Epcot -- behind the lure of Disney's city of the future
Disney World, Fla. — Five-year-old Benjamin Miller danced to the music in a German restaurant here at Epcot. Later, in the China pavilion, Benjamin, his mother, and his 20 -month-old sister had been at Epcot nearly 10 hours, and they were still having fun, Carolyn Miller said.
At the American Adventure show a lifelike Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain talk and move about as they review US history. Outside after the show, Brian Kelsey, an adult from Colorado Springs, Colo., told his father the show was so patriotic that it moved him to tears.
Waiting in a long line to see a 3-D film at one exhibit, Shara Rosen of Montreal, Canada, said the educational aspects of Epcot's various technology displays are on ''a very low level.'' Nevertheless, many in the audience inside laugh and children squeal with joy, reaching out to touch objects that seem to come right out of the screen at them.
Epcot - one of Disney's newest ventures - is proving to be as popular with visitors as it is profitable for Walt Disney Productions. Profits for the parent corporation have reached a ''record'' high, says Ron Miller, president and chief executive officer. This, he says, is ''the direct result'' of Epcot - Disney's Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
The Magic Kingdom - Epcot's sister sensation - had already made Disney World one of the world's most popular tourist attractions. But since Epcot opened in October 1982, Disney World has seen ticket sales double.
In Epcot's first six months (October to March), attendance at Disney World increased 102 percent - from 5,268,000 to 10,649,000 people. Disney officials predict even larger crowds this summer. (See box, below, for tips on how to avoid the longest lines.)
For nearby Orlando and Kissimmee, the additional tourists mean a further boost to central Florida's tourism industry. The Orlando Chamber of Commerce predicts there will be enough hotel rooms for those who make advance reservations. In February and March, however, there was a ''crisis'' in hotel space, says one chamber official.
Still, Disney officials are making some minor adjustments at Epcot. Because of the crowds, more double-decker buses are being added to the fleet to take people around the edge of the 40-acre lagoon bordered by the international exhibit. And one or two more boats are being built to ferry people across.
A computer exhibit is being changed to be a little less entertaining and a little more educational, due to comments from visitors, a Disney spokesman says.
And another French restaurant is being added in response to strong visitor preference for international cuisine. The international restaurants usually are so crowded that guests need reservations, which can be made in the morning near the main gate.
Epcot consists of two parts - World Showcase and Future World. Nine nations now make up the World Showcase (Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, United States, Japan, France, United Kingdom, and Canada).
At World Showcase, this writer recommends that visitors see China's motion picture in-the-round and its archaeological exhibit, which includes two terra-cotta warriors and a terra-cotta horse more than 2,000 years old. Also of note: the American Adventure (it could be argued, however, that this is a sanitized version of US history, since it barely mentions the civil rights struggle and skips the Vietnam war); the French films and pastries; Japan's gift store (a lack of cultural exhibits is disappointing); and the realistic street scenes of the United Kingdom.
The major exhibits in Future World are sponsored by private companies other than Disney, some more blatantly commercial that others. The Spaceship Earth, for example, is full of American Bell telephones and reminders to ''reach out.'' General Motors' World of Motion is one big commercial, but a popular one.
Two children from Kansas City, Kan., said they preferred Disney's Magic Kingdom, adjacent to Epcot. But most visitors were having fun at the Epcot exhibits.
''Marvelous. I didn't know something like this existed,'' said a man from Colombia.