Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Enjoying Florida: Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

"Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" - better known as EPCOT - was originally Walt Disney's vision of a perfect city, home to 20,000 people. In his words,
"EPCOT... will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise."
Disney's vision was never fully realized (although they are doing planned communities now, like Celebration). Instead, we got one kick-butt theme park that is 100% NERD.

Screw Magic Kingdom. If you want to have a really good Disney Experience in one park, just hit EPCOT (or Animal Kingdom. I love Animal Kingdom. But I didn't go there this weekend).

Barry, his brother Brian, and I drove up to Orlando on Saturday to spend the evening so that we'd be able to start bright and early the next morning which happened to be Barry's birthday (hence the Disney desire - free tickets are a great way to sell other tickets). So, for dinner on Saturday, we decided to hit Downtown Disney's T-Rex Restaurant.

Ok, so we had to park a mile away, the food was overpriced and not that incredible, and we had to wait an hour and a half to get a seat. But that's Disney on a Saturday night. We had fun because the place just looks so damned cool - after all, it's a "prehistoric family adventure." It's set up with a variety of habitats from an ice chamber to a rainforest and, of course, a lovely little reef. Check out the Jellyfish lights! The ice cave, however, was by far the coolest looking:

Our meal was pretty plain. My sandwich was ordinary with chewy bread, Barry's burger was fine but they got the wrong cheese on it, and Brain's wrap was just 'ok'. So it's not gourmet dining, and it probably wasn't really worth the wait. On top of that, we were getting stared at the whole time by this really dumb looking parasaurolophus - it just didn't look like the sharpest tool in the shed, if you know what I mean. Oh well - we had a good time, and it was saved by the jelly lights. I really, really want a jellyfish light.

Anyhow, bright and early the next day we hit EPCOT.

EPCOT is simply awesome if you actually spend the whole 12 hours there. Key Disney tip - you don't have to return for your "fastpass" during the time on the card. You can return any time AFTER that. So you can get fast passes early on and then come back whenever you want later in the day to get on all the best rides which end up with long lines. So we grabbed a few fast passes and hit the Living Seas first thing.

OK, marine biologist taking over. Check out the cool chondricthes:

C'mon - it's an aquarium! You expected me not to take a hundred pictures? Besides, they were feeding the fish in the big tank, and two HUGE spotted eagle rays were swarming the poor diver for food. It was just too amazing a sight not to photograph. When I volunteered at the Florida Aquarium, I got to feed much smaller spotted eagle rays - it feels like you're hand-feeding puppies. Their noses are so soft, and they push them on you as they gently suck the food from your hand. It's really an incredible experience.

The best part, though, was the Turtle Talk with Crush. It was actually really good! The animated Crush (the turtle dad from Nemo, if you recall) was well done, hilarious, and really interacted with the audience. It wasn't just pre-planned gags - you could tell that somehow they really fed the audience's participation into the experience. He asked people questions, responded intelligently to their answers, and was really, really funny. I strongly recommend seeing that if you end up at the Living Seas - it was great.

Moving on from the sea, we visited The Land, and its awesomely nerdy experience "Living with the Land." It's a boat ride through different land habitats, culminating in a ride through Disney's agricultural research area. The stuff they do there is amazing! They're working out the newest ways of making farming more efficient, healthier, and better for the environment. Some highlights (pics below): A 9 pound lemon, a tomato tree, nutrient film technique, and some closed-system combined aquaculture/agriculture.

Of course, there are all the rides. Mission: Space is actually quite intense (you gotta go with the Orange, more intense version), Test Track is fun and the closest EPCOT gets to a roller coaster, and I have a special place in my heart for Figment and his Journey into Imagination, no matter how much they've butchered it and made it suck compared to how it once was. Ellen's Universe of Energy was long and a bit boring (despite some actually funny lines from her), and I was disappointed at how little I learned from the 40 minute adventure. That ride has the potential to be so much more, but it just falls short. The ride that really surprised me, however, was the updated Spaceship Earth - the one that goes into the ball that is EPCOT's central image. It was really well done, interesting, and nerdy. In the Innovations East and West, we got to ride around on segways and play games showing what happens to our trash. And all that fun took us a good six hours or so - almost all the time you get to spend in the other parks like Animal Kingdom.

And, to make me even happier, it was garden festival time at EPCOT, so there were really neat floral statues of the characters all over the place, vendors, presentations, and an awesome butterfly garden that I just couldn't get enough of. They had cute little Mickey gnomes that almost sold me (except I'm moving to Hawaii - what do I need a lawn ornament for?), all kinds of beautiful flowers, and lots of neat exhibits on how to do certain garden-themed things. If you love to garden or just love to look at plants, it's really neat.

But the nerdiest moment at EPCOT had nothing to do with the rides or the featured fun - it was this:

While walking along, we got to see a red rat snake (right you herp experts?) eating a small bird. People were all gathered around taking photos and staring - a total NERD infection moment. There they were at EPCOT staring at a snake eating something. To say the least I took about a hundred pics before I was finally dragged away by the boys to go hit the rest of the park: The World Showcase.

I won't bore you with pictures of every country or all their stuff - just a couple. It's really something you should do for yourself. They've got Canada, the UK, France, Morocco, Japan, America, Italy, Germany, "The Outpost" (Africa), China, Norway, and Mexico. Each one has food, shopping, and cultural exhibits suited to their country, and all the vendors, presenters, etc are actually from there. The Bonsais from Japan were incredible - they were all older than me by a lot. The one on the left is 80 years old! Since I'm a frugal girl, my only souvenirs from each place were pennies.

Oh, I collect the pressed pennies, FYI. So if you want to ever send me a nice little gift to make me smile, a pressed penny from some cool place where you are would be a great choice. You can see my complete set from every country on the right. I figure, hey, they're $0.51 each - you can't get much better than that for a neat memento of something.

Of course, I couldn't leave without buying SOME kind of souvenir:

It's Minnie-Me! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) Aren't they adorable?!

The day ended, like every day at EPCOT, with a great fireworks extravaganza. All and all it was a pretty fantastic day, chock full of nerdy goodness.


Rick MacPherson said...

GREAT pictures and narrative... thanks for allowing me to live a disney holiday vicariously... i had a lot of fun with a fellow grad student one spring break when we hauled ass from massachusetts to epcot... total geeky fun!

i miss my mouse ears!

Stephanie B said...

I love EPCOT. Following you was like going again.

LUCKY said...

Wow now I want to go.

ohfortheloveofscience.com said...

Turtle Talk With Crush is pretty awesome, but I like the clamshell ride better...I mean c'mon...their replica reef is AWESOME. I wish I could make my bedroom look like that!!!

I love Living with the Land, and I'm really jealous that you went to the Flower and Garden Festival....you know how much I love it...Last time I went we made carnivorous plant gardens to take home.

Diane - DB Impressions said...

That looks wonderful! I can't wait till our kids are old enough to actually ENJOY going...maybe we need to plan a kid-free day for EPCOT, lol! Thank you for sharing your experience!