What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to Epcot

Spaceship Earth!
Spaceship Earth!

If you are planning your very first visit to Walt Disney World, and you’re like me, you’ve probably done your Disney homework on the parks and resorts. I’m sure you have lists of what attractions you want to see, what characters you want to meet, and I bet you even made those dining reservations the day you booked your trip, right? Still, despite all your planning and newly accumulated park knowledge, it’s still easy to make those Disney World Rookie mistakes. My goal today is to let you in on some tips and info that I wish I had known before my park visits to help your first time trip to Walt Disney World run a little more smoothly. I’ve already covered What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to the Magic Kingdom; and so for today, I’m tackling What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to Epcot!

Epcot Map
The length of World Showcase is what I wish I knew before my trip to Epcot!

Two Parks in One

Epcot is one park, but it has two very different sections: Future World and the World Showcase. Future World was originally intended to educate visitors about the world and to be a showplace for new technology. However, Future World has suffered some criticism in recent years as many of its buildings sit empty and seems to be more representative of the past than the future. Still, Future World is home to some of the park’s most popular attractions such as Soarin’, Test Track, and the iconic Spaceship Earth. Epcot’s other section, World Showcase, sits towards the rear of the park and encircles the World Showcase Lagoon. This part of Epcot features eleven pavilions themed after different countries from around the world, as well as one for the United States.

What’s really awesome about World Showcase is that Imagineers went to great lengths to make each pavilion and its design both historically and culturally accurate, so you feel as if you’re in another country and also getting a sense of its history at the same time. Also, I absolutely love eating at the different World Showcase restaurants and shopping for souvenirs from around the world.

©Disney
©Disney

Visit Early in the Day during Special Events

Epcot is home to two popular annual events: Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival in the spring and Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival in the fall. Both events are included with park admission and offer special merchandise, outdoor kitchens and food stands, demonstrations, beautiful scenery, and so much more. What I wish I knew before my trip to Epcot is that it gets really busy in the afternoon and evening hours during these events as guests and locals flood in the park to try the special dishes at the outdoor kitchens and to take in the entertainment. If you plan to visit Epcot for the very first time during one of these events, and if you want to experience the festivals without the crazy crowds, try to visit in the morning or around lunchtime. While there may still be lines, it’s much more bearable and less of a drain on your precious park time.

Soarin'
Soarin’

Have a Battle Plan for Soarin’

Soarin’ is incredibly popular at Epcot and the lines have been consistently and notoriously long for years. However, Soarin’ is currently closed for both a theater expansion and a whole new film called Soarin’ Around the World scheduled to open in Summer 2016. In my opinion, a new film is only going to increase the crazy lines for Soarin’ and so, if you’re planning your first trip to Epcot, you need to have a battle plan for how to experience this awesome attraction. First thing you need to know is where Soarin’ is located. Unlike other Walt Disney World attractions, Soarin’ doesn’t have its own show building but is rather located inside The Land Pavilion in Future World next to the Journey into Imagination with Figment attraction and directly behind Fountain View and Club Cool.

IMG_7211
by Erin Foster

The entrance to Soarin’ is on the ground floor of the pavilion, so guests have to take the stairs or an escalator to get there as the pavilion’s entrance drops off guests on the second level. Many guests don’t know this and waste valuable time looking for Soarin’ and getting confused in the process, especially since The Land Pavilion is home to other attractions and even restaurants such as Living with the Land, The Circle of Life, Sunshine Seasons, and The Garden Grill. All of the traffic for these different destinations can make The Land a hectic place, but definitely one worth exploring.

Now that you know how to get to Soarin’, you need to make a plan for when to ride. The best thing to do is to arrive when the park opens to experience attractions without a wait or FastPass+, but if this isn’t possible I strongly encourage guests to book a FastPass+ as soon as possible as they quickly disappear. As a last resort, you can get in line for Soarin’ before the park closes for the night. On occasion, I’ve been able to walk on this attraction in the last half hour before Epcot closes its gates for the day; however, this means missing Illuminations or having to deal with the masses at the bus stops and parking lots.

canada
The rear of Epcot’s Canada Pavilion

Fully Explore the World Showcase Pavilions

When most guests explore World Showcase, they tend to walk in front of the pavilions, stop to snap a photo, and maybe wander into a shop before moving on to the next without fully seeing and experiencing all that the pavilion has to offer. Several of the World Showcase Pavilions stretch back much farther than you might think and hide some awesome details and magical experiences! The Canada Pavilion, for example, hides streams and rockwork and a film back behind its shops; and the Morocco Pavilion has a network of courtyards and paths to explore, a mini-museum, and even an Aladdin and Jasmine meet and greet during certain times of the day!

