Norway Pavilion in Epcot – Part One

Norway Pavilion

The Norway Pavilion was the last nation to be added to World Showcase. Its soft opening occurred on May 6, 1988 and its official debut followed two months later on July 5. Crown Prince Harald V attended the ceremony and the festivities were broadcast live to Norway.

Norway Pavilion

The original idea was to create a Scandinavian Pavilion with elements of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden being showcased. As negotiations with the various countries progressed, it was the corporate investors in Norway who eventually came up with the $30 million required at that time to sponsor and build a World Showcase pavilion, thus securing an “exclusive” national showplace. Disney would also contribute one-third of the construction costs. In 1992, the Norwegian investors sold their interests to Disney; however, the government decided to continue sponsorship and signed a five year agreement with $200K annual dues. This contract was renewed for another five years in 1997 but in 2002 it was allowed to lapse. Now, Disney is solely responsible for the pavilion.

The sea has always played an important part in Norway’s history. So it was this aspect of Norwegian life that the Imagineers focused on. The 58,000 square-foot pavilion is designed to look like a coastal village. The communities of Bergen, Oslo, Alesund and the Setesdal Valley were used as inspiration.

The focal point of the Norway Pavilion is the Stave Church. The Disney version is based on the Gol Stave Church in Norway dating back to1212. The first picture below was taken in Epcot, the second of the Gol Stave Church. The similarities between the two are remarkable.

Epcot Stave Church

Norway Stave Church

The wooden statue out front of the Stave Church is that of Olaf II, King and Patron Saint of Norway.

As a young royal, Olaf Haraldsson took park in Viking raids throughout Europe. During his travels, he converted to Christianity and then returned to Norway, where he subdued his rivals and proclaimed himself king in 1015. He unified the country and forcefully completed Norway’s conversion to Christianity. In 1028, angry Norwegian noblemen rallied around Knut the Great (King of Denmark and England) to force Olaf II from the throne and exile him. Two years later, Olaf II was killed in battle while attempting to regain Norway’s throne. Today “Saint Olaf” is regarded as the Patron Saint of Norway and a symbol of national independence.

King Olaf II Haraldsson

Norwegians were excellent woodworkers. This came from their long Viking history of shipbuilding. So when Saint Olaf brought Christianity to Norway, the people used this skill to build Stave Churches. The first of these structures were constructed around the year 1050AD and used post and beam construction with vertical plank walls. Christian designs were intermixed with pagan Viking motifs, such as the interwoven dragon motifs, finials, and beautifully carved doors. Of the over 1,000 Norwegian Stave Churches built in the Middle Ages, only 28 survive today.

Viking Symbols


Carved Woodwork

Inside the Stave Church are a number of displays. One features another likeness of King Olaf II Haraldsson dressed in traditional garb. The fabric and clothing styles are based on samples unearthed by archaeologists and the colors are based on naturally occurring pigments from the area. The weapon and jewelry are accurate to the era. A Christian cross can be seen hanging from his neck.

King Olaf II Haraldsson

The Vikings were merchants, pirates, explores, and warriors. Their travels took them as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, as far west as Greenland and Newfoundland, and south to the Iberian Peninsula and the Straights of Gibraltar. A map inside the Stave Church chronicles their exploration routes.

Viking Exploration Routes

Another display showcases a model of the Oseberg, a well-preserved Viking ship discovered in a large burial mound in 1904. The ship had 15 oar holes on each side, allowing it to accommodate 60 rowers. It also featured a large square sail that would allow the ship to reach speeds of up to 10 knots – a stunning velocity for the day. Since there were no lower decks, all hands worked, ate, and slept on the main deck, regardless of the weather.

One of the Oseberg’s most remarkable features is its meticulously carved curving prow. The mere sight of a Viking prow struck fear in the hearts of medieval European villagers who called the ships “dragons of the sea,” and associated them with violence, pillage, and plunder.

Model of the Oseberg

The actual ship can be seen in the opening sequence of the “Spirit of Norway” movie presented after experiencing the Maelstrom attraction. As the film begins, we see a young boy standing next to the Oseberg in the Viking Ship Museum in Norway.

