By RICH GRANT
I was standing at the bar of the Rose & Crown pub in Epcot, a third of the way through a pint of Guinness, when my friends decided it was time to move on. I was going to chug the beer when the bar maid said, “would you like that to go, Love?” What a pleasant idea! She poured the remaining beer into a plastic cup and I was soon out the front door, sipping stout as I strolled around a lake, into the gardens of Paris on my way to the back alleys of Tangiers.
Welcome to Epcot, where Disney has a surprisingly liberal – and enlightened – drinking policy. Three of the four Disney theme parks (Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios) allow you to walk and drink beer – or wine, tequila, sake, whiskey, frozen Margaritas or a dozen other concoctions.
Even better, they make all these drinks readily available with infinite choices. The nearby Cava del Tequila bar in the Mexico pavilion has 70 tequilas. No wonder Disney World is the happiest place on Earth.
And great fun too. Make no mistake, Disney is for adults, as well as for children.
Families with kids will best enjoy the Magic Kingdom (the one park with a strict no-drinking policy), but adults can spend a couple of wonderful days with Disney at Epcot, eating, drinking and shopping your way around the world. There’s great food and drink, thrill rides, wild architecture, manicured gardens, celebrity chefs, music acts and at night, the skies light up with amazing fireworks displays.
Epcot World Showcase
Epcot is Disney’s version of a permanent world’s fair. Shaped like an hour glass, one bulge is devoted to science and the world we inhabit, with exhibitions on land, the ocean and space mixed with thrill rides. The popular ride Soarin’ takes you hang gliding with wind blowing in your face and the smell of orange blossoms in the air, as you bank and curve, legs dangling over orchards, mountains and seacoasts. Mission Space has you blasting off and landing a space capsule on Mars, while Test Track is the longest and fastest ride in Disney history.
The bottom bulge of Epcot’s hourglass is the World Showcase, a circular, mile-long pathway around a lake surrounded with pavilions glorifying the shopping, drinks, culture, architecture and history of 11 nations. It’s a blast.
The “Imagineers,” as the Disney people call themselves, have used an architectural device known as forced perspective to make the park seem much larger than it is. The bottom floors of buildings are done at 100 percent size, the second floor at 75 percent and the top floors at 30 percent and less. This can create the illusion that you are seeing an entire German village built around a town fountain, topped by a gigantic castle miles in the distance. In reality, the whole German site might occupy just two acres.
In this same way, you can see the Eiffel Tower looming behind a Paris street, a Maya temple that looks many times its actual size, the famous St. Mark’s Square of Venice with a 100-foot-high campanile, a wooden stave church of Norway sitting beneath a 14th century fortress, and even the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
It’s the Disney attention to detail that is so much fun. The British street has eight different architectural styles, from Tudor to Victorian. Although the “thatch” roof is made out of plastic, it looks real. The Morocco pavilion used nine tons of handmade, hand-cut tiles and had 19 native craftsmen put them together into a replica of the Koutoubia Minaret, a prayer tower in Marrakesh.
There are Mediterranean citrus and olive trees in Italy, and native Japanese sago and monkey-puzzle trees decorating nearby Japan. The American pavilion has an Independence Hall-like building made of 110,000 bricks, while China recreates Beijing’s Temple of Heaven with flute and zither music playing on the speakers while acrobats perform in the courtyard.
All of the countries have daily shows consistent with their theme, from a Beatles tribute band in England to a very un-Disney belly dancer in Tangiers.
There are German oompah bands, mariachis and Japanese Taiko drummers. France, China and Canada have films that are worth a look, especially Canada’s 360-degree screen that lets you pass through an attraction like the Mounties on parade, seeing them from front, rear and on the sides.
Most of the countries are set up with back alleys to explore, leading to shops, restaurants, bars and bakeries. You can munch a pear tart in Norway or a chocolate éclair in Paris.
And then there’s shopping. From Italian silk scarves to Norwegian wool sweaters, Japanese kimonos to French perfumes, the Disney touch extends to the stores, giving each of them an authentic feel. At Mexico, you can shop for silver and pottery in an indoor arena recreating the market in Taxco at twilight, complete with tile roofs, overlooking balconies and flower baskets.
Disney employs people from the native countries (part of 60,000 “cast members” who run the empire) and they’re mostly young and pretty and love to chat about their native lands … and how glad they are to be out of them and living the dream in Florida.
Dinner is another experience not to miss. You’ll need reservations in advance, or at least first thing in the morning at the best – and more expensive – restaurants like Bistro de Paris or Marrakesh. Easier is the huge Biergarten, Epcot’s nightly Oktoberfest with a Bavarian band, long tables that you share with strangers, plenty of beer and a buffet of bratwurst, rotisserie chicken and spaetzle. Also easy is the Rose & Crown for fish and chips. Get an outdoor, lakeside table at dusk – it’s one of the best places to watch the fireworks.
Epcot’s hours vary by day with the park generally closing at 9 p.m., but on Tuesdays it often stays open until midnight. Try to go then – the world showcase looks even better by night.
Another area for adults is Downtown Disney, a free entertainment zone built on a series of islands in a lakeside setting, with bridges connecting shops, bars and restaurants. At night there’s a Vegas feel with bright lights and huge theme restaurants like Planet Hollywood, House of Blues, Wolfgang Puck and a gigantic Raglan Road Irish Pub. Fulton’s Crab House has a great seafood menu in a romantic setting aboard a three-deck river boat, the “Empress Lilly,” while the nearby Bongos Cuban Café is owned by Gloria Estefan and has the overhead fans and indoor palms of a film-version, pre-Castro Cuba, with outdoor patios, all wrapped around a three-story high pineapple.
Orlando had 75 million visitors in 2018, and the city caters to all types of guests. You can dine in one of Florida’s great restaurants, the Victoria & Albert in the Grand Floridian hotel (no children, jackets for men and reservations six months in advance, please). Or you can make a meal of a fresh baguette and brie at the Boulangerie Patisserie of Paris, while you sit in a garden watching boats. Whatever you do, don’t be surprised if you come away thinking, this is, indeed, the happiest place on Earth.
Disney World, where and there
Disney World is located in Orlando, Florida.
It is open every day of the year, although hours vary depending on seasonal demands.
Tickets vary in price, depending on your age and the number of days access you purchase.
For more information, check out the Disney World webpage.