30 great ways to celebrate 30 years of Epcot magic

“The most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project – in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World — will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it EPCOT.” – Walt Disney, Oct. 27, 1966

Hurricane Hayward discovers a familiar symbol at Innoventions in Epcot.

Hurricane Hayward discovers a familiar symbol at Innoventions in Epcot. (Atomic Grog photo, May 2011)

The second-oldest of Disney World’s four theme parks opened to the public on Oct. 1, 1982. The massive project, originally called EPCOT Center, took three years and $1.2 billion to build. And while it didn’t fulfill Walt Disney’s grand vision of a utopian city, Epcot was something nobody had ever seen before, and it remains one of the world’s most distinctive tourist destinations. Its mixture of attractions and shows with culture and dining – all with a heavy emphasis on education — is unique and most likely something Walt would be proud of.

With more than 10 million visitors a year, Epcot is the third most popular theme park in the United States, trailing only Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in California. In honor of Epcot’s 30th anniversary, here are 30 of The Atomic Grog’s favorite ways to enjoy this eclectic combination of futuristic playground and food and beverage smorgasbord.

EVENTS

Epcot offers two signature events that turn the park into a feast for the senses for more than a third of the year.

1 – The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival
The size and scope of this annual event, now in its 17th year, is enough for many to plan their entire vacations around it. Eat (and drink) your way around Epcot’s World Showcase at some 30 international food and beverage marketplaces, attend low-cost seminars, meet celebrity chefs, attend nightly concerts, and so much more. If you’re adventurous and open-minded about food and drinks, there’s no better place to get a taste of everything the world has to offer. This year’s fest opened Sept. 28 and runs through Nov. 12.
Related: 17 reasons to sink your teeth into Epcot’s 2012 Food and Wine Festival
* EpcotFoodFestival.com | Facebook page | Disney Food Blog

A topiary of Mickey, Minnie and Pluto at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

A topiary of Mickey, Minnie and Pluto at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. (Atomic Grog photo, March 2011)

2 – The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival
Though not as ballyhooed as the Food and Wine Festival, the Flower and Garden Festival is also a feast for the senses, with an obvious emphasis on the visual. Every spring, Epcot’s 300 acres are transformed into a magical world of topiaries that replicate dozens upon dozens of Disney characters, plus vast expanses of colorful flowers, lush gardens and more. There’s live music, educational programs, unique shopping and special surprises such as last year’s Haiti food and beverage booth featuring Barbancourt rum. Next year’s festival runs from March 6 through May 19, 2013.
* Official site | Facebook page | Orlando Sentinel: Photos through the years

FOOD & DRINK

It’s no surprise that a third of this list is composed of the eclectic flavors from around the world that you can enjoy at Epcot’s many restaurants and bars. Though some can be pricey and require reservations, many are easy walk-ups and quite affordable.

Hurricane Hayward tackles a flight of margaritas at La Hacienda De San Angel.

Hurricane Hayward tackles a flight of margaritas at La Hacienda De San Angel. (Atomic Grog photo, January 2012)

3 – Tequila in Mexico
The Mexico Pavilion in World Showcase offers tequila lovers an array of choices. If you’re in a rush, drop by the frozen margarita stand as you walk past Mexico on the World Showcase promenade. The nearby quick-service restaurant, La Cantina de San Angel, also offers similar frozen treats. But the treasure trove lies inside the great pyramid in the dark and comfy La Cava del Tequila, one of the best bars in all of Disney World. Offering more than 100 tequilas, delicious hand-crafted margaritas, plus beer and tapas-style appetizers, this hidden gem is a great getaway from the hubbub of the park. If you prefer a more extensive meal with your libations, both San Angel Inn inside the pavilion and the new La Hacienda De San Angel fronting World Showcase Lagoon offer an extensive menu of shots, flights and premium margaritas (advance reservations required). La Hacienda De San Angel also offers great views of the IllumiNations fireworks on the water.
* Official sites: La Cava del Tequila | La Cantina de San Angel | San Angel Inn
* Fan sites: Disney Food Blog | Party Through the Parks (recipes) | Drinking Disney
Eating (and Drinking) Around the World (recipe)

German beer and a prezel make Hurricane Hayward a happy man.

