Trønder farmers take on Epcot!

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch Morten, Magnhild, and Per Håvan in front of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth (the big ball in the background). And no, there is not a “Norwegian uniform” for men traveling in the U.S.

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
Morten, Magnhild, and Per Håvan in front of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth (the big ball in the background). And no, there is not a “Norwegian uniform” for men traveling in the U.S.

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

We often hear about Americans visiting Norway in the pages of this newspaper, but what happens when Norwegian farmers visit Florida’s Epcot Center in the United States?

My Norwegian husband and I recently had the opportunity to spend a day at Epcot in Orlando. Deemed a bit more “adult” and “educational” than the nearby Magic Kingdom (both are a part of Walt Disney World, along with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Park) by those I randomly surveyed while waiting in line, Epcot combines a brief glimpse into different countries (via the World Showcase situated around a large man-made lagoon) with sponsored exhibits about technology, history, and the future. “It is a bit of a travel commercial,” my father-in-law commented. “It gives people a chance to see other countries compared to the U.S.”

Still, Epcot falls under the amusement park umbrella, and my in-laws seemed a bit unsure at first as they were not familiar with the system of rides, the masses of people, or the acres of concrete. Fortunately a trip early in the day through the Living with the Land ride, which took us through the park’s greenhouses on a slow-moving boat, and the Behind the Seeds tour (booked and paid for in the Land building after we arrived) with a Disney horticulturist to get a look at Disney’s approach to cross-breeding and growing techniques using hydroponics, proved there really is something for everyone at Epcot.

I asked my in-laws what their least favorite thing was, and my father-in-law said the noise. “I think it has a lot to do with how you are raised,” he wisely reflected. “If you grow up on a fjord or in the mountains of Norway you are used to the silence. But if you grow up in the city, you learn to tune out the noise and then the silence of the country can be very different.” Naturally Epcot was “city” busy, although not as busy as other times of the year (they had to close Disney parks on Dec 25. and 31 due to crowds), and although glad for the experience he doesn’t feel it necessary to do again (though my mother-in-law might be game).

Ordering from unfamiliar menus can be challenging when English is not your first language, so restaurants that offer plated options (the Moroccan cafe in the World Showcase actually plated up each menu item with accompanying sides and had them in the display case) or pictures (as in the café at the American Adventure) make deciding easier. It is also good for Norwegians (or anyone who is used to smaller portions) to remember that a single cup of coffee from a street vendor is usually more than enough for two.

Bouts of “the language sickness,” or feeling overwhelmed by a language that is not your own, can be dampened or alleviated altogether with a ride like Ellen’s Energy Adventure which combines humor, animatronics, and the chance to sit down in air conditioning for a while. There are also destinations for those who want something more adventurous in Mission: Space (simulated NASA space launch), Soarin’ (simulated hang-gliding experience over California), or the Sum of All Thrills (in which you design and customize your own thrill ride). These are known for long wait times (over an hour on a busy day), but you can buy a Fast Pass to reserve a time and prevent the waiting.

You can also call a particular restaurant to make a reservation if there is a certain one you wish to try. All that information is available from Disney’s website: disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/epcot.

Most of Epcot’s countries offer a film experience, and the two innovations pavilions are full of interactive games and exhibits. These are included in the ticket price.

So what about “Norway” itself, one of the eleven lands in Epcot’s World Showcase? We didn’t spend a lot of time there as the “ride” was under construction, but a highlight for my father-in-law there (and throughout the park) was talking to staff. Disney hires young people from the country represented to work in their respective “land” so that visitors can interact with true locals; those memories of finding someone from our area (North-Trøndelag) and speaking Norwegian with them will last a long time. The Disney film Frozen (called Frost in Norwegian) naturally had a strong presence in “Norway” (and gift shops overall); the display in the Stave Church is about how Norway inspired the movie, and we got our frozen slushies in souvenir Frozen glasses.

A few hints if you find yourself planning a trip to Disney’s Norway and Epcot:

• Find a hotel that has shuttle service to the parks. It saves on both driving and parking. Some hotels may charge a “resort fee” for this when you check in (fee also includes use of other hotel amenities like pools) but it is still worth it. We did not stay in a Disney hotel, but a Disney friendship hotel (ParkInn) found through hotels.com.

• Take water. Food and drink in the parks is expensive and though you will want to taste your way around the countries, it never hurts to have water when you want it.

• Go early. The park itself opens at 9:00 a.m. (the World Showcase at 11:00 a.m.) and if you are there when it opens you can take in sites and experiences at Future World East and West. (There were only six of us on our Behind the Seeds tour at 11:15 a.m.)

• Stay for the fireworks. The exact time varies depending on the season. They are spectacular, and after you find the “pace of the day” it is not difficult to fill it (we felt we ran out of time to see everything we wanted!)

• Watch the free entertainment in the different countries. We saw Canadian lumberjacks in Canada, acrobats in China, and an a cappella singing group in the American Adventure. You receive a list of the day’s live entertainment offerings when you purchase a ticket.

• Eat in a cafe (instead of a sit down restaurant) if price is an issue, but resign yourself to the fact that you will pay a bit to eat no matter what.

• The boat across the lagoon (Morocco to Canada or Mexico to Germany) helps cut down the walking, especially if you are going back and forth.

• Study a bit online what it is you really want to see ahead of time.

• Save your souvenir shopping until the end of the day so you don’t have to carry everything with you.

• Expect to pay about $100 per ticket for adults at the gate. No senior discount. If you want to do more than one park, there are shuttles that run between and park passes. See Disney’s website for details.

• Have fun! For many this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and no matter what you see or do, you are creating memories.

This article is a part of Heidi Håvan Grosch’s column Rønningen Ramblings, which appears a couple times a month in the Norwegian American Weekly.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 23, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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