In 1982, Walt Disney World opened its second theme park, Epcot Center, which was built with an aim to not only entertain, but to do so with an educational and inspirational angle. The initial concept of Epcot was dreamed up by Walt Disney himself, though the property was originally purchased with the intention of building and establishing a “community of the future” and challenging American corporations to come up with new ideas for urban living. When Walt passed in 1966, the plans for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow were more or less abandoned until well after the Walt Disney World Resort opened in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom theme park and a small handful of Disney resorts. Though Walt’s dreams of a futuristic city were never fully brought to fruition, his successors used his inspiration to develop Walt Disney World’s second theme park. When Epcot opened, guests were given an opportunity to view and discover the future through Walt’s eyes via fascinating and enlightening attractions like Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, and Horizons while still giving them the opportunity to see just how far we’ve come via the rich, educational entertainment found inside both Future World and the World Showcase.
Unlike Magic Kingdom, Epcot is divided into only two “lands”—Future World and World Showcase. Taking on a visionary and futuristic approach, Future World features attractions that focus on energy, communication, the land and our environment, the ocean, imagination, transportation and space exploration. The World Showcase, an eleven country representation wrapped around an expansive lagoon, aims to educate, enlighten and entertain guests on the history and culture of each highlighted region. Once deemed an “adult” park, Epcot has since gone to great lengths to chisel away at this perhaps once-accurate reputation, integrating attractions and experiences that engage and speak to children just as much as to grown-ups.
Epcot sits on a sprawling property, more than twice the size of Magic Kingdom in fact. There is much to see and do inside this wonderful Disney park and it can be overwhelming trying to navigate through it all, especially to first-time guests and those trying to “fit it all in” in just one day. A great theme park in both size and experiences, there are some things that everyone should know before making a visit. Let’s break down the basics and give you an overview of Walt Disney World’s second theme park.
Like the other Disney Parks, there are numerous modes of Disney transportation one can take advantage of to get to Epcot. Those staying at a Disney Resort are offered the convenience of arriving via Disney bus. Unique to Epcot, there is a back entrance into the park and those vacationing at an Epcot Resort (i.e. Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort) are within walking distance of the International Gateway (the second entrance) that leads guests straight into the World Showcase. Epcot Resort guests are also given the lovely convenience of arriving via Friendship Boat, which make their way to and from each Epcot Resort, as well as the nearby Hollywood Studios theme park. If you are staying at a Magic Kingdom Resort (i.e. Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort), guests can choose to take a monorail from their resort to the Transportation and Ticket Center, which offers a connecting monorail (transfer required) straight to Epcot and back. Guests can of course also choose to drive themselves and park in Epcot’s own parking lot, which resides a short walking distance or tram ride from the main entrance.
As mentioned previously, Epcot is divided into two main regions—Future World and the World Showcase. Future World, with a few exceptions, consists of attractions and experiences that focus on technological achievements throughout history, and give guests an intrinsic, in-depth look into the world we currently live in and where we are going. The attractions found in Future World are as follows:
- Captain EO
- Ellen’s Energy Adventure
- Innoventions East & West
- Journey Into Imagination With Figment
- Turtle Talk With Crush
- Living with the Land
- Mission: SPACE
- Project Tomorrow
- Spaceship Earth
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends
- Test Track
The World Showcase highlights the art, architecture and culture of eleven countries surrounding the 40-acre World Showcase Lagoon. Each international pavilion features unique dining options and diverse shopping opportunities and most include an attraction or movie that gives an overview of the country you are in and strives to promote a deeper sense of cultural awareness. The countries represented here include Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Morocco, China, United States, Mexico, Canada, Norway, France, and Japan. The World Showcase is a wonderful place to take in slowly, if you are able. Beautiful, scenic gardens and glorious architecture flank each pavilion. Between the street performers, attractions, movies, and/or food, you could easily spend a significant amount of time moseying throughout each one.
The somewhat recent integration of Kidcot has provided a fun way for children to enjoy the World Showcase by including a station at each pavilion where kids can get a “passport” stamped and create free crafts to take home with them. “Kidcot,” along with the Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure interactive scavenger hunt, has helped the World Showcase become more kid-friendly and aided in Epcot’s overall strive to be a theme park that appeals to all ages.
