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Getting There Rides Shows Other Activities

We are posting three night time photos here to make the point that Epcot is a fine park to visit in the evening. You can spend the day at the Magic Kingdom or the Animal Kingdom, return to the room for a swim and a nap, then hop on the bus or the monorail and come to Epcot for a few rides and dinner. After dinner you can browse in the shops and enjoy the fireworks and light shows. In several evenings you can experience what Epcot has to offer, allowing you to see more of the other parks during the day. You can't do it the other way. Animal Kingdom, Universal and Seven Islands of Adventure close at dinner time, and the water parks close mid evening.

There are eight rides at Epcot. None of them are intense roller coasters, but Malestrom, Mission in Space, Test Track and Soaring could be too much for preschoolers or kids in the primary grades, depending how adventurous they are and how many other amusement parks they've been to before coming to Disney.


Rides Magic Kingdom Hollywood Studios Animal Kingdom Blizzard Beach Typhoon Lagoon Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
If you've ever wondered what it was like to hang glide, you're about to find out, except that on Soarin' you'll be seated instead of laying down. You begin by being towed high into the air and released to ride the air currents and glide over most of California. The breeze in your face, the scents of pine trees, orange groves and salt air, and the tilting and angling in the wind add to the realism. It's worth riding just for the orchestra score, the best on any amusement park ride anywhere and so popular they've finally put it on sale. Actually, carefully concealed, you're sitting in a 32 ton steel rig lifted 80 feet in the air and pushed inside a gigantic Omnimax cup. This was the basic technology Disney was refining for use if it had won the bid for Harry Potter, and a more sophisticated version of it is indeed being used for the Forbidden Journey ride. The line for this ride is the worst at Disney, often 2-3 hours. Using Fast Pass is a must if you want to ride early in the day. By late afternoon, fortunately, the crowds have thinned out. The best effect is in the front center. Tell attendants you'll wait til the next ride.
We're not usually critical of Disney. An uncle helped plumb the park for its first 15 years,, and we were one of the first visitors. We've returned every year since and have loved each new expansion. They haven't made very many major mistakes. But we think the Seven Seas Pavilion in Epcot is their biggest. Walt never envisioned Epcot as a children's ride park. He saw it as an adult educational park, where people old enough to understand could learn about 21st Century technology and the cultures of the world. He felt so strongly about this that his vision was never allow cartoon characters into Epcot. The only "rides" he wanted were educational. The Seven Seas Pavilion was a magnificent adventure into Oceanography. Six thousand species were housed in this gigantic aquarium, the first of its kind in the world. Visitors could spend half a day here, looking in through glass walls, going down in the specially constructed diving device, and scuba diving right among the fish and coral reefs. This was so successful imitators opened up in New Orleans, Cincinnati, Chattanooga and elsewhere. Rather than relish the competition, using its vast resources to stay on the cutting edge, Disney decided to downgrade the aquarium into a preschooler's cartoon ride. They abandoned the scientific and eeucational mission altogether. Today, oceans are more important, and more endangered, than ever. They play a key role in climate, food, energy and culture. We need Seven Seas, not a child's ride.
That said, Nemo is a ride for preschoolers who love the animated cartoon Finding Nemo. You climb inside Clam Mobiles, snug little clamshells designed for two regular sized people or one adult and two small children. Using standard, 3D and holographic projection techniques, you see a condensed Nemo adventure unfold. The most impressive part of the ride is toward the end when your clamshell gets caught in the East Australian Current and is almost swept away. The scenes where Nemo is chased by the Shark and the Anglerfish appears are well done, enough to be scary for young kids. It's all cleverly put together but the downgrading of the aquarium was done as cheaply as possible, which is unlike Disney. There are walkways, foundations and railings in your view, which break the illusion. Four year olds will find this a great ride. The background song will stay in your mind for the rest of the day. Anyone older will think it belongs in the new section of the Magic Kingdom.

El Rio Del Tiempo was originally a peaceful boat cruise through Mexican history, with an erupting volcano in the background and lots of Mayan ruins scattering the landscape. It's located inside the Mexican Pyramid and usually has no wait. The air conditioning made it a nice break from the heat and humidity. It was not exciting, but it was a beautiful eight minutes, with lots of carved stone and lush tropical plants. The pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, and modern history were interesting. Alas, it's been "updated." In violation of Walt's mandate, three cartoon characters have been added, it's been renamed The Three Caballeros, and a Donald Duck narrative has been grafted onto the historical tour. Now certainly, the original had not been updated in 25 years and was overdue. And they've kept the volcano, Mayan temple, and much of the rest. However, there are exciting things they could show about Mexico : the Copper Canyon, Chihuaha Railroad, festivals for Day of the Dead, Christmas, etc. The challenge is to make world cultures different and fascinating, not appeal to the lowest common denominator and reduce everything to a cartoon. We still recommend this ride, but hope they do a better job, an adult job, with the next update.

