EPCOT Early Entry Example

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been creating early entry strategies for each Walt Disney World theme park and posting the results as part of our TouringPlans Teaches YouTube series. Lots of times these strategies are based on a bunch of submitted actual and posted wait time data, and supported by in-park stories, experiences, and/or testing. But never-have-I-ever served as my own guinea pig and proved out my strategies.

That all changed this past weekend on my family’s very quick trip to Walt Disney World. We had 3 nights and 2 park days, and spent one of those park days in EPCOT. The weather was going to be hot, and we would be visiting during a weekend of the Food & Wine Festival. So I needed to make sure that we could take advantage of the cool(er) and less-crowded morning before we all melted in the sun. Pale redheads and unshaded asphalt don’t mix well.

Two necessities for this park day: sunscreen and Mickey bars

But Wait, What About Genie+?

Yes, yes. I make all of the Genie+ videos and blog posts. But you know that means I have all of the Genie+ data. And I’ve run through enough scenarios to know that Early Entry at EPCOT saves more time than Genie+. No need to spend $60 (plus tax) for the four of us. Especially with one kid that is too short for Test Track and Soarin’. Savvy strategy would do just fine, thanks.

Pre-Opening

Our resort for this trip was Caribbean Beach – specifically chosen for its access to the Skyliner so that we could do Early Entry from the International Gateway. I used the TouringPlans Room Request to ask for the Aruba section, as close to the Skyliner as possible. We ended up in room 5438, which was a second floor room that was 2 minutes away from the Skyliner (the station was visible from our room) and 3 minutes away from Riviera. Ideal location. Plus the buildings were pink and green, which are my daughters’ favorite colors.

Headed to our room, which we were VERY happy with.

Our EPCOT day got off to a seemingly rocky start. And by day, I mean right after the clock struck midnight. The rest of my family were snug in their beds after a relaxing evening that included dinner at Primo Piatto (a great counter-service option at Riviera). But I had the first-world-iest of first-world problems that ever first-worlded. I dined at Victoria & Albert’s the night before, and the 5-hour dining time meant that I was still at the Grand Floridian at midnight. I got back to my resort a little before 12:30 am. And I had the normal first-night-at-Disney problems which meant that I was too excited to fall asleep even when I was finally able to collapse into bed. So … entering the day with very minimal sleep.

Alarms went off at 6:45 am because I’m a planner and had prepared everything for our day already. Breakfasts were packed, day-bag was ready to go, outfits and ears were laid out. All we had to do was roll out of bed, put on clothes, and get ourselves to the Skyliner. Oh, and at 7 am we were still in the room, so I was able to secure Boarding Group 1 for Cosmic Rewind. No big deal.

Disney magic right here.

Then, even with an over-tired mama and two young kids waking up too early, we made it to the Skyliner by 7:04 (it opens at 7 am, or a little earlier, each day). That meant we beat anyone that got on when it opened at Art of Animation or Pop Century and had to connect through Caribbean Beach, which was key.

Beautiful, empty Skyliner, 2 minutes from our door. Worth waking up early for.

We exited the Skyliner at EPCOT just after 7:15. There were about 20 people already milling about that had arrived ahead of us, and the line would quickly grow behind us. Nothing like the crowds at the main entrance, but still a lot of people.

Just a few folks standing between us and the gate at 7:16

At 7:26, the gates opened and we were allowed to scan in and walk all of the way to the bridge to France.

We got pulled out into the stroller line, so we were first to the bridge!

At 7:30 we were walked by cast members from the bridge to the first Ratatouille gate.

My children walk slow on bridges, so a few folks got in front of us again. Must train the children better …

We were held there until 7:36, when we were allowed to cascade into the actual queue. Despite being ~20th in line at the gate, we dropped back to somewhere in the first hundred people in the queue thanks to losing some ground because of having to park a stroller. The realities of life with little kids. We can never do the real optimal strategy 😉

A handy clock documenting when we were all allowed into the queue

Early Entry

At 7:55, the ride became operational and we were allowed to get on. My family boarded before 8, and were off the ride and back to our stroller by 8:05.We had a single stroller, which meant the 6-year-old in our crew had to walk. And 6-year-olds are sometimes difficult to motivate at 8 am. But will still managed to make it over to Frozen Ever After at 8:18.

