Thursday, April 23, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Norway

Norway. Land of Vikings, oil rigs, and tall, blond, bearded people. At least, if you go by the ride. In the Epcot land of Norway, there are many things. Some are useless, and some are wonderful. But I will let the quotes speak for themselves. When you first arrive in Norway, you will see a building with a grass roof, a tall Viking temple that doesn't open, and a Viking ship.
This is the Viking temple. It's always locked when I'm there.

The Viking ship used to be a playground, but they dismantled it, so now I suppose it's just a shipwreck, 30 yards back from the water.

Near the Viking Ship, there is a handy cobblestone area that doubles as a smoker's haven. It's a nice place to sit and down the rest of your margarita, if you're into that kind of thing.

But clearly, the most important part of Norway is the ride.

As my dad says:
"Don't forget the tragedy of the dismantled Viking Ship/Playground...which now appears as an apparent "shipwreck" in the garden area of Norway....nor, shall we forget the tragedy, of the redesign of the Maelstrom in the late 90's, to make it more "Family Friendly..i.e. wimpy... Instead of "Back over the falls" they should have changed the Trolls to say..."go in backwards over a gentle, pasture-like stream, in the middle of a Norwegian meadow....."

And as my friend Victoria says (oh so eloquently):
"First I was like, what? Then I was like, aaaah! Then I was like, aaaaah, I'm gonna die! Then it was fun."

The trick with the ride is, first, to get there early enough that there is no line. Then, you have to quickly chug whatever remains of your drinks from Mexico before you get in the line, otherwise the friendly blond people will make you throw them away. Don't worry, you can get more.

Then, you get on a Viking ship and embark on a water-filled adventure that you will remember all your life.

"You are not the first to pass this way..." says the ride, as one eye of a Viking-shaped gargoyle opens and shines a very bright light on you.

"We have always lived with the sea, so look first to the spirit of the seafarer." You continue up the hill until you reach an ancient Viking village. "Many come to Norway seeking adventure, but more often find beauty and charm."

And're in Troll Country. And you run right into a large, gray, hairy, three-headed troll, that calls for you to "Disappear! Disappear!" And then...

"Back, back, OVER THE FALLS!"

And then your boat freaking turns around and really does go backward, and as you're craning your neck to see what you're going to run into, you see that you are heading toward that 2-story waterfall which you glimpsed from the outside just a little bit too it going to stop?

Of course it's going to stop.

You stop, and you get pushed the other way down a small hill.

Waiting at the bottom of the hill is choppy seas and a noisy oil rig. How picturesque.

As the ride bids you farewell with a cryptic, "The spirit of Norway will always be...adventure," you pull into what looks like an immaculate but deserted town square.

The (sometimes attractive) ride attendant ushers you through the doors of the movie theater. You don't have to watch the movie, you can just walk right through the theater into the waiting money trap on the other side. I suggest that you do so.

But, what my dad is talking about is that the ride used to be far scarier. The boat really hung out about 6 feet over the edge of the waterfall that leads to the outside, so that if you were sitting in the back row, you were really outside. I guess it was too scary (or dangerous) for some people.

Once you make it into the shop, you will find yourself faced with a large room of North Face-like outerwear from Helly Hansen. (No, it is not pronounced "Helleh Hansen.") It's expensive, but sometimes there are deals.

Then, you get bored with that room, and you go into the next room, which contains Viking helmets with horns and fake blond braids on them.
It is a time honored tradition to try on the helmets and pose in front of the giant friendly troll. There may be a line to enjoy this privilege.

No hats for me. I won't allow it.
But that doesn't mean I won't make others wear one.

Doesn't he just look so happy?

Once you are done with the ride and the shops (try to resist the Swedish Fish), go outside and go directly to the bakery on your right.

The entrance sign is shaped like a pretzel with a crown on it. They don't sell pretzels here.

The bakery is the second best attraction in Norway.
You see, they have things called Cloudberry Horns, and homemade waffles, and Lefse, and School Bread. And they are all sweet, and they are all delicious. Especially the waffles.