Maelstrom is the most confusing and disappointing ride at Disney. And that's a shame. Because this should be one of the greatest. The ideas and the special effects are here. You board a Viking Ship and ride it out into a horrific storm on the North Sea. Along the way, you narrowly escape The Evil Maelstrom, a giant whirlpool that sucks ships down. You confront trolls, giant waves, the Aurora Borealis, polar bears, powerful winds, and dangerous rocks. You sail past a boreal forest and a Viking camp. You ride the tide out to sea. You explore a fjord and get sucked backward down a waterfall. But the problem is that the Norway Commission has never figured out what narrative it wants to tell. There are fragments of Energy and Modern Norway scattered through the voyage. So in the middle of the storm you come upon a giant oil derrick, then sail into a modern fishing village where you learn about green energy and Norwegian customs. And some of the special effects are just strange. In the middle of the voyage the Viking Ship suddenly emerges from a cave and sticks its prow out a second story window where you can look down on the crowd walking along the lake. After a minute or so the ship pulls back from the window and returns to the howling wind and darkness. By the time you emerge from the ride you don't know what the point was or what impressions you should take with you. Unlike most rides that fail, this one had a fortune invested in it. The special effects are expensive and well done. We really wish Disney would overrule the Norway Commission and exert its own authority over this ride. Disney could straighten out this narrative, eliminate the incongruous window, and make this truly a voyage to remember. At the very end, as you leave the ship, you're supposed to enter a small theatre and watch a movie about Norway. True, the movie is somewhat dated, not having been replaced since Epcot opened four decades ago. But it's still an interesting movie about an interesting nation and it's a shame most people walk on through and leave without seeing it. Despite its flaws, Maelstrom is still exciting and a ride you should definitely go on at least once each visit.

One of the best rides at Epcot is one Disney never intended as a ride at all : the Ferries. Every 20 minutes, a ferry departs from the Epcot dock. It crosses the lake, passes under the bridge, and winds through a canal system to the Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan & Dolphin Hotel and Hollywood Studios. Then it winds its way back. It is a beautiful, leisurely cruise that reminds one of the canal boats in Europe. It's a great way to sit down and relax during a day of walking in the heat and humidity. It is also offers tremendous vantage points for photographs. In fact, many of the photos on this website were taken from these boats.

Test Track is one of the four best rides at Epcot, along with Soarin, Mission Space and Maelstrom. The premise is that you're testing a car just off the assembly line before shipping it. Presumably, you test one car in 10 to make sure production quality is OK. The que is one of Disney's best. The line winds through the factory, revealing various stages in design, research, mockup and manufacturing. . The cars themselves are almost exact replicas of real highway cars except you have two bench seats instead of buckets and there are grab bars. At the beginning of the ride, you go through various other tests : uphill, downhill, obstacle course, rough road, etc. But the highlight of the ride is the open road test, where you test acceleration and top speed. You really accelerate, and with the top down and the wind blowing in your face, that top speed seems really fast. You do navigate a few steeply banked turns, but it's the two long straight stretches that take your breath away and make the ride worth repeat visits. This is Disney at its best and Epcot as Walt intended it. It's not a roller coaster or thrill ride, but a blend of education, excitement and mechanical execution. Lines get long so Fast Pass is advisable.

Mission : Space is another Disney masterpiece. This $100 million dollar investment resulted in lawsuits over the cutting edge technologies used and actually includes a lot of the high tech NASA is using right now, either in its training program or its actual flights. You join the crew of the first Mission to Mars. After 10 minutes of orientation and training, you are led to your spacecraft. For many the most stressful part of the ride is Blastoff, when you climb through the Earth's atmosphere while experiencing heavy Gs. En route to Mars you encounter various problems, the most spectacular of which is passing through an asteroid belt. Then, as you land on Mars, you deal with several more crises. The return to Earth is anticlimactic but the entire trip is a tremendous triumph of engineering. It is not without stress, just like a roller coaster or drop ride. Two people have died here and many need a few minutes afterward to recover. For those not up for this level of intensity, there is a lesser experience, a "training flight," which tones things down. Whichever version you choose, this is a ride not to be missed.
We classify Living With The Land and Spaceship Earth as shows, rather than rides. See them under Shows.
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