Slight overstatement. Can't surprise anyone who's read anything I've written before.
Walt Disney World isn't hell. Epcot isn't even hell. If anything, WDW is still a fantastic place, and the most that can be said about Epcot is that it's a disappointment.
Wait, did I just lose you because I made a clickbait headline and immediately walked it back? Read on before clicking away. This post is going to meander around a little, covering a little bit of quite a few things from my recent whirlwind trip to Orlando. It'll be a little bit of a trip report, a little bit of nerding out over something that is close to my heart, and yes, it'll include a trip to Epcot.
So, why was I in Florida, and why was it a "whirlwind"?
I was lucky enough to be sent to represent my company and do interviews to try and find new talent for our department at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology conference early in October. I know, I'm not a woman. My job family within our department is really not the poster child for women in tech at the moment, and I applaud our company for realizing this and actively looking to correct it.
The conference was attended by over 18,000 people this year, and was held at the Orange County Convention Center. My role was mainly as an interviewer, and occasionally to help man our booth to find people who were interested in talking to us about jobs at our company.
Let me take a few minutes here to talk about #GHC17, because whilst I may not be a woman, I'm a father of two (may I say it) amazing daughters. The convention was something that gave me a feeling of hope that is a little hard to come by these days. The amount of empowerment that I felt walking the halls of the OCCC was something that really touched me. I may come off as a bitter curmudgeon on this blog, but I'll admit I teared up at this event multiple times, and I didn't even get to attend any of the speeches.
The amount of effort (and money) that some of the companies obviously put into actively recruiting women was really something I could not have been happier about. I want my daughters to have the opportunity to pursue any career that they have the skill and aptitude for, and seeing these companies invest this heavily into the future of women was really something special. I talked to quite a few really impressive young women who put young me to shame in their knowledge and professionalism. Back when I was their age I shouldn't have been trusted to do my own laundry.
Before I break into too much WDW talk, I'll show a few pictures of a few of the booths at #GHC17, I wish I had taken more photos, Facebook, Cisco, AirBnB, Salesforce all had really amazing setups, and I regret not having some pictures to show my girls.
A smattering of images of the booths before the doors to the career fair were opened. Disney pulled out the big guns, with R2D2 at their booth. Did it draw people over? Yes. Did it draw me over? Well. What do you think?
Heck, even the OCCC itself charmed me. I mean, anytime you are doing something that reminds me of The Land, I'm going to be in love
But that's not why you come to this website. You come here by accident and click away fast. Well, some of you might come to read about Disney.
The event as I had mentioned was held in Orlando, home of some theme park or something. What's funny is that this is my first Orlando convention. I've written about the idea of Disney (specifically Disney Springs) benefiting from conventions in the area (and yes, Disney Springs was attended by a few of those that were on this trip). This is my first almost all expenses paid trip to Orlando though, so while in Rome, I figured I'd do my abject best to squeeze as much WDW into this trip as possible.
Something I was not aware they still did was the fact that Disney was offering discounted tickets to conference attendees. While the regular tickets really weren't very discounted (if they were discounted at all), where the benefit kicked in was an offering of some late-entry tickets at reduced rates. There were "After 2pm" and "After 5pm" tickets available for reasonable prices, so I decided to take advantage of these to kill myself, I mean, use my evenings to visit the parks.
The conference was set to run from Wednesday - Friday, and our company wanted us to travel on Tuesday. So a colleague and I did just that, traveled about as early as possible on Tuesday so that we could get to the parks and spend a decent part of the day there.
I had expressed interest in trying out Animal Kingdom, seeing the Avatar land which I've read so much about these days. My travelling partner however didn't really seem that into this, but perked up at the idea of Food and Wine. Oh boy, my favorite.
We picked up some "After 2pm" tickets for our travel day, and I convinced her to pick up Thursday night tickets to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, as interviewing until 6:30pm means those tickets would give us a lot of bang for our buck. I also bought some "After 5pm" tickets for Wednesday night, and nobody else wanted to do that, so I thought this was a chance to do a bit of a "solo" parks trip. I'd love to have the opportunity to just kind of sit, enjoy the ambiance of the park, look at the details, maybe see the new fireworks show. Wednesday was going to be MY night.
