Saturday, February 22, 2014

Epcot Tips with a (Almost) Toddler

Epcot, I think, has a bum rap among parents taking their children to Disney. I hear a lot of friends saying how they don't expect to spend much time there or that they intend to skip Epcot altogether. While initially I thought I felt the same way (don't we all just think of Epcot as someplace to go and "drink around the world"?), after visiting Epcot with Baby O, I realize how completely wrong I was! Not only did we have a great time at Epcot, but we spent nearly two full days there (not counting the one evening we went back sans Baby O).

While the "countries area" (real name: World Showcase) is what people think of when they hear Epcot, there is actually a whole separate park section (named Future World) that exists before you even enter the World Showcase. In fact, most days the two sections open at completely different times (be sure to check the schedule for each specific day).

On this trip our first Epcot experience was without Baby O so we were able to check it out and get a feel for what he might like before we returned the following day. My Brother-in-Law happens to love Epcot so when on our first night, the park had extra magic hours until 11pm, he eagerly suggested that the young'uns' (i.e. me, Husband, sister-in-law, and himself) head over to check it out.

Future World is divided up into two sides: on the left is Test Track, Mission: Space, and Universe of Energy* and on the right is the Land, the Sea and Imagination!.

Future World: Left

Test Track: I didn't go on this one, but Husband, Brother-in-Law and Father-in-Law (Poppi) did. Basically you design a race car and then get to drive it to see how it performs in real race conditions. This ride is super popular so unless you want to wait for more than an hour, get a Fast Pass (go there first thing when the park opens/you arrive as the Fast Passes can sell out!). Basically the general consensus was that this ride was fun, but the fellows were disappointed that they didn't each get to design their own cars. After their design performed poorly, they spent the rest of the day accusing each other of being the chief designer! There is a height requirement of 40 inches so most, if not all, toddlers are going to be sized out.

We sent this picture to Disney in case they wanted to use
it for upcoming promotional materials. We have surprisingly
yet to receive a response!
Mission: Space: This seriously shouldn't even call itself a ride. It should be called a "thrill miserable horrible experience". I could seriously talk for days about how horrible Mission Space: Orange is but I might end up with PTSD for recalling the experience. There is a tamer "Green" level option that Gary Sinise (America's professional "not an astronaut but plays one on TV" astronaut) seriously spends 15 minutes while you are online trying to convince you to go on instead. We laughed the video off, thinking, "How bad can this ride be? The line is only 15 minutes long and we're at Epcot!" Turns out the line was only 15 minutes long because the fireworks were about to start and everyone was lined up for the show. Oh if we had known.

Not even a joke picture.
This was us after the ride.
Ultimately you get into a pod that is about the size of a midsize car. The pod then folds in half so your "controls" are closer to you. Each "astronaut" is assigned a job (i.e. engineer, pilot, captain, something else random that I've blocked out). I should have suspected something awful was about to happen when I saw that the pod was equipped with genuine barf bags. The ride then simulates being launched into outer space and flying to Mars where you almost fall off a cliff. My Brother-in-Law, who normally thoroughly enjoys thrill rides, said that he was fine until we almost went off the cliff. At that point, he was ready to lose it while I was ready to just live on Mars because I was having a horrible thought that they might make us fly back to Earth! (They don't!)

It was, without a doubt, complete and utter misery. Although the four year old who got off the ride immediately after us (and was kind enough to stop and talk to us on the benches that we laid down on!) loved it so maybe this is a perfect ride to take your toddler on. There is a height restriction of 44 inches for the Orange side.

Universe of Energy: Ellen's Energy Adventure: Many folks around my age may recall visiting Epcot as kids and going on the "dinosaur" ride. Well that ride is gone and has been replaced with this movie/interactive ride featuring Ellen DeGeneres. The entire experience is about 45 minutes long and includes a preshow featuring Ellen falling asleep and dreaming about Bill Nye the Science Guy offering to take her on a journey to understand energy. Once you enter the theater, Ellen's "dream" continues and ultimately the theater seats themselves start moving around in a big block. The dinosaurs are still included in the show, but their presence seemed a little forced. Baby O didn't care though: he is all about dinosaurs, even big, scary, fighting dinosaurs like these were!