We even paused (gasp!) our fast walk around the world to take this cute picture.

It had a 15-minute posted wait, but was actually a walk-on. We were off the ride by 8:23.

15 minutes? Lies. 1 minute of walking until you get to the boat.

And here is where the reality of small children strikes again. The ideal strategy would have your party arriving at Test Track before the crowd of regular-park-opening folk can get there from the main entrance. We could’ve done it! Except … tiny people and their tiny bladders. We had a mandatory pit stop at the Odyssey restrooms. And that put us at Test Track at 8:35. Womp womp.

Regular Park Hours

Still, not all hope was lost. The posted wait time was only 30 minutes. Our actual wait, including that lengthy design preshow, was 25 minutes. At that point, we could have theoretically hopped over to Soarin’ where there was a 15 minute posted wait. But … reality. We still had to rider swap on Test Track (thanks to a quarter-inch-too-short little kid). That took another 25 minutes. Why??? Why??? I don’t know. But that was a long swap.

You only wish your car was as cool as this one designed by my six-year-old.

Then we opted to redeem our Guardians boarding passes. Group 1’s window had already lapsed by about half an hour – but we were allowed on anyway. This tends to be the way virtual queues work. As long as your boarding group has been called, you can get on the ride. Not just within your allotted one hour after your group is called. We had to rider swap again here. The first group of us waited 30 minutes after we tapped in. Then we swapped and group two waited 20 minutes in the Lightning Lane. This is pretty typical for Guardians. Individual Lightning Lane isn’t really going to save you much time. Instead, it offers you a way to either bypass the virtual queueing system, or to ride more than once if you can get a boarding pass and purchase Individual Lightning Lane.

Did I grin the entire time I was on this ride and love every minute of it? Yes. Was I totally grossed out by having to step over more than 20 towels covering “biohazards” at the exit? Also yes.

At this point, it was 11 am and posted wait times at Soarin’ had jumped up to 65 minutes. The wait likely wouldn’t have been that long (the posted wait time settled back to 40 minutes pretty quickly). We rode Living with the Land instead, which is a must-do anyway.

My three-year-old’s favorite ride of the entire day. I’m raising her right.

Post-Strategy Day

My Early Entry strategy would’ve worked quite well had we been travelling without children, or opted not to rider swap, or even if we would’ve done Guardians later in the day. But as it was, we were happy with our choices. After an early lunch, we rode Spaceship Earth, we spent a lot of time in the shade and AC at the Seas, then we watched some short films, met Mickey, and said hello to Figment. After exiting Journey Into Imagination, we also greeted Joy and Vanellope. By this time it was almost 2 pm – we hadn’t experienced any real waits.

Cue ALL of the tears. Just because I love data doesn’t mean I don’t have _emotions_, people.

We then made our way over to the World Showcase, where we rode Gran Fiesta Tour with a 5 minute wait, met Anna and Elsa with no wait, watched Reflections of China, ate Mickey Premium bars, and explored the countries (clockwise, as it should be) until we made it to Japan for the 4:45 showing of Matsuriza. Love that entertainment. We had a 5:20 reservation at Teppan Edo, after which we explored Morocco and then took the Skyliner back to Caribbean Beach by 7 pm.

“We’re not learning, Mom. We’re just watching a movie.”
And that is exactly why, as a parent, World Showcase is so awesome.

After bathing the children and tucking them in bed, I headed back to EPCOT via the Skyliner a little after 8 pm. I cared about the beacons on Spaceship Earth the most, because of course.

In my opinion, there is no better way to spend a sunset than by sitting and watching this beauty light up at night.

I watched those, and then wandered back to World Showcase in time for Harmonious. I walked up 8 minutes before showtime and was able to secure a not-bad view just to the right of the Port of Call merchandise location.

Seriously not a terrible view for not having to camp out on a crowded weekend night.

Then, like any intelligent human, I began to walk clockwise from the entry of World Showcase to the International Gateway. The park had closed at 9 pm when Harmonious started. But the Skyliner stayed open until 10:30 pm. So I had plenty of time to enjoy a rapidly emptying World Showcase. The lagoon looks much better at night when the water tacos go dark and you can’t tell that they’re totally visually blighting the scenery.