Oseberg at Viking Ship Museum

There are several other exhibits within the Stave Church that are worth your time. It won’t take more than ten minutes to read all of the signage and look at the displays.

Disney tries to staff the World Showcase pavilions with individuals from the various countries. If nationals aren’t available, Disney hires people who have lived in that nation for extended periods and are knowledgeable about the land and customs. The Norway Pavilion is no exception and it takes approximately 150 cast members to keep things running smoothly.

Many of the Norway cast members wear a costume inspired by the traditional national folk attire, the bunad. The designs are typically elaborate, with embroidery, scarves, shawls, vests, and a multitude of buttons. Women’s dresses are long and gentlemen wear knee pants. Even today, the bunad is often worn at weddings, folk dances, and on Constitution Day (National Day) celebrations. The Disney version of the bunad is slightly less elaborate for practical reasons as it must be worn daily and laundered often.

Norway Pavilion Costumes

The backdrop of the Norway Pavilion is Akershus Fortress (or Castle). Construction on the real fortress began in the 1290’s and it guarded the City of Oslo. The fortress has never been captured by a foreign army but it did surrender without combat to Nazi Germany in 1940 in the face of a German assault. Today, portions of the fortress are used to house offices for the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. Other sections contain the Norwegian Resistance Museum.

Akershus Fortress

Looking at the above picture, you can see that both natural stone and smooth masonry were used in the construction of the fortress. This is also evident at the Norway Pavilion. In addition, one of the fortress’ steeples has been recreated.

Rock Construction at Norway Pavilion

Smooth Masonry at Norway Pavilion

Fortress Steeple

If you look closely at many of the fortress walls at the Norway Pavilion, you’ll see decorative pieces of iron embedded into the masonry. These were not placed here for adornment, but for construction purposes. In days of old, rock and brick walls were much too heavy and had a tendency of sagging and collapsing under their own weight. In medieval times, buttresses were often used to rectify this problem and fortify the walls. But the use of tie-rods could often accomplish the same thing for a lot less money and labor. In these cases, a long iron rod ran between parallel walls. The decorative caps anchored the ends of the rods in place. This would hold the wall in a vertical position.

Tie-bar Construction

Tie-bar Construction

Tie-bar Construction

The fortress’ military importance has not been forgotten here at Epcot. A number of gun turrets can be seen in the walls and atop the structure.

Gun Turrets

Gun Turrets

The Norway Pavilion has a wonderful stage for live entertainment. At one time, a lively group played folk music and demonstrated festive dance steps several times each day. But alas, their performance was terminated some time ago and not replaced. I have to assume Norway’s entertainment was eliminated due to budget cuts. However, the stage is used in December when Norwegian storytellers recount their customs and traditions during the holiday season.

Norway Pavilion Stage

Holiday Storytellers

A detail I really love at the Norway Pavilion can be found on the turret closest to the China Pavilion. If you take a good look at the structure, you can see that several windows have been closed off with bricks.


Bricked up Windows

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall was named for the fortress in which it is located. The restaurant is beautiful. The intricately carved wood beam ceiling and arched windows give the main dining room a church-like ambiance. Another dining room is enclosed by whitewashed stone and is reminiscent of an ancient castle chamber. And a third seating area feels like a cozy inn or cottage.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Sign

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Entrance

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Main Dining Room

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Ceiling

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Archway

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Dining Room

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Dining Room

Lunch and dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is served buffet-style. The cuisine hints at Norwegian. Breakfasts are served family-style, meaning all of the food is brought to the table and everyone digs in. This meal is definitely American in flavor. All three seatings include visits by the Disney princesses. Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, Princess Aurora, Mulan, and Mary Poppins all make the rounds and pose for photographs. A Disney photographer is also on hand to capture the magic. Note, the princesses appear on a rotating schedule so there is no way to guarantee which royal beauty will be appearing on any given day. These meals are extremely popular and advanced reservations are an absolute must.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Buffet