Spaceship Earth

Baby O really liked Spaceship Earth. The cars are continuously moving so the line never gets very long (I'll have some examples of non-continuously moving cars when I discuss the Magic Kingdom and seriously just the unloading/loading process holds the line up a good 10-20 minutes!). You wind your way up to the top of Spaceship Earth while a voiceover in your car talks about advances in technology since the beginning of man. There are animatronic people along the way, which could be scary (particularly some scenes with fire), but Baby O really liked it. His favorite part was on the way back down: the car tilts backwards and there is a touch screen. You pick a few of your likes/interests on the screen and then watch a funny video of your "Future" based on your responses. Cute stuff.
Future World: Right
Imagination!: This pavilion contains two separate rides: Captain EO, which is back after a 16 year absence, and Journey Into Imagination with Figment. Captain EO is about 20 minutes long and is total cheese. It was fun to watch, but Baby O wasn't too impressed. He didn't like the 3D glasses, but luckily the screen doesn't look too crazy when you aren't wearing (I checked about forty times to make sure I wasn't destroying his young eyes!) 
He preferred Journey Into Imagination with Figment, which has been revamped a bit since I remember riding it as a kid. It now features Eric Idle as a scientist who sends the rider on a journey into imagination which ends up being interrupted by Figment, a pesky little dragon. Toward the end of the ride, there was a loud POP that startled Baby O a bit, but the pop was just leading to the big singing finale so he didn't mind it too much. When you exit the ride, you enter ImageWorks, the third area of the Imagination! pavilion which is basically hands-on experiments for kids to play with (a bit over Baby O's abilities, although he did really enjoy a piano which is on the wall). 
The Land: Of all the components of Future World, The Land is probably the most dull. The big thrill ride is Soarin' which simulates a hang glider touring above parts of California. There is a 40 inch height restriction, which is on the low side, so that should give you some insight into the ride's craziness. Husband, Brother-in-Law, Poppi and Mimi (Poppi's wife) went on this one and none came back terribly impressed. In fact, I think some were jealous that we had used their time away to meet Chip and Dale!
The second ride is Living with the Land, which tours a greenhouse. For some ridiculous reason all our guidebooks told us to get Fast Passes for this ride. I can seriously only think that this was some sort of elaborate joke because the ride was totally dead. It is a stop and go boat ride (i.e. not continuous like Spaceship Earth) and when we got to the front of the line, there were five empty boats just sitting there. Once we loaded into ours they sent it off barely 25% full. It was neat at the end to see some of the wacky fruit/vegetable hybrids they are growing (ten pound lemons!), but don't go out of your way to ride this one.
The Seas with Nemo & Friends: This was a super popular pavilion for Baby O while we were at Epcot. Here visitors can find: the ride of the same name and Turtle Talk with Crush. Both are really popular so get Fast Passes or head there first thing in the morning. The ride basically retells the story of Finding Nemo as you ride around in shells. Turtle Talk is ridiculously cool for anyone, regardless of age. You file into a room (kids can sit on the floor in front) and Crush from Finding Nemo appears on screen. He talks for a bit and then takes questions from the audience! Kids can raise their hands and Crush will call on them by describing them. Then he answers their questions with specific answers! The technology is really amazing and supposedly they are using the same technology to have "costumed" characters (i.e. Mickey, Donald, Goofy) finally be able to speak with park guests! The show is about 15 minutes and runs continuously, but without a Fast Pass you might be waiting a while!
World Showcase:
Lest you think we never ventured into the World Showcase portion of Epcot: we did! With Baby O, we were there for lunch and then quickly ushered him back to the hotel for nap. With our adult group, we stumbled around post-Mission: Space Orange, trying to regain our bearings and end our misery!
There are actually a few rides in the World Showcase, but we only went on one: Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros in Mexico. It is in the back of the market building on the left-hand side. It is along the same vein of It's a Small World, but is themed after the Three Caballeros movie featuring Donald Duck. Another ride that we considered riding but it looked closed (it wasn't) was Maelstrom in Norway. It's a boat ride too but has a slight drop (28 feet). There's no height restriction and the drop is obviously no Splash Mountain, but it might be a bit much for the younger crowd.
For lunch with Baby O, we ate at the Tangierine Café in Morocco. My family is part-Lebanese and this type of food is very similar. While the chairs were iron and not exactly ideal for an almost-two year old, he managed. The portions were really big and we totally could have split entrees if we had wanted. Personally I found the falafel to be a bit on the dry side, but the lamb was super delicious! The baklava was a nice different type of dessert from what we had been getting at other quick-service restaurants. We were on the dining plan and for one quick-service credit, we got an entrée that included rice or fries, a dessert, and a drink. Baby O had chicken fingers which he enjoyed. These actually had just a touch of seasoning on them so they were a little something different for him too!
The other place we ate was at the Kringla Bakeri in Norway. I had read online so try the School Bread so after Mission: Space Orange, we did. Ohmygosh it was delicious! It was seriously the only thing that made me feel even slightly better when my head was spinning post-Mission: Space Orange. My sister and I split a piece the first night and then another day we went back and got THREE more! We also talked Mimi into getting some! School Bread is a slightly sweet bread filled with custard and sprinkled with coconut. It's not very rich and the only negative reviews I've seen are from people who were expecting more of a cinnamon bun flavor. That is not what School Bread is: it's really more like a honey flavored dinner roll with custard inside. In any event, it is ridiculously delicious! As we waited to place our second order, I started singing about how tasty School Bread is and I'm not kidding when I say that a few people in front of us changed their orders! And as we were leaving the park (still singing!), everyone kept asking what we were carrying because it looked so yummy! I'm convinced we changed some lives that day! On the dining plan, School Bread is one snack credit, but even sans dining plan it was less than $3/roll!
Here are some of the other possible dining options that I had chosen:
Sunshine Seasons (The Land) - This is a food court style restaurant with stations (grill, soup & salad, Asian noodles, sandwiches, bakery & breakfast). Everything here is cooked to order and personalization (due to allergies, etc.) is honored without issue. There is a ton of seating but it can get crowded (it wasn't really when we were there) and can be difficult to maneuver with a stroller. The Strawberry Shortcake and Beet Salad are supposed to be particularly good.
Les Halles Bakery (France) - This bakery opens at 9am and is one of the few attractions in World Showcase that opens before 11am. There is ample seating (both indoor and outdoor) and a large service area. There are savory options that could be a nice lunch for a meal plan snack credit (standouts are said to be quiche, bisque, and sandwiches). If they offer to toast something, say yes!
We did do a table service meal at Epcot too, but I decided I am going to do those meals separately since there is a ton I can say about each of them.
All in all, we had a great time at Epcot (Mission: Space Orange notwithstanding) which surprised us. Baby O really enjoyed it there too. We weren't ever there late enough to see any of the fireworks shows, but I've seen one before and it's pretty amazing (this from someone who hates fireworks!) They light up the whole World Showcase Lagoon and set all kinds of things on fire and then ultimately turn the Spaceship Earth into a big projection screen. Pretty awesome, but way past Baby O's bedtime (and the one time we were there for the show, we were Mission: Space Orange incapacitated!) I'd definitely advise folks to at least consider visiting Epcot for at least a half day. With a park hopper ticket, you can always go to a different park after lunch, but I think you may be surprised, just like we were, at how fun Epcot, even with an almost toddler can be!

