Saturday, July 1, 2023

EPCOT 2023

Day two of our orchestra trip brought us to the recently-renamed EPCOT, formerly Epcot and née EPCOT Center. I like to start my trip reports out in confusing ways, see? ;-) We only had a half-day at one of the world's unique theme parks due to an orchestra workshop, but it was probably the best day to do it, as I didn't feel the need to spend 12 hours at the park.

I have always been obsessed with the original EPCOT Center, but with so little remaining from the park's original attractions, there is a disconnect between the ideal EPCOT in my head and what we actually have today. That doesn't mean that I wasn't able to enjoy the park, but it meant there were many moments during the day when I paused and felt sad when I remembered what used to be in that location.

One thing that never disappoints at EPCOT is Spaceship Earth. Nothing against the castles, but Spaceship Earth is the best opening statement to any theme park I've visited.

I was excited to see the improvements made to the park since the last time I visited in 2018, and the refurbished entrance is wonderful. The pylon fountain (I don't know if there's an official name) is a great tribute to the EPCOT of the past that is still strikingly futuristic today.

I am thrilled that Imagineering decided to revive some of the park's original iconography and create new symbols for the rest of the pavilions. However, while the refreshed landscaping, fountain, and flags are all really nice, I was disappointed that so little progress had been made on the center of the park since 2018. I knew it would be closed ahead of time, but it was still disheartening to see the site of the once beautiful Fountain of Nations, removed in 2019, as a dirt plot surrounded by construction walls.

I figured that since we hadn't arrived close to rope drop, a ride on Spaceship Earth would be a good way to start our visit. It was posted as a 15-minute wait, which is long for this attraction. (One of my teachers saw me in line and said, "fifteen minutes, you can't beat that!!") When we were almost at the front of the line, though, I got a call from my sister that I had somehow used her ticket to get into the park and that she was unable to enter! I had gotten our tickets mixed up when I linked them to the app. Being a great brother, I returned to the entrance and cleared up the misunderstanding, though I was tempted to tell her to suck it up and hop on a bus to tour beautiful Lake Buena Vista. Or something.

I returned to ride Spaceship Earth later, and it makes me happy that there is still one mostly original EPCOT dark ride left. Luckily the ride's original mural remains untouched.

The winding ride up through the sphere past so many animatronics is one-of-a-kind, and the ride path is pretty steep at points. The descent is quite underwhelming, with the designers attempting to distract you with a touch screen on the Omnimover vehicle. If you pay attention to that, though, you'll miss all the painted-over remnants from old versions of the attraction around you.

Here are those ubiquitous construction walls. I would hope that after five years of work, the center of the park is nothing short of amazing. But I also know not to expect that.

Our visit occurred during the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, and seeing the park awash in flowers was definitely the highlight of the visit for me. Oh, aside from the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind coaster, which I somehow neglected to photograph! It was my favorite ride of the trip and probably my favorite Disney coaster I have ridden. As far as achieving EPCOT's lofty goals to inspire and educate, it doesn't amount to much more than a tricked-out version of Space Mountain, but it does what it set out to do extremely well. There's even a guitar cover of the old Universe of Energy theme in a room that is very reminiscent of one of the old ride's theaters. That made me smile.

Having so little time at the park meant we skipped both Soarin' and Living with the Land. I was especially sad to miss the latter, even though I had ridden it before. Yes, it's just a boat ride through a greenhouse, but for some reason, it's really enjoyable for people like me who love old-school EPCOT!

We did Journey Into Imagination with Figment for some reason, and it was just as painful as I remembered it. I find it so frustrating that Disney has allowed this confused replacement for the original Journey Into Imagination to run for twenty-plus years, subjecting thousands of guests to repulsive skunk scent. At least the Figment topiary is nice.

From a distance, Test Track looks like it could still be World of Motion. Even though I wish I could have ridden the original dark ride in this spot, Test Track is fun as a thrill ride, and while not exactly inspirational, it fits in better with the rest of the park than the majority of the other recent additions.

