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Disney World's Epcot Turns 30 Today

Those who have never visited Walt Disney World Resort in Florida may be under the misconception that the vacation spot is merely an oversized DIsney-themed amusement park, with a Mickey on every corner and a lot of gift shops and rides in between. Those who have been there any time within the last few decades know better. Among the many reasons Disney World ranks above and beyond so many other family focused vacation spots is Epcot, a theme park on the property that celebrates technology and culture. Epcot celebrates its thirtieth anniversary today!

Formerly known as EPCOT Center (the EPCOT standing for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), Epcot was apparently originally supposed to be a model community for Walt Disney's idea of a Utopian City. Walt's dream was never realized and Epcot became something else. The park, which opened October 1, 1982, is split between two sections, Future World and World Showcase. The former focuses on technology, while the other celebrates various cultures from around the world.

I've been to Disney World a number of times over the course of my life. The first was as a child, and while I know I visited Epcot at that time, my memory of it consists of a few random impressions (among them, some kind of lit-up rainbow tunnel, which I'm pretty sure was at Epcot). When I returned to Walt Disney World in 2001, I'll admit, I hadn't done my research about Epcot, and thought that wandering in without a plan would've been fine. After spending a couple of hours sweating it out in Future World and checking out a couple of attractions, I left the park to return to the more ride-friendly Magic Kingdom, not realizing that I'd only just scratched the surface of what Epcot had to offer.

It wasn't until I returned in 2007 that I came to really appreciate Epcot. Disney World has always been a learning experience for me, and each time I go back, I have a better time than the last. Falling in love with Epcot happened during my last visited to WDW. Yes, the grounds are expansive and there's a lot of walking involved, which seems especially grueling on hot, humid Florida days, but it's worth the trek for attractions like the thrilling motion simulator ride Mission Space and the visually stunning Soarin' in Future World, or a trip around the world at the World Showcase.

What I eventually came to learn about EPCOT is that the park combines learning with entertainment, offering numerous ways to celebrate advancements in technology and various cultures around the world. My last trip was during the holidays, which meant getting to enjoy the holiday decorations and themes of all (or most) of the countries around the world, and - on the advice of various Disney fanatics - checking out the Candlelight Processional, which was a beautiful and musical celebration of Christmas in the form of a choir and orchestra performance and a reading of the Christmas story. In addition to attending the Candlelight Processional, I also got a lot of my Christmas shopping done there, as many of the places in the World Showcase sell items from their home countries.

I've heard good things about the Food and Wine festival that takes place in the fall and seen amazing pictures of the Flower and Garden festival, which is set up in the spring. I hope to get back there to experience both of these events at some point in my lifetime. As I mentioned, Disney World is a learning experience, and Epcot is not to be underestimated. To those considering a trip to Disney World, I strongly suggest making time for this park, and taking the time to do a bit of research to get the most out of the experience. And if you're a shopper, save up a lot of money because the World Showcase has no shortage of cool items for purchase.

One of the things I love most about Walt Disney World is the way the park continues to evolve throughout the years. Epcot is no exception there. It may not be what Walt had originally intended it to be, but in its efforts to celebrate the world and the advancements of modern technology, I like to think that the park celebrates the spirit of Walt in its own way.

Happy birthday, Epcot!