meet mexico
Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion

Be Prepared to Walk A LOT

Okay, so this is true of pretty much anywhere you go at Walt Disney World, but I think it’s especially important to emphasize to Epcot first-timers because the park is very spread-out. This is especially true of World Showcase. You see, the World Showcase pavilions encircle World Showcase Lagoon, which in itself spans about 40 acres. So if you plan to see World Showcase, you’re going to have to walk around the lagoon and that walk equals out to about 1.4 miles! Granted, it’s a trek that’s well worth taking and there are plenty of places to stop at along the way; but in the Central Florida heat, that walk around World Showcase can be a struggle, especially for those who have kids in tow. If possible, save World Showcase for the morning or evening hours.

Ellen's Energy AdventureCarve Out Time for Ellen’s Energy Adventure

Yes, Epcot has an Ellen DeGeneres attraction and it has nothing to do with Finding Nemo. Surprised? I was too. Anyway, this attraction employs both film and actual scenes, but what I wish I knew before my trip to Epcot is that Ellen’s Energy Adventure is a whopping 45 minutes long! Now I bet you’re really surprised, right? If you have dining reservations, FastPass+ return times, or simply need to use the restroom, not knowing that Ellen’s Energy Adventure is nearly an hour can make for one nervous, frustrating ride. For a more enjoyable experience, carve out enough time to check it out or save it for when you need to kill some time. Also, be sure to take a bathroom break beforehand too!

Fewer Attractions than Average

As opposed to the other Walt Disney World Parks, Epcot doesn’t offer many attractions. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your feelings about Frozen, a new attraction is coming this summer to Epcot’s Norway Pavilion called Frozen Ever After. Anyway, the fact that there isn’t a long list of Epcot attractions means that the wait times for the attractions it does have can be rather lengthy. FastPass+ helps a lot, but there’s an issue with this too. When you book your FastPass+ reservations online or through the MyDisneyExperience App, you will find that Epcot attractions are tiered. For instance , attractions such as Soarin’ and Mission Space and Test Track are in one group and you can only select one out of that tier to reserve a FastPass+ for. The second group of attractions consist of character meets, Spaceship Earth, and The Seas with Nemo and Friends and in this tier you’re allowed to pick up to two experiences to reserve. I know, it’s frustrating. This is why I, again, encourage Epcot guests to arrive when the park opens to experience its most popular attractions without lines and hassle; but if this isn’t possible, I would suggest reserving that FastPass+ for Soarin’ and then try to get another for Test Track later on.

Epcot's International Gateway
Epcot’s International Gateway

Excellent Location for Park and Resort Hopping

Personally, I think that Epcot has one of the best and most convenient locations of all the parks at Walt Disney World for park hopping and resort hopping. If you didn’t already know, guests are allowed to visit the Walt Disney World Resorts and to take advantage of their dining and shopping opportunities, even if they are not staying on property or a guest of that resort. Resort Hopping is one of my favorite things to do at Walt Disney World and Epcot is situated next to several Deluxe Resorts, such as the Yacht and Beach Club, the Boardwalk Inn, and the Swan and Dolphin Resorts! Guests can even take advantage of the International Gateway, a backdoor of sorts between the France and United Kingdom Pavilions at World Showcase, which leads right to these resorts. Now if park hopping is more your style, Epcot has you covered here too. The International Gateway has Friendship Boats which take guests to the nearby Deluxe Resorts or onto Disney’s Hollywood Studios! Also, Epcot is the only other Disney World Park that is accessible by Monorail. So if you intend to hop from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom, all you have to do is board the Monorail for the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). From there, you can board a Monorail to the Magic Kingdom!

World Showcase Opens Later

Something that I wish I had known before my trip to Epcot is that World Showcase doesn’t open when the rest of the park opens. Instead, World Showcase usually opens at 11:00 A.M. while Epcot typically opens at 9:00 A.M.

©Rikki Niblett
©Rikki Niblett

Be Prepared for Character Meet and Greets

Even though Epcot is more about the real world than fantasy, that doesn’t mean you won’t find your favorite Disney Character during your time at the park. In Future World, guests can meet with Mickey and an assortment of characters at the Epcot Character Spot at Innoventions. I should also mention that it’s completely indoors and air conditioned! But that’s not the only place for characters at Epcot. At World Showcase, guests can often find Mulan at the China Pavilion and Mary Poppins or Alice from Alice in Wonderland at the United Kingdom and even Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Aurora from Sleeping Beauty at France. More character opportunities are coming to Epcot’s World Showcase this summer as the Norway Pavilion is not just gaining Frozen Ever After, but also the Royal Sommerhus where guests can meet with Anna and Elsa from Frozen.

