I spent twelve hours yesterday at Epcot. The summer after my Freshman year in college, I worked at Epcot, pulling order tickets at the now defunct Pasta Piazza across from the fountain. I wore a purple polyester pant suit and a maroon visor. By the end of the summer, I had gained so much weight that I had to request a higher uniform size from wardrobe (this was doubly embarrassing because the pants were ELASTIC). Anyway, yesterday’s visit coincided with the Food and Wine Festival, and after sampling traditional dishes from around the world — most with a base of heavy cream — I was starting to feel like I did at 19. They must call it Epcot because you need a cot to lie down.
It’s strange being at Disney World by yourself. Since my partner Dan is busy researching Hamlet and the poetic tradition at UGA, I’m touring alone. As an only child I’m comfortable being by myself for extended periods, but the parks aren’t designed for the solo traveler. Disney cast members keep assigning me to random families, assuming I’m with whoever happens to be in front of me at the time, even if it’s a couple wearing Just Married Ears. In World Showcase France, my concerned native server asked if I had someone to share my baguette with later. (In her defense, it is a really big baguette.)
This sign got me all excited because it was the only time I was rewarded for being the loneliest number:
Getting your picture taken with Disney characters is addictive. I mean, I couldn’t stop. I was initially only interested in the Goofy photo opp, but by mid-afternoon, I was gung-ho to pose with anything not wearing pants. Here I am with Duffy the Bear.
I had no idea who this was.
I soon learned that Duffy is the newest Disney character, a stuffed animal with a cute back story. Minnie gave Duffy to Mickey before a long sea voyage so that he wouldn’t feel lonely. OK, I get that. I sleep with a stuffed Penguin named Sunshine. But that’s where I start to lose the narrative. It’s metaphysically confusing to me that Duffy is inanimate and much smaller than Minnie and Mickey but springs to full-size life during the meet-and-greet. If Duffy is a plush toy who can grow six feet and animate, but the other characters are real but sold as plush toys, then who is the signifier and who is the signified? Are we all just our own teddy bears, sole comfort to the child within? This was starting to hurt my head so I had a margarita at Mexico and everything made sense again. Parents take note: while Magic Kingdom is dry (how “magic” is that?), you’re encouraged to walk around World Showcase with your drinks.
If you’re willing to wait in line at Innoventions West at the character spot, you can have your photo taken with Donald, Pluto, Goofy, Minnie, and Mickey. Actually, the line moves reasonably fast, and it’s incredibly heart-warming to watch so many kids get excited. I stood behind this little girl for 45 minutes. Epcot does indeed encourage technological savvy.
The best part of meeting Aladdin and Jasmine at Morocco (besides Jasmine complimenting me on my foot-flexing skills, apparently very important in a Princess portrait) was that Aladdin shook my hand and introduced himself as Aladdin. I felt like we were at a high school reunion and he was afraid I wouldn’t recognize him. Jasmine still looks like prom queen, though.
Here’s my hit and miss list:
1986’s Captain EO is back for a limited run at Future World, and it’s not to be skipped, even if you have young ones. Parents will be entertained by a 3-D Michael Jackson (the woman next to me kept trying to reach out and pet him) and kids will love Hooter the elephant sneezing water. Perhaps this overheard conversation sums it up best:
“Daddy, is this ride scary?”
“No, it’s a Michael Jackson video.” <pause> “Well, maybe a little scary.”
If you want a comprehensive Epcot visit, you’ll need more than a day, especially if you want to leisurely lap World Showcase and take in an unexpected performance by Night Ranger. They rocked a very moving rendition of “Sister Christian” outside of the American pavilion, and even though I have no idea what that song is about (I consider it to be the Duffy the Bear of ballads ), I emphatically picked up the chorus along with everybody else. Maybe it’s more powerful to hear a crowd chant “motoring!” when you’re in a theme park expressly devoted to technology and energy?
When you arrive at the park, go straight to Soarin’ and get a Fast Pass to bypass the long line. You’ll want to try and ride this simulated hang glider at least twice. I also really enjoyed Turtle Talk with Crush, an interactive attraction that allows kids to ask the animated Finding Nemo character questions in real-time. True to the awesome thought-process of five-year olds, you get questions like “What color toothbrush do you use?” and “Do you eat chicken?” Here’s a short video I shot.
I would skip Test Track, which is marketed as a high-speed vehicle simulator, but is really just four minutes of herky jerky followed by thirty seconds of racing, and reminded me of riding in a cab in Manhattan. I was also disappointed by Mission Space, but maybe that’s because I selected the green, less intense version as opposed to the orange spiral simulation. You’re supposed to feel like an astronaut on board a shuttle to Mars. Does NASA place white paper sick bags next to the control panel? Who knows. What I do know is that I felt claustrophobic during g-force take-off, and never experienced a sufficient enough thrill to compensate for it.
Finally, if you’re tired but don’t want to trek all the way back to the hotel, ride Spaceship Earth. Several times. The air-conditioning, combined with Dame Judy Dench’s voice and the slow climb in the star-lit dark, will have you dozing off right about the time you hit the invention of papyrus.
Now it’s off to the Magic Kingdom and dinner at The Wave. More tomorrow!