My favorite part of Walt Disney World is Epcot’s World Showcase, which houses mini-lands representing eleven different countries, each one themed to the hilt. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite pavilion, but if someone really pressed me, Mexico would definitely be in the running.
Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion
First off, the music is fantastic. I love mariachi music, absolutely nuts for the stuff. Nothing is better on a sunny day, and no other music can so reliably put a smile on my face. The band that plays at Epcot is Mariachi Cobre. It was a surreal moment when I first visited the Mexico pavilion and saw that they play there daily — I have all their albums, and had no idea they were a Disney band. Definitely one of those moments that affirmed my love for Disney.
It’s lit perfectly and romantically — it’s always twilight in the Mexico pavilion. It’s the only pavilion that is completely indoors, which can be awfully nice when it gets too hot in the Florida sun. It’s only a little bit brighter than a Peppermill’s. I am an absolute sucker for a dimly lit public establishment. It’s the best way to make a place feel totally immersive. I don’t exactly feel like I’m in Mexico when I’m inside the Mexico pavilion, but I know I’m somewhere unreal and magical.
The restaurant in the pavilion is the San Angel Inn. In short, it’s a Mexican-themed Blue Bayou. It sits at the back of the pavilion, overlooking an Aztec pyramid, with a volcano rumbling threateningly in the distance. The food isn’t spectacular, but it’s good, and the margaritas are actually great. It’s not my favorite restaurant at Walt Disney World (there’s so much great food to be had there), but it’s worth making time for.
Pyramid and volcano in the distance at San Angel Inn
Running between the San Angel Inn and that pyramid, just like at the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland, is a water-based dark ride. But no blockbuster films will ever be made in tribute to El Rio del Tiempo.
However, a non-blockbuster film has been made… RU42 has created an 11 minute tribute to this pavilion, including a run-through of El Rio del Tiempo:
El Rio del Tiempo shall forever live in infamy. It was the only ride in all of World Showcase when the pavilion opened in 1982 (Norway’s Maelstrom ride was added in 1988). The true experience of it defies description, but I’m going to try anyhow.
As the ride begins, your boat heads past that pyramid and volcano, and into an ancient temple. For some reason, there are video screens projecting images from a 1982 disco party, with star fields & rainbows, and possibly the Village People. You turn the corner, and now you’re on the It’s a Small Mexico ride, only all the children have killed Mary Blair. Then you’re in modern-day Mexico… I’m sorry, you’re in 1982 Mexico… and you’re visiting a tourism office. There are video scenes of beaches and cliff divers, and a hot tub party. “1982 Hot Tub Party.” Just let that sink in for a little bit, and see if you don’t feel like you could use a shower. From there, it’s El Rio del Tiempo’s most notorious section: the open-air market. You boat is chased — chased — by desperate merchants, begging you to buy their merchandise. Then you head into a room that has Mexico City’s 1982 skyline all lit up on one side, and marionnettes forced to dance eternally in a carousel-like circle. Marionnettes are always a little creepy, but these are full-size human marionnettes, which just exaggerates their soullessness. Fireworks are exploding overhead, just in case you weren’t uncomfortable enough with the scene as it is. And then you see the painting of Mexico that signals you will soon be free.
Hot tub scene at El Rio del Tiempo, by sigsegv
El Rio del Tiempo closed recently, and has been updated; it’s now called Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. This is a wonderful development — Three Caballeros is my favorite Disney film, and a perfect fit. I can’t wait to see the new ride. (PLEASE do not tell me anything you might know about the new ride. I’m trying to remain unspoiled.) While I don’t doubt for a second that they did the right thing in updating this ride, I am a little wistful that I won’t get to ride it again. I kind of loved it.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!