I was, in fact, able to access the upstairs ImageWorks. As the Cast Member escorted me upstairs on the elevator, I felt like pinching myself to make sure it was actually happening.
If you read this blog even occasionally, it’s little secret that the original Journey into Imagination is my all-time favorite Walt Disney World attraction. Without it, you wouldn’t be reading this blog (because it wouldn’t exist), and it’s highly unlikely that Sarah and I would take so many trips to Walt Disney World as adults. The entire pavilion oozed of (as cliche as this may sound) “imagination,” and it truly sparked my inquisitiveness and curiosity as a child. I’d ride the attraction over and over and wander around the upstairs ImageWorks for hours on our visits to EPCOT Center.
The elevator ride up seemed like an eternity. It was as if I wasn’t aboard an elevator at all, but rather a slow-moving time machine back to the early 1990s. When I stepped out of the elevator, I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear, as so many memories that I formed up there came rushing back to me. I was only upstairs for a few minutes, but it seemed like time had stopped while I was there.
Based on accounts that I had read online of others either taking “forbidden” trips up there or being accompanied by tour groups up there on the “Undiscovered Future World” tour, I was aware that many remnants of the old ImageWorks still exist in this area. From what I understand, it’s a bit of a wasteland, with only a few lights in the Rainbow Corridor still working and many other aspects being in a state of disrepair. I’ve also heard that more recently, many items have been removed from this area. Whatever the case may be, I had no desire to see this portion of the ImageWorks. I wanted to remember a brighter past and, hopefully, brighter future for this area rather than seeing it in its present state. I simply wanted to look out those glass pyramids on EPCOT Center once again.
As I looked out the glass pyramids towards Spaceship Earth, a monorail passed, and the sunset was casting a warm glow over The Land. For some reason, I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing right in the heart of EPCOT Center. It’s hard to articulate, but it was like I had recaptured a bit of my youth. I’m well aware that my desire to see this upstairs area was rotted in a desire to relive the past, and play to my nostalgia. I think that’s what motivates a lot of what we (Disney fans in general, not just Sarah and me) do in the parks. While I think this can be a bit dangerous when it stifles progress (being reluctant to have attractions changed even when they’re dated because we’ve made memories in the old version and will miss it), in this case, I think waxing nostalgic only makes sense.
What’s left of the Journey into Imagination pavilion is a mess and a disgrace. It’s not a pavilion that’s an improvement upon the original, and this is incredibly disappointing. That a 1983 attraction surpasses an attraction existing in 2011 in every conceivable way is sad. It’s not the worst attraction at Walt Disney World, to be sure, but it’s certainly the most heartbreaking because of that location’s legacy. At least the architecture and landscaping of the original pavilion remains intact.
For a good twenty minutes after I left the pavilion (I didn’t even both experiencing the attraction), I just sat near a planter outside of the Imagination pavilion, still a bit dumbfounded by the experience. I know to most people, I was just standing in an unused space in some corner of a theme park, but to me it was so much more. After a few minutes of just sitting, I called Sarah and told her what I had experienced. She was disappointed that she wasn’t there, but happy that I had the chance to experience it.
I sat for a bit longer, then headed over to World Showcase, where I was to meet Sarah. I had some time, so I wandered a bit and took some photos along the way.
I started by taking some photos across the Lagoon to capture the beautiful sunset colors on the water. From there, I headed to France, then Morocco, as those two countries had the best colors. While walking around in circles (don’t ask) while my camera was on the ground taking a long exposure of an open-air atrium in Morocco, Sarah called from France.
I met her over in France where we were to have dinner at Bistro de Paris. This was my Valentine’s Day present to her. It was supposed to be a surprise, and was supposed to be the next night, but she had seen the reservations in TripIt at the airport right before we left for Orlando (darn you TripIt and your convenient auto email-import feature!) and we decided to move it up a night. It’s the thought that counts, right? RIGHT?!
We were seated immediately, which wasn’t too much of a surprise given that we were able to make same-day reservations. I knew Bistro de Paris offered excellent views of Illuminations and Spaceship Earth, but I completely forgot to request a window seat. The food ended up being so good that we probably should’ve just done a “mulligan” and eaten a second dinner at a new table. It would’ve been worth it (until the bill)!
I’ve covered our experience at Bistro de Paris pretty extensively in our review of it, but it’s worth repeating that this restaurant was amazing. Easily the best restaurant in Epcot. (Sorry, Le Cellier fans!)
Even the excellent Hollywood Brown Derby, the restaurant at which we dined the following night, could not live up to the lofty expectations set by Bistro de Paris. It is now our favorite in-park restaurant, and is also in our top 5 U.S. Disney restaurants, overall. We have read some less favorable reviews of Bistro de Paris, but many of these seem to focus on price. This is a bit puzzling to us, as the Prix Fixe menu at Bistro de Paris consists of an appetizer, entree, and dessert for $59. This may seem like a lot, but considering the prices of the average appetizer ($8-20), entree ($30-45), and dessert ($8-15) at Le Cellier or Hollywood Brown, the price is really quite reasonable. We have spent more at both Le Cellier and Hollywood Brown Derby, and while we like both of these restaurants, the quality of the cuisine at Bistro de Paris surpassed them both. Beyond that, as a “date night” restaurant, Bistro de Paris beats them both. This is not to say children are not welcome at Bistro de Paris (it’s a theme park restaurant, after all), but with its low-key lighting, restrained decor, and menu (since we dined there, Disney Parks Blog has promoted its new kid’s menu, so perhaps Disney is trying to draw more families here), it doesn’t seem as family-friendly as most other Disney restaurants. This is one restaurant that we highly recommend without any reservations, and a place to which we’ll be back very soon.