German beer and a prezel make Hurricane Hayward a happy man. (Atomic Grog photo, January 2010)

4 – Beer in Germany
The Germany Pavilion in World Showcase is the perfect spot for beer lovers to get their fix at Epcot. There are several beer kiosks to grab a quick brew and a giant pretzel, both along the lagoon and in the courtyard of the traditional German village. Also, Sommerfest is a counter-service restaurant that offers affordable eats along with specialty beers served in souvenir mugs. But if you really want to indulge, make a reservation at Biergarten, which offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of authentic German food plus a nice selection of beers (Radeberger Pilsner, Schofferhofer Weizen, et al.). Feeling a bit parched? Order your brew in a full liter mug. That’s a thirst-quenching 34 ounces.
* Biergarten official site | Disney Food Blog review
Party Through the Parks | Drinking Disney
Beers and Ears

5 – Wine in Italy
The Italy Pavilion took a giant step forward in 2012 with the opening of Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, which adds another cool and convenient option for wine fanciers visiting Epcot. This cozy bar offers more than 200 Italian wines along with beers and small plates. No reservations required. There are also two full-service restaurants, Tutto Italia Ristorante and Via Napoli, that offer extensive wine lists. For these, reservations may be needed. A more casual location is the wine room in the retail area that features wines by the glass, flight or bottle to take home. And the quickest bet is the outdoor drink and snack stand that stocks a half-dozen wines by the glass (plastic cup, actually) along with beer, frozen drinks and an assortment of Italian pastries and desserts. My advice: Take the time to explore Tutto Gusto, which is also one of only two full-service bars in Epcot (along with the pub in the United Kingdom Pavilion).
* Disney Food Blog reviews: Tutto Gusto | Tutto Italia | Via Napoli
* Party Through the Parks reviews

Hurricane Hayward enjoys French wine with his gourmet meal at Les Chefs de France.

Hurricane Hayward enjoys French wine with his gourmet meal at Les Chefs de France. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2011)

6- Everything in France
When you think of the France Pavilion, you immediately think of great food and beverage options, from the drink stand out front serving top-shelf liquors and wines, to the authentic bistro Les Chefs de France. But great will soon get even better with the renovation of the elegant Bistro de Paris and expansion of the quick-service bakery Boulangerie Patisserie. Also in the works is World Showcase’s first dedicated ice cream shop. The secluded second-story Bistro de Paris is scheduled to reopen in early December with a new name and look, featuring a less formal (relaxed dress code?) but no less authentic experience. The restaurants at the pavilion were conceived by three of France’s most decorated chefs (Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge, and the late Gaston Lenotre) and are still owned and managed by their company. In fact, Bocuse’s son Jerome is overseeing the expansion. The first phase is expected to be completed by mid-December, when a massive new “bread oven and show bakery” opens. Boulangerie Pastisserie remains open during construction. But when the new bakery arrives, it will close to make way for Glacier Ice Cream Parlor. Meanwhile, you can continue to enjoy Les Chefs de France, with its delicious lunch and dinner menus. You might even run into Chef Remy from the Pixar film Ratatouille.
* Latest news on the changes: Disney Parks Blog | Disney Food Blog
* Official sites: Les Chefs de France | Bistro de Paris
* Disney Food Blog reviews: Les Chefs de France | Boulangerie Patisserie | Bistro de Paris
* Party Through the Parks

Hurricane Hayward will be much happier once he sits down at the Rose & Crown Pub to enjoy a British ale.

Hurricane Hayward will be much happier once he sits down at the Rose & Crown Pub to enjoy a British ale. (Atomic Grog photo, February 2009)

7 – Rose & Crown Pub and Dining Room
Epcot’s United Kingdom Pavilion is perhaps the most quaint of the 11 countries in World Showcase. From the architecture, cobblestone streets and gardens to the shops and entertainment, you get the feeling that you’re actually in the U.K. There’s a beer stand and the Yorkshire Fish Shop, a quick-service area that offers beer, fish and chips, and other British fare. But to truly transport yourself, go inside the authentic pub and dining room for traditional British food, beer and ale, and cocktails. Reservations may be required for the dining room, but the pub is first-come, first-served. It’s the only full-service pub in Epcot, so there’s an extensive menu, including a large selection of British beers in addition to a full bar. And don’t miss the Hat Lady performing sing-along Disney songs at the piano. If you plan your reservations and get lucky, you may get prime seats on the patio for the nightly IllumiNations fireworks show.
* Official site | Disney Food Blog
Party Through the Parks | Drinking Disney

