Since the theme parks at Walt Disney World reopened in the summer 2020, Disney has instituted a number of new policies and procedures which they feel will help guests safe from the coronavirus. These include limited park attendance & instituting the need to make a reservation in advance the guests visit, mobile ordering of food, socially distancing queues, suspension of the FastPass+ ride reservation system, modifying experiences and limiting capacity within indoor spaces including restaurants.
While some of these new procedures are staring to be relaxed (mask wearing comes to mind), it is anticipated that some will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
In addition to those changes referenced above, the hours of operation also have changed. As of the writing of this post, the posted EPCOT hours shows on Disney’s website show an opening time of 11:00 am and a closing time of 10:00 pm (until July 10, 2021). During the summer 2019, Epcot’s Future World would originally open at 9:00 am followed by World Showcase opening at 11:00 am. Closing time was 9:00 pm so Disney is keeping EPCOT open an additional hour during the evenings.
With all these changes to EPCOT it makes for a different experience so as a result, we at Endless Summer have modified how we go about our “typical” Epcot visit (not a visit for a special event or a specific dining reservation) and would like to share some of our strategies on how to get the most out of your day.
Important Note About EPCOT
Before we begin with our tips, visitors should know that EPCOT is undergoing a significant transformation and Disney is making a considerable investment in modernizing and improving this park. As a result, the entire center area of Future World in EPCOT resembles a construction zone at this time (Summer 2021).
The Imagineers are doing a good job to trying to make it is convenient as possible for guests but since temporary construction walls are constantly being moved so be prepared to make some adjustments “on the fly”.
If your interested in see the exciting changes coming to EPCOT, we highly recommend that you want the video below.
What should I bring during my visit to EPCOT?
If you are an Endless Summer follower then you already know that we bring a fairly full backpack pretty much every time we visit a theme park including EPCOT (unless of course we are just visiting for a quick dinner at one of park’s restaurants).
Unlike Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, Disney allows guests to bring a backpack on pretty much all rides & attractions and those at EPCOT are no exception (we will see if the new Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster has the same policy).
While we try our best to travel as light as possible, there are a number of items that we bring during every theme park visit. These include:
Hand Sanitizer, Sanitizing Wipes and Sunscreen
While there are hand sanitizer stations throughout EPCOT, at times they may be empty of out of the way. So having a small bottle of sanitizer or wipe in your backup just makes life easier.
Just bring a small bottle of sunscreen for protection again that strong Florida sun. Your skin will thank you in the long run.
Refillable Water Bottle
On a hot day in Florida staying hydrated in an absolute must and the thought of purchasing $4.00 water bottles every hour is not pleasant. We tend to fill our water bottles with Gatorade or ice tea, with as much ice as we can fit.
While cast members will refill your water bottle at most locations and there are fountains throughout the park. In addition, there are a number of recently installed water bottle refiling stations at EPCOT which include:
- In the Odyssey Building (next to Test Track)
- At the restrooms near Starbucks (World Showcase)
- At EPCOT’s Skyliner Station restrooms (near the International Gateway)
We’re sure that additional refilling stations will be added in the future and will update this post as soon as we are aware of the new ones.
Our preferred water bottle of choice is the ThermoFlask which is a stainless steel bottle than keeps our drinks cold for up to 24 hours. Click here to purchase a 2-pack of ThermoFlask water bottles from Amazon.
While we sometimes get a Mickey pretzel with cheese ($7.00) and refill our popcorn bucket ($5.00 or $2.00 for a refill), the cost of snacks at any theme park can add up quickly. Therefore, we add a few small snacks to our backpack including granola / power bars, small bags of pretzels / fruit chewies and fresh fruit like oranges & apples.
Of course you should bring whatever you like to eat but keep in mind that several types of snacks, especially some fruits, may not keep well during the course of the day.
Poncho or Rain Jacket
Did you ever get caught up one of our famous Florida afternoon thundershowers? If you have then you know that it’s not any fun. While it may be nice to cool off during a hot day, wearing wet clothing is not a comfortable experience at a theme park so having something to keep you dry in your backpack is a must.
Unless you really want a Disney themed rain jacket (around $12), our recommendation is to buy a handful of inexpensive ponchos from one of the dollar stores and throw them away after each use. Therefore you won’t have to carry wet clothing when the rains pass (as they always do).
Portable Cell Phone Charger
One the reasons you take a vacation is to “up plug” but in today’s world, that’s becoming increasing more difficult. When visiting the Disney Parks like EPCOT, you will need the My Disney Experience app on your smart phone to check wait times, order food and make make reservations on Virtual Queues.
And if you want to take photos / videos and need to make a phone call or two, chances are pretty good that your cell phone battery is going to get low on power after a few hours. So we highly recommend bring along a portable charger and whatever accompanying cable connects to your iPhone or Android device.
Although we don’t have one as of yet, it would make sense to get a heavy duty, wireless quick charger so you have adequate power for your entire family. Click here to see the price for the Ekrist Wireless Portable Charger Power Bank on Amazon.
At what time should I arrive at EPCOT?
We always recommend that when visiting EPCOT, and for the most part all theme parks, that you arrive at the park opening as the crowds are typically the lightest.