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Buffet

Princess Meet & Greet

I must use this moment to editorialize. “Akershus,” as the restaurant used to be known, was one of my favorite World Showcase eateries. I enjoyed the reasonably authentic Norwegian food, the lovely cast members, and the wonderful atmosphere. Sometime in 2004, Disney decided to start offering “princess” breakfasts here. This would make the Norway Pavilion the only World Showcase nation to offer breakfast or a character meal. The meal was an instant success. As is so typical with Disney thinking, “If a “little” is good, “more” must be better.” So in 2005, Disney started offering princess appearances at lunch and dinner as well – at a premium price.

I totally understand that character meals are a cash cow for Disney and they make children (and their parents) extremely happy. But not everyone is rejoicing at this conversion. By going overboard to please one group of guests, Disney has completely abandoned another group. I have no children and I have no desire to have my meal interrupted by a Disney character. And I certainly don’t want to pay a premium price to be subjected to unwanted table guests.

All I ask is that Disney give up character meals during lunch at the Norway Pavilion. It’s not fair that I can no longer enjoy this restaurant. And as I mentioned in another blog, if the demand for character meals is so great, let Restaurant Marrakesh or Nine Dragons offer a princess meal at lunch. Both of these restaurants could use an incentive to entice diners to their establishments for the midday meal.

Okay, I’ll get off of my soapbox now and continue with my review”¦

Well, maybe not. I think it’s time for a breather. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.

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35 Replies to “Norway Pavilion in Epcot – Part One”

  1. Hi jack,
    Perhaps you can help me. On a recent trip to Disney I noticed the rocks outside maelstrom were a dark matte black (as if they had been painted) a few days later they were a normal light grey color. Are these volcanic rocks that change color with height or humidity changes?

    Jack’s Answer:

    All of the rocks surrounding the Maelstrom attraction are fake. They are nothing but wire, fiberglass, and some sort of concrete. All I can guess is you saw the attraction going through some sort of refurbishment and the rocks were receiving an undercoat before the finishing touches were added.

  2. Hello! I wonder if Disney is interested in purchasing my grandmother’s hand made bunad from The bunad was made by her mother in the late 1800s.She was from Bergen. The bunad has the elaborate, embroidered vest piece in excellent condition. It is a child’s bunad. Linda

    Jack’s Answer:

    I really don’t know, but I seriously doubt it. For one thing, the Norway Pavilion is “complete.” To my knowledge, they’re not adding anything to it. You might be better off donating it to a museum.

  3. Please help us. At Norway today we noticed two metal flags atop Akerhaus. They are at the extreme peak of the two spires. They display the number 171 with a crown on top of it. We asked and asked, and nobody could tell us what they mean, Supervisors included. A diligent search of the web turns up nothing. Please help. because sleep has become hard to get while trying to figure this out. Thanks

    Jack’s Answer:

    Unfortunately, your insomnia will continue. I have no idea what this is all about. I too searched the internet and my Disney sources and could find nothing.

  4. another great review Jack – thanks. adding another note of agreement about character-free dining. used to love the restaurant, was one of our favorites – not so much now!

  5. I completely agree about going overboard with the character/princess meals. I was disheartened to hear that Tusker House has also gone the way of ‘all characters, all the time’. There are fewer places worth my dining dollars at the parks these days…

  6. I think we need to turn it into a “Soap Pallet”. You guys are making this engineer very nervous.

    And I agree. I think they could get away with rotating the princesses. Give them different venues and give people a chance to eat at restaurants that they otherwise avoid.

    I’m really more of a character breakfast type. Let’s go ahead and get it over with and enjoy the rest of the day. Somewhere quiet. Without tiaras.

