As many guests prepare for a Walt Disney World vacation, a lot of different thoughts roll through their mind. Do you get the dining plan, do you purchase a park hopper, what tier resort do you want to stay at, and much much more. However, today we hope to take one obstacle out of the way by sharing what we do if we only have one day at Epcot. To be quite honest, we’re typically the Disney guests who tend to bounce from park to park utilizing the park hopper option as much as possible, but over the years we’ve formulated a plan that has really helped us accomplish as much as possible in a single day at each of the Disney parks.
As many of us returning Walt Disney World guests tend to overlook, many first time Disney parks goers tend to plan simply one day for each of Disney’s four parks. Of course, that is certainly not always the case, but for many it is. In such a case, or simply if you have only allotted one day in the Epcot park, we’re laying out a simple plan which you can follow to get a true taste of the vast Epcot experience.
First and foremost, I would highly recommend getting to the park when it opens for this plan to be as successful as possible. I completely understand those of you who enjoy sleeping in and casually making your way to the parks when it is convenient, but it may not quite work for this type of a day at Epcot.
Before you even arrive at the gates, you’ll want to book your fastpass+ selections rather carefully. Personally, we’ve had the most success booking one of three attractions early on in the day: Soarin’, Test Track, or Frozen Ever After. Essentially what you have to consider is that you will be guaranteed a ride on one of these attractions as long as there are no unforeseen circumstances or extended length breakdowns. So, you’ll want to pick that one must do attraction from that list of three. These select attractions listed are best booked at the farthest out booking window available (resort guests 60 days, non resort guests 30 days). As many of you may know, you also receive two other fastpass+ selection. Unfortunately, Epcot uses a tiered system so you can book one main “E-ticket” (Disney speak for popular and exciting based off of the early ticket based attraction pricing.) pass and then two other passes for less popular attraction like Figment, The Pixar Short Film Festival, and a few others. Personally, we tend to op for those particular two attractions mentioned. Both attractions are capable of producing 30+ minute waits during peak operating seasons, yet are still fun and entertaining parts of the Epcot experience we never want to miss.
The trick with fastpasses at Epcot is to try and get the earliest faspass+ times as possible so that you can rebook a 4th and continuing pass after you have used your original three. The fourth is simply a rotating fastpass selection. If anything is available after your allotted 3 have been utilized, a fourth pass that can be replaced after each use until fastpass+ distribution has ended for the day. The planning portion for this part of the system is a bit tough to predict, but you’ll likely be able schedule at least one more guaranteed attraction for later in the day for one of the less popular attractions. In our experience, the best way to utilize these additional selections are to book one more attractions that you may have missed or simply want to ride again about an hour and a half before Illuminations begins.
Once you’ve sorted out your fastpasses before arriving at the park, you’ll have at least a general plan in place. Our best results have been on days when we secured either a Soarin, Test Track, or Frozen Ever After pass for around 45 minutes to 1 hour after park opening. As a result, you can head straight to one of the other two big name attractions you don’t have a fastpass selection for before the crowds build, while still having plenty of time to make your reservation window.
Upon arriving at the park by means of the front gate or rear, International Gateway, entrance prepare to head to your number one pick non-fastpass selection. The International Gateway is a truly simple yet quite successful way to enter the park and avoid the crowds for guests staying at the Swan and Dolphin, Yacht and Beach Club, and Boardwalk resorts. If you have yet to book your vacation, this is certainly something to look into if you plan on spending a lot of time at Epcot during your trip. The Epcot area resorts mentioned are within walking distance to the rear entrance of Epcot and even provide boat transportation free of charge to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. While these three resorts are quite pricey and are deluxe tier accommodations, it’s worth checking with a travel agency like Destinations to Travel (free quote form below) for available Disney discounts or even looking into teacher discounts, Military, or AAA rates at the Swan and Dolphin Resorts (they are not owned by Disney so the discounts do vary).
The International gateway is a huge perk that shortens your wait time getting in and gives you unparalleled access to the park. Of course, it is a longer walk to Future World for the main E-ticket attractions most guests scramble for, but you do bypass a vast majority of the crowds giving you a faster route to the attractions and a resulting shorter wait time.
Starting your day:
So, as you enter the park (it amazing it’s taken this far into the article to actually get “in the park”) head to your favorite “E-ticket” attraction. Following that experience, we found this timeframe as a great time to hit a few smaller attractions like The Seas with Nemo, or even The Land if you chose a different fastpass+ selection. The attractions will have incredibly short lines early in the day and it will cross one more attraction off of your list if you are waiting for your reserved fastpass+ time. At this point in the day, stick to the attractions of Future World and be sure to watch out for your early morning fastpass+ selections we talked about earlier. Also, The World Showcase doesn’t open (beyond a few select attractions) until 11:00am on a typical park day. Attractions you’ll want to check out for short wait times are The Seas With Nemo (which may take some time with the really neat aquarium exit), Journey into Imagination with Figment, The Land, Mission Space (if your stomach is up for it), The Pixar Short Film Festival, and possibly a short stop in MouseGear for a quick browse through at some souvenirs.
Heading to the World Showcase:
Around 11:00am, as the World Showcase officially debuts for the day, we recommend you leave the Future World area and head to the countries. There are a few select experiences you wont want to miss in the World Showcase and the crowds will really start to build in Future World as mid-day approaches. The Showcase is quite a unique experience. Even on the busiest of days, there’s plenty to do without having to spend hours in line. My personal recommendation, and what has worked well for us, is to plan a table service dining reservation for lunch or dinner at Epcot at one of the many incredible offerings. We’ve had the best luck using this plan when we arrange for a late afternoon lunch or early dinner. Reservations are typically plentiful at these less typical dining time frames and still afford you the opportunity to eat your way around the countries without over doing it and being too full for your table service meal.
