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Disney dream vacations not just for kids

Rich Grant

It’s the American Dream vacation of every little kid to visit Disney World…but make no mistake, Disney is for adults too.

Gardens of Paris recreated in Epcot
Rich Grant

A surprisingly liberal – and enlightened -- drinking policy allows you to drink beer, wine, tequila, sake, whiskey, frozen Margaritas or a dozen other concoctions while walking around three of the four Disney theme parks (Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Even better, they make all these drinks readily available with infinite choices. Epcot’s Cava del Tequila bar has 70 tequilas. No wonder Disney World is the happiest place on earth.

And great fun too. Families with kids will best enjoy the Magic Kingdom (the one park with a strict no drinking policy), but adult singles can spend a couple of wonderful days with Disney at Epcot, eating, drinking and shopping your way around the world. There’s thrill rides, wild architecture, manicured gardens, celebrity chefs, music acts and laser and firework spectacles. For Coloradoans looking for winter sun, it’s a great alternative to beaches.

Epcot World Showcase

Epcot is Disney’s version of a permanent world’s fair. Shaped like an hour glass, one bulge is devoted to science and the world we inhabit, with exhibitions on land, the ocean and space mixed with thrill rides. The popular ride Soarin’ takes you hang gliding with wind blowing in your face and the smell of orange blossoms in the air, as you bank and curve, legs dangling over orchards, mountains and seacoasts. Mission Space has you blasting off and landing a space capsule on Mars, while Test Track is the longest and fastest ride in Disney history.

The bottom bulge of Epcot’s hourglass is the World Showcase, a circular, mile-long pathway around a lake surrounded with pavilions glorifying the shopping, drinks, culture, architecture and history of 11 nations.

The “Imagineers,” as the Disney people call themselves, have used an architectural device known as forced perspective to make the park seem much larger than it is. The bottom floors of buildings are done at 100 percent size, the second floor at 75 percent and the top floors at 30 percent and less. This can create the illusion that you are seeing an entire German village built around a town fountain, topped by a gigantic castle miles in the distance. In reality, the whole German site might occupy just two acres.

In this same way, you can see the Eiffel Tower looming behind a Paris street, a Mayan temple that looks many times its actual size, the famous St. Mark’s Square of Venice with a 100-foot high campanile, a wooden stave church of Norway sitting beneath a 14thCentury fortress, and even the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

It’s the Disney attention to detail that makes it work. The British street has eight different architectural styles, from Tudor to Victorian. Although the “thatch” roof is plastic, it looks real. The Morocco pavilion used nine tons of handmade, hand-cut tiles and had 19 native craftsmen put them together into a replica of the Koutoubia Minaret, a prayer tower in Marrakesh.

There are Mediterranean citrus and olive trees in Italy, and native sago and monkey-puzzle trees decorating nearby Japan. Most of the countries have alleys leading to shops, restaurants, bars and bakeries. You can munch a pear tart in Norway or a chocolate éclair in Paris. Or shop for Italian silk scarves, Norwegian wool sweaters, Japanese kimonos and French perfumes.

Disney employs people from the native countries (part of 60,000 “cast members” who run the empire) and they’re mostly young and pretty and love to chat about their native lands…and how glad they are to be out of them and living the dream in Florida.

For dinner, you’ll need reservations in advance, or at least first thing in the morning at the best – and more expensive --restaurants like Bistro de Paris or Marrakesh. Easier is the huge Biergarten, Epcot’s nightly Oktoberfest with a Bavarian band, long tables that you share with strangers, plenty of beer and a buffet of bratwurst, rotisserie chicken, and spaetzle. Also easy is the Rose & Crown British pub for fish and chips. Get an outdoor, lakeside table at dusk – it’s one of the best places to watch the fireworks.

If you go:

Epcot’s hours vary by day with the park generally closing at 9 p.m., but on Tuesdays it often stays open until midnight. Try to go then – the world showcase looks even better by night.

Orlando had 50 million visitors in 2010, the first destination in the world to do so, and you won’t have the place to yourself. But grab a glass of Boudreaux, a fresh baguette and brie at the Boulangerie Patisserie of Paris, and sit in a garden watching boats. It’s not a bad way to spend a winter weekend.

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