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.
The storytelling skills of the Disney Imagineers are evident throughout Epcot, as these concepts are presented in an upbeat way with lots of dazzling visual effects and humor. Most visitors find plenty of entertainment and education. In fact, Spaceship Earth, the ride dedicated to exploring communication systems, was for more than two decades the most popular attraction in all of Walt Disney World. (That title is now held by Soarin', also at Epcot.)
Besides futuristic attractions, half of Epcot is devoted to World Showcase, a collection of elaborate pavilions representing the landmarks and cultures of various countries from around the world. Each country is staffed by young adults from that nation, so it’s possible your children will hear French spoken in the France pavilion or Mandarin in the China pavilion. Every country has at least one restaurant, too, making Epcot home to the most diverse set of dining options on property. For adults, Epcot may have the best nighttime fireworks display and music, in IllumiNations. Given these, Epcot may be the best theme park ever built.
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).
Security screening at Epcot is a mess. In contrast to the other parks, all guests go through a security queue. At the other three parks, there's a separate entrance gate for guests without packs, bags, purses, or containers. This, plus the kinks in the biometric finger scanners creates traffic jams of the first order. By contrast the other parks can admit almost twice the number of guests through the turnstiles in any given period of time. A Metamora, Illinois, gentleman had this to say:
My only real complaint about the trip was [that] the security checks at Epcot really slowed down the entry process as compared to the other parks, no matter what time of day. I would advise arriving even earlier than you suggest.
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. It wouldn't do for the Jungle Cruise to pass beneath the futuristic spires of Space Mountain, for instance.
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.
Cinderella Castle is the central landmark at the Magic Kingdom. 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.
The Epcot Acronym
"Epcot" ORIGINALLY WAS "EPCOT." When envisioned by Walt Disney as a utopian working city of the future, EPCOT was the acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Corporate Disney ultimately altered Walt's vision, and the city became a theme park, but the name remained. Because EPCOT, however, was clearly nothing of the sort, the acronym "EPCOT" became the name "Epcot."
DISNEY DESIGN with Sam Gennawey
The popular story of Epcotâ€™s design is that Imagineers John Hench and Marty Sklar pushed two models of two separate projects together â€“ Future World plus a permanent Worlds Fair called the World Showcase - into one massive 260-acre park, more than twice as large as the Magic Kingdom and three times as large as Disneyland.
The gateway for this new park would be a time machine, just like the entrance at the Magic Kingdom. To illustrate my point, you might recall that at the Magic Kingdom you pass below the railroad, through a small tunnel, and enter an idealistic American town around 1900. The tunnel is like a time machine. At Epcot, no matter how you arrived, whether it be by auto, bus, or monorail, you always entered into the future. And you do it through Spaceship Earth.
Everyone passes under this unifying theme element, Spaceship Earth, and everyone share that experience as a community in a park that celebrates the interdependence between our minds, body and Earth. The front half of the figure eight-shaped park would teach us about the past and anticipate the future. The back half would celebrate the cultures of the world.
The Monorail is also part of the show. As guests arrive to via the Monorail, they would get an â€œeye in the skyâ€ preview of the park. It creates the perfect first impression of this future world. The Monorail was novelty at Disneyland but it would become truly the transportation system of the future and critical to the success of Disney World. Besides transportation, the movement of the monorail around the park adds visual stimulus to the environment of guests already inside the park.