This is the inside of the bakery. You can see the magnificent looking cakes right in front of you in the case.

They make them right in front of your eyes, and then they put strawberry jam on them, followed by a good dusting of powdered sugar. And then, they fold it up like a quesadilla. And you eat it.
I want one right now.

Of course, if food isn't your thing, and you're there strictly for the booze....
"Carlsberg, Budweiser(for some reason), and red and white Norwegian wines are available from their beer cart(No fixed stand, unlike Germany's 3!)....which apparently, must be on wheels, in keeping with the Viking's nomadic lifestyle??? Crazy Imagineers!!!!!"

Good point.

Next up: China.

Friday, April 17, 2009

World Showcase Part I: Mexico

Welcome back to Katie's Guide to Epcot!

Now that you've safely wasted about an hour and a half in Future World, it's time to start the main event: the World Showcase.

If you're coming in from the front entrance, the most logical way to start the World Showcase is to move clockwise around the lake, starting with Mexico.

When you arrive at the Mexico pavilion, the first thing you will see is a gigantic Mayan pyramid on your left. On your right will be a hacienda-style structure with outdoor seating. This is the cafe. Beyond the cafe on your right, you have a small shop that is somewhat connected to the cafe. Then on your left beyond the shop, there is a small "jungle" area with vegetation and beyond that, a convenient margarita stand. We'll start with the pyramid.

Look! You can even take pictures that make it look a little like you're a tourist in a foreign land.

If Mexico is your first stop on your world tour, you can probably ride the Mexico boat ride without much of a wait, or no wait at all. It is entirely up to you whether or not you choose to ride it, but I have to say it is relaxing and quite a bit cheesy. Basically, two unidentifiable tropical birds speak and sing in vaguely Mexican accents and wear sombreros, while chasing Donald Duck (who wears a Mexican poncho) throughout the ride. The three birds, including Donald, are the Three Caballeros, for those who didn't have Sing Along Songs growing up. It's a nice cool boat ride, and if you choose to skip it, you can always come back in the (possible) heat of the afternoon, when you're sick of walking, but you may have to wait in a bit of a line. The ride also provides a scenic backdrop for the indoor restaurant, the San Angel Inn. I've only been there once, but from what I remember, they had large portion sizes and authentic Mexican food.

Inside the pyramid, aside from the ride and the restaurant, is a big fake outdoor market. It's pretty dark inside the pyramid, and the transition from the bright sun outside to "nighttime" inside is a little disorientating. When you first walk inside, there will be a guy from Oaxaca making authentic Mexican wood-carved figurines, painted in very bright primary colors. I don't even know if you can buy those figurines he makes, he might just be an art installation.
Once you go through the gateway beyond figurine-carving guy, you enter the market area. The market sells cookbooks, sombreros, Mexican blankets, hot sauces, margarita mixes, weird Mexican candy, and any number of other souvenirs that no one really needs. But it's fun to try on the gigantic sombreros.


There is also a shop that sells crystal figurines, and a shop that sells silver jewelry and other fancy stuff. It's a good place to know about in case you have a necklace that breaks during the day - you can replace your necklace chain conveniently! Of course, that's not why it's there. Just go look at it.

Once you're bored with the sombreros, go back outside to the cafe.
Mexico is a great (fake) country to visit because it has extra booze. It has the bar attached to the cafe on your right, and it has the margarita stand on your left. Of course, that creates the problem of human traffic jams on big days, since the cafe makes the walkway smaller than usual, and there can be up to 200 people in line for the bar. This creates an effect we shall refer to as the "Epcot Death March."

However, my point is, there is a cafe that sells stellar nachos, I believe some quesadillas, tacos, burritos, and churros. I really recommend the nachos, but you have to ask for extra sour cream and salsa.

Next to the cafe, there is Bar #1. At this bar, they sell Dos Equis Lager. Go with the Lager.


