of evil and protect the wearer. Khamsa, the hand with five fingers, is a popular Moroccan icon. The symbol represents Fatima, a daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. Muslims consider her to be the ideal mother, wife and daughter. It is believed that by incorporating Khamsa into different forms of jewelry, the wearer can invoke Fatima's protection.


The leaves of the Henna plant are ground to make a dye used in the creation of temporary tattoos. The night before a marriage, the elder women of the village spend the evening with the bride and her party. They paint the young brides hands and feet with this dye while imparting gems of wisdom about married life. According to tradition, the bride is to do no work until the tattoos have faded completely.


The jewelry of both the men and women of Morocco carry on a rich tradition. Individuals and groups express their identity and culture by the selections they make in personal adornment.


This new museum is small. Small enough to be manageable while visiting enormous Epcot. I would encourage you to give this exhibit more than just a cursory glance. It's worth your time to spend a few moments reading the descriptive plaques. You'll be glad you did.

November 6, 2008

New Epcot Recycle Bins

Epcot is experimenting with a new recycle bin. Distributed throughout various areas of Future World, guests will find receptacles especially designed for bottles and cans. It's hoped that this new "bottle" shape will attract guest's attention and encourage recycling.



Disney does have other trashcans especially designated for bottles and cans, but they look similar to the regular trash receptacles and weren't living up to expectations.

Personally, I don't think Disney had enough of the old-style bins to encourage use. If a guest wanted to throw away an empty water bottle, they had to search for a recycle bin if they wanted to be "green." I hope this new receptacle will be distributed around the park more liberally. Hopefully, an abundance of recycling bins, combined with the new design will encourage us all to recycle while at Disney World.

Addendum: Within one day of this blog being posted, a number of my readers have written and told me that Disney sorts their garbage backstage, looking for recyclables. I don't know if this is true, but given that it is, most guests (like me) are unaware of this. Having obvious recycle bins would accomplish two objectives. First, it would pre-sort the trash and minimize this sorting process backstage. But more importantly, it shows the guests that Disney cares about the environment and it sets a good example.

October 22, 2008

China Pavilion Fun

There are three pairs of lions in the China Pavilion at Epcot. One pair stands guard in front of the House of Whispering Willows (the museum).


The other two pairs can be found near the entrances to the Yong Feng Shangdian shop.



The lion is regarded as a special creature to the Chinese people as it was thought to be the king of all animals. The lion represented prestige and power and was often associated with an individual's rank. These lions are often placed in front of gates or doorways as they were believed to have mystic and protective powers.

Although the lions look like they're both male due to their bushy manes, but if fact, one is female. Look closely at their paws. The male has a ball underneath his right paw and the female has a lion cub under her left paw. The ball represents unity of the empire and the cub symbolizes prospering offspring.



On a different note"

To see the "Reflections of China" movie, guests walk through Disney's version of the Temple of Heaven.


Most guests pause briefly and admire the magnificent ceiling before proceeding on to the waiting room.


But in case you didn't already know, you can have a little fun in this room. Position yourself anywhere in the room EXCEPT the center stone.


Now say something out loud. For example, you can say, " is the best Disney web-site in the World."

Now, move to the center stone.


Once again, say something out load. For instance, "And I read it faithfully everyday."

Your friends and family won't know what just happened, but you will.

September 26, 2008

Epcot's Nine Dragons Restaurant in China

The Nine Dragons Restaurant in the China Pavilion reopened yesterday after an extensive rehab. Since I was at Epcot today, I decided to stop by for lunch and check things out. My friend Donald and Allears photographer Linda Mac joined me.

Nine Dragons Epcot

The first thing guests will notice is that the atmosphere has been toned down a bit. Gone is most of the traditional "red" color in favor of more muted tones. I feel the designers did a nice job of modernizing the motif without forgoing the time-honored beauty of this restaurant.

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

Along the back wall of the dining room is a showcase that displays magnificent pieces of glass art. One of the cast members did his best to explain their meaning, but unfortunately, I just wasn't able to understand what he was telling me. But even without an explanation, these works of art are stunning.