    Unless they start giving us the Patrick Dempsey look-alike buffet. That I might stop by a couple times per trip…

  7. First, Jack, I hope Disney upper-ups read all of the AllEars blogs, especially when improvements/concerns/compliments are posted. You and your readers prior to me on the Norway blog share the same opinion about character meals. Disney freaks that we are, when my daughters were younger, even they understood Daddy’s dislike of meals being interrupted by characters. So when we went to Liberty Tree Tavern, Artist Point breakfast (what a shame that was discontinued) or any other character meal, they would make sure I was strategically seated at the table/booth so the characters could not “reach” me. They’re married now, but when my wife and I go to WDW we also avoid character meals, for much the same reason everyone has stated. And yes, we all have a major guilt trip when we walk through the movie theater after Maelstrom!

  8. Jack,
    LOVED your comments on the dining in Norway. We also, would love to eat here , one of few I have not tried. We have not tried it BECAUSE every meal IS with princesses. Not that we don’t love princesses, but my son is highly functioning Autistic and would obsess big time with the pretty girls (he is 25). Is there anyway this could be changed ? letters ? petitions, or flash-mobs ? (haha). Thanks again , love reading all the information you post, it makes me want to go back to WDW all the time. (I am so jealous you are so close ).
    Teresa from MA

  9. On the soapbox with you. Until the character meals stop, I won’t get to experience Akershus. We ate at Tusker House in 2010 for the first time and planned lunch there for our 2012 trip but canceled it because of the characters. We did one character meal in all our visits (CP) to WDW and said never again. The food wasn’t good enough to warrant the extra price and the visits from the characters weren’t something we wanted.

    As for the rest of your article about the Norway pavilion — Thank you! I learn so much from reading your articles about the different countries’ pavilions. I think for the next trip I will have to print them out and take them along in order to look for all the details you point out and to understand all the insight you give.

  10. great blog. i agree about Akershus as i used to enjoy the meals there w the Koldbort and Hot bort. and the Ringnes beer. sadly that it gone. I did eat there once since w the princess thing but its just not the same, the Kjotkakker meatballs were still ok.
    and it would b nice if they updated the movie

  11. Great post Jack! Norway is one of my favorite stops when I’m in Epcot. I also agree with you about the character meals.

    Although Disney does have a habit (when it comes to $$$ of course and when doesn’t it?) of alienating one group while catering to another with a lot of what they do. While I’m sure this is nothing new, as I get older I find myself feeling more disappointed about it.

    Also, I have a daughter but even I have to say Disney needs to lighten up with all of the Princess stuff.

  12. Ditto on the all character meal, all the time soapbox! I feel that more and more restaurants are going that way. How much longer until we can no longer eat at the amazing Tusker House? Why do they take all the amazing dining atmosphere and alienate so many guests who have no desire to meet characters or spend $$$?

  13. Norway Pavilion in EPCOTJack,I totally agree with you about the character meals in Norway – for years this was my favorite restaurant, but with the addition of the princesses – we can no longer enjoy it like we did in years past. While I love character meals on occasion, being forced to pay for this just to eat in Norway is unfair to those of us who prefer to eat with our own companions and not characters wandering thru-out the restaurant. Having character meals at other restaurants thru-out World Showcase would entice diners to try some of the other food the World has to offer and open up the now limited Norway for patrons not wishing to dine with characters.Thank you for stepping up on the soapbox on this one!Debbie

  14. As the mother of a 6 year old princess obsessed girl, I have to say….

    Yes, I whole-heartedly do agree with you on the mention of a character-free meal at Akershus. I have never, in my seven separate trips to WDW, gotten the opportunity to eat at Akershus, and it’s on top of my priority list for next time. (A very dear friend of mine from Norway worked there for a while and has threatened me if I don’t go next time.) I love that I have the ability to take Miss Princess to see her idols, but I really don’t think it’s fair to force them on everyone at all hours. And, quite frankly, I believe the character dinners really are better suited to MK… I think most kids aren’t as drawn by Epcot as their parents are. I would have a harder time entertaining the girl at Epcot while waiting for our reservation to roll around then I would at MK.