World Showcase Dining:
Epcot is truly full of dining opportunities, but a select few really stand out above the rest. We typically try to dine (table service) at one of three locations: Le Cellier, Teppan Edo, or Garden Grill (not in the World Showcase). All three locations are family friendly and accommodate a variety of fairly picky eaters. To be quite honest, all three are quite expensive, but the price is often well worth it as the heat of the day rolls in late in the Florida afternoons.
Beyond table service, we typically eat our way around counter service locations throughout the showcase. Of course, we aren’t eating a full meal at each location, but grabbing a nacho in Mexico, some caramel corn in Germany, and/or maybe a dessert pastry over at Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie in France will really round off a “showcase of flavors.” In many ways these snacks compliment your table service experience.
World Showcase Attractions and Shows:
As you eat your way around the showcase, we’ve found that a great way to stay cool and enjoy much of what there is to offer is to try each and every attraction including: Gran Fiesta Tour, Impressions de France, O Canada!, and a few others. Exploring the pavilion to find each attraction or unique experience is really the best way to cover a vast majority of what there is to offer. Each attraction/show is located back off of the main promenade forcing you to take a deeper look into the details of these elaborately themed and historically relevant country representations. You could really spend many days wandering and exploring every little nook of the showcase, but you’d be surprised what you can cover before a late lunch or early dinner.
Winding Things Down:
After your meal, head back over to Future World and hit any attractions you may have missed along the way. As the night draws closer, most guest will start heading towards the World Showcase in preparation for Illuminations or dinner reservations, so the wait times start to slowly diminish most days. In the past this slight lull has provided shorter wait times for Spaceship Earth and even Soarin’ or Test Track in some cases. All you’ll really want to worry about is getting back to the World Showcase to stake out a spot for Illuminations about 30 minutes to an hour before the show begins.
Finding a Spot for Illuminations:
Over the years, we’ve tried many different fireworks viewing locations for this spectacular pyrotechnic display, but only one has always been tired and true (and I’m a little hesitant to share it!). As you head back from Future World, grab a snack to better your fireworks viewing experience and head just past the United Kingdom pavilion where you’ll find a pair of bridges which connect the UK pavilion to France and the rest of the World Showcase. Find a spot along the left hand side of the first bridge closest to the UK pavilion. If you can see the huge flaming tower to your left and have a full view of the lake in front of you, you’re in the right place.
The bridge provides an elevated viewing platform, keeps guests from jumping in front of you and/or putting kids on shoulders, and provides a place to sit as you wait for the show to begin (hence the snack pick up along the way). Below you, you’ll find a series of pontoon boats which will casually arrive from the lagoons near the Yacht and Beach Club. These are the chartered boats for fireworks viewing (an awesome idea for an Epcot day if the cost is not a problem). However, there are a few things to note about this viewing area. First, check the wind. If it is blowing in your face move on around to the Japan pavilion where you’ll find a larger open area for viewing and may even catch a last minute viewing spot on the second floor of the pavilions restaurant balcony (open to anyone, it just boarders the restaurant). Second, be aware that guests will crowd in around you and many will do it in a last minute fashion. Think “big” and claim your space, but also try and be courteous to young children and allow them to stand up front so they can see.
The Final Minutes:
As your day comes to a close and Illuminations ends, take a few minutes and allow the crowds to disperse. There will be a mass exodus after the show, but if you wait and hang out in the pavilions for a bit longer, you can casually make your way out of the park. If you’re staying at the resorts mentioned backing up to Epcot, the exit is just a few steps away from the bridge down a brief hill. However, as the crowds disperse, it is a great time to take in the little details of many countries as you gradually make your way out. There are some great photo opportunities you wont want to miss and if you leave with the crowd you’ll likely just end up waiting in line for a bus, shuttle, or monorail so you might as well enjoy those last few minutes in the park.
A few more things to consider throughout your day are, first and foremost, Hollywood Studios is a 20-30 minute boat ride away. So, if you have a park hopper it’s great to slip out the back of Epcot and catch a few shows or attractions at the Studios on your Epcot day as well. Also, the Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, and Swan and Dolphin are a short distance away by means of the same boat, or a short walk. Each of the three resorts have an ice cream shop. The Dolphin has incredible soft serve at The Fountian, The Beach Club has the kitchen sink (a huge sundae!) at Beaches and Cream, and the Boardwalk has the somewhat newly debuted Ampel Hills Creamery. Each of these are an incredible break from the crowds and a way to beat the heat.
Each of the resorts have their own table service dining as well, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for at Epcot, check out the menus at Cape May Cafe (Beat Club), The Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club), Espn Club (Boardwalk), Flying Fish (Boardwalk), Trattoria al Forno (Boardwalk), Blue Zoo (Dolphin), Shula’s Steakhouse (Dolphin), and a few others!
The area these resorts sit on is truly beautiful and something you will likely never find at any other resort across the nation. I often wonder if business executives, or even random one night guests ever book on a whim and end up at one of these resorts shocked and blown away by the views and amenities available without even leaving the resort.
So, there you have it, our tried and true “Epcot in a Day” touring plan, to be quite honest, there’s no way to do it all in a day, but this should at least get you well on your way to an outstanding Epcot experience or give returning guests something new to try out. Sometimes it’s amazing what a new perspective can help you discover at Walt Disney World. There is no perfect way to tour the parks, but certainly some tips that make all the difference.