Minicot -- Recreating Disney's Epcot in a Minnesota Backyard

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Can't take that Disney vacation this year due to a tighter budget? Not being able to afford a trip to Florida didn't stop Minnesota brothers Bob and Dean Rice from recreating Epcot right in their own backyard. On July 4th family and friends will get to experience their Disney recreation they're calling "Minicot."

Skipping that next Disney vacation due to rising airfare and a tighter economy? That isn't stopping a couple of Minnesota brothers who decided to beat the gas crisis and build Disney in their own backyard. What started as some lighthearted joking between two Mickey fans is now becoming a reality. Brothers Bob and Dean Rice seem to be taking dreaming as serious as Walt himself.

"I'll never forget the time I dragged my brother down to Disneyworld in the mid '80s, I knew he'd love Epcot," says Dean. "After visiting for my first time I had only one goal, and that was to get Bob down there, so within a year there we were. From the moment he walked on the Horizons ride at Epcot I knew he was hooked just like me."

And now 20 years later, what began as a string of Florida vacations has now resulted in the brothers doing something that they don't think has ever been done. "We can't find anyone else who has tried to capture Epcot right in their own backyard, so on July 4th we're hoping to do something that's never been done." They're calling it "Minicot."

According to Dean, his brother Bob and sons Eric and Andrew were the real pioneers, who started trying to recreate Epcot's Illuminations show on the 4th of July. "We started with a few lights and some commercial fireworks mounted on a piece of plywood, all synched up to the same music played at Illuminations every night at Epcot." Last year they invested in some advanced controllers and ended up with roughly 70 folks showing up to watch the July 4th show. "Not everything pulled off as planned but we seemed to have a happy crowd of spectators."

But apparently you ain't seen nothing yet! That is at least until you show up for this year's celebration. "This year will be 10 times the experience, you won't believe it until you see it," says Dean. "We've quadrupled the Illuminations show with well over 100 sets of lights, palm trees and a few other surprises, and Illuminations won't even be the highlight of the evening." In 2005 Epcot opened a ride that on some days creates a 2-plus hour wait. "Soarin is my favorite ride, period, it recaptured the kind of wonderment that was losing steam at Disney, and now we've recreated it in a pole barn," says Bob. Apparently the folks who've already been on Soarin are the ones that are most impressed with the ride recreation.

"It feels like you're being whisked right up into that omni-like theater, with the same force of wonder hitting you and all the side effects to boot," said a young rider who recently took a test ride. "My feet were dangling over canyons, stampeding buffalo and a waterfall like I've never seen before, the music was incredible, you truly have to see the details that the guys threw into this thing." And don't expect to see the same Soarin video that is played at Epcot. "We've created our own video to give you a whole new experience, and we're pretty pleased with the results," says Eric, who is lending his audio-visual expertise to all the technical challenges behind Minicot.

So how do you top off a night of Soarin and Illuminations? How about a Mexican feast at Mexico Village of course! "The bold colors and happy music that make for such a festive atmosphere has always been at the first country to the left in World Showcase." Dean's wife Carol took her artistic flair to the task of recreating the Mexican village and came up with some authentic decorations and special effects. "We've got a rumbling volcano, colorful merchandise and some cool artwork to give that fun atmosphere you get at the Mexican village. To top it all off they threw in "Club Cool", that semi-secret free pop station in Epcot with sodas from all around the world. Do Bob and Deans 8 children think they're cool or crazy? "A little of both," says Nathan, "and we like it!"

Can anyone come out and enjoy Minicot for themselves? "Not this year, but we're hoping to inspire peoples' imagination and start an online community so we've set up a web site to share our dream and keep wonderment alive." Just visit http://www.dreamersempire.com to find out what the Rice boys are cooking up next.

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Dean Rice