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Royal touch at Epcot in Disney World

As Disney World marks its 50th anniversary, we are taking a look at the royal touches in the Florida theme park.

I know what you are thinking. Of course, Disney World has a royal touch! It is marked by the giant castle belonging to Cinderella. However, a real royal left his mark in the Epcot park. This was King Hassan II of Morocco, who personally sent craftsmen and artisans to help design the Moroccan Pavilion in the World Showcase area of Epcot.

I was recently at Disney World in the Epcot park and spoke to some Moroccans working at the pavilion. They explained that the idea to place a Moroccan pavilion, the only one funded by a foreign government, there was the idea of King Hassan II, and he was greatly involved in its design. He wanted to showcase his country to the American people and those who visit Epcot.

© Brittani Barger/Royal Central

After the pavilion’s design had been completed, a scale model was sent to King Hassan to have his architects look it over for authenticity. To respect Islamic beliefs, there are no drawings or art of people on the mosaics.

It is designed like many cities in the kingdom with both a ‘new’ (Ville Nouvelle) and ‘old’ (Medina) part of the city. The front is the ‘new’ while the back of the pavilion represents the ‘old.’ It also contains the ‘Fez House’, which was designed to look like a Moroccan home. A replica of a water clock in Fez is located in the ‘old’ city of the pavilion.

© Brittani Barger/Royal Central

The Tower of Terror, located in one of Disney World’s other parks called Hollywood Studios, can be seen from this area; therefore, the top of the Tower of Terror was designed to blend into the Moroccan design.

Part of the “old” city. © Brittani Barger/Royal Central

When the $20 million pavilion was dedicated, King Hassan II’s daughter, Princess Lalla Meriem, travelled to Florida to represent her father at the opening ceremony in 1984.

The Moroccans working in the pavilion told me that King Mohammed VI was “humble and very down to earth,” and Princess Lalla Salma was “beautiful and a true princess” with a big heart. To their knowledge, the King has never visited the Moroccan Pavilion in Epcot, but they would not be shocked to one day see him make the trip with his family.

The “new” city of the Moroccan pavilion. © Brittani Barger/Royal Central

Then Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja of Norway opened the Norwegian Pavilion in the same park in 1988, with the opening being broadcast live back in Norway on NRK. The Norwegian Royal Guard was also present.

At the time, the Crown Prince said at the gathering, “Ladies and gentlemen, wishing the best of luck to Disney World and those who will be responsible for the operation of the pavilion, I hereby declare the Norway pavilion open. Thank you.”

The Stave Church used to house a very short ‘museum’ on Frozen and its relation to Norway. It now houses an exhibit on Norwegian culture. © Brittani Barger/Royal Central

The Norwegian Pavilion was initially supposed to be for Denmark; then, it was changed to be a Scandinavian pavilion representing Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Norway funded most of the bill, and it was to be called “Norway, Gateway to Scandinavia.” It used to contain items in the shops from Sweden and Denmark; however, it now only sells Norwegian items.

Inside the Stave Church with a model of the Gol Stave Church © Brittani Barger/Royal Central

It contains the Stave Church based off of Gol Stave Church in the country. Outside of it is a statue of King Olaf II, who is also the Patron Saint of Norway. Its backdrop was based on the ancient Akershus Fortress in Oslo. It is one of only two pavilions with a ride. Originally, it featured a boat ride called the Maelstrom which took people through the history of the country; however, it was recently changed to a Frozen-themed ride.

The United Kingdom Pavilion sells royal merchandise from books, art, dishes and Diana, Princess of Wales inspired items. The day Princess Charlotte was born, the pavilion added a chalk drawing with her date of birth and weight. After her name had been announced a few days later, they added a sign in one of the shops saying, “Charlotte Elizabeth Diana,” in celebration of the new princess.

2 May 2015 in the UK pavilion after Princess Charlotte’s birth. © Brittani Barger/Royal Central

If you are ever at Epcot in Disney World, make sure to take the time to check out the World Showcase. It is, by far, the best part of the park. In my opinion, you see why the Moroccan Pavilion is the most authentic and beautiful of all the World Showcase.

Let’s all hope they add more pavilions in the future, especially of countries with monarchies, like Belgium or the Netherlands, and those of the Commonwealth like Australia or the Bahamas.

About author

Brittani is from Tennessee, USA. She is a political scientist and historian after graduating with a degree in the topics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in December 2014. She also holds a master's degree from Northeastern University. She enjoys reading and researching all things regarding the royals of the world. She's been researching, reading, and writing on royalty for over a decade. She became Europe Editor in October 2016, and then Deputy Editor in January 2019, and has been featured on several podcasts, radio shows, news broadcasts and websites including Global News Canada, ABC News Australia, WION India and BBC World News.