Wandering the globe as a family is easily the best way to expose your children to world cultures. But, at some point, nearly every child will be begging for a trip to Disney World. Of Disney’s four Orlando theme parks, there are two in particular that are filled to the brim with foreign culture.
Epcot, which means Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was a vision dreamed up by Walt Disney himself to present new technologies emerging in America. Disney passed away before the park was built and members of the Walt Disney Company reimagined it to be a place that showcased international cultures alongside modern innovation.
The other park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, centers around animal conservation efforts and features lands set in Africa and Asia.
Modeled to create a type of permanent World’s Fair, the World Showcase section of Epcot is hands down the best place in any of the U.S. Disney parks to teach your children about various cultures. The World Showcase is composed of 11 pavilions, each dedicated to a different country. In addition to themed attractions and restaurants, the architecture also resembles the theme and the staff members are often citizens of each country as well, allowing you to take a little tour of numerous countries without traveling there.
Aside from the United States pavilion, you can visit and learn about:
A Japanese pagoda welcomes guests to the Japanese pavilion, which is filled with gardens and reflecting pools. Taiko drummers and storytellers are on-site to entertain visitors as they make their way to enjoy teppanyaki or sushi. Shops sell an assortment of Japanese toys and clothing based on popular manga and anime series.
Aladdin and Jasmine can be found wandering the Morocco pavilion. There are many structures here inspired by Moroccan architecture as well as bellydancing shows, outdoor bazaars selling ceramics, instruments and rugs and three restaurants serving Moroccan fare.
In the French pavilion, wander the streets of a Parisian neighborhood with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. A 200-degree screen plays “Impressions de France”, featuring shots of famous sites like the Eiffel Tower, Normandy and Notre Dame. Restaurants include a boulangerie that serves sandwiches on baguettes and French pastries.
The British village at the UK pavilion has live performances from a cover band called British Revolution that plays hits from popular bands from across the pond. The pavilion’s gardens feature an elaborate hedge maze and the Historical Research Center allows you to research the history of your last name. Local shops sell English teas, Paddington Bear merchandise and wooden toys.
The Canadian pavilion was modeled after the Canadian countryside, featuring things like waterfalls, canyons and totem poles as well as an extensive garden inspired by British Columbia’s Butchart Gardens. The main attraction is a circle-vision film called “O Canada!” which features a 360-degree screen showcasing video of Canada’s biggest cities and landmarks. Visitors can shop for NHL jerseys, maple syrup and wilderness-themed accessories.
Walk up the stairs of a Mayan pyramid to enter Mexico’s pavilion through a gallery featuring traditional artwork. Once inside, you’ll find yourself in a Mexican village that is suspended in constant twilight. The main attraction here is a boat ride through the pyramid starring the Three Caballeros. You can also listen to live mariachi music here and shop for sombreros and maracas in the shops.
The Norway pavilion’s model village showcases four types of Norwegian architecture. It is filled with interconnected shops selling goods like statues of Norse gods and trolls. At the pavilion’s main restaurant, a hot and cold buffet, guests can dine with storybook princesses and the former Maelstrom boat ride will reopen next year as a Frozen ride.
A traditional Chinese gate, temple and bridge-covered ponds await visitors at the Chinese pavilion. The 360-degree “Reflections of China”, similar to Canada’s circle-version film, shows guests the Chinese countryside as well cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. Pavilion shops sell silk robes, parasols and Chinese puppets.
Architecture in the German pavilion spans various regions and eras. Popular fixtures include a clock tower, a large statue and a small model train in a miniature garden. Snow White often makes an appearance with her dwarves and the Biergarten Restaurant offers schnitzel and strudel.
The Italian pavilion has some spectacular architecture modeled after famous spots in Italy, including a Venetian bell tower and Rome’s Trevi Fountain. One of the pavilion’s shops is even modeled after the Sistine Chapel. Enjoy some Italian food and watch the comedy groups in the main plaza.
At the Animal Kingdom, the African land is home to the Kilimanjaro Safari, a safari ride that takes visitors through the savanna to see live African animals. The natural terrain, modeled after the land in east Africa, is home to elephants, lions, hippos, giraffes, antelope, rhinos, zebra and more. Africa can be a costly and exotic destination; if you don’t have the means to visit, this is a great alternative. Another great way to experience these animals is with the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where your balcony overlooks the land the animals wander on—there’s nothing like a giraffe grazing right outside your balcony doors!
There is also an Asia-themed land where the main attraction is the Mahrajah Jungle Trek. Similar to the Kilimanjaro Safari, the walk allows guests to see animals native to Asia, like the Komodo dragon, the Bengal tiger, the blood python, the blackbuck and the Malayan flying fox. There are also numerous species of birds that make this area their home, including starlings, cranes, parrotfinches, king parrots and sparrows.
While Disney World may not be the most culturally conscious vacation spot, there are ways to incorporate culture on your trip. It’s best to read up on some of the cultural aspects ahead of time to familiarize yourself so you can share your knowledge with your little ones, especially in the World Showcase pavilions. Happy learning!