After all of the excitement of leaving the Magic Kingdom and waiting for the monorails (if you haven’t read the previous installments of this Walt Disney World Trip Report from the 24-Hour Party in the Magic Kingdom, click here to start with those), then getting back into the room and getting ready for bed, it was just after 8 am. Yet, some “genius” had decided it was reasonable to make a lunch ADR for us in Epcot for 1:30 pm. In defense of that person, after the last two 24-hour parties at Disneyland, we had gotten up around noon each time and headed back to the parks. So maybe it was entirely reasonable for that person to make a 1:30 pm ADR, and maybe you should all just get off his back, okay?!
Ultimately, it turned out to not be that big of a deal. While we both were tired and probably could have slept a little longer, we both have a difficult time sleeping while it’s light out, so the quality of our sleep would have been low. Instead, we quickly got ready and made our way over to Epcot. We even made some FastPass+ reservations on the monorail; admittedly, it was pretty nice being able to make these in advance and not having to run around picking up paper FastPasses.
I’m actually looking forward to making some further in advance of our next trip. We don’t typically do much advance planning these days, but I don’t consider spending 10 minutes to make a Toy Story Mania, Soarin’, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FastPass+ reservation all that much work.
Lunch was at Restaurant Marrakesh, a spot we had decided on after much deliberation. We debated doing it, Teppan Edo, Monsieur Paul’s, Rose & Crown, Nine Dragons, or Chefs de France. We settled on Restaurant Marrakesh for lunch and Chefs de France for dinner. For as many Walt Disney World restaurants as we have experienced, we actually have not done several in World Showcase, with Restaurant Marrakesh being one of those restaurants. This has nothing to do with the ethnic nature of these restaurants (we are open to just about anything), but more to do with lukewarm reviews for many spots.
A full review of Restaurant Marrakesh is to come, but suffice to say, I think it’s my new favorite restaurant in World Showcase. From the ornate interior to the service to entertainment to excellent cuisine, Restaurant Marrakesh far exceeded our expectations. I can’t say it was entirely authentic, but we both thought the cuisine seemed like largely authentic, just a tad milder than you’d find of typical Mediterranean, MENA, or Moroccan cuisine. Everything we tried still had great, complex flavor profiles, but it seemed to be spiced to less a degree than the authentic restaurants we’ve visited in the past.
Every restaurant in World Showcase is necessarily a compromise (so that these spots actually appeal to a broad group of tourists), and we view this as a great way to accomplish that compromise. Rather than Americanize the menu, the heavy spices most likely to intimidate a wide audience are toned down. Flavors are still great and robust, but more approachable. Granted, many Americans will still be intimidated by Restaurant Marrakesh to the point of not eating here (the restaurant was practically dead during our meal), but if people can get past their preconceptions, it’s a restaurant that could have broad appeal.
Like I said, I’ll cover it in detail in our full review, but for now, know that we highly recommend Restaurant Marrakesh. It’s far superior to Spice Road Table (and will probably cost you less for a full meal). It’s also superior to World Showcase fan darling, Le Cellier. Oh, one last thing: get the baklava. It was mind-blowing. We had some mediocre (at best) baklava from Tangierine Cafe last year, and this was way, way better.
Our experience there makes me want to try other World Showcase restaurants despite their lukewarm reviews. Part of me wonders if those lukewarm reviews have more to do with the people doing the reviewing and less to do with the location itself, especially when the reviews are coming from regular guests rather than experienced critics (as is the case with virtually every Disney dining review I’ve read).
After lunch, Sarah debated going back to the room to take a nap, but about 10 minutes after deciding to go, she decided to stay. In the interim, I had gone in Impressions de France. When I was done with it, she met me at the entrance and we immediately caught the next show. Impressions de France twice right in a row was about the greatest thing ever for me, as I love that film.
I’ve long been fascinated about the value of a sponsorship at Walt Disney World, and I think for the World Showcase countries, you can’t get much more ‘value’ than France. Even though Impressions de France isn’t an incredibly popular attraction, it is reasonably popular, and it showcases France in an absolutely beautiful light. Contrast this with Maelstrom, for example. Maelstrom is probably the most popular World Showcase attraction, but it’s a bit bizarre in how it showcases Norway, and has more appeal to me as a campy, quotable ride. If I were to guess, I’d say Impressions de France, even with significantly fewer guests seeing it, is doing much more for its country’s tourism than is Maelstrom. Ohhh, oil rigs?! BOOK MY TRIP NOW!
After Impressions de France, we spent some time wandering around World Showcase, before heading up to Future World for caffeine fixes. Sarah got some disgusting plain iced coffee from Starbucks, and I got samples at Club Cool. Actually, since they changed their selections at Club Cool, I’m not really sure which, if any, of the drinks have caffeine. (Anyone know?) So maybe I just drank a lot of sugared cola. Whatever, I wasn’t all that tired.
