|Bernard, Shirley and Khalil Kinsey of the Kinsey Collection|
The Disney focus on guest immersion into new experiences continues this year at the Walt Disney World Epcot theme park, where opportunities have emerged to computer design your own car; delve into little-known, engaging African-American historical art; or explore new European dining experiences that cleverly convey a sense of being in the continent.
The park’s biggest new attraction is clearly Test Track, a classic Epcot experience that has been reimagined with a new sponsorship by Chevrolet and a Disney Imagineer team headed by project manager Melissa Jeselnick. She recently led a media group on a walk through the enormous Test Track space.
“We wanted to bring the story into the 21st century,” said Jeselnick. “We partnered with the Chevrolet design group to bring Test Track into the digital world. The story allows each guest to imagine being a Chevrolet auto designer and create their own car.” Jeselnick added that the number of available designs, as calculated by her creative team, is “unlimited, literally in the trillions.”
|Guests can design a car at Chevrolet Test Track. // Photo by Walt Disney World Resort|
Guest Designer Autos
In a large pre-ride hall, guests are aligned in rows based on how they will board their test vehicles. Prior to boarding, however, they are given an individual touch-screen monitor on which they can connect points on the screen to create their own car designed for the four desired qualities of capability, efficiency, responsiveness and power. Although the experience could be described as “you need to be there to understand it,” the outcome is a personal car design rated during the actual Test Track ride for how well it achieves each of the four desired qualities.
The Test Track ride itself, the fastest ride of all Disney park attractions, reaches speeds of 65 miles per hour and feels much faster. There are bumps and surprises along the way to test the vehicle qualities designed by its passengers. After the ride the ratings for each car design, identified by pre-assigned vehicle numbers, are flashed. Guests finally proceed into an additional interactive area where they can design and e-mail an animated commercial for their designed car, as well as create backgrounds for photos of themselves with Chevrolet prototype vehicles. And, similar to a Chevy showroom, it is okay to linger on with the cars.
|Post-ride area in Chevrolet Test Track // Photo by Maureen Stone|
Test Track has universal appeal. In an Epcot conversation with Kenta, age 21, and Takuma, age 22, visiting from Tokyo on their first trip to the U.S., both young men declared the attraction their favorite on the three-day stay in Walt Disney World.
The Kinsey Collection: African-American Art History
The American Experience pavilion in Epcot will be the scene this month for the opening of a historical art exhibition called “Rediscovering America: The Kinsey Collection” that will be on display here for the next three-to-five years. The 40 pieces going on display, to be rotated periodically with other kindred works, are from the 400-piece Kinsey Collection, based in Los Angeles. They are the life work of Bernard Kinsey, a retired Xerox executive and self-taught art historian, and his wife Shirley Kinsey, a retired high-school English teacher.
As described by Khalil Kinsey, the vice president of operations for the Kinsey Collection, the pieces in the exhibition were most recently on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, but have never had their own home for extended showing as they will have at Epcot’s American Experience.
“We are over the moon at what is happening here,” said Khalil Kinsey. “This is about the American dream, about pursuing your goals and pursuing your passion.” The Kinsey collectors, both native Floridians, have been married 40 years. Khalil Kinsey noted that his parents’ collecting focus is on “telling the untold story of a people.”
“We lean on the side of contribution and achievement,” Khalil added. “Once we focus on that we can move past the issues of race that we have had in this country for a long time.”
Among works that Epcot guests can look forward to seeing are the 1795 Almanac of astronomer, historian and writer Benjamin Banneker; a poster from the 1936 film Song of Freedom starring American actor, singer, and civil rights activist Paul Robeson; a photo of Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African-American senator who represented Mississippi during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period; works by the sculptor Edward Dwight who chose an art career despite his standing as the first African-American NASA space flight trainee; and a book by Phyllis Wheatley, printed in 1773 in England to become the first published work by an African-American female author. There is also a parade flag of the famed Buffalo Soldiers, the African-American division of the U.S. Cavalry that was active from 1866 to 1951.
“This is positive storytelling of the American experience,” said Disney Imagineering Assistant Show Producer Jason Roberts. “Kinsey aligns perfectly with the Disney themes of heritage and inspiration.”
|The Italy Via Napoli Pizza Restaurant in Epcot // Photo by Walt Disney World Resort|
Pizza and Wine in Italy
Nothing in Florida conveys a visitor faster to a European-style experience than a taste of one of the dining venues around the World Showcase at Epcot, where most of the servers are natives of the country represented. Two pavilions with especially appealing and recently opened eateries are from Italy and France. Via Napoli Pizzeria in the rear of the piazza behind the Italy pavilion has won rave reviews for the thin-crust pizzas made with imported ingredients in its three wood-fired stoves, named after the volcanoes Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli. Pizza is the king here and ranges from individual pies for $18 to family-size pies at about $40. Diners seated at a long communal table in this packed pizzeria were especially enjoying the festive atmosphere.
A visit to the nearby Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar was a highlight of our weekend. Our server, a native of Milan, opened an excellent and affordable Primitivo wine originating from the Puglia region of southern Italy that recalled our recent visit there. The server was also adept at recommending an excellent Italian fontina cheese from a display to accompany our wine and included a taste of a sharp blue cheese on our plate to further complement the beverage. Here, again, a crowd of guests were in a festive mood as they tasted wines by the glass at the popular stand-up bar.
|Roasted duck with oriental spices at Epcot's Monsieur Paul. // Photo by Maureen Stone|
French Gourmet and Lagoon Fireworks
A more difficult reservation for Epcot guests to obtain these days is at the gourmet Monsieur Paul Restaurant. It reopened in December after a revamping of the former Bistro de Paris first opened at Epcot’s France pavilion in 1983. The ambiance of the space has been made more casual with servers now in shirts and aprons rather than formal attire.
Some of the winning menu selections on our table included appetizers of marinated salmon blinis, escargot ravioli, and a superb mussel saffron soup. Popular entrées are a tasty, rich roasted duck breast in oriental spices; a herb-crusted rack of lamb; and seared scallops in truffle spaghettini. Souffles and triple chocolate cake are found on the dessert menu. Expect to pay about $15 per appetizer, an average $40 per entrée, and $11 for desserts. The triple Michelin-star background of the namesake chef is in evidence here.
No day at Walt Disney World should end without a nighttime spectacular and Epcot does not disappoint with its Illuminations: Reflections of Earth spectacular at the World Showcase lagoon. A highlight of the 20-minute extravaganza is the replica of mother earth, first debuted at the Disney Millennium celebrations in 2000, emerging from the lagoon with the continents illuminated on her surface. Spectacular fireworks shoot above from all around the water and the earth itself divides to launch more of its own pyrotechnics. One tip is to get a hold on the 3D glasses available in the park before the show. When guests watch the spectacle through the glasses, a Mickey Mouse shape appears in each firework light, displaying Disney Imagineering at its eccentric best.
|Triple chocolate cake at Epcot's Monsieur Paul // Photo by Maureen Stone|