Education, inspiration, and corporate imagery are the focus at Epcot, the most adult of the Disney theme parks. What it gains in taking a futuristic, visionary, and technological look at the world, it loses, just a bit, in warmth, happiness, and charm.
Some people find the attempts at education to be superficial, while others want more entertainment and less education. Most visitors, however, are in between, finding plenty of entertainment and education.
Epcot is more than twice as big as the Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios and, though smaller than Disney’s Animal Kingdom, has more territory to be covered on foot. Epcot rarely sees the congestion so common in the Magic Kingdom, but it has lines every bit as long as those at the Jungle Cruise or Space Mountain.
Epcot's size means you can't see it all in one day without skipping an attraction or two and giving others a cursory glance. A major difference between Epcot and the other parks, however, is that some Epcot attractions can be savored slowly or skimmed, depending on personal interests. For example, the first section of Chevrolet's Test Track is a thrill ride, the second a collection of walkthrough exhibits. Nearly all visitors take the ride, but many people, lacking time or interest, bypass the exhibits.
Visitors must come prepared to do considerable walking among attractions and a comparable amount of standing in line.
We have identified several Epcot attractions as "not to be missed." But part of the enjoyment of the park is that there's something for everyone. Ask your group. They're sure to have a variety of opinions as to which attraction is "best."
Epcot has two themed areas: Future World and World Showcase. Each has its own operating hours. Though schedules change throughout the year, Future World always opens before World Showcase in the morning. While most of Future World's attractions stay open until the entire park closes, a few usually close around 7 p.m. World Showcase opens two hours later than Future World. Moreover, some attractions open late or close early. For exact park hours during your visit, call 407-824-4321. For the operating schedule of specific attractions, check the park handout map or the supplemental Times Guide available at no charge throughout the park.
Plan to arrive at the turnstiles 30-40 minutes prior to the official opening time. Give yourself an extra 10 minutes or so to park and make your way to the entrance.
If you are a guest at one of the Epcot resorts, it will take you about 20-30 minutes to walk from your hotel to the International Gateway (back entrance of Epcot) and from there to Future World section of the park. Instead of walking, you can catch a boat from your Epcot resort hotel to the International Gateway and then walk about eight minutes to the Future World section. To reach the front (Future World) entrance of Epcot from the Epcot resorts, either take a boat from your hotel to the Disney's Hollywood Studios and transfer to an Epcot bus, take a bus to Downtown Disney and transfer to an Epcot bus, or best of all, take a cab.
Arriving at the park by private automobile is easy and direct. Epcot has its own parking lot and, unlike at the Magic Kingdom, there's no need to take a monorail or ferry to reach the entrance. Trams serve the parking lot, or you can walk to the front gate. Monorail service connects Epcot with the Transportation and Ticket Center, the Magic Kingdom (transfer required), and Magic Kingdom resorts (transfer required).
For unknown reasons, getting through entrance security at Epcot is more cumbersome and time-consuming than at the other parks. In fact, it’s a royal pain, as this unidentified reader relates:
My biggest complaint was the amount of time it took to actually get into Epcot: 35 minutes at 10:30 a.m. to get bags checked (park had opened at 9) and another 10 minutes to get in. It took nowhere near as long at the other parks, even with the same crowd size.
A Florida mother of a three-year-old agrees:
Lines were crazy first thing in the morning. Some cast members just glanced in a bag, and others opened every zipper and looked in every crevice of our bags and stroller. One time we got an overzealous employee whose line took 15 minutes—the longest line of the day.
Epcot's theme areas are distinctly different. Future World examines where mankind has come from and where it's going. World Showcase features landmarks, cuisine, and culture of almost a dozen nations and is meant to be a sort of permanent World's Fair.
Navigating Epcot is unlike getting around at the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom is designed so that nearly every location is part of a specific environment-Liberty Square or Main Street, U.S.A., for example. All environments are visually separated to preserve the integrity of the theme.
Epcot, by contrast, is visually open. And while it seems strange to see a Japanese pagoda and the Eiffel Tower on the same horizon, getting around is fairly simple. An exception is Future World, where the enormous Innoventions buildings hide everything on their opposite sides.
At Epcot, the architectural symbol is Spaceship Earth. This shiny, 180-foot geosphere is visible from almost everywhere in the park. Like Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth can help you keep track of where you are in Epcot. But it's in a high-traffic area and isn't centrally located, so it isn't a good meeting place.
Any of the distinctive national pavilions in World Showcase make a good meeting place, but be specific. "Hey, let's meet in Japan!" sounds fun, but each pavilion is a mini-town with buildings, monuments, gardens, and plazas. You could wander quite awhile "in Japan" without finding your group. Pick a specific place in Japan-the sidewalk side of the pagoda, for example.