* The "Wonders of Life" pavilion is still present at Epcot but isn't currently in operation for any ride or attraction. It is on the left-hand side of Future World between Mission: Space and the Universe of Energy



  1. The first time we did Epcot, we had the same experience with Mission: Space. I got crazy claustrophobic in there. We were like, it's a ride for kids, how bad could it be? It's SO BAD. The green side is wayyyy calmer, but I still don't like being in such a teeny tiny vehicle with the screen pressed up against my face. Funny enough, my husband and I LOVE The Land - we find it totally fascinating and relaxing and just plain cool! We always do that one a bunch. They even have a Behind the Seeds tour if you want a closer look. Maelstrom is another fav - definitely not very scary, as the drop is not steep. And you should try Soarin', perhaps if you come to Disneyland. It's pretty dang impressive, especially the first time. It's so immersive!! Glad you had fun in Epcot - though the joke is that Epcot's boring, it's actually our fav of the Disneyworld parks :) Fewer kids there, too. which might be part of it!

    1. I'm glad to hear we aren't the only ones who found plenty to do at Epcot! I normally would have tried Soarin' myself but was still too traumatized after Mission: Space Orange! We were expecting something totally different with Living with the Land so I think we were all a bit confused too (my brother-in-law was convinced it was the dinosaur ride!) LOL