It was cold. It was crowded, and yet it was the best New Year’s Eve that I can recall. Never in my nearly four decades of life have I ever seen a celebration done so appropriately for the closing of a year.
The beginning of the day started a bit rough with crowd levels approaching uncomfortable levels. Around noon parking lots were filling to capacity. Lines for attractions were laughably long. There was virtually no sitting room in eating locations. The general strategy for survival was to grin and bear it, but by late afternoon there was a shift in the energy of the park.
It began slowly in the World Showcase. A twinge of excitement and anticipation hit as a DJ in the America Gardens Theatre started up and slowly gathered guests with his American top 40 hits of various decades. As each hour passed, other areas of the park put on their party dresses as well until it seemed like every corner of Epcot was singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
There were many reasons why this celebration stood out among the others I have experienced at theme parks. Some of them will resonate with you. Others may not. Judge for yourself, but most of my thoughts can be summarized in three words: demographic, parties and fireworks.
An evening event lends itself to the idea of an older crowd. As parents we have all kept our children up past their bedtimes at one point or another, but (if we are being honest) rarely is that an experience without stress. The push to stay for a late event becomes more of a mission than a pleasure. It is often one that is unpleasant for the kids, parents and others who are around unhappy families. However, the temptation to party with Mickey is one that many families understandably can’t resist, and it can make for a New Year’s Eve of conflicting sentiments.
This was less of a factor at Epcot than I have noticed it being at other Disney Parks, namely the Magic Kingdom. This was possibly due to there being less attractions geared towards kids. Maybe it was due to the presence of alcohol park-wide. It could also have been attributed to the more adult-themed party scene complete with house music and crowded dance areas, or it might have been related to the more mature nature of “Illuminations,” as opposed to the whimsy of its competitor, “Wishes.” Most likely it was a combination of all these elements. Whatever the case may be, it was apparent that as midnight crept closer, the general demographic grew older. Certainly, after the first showing of fireworks at 6pm, the sight of young children became much less common, making the general atmosphere a bit more relaxed.
It is hard to overstate the talent and creativity that carried out this aspect of Epcot’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Almost half of the pavilions in World Showcase, in addition to a singular section of Future World, hosted a dance party. The thing that impressed me was that even in their fundamental similarity, they each presented distinct elements, making them unique.
The United Kingdom pavilion featured music hailing entirely from its homeland and synchronized screens with psychedelic hues and formations. Japan added a new element to this year’s event with its silent DJ who live-broadcasted his classic rock mixes over the internet waves from the Japan pavilion. Guests were given earbuds to plug themselves into the virtual party happening right in front of them. In doing so, they joined others across the nation that were partying to the very same music in their own homes. The America pavilion had a Latin flare with a DJ that hosted his party entirely in Spanish. Using the America Gardens Theatre stage as a large dance space, dance hits originating from our Latin population gathered a mass of people that (at some moments) the theater barely contained.
On the other half of World Showcase, two countries seemed to compete regularly for “most popular.” The DJ in Italy played to a consistent crowd that seemed unwilling to separate itself from his techno/electronic tunes and laser beam overhead display. Meanwhile China packed it in all night long with its house music, synchronized pyro-blasts and smoke-snorting Chinese dragon.
A sole DJ and stage set up in front of the Fountain of Nations refused to be overlooked as well. Supplied with a mound of props such as Native American headdresses and plastic horns of overwhelming size, this DJ kept his audience lively with classic party hits like “Jump On It,” “Ice, Ice Baby,” and “YMCA.” It was entertaining.
The one appealing factor to all of this is that you were not held hostage by one particular type of atmosphere. The variety amongst the pavilions and Future World was broad enough that when one style of party grew tired, there was another that beckoned and was able to revive you. The assorted music genres and international cast of DJs lent itself to a natural flow around the park that engaged the crowd. Once you made it all the way around, you felt a bit like you had traveled, sampled and enjoyed quite a number of cultures.
If there is a singular holiday that is recognized world-wide, it is the New Year. And if there is a singular theme park that recognizes the the diversity of culture world-wide, it is Epcot. For this reason, Epcot almost seemed tailor-made to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a sense that reached far beyond the ability of other parks. Never was this more apparent than in its climatic finale, a unique performance of “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.”
The daily fireworks show that centers itself on the themes of unity and peace played as it is regularly scheduled to do; however, in its final performance of the evening, a “tag” was added to correspond with the approaching calendar countdown. During the final minutes of 2014, a broadcasted voice acknowledged the countries around the world that had already rung in the new year with their differing timezones. For those that were represented around the World Showcase, each lit up individually and (for a brief moment) set off fireworks that featured their national colors to music distinct of its representative nation. After their acknowledgement, the remaining countries that shared our timezone began the official countdown for the year of 2015 in a fashion that built anticipation. One pavilion illuminated in a flash of light and launched a single firework with each descending second until the exact moment of midnight struck. In that moment the final pavilion, the America pavilion, initiated rockets that shot across the World Showcase Lagoon. As if in domino effect, a massive display of pyrotechnics erupted from within the Lagoon with such presence that had it not been for the apparent celebration of world-wide unity it could have been mistaken for a declaration of world-wide war.
At the end of the day, I was left with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. Not every moment had been perfection, but every moment did feed a growing anticipation…anticipation for what lay ahead as we let go of what fell behind. It appropriately captured the essence of the New Year.
My opinion is that Epcot played its hand as a holiday venue with class. As I stated before, some may agree. Some may not. Ultimately, though, it can’t be denied that Epcot has proven itself capable of throwing an unforgettable event, if not–in fact–the party of the year.