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Zagat Does Disney

John Deiner

Just in time for the annual Orlando invasion, Zagat has released its first Walt Disney World "Insider's Guide," a $15.95 extravaganza of maps, color photos and public opinion on 578 attractions, restaurants, shops and hotels.

My snap judgment: It rocks. There are stickers in the front cover so you can spotlight things in the book, and a Disney primer gives a nice little overview of what to expect. The front is jammed with the top this and that, many broken down by adult vs. child. Zagat surveyed 4,841 Disney guests, and I have to say, while I don't agree with all of their opinions (because, of course, mine is the only one that matters), the top choices are interesting.

According to a press release from the company, 48 percent of those surveyed picked the Magic Kingdom as their favorite park. Makes sense to me. But second favorite, with 36 percent of the vote, was Epcot. Epcot??? I've said it before during the Travel section's weekly chats and I'll say it again: Epcot is the most boring place on Earth, and far from the Happiest. I keep going back, giving it another chance, thinking it'll change, but it's just getting older and more boring. True, I haven't hit Soarin' yet, an immensely popular attraction (Zagat says so!), but as far as the rest of the place goes . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. (For my money, give me the Disney-MGM park over Epcot any ol' day.)

So what else does the survey say?

Adult and kids' faves vary wildly when it comes to the attractions: Anything fast and fun did well by adults (Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest ranked No. 1), while children, naturally, dug tamer things (favoring the Magic Kingdom's Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, which is a wonderful show). Parents will find the book's listings quite helpful if the tots are particularly fidgety, as each ride nugget includes how long it lasts and whether the line moves quickly or painfully slow. And thrill ratings indicate whether Junior would be better served by skipping such innocuous-seeming rides as Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom (one of my faves, which somehow manages to scare me senseless every time I go on it).

One of the big questions we receive frequently here in Travel is: Where can I eat in the World? Lots of good stuff in the new guide, as you'd expect, with a nice range of prices among the top-ranked joints (we always head directly to the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Disney-MGM, and I was glad to see it in the Top 20 most popular restaurants). Shopping and nightlife are also well covered.

I wish the guide had strayed outside the park gates when it came to hotels, however. Obviously, that would have been a massive undertaking, but many guests don't stay on the property when visiting, and the large number of options available can be downright confounding. The top hotel rankings go to, no surprise, the most expensive offerings in the park (the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is No. 1), while the most popular hotels include the crowded, tacky Pop Century Resort at No. 5. I can see why it would be popular (dirt cheap, at least as far as Disney goes) but not considered among the top properties in term of quality.

But still . . . Epcot?

Anyone have thoughts on the best and worst Disney World has to offer?

By John Deiner |  May 4, 2007; 9:29 AM ET  | Category:  Family Travel , Guidebooks , John Deiner
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Sure, Epcot's no fun if you like rides. But if walking and shopping's more your idea of a good vacation than theme parks (and if you don't have the opportunity to go to any of the real locations it models), it's a nice respite from the hour-long Space Mountain line.

Posted by: fs | May 4, 2007 2:42 PM

One thing to keep in mind is that Disney parks are never about any one thing. They're not trying to have the most rides, or the most violent roll-coasters, etc. What they shoot for is the total immersive experience. Anyone who appreciates attention to detail will enjoy any of the parks. For example, in Magic Kingdom, Frontier Land, you will notice all of the shutters are hanging crooked. This isn't to make them look old and decrepid. During the war, metal was in short supply and people were removing the hinge pins from the shutters to use the metal for weapons. They would replace the pins with a strap of leather, and the leather would stretch over time, causing the shutter to hang crooked. This kind of detail is everywhere. Now on to MGM:
In older cities such as Philadelphia, there are still cobblestones under the asphalt. In certain places, the asphalt wears away and you can see the original exposed cobblestones. This effect is achieved on the streets of MGM if you look for it. Animal Kingdom:
Disney spent $1 billion on Expedition Everest. They brought in artisans to maintain authenticity in the structures. The same is true for the villages in the World Showcase at Epcot. There are plenty of examples of this kind of detail in the parks, if you look for it.

Posted by: bp | May 4, 2007 3:55 PM

I have to admit that I'm a Floridian who hasn't bothered much with theme parks. Epcot was admittedly built when Disney was at its creative nadir, but I think the layout has proven successful. Disney at that time had lots of space to play with, and the huge artificial lake, combined with Disney's horticultural exploits, some good food makes it kind of a nice place to wander around.

I wish they'd have a bigger replica of a Japanese department store and perhaps a Chinese-Taiwan collaboration to provide a mini version of the food court at the Taipei 101 skyscraper-shopping mall complex. And perhaps replace the kinda dumb-looking American building with some kind of ride inside a Frank Gehry building looking like the Disney Concert Hall. Hard to believe that building was conceived in 1988 when Gehry wasn't famous, and would never have been built if he hadn't become famous in the meantime. So I think a Gehry would be What Walt Would Want!

Posted by: Dave of the coonties | May 4, 2007 4:03 PM

Let me save you the trip.....

Soarin' should have been named...Boarin'.

Long wait for a very disappointing ride.

Posted by: Scotty Ice | May 4, 2007 4:09 PM

You don't go to EPCOT for the excitement, you go to have a beer in every country.... I love it, just in a different way than I love the Magic Kingdom. And, frankly, Mission Space is about the most awesome ride I've ever been on (though I am always tempted to lean forward and look to the side, just to see how sick I really would get...)

Posted by: Hacksaw | May 4, 2007 4:24 PM

Our 5th trip was in April. We decided MGM had the least to offer (unless you're a huge movie buff). Brown Derby has great food and Fantasmic packages. In Epcot, we (grandchildren are 4 and 9) love test track and Soarin', enjoy the aquarium, and the opportunities for some educational stuff along with the fun. The food court in The Land has the best fast food in D. World (fruit! and real breakfast!)and the Coral Reef restaurant is excellent. But my personal favorite is Animal Kingdom. The animal motifs and colors used in designing everything from signs to food carts to architectural details are stunning, as is the parade - do not miss it, or the Lion King show! Staying on property eliminates the hassle of driving.To further cut travel between parks, the Dolphin, Swan, Boardwalk and Yacht and Beach Club are on a lagoon which has boat transportation between them and Epcot and MGM, which are also walking distance.

Posted by: nana | May 9, 2007 12:10 PM

Maybe my grandkids were at just the right age, but we all enjoyed Epcot. They will probably never get to most of the countries they "visited" during their day at Epcot, but they loved the shopping, the taste of "foreign" and the not so crowded vantage for the fireworks at night.

Posted by: Grandma Carole | May 9, 2007 1:35 PM

We went on "Soaring" at California Experience at Disneyland, and it was one of our all-time favorites. The lines were short that day, so we did it two more times. You should give it a try.

Posted by: Lucy | May 9, 2007 2:13 PM

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