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

Nine Dragons Epcot

I have eaten at the Nine Dragons Restaurant a number of times over the years. I have always been satisfied with my food and the service has been good. But other than the beauty of the restaurant, there wasn't anything offered that differed from my neighborhood Chinese restaurant - except that I was paying three times the money. Today I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Everything offered now has a contemporary flair to it. I felt like real chefs had created the food rather than something you'd find at your local shopping mall. For appetizers we ordered the following:

Shrimp and Taro Lollipops - delicious and playful take on a traditional dim sum favortite $9.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls - tender shrimp, roast chicken and fresh vegetables served with plum-chili and ginger-soy sauces $7.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Spicy Beef -sliced thin and tender, then tossed with Cilantro-Chili dressing $8.68

Nine Dragons Epcot

For entrees we ordered the following:

Honey Sesame Chicken with white rice - $16.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Peppery Shrimp with Spinach Noodles $17.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

Sweet and Sour Pork with Spinach Noodles $13.98

Nine Dragons Epcot

When I ordered the Sweet and Sour Pork, I was told that it came with noodles. This didn't sound good to me so I requested white sticky rice. I wish I hadn't. Linda let me try the Spinach Noodles that accompanied her Peppery Shrimp and they were very good. Plus, the green noodles would have contrasted nicely against the red/orange Sweet and Sour for a better presentation.

Before our food arrived, our server appeared at the table with a lacquered box full of chopsticks and offered them to us.

Nine Dragons Epcot

All three of us were pleased with our selections and feel we might visit more often now that the restaurant offers a more upscale menu. Starting tomorrow, September 26, reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

Related Links:

Nine Dragons Photo Gallery

Nine Dragons Lunch Menu

Nine Dragons Dinner Menu

April 3, 2008

Yakitori House - Epcot's Japan

Yakitori House Sign

I'm currently remodeling my kitchen (among other projects). Anyone who has ever undertaken a home improvement project knows there are good days and bad days. Today was a bad day. First, the tile man called and cancelled. He had a legitimate excuse, but I was disappointed, none the less. Since I now had the day free, I decided I'd buy paint and embrace a brush and roller. To make a very long story short, I ended up with the wrong color. It was now approaching 5pm and I was frustrated and hungry. My instinct was to sit in front of the TV for the rest of the night and fume, but I decided this wasn't my best course of action so I forced myself into the car and I headed for Epcot.

When I reached one of the outer parking lots, I was directed to the far end of a row - naturally. I just missed the tram so I walked to the main gate. After entering the park, I practically sprinted through Future World. Fortunately, I timed my arrival at the Canada Friendship Boat Landing just as they were loading. I climbed aboard and we set sail. I exited at Morocco and once again took up power walking as I headed for the Yakitori House in the Japan pavilion - which is the point of my blog.

The Yakitori House is my favorite counter service restaurant in Epcot. I like the food, but more than that, I like the atmosphere. It's quiet and serene - the perfect place to go when you need to clear your head and relax.

Yakitori House

If the weather is too hot or too cold, I sit in the indoor dining room. Rough-hewn logs hold up the thatched roof while faux shoji screens make up three walls of the restaurant. The ordering counter makes up the fourth. Most tables are long, seat six, and are meant to be shared with strangers, but rarely are. The views from here are peaceful as you look out over much of the Japan Pavilion.

Yakitori House

If the weather is nice, as it was this evening, I sit outdoors. Here you'll find approximately ten tables that seat two or four, generously spaced, under Japanese lanterns. Manicured gardens and a lovely rock waterfall and pond surround you. Sitting out here, you feel miles away from everything. Even when all of the tables are in use, it's relatively quite as the waterfall seems to absorb the voices. The only break in this tranquility is when the drummers are performing under the pagoda.

Yakitori House

To be honest, I can't tell you too much about the menu since I always order the same thing: Shogun Combination - teriyaki chicken thigh, sukiyaki beef, and steamed rice (hold the ginger). But I've always been happy with this selection so I like to think I'd enjoy some of their other offerings. I guess I'm in a rut.