Those colors, though

By 9:40, people were scarce. I got so many photos of empty pavilions and got to enjoy the views and the music almost all to myself. Early Entry to post-park-close. Pretty ideal day. Prepare yourself for a mini photo dump because I can’t help myself and have to share these.

EPCOT Early Entry Takeaways

  • If you’re doing Early Entry from International Gateway, try to be on that Skyliner as early as possible. You won’t feel like you’re ever just waiting around forever for things to open. The morning will move quickly.
  • If you don’t have access to the Skyliner, getting to the International Gateway somehow is still a good plan. Because of the large numbers of people at the Main Entrance, you’ll have to contend with a lot more people to get to where you want to go early. If you opt for Test Track first, you will probably still have a decent wait, plus the design preshow that will slow you down. You might still be able to get to Frozen before official park opening, but Remy will have a bigger wait by the time you make it over there.
  • A weekend during Food & Wine is actually a great time to go if you care more about attractions and less about the food and wine. A lot of park reservations will be taken up by folks that only want to graze around the park and maybe catch an attraction or two. Wait times at all major attractions were really low until at least 11 am, making for some pretty great morning touring.

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

21 thoughts on “EPCOT Early Entry Example

  • August 3, 2022 at 11:30 am
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    Is there a particular reason you went “clockwise” around world showcase?

    Reply
    • August 3, 2022 at 11:38 am
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      I’m glad this is the first question on this post 🙂

      Mostly, personal preference and I’m just being silly. The clockwise/counter-clockwise debate among EPCOT fans can be a heated one. I find that it helps, especially with kids, to get them in “the groove”. Mexico has a boat ride and really cool indoor theming. Norway’s got Frozen and a meet and greet, also super engaging. From that point, the pavilions themselves get theoretically less engaging. China has the CircleVision, but Germany is mostly shops and eating (but does have the mini train village) … etc.

      If you go the other way from the entrance to World Showcase, you begin with Canada and UK and those have fewer things for kids to latch onto.

      Reply
      • August 3, 2022 at 5:35 pm
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        I tried your tips and got to the International Gateway before 8 pm, waited about 15 minutes for Remy, got through Frozen by 8:45 (did that ride always get your backside wet?), then after a restroom stop decided to see Anna And Elsa and allow the 50 minute initial wait occuring at Test Track to die down. Princesses were late and didn’t get to Test Track till 9:30 where the 40 minute wait turned to 1 hour due to breakdowns. Pulled Soarin’ off my to do list because time waits jumped from what was initially tracked by me the prior weeks. Decided to enjoy my Cosmic Boarding Group 67 (boy, I was refreshing from 6:59 am that morning) and Food & Wine. Your tips made sense and actually tracked the previous days but breakdowns happen.

      • August 3, 2022 at 7:29 pm
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        Becky what are your tips to get to the IG if you are not staying at a resort with skyliner access. I’m staying at Saratoga Springs. I’ve heard people have taken a Lyft to Beach Club or other close places and have been denied access to the walking path without an ADR. But maybe that was a rumor??? What are your tips? We will be there in 3 weeks! My fall-back plan is just to do Remy via ILL or Genie+ depending on what happens Aug 7 and rope drop TT and then FEE.

      • August 3, 2022 at 9:34 pm
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        Yes, I should put expiration times on the strategy 😉 Ideal is getting to International Gateway around 7:15, then Remy+Frozen, with Test Track happening before official park opening. If you start slipping past that, all bets are off.

      • August 3, 2022 at 9:35 pm
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        Maurine, I believe they have gotten much tighter with access to the area. I’ve heard of more success with dropoffs to Swan/Dolphin and then walking in that way. Otherwise the Main Entrance will work fine – it just won’t be quite as efficient.

        And, great news, Remy is staying on Genie+, semi-permanently at least.

  • August 3, 2022 at 12:25 pm
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    Becky – I want to thank you for your very informative videos and blog posts. You have helped me tremendously in my planning for my upcoming trip next month.

    Reply
    • August 3, 2022 at 2:02 pm
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      Thank you for the kind feedback, Ben!

      Reply
  • August 3, 2022 at 1:48 pm
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    Thanks for sharing your day with us.

