Nuggets of Wisdom

Friday, January 8, 2016

Top 11 Disney World Attractions (#8)

Epcot Center is my favorite Disney Park. That's not even a joke. The Magic Kingdom may have all of the most memorable rides, but for me, Epcot will always be my personal favorite of the Disney Parks.

That certainly does sound strange, considering how it’s often slated as the black sheep of Disney World. Of the four parks, Epcot is considered to be the least favorite, and it's often ridiculed as such in popular media. Heck, there’s an entire Simpsons episode dedicated to mocking it!

The stigma against the park probably stems from it being focused more on education rather than entertainment. Here in America, the term "educational" has too often become synonymous with "boring", which is mostly due to our broken public education system.

You can blame it on inadequate funding, on an overemphasis on standardized testing, or on stifling bureaucracy, but the overall failure of our public schools to, well, educate our children has marginalized education as something tedious that should be avoided rather than sought. As such, anything deemed to be both "educational" AND "entertaining" is often treated with heavy skepticism.

However, I'm of the mindset that "edutainment", if done right, can be both educational and entertaining. Both Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus are prime examples of that, and the fact that I learned more about science from both shows than any science class is a testament to that.

I'd also like to think that Epcot has succeed in the “edutainment” department. Epcot may be focused more on “education” than any of the other parks, but its attractions were still created with the same ingenuity that Disney Imagineering has been famous for. The end result are experiences that manage to entertain guests while also teaching them something.

Sure, when the park first opened, it was severely lacking in the rides department; but since then, the park has received its fair share of thrill rides with attractions like Test Track, Mission: Space, and Soarin. But even if those rides didn’t exist, I’d still enjoy this park, if for nothing else than what it stands for.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Epcot Center was originally going to be Walt Disney’s dream city of the future, but it was inevitably turned into a permanent world’s fair instead. Even then, the park manages to capture Walt’s vision of the future, showcasing how a better tomorrow could be achieved through advances in science and technology (Future World) and through a mutual understanding of other cultures (World Showcase).

I don’t think there’s a single attraction in the park that better encapsulates this bold vision than in the park’s icon itself, Spaceship Earth.

#8: Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth is the name of the park’s iconic 18-story geodesic sphere. Most people refer to it as the “big golfball.” Others have called it a—uh, giant testicle.

In reality, the structure isn’t a sphere. It’s actually a derivative of a pentakis dodecahedron. If you’re not familiar with big-fancy words, that’s a shape with many, many sides—11,324 triangles, to be exact!

Even more impressive is that these triangles are made from a material shaped in such a way that, when it rains, no water pours off the sides onto the ground. Instead, rainwater is collected into the sphere itself where the water is channeled through a gutter system into the park’s lagoon.

As with the monorail, Spaceship Earth is quite the technological and architectural marvel to behold. But what people who have never visited the park may not know is that there’s an entire ride inside this giant sphere.

The attraction itself is a dark ride that chronicles mankind’s progress with communication. Guests travel back in time where they get to see prehistoric cavemen painting on walls, Egyptians creating the first papyrus scrolls, Romans paving and traveling along the most expansive roadway system of the ancient world, medieval monks copying manuscripts to preserve ancient texts, Renaissance artists creating the most influential masterpieces, the Industrial Revolution unleashing a swathe of life-changing inventions, and the modern world connected through the information super-highway.

As an English major, I’ve always been intrigued by how well the ride chronicles mankind’s history with communication. It’s quite awe-inspiring to see how far we as a species have progressed when it comes to language and the technology created to help better convey it. That we went from sculpting simple stone tablets to creating an expansive telecommunications network that allows us to communicate with one another across the globe is quite the testament to our species.

The narration for this ride was initially delivered by Jeremy Irons with a script written by Ray Bradbury. Recently, the narration and script was changed, now being provided by Dame Judi Dench.

Personally, I always felt that this was a downgrade. Jeremy Irons’ warm voice always carried the gravitas and authority of a university professor, which his narration sounding like that from a History Channel documentary. Dame Judi Dench, on the other hand, sounds like an elementary school teacher leading a field trip—and not in the fun Miss Frizzle sense.

The news script itself sounds like it was dumbed-down for little children, especially with its repetition. Seriously, listen and count how many times the term “the future” is used. I would make that a drinking game, but you’d all die from alcohol poisoning.

And yes, I know that Disney World was created for families with little children. But still, the new script and narration feels extremely-dumbed down. The original felt like it was talking to you. The new one feels like its talking down to you. That doesn’t make kids feel smarter. It makes everyone else feel dumber!

Anyway, the lackluster new narration aside, Spaceship Earth, along with Epcot Center itself, is a severely underrated experience that really conveys optimism for the future and how it could be improved through technology and communication. But perhaps the narration itself says it best:
“Like a grand and miraculous spaceship, our planet has sailed through the universe of time, and for a brief moment, we have been among its many passengers... We now have the ability and the responsibility to build new bridges of acceptance and co-operation between us, to create a better world for ourselves and our children as we continue our amazing journey aboard Spaceship Earth."