We then met up with a friend and wandered around Epcot taking some photos and chatting. For all of the issues it presently has–and there are many–Epcot is still the Disney theme park in the United States that I most enjoy wandering around. Worldwide, that crown has been taken by Tokyo DisneySea, but for me, of the US parks, there’s still something about a stroll around Epcot. It’s not just in World Showcase, either. I love feeling the breeze as I walk under Spaceship Earth, and I really enjoy the sitting on a bench and waiting for my favorite part of the Innoventions background music loop. Mind you, I don’t think Epcot is substantively up to snuff, but I do still love being there. The character and mission of Epcot definitely changed long ago (the mid-1990s, by my estimation), but it still has the look and feel of EPCOT Center. I still hope it substantively returns to an EPCOT Center-caliber park one day, but I think the chances of that grow more limited with each passing year. Hopefully I’m wrong.
We did Living with the Land and a couple other things before it was time to eat again. We weren’t all that hungry, but we had made ADRs for Chefs de France, so we headed over there.
The last time we dined at Chefs de France, our experience was subpar. We have heard rave reviews about the place, so we decided to return. We won’t be back again in the foreseeable future.
To be fair, we had a couple of good dishes in our meal, but for the most part it just seemed like a lot of items you’d find at a traditional American restaurant with minor twists on them…and all given lofty French names. Our main courses themselves were largely unremarkable, as was dessert.
Even assuming we’ve just been unlucky with the food–twice–the atmosphere in there really leaves something to be desired for me. It’s noisy, tables are practically on top of one another, and has a generally chaotic feel. Nothing like an actual cafe in France.
Upon leaving dinner, Sarah decided that now it was definitely time for a nap, so we walked her to the front of the park. As we turned to head into Future World, I noticed a nice late-afternoon sky and snapped a photo. Seemed like it had the potential for a nice sunset in an hour or so.
Then, as we walked the promenade connecting World Showcase and Future World, I stopped in my tracks as I looked over at Journey into Imagination. Regular readers probably know by now that I’m a huge Figment fan. When I first got into the Disney fan community–before I got into photography–I remember seeing somewhere (I don’t recall where) a beautiful photo of the “ball” of the sun setting behind Journey into Imagination’s pyramids.
That exact scene was essentially right in front of me. I was beyond excited, and just seeing this gave me an odd sense of optimism. The scene felt representative of the EPCOT Center that once was, as it reminded me of this pre-opening guide to EPCOT Center.
While I don’t think it’s truly the dawn of a new Disney era, standing there as the sun shined through pyramid and the monorail glided by was something else for me. Have you ever had that feeling where you lose a sense of time and place and feel? For a few minutes, I felt like I was back in EPCOT Center. It wasn’t as if I was looking around and seeing Horizons or the old World of Motion, more that I just in the old place in a way I can’t really articulate. It probably sounds strange or reveals something deep-seated lurking back in my psyche (I hope none of you are shrinks!), but it was a nice feeling. I still hold out hope that someday Epcot will find its way and regain the optimism and inspiration it once had. I still love it, and it’s these “little moments” that still make the park special for me.
For those rolling their eyes, yes, I guess I am this easily moved by a pretty sunset.
Once I snapped out of this sentimentality, we started darting around Future World for more photos. After grabbing a couple for herself for Instagram, Sarah headed out to take her nap, agreeing that we’d meet up in the Magic Kingdom after Epcot closed.
I like this perspective, but the sky wasn’t looking all that good from here. I think if I arrived earlier or waited a bit, I might have had better results.
Sky over by Mission: Space was not that impressive. Someday, I want an awesome sunset version of this photo.
As you can see, I was going from location to location trying to get a good angle on the sunset. I’ve found that unless the sunset lights up the entire sky, it’s very difficult to photograph at Epcot. About the solid view of the horizon is looking over at Imagination and The Land from the main promenade to World Showcase. Still, this makes for a fun challenge.
The clouds behind Spaceship Earth looked gorgeous from over here, and I thought about waiting for a monorail, but decided against it. Literally 30 seconds after leaving this spot, a monorail passed. Ouch.
I really liked the two-tone look of the sky over by Journey into Imagination, but this photo looks sort of incomplete without the monorail.
This lasted for a while, and then it was time for Illuminations. I had wanted to watch from the “Front of the House” view between the two gift shops, but this was reserved for the new dessert party they’re doing. I still haven’t been able to watch from this spot…something always gets in the way. Maybe someday.
Instead, I was able to get a good spot in Mexico, with a view that was really close to the water.
Amazing show, as always. I know I’ve said this countless times, but I hope Disney only ever upgrades the effects for Illuminations. I don’t think there’s any improving the score and concept of the show itself. I certainly don’t want something feature different Disney characters “from around the world” or something of that sort.
Once Illuminations was over, I got down to business taking photos of World Showcase.
France and Morocco were my priorities for photos. I wish they were placed in World Showcase in a different order, as France is always packed with people right after Illuminations, and Morocco rarely has anyone in it. I still managed to get a number of nice photos in France.