8 – Le Cellier Steakhouse
The hottest restaurant ticket in Epcot has long been this dark, intimate dining room in a faux wine cellar beneath the Canada Pavilion. So many critics and bloggers have ranked it among the top-tier dining experiences in all of Disney World that it’s now gaining a reputation of being over-hyped. Is it worthy all the acclaim? Well, after years of trying, we finally landed reservations for an upcoming trip in December. So we’ll let you know. But we have every expectation that it will deliver. It’s hard to go wrong with prime rib, filet mignon, pan-seared seafood, authentic Canadian poutine, and cheddar cheese soup. Plus don’t forget the Canadian wines, beers and cocktails. And perhaps because reservations are so hard to come by, Disney chefs always offer up some of the more popular dishes in the Canada Marketplace at the annual Food and Wine Festival, which runs through Nov. 12.
* Official site | Disney Food Blog | Party Through the Parks

9 – Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe
This authentic bakery in the Norway Pavilion is arguably the best place in World Showcase for freshly baked desserts and a wide assortment of sweet treats. Try the addictive School Bread, a traditional Norwegian sweet bread roll that’s filled with vanilla custard and covered with icing and toasted coconut. Lesser known are the gourmet sandwiches and small dishes, plus specialty drinks such as Carlsberg beer and Viking Coffee (featuring Kamora Coffee Liqueur and Baileys Irish Cream). More than a bakery, Kringla is a quick and affordable alternative for lunch and dinner.
* Disney Food Blog review

The secluded counter-service restaurant in Japan was known as Yakitori House until December 2012, when it became Katsura Grill.

The secluded counter-service restaurant in Japan was known as Yakitori House until December 2012, when it became Katsura Grill. (Atomic Grog photo, March 2010)

10 – Katsura Grill
Another excellent counter-service restaurant with tasty and exotic delights is this newly refurbished location in the Japan Pavilion. A great place to relax, Katsura Grill (formerly Yakitori House) is perched on a picturesque hill overlooking the pavilion and World Showcase Lagoon. The much-improved menu features udon noodles, teriyaki dishes, sushi, and other Japanese favorites. You can quench your thirst with Japanese beer, wine and sake. There’s also a new outdoor sake bar nearby with a wider selection of adult beverages, including specialty cocktails.
* Disney Food Blog
Party Through the Parks

11 – Tangierine Café
If you’re looking for something exotic that won’t bust your budget and still delivers great flavors, this counter-service restaurant in the Morocco Pavilion is a must-do. The Mediterranean-inspired menu includes lamb and chicken for carnivores, and lots of dishes that vegetarians will love: couscous, hummus, lentils, tabouleh, etc. If you’re tired of the same old lunch and dinner choices, this is worth checking out. The cafe also features freshly baked pastries, and a decent menu of specialty coffee drinks and frozen cocktails.
* Disney Food Blog review | Party Through the Parks

A shark swims by during dinner at the Coral Reef Restaurant.

A shark swims by during dinner at the Coral Reef Restaurant. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2011)

12 – Coral Reef Restaurant
Not all the interesting dining experiences in Epcot are in World Showcase. One of the most distinctive restaurants you’ll find anywhere shares space with The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion. Coral Reef Restaurant offers a spectacular floor-to-ceiling view of the pavilion’s 5.7-million-gallon saltwater aquarium that’s home to 6,000 creatures such as sea turtles, dolphins, rays, and sharks. Though it may seem strange dining on some distant cousin of a species swimming by, the staff makes an effort to educate guests with a handout that details the tank’s inhabitants. If you’re still squeamish, just order the New York strip steak, vegetable strudel or wild mushroom lasagna. Adult beverages include specialty cocktails along with beers, wines, liqueurs, cognacs, and Disney World’s standard alcohol menu. Advance reservations recommended.
* Official site | Disney Food Blog review | Party Through the Parks

SHOPPING & CULTURE

Every World Showcase pavilion is distinctive and worthy of mention for their authenticity and dedication to their native cultures. But several rise above the rest with an over-the-top sensory experience that dazzles and amazes.

