Epcot, the 2nd of the 4 Disney World theme parks and the 7th most visited theme park in the world, opened 12 years to the day after Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1982. The park’s theme and concepts are loosely based off of Walt’s idea to create a Utopian style city, titled the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or Epcot. While riding the Tomorrowland People Mover in Magic Kingdom, you can actually see a 3D model of Walt’s concept; it’s quite incredible. Before getting into the park as it stands today, I want to give you a brief overview of Walt’s dream for Epcot, as it will really help you understand how the park came to be.
Epcot was always meant to be a real working city. In fact, Epcot was the main driving force behind the creation of Disney World itself. Walt wanted Epcot to be built first but investors wanted a replica of Disneyland. So Walt built the Magic Kingdom in the hopes of appeasing his investors and getting them on board in the future for his real idea for Disney World.
Epcot was to be built in somewhat of a wheel shape (yes, Walt certainly liked his wheels). In the center would city a large commercial area filled with laboratories, corporations, and businesses. A hotel would sit in the center and would be the only residence type building in the city center. Surrounding the hotel would be restaurants and shops featuring cuisines and items from around the world (World Showcase sound familiar?). The green belt, the circle around the city center would house city services, schools, churches, and stadiums and would be the true separation between work and residence life.
The next circle out would feature a low-density residential area with single-family homes. Homes would be built in the style of a flower petal, with houses being built on the “petals” and the center of the “flower” offering green spaces for families to gather. The final circle in the wheel would offer a high-density housing area full of apartments.
There would be no driving allowed on the main ground level in Epcot. Roads for cars would be built underneath for visitors to travel through as well as parking for weekend pleasure trips (here’s where you see some of the concepts of the utilidoors in the Magic Kingdom!). All parts of the “wheel” would be connected by monorail and People Mover (similar to what was created in Magic Kingdom). There would be no need for cars in the day-to-day life in Epcot and streets above ground would be reserved for pedestrian traffic.
Epcot would also offer a Disney Airport called the Airport of Tomorrow. Fun fact, this was partially built but has only ever been used for high-level members of the company and country such as Presidents and Roy Disney. While the airstrip is still in tact, it is rarely ever used and never materialized into the full service airport Walt had envisioned.
Within Epcot, no one would own their property, but instead rent it at fair market value. Walt wanted ultimate control over all the properties so that he could update the entire city when he wanted to be filled with the latest and greatest technologies (he loved innovation and was obsessed with new technology). All citizens living in Epcot would work in Epcot at one of the city’s companies in the center and everyone would have to hold a job. There would be no retirees living in Epcot.
Unfortunately, Walt’s dream of Epcot never came to fruition. When Walt died, the company decided they didn’t want to run a city without his guidance. For today’s version of Epcot, they used many of his concepts and ideas to create a park dedicated to world culture and technology. Fun fact: Singapore is often cited as a real-life Epcot although I cannot confirm if this is true or not. If you’ve been, let me know!
So now that you have a backstory on how Epcot came to be, let’s take a look at the park as it stands today! Separated into two main parts, Epcot is more than twice the size of Magic Kingdom and is dedicated overall to the celebration of human achievement. The first section upon entry (the main entrance, there is a smaller entrance in towards the back of the park from the Boardwalk/ Epcot resort area) is considered Future World, an interactive exploration of technology and science. The second part of Epcot is the World’s Showcase, featuring 11 countries and their food, cultures, and cuisines.
A quick note: in 2016, it was announced that Epcot will go through a major overhaul, similar to what Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios have all experienced. So far, only two major follow up announcements have been made: a new Ratatouille ride and Guardians of the Galaxy ride are both in the works. My guess is that once the major construction of Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios is complete, we will hear a bigger announcement regarding Epcot. In preparation for these big changes, there are many smaller attractions within Future World that have been closed or temporarily re imagined.
Epcot is often referred to as the “adult park” and in many cases this is true. As a child, Epcot was my least favorite park to visit and my parents’ favorite. But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to see just how awesome Epcot really is, although a major part of that is mostly likely due to be being over the legal drinking age.
So let’s focus on Future World first, as this is actually the part of the park that opens first. The World Showcase opens two hours after Future World does on any given day, although they both close at the same time. When first walking into the park and Future World, you see Spaceship Earth, the main icon of the park. No, it’s not a golf ball. It’s actually a geodesic sphere structure containing a slow ride through history by the same name inside. Heads up, this attraction is closing for renovations within the year.
