April 30, 2008

EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow)

We got to EPCOT an hour or so after it opened. The relaxed mornings would result in less tired vacationers, but in the end we weren't able to see everything at EPCOT. However, thanks to super-low attendance we were able to enjoy our favorite attractions multiple times. Super low attendance. This was Value Season!

Our hotel wasn't very far from EPCOT so it didn't take us long to drive over. As for driving, we could've used Disney's free transportation system - the bus - but it was much quicker to take our own wheels. And because of the aforementioned low attendance, traffic wasn't an issue.

I loved Disney's roads. There's an entire road system within WDW. Serious infrastructure is another thing that fascinates me about WDW. Directions to the parks were marked clearly on Disney's own purple, red, and yellow road signs. Too often we found these signs did not give directions far enough in advance to make lane changes. Again, good thing there wasn't a lot of traffic!

Interesting factoid: Gasoline prices inside Disney were cheaper than outside Disney.

During the planning phase of this vacation, we decided that taking our car to the parks would give us more flexibility because we planned to come back to the hotel for lunch and a rest. Day 4 EPCOT was the only day we actually did this.

During Value Season, the parks close earlier so rather than take a break in the middle of the day, we stayed at the parks and left a bit before closing time. This day we decided to tour Future World (the part with the big ball) with a midday break for lunch back at the hotel.

Stroller: check. And away we go!

It was hard to get my bearings at first and I could feel my party's eyes staring at me - all ten of them - waiting for direction. Remember, I was the Compass, the Rudder. But it had been sixteen years after all and I had not done my map study homework or devised a touring plan.

Spaceship Earth, aka The Ball, was closed for construction during our visit so we had to maneuver to the left of it around the construction barriers. We came out in the middle of the Innoventions hub and stopped to look at the leader board. Placed here and there in Future World are these electronic boards that list the rides and their wait times. Brilliant!

What to ride first...?

I was excited about two things in particular this day. (1) Going to the GE pavilion to ride Horizons and (2) going to the Wonders of Life pavilion to ride Body Wars. I had told FM#2 that Body Wars was like Star Tours in MGM so he was excited, too.

When I was gainfully employed, my job involved programming control (SCADA) systems for the pipeline. We used GE Fanuc equipment. As GE customers, Texaco employees received GE Executive Club cards that allowed us to get GE's travel discount when scheduling Disney vacations and access to the Executive Club at GE's Horizons pavilion.

Flash back sixteen years ago when CB and I were at EPCOT. We walked up to GE's pavilion and went around the outside to a door that read, "GE Executive Club." The hostess took us to an elevator which emptied out in the lounge area at the top of the pavilion. You could relax on comfy couches, enjoy ice cream. You could also control a camera that was mounted to the top of the pavilion and view a significant panorama of WDW.

When we went back downstairs, the hostess escorted us through a couple of doors and into what might be called a pre-boarding area. We stepped into the car, or Omnimover, that was moving along the conveyor. We were on the ride! No waiting in line! The car went through automatic doors where everyone else was standing in a long line waiting to board. Nice!

Check out this Omnimover I found for sale online.

The GE ride was my kind of attraction. It involved robots doing housework, holograms, and the fresh crisp smell of oranges. Nothing like involving all of the senses!

I remember one portion of the ride took us through space or a night sky. As far up and down and to the sides as I could see was starry sky. I even leaned over the front of our vehicle and could see more stars. I love that.

Flash forward sixteen years and the GE pavilion is no more. GE discontinued their sponsorship and the building was demolished to make room for Mission: SPACE.

As for Wonders of Life and its Body Wars ride, it was closed when MetLife did not renew its sponsorship. Bummer. The pavilion was cordoned off with barriers this trip and sat empty and alone.

Add to the closings - General Motors World of Motion pavilion. It was repurposed into Test Track. You might remember the round shape of the original building as your car speeds around the outside of it. Upgrade!

Back to the present: as we stared at the leader board we found Soarin's wait time was already long so we opted to Fast Pass it. Obviously, people make a mad dash to the more popular rides. A 'long' wait time for us was 30 minutes or more. Why wait when you can Fast Pass? We were really getting spoiled by these low crowds.

We cut straight through the Innoventions hub which used to be called Communicore. Sixteen years ago CB and I went into one of the Communicore buildings first thing in the morning to schedule our dinner in Germany. We talked on a phone to a woman we could see on the computer screen - and we thought that was real fancy!

Needless to say, things have come a long way! Making a dinner reservation the day of the dinner? That's just taking chances. Nowadays folks call months ahead to make reservations. And they can be made online, too. Garsh! That's fancy!

We crossed to the polar opposite side of the park to ascend to Living with the Land pavilion, home of Soarin', to get our Fast Passes. What were they thinking? To get into this building you have to scale a seriously steep hill. Hey, it's steep when you're hot and tired.

