Going on an enthusiastic recommendation from my friend Peter Stern, we devoted a day to Epcot, a Disney theme park supposedly for adults interested in science, technology and the environment. In reality it is for adults interested in eating, buying Mickey Mouse merchandise, trying to control unruly kids and pretending they’re interested in science, technology and the environment. That said, there were some wonderful presentations.
One called Soarin’ promised a flit around the world from the sky in ten minutes. Michelle read the ‘motion warning’ sign and feared she would be lifted up in a sling and dropped on her head. Reluctantly she joined me in our seat on a multiperson chairlift and buckled in. After some dramatic counting down, the chair lifted and propelled us into the middle of a giant dish screen where we flew above, and close to, many the wonders of the world – all in staggering realism, even down to the smells of the places we passed over. The Taj Mahal smelled of roses – which is not how I remembered India smelling. However, the ocean and the African plain aromas were much more accurate. Michelle was so thrilled with this ride that we lined up again for another go.
Epcot is not a place that offers gravity defying rides for their own sake. There has to be a bit of technology thrown in. Test Track promised this, although Michelle was dismayed by the shrieks coming from inside the massive building and sent me in alone. The idea was that you designed your own hot car and then it was assessed on a track test. For stage one I stood in front of a computer screen and drew my car with a clumsy curser so that it came out looking like a toad on wheels. This meant that it wouldn’t take the powerful engine I had intended, nor was it aerodynamically efficient, nor would it handle very well. Its main benefit was that it would be economical to putter around the city. Hardly a race car. I tried to redesign it but only succeeded in making it uglier and giving it smaller wheels. Time ran out. A toad it would have to remain. It was then entered in a competition with all the other designers – where it came a resounding last, accompanied by some very unkind comments. Time to get out on the Chevrolet test track in a car that held nine people in three rows, all well buckled in. It went through various scary manoeuvres in braking, cornering and accident avoidance until the high speed section, introduced by hurtling in darkness towards double doors that opened just in time. I’d estimate we then set off at around 200 kph on a ridiculous track with turns that could only be negotiated by tilting the car 90 degrees. That produced all the shrieking – but not from me. I was clinging on, white knuckled, and unable to breathe, let alone shriek.
There was a wholesome boat ride explaining how science was working on better ways of producing food to feed earth’s growing population. I think it would have been better to run a boat trip on birth control and forget about having to grow tomatoes vertically or farming fish whose poo fertilisers lettuces.
The Disney Pixar short film festival was billed as being in 4D. The 3D was achieved with the usual glasses, but the 4th came from the theatre seats which lurched every so often in sync with the stunning animation movies.
Many of the other attractions looked promising but were inconsequential once you came to terms with them, to say nothing of having to deal with rampaging bullet-headed kids.
Apart from patchy technology, Epcot is an exhibition of the architecture, culture and food styles from10 countries. They are placed around the perimeter of a sizeable lake dotted by pyrotechnic barges that were being primed for the regular evening show of fireworks. Having walked, ridden and marvelled for most of the day, we decided to stay and eat in one of the countries. Any plans we had to try out unusual, but distant fare was dashed when we came upon China and fell exhausted into the first restaurant we found there. We expected a re-heated, prepared-the-day-before-yesterday meal. How could a Chinese restaurant in the middle of a theme park be any good? When the food arrived it turned out to be one of the best Chinese meals I’d eaten – and washed down by a perfect beer called Buddha Light. I gladly paid the suggested tip of 20 per cent to the attentive Chinese waiter who, upon seeing it, immediately fell in love with us.
Speaking of kids, our hotel has been playing host to a class of final year high school (more a thigh school) students on a school break. The boys were accommodated on the second floor and the girls on the third. It was the job of four teachers to keep these hormone charged beautiful young people from getting up to immoral and filthy acts during the night. The solution? At 10 pm the students were told to go to their rooms and a piece of tape was signed and stuck between the closed door and its frame. If the door was opened before seven in the morning the tape would be broken and an enquiry with possible criminal charges would follow.
Next stop: Cuba, where there may be no Internet, mobile phones, hot water or electricity. If you don’t hear from me, either the Internet is not available or we have been kidnapped and are working in a cigar factory.