If you’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat wondering, “what will be the lead photo for the Restaurant Marrakesh review?” This is it! You can thank me later for saving you a sleepless night agonizing over this…
I took a lot of photos in Morocco (my favorite pavilion for photos), including many of the Fez House.
From there it was on to Japan…
I love the look of the landscaping around Katsura Grill. The whole area reminds me of Kyoto.
I think this is like a 50 second exposure, yet some fish aren’t even blurry (meaning they didn’t move much if at all during the exposure). Lazy fish.
I skipped America, as I don’t find it that interesting for photos. A bit too one dimensional. Oddly enough, I don’t find Liberty Square all that captivating for the same reason. Maybe I am a communist?! Someone, alert the authorities.
Fortunately, I had plenty of time to do my thing, because the Epcot Wind Down event meant Security wasn’t going to shoo me out until at least 11 pm. This alone makes me a fan of the Epcot Wind Down!
Thanks to the Epcot Wind Down, I still had plenty of time for photos when I arrived up in Future World. Usually, I’m feeling like I need to get going, as I sense that few others are still around.
The above two photos are obvious variations in focus on the same photo, and are my two favorite photos in this installment because I think they’re unique. I can’t decide which I like more, but I’m leaning towards the top one. It pops more, and I feel like there’s just a bit too much that’s out of focus in the lower shot. I might try to play around with that one a bit more to see if I can improve upon it with editing and cropping. Unlikely, but we shall see…
I spent like 5 minutes lying on the ground under Spaceship Earth trying to align this photo. It’s still not perfect, but Sarah had long ago made it to the Magic Kingdom, and I realized time was of the essence. I decided to leave to get to the monorail with enough time to get to the Magic Kingdom before it closed.
After a series of delays, I headed to the bus stop (the monorail stopped operating just as I arrived at its station). A few people walked up and started talking to me about photography. They seemed nice, and I showed them some photos. It turned out they were also heading to the Contemporary, so we shared a bus. Once on the bus, they asked some questions, and while conversational, I was a bit coy about details.
I don’t know how you feel about this, but I’m always reluctant to share my affinity for Disney with other people unless I know they ‘get it.’ This is true even at the parks, as most guests are not Disney-obsessed. I’m sure you’ve all been there: you’ve told someone how much you liked Disney, only to receive a blank stare, or worse. Well, imagine that, except telling them that you regularly write a blog about Disney theme parks. You don’t get blank stares, you get, “OMFG, I need to get the heck away from this crazy dude” looks of fear and confusion. I made a remark about being weird in the last installment of this trip report, and that was (mostly) a joke. I’m serious about this. If you tell someone in the general public that you write a Disney blog, they will often treat you like you’re a leper.
That was sort of the situation I was trying to avoid here, since it was just me and them on the bus, it was late, and I was tired. They were nice, though, so we kept chatting. Finally one of them asked for my Instagram username, and I shared it. At that point one of them recognized me, and I found out they were huge Disney fans. It was like a weight of potential awkwardness lifted off my shoulders. We took a photo together as we got off the bus at the Contemporary, and then I headed on my way.
I literally started running for the Magic Kingdom after that, as it was 11:47 pm and the park closed at midnight. If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes to run from the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom with 20 pounds of camera gear, the answer is about 7 minutes. If you’ve ever wondered if they will let you into the Magic Kingdom 6 minutes before it closes without asking you any questions or letting you know the park closes in 6 minutes the answer is also yes. (Although in the past, they have kindly advised me when it closed.)
I got back to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train about 2 minutes before the park closed, and we were able to get one ride in. I was actually a bit relieved that there was still a 30 minute long line, as I was hot. I normally get pretty sweaty just wandering around late at night taking photos (photography is an intense sport for me), so I was feeling gross after Epcot, but then running to the Magic Kingdom really pushed me over the edge. Those Seven Dwarfs Mine Train queue fans were a nice relief.
This was my first chance to ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at night, and the experience can best be described as ‘ballin’. There’s a reason it ranked highly on our list of the Top 10 Best Magic Kingdom Attractions at Night. It made all of that rushing and running worthwhile, although, to be honest, I would have done that just to get to the Magic Kingdom in time for a night photography session.
Yeah, I got plenty of mileage out of the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens this day. I really like the lens (review coming soon), but I’m not sure it’s worth the additional cost over the manual focus fisheye lenses I normally use.
After some more photos, we were both pretty much beat, so it was time to call it a night.
Click here to return to our Walt Disney World 2014 Memorial Day Trip Report Index in order to navigate to other installments. If you’re new to our trip reports, make sure to check out our past Walt Disney World and Disneyland Trip Reports.
For actual Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
Which park is your favorite to spend time wandering? Are you reluctant to share your love for Disney with “normal” people, or do you try to share your passion? Which World Showcase restaurant is your favorite? Share your comments on any of these things–or anything else from the trip report–in the comments!