I decided on working a little trickery. I made reservations on Tuesday for Beaches and Cream around 1pm. This let me park in the Beach Club parking lot, have a quick snack, and then walk into the park through International Gateway, avoiding paying for parking and dealing with the entry to Future World. I didn't think I was going to be ready to face my nemesis until I'd had a few craft beers in me.
The plan worked without a hitch. My dining reservation got us into the Beach Club, we had some bacon ranch cheese fries, and headed into Epcot right at 1:45pm when our tickets would let us in. Funny, with fully integrated digital systems, I had a slight panic when my MagicBand rejected my entry at first, only realizing that it was 1:44pm. By the time I figured it out, a second try and we were into World Showcase.
I wont share the blow by blow of our trip through World Showcase. We ate, we drank, I spilled brown beer on my "We did it" shirt (that is either a nice replica, or an honest to goodness 35 year old shirt I got on eBay).
Here are some random World Showcase pictures. The pour of Sake in the Japan kiosk was one of the best values in the park.
I'll make note of a couple of things however.
I wasn't going to convince my colleague to sit down for The American Adventure, but I did get her to walk into the entry to tell her about the wedding I attended there. While there, the wonderful Voices of Liberty were singing, which every time is a phenomenal experience. As we were walking out the door, the conductor turned to the crowd and started speaking, and ended with the phrase "Remember, if you can dream it, you can do it".
Now, I'm sure I've mentioned this before, probably a few (hundred) times, but this is one of those triggers for me. The thing that will send me into a spitting rage when this misquote is used by fans who mean well. I've talked about how the misuse of "you" when it should be "WE" represents one of the main issues with Epcot today. The quote is from Horizons, one of the cornerstones of Epcot Center, and the "we", the inclusive nature of the statement, was part of the entire mission of the park. It really shows the depths that this park has sunk, when one of the few remaining ties to the past flat out screws up a quote from the original park.
The other thing Epcot related I wanted to discuss was when we stopped to get out of the rain in Odyssey. We grabbed a few flights of beer and stopped to drink them within the Epcot 35 exhibit. I'll admit, the video screen got me. I was singing along to Universe of Energy before I knew it, blowing a bit of my secret Epcot nerd cover. While my colleague hit the restroom, I perused the extremely pathetic tribute to the history of the park. I mean, it was only once a ground breaking park, why would they do something more than throw out a few old pictures that I have in some of the books in my office?
Right about the time I was rejoined by my friend, I had made it around the corner in the Future World section, a jaunt down memory lane for what used to be. For each and every pavilion, they had some concept art of the original attraction, and some from the current ones as well, along with some words about each. That is when I noticed something.
Look closely at the left picture
Unlike every other pavilion, they put up a picture of Test Track over the description of World of Motion. WHAT?!? They didn't have a picture from some of the amazing audio-animatronic scenes in World of Motion? They couldn't scare up a single picture of that amazing, funny attraction? NOT A SINGLE ONE? Right next to these was a picture of Universe of Energy, complete with Groot standing outside. ARRRRGH. HULK SMAAASH!!!
We met up with another Disney-fan friend, Monty, in Future World, after riding Test Track (my colleague made mention that it basically was a car commercial, unprompted I swear). Monty knows me from my days talking WDW on the interwebz, so he has a good idea of my opinions on Epcot. We popped into Wonders of Life so that I could try and contain myself from bitching up a storm about the dirty, rundown festival space that once housed actual attractions. Oh well, at least they had a cool chocolate Sugar Rush.
I dragged them all on Spaceship Earth and Living with the Land before we split up with Monty so that we could get dinner (and expense it to our company), so off to the Biergarten for some food and more drinks.
A little more wandering, a very enjoyable Illuminations, and some shopping and that ended our trip to Epcot.
All told, I think I made it through without spoiling it for my guests. Sure, there were a few close calls. That motherfu&$er in Voices of Liberty and the complete and utter disrespect on World of Motion almost tipped me over the edge. Still, I think that I showed a newbie a good time at Epcot without really going off into a foaming rant or throwing feces. A win in my book.
Wednesday was planned to be my solo night in the parks, and I'd even somehow made plans to meet up with someone who I'd never met, but would elicit some serious fanboying out. Seriously, if you are an Epcot fan and haven't spent hours watching Martin's Vids on Youtube, you are missing out.