A scenic view of China at Epcot's World Showcase.

A scenic view of China at Epcot’s World Showcase. (Atomic Grog photo, March 2010)

13 – The China Pavilion
This tribute to one of the world’s oldest civilizations contains some of the most detailed and colorful art and architecture in World Showcase. Wander through gardens and ponds, then enter the Temple of Heaven to view Reflections of China, an eye-popping Circle Vision 360-degree film (one of three excellent World Showcase flims along with France and Canada). After the movie’s breathtaking views of the Forbidden City and Great Wall, visit the gallery exhibit “Tomb Warriors – Guardian Spirits of Ancient China,” a replica of the famous excavation of 2,000-year-old tomb art in Xi’an. Outside in the gardens, the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats perform amazing feats of agility and strength five days a week. The troupe will soon be heading to Broadway, so catch them while you can. The huge shopping area is just as spectacular, with a wide assortment of Chinese goods such as silk clothing, furniture, jade carvings, carpets, and more. Restaurants include the quick-service Lotus Blossom Cafe and table-service Nine Dragons Restaurant. An added bonus: The tea stand along the lagoon features an unusual selection of specialty cocktails, such as the Mango Gingerita (vodka and rum with sweet mango and spicy ginger), plus tasty snacks such as pork buns and an addictive caramel ginger ice cream that we discovered at last year’s Food and Wine Festival..
* Official site | Jeweled Dragon Acrobats | Reflections of China
* Illuminating Epcot | Party Through the Parks

The towering pagoda at the Japan Pavilion.

The towering pagoda at the Japan Pavilion. (Atomic Grog photo, October 2009)

14 – The Japan Pavilion
Reflecting both Japan’s rich tradition and its flamboyant modern pop culture, Mitsukoshi Department Store is a sensory overload for the shopping enthusiast. Browse through row after row of apparel, toys, candy, Samurai swords, anime items, jewelry, books and much more. An added treat is the small sake bar at the back of the store that follows the traditions of preparing and pouring the drink. Outside the store, be sure to catch the Matsuriza taiko drummers and Miyuki, one of the few traditional candy sculpting artists in the world as she performs an entertaining show while she twists, snips and forms hot taffy-like candy into elaborate animals. In addition to Katsura Grill (see above), the pavilion also includes two table-service restaurants (Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining, the latter with a great view of IllumiNations), a gallery showcasing Japanese arts, plus relaxing rock gardens, koi ponds and streams.
* Official site | Matsuriza | Miyuki
* Illuminating Epcot | Party Through the Parks

A rug shop in the Morocco Pavilion.

A rug shop in the Morocco Pavilion. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2011)

15 – The Morocco Pavilion
Divided into two sections – the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city) – the trappings of modern culture are a distant memory as you wander through an eclectic selection of traditional shops featuring fezzes, carpets, sandals, pots and planters, cooking utensils, ceramics, jewelry, and much more. The pavilion is supported by the government of Morocco, unlike the others that have corporate sponsors. It was built in part by craftsmen sent by the king to help Disney ensure its authenticity. There’s a gallery of artifacts and history, plus Fez House, an example of a typical Moroccan dwelling. In addition to the excellent Tangierine Café mentioned above, there’s Restaurant Marrakesh, which tends to be less busy as other table-service eateries and doesn’t always require reservations. Traditional dishes and a a full bar are complemented by belly dancers and live music. Entertainment outside the pavilion includes Mo’Rockin, a band that plays an eclectic mix of rock, Middle Eastern, African, Spanish and gypsy music while accompanied by a belly dancer. Morocco also features a drink stand with a modest selection of adult beverages, most notably the Sultan’s Colada (rum, pineapple and coconut juice, almond liqueur).
* Official site | Mo’Rockin | Illuminating Epcot | Party Through the Parks

Mexico's pyramid building emulates an Aztec temple.

