Epcot Must-Do’s and Tips Part 1
I am planning to put together a series of articles with tips for a great Walt Disney World vacation. However, my parents, who have not been to Walt Disney World since 1998, are planning a day trip to Epcot. So I thought it would be fun to write up the highlights of the park for them. Most of the tips in this article would be useful for any one planning a day at Epcot. But I am writing with my parents in mind. So I won’t be spending a lot of time in this article talking about things like character meals or meet and greets. I’ll get to those things in my upcoming Disney World 101 series.
First, a little bit of background about Epcot. As originally envisioned by Walt Disney, Epcot was not a theme park at all. Instead, it was a futuristic city. The name Epcot comes form Walt’s term “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”. Walt’s city of the future was the heart and soul of his “Florida project”. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died while Disney World was still in the planning stages.
When it came time to build Epcot, the Disney company decided it was impractical to build Walt’s city of the future. Instead, they built a theme park dedicated to the ideas that inspired Walt’s dream. Originally, there were two competing designs for Epcot. One was designed to showcase cutting edge technology and visions of the future. The other was a kind of permanent world’s fair.
Eventually, an imagineer took models for both designs and pushed them together. The result was a park divided into two halves. The first half, Future World, deals with technology and the future. The back half of the park, World Showcase, includes pavilions depicting cultures from around the world.
TIP: As with any Disney park, it is best to arrive as early as possible. Crowds are almost non-existent for the first few hours of operation. It is possible to hit all of the major Future World attractions with little to no wait early in the morning.
The first stop of any day at Epcot should be Soarin’ at the Land Pavilion. Soarin’ is a gentle hang-glider simulation. Technically, it qualifies as one of Epcot’s three “thrill” rides. But it is a relaxing ride that anyone can enjoy. The ride vehicles lift passengers up in the air and sway back and forth simulating flight. Riders are placed into an immersive IMAX screen that recreates scenes of flying over California.
In addition to the sights and sounds of the movie and the motion of the vehicles, the illusion is completed with other sensory experiences. Fans blow a gentle California breeze as well as scents. For example, when the riders experience a flight over a California orange grove, a hint of orange blossoms drifts through the air. Similarly, when flying over the beach, you can smell a sea breeze.
Soarin’ is the most popular ride at Epcot. Lines will form first thing in the morning. It’s not uncommon to experience an hour long wait for the four-and-a-half minute ride. While I enjoy Soarin’ anyone who waits an hour to ride it ought to have their head examined. If you are one of the first to arrive, you should have a reasonable wait. Otherwise, get your FastPass earlybefore they run out for the day.
The second-longest wait in the park will be for Test Track. Test Track recreates a GM test facility with the riders serving as crash test dummies. After a series of tests, the ride culminates in a 65-mile-an-hour lap around the outdoor track including a 50-degree banked curve. While 65-miles-an-hour may not sound that fast, it’s different when your taking it on a banked curve as opposed to a straight highway.
Like Soarin’ Test Track is a thrill ride that can be enjoyed by just about anybody. There’s no hills, loops or drops. Test Track is all about speed and blowing your hair back on that one spin around the track. Due to its popularity and relatively low capacity, Test Track is usually the second-longest line in the park.
TIP: If you have a FastPass available, FP Test Track and ride the nearby Mission: Space. Otherwise, hit Test Track while you’re waiting for your return time for Soarin’.
Mission: Space rounds out the Epcot thrill rides. It is a simulator that recreates a space launch right down to the g-forces. Riders experience up to 2.5 Gs during the ride. For some, the ride may induce motion sickness. In fact, it is the only Disney attraction to include motion sickness bags just in case.
For those who are less daring (or are prone to motion sickness) Disney created a second way to experience Mission: Space. The line will eventually split into Orange Team (which experiences the full G-forces) and Green Team which does not include the centrifuge. If you want to experience Mission: Space without risking your lunch, choose the Green Team.
Tip: Mission: Space has a very high capacity. So lines never get as long as they do for the other thrill rides. As such, you should use your Fastpasses on Soarin or Test Track instead. Since Mission: Space is right next to Test Track, a lot of park guests grab a ticket for Test Track and then get in the stand-by line for Mission: Space.
Now that we’ve got the headliners out of the way, it’s time to slow down and enjoy some of the more informative pavilions in Future World. We’ll begin with The Seas With Nemo and Friends. When The Seas opened in 1986, it housed the world’s largest salt water aquarium. While The Seas no longer holds that record, it is still a very impressive facility.
You enter the aquarium through a ride which projects the characters from Disney’s Finding Nemo into the salt water tank with the live fish. The ride is pretty slight, but enjoyable. Honestly, my favorite part of the ride is the way the Imagineers set up the queue to make you feel like you are really submerged under water. Look up and you will see the underside of the boat that began Nemo’s adventure.
Once you exit your clamobile, you can explore the aquarium to your heart’s content. But make sure to find time for Turtle Talk with Crush. Turtle Talk is an interactive show in which the animated turtle, Crush, takes questions from and interacts with the kids in the audience. The show is never the same twice, but it is always lively and lots of fun. Adults can often be heard wondering aloud, “How did they do that?”
The “Big Golf Ball” at the entrance of Epcot is actually an 18-story geodesic sphere. The sphere houses the attraction Spaceship Earth which takes riders on a journey through human history filled with the detailed animatronics that Disney is known for.
TIP: A lot of tourists will go straight to Spaceship Earth when they enter the park because it is the first thing they see. As a result, the lines get long early and get shorter as the crowd moves to the back of the park. Instead, save Spaceship Earth until after you have completed the rest of Future World while everyone else descends on the World Showcase.
In part 2, I’ll highlight the “must-do’s” in the World Showcase. In future installments, I’ll review some of the smaller attractions at Epcot as well as the excellent dining and shopping options.