Here are the things Epcot did right:
1. Air conditioning. Yes, I know, beating a dead horse on this one, but it makes a huge difference to be able to get in out of the heat. Whatever money they saved at Animal Kingdom by making the whole park an authentic third world country, I hope it's worth it.
2. World Showcase. It's a cool concept, to be able to "visit" a bunch of different countries, and I liked seeing the difference in architectural styles. It didn't take my breath away like seeing these countries in person - there's a difference between actual old buildings and simulated old buildings. I don't want to sound like a snob, but I prefer actual old buildings. Still, walking into the United Kingdom reminded me of York, and France really looked like France. Too clean, though - no soot on the buildings.
3. Unique souvenir opportunities. Because of all the different countries, you can find lots of interesting trinkets. Ryan bought me an Eiffel Tower, and I picked up a "Delicious Disney Desserts" cookbook from a French cooking store for my cookbook collection.
4. Tons of ride/shows. I don't mean rides AND shows, I mean shows where you ride something to watch. For some reason, sticking us in a simulated jeep, clam-mobile, doom buggy, or just a theater on wheels will keep my kids' interest no matter how boring the show. They've learned about where energy comes from, how to grow crops, taken visual tours of Norway, and on and on. As long as we're moving, even if it's 3 mph, Darcey thinks it's a train and all the kids are enthralled. That's another idea for church - can we put the pews on a track? Or just have the entire seating area of the chapel swivel around the room? The Carousel of Sacrament Meeting?
5. Some very cool rides. I love Soarin' (which is also known as Soarin Over California in Disneyland). The kids liked Test Track and we all liked Mission: Space. Although that is basically it for non-educational rides, which led to quite a bit of whining later in the day when all they wanted to do was go on a ride. Brad and Noah liked Spaceship Earth enough to do it twice (there was no line) even though it was quite educational - there were nifty gadgets to play with, which made up for all the learning, I suppose.
Complaints? Disney is pretty heavy-handed with the whole environmental message. It's not that I don't support the concept of being environmentally friendly, per se, and a organization as huge as Disney certainly should do what it can to reduce its impact on the environment. The thing that pushed me over the edge was not the paper straws that keep dissolving while we drink (ewww) but the Circle of Life movie in Epcot. Simba (from The Lion King) taught Timon and Pumba how humans are not living with respect for the land because we do all these evil things like drive cars and fly airplanes and use electricity. It had a montage of all the horrible things that humans do, like cutting down trees and mining for coal, building big power plants and the worst evil of all, the Hoover Dam. Which is slightly ironic because in Ellen's Energy Adventure it taught us (at 3 mph) that hydroelectric power is clean and renewable, two high priorities for the environmental crowd.
I don't know, maybe I'm too cynical, but the message came across as "humans are bad! they should live more like us animals, in harmony with the earth!" Animals don't love the land any more than humans do - the only reason they haven't destroyed the earth the way humans have is that they haven't figured out how to yet. If beavers had the technology to turn their dams into a power source AND a tourist attraction, you bet your bippy they would have done it. Then we could watch movies all about the rich, evil beavers who are taking over the earth with their hydroelectric monopoly.
Since they care so much about energy, Disney should get into the power plant business. I'd love to see a nuclear reactor with gigantic mouse ears on top, and a tram ride through the cooling system with audio-animatronic workers in haz-mat suits guiding guests through the magical world of nuclear fusion. Picture a version of "it's a small world" ride except instead of boats, you ride clouds of radiation from Chernobyl and follow its path through Eastern Europe. Disney definitely is lacking in Eastern Europe attractions, in my opinion. The ride spits you out into the gift shop where you can buy t-shirts that have a modified, Mickey-fied, nuclear symbol on them. Then you can eat at the restaurant, which is actually a fall-out shelter! Oh yeah, this is one area that is just screaming for Disney to come in and make it fun.
I don't know why I have to come up with all the good ideas around here.
Back to the current Disney park - overall, I liked it. I didn't spend much time at all in the World Showcase - it's mostly restaurants and gift shops. When you take kids into a combo like that you run the risk of total insanity from being begged to death. They have a cool new activity for the kids, where they are given a cell phone and a secret spy mission from the tv show Kim Possible. The mission takes you on a tour of one country, which is great to explore that area in some detail (and it gets parents to follow their kids into gift shops that they might have skipped otherwise, those tricky tricky Disney folks!) We only did one country this way - we would have liked to do more, but we were running short on time yet again and needed to get back across to Future World.
We ended up at the park entrance right at 9:00 and beat the crowd out of the parking lot. My biggest time saving tip would be to leave the park during the final fireworks/laser show/whatever because when all 30,000 people are trying to leave at once, it takes eternity. Maybe after Disney perfects nuclear fusion and rids the world of pollution they can turn their considerable resources into figuring out an evening schedule that doesn't cause a massive bottleneck at the exit. Or they could build Disneyland Jerusalem and solve the Middle East crisis, too. Honestly, I have too many good ideas for one blog.