While exploring the posts shared by Lady Anglophile, I often think, “What Anglophile experiences have had the biggest impact on me in my life?” Those that have allowed me to embrace and revel in all things Anglophile. The list is both long and diverse, yet I can unquestionably identify the Anglophile experience that is the most special to me, for it involves the one place in the world I truly love as much as my own home: Walt Disney World.
It was a long time coming (you have no idea how long!), but last summer was my first visit to the country and culture that have intrigued me since childhood. Spending one week in London with a day trip to Oxford was extraordinary, but was only the tip of a VERY large iceberg in terms of all that still remains to be explored. One day, I fervently hope for the opportunity to travel and experience as extensively as possible all throughout the United Kingdom. While I suppose that travel to the UK is not a requirement for an Anglophile, it certainly is an indescribably magical feeling to stand amidst the culture and people that hold such fascination… and truly absorb simply being there.
A lifelong Anglophile, my first visit to the UK did not occur until last year, when I was twenty-five years old. But how has Walt Disney World been connected to my experience as an Anglophile? The answer is the United Kingdom Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase.
My family has had the good fortune to visit Walt Disney World many (many!) times throughout my life, becoming “our place” – for vacations every summer for as long as I can remember, as well as several Christmases and New Years celebrations. My favorite theme park is Epcot, my favorite part of Epcot is the World Showcase, and my favorite part of the World Showcase is the United Kingdom pavilion – always has been, always will be. Epcot’s version of the UK fostered my love for the United Kingdom from an early age and solidified my appreciation for all things Anglophile – giving me a tangible “UK” without actually being IN the UK. More than anything else, Epcot’s UK was the quintessential Anglophile experience throughout my childhood. It is a magical place with endless offerings for every Anglophile at heart.
Centered around a beautiful lagoon, World Showcase is an area of Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park reminiscent of a permanent world’s fair, comprised of eleven pavilions representing eleven different countries. Each pavilion exhibits themed architecture, landscapes, attractions, shops, restaurants, and live entertainment that represent the respective country’s culture. It is a truly authentic and enlightening cultural experience for guests of all ages to enjoy.
Maintaining the authenticity of each represented country is of paramount importance and Disney’s solution is for each pavilion to be staffed primarily by citizens of each country. Through the Walt Disney World International Program, citizens of each represented country are employed as Cast Members for a year-long cultural exchange. I have always been fascinated by these international Cast Members and their presence in World Showcase. Visiting the UK pavilion, you will find representatives from throughout the country – England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. One of my favorite things to do when visiting is to read the Cast Members’ nametags to discover the towns and areas of the UK they call home. I have had so many wonderful conversations throughout the years with these cultural ambassadors, who are always enthusiastic in sharing travel recommendations and must-visits, treasured aspects of their culture, and stories of the wide variety of places they call home – a truly insightful and unique experience that I cannot recommend highly enough.
Each pavilion features a “Kidcot” station as part of Epcot’s “Kidcot” program, which brings Disney’s youngest guests – children of all ages – into contact with the Cast Members from all around the world who staff these pavilions. Each station provides another level of activity and immersion for children who visit the park; they participate in various crafts, the highlight of which is a craftwork mask that they can carry with them from one pavilion to the next, adding new pieces as they make their way around the lagoon and its countries. It is a special and unique learning experience for kids as they interact with the diverse staff of World Showcase while also creating a keepsake souvenir of their multicultural adventure.
A visit to Epcot’s United Kingdom pavilion is like a journey through time, with a progression around the country and through the centuries represented by the building facades and interior spaces that line the enchanting streets. Traveling from left to right along the promenade, you begin in the 1500s, represented by “The Tea Caddy” shop; its thatched roof and half-timbered walls are modeled after Anne Hathaway’s cottage at Stratford-Upon-Avon. You then move into the 1600s with a two-story structure featuring gothic-style diamond-shaped wooden moldings, arches, gables, and trefoils. All in white plaster, the next building exhibits the classical architecture of the 1700s. The 1800s is represented by a building with an exterior of dressed stone and four-column center leading up to the roofline’s stone parapet. Tying it all together is a return to the 1500s as you approach the main promenade walkway through World Showcase, modeled on Hampton Court Palace on the east façade and Walter Scott’s Abbotsford Manor on the south façade. A lovely English country garden is located behind the Elizabethan cottage and a charming courtyard tucked behind the buildings is bordered by townhouses/flats that you would expect to see in London’s Kensington district. This variation in architectural styles allows for a broad, sweeping vision of the United Kingdom that seamlessly weaves together as a single experience. It is one of my absolute favorite places in all of Walt Disney World to stroll through and enjoy.
