Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak, Gawker’s chief restaurant critics, recently ate, drank, and gasped their way through every international pavilion and theme park attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. This is their review.
Rich: Innoventions is a Franklin Institute-esque exhibit divided into two wings on either side of the giant Epcot ball. We will focus on Innoventions East because Innoventions West sucked too much for me to even get my notebook out of my bag.
Caity: Innoventions West was the nadir of the entire trip. I was so furious about how boring it was that I felt physically tense. Could you tell?
Rich: No, I was used to us feeling so uncomfortable in our respective bodies at this point. You just seemed normal.
Caity: I wanted to just fall over.
Here is a list of Innovations West’s current exhibitions, though I hesitate to even call them that, because it implies they feature objects of interest:
- Where’s the Fire?, presented by Liberty Mutual
- Play It Safe, presented by Liberty Mutual
- The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, presented by T. Rowe Price
Know what I have to say about The Great Piggy Bank Adventure? IT WASN’T. The Epcot parking lot is more interesting than Innoventions West, because at least in the Epcot parking lot you’re filled with anticipation about the rest of your exciting day at Epcot. The only thing you have to look forward to as you plod through Innoventions West is the time when you will no longer be inside Innoventions West.
Innoventions East was awesome.
Rich: There are things in East there like a tubular magnifier that projects whatever is held up to it on a screen. Ever want to look at a butterfly’s wing up close but aren’t comfortable with having a butterfly sit on your nose to gain such a view? Innoventions East has the solution!
We stumbled into an exhibit called Vision House, a model house within this larger building where I thought we’d at last play out our shared dream of being lifesize dolls. Alas, it was a tour sponsored by Green Builder Media. I felt like we were being sold something. I felt like maybe we were going to have to get married and live together in a house made mostly of recycled materials. But ma’am, that’s not how we play!
Caity: I thought our tour of Vision House was going to be largely self-guided; come and go as you please. Not at all. They should call it Prison House, because as soon as you step inside, you cannot leave until the leeeeeisurely paced tour is complete; the doors lock you in electronically. Normally this would not be a huge problem, except that we had to be in Germany for lunch.
Our tour guide/house warden, Amy, was a nice girl from the University of Tennessee, with the dulcet tones and quiet confidence of a theatre major. On one arm she wore a tight white sleeve that extended from her elbow to her wrist; according to Disney, it’s better to look like you’re wearing a bandage because of a botched suicide attempt than to reveal a tattoo.
Although the ice blue color scheme of Vision House was not to my taste, a lot of stuff inside it was very cool, and made me excited to live forever. There was an oven that cannot burn you, a heated toilet that can be operated hands-free, and a table that something something I stopped listening. Amy encouraged us to touch whatever we wanted: “Don’t worry—if there’s something you’re not supposed to pick up, it’ll be glued down pretty securely.” She was absolutely right. I did my best to rip apart Vision House from the inside, and I could not even pick up one placemat. It really is the perfect prison.
Rich: Despite our tour guide’s please-touch attitude and the training that I presume got her there, she met her match in a fairly odd family that was in our tour group. They were slightly disheveled as a unit, and each of them asked a lot of questions—many of them rambling to the point of being elliptical. The son, bless his heart, was socially awkward and, let’s have one more blessing, utterly shameless. A bit of a showman. When we walked into the bathroom, he immediately started playing with the hands-free toilet. “Uh, oh…We’ll get to that,” said our startled guide. She went on to discuss the lighting and the shower, and then when she got to the toilet, she asked the guy (a lifelong big kid, regardless of his age, which I couldn’t ascertain anyway) to step in front of the toilet and help her. “Oh no, I’m not gonna do that!” he blurted. His first big laugh from the crowd was also his most accidental one. Funny how life works in the Vision House.
Caity: For me the oddest family in the Vision House was the one Disney is pretending lives there: A lovely mixed race family who love Epcot.
Nothing too crazy about that—we all have a Latina grandma.
But check this out:
I took pictures of all the art and portraits on every wall, and I’m pretty sure the head of this family is the dog.
Rich: As usual.
Just around the corner from Vision House is something called Sum of All Thrills, a flight simulator that is “part of Raytheon’s commitment to creating a new generation of innovators.” You watch an introductory video intended to indoctrinate you into Raytheon’s cult of innoventors and get you hyped to build your own roller coaster on a touch screen located between the video room and the simulator. There you’re tasked with figuring out what proportion of height and speed will keep your coaster from killing you in a series of loops and drops. If you guess wrong (you will be guessing unless you’re currently in AP Physics), it’s OK because the computer will correct you and let you do it over again. It’s about as complicated as a Speak and Spell. Felt like busy work to me. Thanks for reminding me that physics exists, Epcot. Your rides are so devoid of thrills that I actually needed that reminder.
Caity: Homework aside: The Sum of All Thrills was terrifying to behold and fun to experience. The best kept secret in Epcot, and possibly the entire world (because who would ever think to look for something of worth inside Epcot?). The ride itself consists of a giant robot arm, on the end of which is a sort of half-open pod, big enough to contain two seated people, with their legs dangling outside of it. As you stand in line, you watch these mechanical arms shake their hidden riders all around, raising them up toward the ceiling, spinning them sideways, and even tossing them upside down. It’s chilling to witness; like the machines have taken over.
Rich: And then you realize that it’s you who are bending this machine to your will, and that sense of superiority calms you. We’re still winning in this war against the rise of the machines, at least for now.
The robot arm tosses you through space in synch with an animated track on a screen ahead of you. The track is very cartoonish and not even trying to be realistic, which is a little bit of a bummer—it’s not quite the immersive simulation that it could be. That said, because you’re basically bolted in and can’t see your riding partner by turning your head, your screen is provided with a feed of your companion’s face so that you can see her reactions as you ride. The second most exciting thing about this ride was watching your hair get so messed up, Caity. Whooo!
Caity: At the conclusion of the 90 second ride, you receive what is referred to as a quote unquote thrill card, printed with a code you can enter onto your computer at home to “watch” your ride. We were really looking forward to watching video of ourselves screaming—my hair flying around like I’m in a Mariah Carey video; your head also looking like it’s in a Mariah Carey video—but, disappointingly, the video that pops up when you enter the code is just the same cartoon of the track you watch while on the ride.
Ride Report Card
Rich: One of the workers asked what we thought of the ride as we were leaving and I told her, “It’s better than Soarin’®.” The record playing overhead scratched, the temperature in the room dropped, and everybody’s hair curled. “Don’t tell anybody that!” she hissed. And then, after a beat, she whispered, “We think so too.” How can I give this experience anything but an A++?
Caity: I’m going to give it an A+ too. Like everything in Epcot, large portions of the experience are excruciating (waiting in line; being forced to watch a lengthy introductory video while standing; applying math to real world situations), but the ride itself was enjoyable and, because it is located in the most boring section of the most boring park, almost no one knows about it. It’s also basically right at the entrance. Finally, a reward for people who don’t like to walk far.
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Images via Rich Juzwiak and Caity Weaver.