Mexico’s pyramid building emulates an Aztec temple. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2009)

16 – The Mexico Pavilion
One of the most elaborate of the World Showcase countries, Mexico contains much more than the restaurants and bars detailed above. A dark boat ride, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros, showcases the country’s culture and is based on the characters developed by Walt Disney and his artists for so-called propaganda films aimed at Latin America during World War II. The pyramid building was modeled after an actual Aztec temple and features a gallery of artifacts from different periods of Mexican history. The interior, which appears to be perpetually in twilight, is dominated by a bustling marketplace featuring everything from Day of the Dead skulls to pottery, crafts, toys, clothing, jewelry, tequila, and more. Just inside the entrance, look for the fascinating Animales Fanásticos: Spirits in Wood, a kiosk featuring hand-crafted, carved and painted woodwork, some created live by the artists. Outside the pavilion, don’t miss Mariachi Cobre, a traditional 12-piece Mariachi band that has been performing at Epcot since opening day.
* Official site | Mariachi Cobre | Illuminating Epcot

ENTERTAINMENT

Epcot is loaded with lots of performance troupes, more than any other Disney World park. Several have been mentioned above and several more below, along with the nightly coup de grace.

17 – IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

IllumiNations in December 2011.

IllumiNations in December 2011. (Atomic Grog photo)

Disney World’s longest-running nightly spectacular is still one of the most impressive pyrotechnic shows you’ll see anywhere. Featuring lasers, fire, and fountains on World Showcase Lagoon, synchronized with one of the most awe-inspiring soundtracks, this award-winning show tells the ambitious story of the history of Earth and its people. When the original IllumiNations debuted 1988, it broke new ground in technology and the size and scope of theme park entertainment. It raised the bar on end-of-the-night spectaculars, forcing every other theme park to do the same. The Reflections of Earth story premiered on Oct. 1, 1999, as part of the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration. For 13 years, it has been dazzling Epcot visitors who gather nightly on the promenade for the 13-minute show comprised of three acts. The centerpiece is the Earth Globe, the world’s first spherical video display system. The other key features are the Inferno Barge (a liquid-propane system that sends balls of fire up to 60 feet in the air), fountain barges (pumping 4,000 gallons of water per minute), lasers and moving lights, plus a computerized fireworks technology invented by Disney that doesn’t pollute the air with black powder and allows for explosions to be timed perfectly with the music. The show is enhanced during the winter holidays, on the Fourth of July, and on New Year’s Eve with additional story elements and pyrotechnics. Its location in the center of the lagoon makes it viewable from throughout the 1.2-mile World Showcase promenade, with prime locations in key restaurants and pavilions. Groups can make IllumiNations even more memorable with a specialty cruise aboard a pontoon boat, or a dessert party in a private area fronting the lagoon.
* Official site | Illuminating Epcot | Wikipedia
* Viewing tips: Touring Plans | Disney Food Blog | Magical Kingdoms

British Revolution performs in December 2011.

British Revolution performs in December 2011. (Atomic Grog photo)

18 – Rockin’ around the World
Most of the bands and performers in World Showcase can be enjoyed at your leisure as you stroll by on the promenade. It’s fun to just stumble onto a fun performance when you’re not expecting it. But there are a couple high-energy acts that deserve special mention and planning. British Revolution (known outside of Epcot as British Airwaves) performs up to five times a day on an outdoor gazebo in the United Kingdom Pavilion, covering an impressive array of U.K. rock bands from the past 50 years, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Clash, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Oasis and even Ozzy Osbourne. During one spirited performance, I recall the singer reminding the audience they were getting a rare treat, “Ozzy in Disney.” The band’s spot-on cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, not an easy feat, is a personal favorite. Last year, the quartet (guitar, keyboards, bass, drums) replaced the Beatles tribute band British Invasion, which held court in the U.K. for about 15 years. A short distance away on the main promenade entering Canada is an impressive stage that hosts perhaps Epcot’s most popular live performers, the Celtic rock band Off Kilter. These Epcot favorites for more than 15 years combine humor with high-energy rock, covering hits by famous Canadians as well as lesser known music from across Canada, such as Celtic songs from Nova Scotia and French songs from Quebec. The five-piece band (bagpipes, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums) also typically plays five shows a day, five days a week. Check the daily calendar for showtimes and plan your trip to that side of the park accordingly. Grab a drink at the nearby Rose & Crown Pub and enjoy the shows.
* British Revolution: Disney World page | Facebook | British Airwaves site | YouTube
* Off Kilter: Disney World page | Official band site | Albums on Amazon.com | YouTube

ATTRACTIONS

The spectacular attractions (don’t call them rides) are at the heart of all Disney theme parks, and Epcot is no exception. Designed by Walt Disney’s famed Imagineers, these experiences can be thrilling, educational, emotional, funny and much more.

