Epcot will always be one of my favorite parks. The current version has some great rides (such as Soarin' and Test Track), but in my opinion the park has not peaked what it was in the early 1990s before the slow transformation to what we have today. Rides such as Horizons, World of Motion, Journey into Imagination (with the real version of the Image Works upstairs in the pyramid), and even things like CommuniCore and Kitchen Kabaret were simply outstanding and still missed by many of the older Disney fans. Today's Epcot is still a great park, but the classic EPCOT Center was simply outstanding.
This brings to light an interesting conversation that my dad and I had with what appeared to be a manager this past Sunday. Pin trading turned into a discussion about the good and bad aspects of the park. What was frustrating was that this person (a woman who claimed to have over five years experience working at Disney) was virtually clueless on the past attractions in Epcot. Earlier we were speaking with very polite Chinese workers who had less than three months experience and were eager to learn more about the past Epcot rides and shows. This manager (I believe she was a manager since she was in plain clothes and acted like she was in charge) showed no interest in learning about the past and clearly had no idea about what we were talking about. In addition to that, when addressing our concerns about the park, her common answer was to give us a little smile and say "just wait five years." Her reasoning was that Epcot was constantly changing and evolving, and anything could happen in the future. She never answered anything directly, had no knowledge of her park's history, and only said "just wait five years" over and over. These weren't rumors as she herself didn't even know that Space Mountain was officially going to open in about a week. She was under the assumption that the ride was still going to have a soundtrack like in California and that the coaster wouldn't be open until next Spring.
Okay, how hard would it be for Disney to have the theme park workers watch a short video and/or read a small brochure or something telling about the past rides and shows? Many of them may have never enjoyed them in person, but simply knowing about them would make them better people and easier to communicate with the park guests who do talk about the past. Plus, it may give the workers better ideas to pass on to their supervisors about improving the park and giving the guests what they really want. Having somebody in a leadership position who knew nothing about Epcot's history was simply amazing, especially since we're talking about the removal and conversions of major attractions.
Anyway, most of the Christmas decorations were up throughout the park. The Christmas tree was in place at the edge of Future World, but the lighted arches that the monorail passes through were not there. I don't know if they're being omitted this season of if they just haven't been installed yet. Most of the countries in World Showcase had their Christmas decorations in place (notable exceptions being China, Japan and Morocco, but those countries don't exactly have the Christmas spirit), but the Holidays Around the World is not supposed to start for another week or so.
This time in Epcot we were there before it officially opened (we usually get there around park opening, but rarely these days before the opening time), and I will admit that the current rope drop ceremony in Epcot is pretty neat. The kids love having the main characters come out of Innoventions and saying hello to them. It's also great how cast members lead the mob of people straight to Soarin', avoiding people running there and possibly getting injured. This newer way keeps it organized all the way to the ride's entrance and FastPass machines.
The Epcot Christmas tree still looks great, and of course, people love posing by it.
The interior of Mexico was looking rather festive.
The same with the courtyard in Norway.
The Christmas tree was out in front of the U.S.A. pavilion. As of last Sunday, there was no train track going around the base of it like there was last year. That would be something easy to add overnight, so it's possible that the train will still be added soon. Inside of the Liberty Inn counter-service restaurant was the massive gingerbread house.
In the back of the Japan pavilion, a new museum recently opened. This is back by the rear entrance of the store inside of the fortress, and for the past few years it held a museum of tin toys that were once popular in the country. The new version of the museum has a Zen-like rock garden and a variety of photos from around the country. Honestly, this is small, boring, and most likely to go unnoticed by a lot of people, gathering even less interest than the tin toy museum. I'll be surprised if this new museum survives for more than a year.
On the first day in Epcot, the skies were gloomy and threatened to start raining. Did it rain? Yes, but not much. Thankfully there are a lot of covered areas inside of Epcot and it's easy to sit and wait out a passing storm.
World Showcase is best enjoyed just after 11 am as it tends to get really busy in the mid to late afternoons. It's also great at that time for those on assignment from Kim Possible's crew.
Cars passing each other on the high-speed part of Test Track.
And finally, we have the brand new Sum of All Thrills exhibit (not to be confused with The Sum of All Fears, an excellent novel by Tom Clancy) in Innoventions. In this exhibit, people get to design their own virtual roller coaster (where have I heard that before?) and then take it on a test run while riding the fancy new Robocoaster-type contraption. Each arm holds two riders, and there are a total of four arms in this exhibit. Word has it we'll be seeing and experiencing this new technology just up I-4 in the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride being installed in Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park. Remember that this is just an exhibit while the Universal version will be a full-blown ride.
The range of motion in the arm is impressive, and I'm sure that this exhibit will be attracting large crowds in Innoventions. The concept reminds me of Disney's own CyberSpace Mountain in DisneyQuest, but this version is free of charge and right here in Epcot.