In my glory days, I could have. Perhaps I’m losing my edge as I’m getting older, or perhaps the allure of photographing the sunrise over the mesmerizing icons of All Star Sports was not all that intense.
Then there’s those pesky time zones rearing their ugly heads again, which were a contributing factor. Regardless, I didn’t wake until around 9 a.m., and then worked on my laptop for an hour or so while waiting for everyone else to wake up.
We had planned on going to Epcot first thing that morning because, well, do you ever need a reason to go to Epcot? That was still the plan but as we all started to get ready, we saw reports on social media that Gran Fiesta Tour had been upgraded overnight, and D23 had done an impromptu meet-up. That would have been us! Once again, foiled by time zones.
After everyone got ready, we were finally out the door, headed for the Yacht & Beach Club…
Since it was still relatively early by lounge standards, we were literally the only guests here. So, word to the wise: if you ever want to be able to watch the Steve Harvey Show (???) in peace at Walt Disney World, this is your spot.
From there, it was off to Epcot. First stop, obviously, would be the Gran Fiesta Tour. Second stop, obviously, would be the Gran Fiesta Tour. Ditto third stop. We only did it three times, but I could’ve gone more.
Since El Rio del Tiempo was replaced by Gran Fiesta Tour, it has been met with a mixed response by fans. Initially, there was minor outrage over the introduction of characters to the attraction, albeit not to the extent of Finding Nemo characters in The Living Seas. As Gran Fiesta Tour is a minor attraction tucked away into the Mexico pavilion, this died down pretty quickly.
However, when the Three Caballeros Audio-Animatronics were added to Gran Fiesta Tour, the reaction from fans–including those who originally criticized Gran Fiesta Tour and remain upset with The Seas–was unanimously positive. This led to some fans questioning such an inconsistent response. (Oh, the drama! 😉 )
I’ve always been fine with Gran Fiesta Tour (although I really miss the music from El Rio del Tiempo) and that’s because it utilizes characters who are from an obscure film that heavily focuses on the culture and scenery of Mexico. This wasn’t simply a matter of Disney wanting to capitalize on the popularity of Three Caballeros (which has never been released on Blu-ray and is out of print on DVD) as was the case with Nemo.
Rather, the characters were introduced to the attraction in a way that combats the tired refrain that “Epcot is boring” while still being respectful of the “edutainment” mission of Epcot.
You could argue that the same has been done with Nemo and The Seas, and to an extent I would agree, but the point is that it’s a nuanced matter of execution, rather than a black and white “all characters in Epcot equal bad or good” issue.
I can recognize that there are/were changes EPCOT Center had to make from its original (and in some cases, current) incarnation to appeal to contemporary guests. I strongly believe this can be done without dumbing things down, using the crutch of popular characters, or going for cheap thrills. A balance can be struck between education and entertainment in a way that is respectful to the heart and soul of EPCOT Center while managing to captivate guests–even the dense ones who are averse to learning on vacation (or in general).
With that said, I’m always a fan of more Audio-Animatronics. If tomorrow Disney announced that new AAs had been added to Primeval Whirl, I’d be pleased. Well, partly sad because that means Dino-rama probably isn’t going to be razed anytime soon (my sweetest recurring dream), but pleased that someone, somewhere is trying to make it suck a little less.
In this case, the reprogrammed AAs from Tokyo Disneyland’s Mickey Mouse Revue are a great addition to Gran Fiesta Tour. Despite their age, they look fantastic, and do a great job of balancing out the screen-heavy nature of the other additions that were made to Gran Fiesta Tour several years ago.
Gran Fiesta Tour now has an appropriate grand finale, instead of simply (spoiler alert) finding Donald and having the audio reach its crescendo before the ride comes to an end. While I think it would take a little more to make this finale a true “wow” scene (perhaps upgraded audio and fireworks on the ceiling, both of which could probably be accomplished for a nominal cost), this is now the real climax of the attraction.
The attraction is unquestionably better now, and this is one type of improvement I love seeing Disney deliver: something small that won’t be heavily marketable or cause “normal” people to book trips, but that does improve the attraction by degrees. This is the Disney with which I fell in love, and in a way it’s reaffirming to see plussings like this.
I only hope that the upgrades pay dividends in terms of ridership and guest satisfaction, as I know those are the metrics Disney uses to justify upgrades of this nature, and that’s the ammunition, so to speak, that the Imagineers need for future projects like this.
So, if you’re in Epcot, make sure to ride Gran Fiesta Tour like 6 times, and gush about it on any guest satisfaction survey you might take. Words like “HIGHLIGHT OF MY VACATION,” “MIND-BLOWING,” and (especially) “SO GOOD IT MADE ME WANT TO BUY THE DISNEY DINING PLAN AND ALSO LOTS OF ADDITIONAL SOUVENIRS” are great ones to use when sharing your thoughts about the upgrades to Gran Fiesta Tour.
We didn’t have much time before needing to leave for the wedding, so we decided to head over to the new Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture Gallery in the Japan pavilion to check that out. As we appreciate kawaii culture, this was right up our alley. It featured a lot of the characters we’ve seen at Character Street, Nakano Broadway, and various other locations in Tokyo.
Being big fans of Tokyo Disney Resort, we also enjoyed the little Easter Eggs the Imagineers snuck in that reference the parks in Japan, including Duffy’s friend, Tippy Blue. More importantly, it seemed to cover the role that kawaii plays in Japanese culture, and how it cuts across a multitude of social identities in Japanese life, and is not just the fodder of school children.
All in all, we found the exhibit to be very well done, and a great example of Epcot “edutainment” done right. The subject matter was an excellent choice. Museum exhibits like this typically are not going to appeal to kids–but that’s presumably not true in this specific case, as kids love cute characters, and this exhibit is full of them! Not only does it manage to take a gallery present a subject that kids might enjoy, but it does so without the crutch of using Disney characters.
We didn’t have time for much else, so we headed back to All Star Sports to get ready for the wedding.