Once inside you have to go to the ground floor via stairs or escalator to get to Soarin', Living with the Land, and the restaurant. Guess which is quicker? Yes, so I trotted downstairs to the Fast Pass machines; fed our tickets in; got the Fast Passes and dashed back upstairs. Whew!

I was in high gear at this point because we were wasting precious time. We had been in the park quite a while and had yet to ride anything! My people did not like the pace I was keeping. They were lagging behind.

It's hard to remember what we rode and in what order because we criss-crossed the park a few times. See what happens when I don't prepare?

I think we started out with Mission: SPACE. Again, my Space Ranger was all googly about riding this. FM#3 wasn't tall enough to ride this one and MawMaw heard about the dizzy factor so they sat this one out. CB and FM#1 chose the Orange Team which was more intense and me and my Space Cowboy went with the Green Team.

We walked right on. No wait.

Of course, the Cast Members were all decked out in space mission outfits. Gary Sinise briefed us on our mission from overhead monitors and we were given multiple chances to exit the ride if we had changed our mind. Then we were moved into a hallway and lined up in groups of four. What number you were standing on determined your role in the mission: Commander, Pilot, Navigator, Engineer.

As they announce what position you will be, a light shines down on you. Depending on your role, there are certain things you'll have to do during the flight. So pay attention! I think they even gave us another chance to get off at this point. They're really serious about this space stuff.

Then we boarded. We walked through a doorway into this small compartment.

I am not claustrophobic. I am not claustrophobic.

Stowed loose items below and pulled this big huge roller coaster-like harness down over ourselves. (The kind of harness that should've been on the Tower of Terror!) I think there was a barf bag, too.

I will not get motion sick. I will not get motion sick.

The door closed. Countdown began.

4-3-2-1. Earth below us. Drifting. Falling. Oooh, I don't like that song either.

But Mission: SPACE was cooool! The virtual effects Disney creates along with the storyline is most excellent. Each person has a video screen in front of them that shows what your 'shuttle' is apparently doing.

The video showed the shuttle tilting back to lock onto the liftoff tower and this simulator moved in such a way that it felt like that was exactly what we were doing! Then when the shuttle took off it really felt like we had the force of gravity pushing against us. How do they do that?

And again, looking at my little astronaut, he was totally into it! He took his role very seriously and we landed safely.

Funny thing about this ride is that going into it, everything is about the illusion. When you get off of the ride, for some reason Disney chose to expose the illusion. We exited the simulator on the side opposite of which we entered and were in what looked like a warehouse. Strange choice. Why didn't they continue the illlusion?

We then went on to ride Nemo so FM#3 could have some fun, too. There was a bit of a wait, but we liked watching the robotic birds on the rocks outside. My wee one loved it. It was just his speed. Where's Nemo?

We hung out quite a while in The Seas Pavilion. We got our picture taken with the shark from Nemo and watched a diving demonstration.

When going through Innoventions we spied the EPCOT Character Spot and decided FM#3 would enjoy that. He really wanted to see Donald Duck, but Donald wasn't at this character event. However, once he spied Mickey Mouse through the window he couldn't wait to get inside.

We waited in line for at least 45 minutes, maybe more. This was our longest wait at EPCOT - getting pictures taken with Disney characters. Go figure. I was amazed at the number of autograph hounds in the crowd. Yes, those seeking autographs from fully-costumed four-fingered mute Disney characters.

While we stood in line, CB decided to get Fast Passes for Test Track. It was still fairly early in the day and we heard that Fast Passes for certain rides like Soarin' and Test Track can run out by midday. So he zipped over to the attraction and, while he was there, discovered they had a Single Rider line. The wait was short; he had the time; so he decided to 'test' out the ride for us.

The Single Rider line is available on some rides. They use it to fill single empty seats. So if you're riding alone or don't mind splitting up your party, go Single Rider! It could mean the difference between an hour wait and a 5-10 minute wait.

As we inched closer to the front of the line, FM#3 started getting really excited. When it was his turn he yelled out, "Mickey Mouse!" and literally took a running leap into the mouse's arms! Mickey welcomed him heartily. He pulled back to look at him and went in for another hug. My mom and I couldn't believe this kid! It was like he and Mickey were old friends and hadn't seen each other in forever! A lot of kids are scared by these big characters when they see them up close as opposed to their TV screen, but FM#3 put on quite a show. The other folks standing around got a kick out of watching him, too.

He saw Mickey, Goofy, Chip 'n Dale (the Chipmix), Minnie, and he even danced with Pluto. Get down with your bad self! Even Pluto is surprised at his moves!

After all that excitement we decided to head back to the hotel for lunch and a nap.