If you’ve ever been to, or even just researched, Disney World’s Epcot, you probably came across the World Showcase. This park attraction consists of 11 miniature “countries”—each a picturesque group of buildings, food stands, and other attractions representing a certain country—that wrap around a lagoon. The countries are Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. All of the countries are, of course, filled with immersive Disney magic, and the point is to make you feel as if you’re really in that country.
But according to Christopher Lucas, author of Top Disney: 100 Top Ten Lists of the Best of Disney, from the Man to the Mouse and Beyond, there is one country that ranks far beyond the others in terms of authenticity: the Kingdom of Morocco. Beyond Epcot, find out the secrets Disney park employees won’t tell you.
History of World Showcase’s Morocco
The World Showcase originally came to be because of Walt Disney’s love of the World’s Fair. The World Showcase was to be a tribute to the World’s Fair, with all of the Disney whimsy and wonder. And Imagineers were optimistic that the governments of the included countries would jump at the chance to sponsor—and pay for—a huge, proud tribute (and an advertisement, too!) to their country in this iconic, well-attended theme park.
And…they were wrong. “When [Epcot] opened in 1982, not a single country paid for sponsorship,” Lucas says. “It’s a hard sell to tell your taxpayers, ‘Hey, we’re gonna use some of your money and build this big thing over in Disney!'” World Showcase did still open, with nine countries (all but Morocco and Norway). But they were sponsored, not by the countries themselves and their governments, but by businesses run in, or associated with, those countries. Bass Brewery for the United Kingdom. Mitsukoshi department stores for Japan. Needless to say, this didn’t exactly lead to flawless authenticity.
Enter: King Hassan II of Morocco. Shortly after Epcot opened, Disney expressed interest in adding an African country. And this time, they actually got a willing volunteer in King Hassan. “At the time—the early ’80s—with all the tension that was going on in the Middle East, he wanted to have a place at Disney where Americans, and people from around the world, could see that the Middle East was worth visiting and [there was] lots to see and do there,” says Lucas. So Hassan paid for the construction of the pavilion himself, but he had some stipulations about authenticity. Do you know about these major changes coming to Disney’s Epcot soon?
How is it authentic?
Well, perhaps most importantly, the pavilion was designed by actual Moroccan people, at King Hassan’s behest. “They worked with the Imagineers, but 80 percent of the people were Moroccan designers,” Lucas says. The pavilion is set somewhat back from the rest of the World Showcase, which makes it that much more immersive. “His designers made it feel like the old city,” Lucas says. “You feel like you’re in a market in 12th-century Marrakesh.” The most prominent tower in the pavilion is a replica of Marrakesh’s Koutoubia Mosque, a 12th-century building. Everything from the products you can buy to the music you hear is authentically Moroccan. “It’s the least ‘Disney’ of all the pavilions,” Lucas sums up.
Another sign of the pavilion’s authenticity is the lack of any depictions of people in the mosaics, all of which are made with authentic Moroccan tile. Islamic customs prohibit images of people in artwork, and King Hassan wanted to make sure Disney wouldn’t bend this rule. The only “exception”? Hidden Mickeys! “He allowed that, because hey, Mickey’s not a person!” explains Lucas. Don’t know about Disney’s delightful trend of hiding subtle Mickey Mouse shapes all over the parks? Here are some of our favorite Hidden Mickey examples.
And while all of the pavilions at Epcot do employ people from the specific country, Morocco is staffed almost entirely by native Moroccans, who can speak to the pavilion’s authenticity. If you’re planning a Disney trip, don’t bypass this somewhat tucked-away Epcot country! It has six shops; three delicious restaurants serving authentic Mediterranean cuisine; and, as of November 2019, its first attraction. “Race Against the Sun” is an interactive exhibit about a pair of real desert races in Morocco, complete with a virtual reality experience. And, of course, World Showcase as a whole is one of the best must-dos for grown-ups visiting Disney World.