This is a supplemental report to our August 1996 trip to WDW which will cover our Hidden Treasures of Epcot tour. We chose this as our "Flex Feature" option that came with our length-of-stay plan.
On Tuesday, August 27 we arrived at Epcot at 9:15 am. We hurried to be on time, but, just as we figured, the tour didn't start until 9:30. Our tour guide was a woman named Jan. Our tour covered the "left" or east half of World Showcase. There were eight of us (plus Jan) - a 20-something married couple, a 50- or 60-something married couple, a pair of 30- or 40-something sisters (we think. We didn't ask if they were sisters) and us, a 30-something married couple.
Our tour began at the gateway area, near the boat dock and one of the shops. One of the first things Jan told us was that the original Epcot plan called for a futuristic American pavilion in the area where we were standing (at the foot of the lagoon.). It would tie the two worlds together, plus the US would be flanked by her natural neighbors -- Mexico on one side and Canada on the other. The Imagineers realized that they needed something to draw visitors into the World Showcase, so they decided to move the American pavilion to the back where it would be the central focus. The Imagineers felt the original futuristic design would look out of place, so they redesigned it, drawing on more traditional, colonial architecture.
Each country has the exact same amount of space and frontage allotted to it; all are equal. When viewed from the gateway area, all the buildings look about the same size. There is a lot of use of "forced perspective" - which means that buildings look larger than they really are (and, in case of the American Adventure, the reverse is true!) At each country Jan greeted us in the appropriate language.
First stop, Mexico. Hola! It's pretty obvious that the exterior of the building was designed as an ancient temple/pyramid. The landscaping in Mexico is thick and tropical, much as it would be "south of the border." Next time you're there, don't walk up the steps in front. Walk a little past the building and take the path up the side (in reality, it's probably the handicapped entrance) and enjoy a walk through the cool, quiet, green tropical forest. And look for the pair of birds (real, not animatronic) that call the area home. I think they're macaws.
The pavilion is divided into two basic areas: the temple and the market place. The temple, which is the first area you walk in to, is filled with valuable pre-Columbian artifacts. The interior is dark, cool and quiet as one would expect an ancient pyramid to be. On either side there is a changing diorama, for a total of four views, depicting ancient Mexican life. Unfortunately, I've forgotten all but one. If you are facing into the market place, one of the dioramas on the left shows the making of special dolls/sculptures that are buried with the dead. There was an old tradition that servants were buried with their masters when the masters died, in order to serve them in the after life. As the population dwindled, effigies accompanied the masters instead.
Make sure you look a the plaque in the middle of the floor which is very cleverly lit so it looks almost as if it is glowing.
One of the things most people think about when asked to think about Mexican things, is the siesta. Because villages would be deserted (and hot!) in the afternoon, the Imagineers decided to create an evening-time market place. In all the pavilions, Imagineers use several things to draw people in: sight, sound and smell. When you walk into the market place you are drawn to the fountain up front and then deeper in by the colors/objects in the stalls, the smoking volcano, the music, the sound of the waters of El Rio del Tiempo, The smells of the restaurant, etc. It is hard to believe after a few moments that you've just left a crowded, bright 90°+ place. You really feel as if you're in a different world.
God dag! Next is Norway, home of the trolls! The pavilion is comprised of many buildings reminiscent of a town. As you face into the village, there is a stave church on the left. I hope I get this right, it's been too long: stave churches are an architectural style that is several hundred years old. Many of the churches have been destroyed over the centuries and only a relative few remain. Here's something new I learned from Jan: you can actually go into the building. There's a changing exhibit in there as well as information/photos about stave churches. There's not much else to say about Norway, except that they use the waterfall of the Maelstrom ride to draw you in. Side comment: We've eaten at Restaurant Akershus twice now; I think it's OK but not the best thing in the world. I don't like fish, but there's plenty other things to eat. The hot dishes are good, but I think that I just don't like the food/spices in general. That's my opinion; I know others love the food there. It's the same reason that some people like chocolate ice cream and others like vanilla. No reason; just because. There is a MKC discount offered there plus it's a buffet, so it makes the OK-to-me-food seem more attractive.
After Norway, we were lead backstage. Oooh! Jan explained that the "magic" only goes as far as the guests can see plus two feet. We went through a gate that I never really notice before between Norway and China that is usually closed when World Showcase is open to the public. Once you get so far it looks like it could be any place! The magic of Epcot seems miles away. We went in on the side of Akershus, and it looks like the back of any restaurant. There's a road behind World Showcase that runs all the way around the perimeter of Epcot behind the attractions. That's where all the delivery trucks go as well as the internal buses that take the Cast Members to their jobs. Make sure you look both ways before crossing, because the traffic moves pretty quickly! We were taken into wardrobe which is one of the largest buildings I've been in (at least as big as a Home Depot or Costco or Sam's Club warehouse store). When you first walk in, there's a wig room on the left (where performers who wear wigs get ready to go on stage) and then you walk ahead into a large sewing room with a laundry beyond it. Again, it's been a while, so forgive me if I make a few mistakes in the layout. Beyond this, straight ahead is the room that houses the costumes for all of Epcot. It must be two or three blocks long! There are rows upon rows of costumes for each country, each attraction in a range of sizes, for both men and women. Nothing is overlooked - there are winter coats for those frigid Florida winters ;-) (most of which were covered with plastic and dusty from lack of use), hats, belts, shoes...everything! On the opposite end of the room from which we entered is a counter where Cast Members drop off their dirty outfits and pick up clean ones. The whole thing is very organized. It has to be! We were told that the women who wear the ceremonial robes in Japan had to be taught how to put them on. There are some ridiculous number of parts to the robes, something like 23! Can you imagine! That's why they're ceremonial robes and not worn every day, and most modern Japanese women have never worn them. Our last stop in costuming was the wig room. We met a few stylists who told us what they do, which is mostly help Cast Members put their wigs on as well as maintain the wigs every day. The hair must be perfect and there's a manual with specifications they have to follow. Several samples are on display and we were tested on identifying them. The stylists all agreed that the hardest wig to do is Cinderella with its many rolls and tucks. Next time you see a walk-around Cindy take a good look at her hair and you'll see what they mean!