  15. I wanted to comment on the potential budget cuts you mentioned for the live entertainment in Norway. That is what happened. I had a long chat with one of the coordinators who works in the Emporium in Magic Kingdom. He used to be a musician at Epcot from the eighties up until the budget cuts. He played the bagpipes and developed his own character who wandered between the UK and Canada pavilion. At some point in the nineties they had budget cuts and informed a number of performers that their jobs would be eliminated and they could choose to be redistributed into another role like merchandise or be given their two weeks notice. Thats how he ended up there. It’s a shame, because now if he wants to work in his original capacity he has to do it off property.

  16. I, too, was very disappointed when Akershus stopped being a “normal” restaurant.

    Even though I live near a large metroplitan So Calif city, it’s nearly impossible to find Norwegian-inspired food — or the Norwegian beer served at Kringla Bakeri og Kafe 😉

    Sometimes Disney does really stupid things during their never-ending tweaking (eg, closing Adventurer’s Club), always accompanied by some anodyne PR-speak about “enhancing the customer experience” :roll eyes:

    Still, Norway remains one of my favorite pavilions in World Showcase.

  17. Hi Jack,

    I hope your soapbox has a large top, because I want to share it with you.

    I took my father to Akershus last Wednesday. He had not experienced dining at this wonderful restaurant. I had not been there since all the changes. I knew about them, but due to circumstance, and not been there. I knew that the whole buffet experience had been cut in half, which was a bit disappointing, since it was at the old buffet that I experienced venison for the very first time.

    By the end of lunch I felt I needed an insulin shot, due to all the sugary-sweetness of all the princesses, which began to grate on both our nerves. Even the “complementary” photo with Belle didn’t justify the expense in my opinion, especially up against the Biergarten.

    We probably won’t return anytime soon, which is a shame since I still love the cold buffet line.

  18. I have to add my vote, too, to restore the Norwegian food to Akershus. My husband and I have wonderful memories of eating there during our honeymoon 15 years ago. I loved the smoked salmon, he remembers all-you-could-eat pickled herring (in my case, all-you-could-eat of that meant none at all!).

    Thanks for the in-depth tour. I feel like I’m back there, even though we’ve skimmed over World Showcase on our last few visits.

  19. We had never eaten at Akershus before but made a lunch reservation for our trip last month for our kids. All of us agreed that it is a must do for our next trip. What a nice relaxing rest in the middle of the day. The food and service were excellent. I do agree with you though, as I did for your “Disney Fixes” blog, that Disney should not dedicate ALL meals at one restaurant as Character Meals.

    BTW – the lunch wasn’t buffet style. You start off at the Koltbord for buffett salads and cold meats/cheeses, etc. but you order your entree from a menu.

    Thanks Jack!

  20. Hi Jack!
    I’m a HUGE fan. You have done yet another excellent work with explaining Norway. I can’t wait for second half.
    We always take our time in the Norwegian pavillion and take our time talking to the CM:s in their native language. Am I talking norwegian? No- but swedish 🙂 Sweden and Norway are neighbours and at one time in history Norway was under the Swedish crown. (That is why the nobel prize in peace is given out in Oslo.)
    I really want to enjoy Akershus, but I have 2 DS and a DH thatdon’t like princesses. I think your idea is great!
    Thank you for all your effort in satisfying our appetite for Disney!

  21. A wonderfully detailed blog yet again. I also agree that character meals are fun and magical for family groups, it would be nice to sample Askerhus without the character element. On our last trip my son refused to eat there because the theme was ‘princesses’.

    I can’t wait for the next instalment! Thank you for my little Disney fix.


  22. Hello Jack,
    Love the blog as usual and agree with everyone else who has written so far. Would love to go to this resteraunt WITHOUT the characters. It looks so beautiful and am sad I never had the experience there so far. I truly hope someone from Disney reads your blogs and responses. Many of us AllEars Fans (and Jacks Blog Fans) are adult Disney nuts who want to enjoy some of the experiences character free.
    Keep up the GREAT work.

  23. Hi Jack – Great article as always! My partner and I have been to Oslo also, and the resemblance to the actual structures is remarkable. The only difference I could see between the real church and the recreation at EPCOT was that the imagineers left the crosses over the entrances off of the exterior of the church (and the size). Looking forward to your review of the bakery portion of the pavillion. 😉

    From your photos, looks like IllumiNations search lights are in the raised position — will they EVER get those fixed?? Sigh . . .

