One Day In: Disney World -- Epcot
Walt Disney World® is huge. And usually packed. And the fact is, it’s no longer a viable option to just walk through the gates and wing it – especially if you’re on a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip and you want to make memories of more than just standing in lines. With that in mind, we’ve put together a series of itineraries to help you plan your way through the most magical place on Earth. Today, it’s time for the most educational of the Disney World parks – Epcot®.
Forget around the world in 80 days – you’re doing it in one. That’s right, we’re going to walk you through an itinerary that will let you hit all of Epcot® (or at least the important stuff) in just one day. Hold on to your hats; we’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it.
There are two parts to Epcot®, which was designed a bit like World Fairs of yesteryear. Toward the front of the park is Future World, which celebrates science and technology. The part everyone remembers is the World Showcase: 11 pavilions surrounding the lagoon, each based on a different nation. The strategy here is to hit the important things in Future World fast enough that you can tour the World Showcase at a leisurely pace and enjoy all it has to offer.
Epcot® rope drop happens at 9 in the morning, so you’ll want to plan to be in line by 8:30. Those 30 minutes may not seem important, but they can make the difference between heading right to the front of the line or getting stuck at the back. Now, hopefully you’ve used your FASTPASS+ reservations and made some awesome choices (which will definitely help you plan your day), but we’ll share a little bit of information that might help you decide where to use those precious reservations.
When the rope drops, head straight for Test Track®. If you were early, you should be able to design your car and ride together no problem. If you slept in or lingered over breakfast – tsk, tsk – take the single rider line. You won’t be able to design your car, but you’ll still get to enjoy the ride (and you might get another shot at it, depending on wait times later in the day). When you’ve finished, it’s time to use your first reservation. Like thrill rides? To Mission: SPACE® you go! Orange team, if you please – there’s no real reason to ride Green Team (the less intense version) unless you just really like feeling claustrophobic. If you’re in the mood for something tamer, go for Soarin’® – you’ll have a lot more to look at. Afterwards, unless you can walk onto Spaceship Earth without waiting in line, save it for later (it's a good one to use a FASTPASS+ for).
Future World is a great area for kids to let their imaginations run wild, so now's the time to check out the highlights. From The Sum of All Thrills™ to The Seas with Nemo & Friends®, young scientists in the making (and their enthusiastic parents, aunts, uncles, and yes, adults traveling without kids) will always find something to enjoy. Don’t forget to stop by Club Cool to chill out and try Coca-Cola products from around the world – Beverly is something of a rite of passage.
Once you’ve exhausted Future World (or it’s exhausted you!), it’s time for lunch! We recommend making a reservation in the World Showcase (Mexican, anyone?), but there are definitely good meals to be had closer to the front of the park. After lunch, it’s time to head around the world. We definitely suggest starting in Mexico, for reasons we’ll get into later. Mexico’s main building is an Aztec-style pyramid (Fun fact: the nightly fireworks are managed from a control room at the top of the pyramid). Give the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros a try if you like the classic Disney characters, or just wander and admire the art (and the mariachi!).
Continuing around, you’ll next reach Norway. With the closing of Maelstrom earlier this year, there’s not much in this pavilion at the moment. That will change in 2016, when a Frozen ride is expected to debut. At that point, the area may become impassible due to thousands of tiny Annas and Elsas running around. We’ll see. Architecture fans will enjoy the four traditional styles of Norwegian buildings that can be seen in the pavilion, and shoppers will flip for statuettes of the Norse gods and trolls.
China is your next stop. Norway and China are the only two pavilions without a space in between – while there are currently 11 pavilions, the World Showcase was built with room for 19, so most countries have a buffer between them and their neighbors. The acrobats who perform are phenomenal, and little warriors-in-training will go wild for meeting Mulan, but Reflections of China isn’t exactly must-see viewing (unless you need the air conditioning, in which case go for it). After China you’ll hit the Outpost, which was supposed to eventually grow into an Equatorial Africa pavilion. Unfortunately, the original funding fell through, and with the building of Animal Kingdom®, it seems unlikely that the pavilion will ever be completed.
Germany is a great place for adults to relax in the Biergarten and for kids to meet Snow White, but there’s no ride in the pavilion. Italy is similarly ride-less, but it has plenty of street performers to keep guests amused, and the food is excellent, if you’re feeling peckish.
After that, things start to look a lot less foreign as you cross into The American Adventure (the name of both the pavilion and the attraction inside). The pavilion is pretty much one very large colonial-style building, but head in for the show – it’s one of the best in the park, and a pretty cool history lesson led by animatronic figures of Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.
In the Japan pavilion, you can grab a quick bite and learn about Japanese art. There are also performances by Taiko drummers and Japanese storytellers at the base of the pavilion’s pagoda. The Morocco pavilion is one of our favorites – the Moroccan government helped Disney with the design, even going so far as to send artists to create the mosaics (which, in accordance with Muslim belief, feature no representations of people). The area is designed to look like a Moroccan city, complete with bazaar and a replica of the Koutoubia, a minaret in Marrakesh. It’s a great area to learn to belly dance, pick up some souvenirs, meet Aladdin and Jasmine, or just wander the shady paths.
You’re in the home stretch; only three countries to go! In France you can grab some ice cream, watch a comedy balancing show, and meet Belle – hero to petite bookworms everywhere. The United Kingdom is home to even more fantastic street performers and characters, as well as a replica of a British village. And, combined with the final pavilion, Canada, it’s why we recommended starting in Mexico. If you’ve timed everything right, you should be getting here right around dinnertime, and two of your best dining options in Epcot® are at this end of the World Showcase. In Canada you’ll find Le Cellier, the best restaurant in the park – maybe the best in Walt Disney World® – and the hardest to get a reservation for. You’ll have to call 180 days before your visit to see if you can eat here, but if you can, it’s worth the extra work. If you can’t, don’t panic – there’s a really good backup option.
Heading back to England, you can eat in the Rose and Crown, which serves good, traditional English fare. Book your reservation for about 7:30, and when you get there ask if there are any tables available on the outside patio. Tell them you’re willing to wait for one to open up. If you get one, voila! You’ve got front row seats for IllumiNations at 9:30. But really, no matter where you eat, try to stake out a good spot along the water for the fireworks show – it’s stunning, and a great way to cap off your whirlwind world tour.
So there you have it, your one-day Epcot® extravaganza – did we miss anything? What’s your favorite thing to do in the park? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!