By around 6:30pm, when I'd finally finished my last interview of the day, a group of colleagues heard I was going to head to the Magic Kingdom and asked me if they could join me. The next thing I knew, I was online helping them purchase the After 5pm tickets and we were off to Magic Kingdom with a group of 6.
If you are the one who knows the parks like the back of your hand, and a group of colleagues joined you to try and get a little fun in at the end of a long day, would you basically tell them that you were going to sit in the Tiki Room for an hour and meet up with someone who was an Epcot genius? Or would you try and get them as much bang for their buck as possible?
So, of course my solo evening and deep conversation about Horizons was put on the side and a commando infiltration of Magic Kindom was begun. After inhaling some food at Cosmic Rays, getting them some Fastpasses in their ticket media, we ignored the fireworks and hit Pooh, Small World, Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and Space Mountain, took some castle pictures, did some shopping, all in the 3 hours we had left until park closed.
Side note. I'd avoided seeing any video or reading anything about the fireworks show, Happily Ever After, thinking I wanted to catch it live for my reaction. I made the call to miss the fireworks to get in a few rides. When I got home, we pulled up a video of HEA on the Disney Now app and I got to see it for the first time on TV.
I regret not seeing this in person, and not getting my coworkers to see it either. Holy hell that looks awesome.
The last night was back to myself and my closest colleague hitting up the Not So Scary party. I'd never been to this event, I've hit up Very Merry a few times, but never the Halloween party. This is sad, because I love Halloween, and my family does too.
The party was fantastic. We were both dead tired after the week of long days and late nights. We dragged ourselves around a little, met back up with my Disney friend from Epcot for a bit while we wandered around getting some food, hitting up a few more rides, and catching HalloWishes. Not too long after, we realized that we were honestly just dragging ourselves around out of duty and not enjoyment, and headed back for the evening.
It was enough of a taste to get me to realize that I NEED to take my family down for the Not So Scary party next year. They will love it. L-O-V-E.
So that about wraps up a whirlwind half-week in Orlando. We did hit up Disney Springs for lunch on Friday after I had a morning of 6 straight interviews. A nice lunch at Morimoto Asia was about all we got in however. As soon as we paid our bill, we were caught in a torrential downpour, and the clock was ticking on us to get to the airport. We ran from Morimoto to World of Disney, probably a total of 90 seconds outside, and were drenched. I mean, it were if we jumped into the lake. Soaked through to the core, my shoes didn't dry for days after. That seriously cut down on my desire to shop in World of Disney, so off we went to the airport, to do a complete change of clothes in the restroom before hitting up the plane home.
Does any of this leave me with any overarching thoughts, something to tie this all together in a nice, cohesively themed bow?
My colleague had a good time, she had not been to Disney since she was 4, and so it was all new for her, and she enjoyed herself. I think I got her good value for what she spent on tickets by acting as a tour guide.
Hopefully we found some good new employees. I'm looking forward to seeing how some of the women I interviewed do in second round interviews. I'm bugging our recruiter constantly to see how many people we're scheduling. Since she was one of the most gung-ho people that I got to drag around Magic Kingdom on Wednesday night, she doesn't mind answering my annoying questions too much. I did get her a fun night of Disney crammed into 3 hours.
Was it the trip I had planned on before I left? Decidedly no. I've still not had the chance to be solo in the parks. I didn't get to see Happily Ever After or Pandora. I didn't get to have a drink in Trader Sams, or Jock Lindsey's. Martin didn't get the opportunity to be fanboyed all over at Magic Kingdom.
What it turned out to be however was a much better trip than I had expected. Grace Hopper was so much better than I expected. The hope for the future that has seemed to dim since last November was there in all parts of the conference, and if my girls want to go into a tech career some day, I'll hopefully get to send them to this thing later.
I got to see the park through some new eyes, those of folks who haven't spent really any time in Disney Parks since they were too young to remember. I got to maybe show some of the fun parts of the parks and kind of ignore some of the rest of the BS that I spend time focusing on. I got to hang out with Monty, who I chat with online often, but see very rarely, and he may be one of the nicest humans on Earth. All of these things, very good.
Now someone go smack some sense into that Voices of Liberty guy before I make my return to the parks. "If WE can dream it, WE can do it." It's inclusive. It's hopeful. That's the whole point. Next time, he may end up a bit wet if he throws that "you" in there.