Sometimes you may travel thousands of miles to escape and explore a new far-flung destination different to your norm. But visiting Orlando can at times feel like it’s a small world after all, particularly when taking a leisurely stroll around the World Showcase at Epcot. Can you really visit the UK in the baking sunshine of Florida? Let’s delve into this question and explore one of the spots in Orlando where you could feel like you were in the UK.
If someone were to ask me my thoughts on the UK pavilion at Epcot my first reaction would be to probably just laugh. It is far removed from my daily view of the UK but at the same time it hits all the right notes and can instantly make me feel like at home. The pavilion really represents my country’s history rather than our present or future. It portrays a typical traditional view of the UK with stately homes, pretty gardens, quaint cottages and the local pub. A rather timeless view of the UK, but I do wish there was a film attraction like other pavilions that could show that the UK is more than just Kings and Queens. But how can I really expect Disney to showcase a country’s history and culture that spans thousands of years and is intertwined with pretty much every other country at one time or another?
Just coming to terms with what the UK incorporates can be confusing. The official name of the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK is made up of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Each country has their own capital city and a devolved parliament apart from England. Our nationality is British but then we will often call ourselves English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish depending on which part of the isles we were born. The Union Jack flag brings together the three flags of the Kingdom’s countries: England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales is not included as it was considered a Principality rather than a Kingdom. If you want to learn more, this YouTube video available here does a great job of detangling the mess of the British Isles and its countries.
Now that we’ve learned what the UK is we can take a look at the UK pavilion at Epcot. The pavilion is a hodge podge of buildings from a variety of eras allowing you to stroll through time. Coming into the pavilion from France you will enter an old English garden, all prim and proper with perfectly trimmed hedges and colourful flowers. Gardening has always been a popular hobby in the UK with many local communities holding fairs to celebrate their local horticultural abilities. One of the most popular national competitions is the Royal Horticultural Society Britain In Bloom campaign, which sees over 1000 communities take part every year. The buildings nearby would seem to been inspired by Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland. Because of this you can often find Alice and Mary meeting and greeting guests on one of the garden paths.
Onwards from the gardens is the first shop of the pavilion called The Tea Caddy. This is situated in a quaint little cottage based on childhood home of William Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway. It looks to have a thatched roof but Disney had to use plastic to replicate the straw roof due to fire regulations. Thatched roofing is still maintained on many UK homes around the countryside particularly on listed historical buildings. The Tea Caddy with its name and goods pays homage to the UK’s tea drinking culture. Along with all manner of different teas you will also find Scottish shortbread and other biscuits suitable for a teatime break.
Next to The Tea Caddy is The Queen’s Table, which shows Elizabethan architecture from the 17th Century. You may notice on some of these buildings how the floors above ground jut out a bit to give extra space on the floors above ground. This was due to taxes at the time being based upon ground floor size rather than the entire building. Hence building the floors bigger above to maximize space but to keep taxes low. While walking around take a look at the roofs of the buildings, as usual you will find the extra Disney details. The chimney pots on top of the buildings have been painted to look used from years of fireplaces burning within the houses. Also in the window of The Queen’s Table you should see various crests that belong to famous UK schools like Cambridge and Eton. Once you step into The Queen’s Table you will be able to buy a selection of china tea sets to go along with your tea from The Tea Caddy.
The center of the area contains the ubiquitous town square suitably named Britannia Square. Town squares are usually located in the center of towns and villages and used as focal point for the community. Town squares are marked by some kind of monument, for the one in Epcot we find a sundial. Sundials are a peculiar way of telling the time when for most of the time sunshine is lacking in the British Isles. At the least the one in Epcot probably can be used all year round. At one point during the design of the pavilion this space was earmarked to have a statue of a famous Briton. Likely the Imagineers were unable to decide upon one famous figure from the hundreds of throughout British history so instead a sundial was put in its place. Next time you are in the square have a go at telling the time using the Roman numerals engraved into the dial.
