Epcot is perhaps one of the most unique Disney parks ever created, and is a once in a lifetime experience. It was the first park that Disney created after building two “Magic Kingdom-style” parks. In fact, it is the most successful theme park in North America after Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World.
And yet, Epcot didn’t start as a theme park, but as an entire new community. The word Epcot began as EPCOT, an acronym standing for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. The primary reason Walt Disney purchased so much property in Central Florida was not to build additional theme parks, but to build an actual city, complete with suburbs, businesses, shopping, and more. The reality is that Walt Disney died before he could make that vision a reality, and his successors struggled to figure out what to do. The answer came from an experience they had in the early sixties of successfully developing four attractions for the New York World’s Fair. They came to the conclusion that Epcot would be a showcase of ideas, a permanent world’s fair.
That’s why the park is designed the way it is. One half is Future World, intended to explore science, our world, and the possibilities of tomorrow. The second half would become World Showcase, a celebration of the cultures of nations coming together. The combination of those two has created a very big park to explore—most cannot do it in a day. So let’s talk about how to make the most of your experience.
The signature icon is Spaceship Earth, a beautiful geodesic structure. It’s not just a symbol—it’s a full-on ride attraction that explores the history of man’s efforts to communicate. Stepping away from the attraction, you find two sections moving east and west, with shopping and dining in the center. Future World East hosts two major attractions. Mission: SPACE explores the frontiers away from our planet with two simulator experiences—a fairly easy exploration of our planet, and a more intense voyage to Mars.
Test Track, presented by Chevrolet, allows you to understand the many facets of designing vehicles, after which you board a vehicle that takes you speeding up to 60 miles an hour. If that sounds like something you already do in your car, you’re right. But the vehicle and the experience makes it a thrilling experience.
Test Track by Chevrolet. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Future World West hosts The Seas with Nemo & Friends. A ride-through attraction involving Pixar’s popular film sets the stage for one of the largest saltwater aquariums to be found. It, like many attractions in Epcot, is worthy of exploration and study, as discovery is really the theme of this park. You may also want to take advantage of Turtle Talk with Crush. This charming little show has audience members chatting with Crush in real time. It’s a high-touch, high-tech experience you won’t soon forget.
Next door is The Land pavilion with several attractions in a space that covers more than six acres. Soarin’ is one of the most popular attractions in all of Epcot, with technology that lifts you up in front of a large IMAX screen to tour the wonders of the world. Further discovery can be experienced in the Living with the Land boat ride. If there is any green thumb within you, this is a must, as it explores agriculture, nature, and farming in a casual boat ride.
Leaping off to World Showcase you may want to visit the Imagination pavilion with two experiences, Journey Into Imagination with Figment and the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival. Then you definitely want to carve out some time as you head to World Showcase. There are eleven countries around this large lagoon. Don’t just walk the promenade—take the time to dive into the pavilions where there are a number of shops, restaurants and museums. Mexico, Norway, China, Japan, Morocco, and The American Adventure all have enlightening exhibits worthy of time and study. For those who think that Disney only sells Mickey Mouse t-shirts, you will find an astonishing array of merchandise throughout World Showcase’s many retail venues.
World Showcase offers a few attractions as well, all worthy of attention, but being that they are few in number, and that they require you going toward the rear of the each pavilion to investigate, often results in their being overlooked. Mexico’s Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros is an enjoyable boat ride that joins the heritage of Mexico with finding Donald Duck who is on a sightseeing tour. Most popular is Frozen Ever After in Norway, which brings Disney’s most popular film ever into the land of Scandinavia.
Having a FastPass or getting there first thing in the morning is probably a must due to its popularity. Canada offers a 360 film, O’ Canada with Martin Short. So does the China pavilion with its Reflections of China. The France pavilion’s Impression de France is a three-screen movie with music from this country lyrically woven through. Anyone with a sense of patriotism will embrace The American Adventure, which explores the heritage of America through film, music, and audio-animatronics.
Get to The American Adventure early so you can hear the Voices of Liberty, which often perform during the day prior to American Adventure showings. They are one of the truly great Epcot entertainment offerings, but they aren’t alone. Mariachi Cobre belts out the brass in Mexico. There are always Chinese gymnasts in China. And bands regional to Canada are playing at their stage location. It’s hard to not stumble upon the entertainment as you enjoy the World Showcase promenade.
Over the years, Epcot has become a place for festivals. New is the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, held mid-January through late-February. Better known is Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival held through the entire length of the Spring season, and Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival held in the Fall. Epcot’s always had a holiday offering; it’s now titled as Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. These are wildly popular with local annual passholders, so beware that crowds may be strong on weekends. Each of these festivals offer unique exhibits, programs, entertainment offerings, retail, plus food & beverage.
Speaking of food & beverage, you can’t say enough about dining in Epcot. There is so much to know that we’re highlighting your culinary options here. Synonymous with dining in the evening is the anticipation of Epcot’s IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, which takes place in the center of World Showcase Lagoon. This is fireworks, pyro, fountains, lights, laser & music all combined in a global message about this Spaceship Earth that we live on. It is a definite must see, and is a perfect ending to any Epcot day.
If your task is to seek out the best theme park adventures, your time in Epcot may be short-lived. But if discovery, learning and enlightenment is your cup of tea, Epcot will more than deliver. Either way, you want to make sure you have visited Epcot at least once in your lifetime.