A topiary of Woody from "Toy Story" guards Spaceship Earth during Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival, March 2011.

A topiary of Woody from “Toy Story” guards Spaceship Earth during Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival, March 2011. (Atomic Grog photo)

19 – Spaceship Earth
The centerpiece of Epcot, of course, is the iconic 18-story geodesic sphere that takes guests on a journey through time on a slow-moving, 16-minute dark ride full of Audio-Animatronic figures that showcase advancements in human communication. The journey starts with prehistoric man and ends with the computer age of the 21st century. A recent refurbishment allows riders to create a future for themselves through an on-board computer screen. This attraction has gone through several major changes over 30 years (devotees prefer the 1986 version narrated by Walter Cronkite or the 1994 version narrated by Jeremy Irons) but the 2008 version (narrated by Dame Judi Dench) retains its power and charm. Marvel at all the amazing details (do you smell Rome burning?) and the inspirational musical score composed by Emmy winner Bruce Broughton. Cool fact: Science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who died in June at age 91, helped design the sphere and write the original storyline.
* Official site | Illuminating Epcot | Wikipedia

Soarin' is located in The Land Pavilion in Future World.

Soarin’ is located in The Land Pavilion in Future World. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2009)

20 – Soarin’
Though not as original as other Epcot experiences – it’s a clone of an attraction at the Disney California Adventure park – Soarin’ is nonetheless hands-down the most popular and has given The Land Pavilion in the Future World area of the park new life since its opening in 2005. Lines are still long for this a state-of-the-art simulator that takes guests on a serene hang-gliding flight over California. The inventive ride system lifts you 40 feet in front of a giant IMAX screen, then bombards you with the sights, sounds and smells of California landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Redwood Forest, and Yosemite National Park. The orchestral score composed by Oscar winner Jerry Goldsmith enhances the attraction’s beauty and magic. Due to the attraction’s popularity, it’s advised that you secure a FastPass that allows you to return later with a much shorter wait time.
* Official site | Wikipedia

21 – Test Track
Epcot’s first true thrill ride, now closed for a much-anticipated upgrade, is scheduled to reopen on Dec. 6. Since replacing the World of Motion attracton in 1999, the GM-sponsored Test Track has placed riders in “test vehicles” that simulate procedures used to evaluate safety, culminating in a 65-mph drive around the exterior of the building. Like most Disney World attractions, you’re totally immersed in your environment with uncanny realism. The “re-imagination,” now sponsored by Chevrolet, is expected to bring the attraction into the 21st century with new interactive elements that allow you to design your own custom concept car.
* Reopening news on the Disney Parks Blog | Official site | Illuminating Epcot | Wikipedia

22 – The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion

Dolphins perform during a show at The Seas.

Dolphins perform during a show at The Seas. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2010)

Of Future World’s many pavilions, this is the one that offers the most opportunities for exploration and education. There are no thrill rides or 360-degree films, but The Seas (created in 1986 as The Living Seas and revamped with a Finding Nemo theme in 2004), is impressive and worthy of your time nonetheless. The centerpiece is a massive aquarium that holds one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world. You can enter on foot or via a “clamobile” that takes you through views of the aquarium and high-tech scenes involving Nemo and his friends. For the kids, there’s also the Turtle Talk with Crush show that showcases Disney’s most advanced system of “talking character” technology. Explore all the nooks and crannies of the aquarium and surrounding areas and you’ll discover educational dolphin shows, a special manatee rehabilitation area, smaller tanks with exotic creatures, exhibits, and special programs such as Epcot DiveQuest, the Seas Aqua Tour, and Dolphins in Depth. Guests have the opportunity to scuba dive and snorkel in the 5.7-million-gallon aquarium, or spend three hours learning about and interacting with Dolphins. There’s also the Coral Reef Restaurant mentioned above under Food & Drink.
* Official site | Epcot DiveQuest | Seas Aqua Tour | Dolphins in Depth | Wikipedia

23 – Maelstrom
Created presumably in all seriousness as part of the new Norway Pavilion in 1988, the dark ride known as Maelstrom has become over the ensuing decades a kitschy parody of itself. Board a viking ship (based on actual historic boats) for a voyage through fjords and stormy seas into historic Norway, complete with Audio-Animatronic trolls, polar bears, and pirates. There are mild thrills, including small backward and forward drops. Feel free to skip the 5-minute film about the history and folklore of Norway that follows the boat ride. Fun fact: The attraction was named SeaVenture up until two months before opening, but it was changed to Maelstrom, a Nordic word for a very powerful whirlpool.
* Official site | Wikipedia

Sum of All Thrills is one of Epcot's newest attractions.