Continuing around the back of the gardens and shops you come to a row of terrace houses inspired by the houses seen in London from the end of the 17th Century onwards. These buildings contain a meet and greet with the Winnie The Pooh characters. The inside has been designed to look like Christopher Robin’s bedroom. This meet and greet is due to soon be added to the selection of attractions that you can make a Fastpass+ reservation for. If you ever come to the UK you can actually visit the Hundred Acre Wood and play Poohsticks on the bridge like in the books and films. The Hundred Acre Wood is actually called the Five Hundred Acre Wood located in the Ashdown forest within East Sussex, England. A. A. Milne’s home was located nearby the forest and many of the locations in the books bear a resemblance to locations in the actual forest.
Next to the row houses is Tudor Lane that contains a stately home from the 1800’s. This grand building contains the Lords and Ladies Shop selling fine fragrances and other goods. This building and the terrace homes all back on to the miniature version of London’s Hyde Park, a peaceful location with benches to sit and people watch until the entertainment arrives in the gazebo. Currently this hosts a rock band called British Revolution playing small concerts throughout the day. They cover famous hits from some of the great British bands like The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Opposite the gazebo is a little child’s hedge maze that exit towards one of the famous red boxes seen throughout the UK. This one is a red Royal Mail post box. Occasionally you may see a non-red box when traveling around the UK. For example, during the London 2012 Olympics whenever a British athlete won a gold medal, the post box nearest to their home was painted gold. You can also find the other famous red phone boxes dotted around the pavilion. Up until earlier this year these phone boxes were connected for outside calls. You could actually ring up a number and talk to a random person in Epcot. This was a rather neat Easter egg and must have been great for prank phone calls.
Leaving this area you are faced with the protective city gate. These would allow the powers that be control people entering and exiting a city. These would also be used to collect taxes and tolls. However times have moved on and there is no toll to enter the gate at Epcot. One of the next shops you can enter is the Toy Soldier Shop, which sells classic British toys such as the loveable marmalade eating Paddington Bear.
Moving along you find The Crown and Crest shop which is contained within two buildings. The most impressive is the gothic structure made from stone modeled upon Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford Manor. Within this shop you can trace your family heritage by looking up your coat of arms. You can also buy a copy of your coat of arms and have it framed to take it back home. The supposable origins of my surname Hurren is Irish and when traced back to its Gaelic forms, it means “steed” and lord”. Rory is thought to be Scottish or Irish and means “Red King”. The other parts of the shop sell iconic British items such as Beatles merchandise or items from current popular British TV shows like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who.
Coming into the Pavilion from Canada you are faced with an elegant building mimicking Hampton Court Palace. This palace can be found in Richmond Upon Thames in London and was built in the 16th century. Over the years it housed various members of the Royal Family, however it is now a tourist attraction and looked after by an independent charity. It is well known for its pristine gardens and unusual hedge maze. The replica at Epcot houses crosses within its windows of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland’s patron saints that form the Union Jack flag. Upon entering the building you will encounter a playful shadow box displaying a medieval banquet and depicting guests from royalty to jesters. Further on, the building houses the Sportsman’s Shoppe, which sells various sport paraphernalia celebrating our love of sport and in particular, football.
Situated upon the banks of the World Showcase lagoon is the Rose & Crown pub and restaurant. Pubs are a key cornerstone of British culture, a place to refresh, relax and discuss the latest news and gossip. Some of the most interesting and useful conversations can come out of a visit to the local public house. Underneath the logo of the pub is a Latin saying “Otium Cum Dignitate” which means leisure with dignity. The Rose & Crown continues the mixtures of architecture in the pavilion. One half of the front is based upon 17th to 18th century country pubs with slate roofs and plaster exterior walls. The other half has more of a Victorian look with brick and wood paneling. The back of the pub is again split in two with one part having a clay roof and stonewalls. The other part looks like a Tudor pub with timbered walls and flagstone terrace. These architecture themes continue through the interior with different sections matching the exterior. Alongside the river section of the pub is a canal lock. Canals can be used to transport yourself up and down the British Isles using canal boats. Nowadays these are mainly for recreational use but at one point they were a key way of transporting materials and goods around the country. Pubs were often placed along side the canal to allow you to dock and partake in a pint or two.
