I had often spoken scathingly (and, of course, from a position of ignorance) about DisneyWorld - but I must say that I found the experience fascinating! As a museologist, the technical aspects of visitor management and exhibition conceptualisation and implementation interested me deeply. And, as a tourist, it was just great fun!
Roberto and I had the opportunity of flying to Miami for three days really cheaply. Although he visits the United States regularly for business purposes, I had never been to the States, and we seized this opportunity.
Time was really limited. We arrived in Miami at 5:00 am on Friday morning and spent the day driving through Miami in a rented convertible. It was great, I felt as if I was in the movies, only lacking a wispy scarf to have blow off in the wind! As well as spending a few hours shopping (I discovered that I really don't like American department stores - I couldn't find what I was looking for and kept getting lost), we drove through the Art Deco district, breakfasted on South Beach (a la "Birdcage"), and lunched in Palm Beach. It was a fairly decadent day, spent driving and walking around, getting to know the city. In the evening, we flew to Orlando in a tiny 19 seater plane. We had dinner, checked in to the Coronado Springs hotel and went straight to bed, exhausted (we had spent the previous night on the plane, after all).
On Saturday morning the fun really started! We spent the whole of Saturday at the Epcot Centre. Wow, what an experience! I can't even pick out the highlights because just about everything was so great. Hmmmmm....let me think. The Spaceship Earth ride was superb. And the 3D show, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, was also great fun - although the pockets of air felt just a little TOO like the plague of mice coming out of the 3D screen for comfort!
The simulated rides, exhibition techniques, crowd management and attention to detail were all excellent. But no matter how much fun and how educational the main section of Epcot was for me, the highlight of the day was our trip through World Showcase, the second section of Epcot.
World Showcase is made up of 11 countries: Canada, United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Japan, United States, Italy, Germany, China, Norway and Mexico. I had particularly wanted to see this because of my experiences at the World Expo '98 in Lisbon. Instead of simply presenting exhibitions, and supplementary information, about participating countries, Epcot manages to recreate the atmosphere of each country.
Each country is made up of a cluster of buildings, plazas, pathways, and other 'props', like signposts and fountains. The architecture and the arrangement is typical of each country. Very few countries had typical exhibitions (i.e. objects, text, information), but most had some feature - 360 degree movie theatres with documentary shows, boat rides through simulated national scenes, etc. For example, Norway featured a boat ride through a Norwegian forest, into a trolls' lair and out into the ocean!
It was possible to browse through shops carrying goods from each country, at reasonable prices. Roberto had a great time buying spices and sauces in Mexico, some of which he has not tasted since he was a boy, and I was very excited to find Fortnum & Mason Christmas pudding in the United Kingdom. Nobody minded what we touched or tried on, and we had a great time trying on Mexican sombreros, Japanese kimonos and Moroccan fezes. And, of course, we could pick any restaurant in the world, figuratively speaking. We had dinner in a Mexican restaurant which served excellent real Mexican food, unfortunately accompanied by not very good margaritas in lake-sized glasses.
In addition, performers from each country provided great quality entertainment. We saw living statues from France, Chinese acrobats, Moroccan dancers, Japanese drummers - and, if we had had time, we could have seen and heard a great deal more.
Saturday evening ended with Holiday IllumiNations, a seasonal fireworks display. We had intended to spend the evening at Pleasure Island, but were so tired that we went straight to bed.
Sunday started with a trip to MGM studios. Trips through the history of the movies and behind the scenes were fun, as was the Star Wars simulated ride. I must say, though, that by then I had had about enough of this type of simulated ride - the bumps and jolts are not very different whether you are riding through space or through the capillaries of a human. Strangely enough, I enjoyed the sets and architecture more than the actual rides and tours. It is truly amazing to see how the New York skyline can be recreated so realistically out of board and polystyrene! And it was fun to see the facade of the Golden Girls' house.
I can't say the same for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror though! The elevator free-fall is supposed to be 13 stories high! I don't know why I seem to be smiling in the photograph, I spent most of the time clutching Roberto's arm and screaming. It must have been a grimace of terror between falls. Yes, after the first fall they take you up and drop you again! I'm glad I did it once, but I certainly won't be doing it again.
And then we went on to Blizzard Beach. The story of this theme park is that it is a ski resort built after a freak snowstorm - which then melted! Myriad pools, rides and slides are surrounded by log cabins, fake snowcaps and avalanche zones. The Summit Plummet was the scariest ride of them all, and I nearly chickened out! Roberto says the slide was 120 feet long.
After leaving Disney World, we made a final stop in Orlando at the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. Having read the Ripley's cartoons as a child, it was fascinating to see his weird and wonderful collection. As well as the 'freak' items, there were some really interesting objects from all over the world.
We flew back to Miami on Sunday night, stayed in the airport hotel, and left for Santiago first thing on Monday morning, thus ending our very brief, but very busy, stay in Florida.
Finding Fortnum & Mason's christmas pudding, butterscotch and marmalade in the United Kingdom, all welcome additions to my grocery cupboard. No Handy Andy though :(
Roberto making similar culinary discoveries in Mexico.
The efficient, friendly and well thought-out service provided by Disney employees.
Circle Vision (360 degree) film shows.
All the things I've written about above - but the absolute high point has to be World Showcase.
United States department stores. They are so big and arranged so differently from the way they are laid out in South Africa. And so expensive! I had been looking forward to a shopping spree for all the things I couldn't get in Chile, but ended up having a horrible time. Oh, I miss Woolworths!
(er...for all the astounded queries - I think the South African Woolworths must be somewhat different from the American and U.K. one, lol)
Discovering the same strange feeling I had felt in Australia - a sense of the country I was visiting being too familiar to be an exotic, foreign destination, yet too unfamiliar for me to feel completely comfortable. In Australia, this feeling could be explained by its many social and historical similarities with South Africa. In the States, I think it was due to the vast exposure I have had to America film, television, books and music.
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