Around the World in Five Hours

21 at Disney: | day 1 | day 2 | day 3 | day 4 | day 5 |

While we may not have traversed quite the entire world, my friend and I did explore all that Walt Disney World’s Epcot had to offer this past August. We decided to split the park in half. The morning was for rides while the afternoon would be devoted to exploring the country pavilions.

As had become routine, the first steps of the morning were toward the FastPass dispensers. A percussion group pleasantly disrupted our headlong flight toward tickets. They were dressed as janitors and rolling around metal trashcans. A closer look revealed the name “Jamminators.” The impromptu drum line was a fantastic way to wake up in the morning, and we danced and clapped along.

The Jamminator performance took place out under the hot Florida sun, and I could feel my skin burning so a sidetrip to the shade was required. We were nearly out of sunscreen after the entire week — we had gone through two spray cans and had a small amount of lotion left— but applied the last dregs with gusto.

As part of our sojourn indoors, we came across what looked like pods on stands that people had been harnessed into with their feet hanging out. What we discovered (after waiting in a rather long line) was a design-your-own roller coaster ride! Rose and I whipped up a monster that (sadly) obeyed physics and included two upside down loops. We slipped our shoes off, and were strapped into the seats. The giant screen/harness/simulator came down over our heads and we were off.

Despite giggling earlier at the shouts and screams of the people riding ahead of us, we gladly joined them as we went upside down in the simulator. We had one more simulator ride while the sunscreen dried (read: while we were enjoying the shade), which was a storm simulator. It was more educational than exhilarating, but a few people got splashed in the face, which is always entertaining when it happens to someone else. 

The next goal of the morning was Mission: SPACE. We snagged a pair of FastPasses, and headed to Epcot’s landmark: Spaceship Earth. While not one of my favorite rides, I had one of the most amazing moments from the entire week in line.

The past semester, I completed a course in basic American Sign Language. Part of the course involved learning from the deaf community, and exploring the richness of deaf culture. When I saw two deaf persons trying to take a picture of themselves with the geodesic sphere in the background, I signed an offer to take one of the two of them. They said no aloud and thanked me. As we continued on in the line, the woman tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I was deaf. I signed no, and we ended up having a nice, but limited conversation.

It was partly limited due to my lack of sign language ability, but also because the couple was from Brazil! Brazilian Sign Language is its own language, separate from American Sign Language (ASL) just as Vietnamese is separate from English. One of the more interesting facts I learned while in the course was that ASL is closer to French Sign than it is to British Sign because a Frenchman was the first to teach sign in the United States.

It was an incredible moment to be able to use my lessons from the past semester to talk to people from a continent away. It was one of the more humbling moments that I have had as well. My grasp of ASL did not surpass anything more than basic conversation, but I was able to sign with this fantastic pair of people to the amazement of the hundreds of people in line around us. I had never seen people sign before taking the ASL class at Notre Dame, but now I see the deaf community all around me and truly enjoy the language.

After our trip backward in time within Epcot’s eye-catching sphere, we headed to astronaut training for Mission: SPACE. With a little cajoling on Rose’s part to convince me, we had signed up for the orange level, more intense training. We climbed into the seats after passing more warnings about motion sickness and potential undiagnosed heart problems than I ever want to see again. Then we flew to Mars. Using the centrifugal forces from spinning our pods around, we underwent about 2.5Gs of force. While exciting, there were a few moments where I was actually quite scared. I would still go on the ride again though, given the opportunity.

Our last ride before we took our tour around the “World” was the TestTrack. I had ridden it the first time I went to Disney, but the entire ride had been overhauled and updated. We built a non-environmentally friendly model of a virtual car for the track. It was as close to a jacked up classic impala as we could make it. While we lost the competition on handling and environmental impact to our fellow riders’ cars, we dominated the power category. That’s really all we wanted. It was fantastic. I really enjoyed the updated ride although the wait times were obnoxious.

Finally it was time to explore the more adult-friendly half of Epcot. Our first job was to find Erica, our Canadian friend from the day before and star in our moose hat picture. After a little searching, we said hello before rain started falling. We ducked into a pub in the UK, which was appropriate for the region. Rose and I met a nice couple in the pub that had traveled to Disney for the Wine and Food summer festival for over ten years in a row. The woman let me try her combination of lager and cider, a Snakebite, while we sampled our own half-pints. If you can believe it, it was only eleven in the morning.