    Reply
  • August 3, 2022 at 11:08 pm
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    We tried this strategy today (Aug 3). Our Lift driver was turned away at Boardwalk because we didn’t have an ADR there, but he took us to Boardwalk and they let us in. Everything was going swell, we were in the queue for Remy before official early entry began. Then it happened, Remy opening would be delayed with no expected time to come on line given. We reasoned that we would wait up to 60 min. For it to reopen since that’s the amount of time we’d likely have to wait if we came back later in the day. 45 min. Later the ride came on line, so our strategy paid off, but any early entry advantage was gone. Still, wait times for Soar’n, Living with the Land, Nemo, were reasonable. We returned to our room around 12:30 and were able to get a boarding group for Cosmic Rewind ar the 1:00 drop. Returning to the park at 5:00 we were able to do everything we wanted to with reasonable wait times.

    Reply
    • August 4, 2022 at 8:33 am
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      Oh man! That’s a bummer – Remy so rarely goes down right at the beginning of the day. An unlucky start 🙁 Glad you were still able to accomplish everything that you wanted to!

      Reply
  • August 4, 2022 at 2:50 pm
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    The fact that this was a real life touring experience with kids and rider swap included makes me happy. Would I love an optimized touring plan? Yes. Is it a reality with 2 kids? No. I think your day was excellent.

    Reply
  • August 4, 2022 at 6:02 pm
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    One way to get from Saratoga Springs Resort to the International Gateway is to take a bus to Hollywood Studios and then walk or boat or skyliner over to the IG. It wouldn’t get you there before the early people to arrive via the skyliner from the skyliner resorts, but it gets you there using free Disney transportation.

    Reply
  • August 4, 2022 at 9:59 pm
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    We were at Epcot on August 1. Three rides – Remy, Guardians, and TT were all down at park opening. Even though we got there early entry, Frozen line quickly swelled to 50 minutes, so we went to Figment to start with the front of the park. Figment was down, so we went to Living with Land (long wait at Soarin’) and got stuck at the end of the ride due to technical issues! Day got better after this, since we had Genie Plus and ultimately used this for Remy and Soarin’. We had boarding group 90 for Guardians, but since ride was down for hours in the am, our group had not been called by the time we were worn out and decided to head back to resort. Was still a fun day.

    Questions:

    Is Disney experiencing unusual issues with rides down? We were at HS yesterday and Rise was down the entire day.

    How did you get boarding group 1? Did you all pay for LL? I refreshed right after 6:59 turned to 7:00 and got group 90, but we did not pay.

    Thanks for all your helpful articles and YouTube videos! I really enjoy them!

    Reply
  • August 5, 2022 at 8:37 am
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    On our last trip we were staying at an off site hotel an so did not qualify for early entry. We took an Uber to the Swan, they would not let us be dropped off at the Boardwalk, and entered from IG to get to Remmy first. There was only one other group in front of us. We were on and off Remmy within 30 minutes.

    Reply
  • August 5, 2022 at 1:27 pm
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    We are making our first trip to WDW with our 5 y/o in October, so this was INCREDIBLY helpful! I’m a Disney vet, but touring with a little guy is going to be a different beast altogether.

    Reply
  • August 7, 2022 at 1:32 pm
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    Thanks this is very helpful!

    We are going in one month, and we WILL have Genie+ also (and we’ll try to get both a BG and an ILL for GotG to ride twice). What would you prioritize as riding standby at rope drop vs. aiming for a LL?

    Reply
    • August 7, 2022 at 2:03 pm
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      Do you have Skyliner access or are you staying at a Crescent Lake resort?
      Even with Genie+, you’ll need to rope drop one of the “big three” (Remy, Frozen, Test Track) because you generally can’t get reservations for all three before they sell out. My preference is to rope drop from International Gateway and do Remy and Frozen via standby, saving Genie+ reservations for Future World.

      Reply
      • August 8, 2022 at 12:34 pm
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        We are staying at OKW and driving to Epcot, so we will not plan on being at the IG entrance. So I think that means that we don’t want to try to rope drop Remy. Instead, we are planning on making a G+ for Remy and rope dropping Test Track. Maybe after Test Track we will also have time to do Frozen standby without too much of a wait? Let me know what you think.

  • August 8, 2022 at 12:38 pm
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    That’s my exact plan. This is where genie + comes in handy. The other rides like Soarin’ and mission space will still be available by the time we can get our second genie+ or the lines won’t be super long like Remy, TT and FEA.

    Reply

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