Somewhere between France and England, I lost my sobriety.
I scanned the menu at the Rose & Crown bar, a gilded and wood-paneled vision of a classic English pub, while notes from a Who cover band playing in the square drifted in with every new patron.
On the menu were beers made as sweet and drinkable as only a pub in an amusement park could: cider with a shot of black currant juice, a half-and-half mixture of Bass Ale and Sprite. Before I could choose, two men next to me chugged Irish Car Bombs — Guinness topped with a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Bailey’s, I thought, sounded like a great idea.
A few embarrassing moments later, my glass lay on its side as two creamy ounces of the liqueur washed over the bar.
I was, it turned out, as tipsy as that shot glass.
The challenge was noble: Drink around the world at Epcot, Disney World’s second Florida theme park. It was possibly the only way to save face when telling people that three adults were going to the land of mice and princesses, voluntarily, without children.
Epcot is the park for nerds and adults, and especially nerdy adults. It focuses on technology and world cultures, and its relative dearth of rides, fairy tales and character-driven gift shops make it the anti-Disney Disney park. And unlike the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s flagship, Epcot allows guests to drink alcohol. The juxtaposition of adult beverages in a kiddie wonderland is such a draw that groups of visitors make pilgrimages here just for the challenge of drinking around the world — that is, consuming at least one drink in each of the pavilions in the park’s World Showcase. Each pavilion represents the cultural and culinary riches of foreign countries — including their alcoholic heritage. Whole websites are devoted to the activity.
My friends Marco and Diane and I had six hours to make our way round the lagoon, stopping at all 11 countries’ restaurants, cafes or street carts for a drink before the fireworks show launched at 9 p.m. Our plan: Share drinks and eat often to soak up the alcohol.
Our journey began in the Mexico pavilion, a faux-Mayan pyramid that inside looks like the sound stage for a south-of-the-border western. Alongside market stalls selling sombreros and piñatas, we found the doorway to La Cava del Tequila, a small bar with a hefty menu of agave flights and frozen margaritas. I selected a creamy and vegetal avocado margarita, and sipped it “river”-side, where boats shuttled passengers into a tunnel for a ride starring Donald Duck. But a combination of brain-freeze and anxiety about how much alcohol I had yet to consume stopped me from finishing my drink.
A toast of ‘Skol’
As you walk from one pavilion to another at Epcot, a subtle atmospheric shift takes place. The music being streamed on a loop through speakers hidden in planters and on light posts subtly shifts from passionate mariachi love songs of Mexico to upbeat wooden flute and accordion tunes of Norway.
From a bakery inside a wooden hut that peddles rice pudding and lefse, Diane ordered Viking Coffee, a hot drink spiked with Bailey’s and Kamora liqueur. Marco and I decided to do shots of Linie aquavit, which we bought from a cart on the street. Adding a touch of authenticity to the experience, the clerk, hailing from the real Norway, reminded us of the proper toast, “Skol!” The liquid burned, and brought on a momentary buzz quashed only by the parade of little Elsas coming out of the gift shop. Capitalizing on the success of “Frozen,” the Norway pavilion is definitely the most princess-y stop on the route. We decided to, uh, let it go, and move on.
Speaking of frozen, Epcot has a cocktail fad: slushies. Frozen margaritas, sure, but plum wine slush? And the many vaguely cultural iterations to follow — strawberry sake slush, Gran Marnier slush, beer slush?
In China, we opted instead for something called Tipsy Ducks in Love, an iced tea and coffee combo dashed with Jim Beam. Sipping the chalky sweet drink over a soggy egg roll, we watched Chinese acrobats flip themselves into a perfect blue sky.
The next stop wasn’t an official pavilion, but a so-called trading post (aka gift shop) meant to represent the entire continent of Africa. But seeing as the only drinks available here were U.S.-made Coca-Cola products, we moved right along.
Even in a land of make-believe, gluttony is best avoided, we learned. In Germany, bratwurst sandwiches looked mouthwatering, but we passed to save room for the seven pavilions to come. Out of duty to the challenge, though, I ordered Lemberger, a dry red wine served in a plastic wine glass, and chugged it just to get to the next stop.
In Italy, we snagged a table at Tutto Gusto, a stone-walled wine bar. We all chipped in on the Grand Tour, a six-wine tasting that began with a crisp prosecco and ended with a syrupy dessert wine. We also filled up on a massive antipasto plate that came with piles of bread, cheeses, meats and pickled veggies. That food and drink alone would have been enough for us on any normal day, but we were here on a mission.
During our time in Italy, it had gotten dark. Epcot’s signature sight, a geodesic dome housing the Spaceship Earth ride, twinkled pink and purple across the lagoon. The clock was ticking.
We speedily hit up a drink stand in Japan selling a Kirin draft topped with slush made from the lager. Oddly, it was the best-tasting slush we had all day.
The next country was a head-scratcher: America. But I’d already drunk plenty in America. We agreed it didn’t warrant a stop for a Sam Adams and a funnel cake.
By Morocco, fatigue had set in. Marco was still sipping his beer slushie and we were faced with yet another menu of blended drinks. “I can’t do it,” Diane said. “Slush is for babies.”
Instead of grabbing a drink, we wandered the pavilion’s winding cobblestone lanes set under crumbling arches, with hidden doorways leading to small shops — you could get lost in here.
Maybe it was the magic of fake-Morocco, but it reinvigorated me. If we skipped a drink here, what was to stop us from calling off the whole challenge? I decided I must get something — anything.
Peachy white sangria, pre-mixed in a wine bottle, was it. The server, though, had something better in mind.
“Want to try Moroccan wine?” asked Mehdi, a Casablanca native. On the sly, he poured us each a generous glug of Zniber Les Trois Domaínes, a refreshing white.
Mehdi had been working in “Morocco” for half a year, stationed in an uninspired cafeteria. While the air-conditioned perch had its advantages, it wasn’t home.
“I miss my world,” he said.
Stumbling into Canada
In my drinking experience, Champagne is usually where things take a turn for the worse. In France, a glass of rosy Moet was enough to get my friends and me drunk-texting selfies to loved ones from a Parisian-style pâtisserie stocked with cobalt blue Eiffel Tower figurines.
Then came the U.K., the Rose & Crown, the spilled drink.
After the bartender graciously poured me a new shot, we stumbled our way to Canada, last stop on the bar crawl, just in time for a final refreshment before the fireworks. Unfortunately, the journey came to a disappointing end with a single stand offering little more than Moosehead lager and popcorn.
No matter. I’d come with a mission, and I’d accomplished it. There’s nothing quite like revisiting your childhood Disney vacation through the lens of nearly a dozen adult beverages. It’s like returning to your hometown over spring break and finally being old enough to go to the town pub with your high school friends; it still feels illicit, and you can’t believe your good fortune to be a grown-up.
The beer was enough to keep the buzz going through a pyrotechnic display that offered a vague narrative about the progress of humanity and the cooperation of nations.
On our way out of the park, we stopped at Spaceship Earth, that Epcot landmark, for a few last goofy pics. Tipsy indeed, I posed to make it look like I was holding up the glowing globe with my bare hands.
It was a small world, after all.