Photo by Benjamin Rader

Morocco bazaar at Epcot. Photo by Benjamin Rader

From AAA EnCompass.

Are you a travel junkie? While some may consider travel a luxury, for me it’s an essential part of life. Regardless of whether I travel in my own backyard or across the globe, I thrive on exploring new places, meeting different people and learning more about the world.

Of course, I don’t have an unlimited budget to feed this love of travel. Who does? But that doesn’t mean you have to stop traveling. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can let the world come to you.

The Epcot World Showcase, one of the theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, is a great example.

The 305-acre park has two distinct areas. Future World explores the latest innovative technology, while the World Showcase celebrates 11 nations in different villages lining the park’s 40-acre lagoon. Nations represented are Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Japan, Italy, Germany, China, Norway, Mexico and the USA.

The World Showcase is what makes Epcot my favorite Disney theme park. Walking through the different “nations” is like taking a little trip around the globe. At Epcot I can have breakfast in Norway, buy dishware in Japan, see a movie in China and then enjoy a scrumptious dinner in France. Not bad for a day’s journey.

Each national pavilion was created with careful attention to detail. It’s uncanny how well the streets, gardens, buildings and monuments in each village provide an authentic visual representation of that nation.

Norway has a stunning replica of a stave church, while the United Kingdom delights with its carefully manicured English gardens. The French village reflects Paris between 1870 and 1910, and the Morocco pavilion has the Koutoubia Minaret (a replica of a famous prayer tower).

For many people, especially children, Epcot is the first introduction to some of these faraway lands. Indeed, it was for me. I was 13 the first time I stepped foot in Epcot, and it felt like I had landed on the moon. Foreign words surrounded me while I explored shops filled with exotic things I had never seen, and tasted cuisine that was new to my palate. I was absolutely thrilled. Fast forward all these years later (I’m not telling how many), and the theme park still captures my attention and imagination.

For starters, the World Showcase is a shopper’s paradise. With more than 65 stores, boutiques and outdoor merchants selling wares from their respective lands, it’s hard to know where to begin! You can shop for fine wines in Italy, taste sumptuous chocolate in Germany, and buy exotic French perfumes in France.

And these aren’t just tiny stores, mind you. The Mitsukoshi Department Store in the Japan pavilion, for example, is a large Japanese retailer offering clothes, toys, housewares and more. You could easily get lost in this place. (I actually have.)

But shopping is only part of the experience. Authentic dining and cooking styles from each nation can be found at the World Showcase. Try the fish and chips in the United Kingdom or a dark beer in Germany. If you’d rather linger over fine cuisine, head to Chefs de France for an exquisite French dining experience, or to the Mexico pavilion, where you’ll find a version of the San Angel Inn of Mexico City. Be sure to make your dining reservations at least one or two days ahead—stop by a Guest Relations desk or call Walt Disney World Resort’s reservations hotline.

Epcot also offers guests an opportunity to view world-class art. Five of the World Showcase countries display art treasures from international collections, including a rare collection of Viking artifacts in the Norway pavilion, artisan-crafted pottery and ancient musical instruments in Morocco, and authentic tomb sculptures from Ancient China.

To bring each country pavilion to life, the World Showcase brings in artists, artisans and performers in national costume. The troupe of young Chinese acrobats will awe you with their skills, while the Cockney buskers in the United Kingdom will make you smile at their sidewalk comedy. The sound of Japanese drummers often fills the night air at Epcot, and musical groups throughout the park are sure to entertain.

Speaking of entertainment, one of my favorite pastimes at Epcot is viewing the spectacular motion pictures there. Both China and Canada have Circle-Vision 360 films which take visitors on an entertaining tour of the respective countries.

Martin Short is the host for the Canadian film, while the Chinese movie captures parts of China that most Americans have never seen. For one scene, a Disney crew had to haul the 300-pound camera up 4,500 steps of the Huangshan Mountain. But the result of their efforts is a “you-are-there” viewing experience.

France has a 200-degree film called “Impressions de France,” which is a beautiful (albeit a bit dated) travelogue set to classical music and shown in a Paris-style theatre. If you have any interest in France, take the time to see this.

But Epcot is also designed as a two-way cultural exchange. Each country’s pavilion is staffed by young people from that nation. These “cultural ambassadors” are eager to share their customs and cultures with guests. It’s not uncommon to hear German, Chinese and Italian all within a half-hour period at Epcot.

With so much to see and do, it’s hard to know how to make the most of your day at the park. My strategy has always been to eat a little something at each country, browse through at least one store, and then try one cultural experience at each location.

With this plan, you’ll be happily full all day long, and soak in a taste of 11 different cultures. Not bad for a day-long global journey!

Top 5 World Showcase experiences

•Attend the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

•Watch IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, a fireworks spectacular which celebrates our world.

•Eat a Kringla at the bakery in Norway. (Yes, it’s that good.)

•Shop for candy in Japan. (Ask for the candy with the edible wrappers.)

•Take a belly dancing lesson at the bazaar in Morocco.