Monday, October 11, 2010

Better Late than Never: Disney World, pt. 2

Part 1.

Our second day we hit Epcot. For whatever reason, this park had come to represent Disney World as a whole to me in childhood. I knew there were futuristic displays, food from other countries, and some crazy 3D Michael Jackson thing, so suffice it to say that 10-year old me wanted to go to there.

Thirty year old me wanted to go to Mission: Space. I've wanted to ride this ever since, upon its opening, Jim Lovell (aka Tom Hanks in Apollo 13) said it's the "best, closest simulation you can get to the real thing." If I wasn't legally blind without contacts, I might have pursued astronaut training. Or, you know, not. Still, I've always been in love with space, so this ride was a huge draw for me.

Turns out two people have died after riding this. Ultimately they had pre-existing conditions that may have been aggravated by the ride, which uses centrifugal force to simulate up to 2.5 Gs during takeoff. As a result, Disney has changed a section of the ride to the "Green Team," which is the same experience but without a centrifuge. You're also subjected to about 35 warnings on the path to the Orange Team that hey, if you have any misgivings whatsoever, maybe you can try the pansy--I mean Green Team. Seriously, at the end of the Gary Sinise video, right before the doors open to start the ride, he says it's fine if you feel like leaving. After all these warnings, anything but a real rocket launch would be a little bit of a letdown. Still, a really great ride, even though my first job was engineer, which meant I had to hit a button to put everyone into hibernation for six months. Yay.

Mission: Space is located in Future World at Epcot. I loved it here. Peppy futuristic background music plays everywhere, and it would fit perfectly in a Buzz Lightyear cartoon which holy crap why haven't they made that yet. My inner nerd was running rampant. There's a 45-minute "ride" in this section called Universe of Energy, starring Ellen Degeneres and Bill Nye. Most people heard it was a 45-minute ride about energy and turned around at the door; I walked in faster. Dinosaurs! Science! Cosmology! Creationist head-exploding!

Which reminds me: side note. I've been in NYC too long, for many reasons, one of which is liberal isolationism. I'm crazy liberal, so this is mostly fine, but being in Florida and seeing billboards for actual Tea Party candidates who actual people will actually vote for was a real eye-opener. Also, a candidate nicknamed his opponent "Taliban Dan," and that's kind of awesome. This was in a commercial we saw while staying at Disney, which is more kind of awesome.

Also in Future World is Test Track, which is a fun test drive simulator with one of the most egregious cases of pre-ride long-video teasing. But at least it starred John Michael Higgins.

While exiting Future World, I noticed on a digital sign that the next Captain EO showtime was coming up. Wait, what's that? Captain EO? They're showing that again?! THEY'RE SHOWING CAPTAIN EO AGAIN?!!!! Nerdgasm.

We taped Moonwalker off of HBO or something like that when I was a kid. I almost wore out the tape. I wasn't a huge fan of Michael Jackson's hum-drum pop songs, though of course he did it better than anyone. But I always enjoyed it when he got weird. My friends all spoke fondly of Captain EO, which I just knew as some 3D movie you could see at Disney. Mark even got a copy off Ebay several years ago. I felt like a big piece was missing from my geek puzzle. Turned out I was about to put it in place!

I hadn't even considered that Michael Jackson's death might lead Disney to start showing this again, but they just did, starting on July 2nd of this year. In the theater lobby they ran a making-of video while the movie finished up for the previous audience inside. I cannot believe Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas (well, maybe Lucas) got together with Jackson to do something like this, but it's very easy to forget how much the 80s belonged to Jackson before he got bad weird. I mean, he also worked with Landis and Scorsese. In the making-of video, the glasses, haircuts, and dancers' outfits are fabulously 80s. They did a great job of hiding the star and the look of the film we were about to see.

It still holds up. Some of the stop-motion effects were a bit rough, and EO's flying companion Fuzzball never looked like he was actually there, but to a child of the 80s everything else looked perfectly in place. This is one of the many "4D" films we saw, meaning we wore 3D glasses and there were in-theater effects on top of that. Every single time this meant we would get sprayed with water at some point. EO is the story of the freedom-fighting crew of a spaceship bringing the gift of dance and music to the badass queen (played by Angelica Huston) of a garbage planet. I thought it was Michael Jackson's coolest, biggest music video, and I loved it. Towards the end, when he was laughing to the camera (and us in our silly glasses), I was taken back to a simpler time. This was Michael v3.0, or maybe v2.5, before the surgical masks and disappearing nose. The man loved doing what he did, and that joy was infectious, and we all left smiling.

The World Showcase is a circle of 11 countries around a lagoon and makes up the other half of Epcot. Every country is boiled down to its architecture, costumes, food, and merchandise. You could very easily bankrupt yourself trying to do everything here. We decided to pick just one for dinner, so we went with the Biergarten in Germany (thanks for our love of Radegast in Williamsburg). It's a pricey buffet with good beer and family-style tables. Presented with a pricey buffet, my response was "alright, I will now eat myself retarded." It's not that I'm a stereotypical American; I'm just broke and wanted to get my money's worth. I did. It was excellent, the beer was good and at NYC prices. Much meat.

But that all came later. This day, touring the world, we started with Canada (first mistaken as England; sorry Katie) and went counterclockwise. The sky was getting darker. Something ominous stretched from horizon to horizon, and the wind was picking up. By the time we got to France, people were essentially running and screaming from the wind in that weird greenish tornado-light. Presented with the predicament of seeking shelter in completely fake buildings with no basements, I decided I wanted neither to get stuck nor die in France (sorry Ivan), so we moved quickly to the next country. Which was Morocco.

Here's the thing about Morocco. It's one of the Mediterranean bastions of civilization perched atop the Sahara. That is to say, it's very hot there and the architecture is mostly open-air, since they don't have to worry about tropical storms. So there were approximately two buildings there with suitable cover from what was now pounding rain, a store and a cafe. I became intimately familiar with Morocco's fashion, dance music, tagine ovens, and $8 liqueur-flavored coffee.

TWO HOURS LATER, we said fuck it and ran to Japan when the rain eased up a bit. Japan is at the top of my list of countries to visit (in real life, not Epcot). This gift shop did not disappoint. Manga, toys, two whole kiosks devoted to the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki (which are distributed (poorly) in America by Disney), and more books than every other gift shop combined. And a crazy Japanese girl who kept screaming things when customers found a pearl in an oyster, or something.

Knowing we would be back the next evening for dinner in Germany, we decided to call it a day and make our way to the exit. We just couldn't justify dropping $7.50 on a poncho we would never wear again, so we were as wet as if we'd been on a water ride by the time we made it to the exit. Wetter, even. It was the only blemish of the whole trip. Well, that, and the $50 fill-up for half a tank of gas before returning the rental car outside the airport on the way home. $4.50/gallon. You've gotta be kidding me.

My my. This is longer than I expected. If you've read this far, hi Mom! I'll save Animal Kingdom and final observations for the third and final installment.

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