Illuminations was set to start about 30 minutes after we left Bistro de Paris, and I figured it was just cold-enough and quiet-enough in the park that maybe we could watch and photograph the show from the second story of the Japan pavilion, which is normally a spot that fills about an hour before the show. When we arrived up there, only one other couple was there, so we headed down into the department store, not wanting to arrive too early since it was REALLY cold up there.
I hadn’t spent much time in this store before, so I was pleasantly surprised to see so much great Hello, Kitty merchandise. And at ridiculously high prices! I was super excited for this!!!
Actually, I suppose if Epcot is going to subject more Hello, Kitty junk on the world, at least Disney is doing so at exorbitant prices that are prohibitive for most people. Keep that stuff on the shelves, not in guest’s hands!
I don’t know what, exactly, we intended upon doing in this store, but after a few minutes it was clear to me that I’d rather wait out in the cold. So I headed upstairs to the viewing area and setup my tripod.
Even though I had never shot in this spot before, I decided to go with the neutral density filter. With a show like Illuminations, this would mean that I’d get around 5-7 keepers if I was lucky due to the 60-100 second duration of each exposure. If I was unlikely, I could end up with nothing. The safer bet would have been to just shoot it without a filter and end up with 20-30 keepers. However, I was on a roll lately when I rolled the dice in these situations, so I figured I’d go high stakes again.
After I got all set up, we still had some time before the show. There was only one other couple up there besides us, and situations like this are usually when an awkward silence sets in as striking up a conversation with total strangers at Walt Disney World can have mixed results, but you also don’t want to converse with your spouse because the other couple will easily be able to hear what you have to say.
In these situations, I usually err on the side of loudly discussing something bizarre with Sarah (“HEY DEAR, REMEMBER WE HAVE TO ATTEND OUR SCIENTOLOGY TEMPLE TONIGHT AT 3 AM”) to make the other couple uncomfortable. In this case, though, the other couple recognized us and said hello. We chatted with them–Hamilton and Joanna–for a while as we waited for the fireworks, discussing photography and Disney (check out his photos here).
Once the fireworks started, I noticed that my composition wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I made an on-the-fly adjustment after my first shot. Bad idea. When I did this, I forgot to adjust the focus (I use manual focus for fireworks), which meant that every shot after my first one was ever-so-slightly out of focus. Bummer. Like that, my streak of successfully rolling the dice stopped. To be fair, it wasn’t really the fault of the neutral density filter—although if I didn’t used it, I would have used a higher aperture that would’ve resulted in the entire frame being in focus—but still, the streak was over.
The above photo is an example of the shots after I screwed up the focus. Before anyone claims it’s good, it’s too small here to notice the poor quality.
After the fireworks ended we began rushing around World Showcase to get a few shots before we headed out. The park closed early that night (technically before Illuminations), but luckily the Magic Kingdom was open until 2 am with Extra Magic Hours.
We figured we’d start out with the TTA, but much to our surprise, it was closed for EMH! Okay, Carousel of Progress instead. CLOSED! Why must Disney close the best attractions during EMH?!
Resolving defeat, we opted to do less stellar attractions. At one point I noticed that the next Stitch’s Great Escape show was about to start, so we headed in there. Mind you, neither of us had a drop of alcohol at dinner nor did we secretly drink around the world earlier in the day and not share with you. This “bad decision” was entirely on us.
Sarah somehow managed to fall asleep during the show (a smart move on her part, for sure!), but I stayed awake. For as much as people complain about this attraction, it really doesn’t bother me that much. The chili dog burp is gross and the script is weak (especially compared to the clever and satirical Alien Encounter), but the tech is cool and the attraction still reminds me of its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong, I hope to see it replaced, and replaced soon, but it’s not absolutely atrocious. I can think of at least 5 attractions that are worse than it.
After that we did PhilharMagic twice and “it’s a small world.” We were both really tired at this point (1:20 am) and were thinking of just calling it a night. I wanted to truck on, but Sarah decided to go back. Right after she left I noticed Peter Pan’s Flight had no wait, so I went on that. When I got off the attraction, I decided to start taking some photos of Fantasyland, and there I saw Sarah, phone up snapping a shot of Cinderella Castle. Turns out she wanted some alone time for some iPhoneography! (Her official stance is that she was going to get one quick shot of the Castle, but doing that woke her up so she decided to stay; I think some of my photographic-lust is rubbing off on her!)
Lines were non-existent throughout all of Fantasyland, so after doing some more shooting, we hit a few more attractions, and then called it a night.
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