Sunday, July 1, 2012

Disney's Epcot- The World in a Nutshell

Disney exhaustion crept into our room while we slept leaving swollen feet, creaks in our bones and sleep in our eyes that water couldn't wash away.  We paid more than ninety bucks each for our long day at the Magic Kingdom.  We paid in blisters, bruises and general crankiness from lack of sleep.  After a couple of short tempered comments between the kids, I rallied the troops, "We're at Disney World!  This is our last day here!  We'll have plenty of time to sleep tonight and the night after that...  Let's not ruin the wonderful place by being in a bad mood.  Let's go have some fun at Epcot!"  One of the greatest qualities about our children is that usually if we reason with them - take the time to explain the situation or the whys about something- they are with us.  As we bustle along through life, I sometimes forget this and just drag them behind me without explaining things to them.  Our constant companionship this year has taught me the benefits of stopping and explaining to our kids.

With a new outlook on our last day, we marched out of our room and headed for the Epcot bus. (Another benefit of staying at a Disney Resort is the transport system.  Once you check-in you need not drive again until check-out.  Disney's buses and trains will take you anywhere you need to be.)  

Epcot was one of Walt Disney's last projects and held many of his hopes and dreams for the future.  EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.  Disney essentially wanted a permanent world's fair that showcased all the latest in technology and science along with introducing people to cultures from around the world.  Perusing a map of Epcot as we walked in the gates, I could see he succeeded: Divided into two main sections, Future World and World Showcase, a walk around the entire park took us from learning of our human past in the giant iconic center globe, to understanding the world of energy with Ellen Degeneras and Bill Nye the Science Guy, to innovations in technology with hands-on experiments for kids to try.  

Crossing over the lagoon to the World Showcase area we entered our southern neighbor, Mexico.  Our stomachs began to rumble as we passed stand after stand of each country's authentic food- Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy.  We sampled a little taste in each country: an egg roll and tea in China, a frankfurter, kraut and beer in Germany.  By the time we made it to America's replica of Independence Hall at the center of the lagoon, we were really hungry and headed for the Japanese counter service.  Each country in the world showcase has at least two restaurants: one formal, table service and one counter service.  Both serve fantastic food, but the table service will be more expensive but refined, quiet, and relaxing- greatly needed after a day of walking the park.  I always make a reservation for one table service meal while at Disney so that our family is guaranteed one hour of air-conditioned rest, but we were saving that for later in the evening.  We had a fantastic lunch at Japan's counter service restaurant enjoying sushi, teriyaki chicken and some kind of udon pie with onions and a delicious plum sauce.  

When I was a child the world showcase area had little to offer children.  My brother and I would walk through and listen to our parents oooh and aaahhh over the recreations of places they had traveled in Europe or North America.  We would quickly discover that there were no rides (Norway's Maelstrom wasn't there yet), get bored, and want to go back to Future World, or better yet, the Magic Kingdom.

Luckily, Disney's Imagineers stepped in and created activities for the kids to have fun and learn about the different cultures in world showcase at the same time.  Kidcot, geared for kids ages 3-10, are stops within each country that kids have to locate and get a stamp on Mickey's travel bear,  Duffy, whom they are given at the first Kidcot Fun Stop.  There are also arts and crafts from that country to tryout and a place to sit and talk to someone from another culture.  Kidcots are usually located in a corner of the gift shop so parents can shop while the kids craft.

Kidcots are fun, but the greatest activity Epcot created to engage children within the countries is Agent P's Secret Missions.  Formerly, Kim Possible Missions, the new missions of Phineas and Ferb's Perry the Platypus take children of all ages around one country searching for clues to end Doctor Doofenschmirtz's evil plan.  Speaking as a big kid myself, these are the coolest things to help kids have fun exploring the different nations.  The Imagineers incorporated monuments or icons from each country to help the kids learn while saving the world.

"Karl! He works the camera!
Karl! He knows what all these buttons do!
Our kids picked up their first mission at a little cart stand outside of Germany.  They scanned our park ticket and handed us a cell phone.  Opening the phone, we were greeted by Major Monogram telling us about our mission, then Karl took over to direct us to our first assignment: finding a particular building in Germany.  Our kids were in hot pursuit.  Greg and I relaxed outside on the not too crowded nor too hot day and watched the kids run from spot to spot in Germany only to stop, look, listen and then run searching for the next German artifact.  These missions were phenomenal ways to engage the kids by using teamwork and critical thinking skill to solve a problem.  Having taught critical thinking skills for fifteen years and just published a book with the Critical Thinking Company, I felt qualified to recognize a wonderful, educational activity.  Great Work, Disney!  Our kids came back to us laughing about having thwarted Doofenschmirtz once again...and they got to see a woman chasing him around a coo-coo clock!  Before these missions, our kids had an "intense, burning indifference" to Epcot much like Dr. Doofenschmirz's feelings toward Christmas, but now it is their second favorite park.

After successfully completing another mission in Japan, it was time to head to Soarin' to use our fast pass tickets I had snagged upon entering the park.  Soarin', in the Land section of Future World, is a high flying simulated ride over California.  While tons of fun, there is always a long line.  I highly recommend getting fast passes for this as soon as you get to the park.  While in the Land, we also rode the Through the Land.  This boat ride took us through different regions of the world and showed how farmers plant and grow food for our world.  The ride ends with a trip through the experimental greenhouses of Disney's scientists.  You can see pumpkins growing in the air, tomatoes growing on trees, hydroponic systems and sand used for soil.  The ride was a great learning experience for our kids to see ways food go from farm to table.  Most of the food grown in the greenhouses were used in the Land's restaurant, The Garden Grill.

We enjoyed visiting Nemo and Friends in the Sea and checked out Figment in the Land of Imagination, but I experienced my first Disney disappointment in Imagination's theater.  For some unfathomable reason, Disney brought back Michael Jackson's ridiculous short film, Captain Eo.  It is supposed to be in the future in some outer space world, but it is so stuck in the Eighties it is painful to watch.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am from the Eighties.  I still love big hair, spandex and rock music.  I even like synchronized dancing, but this went beyond my tolerance limits.  Michael Jackson's bad acting while screaming at bad special effects' creatures put me over the edge.  I hate to admit it, but I got my girls and left.  We didn't want to miss meeting Belle in France to see Michael Jackson grab his crotch to romance an alien princess.  Sorry, Michael, wherever you are.

Happily in France, we sipped wine and sampled pastries while the kids completed another Agent P mission.  We sauntered down to Great Britain to hear great British music and laughed at the scaled down version of London.  We decided Disney needed to add more fake dirt and coal dust to make it look more authentic.

We ended our evening with a delicious authentic Mexican meal at the San Angel Hacienda inside the giant Mayan temple.  If the Mayan predictions of the world ending in 2012 come true, our family could not have spent our final months any better.  We toasted to our last night at Disney, to the end of our incredible family sabbatical and finally, to our return home.  All was well...

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