Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Huffing and Puffing Around the World

EPCOT’s World Showcase is delightfully innocuous, a place where you can lightly sample the music, food, and gift shops of other cultures in a mall-like atmosphere. You’re never forced to leave behind the comfortable familiarity of the USA. However, World Showcase does push you out of your American comfort zone in one important way: it makes you walk long distances.

People in other countries do a lot more walking than Americans do. This is true for a variety of reasons. In Europe, for example, just about all of their cities predate the automobile because they wasted many valuable centuries burning heretics and dying of the Black Plague instead of spending those years inventing useful modern conveniences. By way of contrast, the Mayans’ only real vices were human sacrifice and a tendency to worship silly-looking dragon gods, and they were so advanced that they were able to devise a calendar which correctly predicted that people would make a big deal about the year 2012 for no good reason. But I digress.

The point is that people in other countries do a lot more walking than Americans do, because the people who designed their cities in the Middle Ages did not allow for parking places, or because they live in the Third World and no one can afford cars. Also, Americans are big fat lazy slobs. True story: in 1979 my parents encountered some people from Quebec who were mortified that our fast food restaurants had drive-thru windows. “You Americans are so lazy, you can’t even walk inside to get your food!” they exclaimed. And that was thirty-one years ago, when the width of the average American rear end was much less than it is now. I think that explains the animosity some Americans feel toward the French: they are in much better shape than we are. One American probably has the body fat of a dozen French people.

The huge size of the World Showcase, and just how much walking you have to do to get around it, never really registered with me until I started pushing 30. By then, nearly a decade of sitting at a desk all day had caught up with me, physical-fitness-wise, and circumnavigating the World Showcase Lagoon was suddenly a fairly exhausting proposal. It doesn’t help that Florida is often given to hideously uncomfortable weather, so when you’re crossing a big distance on foot, you’re generally walking as fast as you can to get indoors. So what’s the solution? Some form of motorized transport, like a tram that circles the lagoon? Or maybe a PeopleMover on an elevated track?

Honestly, I don’t think either one is a good idea. The walkways in some areas of World Showcase simply aren’t wide enough to accommodate passenger vehicles. And since the park wasn’t designed for a Tomorrowland-style PeopleMover, something like that would just look tacky, ruin the sightlines for IllumniNations, and create new traffic problems when the queue to get into the various stations spilled out onto the sidewalk on busy days. But hey, before we denounce Disney for being cheap for not building some kind of mass transit system into such a large park, maybe we should thank them. After all, World Showcase is home to some of the best restaurants on property where you can fill up on all kinds of food from around the world. How else are you supposed to burn off all those calories?


  1. I'm with you about neither form of "mass transit" fitting well in World Showcase. I turned 50 this year and while I'm not in great shape, I don't have any problems with walking around the Showcase. It's relaxing, actually. You see things that you wouldn't see otherwise. Like the train set in Germany - who'd see that if they were speeding past it on their way from Mexico to France?

    Maybe a cadre of those guys with bikes who will tour you around Central Park, like I saw in NYC last week. ;-)

  2. There have been several plans about adding a People Mover to World Showcase.

    Michael Crawford at Progress City, USA has a post that shows artwork of the People Mover inside a country pavilion.

    Another thought was that the People Mover would ring the lagoon (basically over the water and barely under eyesight) and stop at different places.

  3. I've actually always enjoyed walking around the World Showcase promenade. Never have I felt that it was too long since there is so much to see along it and some of the vistas are exceptional. If there's any place in Epcot that seems a bit of a stretch it's the segment between Future World and the first World Showcase pavilion one reaches whether it's Mexico or Canada. It's almost as if they need some kind of attraction there as an introduction to W.S. to break things up a bit.

    I've always been intrigued by the World Cruise attraction that was being considered for Westcot. It would have been a boat ride around the lagoon that would have entered different show areas to introduce the different countries. One would board it and exit at different segments around the lagoon. I'm not sure how well this would have worked logistically but it sure sounded interesting and would have alleviated some of the walking.

  4. Omnispace: The World Cruise was my favorite Westcot idea. It's a shame it never saw the light of day. It would have been the greatest dark ride ever! I don't really have a problem with the leg of the World Showcase between Future World and Mexico, but the section between Future World and Canada always does seem overly long. I love walking around the lagoon when it's not overly hot (which is only about 1/4 of the year)

    Michael: I believe that rendering of the PeopleMover going through the Arab Nations pavilion dates from the pre-EPCOT Center idea that the World Showcase would be a figure-8 shaped building somewhere between the Seven Seas Lagoon and the TTC. I really don't see how adding a PeopleMover around the lagoon at "ground level" would work because it would block the waterways near the International Gateway and near China where the Illuminations barges are kept. I imagine it was just an early idea that the Imagineers never got to think through before it was discarded. A shame.


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