By Kristin Harmel
Updated: January 20, 2017
MERVYN REES / Alamy

I love to travel. It’s why I’m writing for a publication such as Travel + Leisure; it’s why I spent time in my twenties living in Europe; it’s why I often set my novels in magical places like Paris and Rome. So how could someone like me, who dreams far beyond her own national borders, settle in a place like Orlando? Easy: Not only is the city much more cosmopolitan and multicultural than most people expect, but it’s also home to Epcot, a theme park that somehow manages to bring the allure of world travel right to Florida’s doorstep. Eleven countries—Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom and Canada—are represented around the World Showcase Lagoon, and each is spectacular in its own right. Not only do the architecture and food of each pavilion evoke the countries themselves, but they’re each staffed largely by twentysomethings from the respective countries, allowing visitors to become immersed in the culture of each spot. Here are my favorite countries around the World Showcase.

France

It’s no surprise that after having lived briefly in Paris, I remain a bit obsessed with France. When I’m missing my old Eiffel Tower neighborhood, I get my French fix here, where two upscale restaurants, an authentic bakery, a wine shop and several retail stores are tucked into a cluster of winding streets that really do look Parisian. The 18-minute movie is also worth seeing.

Mexico

On the outside, the Mexican pavilion is a big, squat pyramid. But when you climb the stairs and step inside, you’re immediately thrust into a whole new world. The inside looks like a Mexican street market at twilight and is truly magical and immersive. Enjoy a folk art gallery, plenty of shopping, an indoor restaurant and tequila bar, and even a ride. Outside the pyramid, find a quick-service restaurant and a new eatery that overlooks the water.

China

The sprawling store in China is filled with every trinket you can imagine; I loved visiting when I was a kid! But this beautiful pavilion also offers much more, including a Circle-Vision 360 movie, a formal restaurant, a quick-service restaurant, and a truly impressive Chinese acrobatic troupe.

The American Adventure

Whether you’re American or just visiting our country, this pavilion celebrates the magic of the United States in a way that will make your heart swell. Catch the 30-minute audio-animatronic The American Adventure show, featuring Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, and check your park schedule to ensure you see a performance of the talented a capella group Voices of Liberty. A shop, a quick-service eatery and a huge outdoor theater round out the pavilion.

Norway

Sadly, the beloved Maelstrom ride has closed, but an attraction themed after the popular Disney movie “Frozen” will soon take its place. In the meantime, this quaint village features some fascinating shops (you’ll never realize you desperately need a Norwegian troll until you get here), a delicious bakery, a stave church gallery and a restaurant that hosts a popular princess character breakfast in the morning and then serves a Norwegian-style buffet for the remainder of the day.

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