Apparently, if you go order a Dos Equis Amber at the bar, the bartenders will laugh at you and talk about you in Spanish. They don't even serve Dos Equis Amber, apparently. The Amber is for tourists, and is a "Vienna-style amber lager." I'm not saying I've witnessed it myself - I never stand in that line long enough to know. But that's what I hear.

They also sell margaritas at the bar. I think they only sell the frozen lime kind, that comes out of a slushie machine, but what do you expect.

The internal debate you should be having now is, do I want my margarita from the bar, or from the margarita stand?

You see, right across the walkway is a stand dedicated to selling margaritas and ONLY margaritas. If you get the whole 4 flavor version, it is $10.50 for what amounts to probably a 16 oz. glass. The 4 flavors are lime, strawberry, mango and green apple. You can get these in any combination that you choose, and you can get them with either salt or sugar (or nothing) on the rim.
It depends on the day, but in my personal experience, the margaritas at the bar are somewhat stronger than the ones from the margarita stand. They may also be cheaper, but I don't know.

It's entirely up to you as to your choice of beverage, but I recommend the straight-up lime with salt. And if you're not a lime person, then the mango and strawberry mix is pretty darn good.
I HATE the green apple flavor. It tastes like they put some Pine Sol in it.

So what else is in Mexico? After all that booze and nachos, do you really need anything else? Yes? Oh well.

Next to the cafe, there is a small shop selling cliched Mexican souvenirs, including mini-sombreros, which I delight in putting on my cat. Sorry about the culturally-insensitive caption, but this one got on the Vote page of Not to brag or anything.

That's my gigantic cat, Oscar. He recently swallowed a frog whole. Or so they tell me.

Anyway, also in this shop you can buy various soccer (futbol) items, including Chivas jerseys and scarves, and themed Adidas footwear. Inside, they sell sets of margarita serving pitchers and glasses. They also sell straight tequila inside - some of it even has the famed worm at the bottom.

Drunk enough yet? No? You will be, as we continue our journey into Norway - coming soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Future World, part 1

Good morning! I'm back with another installment of KGE.
Most visitors to Disney World will come to Epcot by bus or monorail, which ensures that the majority of entrance traffic goes through the front gates. Going through the front gates means that the first thing you will see will be Future World, and in particular, Spaceship Earth.

Hello! I'll be your tour guide. I only charge astronomical fees in the form of free food and drinks.

But before you get into the park, I must discuss various ticket practices for a moment.
I don't want to be sued by Disney, but I will just say that ticket fraud - using someone's ticket as your own - is possible. Not advisable. Using someone else's ticket usually means you will hold up the ticket line, at the very least, while they scan your fingerprint repeatedly with their blue biometric light. You will feel stressed, and people will get pissed off at you. I'm sure that won't deter many people, considering that ticket prices are rather astronomical - what is it now, $70 per park, per day?
For the sake of disclosure, during some times of the day (usually morning), they don't scan your fingerprint. And there is some debate among people I know as to whether or not Disney's blue biometric lights actually work. Is it legal for a private company to store an extensive fingerprint database? I don't know. But I do know I've been stopped many times, with my own ticket.

But, back to the main event: Future World.

1. Take a moment to look around in wonder. Okay, you're done.
When you first walk through the gates, you will naturally want to wander around the first courtyard in awe. Sure, do it for a minute, but move on. The only things there are oddly shaped obelisks with laser-engraved photos of people on them. These people have paid oddly large amounts of money just to have a thumbnail-sized photo of themselves stuck on a stone object no one ever looks at, but hey, to each his own. It's kind of like those engraved bricks along the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, only even more nonsensical, because you can't include a date or a message, and it's a TINY picture. At least at the MK you get an entire paving brick.

