Monday, May 15, 2006


After living in Florida for almost 5 years, we finally made it to our first Disney park, Epcot. And why not? After all, it is as much a part of real Florida as the Everglades or St. Augustine. Ever since the first Epcot brochure that I saw, I wanted to do three things:
1) Ride the monorail;
2) Find out what's inside the huge Epcot sphere;
3) Take a picture in each of the World Showcase countries and be able to say that I travelled around the world in just one day.

And so we charged the camera battery, drove an hour, parked the car in the Discover lot, paid for two adult one-day passes and followed several thousand other people through the park gates. The park itself has two parts - the Future World (with the monorail and a huge sphere) and the World Showcase, spread around the World Showcase Lagoon. We decided to follow the yellow brick road clockwise and see it all.

First stop was the Spaceship Earth, the iconic 180-foot tall geosphere. Inside, we boarded a little cart and moved through an animated display of the history of human communications, from cave paintings to instant messaging. The whole experience was very much like being inside a PBS educational program. It was not interesting and undoubtedly educational, just rather mellow and a bit old-fashioned.

Not to worry though, since we had plenty of thrills and excitement ahead of us. The Universe of Energy attraction was closed, so we went straight to the Mission: SPACE. It is the kind of ride that can send one to a hospital and should not be attempted by those that suffer from claustrophobia, motion sickness, back and neck problems, heart problems, high blood pressure, headaches, migranes, vertigo, or anxiety. For the rest of the tourists there are motion sickness bags located within an easy reach. The G forces and the super-realistic graphics will sure make you sick, especially if you don't follow the simple rules, such as DO NOT try move, close your eyes, or attempt to take your eyes off the monitors. Let's just say that this Mission: SPACE left me sick to my stomach, covered in cold sweat, hyperventilating, and experiencing a mild case of claustrophobia, something I'd never had before.

Feeling very sick I asked Chris to bypass the Test Track ride and we continued on to the World Showcase. Very slowly we made our way through Mexico and Norway. Every time I would turn my head to look at something, a wave of nausea and dizziness would flush over me. So I don't remember much of either of these showcases except a little boat ride inside the dark and chilly pseudo-Mayan pyramid. By the time we got to China, I started getting my bearings and was able to not only snap pictures of a fantastic floral dragon and a colorful pagoda, but even express mild interest in the menues. Unfortunately, the Circle-Vision 360 film about China's grandeur set me back a couple of steps on my way to recovery. The film reminded me of the best Soviet propaganda movies, with overjoyed kids with red kerchiefs tied neatly around their necks, red flags flowing over the Tiananmen Square and a larger-than-life portrait of the fearless leader guarding the gate to the Forbidden City.

There are many ways to cure post-motion sickness nausea. One is to sleep it off. Another one is to drink some Ginger Ale. Yet another one is to eat something with enough salt and spicy mustard to jolt your stomach back into submission. And that's exactly what I did once we reached Germany and its beergarden-style cafe. A fresh salt-covered pretzel and a bratwurst smothered in mustard and buried under a heap of warm sourkraut did the trick and I was back to feeling peachy once again.

What are the country showcases anyway? Well, these are mostly souvenir shops and ethnic restaurants hidden inside stereotypical structures and manned by country natives. Name a country, than quickly write down the first couple of things that come to mind and presto - you got yourself a country showcase. Mexico is Maya pyramids and sombreros. Norway is vikings and swords. Germany - beergardens. France -the Eiffel Tower and snobby waiters. Some country showcases have additional attractions, such as China's Circle-Vision fild, Japanese drummers, or American animatronics puppet show featuring Ben Frankling and Mark Twain.

And so we made our rounds, through the Italian vineyards and the a capella presentation of American patriotic songs, through the bonsai forests, and past the Moroccan belly dancers, bypassing the very tempting French bistro and British fish & chips place where you can drink beer while listening to the Beattles tribute group. And we finally made it to Canada. Even though Canada smelled like a medium-rare filet mignon (they have a steak house on premises) we decided against stopping there. After all, we can always go see the real thing, right?

Instead, we left the World Showcase alltogether and returned back to the Future World for some more rides. The next ride we went on was the "Honey I Shrunk the Audience". It is a very old, what's called "venerable", attraction scarred by a horrible Kodak-sponsored pre-show. And yet having legions of white mice run over your feet in the dark theater and a giant friendly dog sneeze in your face makes up all the outdated cheeziness of this attraction.

Next we spent hours in line waiting to get on the new attraction called Soarin'. The first hour was passed in playing an on-screen geography trivia. In 60 minutes I learned, among other things, that Atacama is the driest desert on the planet that once went 40 years without a drop of rain; while the dunes in the Namib Desert reach 1000 feet high; that at the current rate of destruction the rain forests will be completely destroyed in less than 50 years; that an acre of these said rain forest has more species of plants and animals than in all decidious forests of Europe; that Himalayan mountains are not only the youngest on the planet, but also grow at 4 inches a year; and that Bryce Canion is famous for its fantastic rock formations. But the ride was absolutely worth the wait. How did they do it, I don't know. But somehow the ride designers managed to create an exhilarating and very real hang gliding experience. At some point it seemed I could almost touch the water surface or kick a surfer right in the head. And the golf ball that went wizzing by only inches from my face was so real that it made me duck.

Our last attraction was the Test Track. Even though we were promised a 40-minute wait, the line actually moved much faster. The ride simulates testing conditions that cars experience during development process. It provides a succession of climbs, bumps, sharp turns and unexpected stops, a heat chamber followed by an ice chamber and a corrosion chamber, and a sudden acceleration on a super-elevated stretch. It's fun and all, but not nearly as much excitement as driving on I-4 through Orlando in heavy traffic or driving on I-95 through all the construction zones.

By the time we were done with the rides it started getting dark and the time drew closer to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks display. Our plan was to watch the fireworks and then have a nice dinner at a Morroccan restaurant. Except we didn't know that the entire park essentially shuts down right after the fireworks, at about 9:15pm. And so we got some ice-cream instead and found a spot along the World Showcase Lagoon for firework watching. I'm not going to try to describe the show itself, except to say that it the most fantastic 15-minute fireworks, light, and music show that we've seen.