Seeing this quilt of flowers was absolutely stunning, especially with the floating flower baskets in the foreground. And I loved the gorgeous clouds backing the classic EPCOT architecture and Monorail!

We had to leave the park in the middle of the day for our workshop, taking four separate bus rides (to and from the park, stopping at the hotel for instruments going both ways). The "Disney Imagination Campus" workshop was not what I was expecting it to be, but it was still enjoyable. We played "Grim Grinning Ghosts" and other songs, but we spent the most time on "Finale" from "Carnival of the Animals." At the end, they spliced our recording into the animated sequence from Fantasia 2000 that goes along with the music. Strictly no photos or videos were allowed.

Back at EPCOT, it was time to tackle World Showcase. The majority of our time was spent admiring the architecture and aimlessly wandering around looking for places to spend our dining gift cards, but that's what World Showcase is all about I think!

The majority of the Flower and Garden topiaries are in World Showcase, like the dragon in Japan...

...and pandas in China!

I found it strange that there was still an exhibit about Shanghai Disneyland in the China pavilion, obviously from before the park opened in 2016. I was separated from my friends while they were getting something to eat, and I couldn't get into the Temple of Heaven because there were tables set up inside for a special event. So I wandered into this exhibit by myself. 

Although they're placed smack-dab in the middle of the Italy pavilion, the Lady and the Tramp topiaries might be my favorites. Italy was pretty nice, but after seeing that there was no Papa John's pizza available, we moved on to the next pavilion...


Just like at the China pavilion, they were using the American Adventure lobby for a special event, so we weren't able to go inside the rotunda. Luckily, the show was still running, but you had to enter through the exit hallway. I loved the American Adventure in 2018, and it was just as good as I remembered. The rest of the audience did not seem to agree with that sentiment, however, as the exit doors opened four or five separate times during the performance as people got bored, bringing light into the auditorium.

Scenes like this Depression-era porch are so well-staged and engagingly scripted that I don't know how you could get up and leave in the middle of it! 

After that lengthy show, night was starting to fall. Our day was capped off by the EPCOT Forever fireworks show, which was a great treat for me, but I'm sure it was a head-scratcher for many. I'm sure that most people are completely clueless as to what songs like "Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit" are from, and while "Magic Journeys" has a beautiful melody, it's from an early 80s 3D movie that was at the park for all of four years! The conclusion to your day at Epcot should leave you hopeful and optimistic, and Illuminations definitely accomplished that goal in a way EPCOT Forever does not. I loved the show, but at the end of the day, it basically amounts to trotting out an old EPCOT Center cassette tape and launching a few fireworks, failing to connect with the majority of its audience.

Before the fireworks, we were lucky enough to see one of the only other untouched pieces of EPCOT Center remaining, Impressions De France. It only runs for thirty minutes at the beginning of the day (what is that, like two showings?) and a couple of hours at the end of the night. The rest of the day, the theater is home to a Beauty and the Beast sing-along.

The film had been remastered in 4K since I had last seen it, which was a real treat. I had forgotten that the "Finale" from "Carnival of the Animals" is featured in the film, which I found amusing considering that we had performed it earlier in the day!

The new lights on Spaceship Earth might be the most brilliant feature added for the fiftieth anniversary of WDW. Combined with the spotlights hitting the sphere, the overall effect is dazzling.

I love how the fountain pylons are lit as well. Even though the park will never again be the way it was in the 80s, it is some consolation that this symbol has returned. Here I am, waxing nostalgic, and I never visited EPCOT before 2014!

I may have enjoyed the other parks more, but we still had an amazing time. I got lots of comments on my Horizons T-shirt, and like the rest of the trip, it was very special to visit one of my favorite places with all my friends in orchestra. It may be a while before I return, but I can rest easy knowing that in some small ways, the 80s are still alive at a place where the 21st century truly did begin early... on October 1, 1982.