The iconic Spaceship Earth, AKA the World’s Most Humongous Buckyball, greets visitors entering Disney’s Epcot park.
“A man enters with his children, his money and his wits, and leaves with his children only, sandbagged by a thousand catch-penny engines.” - Cyril Kornbluth, from The Advent on Channel Twelve
My visit to Orlando, Florida last week was a mini-Family Reunion of sorts. My cousin Di had rented a house in Orlando, Florida that was more than big enough to accommodate any family members who cared to join her for several days of relaxation and attraction-hopping. Dee, alas, had a full calendar, but I was able to pry myself loose from my usual weekday activities to make the trip.
One of the Must-See attractions in Orlando, of course, is Walt Disney World and its multifaceted complex of amusement parks. Since Cousin Vern, who was visiting from his home in Jerusalem along with his younger daughter, had never been to a Disney park, they made sure that that was part of the agenda. Specifically, they wanted to see Epcot, which is as close to a permanent World’s Fair as anything else on the planet.
I was perfectly happy to tag along: even though I had been to Disney World before, it had been a long time since the last time Dee and I had visited. Since then, I figured there were a few new things to see. Plus, I had an ace up my sleeve.
The last time we had been to Disney World had been in April, 1987 - more than twenty-eight years ago. At the time, Disney had been celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the park’s opening... and I was the lucky random recipient of a free park pass. That pass had sat quietly in our basement for close to three decades, growing steadily in value as the cost of park admissions crept northward over the years. It was now worth over $150... and it was high time I cashed it in.
One thing I noticed right away was that the ancient paper ticketing system had given way to a high-tech magnetic card that you would simply tap against a reader when you needed to use it. On entry into the park, you simply tap the card, put your index finger on a fingerprint scanner, and presto! You’ve been Mickified. It’s only a matter of time before iris-scanning and automatic stool-sampling technology is added to the admission process.
Your bags are also searched before you enter, presumably for contraband food, drink, and weapons of mouse destruction. It’s not as thorough as a full-on TSA security scan - or, for that matter, the way they check you before allowing you in to see The Masters Tournament - but it’s still something that was unnecessary three decades ago, alas.
My brother (the Other Elisson), Cousin Vern (a pseudonym), and Yours Truly.
Epcot is a peculiar sort of place. The name is a lowercase version of its original moniker, EPCOT: the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. As originally envisioned, it would have been a living, active city, with actual residents doing whatever people were going to be doing in the future - pushing buttons at Spacely Sprockets, perhaps. But the job of being an actual residential community ended up in the lap of nearby Celebration, a town that Disney built in the unusable crappy swamp and scrub land on the other side of Interstate 4. Epcot, meanwhile, would be a full-time theme park.
As noted above, part of it is a sort of permanent World’s Fair, with several countries represented by their appropriate pavilions, shows, restaurants, and gift shops... with each country’s area staffed by natives of that country. The other section is a mishmash of attractions having to do with the Earth, space, the land and seas, and energy. It’s a bit like those retrofuturistic projections of life in the 1960’s from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, with the flying cars and the twelve-lane superhighways - in this case, the 1990’s as envisioned by the people of the 1960’s. That faint aroma you smell everywhere is the vague pong of anachronism. Even the typefaces have a vaguely “I bet this looked really ultramodern in 1973” look to them.
Spaceballs? No, just the Mission: SPACE® ride.
So much of Epcot seemed unchanged from the last time we’d seen it, except perhaps for the price tags: Most of the really new stuff is in parts of the Disney empire that we would not see on this visit. Perhaps the biggest change - and it may be subtler at Epcot than at other outposts in Walt’s empire - is that Disney has supplemented their own traditional stable of animated characters with major acquisitions: Pixar, Marvel, and even the Star Wars pantheon. Seeing someone wearing a Darth Vader helmet with built-in Mickey Mouse ears is a jarring reminder of how much larger the world of Disney has become.
For cynical old me, one
Every. Fucking. Year.
And that, I suppose, is the peculiar appeal the Disney parks have. People love this place, to the point of pathology. Why go to nasty real Morocco or stinky real Paris when you can go to fake ones right here, get food that vaguely sounds like it might come from those places, avoid passport hassles, and spend just as much money or more?
Lest you think I’m just a cynical old bastard, let me reassure you that I am not immune to the Disney magic. Hell, we even saw Mickey Mouse himself just outside Les Chefs de France, the (vaguely) French restaurant. Check it out:
Mickey Mouse? Or Ratatouille? You decide.
Perhaps he’s a bit large to be Mickey Mouse. (Also, he’s out of uniform!) Maybe this was Ratatouille instead.