2. Fastpass Collection.
What you're going to want to do is run directly to The Land pavilion (turn to your right after you pass Spaceship Earth) and get your Fastpasses for Soarin'. I know, Spaceship Earth has no line and looks enticing, but I'm telling you, don't wait in the Soarin' line without a Fastpass. It is a nice little ride, exciting and yet relaxing, but it is NOT worth an hour long wait. And don't trust the wait time sign - I went in expecting a 15 minute wait and was in there an hour before I ever got on the ride.
If you are there on a busy day, you are going to want to run across Future World from The Land to the Mission Space ride and Test Track to get your Fastpasses for those rides.

3. Bathroom locations
Important to know: there are good bathrooms on your right side next to Spaceship Earth, inside the sliding doors in the building in front of The Land, on the outside of that same building, along the exit path in Mission Space, on the side of the 70s-looking building called Odyssey on the way to Mexico, near the Fastpass line for Soarin', and inside every pavilion (The Land, Imagination, Universe of Energy, Life, The Living Seas - have I missed any?). I'll run down a list of bathrooms in the World Showcase once we start on that.

4. The Main Rides
If you're not there on too busy a day, or you decide just to risk it, either Test Track or Mission Space are good places to start. Usually, I start with Mission Space, since it is newer and also, my favorite.

Mission Space

My dad calls it the Spin and Barf. It's true - for him. The "orange" level - which is the original ride, as it was intended - includes high speed spinning to produce convincing space flight G-forces on your body. However, you are in a tiny little compartment and a video screen takes up your whole field of vision, so I never even knew we WERE spinning until my dad staggered outside and told me so. He then proceeded to turn white, then green, then very pink, then back to white. He stayed on a bench for at least an hour.
To be fair, the ride warns you about spinning (actually, Lieutenant Dan/Gary Sinise warns you about spinning, because he is the one that does the ride's intro video). And yes, people have died. That's why they created the "yellow" version. Or, as I call it, the kiddie version. It doesn't spin, it just tilts you around a bunch. Not nearly as cool or exciting.
Anyway, the purpose of the ride is that you are in flight training for the first manned mission to Mars. Who wants to miss out on that?
If you have a legitimate aversion to spinning that causes you to throw up, by all means go for the yellow version. They do include complimentary sick bags in case you are so inclined. But if you're just being a chicken, do the orange ride. It isn't scary. It's spacey and sciencey. Just try it once.

Test Track
After you're done telling each other how completely friggin' AWESOME that ride just was, wander on over to Test Track. It's right next to Mission Space - to the right, when you're looking at the rides, and to the left when you come out of Mission Space's exit/gift shop.
Test Track was Epcot's first big ride. It was very exciting the first 50 times I rode it. Now, it would almost be relaxing, aside from the rough road tests and sharp curves.
The premise of the ride is that you are volunteer test subjects at a GM crash test site. I could write out the entire dialog of the opening video, but I'll spare you. Hint: you actually don't crash into anything. But the high speed loops are fun.
But, if you are a grownup and the regular lines for that ride are over the 20 minute mark, you might want to consider the miraculous invention that is the single rider line. The single rider line was introduced not long after the ride opened, and it's wonderful.
You see, there are 6 seats per car, and most of the time people don't take up the exact amount of seats. There may be 2 or even 3 seats available in each car. That's where you come in, as a single rider. You get on the ride faster by filling in the empty spaces. More often than not, if you came with someone else, you will get to be in the same car as that person, if not sit right next to them.
Yes, they take your picture. If you're curious, they take your picture right when the doors open and you go down the slight slope to the outdoor loops. No, you should not buy the picture, unless it is truly spectacular.

5. Killing Time in Future World
If you got to Epcot at 9, when it opened, when you're done with Test Track it should be about 10 a.m. That means you've got about half an hour to kill before you can head on over to the World Showcase and start consuming as much food and booze as you possibly can. You could ride Mission Space or Test Track again, as long as the lines are no longer than 20 minutes.
You could go explore the rest of Future World. There are some interesting things there.
Or, you could just go and be the first in line for a margarita, but sometimes the food places don't open right at 10:30.