Sum of All Thrills is one of Epcot’s newest attractions. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2009)

24 – Sum of All Thrills
Have you ever thought you could design a more thrilling roller coaster than Disney’s Imagineers? Sum of All Thrills, located in the Innoventions pavilion since October 2009, gives you a chance to do just that with some of the most advanced ride technology. Using a touch-screen display, you program a robotic simulator with a ride all your own by designating such things as height and speed while adding features such as dips and corkscrew turns. The 4-D simulator uses sight, sound and movement to provide a realistic experience. My advice: If you’re a coaster fan, don’t be afraid to add intense corkscrews, inversions and steep hills. Fun fact: The KUKA RoboSim 4-D Simulator was originally designed for industrial use. It’s also used in the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Allegedly an agreement with Universal will keep it out of future Disney attractions until a exclusivity contract expires.
* Disney Parks Blog | Orlando Sentinel photos | Sponsor site

The Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps performs outside The American Adventure in December 2011.

The Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps performs outside The American Adventure in December 2011. (Atomic Grog photo)

25 – The American Adventure
You may have noticed that the only World Showcase pavilion not mentioned so far is the good ol’ U.S. of A. Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m just as patriotic as the next guy, but overall The American Adventure falls short in many areas: Food and drink, contemporary culture, etc. Don’t even get me started on the quality of the bands that perform in the America Gardens Theater, save for perhaps a few during the Food and Wine Festival. Colonial history is fine and dandy, but can’t we do better than cheeseburgers and hot dogs? What about the great melting pot cultures of regions such as the Deep South, New England, or the Southwest? If I wanted a dry history lesson, I’d go to Washington, D.C. The exception to all the boredom in this pavilion is the 30-minute theatrical show featuring 35 lifelike Audio-Animatronic figures in dramatic recreations of famous people and events in American history, from the Civil War to the civil rights movement. It also now includes some footage of rescue crews responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. All sobering stuff, to be sure, but worthy of a visit for history’s sake. And the Audio-Animatronic show is one of the best at Disney World.
* Official site

SPECIAL TOUCHES

The “only-at-Epcot” experience can be enhanced even further by taking advantage of some of these fun features at little cost, or by paying extra to “plus” your vacation.

The monorail glides through Future World in December 2009.

The monorail glides through Future World in December 2009. (Atomic Grog photo)

26 – The monorail
The historic link between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, the foundation of Walt Disney’s vision of his “Florida project,” lives on through the futuristic Walt Disney World Monorail System that has been running non-stop since the park’s opening. Guests board and disembark at the station just outside the Epcot main gate, and at the Magic Kingdom’s Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC). This also gives guests at Magic Kingdom resorts such as the Polynesian easy access to both parks. The express, round-trip ride is calming and serene as you zoom past open areas between the two parks. But the best part is the final (or initial) leg of the journey, looping through Future World with great bird’s eye views of Epcot. Conversely, having the monorail glide overhead gives those areas of the park a cool retro-futuristic feel.
Wikipedia | 1984 video

Hurricane Hayward chills at Club Cool in October 2009.

Hurricane Hayward chills at Club Cool in October 2009. (Atomic Grog photo)

27 – Club Cool
If you’re a Coca-Cola or soft drink junkie, you’ll want to check out Club Cool, featuring the Coca-Cola International Tasting Station. Located in Future World near Innovations West, this is an “interactive experience” that allows you to sample eight different brands (all Coca-Cola products) from around the world. In other words: Free soda! You can also buy an array of domestic Coke products, souvenirs and collectibles. Like the name implies, this is a great place to chill out on a hot day and sip a few exotic beverages, such as Kinley Lemon from Israel and Smart Watermelon from China. Just beware the bitter Beverly from Italy.
* Disney Parks Blog | Disney Food Blog | Wikipedia

28 – Guided tours
If you feel like you’ve seen and done everything at Epcot, or you’re just curious and have a few bucks to burn, you might want to consider one of these exclusive experiences. The UnDISCOVERed Future World is a four-hour tour that takes you through the history of the park, starting with Walt Disney’s vision and all the major developments. You get access to secret backstage areas and learn about the massive construction project that created Epcot, the largest in the world at the time. A little more lively is Keep Moving Forward: See the World, Share the Dream, which takes you through World Showcase on your own advanced Segway Personal Transporter. Newly enhanced, this tour includes training, safety equipment, food, beverages and a commemorative pin.