Now I realize that most of you cannot dash off to Epcot for dinner when you've had a bad day. But I would like to suggest the Yakitori House when you're here on vacation. Epcot is big and it can be stressful. You need to take a break now and then and this spot is the perfect place to do that. Even if it's not meal time, stop by and have a soda (or something stronger) and sit for a spell.

I stretched out my simple meal tonight to around 35 minutes. I ate slowly, enjoyed the atmosphere, and made silly faces with the cutest baby in a stroller seated at a table next to me. By the time I left, I had (almost) forgotten my hectic day and was fairly relaxed. I strolled through the rest of World Showcase instead of my previous frenzied walk.

There are other peaceful places to be found in Epcot, but for me, the Yakitori House is hands-down the most delightful.

Reader Yakatori House Reviews

Yakatori House Menu

March 15, 2008

Mouse Trap

Some Disney Imagineer's quirky sense of humor can be seen in the recently rehabbed Spaceship Earth.

As you approach the modern era, take a look behind the couch of the family seated watching TV in the 1960's living room. Look closely and you'll see the board game "Mouse Trap" which was introduced to the public by the Ideal Company in 1963. Is it meant for Mickey?

March 1, 2008

Spaceship Earth

A new element has been added to the post-show of the Spaceship Earth redesign.

As you might know from reading other blogs, your picture is taken soon after you board the attraction. In addition, you are also asked to designate where you live by pointing to a map on the touch-sensitive screen in your ride vehicle. First you pick a continent, then point to a major city, and eventually it is narrowed down to the vicinity in which you live.

For several weeks now, as you descend the ride, you are asked a series of questions as to how you would like the future to unfold. Once the onboard computer compiles your choices, your face is superimposed over a cartoon character so you can actually see "yourself" in the future you created. It's a very cute effect. But a new element has been added.

Once you exit the attraction, you enter the Siemens post-show area. Here you will encounter a giant globe of the earth. Within a couple of moments, your face will appear on the globe. It will stay there for 15-30 seconds, then it will swoosh down to the hometown you selected at the beginning of the attraction. As it does this, a little white dot appears on the map to represent you.

I rode Spaceship Earth in the early afternoon and by that time, the east coast of the U.S. was covered in white dots. Other areas were more sparsely populated. The entire planet is represented so no matter where you're from, you will get placed on the map. This is a pretty cool ending to the ride.

Picture taking hint: You are given warning before your picture is taken and be sure to look at the camera. Face detection software is used and it is necessary to get a full-face photograph for the effect to work properly. Also, if you wear glasses, you might want to take them off for the picture as reflections can create problems for the software, thus negating your portrait.


February 3, 2008

Club Cool - Epcot - Have some Beverly??

Do you have a slightly sadistic side to your personality? Well if you do, be sure to visit Club Cool in Future World at Epcot with your friends.

Here, guests can sample, free of charge, a number of Coca Cola beverages that aren't available in the U.S. but are favorites in other countries. These include, Krest from Mozambique, Fanta from Costa Rica, Mezzo Mix from Germany, Vegita Beta from Japan, Kenley from Israel, Lift from Mexico, Xingmu (Smart) from China, and last, but not least, Beverly from Italy.

With the exception of Italy's concoction, all of the countries feature drinks that are somewhat enjoyable. But Beverly leaves a lot to be desired. The description on the drink dispenser reads: "Beverly, with its bitter flavor, is a popular non-alcoholic aperitif that stimulates the appetite before dinner."

Bitter is an understatement! Yikes! is more like it.

Now, on to my sadistic side" I love to take Epcot first-timers to Club Cool. I tell them about the many wonderful flavors and have them try a couple of palatable choices before I foist Beverly on them. Then I stand back and watch their faces. This is always good for a laugh - however, I am often gently smacked by my unsuspecting marks.

Now, on to the sad part of the story for those of you who have already tried Beverly. Every time I take someone in here I have to try it again just to see if it really tastes as bad as I remember. Well, after so many samples I've actually developed a taste for the stuff and I'm beginning to understand why the Italians might actually like this drink.