As of May 2021, EPCOT does not open until 11:00 AM so it will give you and your family plenty of time to sleep in, get a good breakfast and get to the park for rope drop. If you are driving your own vehicle, the parking lot does not open until 10:30 AM and cast members, at most times, are not allowing vehicles to line up at the Toll Plaza.
When parking at EPCOT, it could be difficult to remember specifically where you parked so we like to take a photo to our row. Then we exiting, we don’t have to stress about trying to locate our car.
Since the FastPass+ system is not currently operating, arriving early will ensure that you get the opportunity to ride the most popular rides and attractions without spending your entire day waiting in lines.
What EPCOT rides & attractions should we visit first?
The most popular rides and attractions at EPCOT will obviously have the longest wait times so the goal would be visit those as early in the day as possible.
We are always asked what rides & attractions should be visit first but that completely depends on your personal preference on what you and your family like to do. However, the following rides & attractions are the most popular and typically have the longest wait times. We highly recommend that these are your visited as early as possible.
We do expect this list to change when the new Remy’s Ratatouilee Adventure (October 1, 2021) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (summer 2022) and open later in 2021.
The Endless Summer Plan When Visiting EPCOT
EPCOT is one of our favorite theme parks and probably the Disney park that we visit the most. And like we recommend, we are always there for park opening (especially now that the opening time is at 11:00 AM).
Our first attraction we head to is Test Track since lines for that attraction can get very long and we find that the ride goes down more often that some of the other popular rides. The only time we don’t visit Test Track first is when we enter the park through EPCOT’s International Gateway in the World Showcase. If so, we will visit Frozen Ever After as our first attraction as by the time you walk to Test Track from the International Gateway, the wait time will be 45 to 60 minutes (from guests entering through the main entrance).
After our first ride on Test Track, we head over The Land pavilion and ride Soarin’ Around the World followed by Living with the Land. So typically by noon, we’ve completed two of the three most popular rides plus another of our favorite rides in Living with the Land.
From here we traditionally will visit some of the other rides in Future World depending on the wait times we see from the My Disney Experience app. We normally catch up with Frozen Ever After during the early afternoon (depending on wait times and crowd levels of course).
Currently the evening fireworks / lagoon shows have been suspended but we are eagerly waiting the all the eww Harmonious nighttime spectacular. Construction has been on going for several months and as of our last visit, the six-story central ring and four adjacent barges appear to be in place. We are very much looking forward to this show.
Where and when should we eat during our visit to EPCOT?
EPCOT has some the of the places to eat of any theme park throughout the greater Orlando area. From the restaurants featured in several World Showcase countries to Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast at Garden Grill Restaurant in the Land Pavilion (one of our favorites), there is something for everyone at EPCOT.
When the park opens early in the morning, we typically have lunch well before noon to avoid the crowds. Now that EPCOT’s opening time is 11:00 AM, we eat a later breakfast before coming to the park and have our first meal around 2:00 PM. By this time the “lunch rush” has passed and there is not a significant wait if we choose to eat at a sit down restaurant.
The timing of dinner meals are less important than lunch as by the time dinner comes around, you should have been able to visit most of the major rides & attractions in both Future World and World Showcase. So dinner can be relaxing and enjoyable – but if your should still make reservations for the table service restaurants at early as possible since most of these fill up quickly.
Some of our favorite places to eat at EPCOT include:
- Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast at Garden Grill Restaurant: Family style dining with Disney characters in the Land Pavilion. Advanced reservations are a must!
- Sunshine Seasons: Quick service dining in the Land Pavilion.
- Electric Umbrella: Currently closed due to construction and don’t think there are plans to reopen.
- Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria: Sit down dining in Italy – we typically split the 20″ Margherita Pizza ($33.00) and a “Family Style” House Salad ($9.00).
- Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Barbeque and burgers at The American Adventure.
- Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie: Located in France, the best place for deserts in EPCOT hands down. Try the macarons collection ($11.50).
- Teppan Edo: Located on the second floor of Japan, enjoy hibachi style dining by chefs right at your table.
If you are visiting EPCOT during one of its many festivals (ie. International Food & Wine, International Flower & Garden, etc), there are a number quick service outdoor kitchens located throughout the World Showcase that offer small sampling portions. While not a complete meal, after a few stops at some of the kitchens you might just be completely full.
Where should we stay when visiting EPCOT?
When we are visiting EPCOT (or Disney’s Hollywood Studios for that matter), our favorite place to stay is either the Walt Disney World Dolphin or Walt Disney World Swan hotels. Both are Marriott brand hotels so as a Lifetime Titanium Elite members, we can use or earn reward points when visiting either of these hotels.
The Dolphin and Swan are part of the EPCOT Resort Area and within walking distance to the EPCOT’s International Gateway (passing through Disney’s Boardwalk area). There is also a water taxi that will take guests from the rear of the hotels to just outside of the EPCOT entrance.
With these hotels so close to EPCOT, guests can take a break during the middle of the day and go back to the hotel and sit by the pool, take a nap or even check their e-mail if so inclined. There are plenty of amenities to enjoy but the best part is the extraordinarily close location to EPCOT.
Both hotels are fairly well priced for theme park hotels and we have recently stayed at both with room rates below $200 per night. The one drawback is that resort fees ($30/day), self-parking ($30/day) and taxes (combined 12.5%) could quickly add to the nightly rate.