A boardwalk entertainer performs in May 2011.

A boardwalk entertainer performs in May 2011. (Atomic Grog photo)

29 – The International Gateway
If you’re not a regular visitor at Disney World resorts, you’re probably not aware of all the perks you’re missing. One major advantage for guests staying at the Epcot area resorts is direct access to the park through the International Gateway, located between the France and United Kingdom pavilions. The deluxe Beach Club Resort, Yacht Club Resort, and BoardWalk Inn are all within walking distance, or a short boat ride. The slightly more affordable Swan and Dolphin hotels are a bit farther away, but also accessible via walkway or boat. There’s also a path and boats running from these resorts to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While in Epcot, feel free to pop out the gate to do some sightseeing and stroll the boardwalk. The resorts all feature outstanding restaurants and bars, so even if you’re not a registered guest you can enjoy a meal plus craft beer at Big River Grille and Brewing Works (BoardWalk), drinks at the Crew’s Cup Lounge (Yacht Club) and ice cream at Beaches and Cream (Beach Club). There are also many casual and table-service restaurants that range from elegant fine dining to character breakfasts to bar snacks. And if you have advance reservations, parking is complimentary. So this is also a great way to enter the park and avoid the hassles of the main parking lot.

Every Epcot pavilion, such as The Land, has its own background music.

Every Epcot pavilion, such as The Land, has its own background music. (Atomic Grog photo, December 2009)

30 – The background music
You may not notice, but so-called “background loops” play a big part in the overall feel and immersion in a particular time and place at all the Disney parks and resorts. Imagineers go to great lengths to enhance your experience with all kinds of music, and Epcot is no exception. From the authentic native music at all the World Showcase pavilions, to the new age weirdness of Future World’s Innoventions Plaza area, the background music of Epcot is exotic and unique. The main park entrance loop – featuring classic music from current and past attractions – is considered one of the best in all of Disney World, so keep your ears open as you arrive. And each Future World pavilion and attraction has its own music, sometimes extending to places you wouldn’t expect. The secluded restrooms at the far end of the Imagination Pavilion still feature a loop from that attraction’s beloved early incarnation, considered by devotees to be one of the best attractions ever. Less hidden is the eclectic selection of “flight music” in the Soarin’ queue. Stop and savor these hidden musical surprises.
* Magic Music | Mouse World Radio | Subsonic Radio | D-CoT
Mouse Bits | The music of Epcot album

Editor’s note: Hurricane Hayward and/or Mrs. Hurricane have personally experienced nearly all of the above, with the notable exceptions of the guided tours and special experiences in The Seas. They’re looking forward to their dinner at the elusive Le Cellier in December, and also considering brushing up on their Segway driving skills.

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At this writing, a one-day adult Epcot pass is $89 for non-Florida residents, but there are Florida resident and AAA discounts. Save more by buying multi-day and multi-park passes. For Floridians, the best deal is a $289 seasonal pass from AAA, which includes access to all four Disney World parks for one year, except for blackout dates during the busy summer and holidays seasons. Also check MouseSavers.com for discounts and special codes.

Official sites
Epcot | Walt Disney World | Disney Parks Blog on Epcot

Fan sites
Wikipedia | Illuminating Epcot | The Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia

Epcot history
The Epcot Legacy | Lost Epcot | The Original EPCOT Project
Epcot: The First Thirty Years – An Unofficial Retrospective

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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One Response to 30 great ways to celebrate 30 years of Epcot magic

  1. Sunny&Rummy says:

    Great post and great wrap up of all the things to see and do at EPCOT. The wife and I have also been trying to get into Le Cellier for years, so we are looking forward to your review!

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