World Showcase, that is…but more on that later!
One of Jared’s last full days in Orlando was spent at Walt Disney World. I love hosting family members, and it was important to me that he enjoy himself enough to come back in the future. So on our final day of theme park hopping, Jared and I woke and joined the early morning crowd outside the turnstiles of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We planned to tackle the park’s rides and maybe hit a couple of shows, before taking an afternoon rest and exploring Epcot with Dan later that night.
A friend had gifted us with a free park ticket for Jared, but when we finally reached the entrance turnstile, we learned that the ticket was no longer valid! We visited the guest service window to determine the cause of the error, and in the end, Jared bought himself a one day single park ticket to Epcot, and I offered to offset the cost by buying him a Disney gift card to use at the Festival. Park tickets do not come cheap, and choosing to skip Animal Kingdom saved Jared almost $60!
We were a little bummed to miss the Expedition Everest roller coaster, which I knew Jared would love, but since it meant we now had a full day to spend at just Epcot, it wasn’t the worst turn of events.
If you’ve been following my adventures for a while, you probably already know that I love Epcot. I adore Future World, which is devoted to innovention, change, and scientific discovery, and I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of strolling through World Showcase’s themed areas, which are designed to look and feel like various countries across the globe. Out of the four main theme parks at Walt Disney World, I think of Epcot as the one intended most for adults. It’s a treat to spend any given day in Epcot, but Jared had planned his visit to coincide with the 20th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival!
The festival is my favorite event of the entire year. Strolling around World Showcase and pretending to be in Italy, France and Japan is one of my favorite pastimes, and it’s even better when enhanced with tasty food and wine pop-up stands!
Since we had several unexpected hours to play with, Jared and I decided to knock a few rides out early in the day, and spend most of the afternoon in World Showcase trying out food and drinks from around the world. It worked out really well, and made me wish that my visitors always had the luxury of devoting one entire day to each park. Jared and I dawdled over breakfast sandwiches from Starbucks, then headed straight to Test Track, a ride which I don’t quite know how to explain. It’s designed to simulate the testing process everyday vehicles go through, from ABS testing to handling on tight corners. It might not sound that exciting, but I promise you, it’s worth the wait.
I was particularly eager to share this ride with Jared. All guests in the Fast Pass and regular standby lines have the chance to design their own custom car, from the vehicle color to the accessories to the capabilities, and the design is then rated in each phase of the ride testing. Guests in the single riders line are able to choose from a selection of pre-made designs, but are not able to fully customize their own vehicle. I knew Jared would love the design aspect of the ride, so we waited in the regular line, wait times be damned.
After Test Track, we hopped on over to Mission Space, a space simulator that mimics a shuttle launch and subsequent flight to Mars. This is the only ride at Walt Disney World that makes me feel a little ill, probably because it uses motion simulators similar in design to the ones used by actual astronauts. Still, it’s a fun ride, and there was no way I could let my first-timer brother miss it!
At this point, we were starting to feel a little tired. It was the first day of the festival, and the crowds were already starting to pour in. We were running on very little sleep, and since we didn’t technically need an entire day to explore Epcot, we decided to pick up our Food & Wine Passports in the Festival Center and hit one more ride before going home for a long afternoon nap.
We slept for hours, and it was amazing. We headed back to the festival, now accompanied by Dan, feeling refreshed and ready to stuff our faces with tiny international treats! I won’t go into the specifics of the event here, but I’ve written about it in great detail in this post, if you are interested in how it all works. The Food & Wine Festival is an annual event, and I usually visit several times each season. Since it was the first day of 2015’s event, I got to experience the new food and drink items alongside Jared, who I think was a bit overwhelmed by all the delicious options! We went to Epcot with the intention of spending maybe $40 per person, but vacation mode kicked in after just a couple of booths, and Jared spent way more than he had planned. Not that I blame him. You deserve it, kid!
We started out at booths inspired by food seen on the television show The Chew. It was pretty clear they were one of the event’s largest sponsors in 2015, and the menu items resembled tasting plates that might be seen on the show. For example, Jared tried a minute New York Strip steak “with parsnip silk, balsamic glaze and arugula foam,” while I opted for salmon with corn, bacon and pepper jam.
I wasn’t a fan of the steak’s arugula foam, but the salmon, cooked medium, was delicious! Other interesting menu items from The Chew booths included a boozy concoction topped with a smoking hibiscus bloom and panna cotta with fig and pistachio brittle.
We stopped by my new favorite booth, representing flavors from the Dominican Republic, and managed to sneak in a fisherman’s pie from the Ireland booth before the afternoon storms rolled in.
Florida weather is pretty weird, and I expected the storm would last no longer than twenty minutes. We sought shelter inside the United Kingdom shops, and waited for the storm to pass…and waited…and waited. Luckily, there are plenty of cool things to look at in the U.K. shops, including sporting goods, fine tea sets, and merchandise from British series like Doctor Who, Winnie the Pooh, and Mary Poppins.
The rain did not let up. In fact, it rained off and on for the rest of the night. We made a break for the French pavilion when the rain seemed to slow down, and were soaked by the time we reached the French festival booth. Here, we tried croissants aux escargots and a tasty Kronenbourg Blanc, and huddled up in the pre-show room for a film about France. See the film, by the way. I don’t usually make time for these shows, but the video of scenes across France had me looking up airfare the second we got home.
We made one loop around the gorgeous countries of World Showcase, stopping for food in Japan, Belgium and more. We lingered in each location, and still found time to check out a couple more rides before the night was over!
We had to go on Spaceship Earth, a ride through time located inside the Epcot ball, and used a Fast Pass to ride Soarin’ without the hour-plus wait time. We grabbed a few last-minute tasters from a nearby booth, and nabbed a table in a prime viewing spot for the nightly fireworks show, Illuminations. Love, love, love this show, and I think it shares a really powerful message. Dan and I usually watch it from wherever we happen to be standing when the show starts, but it was infinitely better when viewed straight on, as it was intended to be seen. I took tons of photos, and Jared captured a great video of the finale.
Finally, our shoes soaked and our feet like overused sponges, it was time to head home. Rain or not, we’d had a fantastic final day in the Orlando theme parks. Jared said this was his favorite day of the entire trip, and if he could do it again, he might even want to spend the majority of his vacation soaking up the sights and tastes of Epcot. This is the same guy who grumbled that there weren’t many big, thrilling rides at Magic Kingdom, so theme park haters, listen up! There is something for everyone at Walt Disney World, and if you haven’t tried Epcot, you need to. I can’t wait to see what next year’s trip will have in store!