  24. I’ll always know Saint Olaf as the namesake of the Minnesota hometown of Rose Nylund (Betty White’s character) on the Golden Girls. Nice to know he’s real, important, and represented at Epcot!

  25. I think you have alot of support here it seems and I agree. Even though I have younger daughters 7 and 11 they do not like the characters coming up to them especially while eating. I really enjoy the detail at Norway but we have never eaten at Akershus because of the character meals. The premium you pay for something you dont want and actually may find uncomfortable. I find we can tolerate the German friendly style seating better at Biergarten.

  26. Hi Jack! You are a genious! I think it would be a great idea for WDW to offer character meals at Nine Dragons (Mulan and Mooshu) and Marrakesh (Aladin, Jasmin and Genie). Sometimes, it’s just overkill when every meal offered at a particular restaurant has the characters. Believe me, I love them, one and all, but it’s just as nice not to have them around. Thanks for a great read. As always, I look forward to Part 2…

  27. I always enjoy your work and your take on Norway is no exception! I love history and appreciate all the research you do on the countries. I’m really only commenting because of your opinion on the Akershus restaurant, we heartily agree with you! We no longer are traveling with small children and as a party of two adults this is the last place I’d make a reservation at. Love kids, love Disney but we do not do character meals. I completely understand the demand and lure of character meals but at this point in our lives this is not what we are looking for in a restaurant meal. I’ve never eaten here but would love to if they would offer a character free meal.

  28. As always another great blog. I also agree about the resturant. We did Akershus about 10 years ago when our daughter was much younger. We are all adults now and would love to go back as with trying other places to eat but we want to sit, talk and relax with out charcaters. It is to bad Disney dosn’t have a charcater free time in a lot of their resturants like Ohana does. We would try so many more places.

  29. hey jack
    once again another great blog always full of information. i love learning about the history and the details that always get overlooked. as for the resturant i agree 100% with you. can’t wait for part two tomorrow and as always keep up the great work.

  30. Fantastic blog, as always! The details you include are amazing. I learn SO many new things with each of your blogs and feel I have escaped into Walt Disney World while reading them. What a treat! Thank you!!
    I completely agree about the character meal overkill. It is just not right that they don’t even have ONE seating free of characters. Many people who actually want to experience the food of Norway or this beautiful setting will be turned off by the kiddie atmosphere and characters (not to mention the inflated price.) I don’t think a character-free lunch is too much to ask for at all!

  31. Our family used to love the buffet at Akershus. It was something we looked forward to each trip. That of coarse changed when it became a Princess character meal. I agree with you. We would so love to see the lunches return to the original menu without Princesses. Unfortunately that seems unlikely. So now our favorite lunch stop is Germany’s Biergarden until they decide to change that too. Thanks Jack, for a great back story on one of my favorite countries in World Showcase.

  32. I agree with you. We also enjoyed the restaurant before there was the princesses. I also enjoyed breakfast there when the princesses first started, but things have changed. The interaction with the waiters, waitress and other people is not there anymore. I know they are on a tight schedule, but I miss the old times. The food was excellent and that also has gone downhill. The restaurant inside is beautiful. I also miss the viking ship that was outside. I usually stop by the bakery and order something and than find a quiet spot to enjoy the area. I used to really enjoy the character meals when they first started but now I feel like a heard of cattle. get them in and get them out.
    I do agree with you that it would be nice to have lunch there with the original menu. Thanks for a great job, always enjoy them

  33. Wonderfully detailed as always Jack – thank you very much. Do you know why the windows on the turret closest to the China Pavilion have been closed off with bricks? Just wondering.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I do not know “the story” as to why these specific windows in this specific building in the Norway Pavilion has been enclosed with bricks. However, I do know that this is a common practice around the world. As the needs of a building changes, windows are eliminated or new ones added. The windows in the Norway Pavilion were always enclosed from day one.