Free Carbonated Beverages
If you want some free drinks (not alcoholic), you should stop by Coca Cola's own taste test bar. It is on the right side of the main plaza as you head toward the lake; in other words, it is at 5:00 in relation to the main fountain when you're facing the lake. It's says "Cool Spot" or something on the sign. This is a good option, because it doesn't take you too far off the path to Future World.
I hear my uncle Danny was a huge fan of this place.
It used to have a refrigerated cave in which you could see a fake frozen cave man and some stuffed polar bears, but now it's just a shop.
When you walk in the doors, just ignore all the random Coke memorabilia scattered around. There is no need to buy anything. Instead, head over to the soda machines, take a small paper cup, and start trying different commercialized beverages from around the world.
Just as a warning, the one from Italy tastes like carbonated and diluted bleach. The one from Israel is like Sprite, only someone forgot to put any sweetener in it. The one from Japan is not carbonated, and may as well be kool-aid. The one from China is waaaaaay too syrupy, but interesting at least. I highly recommend the one from Mexico - that would be Manzana Lift. It's like Sprite, but has a pleasant and not overpowering apple flavor.
Oddly enough, you can try all these exotic flavors for free (in small amounts, but free refills) but you have to actually buy American coke.

The other rides
The smaller, less intense rides in Future World may sound boring to you, but you will be grateful for a chance to sit and enjoy a relaxing boat ride through a weird garden or something. The dilemma is, you may want to save these rides for later in the day, so that once you're done with your first lap around the World Showcase, you can have a chance to rest and sober up a little.
I will tell you, though, you're going to want to save Spaceship Earth for later. You'll find that the line is constantly moving, and is the perfect length to finish your beer from Canada or the Rose and Crown.

Just wander
You might find something that appeals to you and not to anyone else. For instance, Epcot sells gigantic, plastic-wrapped pickles at certain food carts in Future World. My dad loves the pickles. I can't imagine why anyone would want a pre-packaged pickle, but okay.
Dad, off to get a pickle. I swear, he really is.

You could just go and watch the seagulls and fake surf in front of The Living Seas for awhile. Honestly, the seagulls (you know, the ones from Finding Nemo) are the only worthwhile part of The Living Seas anymore. Mine! Miiiiiiii-ne! Miiiii-ne!
You could try on funny hats and Crocs with mickey-shaped holes in them at one of the hat booths on the main path.
Yes, this is in the Magic Kingdom. But it does qualify as a goofy hat, does it not?

Or, as I said, just go wander around the World Showcase until something opens.

Back soon with the first installment on the World Showcase - Mexico!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Introduction

I've decided to write a series about Epcot. I've done plenty of research on the subject. In fact, I think I've spent more time researching and experiencing Epcot than I have on my second major the entire time I've been in college.
Epcot can be a lot of fun, but you have to know how to make it fun. You can't just wander around without purpose or direction. If you do, you will probably get bored very quickly. There aren't any roller coasters, and there aren't many thrill rides. If you're looking for roller coasters, go to Busch Gardens or something. If you're looking for good food, wine, beer, and alcohol, as well as entertainment, Epcot is the place for you. And who doesn't like all those things, preferably all at once?
One of the most likely reasons for a trip to Epcot is Drinking Around the World.
In introduction, Drinking Around The World is a sport in which myself and my father frequently participate. Recently, my dad's two brothers also joined in the fun - although I was not there. I have not been back since January, myself, but my memory is good enough that I should be able to tell you what to eat/drink and not drink, as well as any extracurricular activities that are recommended.
My dad sent me this website which attempts to chronicle the Drinking around the World experience. It falls short, sometimes because the people writing it were too drunk to remember at that point what they drank or what they were doing. My account will be somewhat more detailed.

