Monday, October 1, 2012

30 Years of EPCOT Center

EPCOT Center turns 30 years old today.  The Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow opened October 1st, 1982 with a promise that it would look to the future and bring the world together in new ways.  There have been many changes over the years; in fact, it is no longer called EPCOT Center. It is now simply Epcot.  

I first visited EPCOT Center as part of our honeymoon in 1986.  In 1987, 1990 and 1993 I brought youth groups from Springfield Friends Meeting to Walt Disney World.  Trying to explain Epcot was tricky.  The adults all joked about not using the E word.  The truth is, Epcot was and is a very educational place. That is NOT what you tell teenagers on summer vacation.  But the park was also great fun.  I have had many great experiences and adventures there over the years, and I thought today I would share a few of my favorite memories and places at Epcot.

* The San Angel Inn-  This restaurant inside the Mexico Pavilion has more memories for me than almost anyplace in all of WDW.  I went there with my wife, my parents, my youth groups and many old friends.  I am not much of a drinker, but I have had a margarita or two at the Inn.  I have introduced people to an amazing appetizer (queso fundido) and one of my favorite desserts ever- Chocolate Moose Kahlua Pie.  I also once ran from the restaurant with a stomach bug and threw up all over the bushes just outside the entrance.  I love this place.
* The Candlelight Processional- Every year since the mid 1990s The American Gardens Pavilion has hosted this Christmas spectacular, and we have attended many times.  A 400 voice choir, a full orchestra and a celebrity narrator reading the birth story of Jesus straight from scripture are the highlights of this incredible event.  And they do it from Thanksgiving to New Years, 3 shows a night- and all of them are full. It's free, but you'd better get there early. Last year Marilyn and Will stood in line for 2 hours to see guest narrator Neil Patrick Harris...
* Last Ones Out- Click this link to read this great story of the night in 1987 when we closed EPCOT.
* The Norway Conundrum- On our 1990 youth group trip, the Norway Pavilion was new to most all of our participants, having just opened in 1988.  I notice a large numbers of our students seemed to be spending a lot of time there. I assumed it was because the ride, The Maelstrom, was a lot of fun. It turns out it was that the Norwegians working the pavilion- both male and female- were just really attractive.  Go figure...
* Dining Reservations- In 1993 we had a large group staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort. We had dining tickets (this was way before any dining plans) and were going to use them one night at Epcot.  There was one problem. In those days, Epcot dining reservations could be made only at the park and only on the day you intended to eat there.  So at 8 AM one morning I went to the computers outside of Spaceship Earth and made reservations for nearly 50 people, split between 6 different restaurants.  The cast member who helped thought I was insane. And I probably was. But we got it done.  And the students all had amazing meals and an amazing night.
* Will's Playpen-  For the first 4+ years of my son's life we lived in Kissimmee.  During that time, my parent's would pick Will up around once a week and they would go to EPCOT Center.  They didn't do a whole lot- they were just there.  Will took naps in the countries, learned about the many characters and just generally grew up a Disney kid. When we moved to Chicago in 2000 we were nervous about how we were going to explain to him that a park was going to be something completely different now...
* The International Gateway- During the years that we lived in Kissimmee we would often park at the Yacht Club Resort and walk to Epcot, entering through the "back door"- the International Gateway.  There as never a line to get in, and we could walk into World Showcase early in the mornings and wander at our leisure, often eating breakfast at the bakery in France.  In those days the entire park opened at the same time, so we could often make our way through the countries while the masses stood in line in Future World.  We felt so smart.  Parking restrictions at the hotels and later opening hours for World Showcase has since ruined this wonderful little secret...
* Things I Miss- This list of things no longer there could go on and on, so I will just hit the high notes.  Horizons is still my single favorite pavilion that ever existed at the park. I miss Buzzy and Cranium Command.  I miss the Kitchen Kabaret at the Land Pavilion. I miss the majesty of Walter Cronkite's narration in Spaceship Earth. I miss the marching band. And I miss being able to watch Illuminations from the landing behind the Rose & Crown Pub at the UK Pavilion.  Best spot ever, but now reserved for the VIP crowd most nights.  Sigh...
* My Dad- Right up until his passing in 2006, no one loved EPCOT Center any more than my father. He loved having a beer at the pub. He loved the restaurants. He loved listening to live music and seeing the street performers anywhere he could find them. He loved The American Adventure, the movie in Canada and everything about Germany.  He took the picture you see at right of Marilyn and I with a Scottish-clad Goofy (dad's favorite character) at the park during WDW's 20th anniversary celebration.My dad loved Epcot.  And a part of him is still there, hanging out behind the pub.  Literally.  Just one more reason to love the place!

Those are a few of my memories of EPCOT Center. I'd love to hear some of yours!

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