The selection of beer and cider at the UK pavilion continues to irate me so much that I have yet to have a drink at the Rose & Crown. Many beer styles originate from the UK such as Pale Ale and Porter. Traditional real cider and ale continue to be brewed and consumed and it’s a shame to have drinks like Strongbow and Stella Artois sold to represent our drinking culture and heritage. I wish Epcot would add some real brews rather than the mass-produced tipples currently served. However what they do well is offering an eccentric collection of blended beers and ciders, from the Black & Tan which is half bass Ale and half Guinness or Snake Bite which is cider topped with Harp lager.
The restaurant part of the Rose & Crown serves familiar British pub grub, the kind of menu you would likely find similar in every UK pub up and down the country. You even find an Indian curry on the menu, which is now often considered Britain’s favourite dish rather than fish and chips. I can always recommend a traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings and lovely rich gravy. Of course what is more unusual to Americans is a Yorkshire pudding that we serve with our roast dinners. These deliciously delightful puddings made with a batter of egg, milk and flour and then cooked in hot oil in an oven until crispy. These are the perfect way to soak up all that gravy and juices on the plate. I don’t think I know one person who doesn’t love a Yorkshire pudding with their roast. As an unusual starter, why not try a common picnic food in the UK – a Scotch egg. This is a hard-boiled egg contained within sausage meat and then covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. For dessert you can always try sticky toffee pudding or trifle. The Rose and Crown has dabbled in a dessert based on one of my favourite snacks in the past. On the menu it was called Jaffa Tarts and was based on Jaffa Cakes. These little cakes are simply moreish and only available primarily in the UK. Little circles of sponge covered in an orange flavored jam and then coated in chocolate. Sadly the real things are not sold at Epcot, but if you can find these in an international food shop in the States I highly recommend them. You can find the full menu here.
Nearby The Rose & Crown you will find the Yorkshire Country Fish Shop. Now curry may have knocked off fish and chips as my country’s favourite dish but this is not to say we don’t still love fish and chips. But what is served at Epcot is simply a joke. This counter service location offers an imitation of what you would be served at a British fish and chip shop. The main issue I have with what is served is that you get two small fillets of battered fish. This would not happen at any British fish and chip shop – instead you would be served a full sized fillet of battered fish. Anyway if you do decide to partake in the Epcot version, make sure you drown your chips in malt vinegar like we do. Apart from Epcot sorting out the size of its fish it would be nice to see some other famous chip shop food like a good old battered sausage.
I believe at one time or another the pavilion was meant to incorporate some actual attractions. One such idea was called The Enchanted Forest, which was based on some of the British Disney films and characters. Primarily Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh and Robin Hood. This new area would have seen play areas, topiaries and meet and greets with these characters spread through a sprawling forest. At the entrance would have been a replica Big Ben and the gates into the forest much like the gated park seen in Mary Poppins where Bert does his chalk drawings. It was also going to include a rooftop stage for a rendition of Step In Time from Mary Poppins along with a full size garden pavilion for stage shows. A large space was earmarked for a transplant of Alice’s Curious Labyrinth from Disneyland Paris. More details from this blue-sky expansion can be found at Omniluxe. One other forgotten attraction for the pavilion was a full-scale water ride along the Thames River taking in famous landmarks such as the House of Parliament and the Tower of London. Both ideas are currently still left on the drawing board and probably will be forever. Disney is more likely to add new countries to the World Showcase before expanding the UK Pavilion unless a sponsor or the UK was to pay for the expansion.
The UK found within Orlando is based upon traditional views of the UK and is no substitute for visiting the real thing. But despite that you can still get a little sense of life back in the UK.
Category: Disney World