Half of the “permanent World’s Fair” atmosphere of Epcot  comes across in the inventions, innovations, and corporate sponsorships that are found throughout Future World. Putting forth a vision of an ecologically balanced, remote-controlled tomorrow, the various pavilions and attractions of Future World combine to create something like the world’s biggest hands-on museum that just happens to have some really cool rides.
Spaceship Earth is not one of those cool rides. This is the iconic “giant golf ball,” and although it has recently undergone a thorough renovation, the ride inside the ball is far from the most exhilarating experience. Cars slowly make their way along the constantly moving track as animatronic figures and a narration by Judi Dench trace the history of communication from cave paintings and Roman couriers all the way through television and email. Afterwards, riders exit through “Project Tomorrow,” an area with interactive games that highlight the technology of current sponsor Siemens.
Another giant ball at Epcot  is the sphere that sits outside of Mission: Space. However, that’s about the only similarity this ride has to the enervating journey one has on Spaceship Earth. If the many multiple signs and cast-member admonitions warning away the pregnant, heart-troubled, and easily frightened aren’t enough of a clue, be advised that Mission: Space is the most intense ride on Disney property.
Built on flight-simulator technology, the ride is themed to within an inch of its life as riders are transformed into a crew about to embark on a journey to the red planet. Of course, there is no actual launch, but the perfectly choreographed combination of computer animation, ride environment, and intense g-forces will very nearly fool your mind and body into believing that you’ve broken the bonds of gravity. In reality, you’re just in a rapidly spinning centrifuge with your face plastered up against a tiny movie screen.
The two pavilions that make up the Innoventions plaza are stuffed with corporate-presented educational-experimental exhibits like “The Magic of Plastics” (sponsored by the Society of the Plastics Industry), “Where’s the Fire?” (sponsored by Liberty Mutual), and the “Great American Farm” (American Farm Bureau). Kids have a chance to interact with several of the exhibits, most notably the “Test the Limits” area, where the folks at Underwriters Laboratories get to show off their various testing techniques.
While Innoventions is one of the less-crowded areas of Epcot , the nearby Test Track typically boasts the park’s most gruelingly long lines. This ride’s FastPass  kiosks are typically out of tickets by midday, and during peak season the “standby” line is usually 90 minutes or longer due to frequent instances of the track shutting down for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Advice: Don’t be dissuaded by the crowds; abandon your group and head for the single-riders line, which is usually less than half the length of the standby line. Even if you have to stand in one of the longer lines, Test Track is not to be missed.
Sponsored by General Motors, the attraction purports to recreate the various tests that an automobile is put through before making its way to market. Bumpy roads, hot-and-cold temperature extremes, and hair-raising braking tests are the opening acts for a quick 65-mph ride down the steeply banked outdoor track; the last part only lasts for less than a minute, but it’s a screaming bit of fun.
It’s not exactly clear why the justifiably praised Soarin’ attraction is in the agrarian-focused pavilion called The Land, but regardless of the incongruity of its location, this transplant from Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim has proved to be remarkably popular. Riders board a floorless flight simulator positioned in front of an enormous floor-to-ceiling movie screen. After liftoff, the seats move in tandem with the motion onscreen, realistically emulating the sensation of hang-gliding over various sights in California. While it would have been nice if they had at least made Epcot ’s version of Soarin’ a little Florida-centric, the thrill of fake flight is powerful indeed. Lines for Soarin’ are nearly as outrageous as those for Test Track; with that in mind, the indoor line has recently been outfitted with motion-sensitive technology that gives guests an opportunity to play interactive video games on screens overhead.
More appropriate to its location in The Land is, well, Living with the Land, a narrated boat ride expounding on various methods of agriculture. Boring? Not so much. The combination of history lesson, ecological message, and the closing coup de grâce—a look at functioning futuristic hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaculture labs, complete with gigantic gourds and Mickey-shaped cucumbers—proves to be surprisingly interesting. For an extra fee, guests can take the Behind the Seeds Tour ($12 adults, $10 children), a 45-minute close-up of Living with the Land’s greenhouses.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends used to be a pavilion known as “The Living Seas,” but given the success of Finding Nemo, the updated theming is a natural fit. The primary attraction here is a ride that is also called “The Seas with Nemo and Friends,” an updated version of a more straightforward “sea cab” ride that used to guide visitors through the various features of the aquarium. Now, the sea cabs are “clamobiles,” and animated versions of various characters from the film are projected to appear as if they’re swimming with the inhabitants of the 5.7-million-gallon aquarium.
While seeing Dory and Bruce may be appealing to the younger ones, it’s that aquarium—the second-largest manmade saltwater tank in the world—that holds the real stars of the Seas: more than 200 different species, including sharks, turtles, rays, tropical fish, and dolphins. The “Sea Base” area is set up like most public aquariums, and small educational stations are set up throughout.
If you’ve still got questions, a great place to get them answered is Turtle Talk with Crush, an animated and interactive show that utilizes the same technology employed at the Magic Kingdom’s Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor  in Tomorrowland; an actor mimics the voice of Crush and responds to audience questions, while the animated turtle moves in real time, as if he can actually see the people in the crowd. It tickles kids to no end, and adults will be fascinated at the Imagineering prowess employed.
Although the 5.7-million-gallon aquarium at the Seas pavilion provides plenty of aquatic beauty on the dry side of the thick glass walls, scuba-certified individuals can get even closer to the sharks, fish, and rays by taking part in DiveQuest. The bulk of the three-hour program is a guided backstage tour of the aquarium facilities, but the highlight is a 45-minute dive inside the coral reef habitat as tourists peer at you from the other side of the glass.
Although the program is expensive — $175, theme park admission not required — it’s quite a remarkable underwater excursion, combining perfectly controlled conditions and the typical Disney service (all dive gear is provided, as well as snacks afterward, and a DVD copy of footage of your dive is available for purchase).
Divers must have current open-water adult dive certificates; in the case of kids age 10 and up, Junior Diver Certifications are also accepted. Reservations should be made at least a few days in advance (farther ahead during peak seasons) by calling 407/939-8687.
Universe of Energy houses a 45-minute show featuring Ellen DeGeneres called “Ellen’s Energy Adventure,” and the Imagination Pavilion has a 3-D movie called “Honey I Shrunk the Audience.” Both of these pavilions are easily skipped.