|Acrobats at Epcot’s China Pavilion: a thrill for all ages.|
Epcot Theme Park at central Florida’s Walt Disney World offers young children of travel-oriented parents and grandparents the opportunity to visit within the park’s World Showcase some of the international destinations, and especially nationalities, they may have heard about but never seen or met. This can lead to exciting, unexpected moments that will surprise the elders as much as the kids.
Our grandchildren—Bridget, age 4, and big brother Rowan, age 6—were fascinated by their first experiences of the cultures of Germany, China and especially Norway, where their discovery of the Vikings on the Maelstrom water ride was followed by a final Disney Princess Storybook dinner buffet—the first half of a dual finale to our trip.
The Walt Disney Company has made it easier for parents and grandparents who enjoy visiting Epcot but may initially need help convincing young children that the park also has much to appeal to them. Disney “Meet & Greet” character appearances are scheduled throughout the day in Epcot, and the beauty part is that lines are often shorter here than in the Magic Kingdom for children to step up and chat briefly with their favorite characters while having a keepsake photo or two taken.
Grandparents should pick up the Epcot Times Guide, along with a park map, at the entrance. They can also plan ahead by checking online the scheduled time of character appearances at: disneyworld.disney.go.com/calendars.
Two prime locations to find Disney characters at various times throughout the day are at Legacy West Plaza near the Epcot entrance, and at the Epcot Character Spot located in Future World on the right side past Spaceship Earth, the global symbol of the park. Other characters regularly appearing in Epcot include Belle in France, Mulan in China, Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco, Mary Poppins in the United Kingdom, Snow White in Germany and Donald Duck in Mexico, among others.
Of Pirates and Park Hopping
Our day at Epcot actually began in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland to visit the revamped Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which reopened after being closed for maintenance on our prior day. Thanks to a FastPass, we were able to move quickly to the ride, but not before the kids enjoyed the foreboding dungeon rooms of the Spanish fort in the pre-ride walkthrough area. The Pirates boat ride, with a wide assortment of leathery-looking pirates engaged in naval combat or singing about rum and their fearless leader Jack Sparrow, led to a final child-pleasing appearance by the Captain himself. He looked remarkably like his Hollywood persona, Johnny Depp.
The excitement of the indoor Pirates ride more than compensated for the kids’ desire not to await the nearby outdoor Pirates tutorial show in the hot Florida sun. They instead enjoyed a visit to a cool concert in the nearby Enchanted Tiki Room with its tuneful exotic birds, and agreed with the choice to postpone swordplay training for a future Disney World visit. Soon it was off to Epcot by monorail to visit the World Showcase.
An Epcot Afternoon
The grandkids enjoyed Disney’s internal resort transportation and our hop over to Epcot was made easy thanks to their first monorail ride and the scenic water taxi across the World Showcase Lagoon to the German pavilion for lunch at the Biergarten. It was exciting during our water taxi ride to see the fireworks barges beginning to move into place in preparation for the “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” pyrotechnic show that takes place nightly over the lagoon.
The buffet lunch of an assortment of traditional German favorites, including chicken, spaetzle and apple strudel enjoyed by the kids, and sauerbraten, sausages and dunkel tap beer enjoyed by the seniors, was accompanied by an authentic Oktoberfest band. The children were fascinated by the brass musicians, especially their playing of the cowbells and the alpine horns. The grandparents were most appreciative of the attentive service of Nora, our outstanding young table waitress from the north coast of Germany near Hamburg, who showed sincere interest in helping keep the children well entertained.
In the German pavilion’s outdoor area were post-lunch surprises, including photo opportunities with three of the friendly hostesses on temporary Disney work assignments from homes in different parts of Germany. There was a surprise meet-and-greet with Snow White, who appears outside the German pavilion at different times during each day. The kids were next amazed to be able to go directly from Germany to China. There they enjoyed the Chinese acrobatic show and its young gravity-defying gymnasts, a visit to the terra cotta warriors exhibit—a faithful, smaller-scale reproduction of some of the original warriors in Xian—and a viewing of “Visions of China,” a 15-minute Disney cinema-360 production. The giant travelogue film surrounding the audience with multi-sided images, including aerial scenes of China’s changing landscapes and booming cities, kept the kids in rapt attention.
Princess Banquet, Fireworks
Our afternoon turned into early evening in Norway, where a ride with the Vikings on the Maelstrom water ride was declared by young Rowan to be almost the equal of Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle River Cruise in Adventureland, but not quite as thrilling as Splash Mountain. A highlight of our Walt Disney World visit was undoubtedly the Princess Storybook Dinner buffet in Norway’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. This reservations-only experience takes place in the majestic Scandinavian banquet space worthy of its guests of honor, a stunning parade of five Disney princesses. Disney guests unable to book a Princess character dinner in Cinderella’s castle, due to that venue’s high popularity in the Magic Kingdom, will find the Norway banquet hall dinner to be a more than satisfactory alternative.
|Enjoying a photo op with Epcot Germany hostesses at the Biergarten.|
The kids began the dining evening with photo meet-and-greet with Belle from Beauty and the Beast in a room off the entry foyer. This was followed by visits to our table by Cinderella Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Ariel and (dropping in from our earlier meeting in Germany) Snow White. The food included a buffet of Scandinavian salads and appetizers followed by a table service choice of several entrees and desserts, including shorts ribs, chicken breast, seared salmon or traditional Norwegian meatballs for the adults and pizza, chicken breast, cheese ravioli or meatballs for the kids. The food was uniformly fine, but with the frequent dazzling appearances by the princesses, including a grand procession around the hall with the kids at dessert time, it was hard to pay attention to what was happening on the table amid the flashing cameras.
An amazing finale to the day in Epcot was the slightly surreal experience of emerging from the princesses parade in Norway to the start of the “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” spectacular over the World Showcase Lagoon. Young Rowan was dazzled both by the globe emerging from the lagoon with video images of the evolution of earth across its surface and the blazing fireworks overhead. Little sister Bridget was as dazzled as her big brother when colorful lights framing the Epcot pavilions switched on during the show. But she held her ears and expressed her dislike for the loud noise of the fireworks, especially the grand finale.
The kids, thanks to efficient express buses routed directly from outside Epcot to each Disney resort hotel, including our accommodations in Fort Wilderness, were safely back in their cabin bunk beds by 10:30 p.m. This was only an hour following the end of the Illuminations show. The children declared their day in Epcot every bit the equal in excitement to their earlier experience of the Magic Kingdom. Grandparents who think that Epcot is only for adults should take note. This four-year-old girl, her six-year-old brother and their well-satisfied grandparents would beg to differ.