Take a Trip to Epcot

Why should you put Epcot high on the list of parks to visit at Walt Disney World?

Some basic knowledge for those readers who know very little about Epcot: it's a huge park (twice the size of Magic Kingdom) that's broken into two sections: Future World and the World Showcase. It's so big that some patrons choose to do it over two days to get the most out of the park.

All right then, first off, Future World is based on the quintessential Disney philosophy to "keep moving forward," to never stop innovating in all areas of life, including science and technology. Future World is packed full of entertainment, rides, and such based on this concept. Here's where you will find all of the exciting rides including Soarin'. This is a fantastic ride that flies you over the grand state of California with a multi-sensory film experience. It's ultra popular and the lines fill up quickly. For shorter wait times, head here as soon as the park opens. This is applicable to pretty much all of the thrilling rides here.

Other rides that should be experienced: Spaceship Earth, Mission: SPACE, and Test Track. You know that giant geodesic sphere that you can see as you drive into the park? The one that looks like a golf ball? That's where Spaceship Earth is, as in inside it. This magnificent dark ride takes you through the history of human engineering and innovation from prehistoric cavemen creating simple tools to the Space Race and beyond. Though it isn't a fast ride in the least, it should be ridden by everyone as it basically encapsulates the aura of Future World.

Mission: SPACE is probably the most thrilling ride in the park as it simulates an authentic NASA-style space shuttle flight to Mars. Astronauts have commented that it feels as close to real as you can get. For this reason, there are a lot (and I mean a lot) of health stipulations that can keep you from riding. People with heart problems absolutely should not ride - as stated by the lengthy disclaimer given to every passenger in line. That being said, it is rated as an ultra thrilling, sensational experience.

Finally, Test Track, sponsored by Chevrolet, is an interactive ride where you can build your own car on a computer and then test it out on a live track. Give it spoilers, amp up the speed, paint flames on the side...you can do it all and then climb into the car and ride through different tests including a speed test. At the end, see how your car ranked compared to others.

Now, let's get to the World Showcase. While Future World is fantastic and shouldn't be missed, on a personal note, the World Showcase is my favorite. Eleven countries are situated in their own "pavilions" around the lake: Mexico, China, Norway, Japan, France, Morocco, Italy, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, and America. Each country is styled just like their real counterparts down to the Eiffel Tower in France and Mayan pyramids in Mexico. Every piece of architecture, every plate of food, and even the employees are true to their home country. Disney is so intent on making it an authentic experience for everyone that they hire people from these countries to work in the pavilions. If you eat at the German Biergarten, you will be served by waitstaff speaking German and wearing lederhosen. (On a side note, the buffet here is sublime - try the sausage and spaetzles). For dessert, get the profiterole ice cream at L'Artisan des Glaces in France, an ice cream shop that serves up dreams in a cone. It feels so real you'll think you're actually in each country.

Things that you should experience for yourselves include the American Adventure, House of the Whispering Willows in China, and the Gran Fiesta Tour in Mexico. The American Adventure is consistently rated one of the top shows in all of Disney World for its animatronic narration of American history, opened by Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin. The House of the Whispering Willows is a cultural gallery located in China housing the Terracotta Army on a third scale of the original, which is amazing. Finally, the Gran Fiesta Tour is a boat ride that leads you on an adventure hosted by the Three Caballeros around Mexico. All three of these attractions should not be missed as they essentially present the countries to you on a silver platter with whipped topping and cherries.

Though Epcot may not be incredibly enjoyable for young children as there are fewer rides and less of a fairy tale, storybook theme, it's geared more towards teenagers and adults. Epcot is less of an amusement park and more like a World's Fair with the intent of entertaining rather than thrilling. The magic of Epcot resides in its collision of cultures, the architecture, shows, and the impressions of international personalities throughout the World Showcase. If it seems like I'm enamored with Epcot, that's because I am. Epcot is fantastic and should be visited by everyone at least once.

If you do come with kids, take them on Seas With Nemo and Friends, a dark ride based on Finding Nemo that leads you into an incredible aquarium where you can see rescued manatees, tropical fish, dolphins, and more. There are also a ton of character meets for youngsters throughout the park (Jasmine and Aladdin hang out in Morocco, Donald Duck in Mexico, Elsa and Anna in Norway, Belle in France, and Mary Poppins in the UK).

Epcot is unlike any other theme park in the world and for this reason alone, should be visited for the novelty if nothing else. In itself, Epcot is slyly educational, artistic, cultural, and all around magnificent. This is the other side of Disney that people don't regularly associate with the brand, the side that "imagineers," innovates, and creates tomorrow's world. Visit Epcot with an open mind and you won't be disappointed.

See also: Best Times to Visit Walt Disney World