In the same breath, it was eleven in the morning and we were starving for real fish and chips. One of the goals of our world-wide trip was to put ourselves into as many different cultures as possible. Therefore, we ate our chips in France.

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In France, we kicked off the Epcot Wine Walk, which entailed six 2 ounce samples of wine from three countries: France, Italy, and Germany. The little sampler glasses were adorable. They also fell apart very easily. More on that story never.

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Our next stop on the self-dubbed World Tour was Morocco. As Marvel aficionados we had no choice but to stop when we saw shwarma on the menu. Conveniently, we were also hungry. We shared a plate of delicious shwarma and couscous. We dedicated the meal to the Avengers Initiative. While our food digested, we stopped at a henna stand, but instead of getting tattoos (and waiting in the hot sun for them to dry), we snapped a few pictures of the fancier designs, chatted with the artists there, and moved on.

When Rose saw the beautiful Japanese-style buildings in front of us, they were a shot of caffeine to the veins. As excited as I grow when someone offhandedly mentions wants to talk about Mexico, Japan is Rose’s Mexico. I couldn’t blame her. The pyramid marking the Mexico portion of our tour was only a few stops ahead of us.

We caught a candy-shaper’s show on our way to poke around the main store in Japan. I bought a friend a shirt of his favorite anime. I popped around the corner with my bag of treasure in hand to see Rose modeling a kimono and looking gorgeous. Of course I had to try one on as well. The ladies who helped us were absolutely wonderful. Rose’s ability to speak Japanese didn’t hurt either. She taught me how to say thank you although it took half an hour before I could actually get it right semi-consistently. My Spanish accent kept getting in the way.

We found an unexpected pleasure in the store in the form of a sake sampler. I practiced my three words of Japanese while we (mostly me) were taught about sake and the rich tradition that accompanies its consumption. We walked out with a bottle of plum wine sake each.

As we left the Japan area, we snagged some sushi for a bite to eat. The Disney cast member who ran the booth squealed with excitement when Rose ordered in Japanese. I smiled weakly and damaged the Japanese language with my atrocious American-Spanish accent as she handed me my sushi. To continue our emphasis on being multicultural, we ate our sushi in the United States. Then we hopped over to Italy.

I had looked forward to Italy most of the day. As a result of extreme over-planning and research, I discovered a little restaurant in Italy that had begged me to visit. After getting our two samples of Italian wine, a sweet white and dry red, we popped into a cool, dark restaurant decorated with high tops, wine barrels, and couches. We weren’t hungry enough to have a meal, but we found a dessert sampler: one glass of bubbles and three shot glasses-full of sweets. The desserts lasted about as long as shots last.

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At this point of our world tour, despite the sugar infusion, we were starting to flag. The last of our wine walk was in Germany. I enjoyed the blast from the past, but tiredness began to win out. Both German wines were sugary whites. Earlier in the day, they might have been more palatable, but we weren’t in the mood for dessert wine.

The show we had wanted to see in China wasn’t playing that day, which was disappointing, but it gave us the chance to ride the Maelstrom in Norway. When I visited Disney as a child, we didn’t have a chance to ride the Viking boat tour, at least not that I can remember. Rose showcased her mythology knowledge to my benefit while we rode under Odin’s watchful one-eyed gaze.

Then we arrived in Mexico.

One year removed from living in Puebla, the country inspired nostalgia by the bucket load. The pyramid resembled the Palace of Quetzalcoatl from Teotihuacán. We descended into the stylized marketplace to a hole-in-the-wall bar. Well, as hole in the wall as you can get at Disney World. A whole avocado went into a margarita and red chili dust replaced salt around the rim of the glass. Just as Rose impressed the Japanese staff members, I showed off my poblana accent.

Sipping a margarita, we found a spot for the end of the night fireworks show and tried not to sob for our Disney adventure was coming to an end. We had gone around the world in five hours, but the entire week has been a journey, sharing stories and crafting new ones. The fireworks were both stunning and tear-jerking. We walked out of the park with the crowd, in no hurry to leave. We stopped into Gateway Gifts for last minute souvenirs, and after slight difficulty, found the car.

Our Disney adventure has come to an end, but, as I hope these posts attest, it was the escapade of a lifetime. I’d do it all again, but nothing we could do would ever best this trip. Disney adventure? Check. Future adventure? Bring it on.

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