Are you planning your first visit Walt Disney World’s Epcot? If so, be sure to note a few of these tips to maximize your experience at the park. Also, as always, fellow Disney World Experts are encouraged to share their park wisdom with readers in the comments!

Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

14 thoughts on “What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to Epcot

  • April 5, 2016 at 10:08 am
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    Don’t tell Disney that you think Epcot is two parks in one. They might get the idea to charge a separate fee for each one AND then raise ticket prices.

  • April 5, 2016 at 3:39 pm
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    Is it OK to valet park at one of the Epcot resorts (Beach Club or Boardwalk) and then walk over to the international gateway?

    • April 5, 2016 at 4:30 pm
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      Seems to depend on the security guard honestly. The Boardwalk is my home resort, but one trip we were staying at the Contemporary for a conference. I drove over to the boardwalk with the intention to valet park and have breakfast then stroll over to Epcot. He wasn’t going to let us in without a reservation number. I argued off season (september) it was never busy in the morning, still gave us a pile of grief.

      Fast forward to Feb, drove from Saratoga, lady at the gate didn’t even ask us what we were there to do, just pointed out where to park.

      • April 5, 2016 at 4:58 pm
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        Hmm. I wonder if it would help if you are already valeting at your home resort. I guess once they let you through the gates, they truly don’t know if you really are going to valet. I like to check, because I know things change. The last time we did it was at the Contemporary (about 2 years ago). We had been valet parking at our home resort (Beach Club), but I really can’t remember if we had a special tag that would have indicated that. The guard didn’t even blink an eye at the CR – just let us in.

    • April 6, 2016 at 10:57 am
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      Micki, great question. In my experience, it varies. At times the Security Guard at a resort will check to see if you have a dining reservation or a cause to be at the resort; but at other times, I haven’t been questioned at all. I’ve recently heard that they may be buckling down on this, but I can’t say for sure or if that will continue.

  • April 5, 2016 at 9:03 pm
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    I don’t think that Mission Space is in the same tier of FastPass+ attractions with Soarin’ and Test Track. At least it wasn’t last summer.

    • April 6, 2016 at 11:00 am
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      Joe, Mission Space is currently in that top tier with Soarin’ and Test Track, but this could be due to the fact that Soarin’ is undergoing refurbishment. It will be interesting to see if it is bumped down to the second tier when Soarin’ opens this summer!

  • April 5, 2016 at 11:28 pm
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    Definitely get a stroller for the kids, even if you think they’re big. We took our 7 & 4 year old and double stroller was key! The ride we needed fast pass most for was Test Track. Line for Mission Space was not nearly as bad. (Soarin’ was closed) We went the last week in January.

  • April 6, 2016 at 12:35 am
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    Which tier do you think they will put the new frozen ride inform fast passes?

    • April 6, 2016 at 11:03 am
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      Danielle, great question! I would think they would place Frozen Ever After in the top tier as I’m sure it will be VERY popular when it opens and they would want to spread out the crowds and FastPass+ reservations. Although, if it ends up in the second tier, I sure won’t complain! Thanks for commenting!

  • April 6, 2016 at 1:58 am
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    We missed alot of World Showcase’s details on our 1st visit due to time constraints and… well, ignorance. We always manage to overlook 3 Caballeros in Mexico by mistake. This trip we’re planning more hours to explore World Showcase, beside time for Dinner & staking out a decent Illuminati View.

    Innoventions West has a new Meet & Greet: Joy & Sadness from “Inside Out”. There’s also Baymax from “Hero 6” and the Disney Visa holder’s M&G. You can buy snacks, have a seat & charge your devices in the “D-Zone” relax area behind the Character Spot where you meet Mickey.

    Always good to know where your iPhone can score some juice! 😉

    • April 6, 2016 at 11:06 am
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      Heather, great tips! I’m personally excited about the new character meets and yes, knowing where you can charge your devices is very valuable info. Thanks for sharing!

  • April 6, 2016 at 8:47 am
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    One thing I found important is that there are boats to cross the lagoon if you get tired when going around the World Showcase. Those boats saved us when my son, who uses a wheelchair, got cranky from an unexpectedly warm March day. We sent him and Dad back to the hotel while we finished up. The slight breeze from the boat and getting to the van quickly made a much better day for all.

    • April 6, 2016 at 11:08 am
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      Betty, excellent tip! World Showcase can be exhausting and it’s so good to know that there’s a little escape back to Future World. Thanks so much sharing!

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