Some basic tips before we get started:

1. Do as much as you can.
If you've got a 1 day pass to the park, it's best not to waste your extra hours. Get there around the time the park opens (usually 9, but check) and ride the Future World rides. Some of the highlights include Mission Space (or the Spin 'n' Barf, as my dad so affectionately calls it), Soarin' (which includes Smellovision), Test Track, and of course old relaxing favorites like the boat ride, Living With The Land, and of course Spaceship Earth. But more on that later.
You should be able to make at least 2 laps around the World Showcase, at a leisurely pace, between 10:30 (when the World Showcase opens) and the fireworks show. Don't worry about hurrying during your first lap. If you are there on a holiday, such as New Years' Eve, it is best not to leave the park, because there's no guarantee you'll get back in. You can take a nap on a grassy area, like the pros do.

Yes, that's me in the orange.

2. Restaurants are hard to get into.
Sometimes, these restaurants require reservations 6 months in advance. You can try to walk up and get a table, but it's not likely in peak season. Take advantage of the smaller cafes and stands.
If you decide to go to one of the restaurants, during the fireworks show is the best time. It's usually at 9, and everyone is outside watching the fireworks and not eating in the restaurant. The fireworks show, while I love it, is not all that spectacular, and it can be a little long and boring in the middle. Believe me, I've memorized it. If you want to hear the song that badly, call me and I'll sing it for you.

3. Pick the right hotel.
If you are not fortunate to have a house 2 miles from Disney World, I highly recommend staying either at an Epcot resort or a resort on the Monorail loop near the Magic Kingdom.

The Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian are all directly on the Monorail. The Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness are just a short boat ride from the Magic Kingdom Monorail station.

These resorts may be pricier, but you won't regret it - you won't have to take hour long bus rides to and from the parks. Now, there are several resorts classified as Epcot resorts, but don't be fooled - the only good ones are the Yacht Club, Beach Club and (I suppose) the Boardwalk. The Beach Club is the closest to the back gate of Epcot, but you can walk to the park from any of these hotels. I believe there is also a walkway from the Swan and Dolphin, it's just farther. Beware the Boardwalk though - it is noisy, due to the actual boardwalk below the guest room windows, and the pool is in the creepy shape of a clown.

This is inside our room at the Beach Club for the 2006 Food and Wine Festival. It was basically the closest room to Epcot in all of Disney. That's my dad. Dad spent a good amount of time on that couch after riding Mission Space.

4. Don't be an idiot. (refer back to this list every morning that you go to the parks)
Don't let your kids wear wheelies. I can't even tell you how many times I've nearly been run over.
Don't try to start a drunken brawl. Or the men on Segways will come and get you. No, they will not let you ride their Segway, nor will they answer to the name "Gob."
Don't bring your kid on a leash. Or someone will mercilessly mock you. That someone is me.
Don't try to get the ducks to drink your beer. They're ducks. They don't need to be any dumber than they are already.
Don't feed the seagulls popcorn. And you won't get bird poo on your head and the heads of those around you.
Don't rent an old person scooter (otherwise known as a Rascal) if you can walk perfectly well.
Don't try to buy more than 2 drinks per ID.
Don't stand in the middle of the Rose and Crown just for the hell of it. Get your drinks and get out. And don't encourage the weird Hat Lady, either.
Don't be part of a large group of tourists that wear matching shirts and/or follow a yellow flag.
I'll think of more as we go. Rest assured.

5. Don't drink only Budweiser.
If the point was to ingest yet more American culture, you should have gone to Six Flags. Try something new. Some of these food and drink items, you can't get anywhere else. So don't waste your money on a turkey leg and Sam Adams when you can get chocolate eclairs and Casa beer (preferably not together). Also, if you're going to be xenophobic, Budweiser is owned by InBev, which is a European company.

6. Don't be culturally insensitive.
Yeah, these people are in America, so I'm sure they're used to it. But don't try to speak to them in English with a bad imitation of their accent if you aren't actually from their country. Don't say insensitive stereotypes out loud. I'm not mentioning any names, here.

7. Don't wait in long lines.
First of all, that's what Fastpasses are for. Secondly, there is no reason to wait in a line longer than 20 minutes for any ride or attraction in Epcot. Just wait until it's less busy, or get there earlier in the morning.

But, other than that, have fun! I'll be back soon with a new installment.