Disney’s version of a quintessential British pub is the “Rose & Crown,” offering traditional pub fare in a restaurant space that actually represents four different styles of pubs common in different areas of the United Kingdom. All styles appear on the exterior of the building and each corresponds to a similarly styled space inside. The city or “street” pub reminiscent of an 1890s Victorian city center features brick and wood paneling on the façade with an elegant interior mahogany bar, etched glass, and molded plaster ceiling; the Dickensian pub (evocative of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London) offers a half-timbered Elizabethan-styled exterior with a brick-walled flagstone terrace and slate roof; the waterfront or “river” pub features a stone façade and decorative doorways with a cozy, village-inn-styled dining room; the country or “provincial” pub, from the suburbs of the 17th and 18th centuries, features a rustic combination of slate, plaster, and stone. There is also a chippy attached, offering fresh fish and chips for takeaway – always a delicious option!
Shopping in the UK pavilion comprises a variety of stores showcasing items both from and inspired by the United Kingdom; a plethora of teas, china teacups and saucers, teapots, and teatime accessories, including tea towels and foods (biscuits, sweets, and other packaged treats) directly from the UK; a selection of British knick-knacks (double-decker bus and Big Ben tins/figurines, etc.), mugs, t-shirts, Keep Calm and Carry On items, as well as books about the Royal Family, British architecture and history, and cookbooks; jewelry from British designers, Scottish wool items, and toiletry items from Buckingham Palace’s collection; items inspired by British books, television programs, and music from popular culture including Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter stories, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia as well as displays dedicated to Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Doctor Who, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones; a historical research center, allowing guests to research family names and purchase corresponding crests; team jerseys for rugby and football and various items emblazoned with the colors/logos of UK teams. Specialty items are sometimes introduced for a limited time, such as in celebration of royal occasions; I purchased a beautiful Dunoon china mug during The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and was delighted to see similar mugs celebrating the birth of Princess Charlotte and The Queen’s Longest Reigning Monarch milestone on a recent visit.
The pavilion also features live entertainment in the form of “British Revolution,” a four-piece band that performs an eclectic mix of British rock & roll, psychedelic, and punk favorites. The band performs several sets throughout the late afternoon and into the evening and each set is different, either by genre or by decade. It’s one of my favorite live performances in all of Walt Disney World and is definitely a crowd pleaser! Additionally, the acoustic group “Quickstep” recently made their debut. This quartet features fiddle, flute, bagpipes, drums, and more as they perform authentic music drawn from English, Scottish, and Irish traditions. Throughout the month of December, the pavilion is festively decorated for Christmas and includes a special yuletide treat: a beautifully costumed Father Christmas appears daily to share traditional stories of Christmas and the holiday season dating back to 15th-century England.
The quality and attention to detail that Disney creates in its theme park experiences is unmatched anywhere in the world. Consequently, Epcot’s United Kingdom really is an exceptional British cultural experience right here in the United States, providing an authentic sampling of the best of Britain – culture, cuisine, shopping, and entertainment – accentuated by an ambience of authenticity and the opportunity for meaningful interactions with wonderful native Cast Members. Just as The Anglophile Channel brilliantly fulfills the Anglophile niche online, Epcot’s United Kingdom pavilion does the same within Walt Disney World for visiting guests and Anglophiles alike. There is so much to see and experience that the possibilities are endless.
For those Anglophiles who have yet to cross the pond or for those needing a taste of Britain before their next visit to the UK, Epcot offers a brilliant opportunity for all guests to participate in their own British experience. I truly believe that Disney’s version of the “quintessential” United Kingdom is authentic enough to both satisfy and intrigue Anglophiles everywhere. Enjoy your adventure!
*For more insight, secrets, and magic, be sure to explore “The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World” by Alex Wright and The Imagineers [Disney Editions, 2006].
Meghan McKillop is American by birth but British at heart. Endlessly fascinated by British culture, entertainment, history, royalty, literature, and travel, she aspires to indulge her curiosity while sharing her passions and discoveries with Anglophiles everywhere.