Over the years Disney has delighted guests with dynamic street performers and you will find plenty when you step foot inside Epcot. In Future World, the JAMMitors—a “clean-up crew” who create music with unlikely instruments—make several daily appearances and are a can’t miss act. Throughout the World Showcase you will also not want to miss the international pavilion performers, each act sure to wow and impress you and your group. To name a few of our favorites, you’ll find a Canadian Lumberjack show, the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats in China, the British Invasion inside United Kingdom, and Seveur Amusant (a French acrobat) in France. Check your Epcot Times Guide when you enter the park for an exhaustive look at each country’s act and the times they will appear throughout the day.
Each night Epcot also offers a nightly fireworks show called Illuminations—Reflections on Earth. Both powerful and moving, this show takes place around the World Showcase Lagoon, celebrating the spirit of life and humanity with music, narration, bright bursts of lights and colors, and a fascinating spherical video display on a 350,000-pound spinning Earth Globe. This 12-minute show typically closes out the park each night.
If you love food, Epcot will be a culinary wonderland for you. You’ll find several different types of dining here, including food carts, quick/counter service restaurants, casual table-service dining, character dining experiences, and signature fine dining restaurants. There is no shortage of exciting options where food is concerned so you will definitely want to arrive on an empty stomach. Whether your palate demands finer fare or you simply want to indulge in quick tasty eats, you are at a place where the options are seemingly limitless and the cuisine is exciting, varied and consistently delicious. It’s a place where the wine connoisseur can sip on delicious fermented grape creations at each international pavilion and the soda junkie can have a blast sampling some of the craziest carbonated concoctions from all over the world inside Future World’s Club Cool. It’s a place where people can explore and discover tasty flavors and ingredients they may not see every day. Almost every World Showcase country offers a counter-service dining option as well as a table-service dining option, some restaurants more upscale than others (i.e. Le Cellier Steakhouse, Monsieur Paul, etc.). I personally visit Epcot numerous times each year and have for as long as I can remember, and I’ve yet to exhaust all the dining options they have to offer. Enjoying the varied eats at Epcot is a Disney experience you won’t soon forget!
Some of the most exciting and anticipated annual events to occur in Walt Disney World take place inside Epcot. The best part is that most of these events don’t require a separate ticket and are included in your daily park admission. ‘Holidays Around the World’ and the Candlelight Processional bring in droves of guests during the Christmas season. In the fall, the International Food and Wine Festival and its Eat to the Beat Concert Series that takes place during the festival are highly anticipated and popular events which only prove that Disney’s September/October “off-season” doesn’t exactly apply to Epcot. The spring draws in the crowds with the International Flower and Garden Festival, which only “grows” more exciting as the years pass as they integrate concerts, food kiosks and immersive guest experiences into the mix.
Similar to Magic Kingdom, Epcot also offers specialty park tours for guests who desire a more “behind the scenes” take on various aspects of the theme park. These tours do require special pricing and reservations and can be found listed on the Walt Disney World’s official website.
1. Character Meet n’ Greets
Like the other Disney Parks, Epcot features designated character meet and greet locations where favorite Disney pals will pose for pictures, sign autographs, and chum it up with the guests. Mickey Mouse and some of his closest friends, for example, meet at both the Character Spot in Future World as well as during your character dining experience inside the Garden Grill restaurant. Characters also meet in every country of the World Showcase Pavilion, as well as various outdoor locations in and around Future World. The World Showcase is a great place to see some of your favorite Disney characters, as Disney stations them in locations that you would expect them; for instance, Alice and Mary Poppins inside the United Kingdom Pavilion, Belle inside the France Pavilion, and Jasmine and Aladdin inside the Morocco Pavilion. Even Mexico features a Donald Duck sporting a sombrero and a traditional Mexican poncho.
One of the best things about Epcot is the unique and unpredictable rare character appearances. Epcot is the base for character training, which means that random characters may appear throughout the park unannounced (think Baloo, Pinocchio, Rapunzel, Hook, etc.). These character training appearances sort of just happen with no warning, only adding to the excitement and anticipation of seeing them. They can happen anywhere but the most commonly used training areas are the World Showcase gates between Canada and the United Kingdom pavilions and the American Adventure gates just to the left if facing the attraction. Expect the unexpected throughout the day at Epcot, and your wish to see a rare character appearance might just be fulfilled!
On a final note, Epcot, with its wide expansive property, exquisite gardens and architecture, incredible dining opportunities, wonderful character interactions, dynamic entertainment, and informative, yet exciting attractions makes this park a must-visit Disney destination. Because there is so much to offer and because of its sheer size, it is recommended that you spend more than one day exploring the park. Yes, you can do Epcot in one day, but you certainly won’t experience all the richness it has in store for you.
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