The Disney Epcot World Showcase is one of my favorite favorite destinations because Disney makes learning an engaging experience. The first time I visited the World Showcase, I was skeptical: how fun could it be to visit facsimiles of 11 countries wedged amid 300 acres in Orlando?
But I was quickly won over the by Disney’s famous attention to detail, unfailingly friendly service, and high standards of quality. My family lacks the means to travel around the world and experience other cultures first-hand. But inside Epcot, we can stroll through an Italian plaza, gaze at a minaret in the Morocco pavilion, or eat at a Parisian bistro. And through interactive experiences like the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure (a creative scavenger hut), families can use mobile devices to explore the park together and learn about different cultures. If you can willingly suspend disbelief as you do with a well-produced movie, you can almost feel like you’re getting a taste of another culture.
My friend and Disney-phile John Hensler of Sunken Anchor Media shared with me an obscure little article from the Norway American Chamber of Commerce that sheds some light on what it’s like for a country to sponsor a pavilion in the World Showcase. Norway is one of the 11 countries represented. The article, which takes the government of Norway to task for not working hard enough to update its pavilion, also describes some of the keys to Epcot’s success:
* Authenticity. Disney visits Oslo to recruit Norwegian nationals to work in the Norway pavilion, which is consistent with my experiences at Epcot. Part of the fun of visiting the World Showcase is taking the time to talk with the people who work in the 11 country pavilions. Ask them where they come from and to describe their stories. They really do represent the countries they represent and will gladly share their lives with you if you ask.
* Impossibly high standards. The article intimates that Disney isn’t the easiest organization with which to work. Companies wanting to bid for projects to enhance Epcot must endure a lengthy approval process from Walt Disney Imagineering. And Disney strives to make available top-quality food and merchandise from the 11 countries represented. Those high standards are evident. With very few exceptions, the attractions are entertaining, the food is excellent, and the merchandise top drawer. (In particular, based on my visits, the apparel at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Japan pavilion is outstanding, and Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada pavilion would be worth seeking regardless of location).
* A strong partnership. Disney relies on its 11 partner countries to carry their share of the burden for keeping Epcot fresh and fun. The country of Canada recently refurbished the Canada pavilion to feature a movie that gives visitors a panoramic, 360-degree tour of Canada hosted by comedian (and Canadian) Martin Short. Disney relies on input from Norwegian national businesses to ensure that merchandise in the Norway pavilion does not become too predictable and boring. During the vaunted Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Disney works with 25 countries to treat visitors to tapas-sized samplings of cousine ranging from New Zealand lamb sliders to Belgian waffles.
There is no substitute for experiencing international cultures by traveling. But Epcot can provide a first step. As the article says, “Many Americans and visitors from North and South America have their first ‘hands-on’ encounter with Norway while visiting Epcot.'” And if you cannot travel around the world, at least you can get the next best thing and find out why Disney is the gold standard for customer experience.
For more reading check out the Disney blog.