Jan took us around and we ended up coming in through the back of China. Ni hao! In past trips we've seen the "Wonders of China" movie (but not this trip), and have never eaten at the restaurant (hey, we're from New York; we can get cheap, good Chinese food in Chinatown or our local restaurant!) Again, there's water to draw visitors in. There's also a "secret" garden off to the right (when you're facing into China from the promenade). Weird factoid: there are these tiny black lizards (bug-sized) that ONLY live in the Chinese pavilion. NO Cast Member has seen them anywhere else in Epcot! Simple factoid: the color red represents happiness in China. There is the three-tiered Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is a half-size replica of the one in Beijing on the right (which I believe is the entry area for the movie). Jan explained about the significance of the various elements in the temple, but I've forgotten most of them because I began to day dream in China; if anyone has a correction please let me know. If there's one thing I hate it's the dissemination of untruths. The dragon and the phoenix represent the emperor and empress and the four columns inside represent the four seasons. The twelve columns that support the roof represent the twelve Chinese zodiac symbols and the twelve months of the year. There's a square beam that represents earth and a round beam that represents heaven. There's lots of red (happiness) and gold (royalty/emperor) used. The walls look as if they've been intricately carved, but they are actually covered in a specially-designed wallpaper.
At the entrance to one of the buildings are a pair of dragons (or are they dogs?!? lions?!?) that face out towards the lagoon. When asked why the dragons faced out, yours truly figured it out: they're watching, guarding the building. Dragons are revered, honored symbols in Chinese lore. When they were originally installed, they were placed facing each other. The Chinese representatives almost had a conniption (there's a word that I doubt is in the dictionary!) explaining that if they face each other it's an invitation for evil spirits to enter. Also, one of the figures is male, the other female. They look almost identical, except for one thing: what's under their respective feet. The male has a globe under his and the female has a pup under hers.
On our way to Germany we passed Snow White. What a great chance for a photo op (no kids around; just us! World Showcase was just about ready to open to the general public) but we were all a little shy. In hindsight, I wish we had stopped. A new display has been set up and I believe it's between China and Germany (if not it's between Germany and Italy): a model train and village. Jan said it was put up during the Gardens of the World event in June, but proved so popular that it was kept on display. We didn't get a good look at it, though. It was getting late and we still had three more pavilions to go! We began to rush through the remaining countries since we were running out of time.
Gutten tag! Wilkomen! Next stop, Germany. Again, the architecture is typical of a German village. There is a statue of St. George, who is the patron saint of soldiers. St. George killed the dragon, which is feared in European culture (unlike China). One of the buildings has three emperors on the second floor pilasters. On the original German building there are four figures, but the Imagineers didn't have enough room for all of them. The front is wide and it draws you back into the "village."
Bon Giorno! Ciao! Welcome to Italy. The plaza represents St. Mark's square in Venice. The winged lion on the pole guardian of Venice. Make sure you notice the gondola dock by the edge of the lagoon. Alfredo's restaurant is the same as the one in Italy; they are the only two in the world. There is a fountain on the side of the plaza - again, the sound of water draws you in. The bell tower (the Italian word is "campanile" but I don't remember how to spell it) also uses forced perspective to make it seem taller than it is. The bricks on the bottom are bigger than the bricks on top!
Hello from the US! Our last stop on our trip half-way-around-the-world. The American pavilion's architecture is mix of Georgian and colonial styles, about a 180° difference from the original plan. Take a look at the clock on top of the building - it has "IIII" not "IV" to represent the number "4" - this is also typical of early American design. Remember forced perspective? The building looks as if it's 3 stories plus cupola; but it is actually 5 stories; next time you're in Epcot, notice how the doors look normal-sized, but as people get closer and go in, they become dwarfed by the 12-foot doors. The windows are also very large. The building had to be large enough to house the American Adventure auditorium which hold several hundred (500?) people plus al l the hydraulics and audio-animatronics, and yet not look bigger than the other pavilions.
At this point, our tour was done. World Showcase was open to the public and quickly getting crowded. Our group broke up and we all went on our merry ways, each of us having learned something new that day, and each of us a little more appreciative of all the work that went into creating Epcot and the what has to be done to maintain the magic.