December 5, 2007

Epcot Changes

Over the last several years, Disney has tried several concepts at Epcot to best implement baggage check as you enter the park. It appears that they have finally hit upon a design that works. Temporary stanchions have been replaced with stainless steel fences. Even the flowerbeds now have security fences running through them. This looks much better (and I'm sure is much more secure) than the temporary stanchions that have been used during this testing period.

Two new, permanent quick-service structures have been built along the promenade around World Showcase. The first, Promenade Refreshments, is located just to the right as you enter World Showcase (across from the Port of Entry shop).

The second eatery is located to the left of the American Pavilion. Both serve turkey legs, hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, ice cream, and smoothies.








September 11, 2007

Japan Pavilion Update

The full service restaurant within the Japan Pavilion is currently being refurbished and enlarged. Guests with a careful eye can see a small portion of the expansion as the walk along the promenade looking behind the Mitsukoshi Department Store. This aerial view of the Japan Pavilion shows approximately where the expansion is taking place.

Aerial View of Japan Pavilion

September 9, 2007

Spaceship Earth Rehab Update

All of the trees flanking each side of Spacehip Earth have been removed as refurbishment continues on this attraction. The approximate reopening of Spaceship Earth is November 14th of this year.

Spaceship Earth

August 21, 2007

Fountain View in Epcot

Anita Answer and I were strolling through Future World at Epcot today when Anita noticed that the Fountain View restaurant is now sponsored by Edy's Ice Cream. The pastries are gone and the facility now offers approximately 12 flavors of ice cream. We didn't see any sugar-free ice cream on display, however, we didn't ask if it was available so who knows...

In the past, the Fountain View restaurant usually closed in the early afternoon. However, we made our discovery around 3pm so it appears this establishment is staying open longer than it used to.

On a different note... When checking into Old Key West, Anita Answer noticed that the parking permit she was given to place on the dashboard of her car had a bar code printed on it. At the moment she doesn't know what it will be used for, but she hopes to have an answer soon.

August 8, 2007

Spaceship Earth Wand Removal

Demolition continues on the Mickey Mouse arm and Epcot sign over Spaceship Earth. Currently, the east entrance walkway next to Spaceship Earth is completely closed off to guests. All traffic entering Epcot is directed to the west pathway, next to the restrooms and the Art of Disney store.

Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth

Earlier photos of Spaceship Earth Wand Removal:

August 3, 2007

July 18, 2007

July 12, 2007

July 3, 2007

Le Cellier Steakhouse - Canada - Epcot

Le Cellier Sign Recently, I called to make reservations at the Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada Pavilion. I wanted to eat sometime between 5pm and 7pm. I didn't care what day.

The operator checked every day starting on June 25. It wasn't until October 31st that he was able to secure a table for me at 5:45pm. Along the way, he was able to offer a couple of 8:30pm and 4:00pm reservations, but the prime dining times were completely booked up.

The operator told me that the Le Cellier is the most difficult restaurant to book at Walt Disney World and guests need to be willing to make reservations 120-180 days in advance to eat here.

May 1, 2007

Spaceship Earth's Project Tomorrow Post - Show

It's refreshing to have the construction walls down and exit Spaceship Earth into a somewhat finished area. Like the previous AT&T exhibit, the lighting is low, enabling guests to see the various screens and monitors scattered around the room. When you first enter this area, you walk directly toward a large globe that is illuminated via rear-projection. Here you'll see various "advertisements" for Siemens. However, these advertisements feel more like entertainment than commercials.


Two exhibits are up and running at the moment, Super Driver and Body Builder. As the attraction was somewhat busy I did not play either game and really can't comment on the rules, but here is my impression.

Super Driver resembles an arcade type game where someone sits in the "driver's seat" and drives a car along the highway. Others can stand behind the driver and watch his progress.


Guests stand while playing the Body Builder game and two people compete against each other. 3D glasses are required and many pairs are available so onlookers can also watch the action.

There is space for more exhibits and several signs indicate that they will be arriving soon.

See more photos in our Wandering Around the World area.

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About Epcot

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in the Epcot category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disney's Hollywood Studios is the previous category.

Magic Kingdom is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.