Walking past the sphere you enter an open circular area with different pavilions branching off into, you guessed, a wheel style. To the southwest direction, you will find Mission: Space, a simulations ride designed to allow you to experience what it feels like to go to space. This area is also the future home of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille rides. Moving up the wheel, you’ll come across the Festival Center, formerly the Wonders of Life Pavilion. The Center is only open seasonally, most notably for the Food & Wine and Flower & Garden Festivals.
Just above the Festival Center sits Test Track, an attraction that allows you to design your own car and test it out. Since its renovation in 2012, the lines for Test Track have become consistently long, longer than I would ever wait for the ride. Now you can FastPass Test Track but be warned that if you FastPass Test Track, you won’t be able to FastPass any of the other big attractions like Soarin. Since Test Track has a single rider line (I’ve never spent more than 20 minutes in this line), my recommendation is that if you can split up your group, take the single rider option here and FastPass Soarin.
Next up around the wheel (and to the right of the sphere), you’ll find Imagination! This pavilion contains Journey into the Imagination with Figment. Unless you’re a Disney regular who loves Figment, feel free to skip this one. While Figment is a beloved character for Disney purists, this version of his attraction is not. Feel free to Google the history of this ride if you’re interested in learning more.
Below the Imagination pavilion sits The Land, a pavilion featuring some of my favorite things: Soarin and Living with the Land. Soarin is a flight simulation attraction taking guests on a highflying adventure over 6 continents. It’s one of my favorite attractions. I highly recommend using a FastPass for this ride as the wait times can get quite long very early in the day (and never really comes back down). Living with the Land is a slow boat ride through the greenhouses at Epcot where guests can learn all about the innovative ways Disney is learning to grow food sustainably. Finally, this pavilion houses one of my favorite quick-service locations, Sunshine Seasons. The food found in this location is mostly from the greenhouses found in Living with the Land. Super cool!
The last pavilion is Future World is the Seas, containing the Seas with Nemo & Friends, Turtle Talk with Crush, and an aquarium like area that guests can explore and learn about the sea life living there. The Nemo & Friends ride is built very similarly to the Ariel and Haunted Mansion rides in the Magic Kingdom.
As you exit this side of the park and head back into Future World center, check out some of the indoor buildings. Here you can meet many of your favorite characters including Minnie and Goofy. There is also a rotating character meet and greet currently featuring Baymax from Big Hero Six and the characters from Inside Out.
As you leave the Future World wheel, you’ll find yourself heading towards yet another wheel, the World Showcase. 11 countries are featured in the showcase with room for 8 more, though you won’t notice that kind of extra space as it’s hidden quite well from view. The original pavilions featured during park opening in 1982 were the United States of America, Japan, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, China, Germany, and Italy. Morocco and Norway were added later, 1984 and 1988 respectively. In 1982, Israel, Spain, and Equatorial Africa were all announced as coming soon, but obviously never made it. Over the years, I have heard so many rumors of other pavilions being built, especially Brazil. But as far as I know from my connections at Disney, there are no current plans to build any more pavilions in the near future. Now, that could all change with a more comprehensive Epcot overhaul announcement but we’ll have to wait and see!
Each country contains themed architecture, landscapes, attractions, shops, and restaurants reflective of the culture it represents. The exception to this is the Frozen ride in Norway. Disney purists like myself will talk your ear off about how inappropriate this ride is to the World Showcase and how much of a tragedy it is that its predecessor, Maelstrom, was closed. I’ll spare you my diatribe on this topic and instead direct you to Google (or my contact page) if you’re truly interested in the topic.
Epcot, while not my favorite park, is the park where I can spend most of my time. I love going from country to country trying new food and drinking all the delicious beverages. I could spend all day shopping in the various stores. Pro tip: if you are planning to drink around the world (which I highly recommend doing), start in Canada. Never start in Mexico. Ever. That’s an amateur mistake. Why shouldn’t you start in Mexico? Well, Mexico has margaritas. After a full day of drinking all kinds of alcoholic beverages, you should END with tequila, not START with tequila.
I adore the World Showcase, especially now that I’ve gotten older and can truly appreciate the meaning behind everything. Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, the fireworks show in the center of the showcase displaying a show of cultural unity makes me cry. Every single time. I especially cried this past trip knowing I may never see Illuminations again as it’s been announced it will be ending in the coming months.
What should you see and do in the World Showcase? Well, that is of course, entirely up to you! But if you’re in need of recommendations, here are a few of my favorites:
Grand Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros
A great place to take a relaxing break from the unforgiving Florida sun (or rain)
San Angel Inn Restaurant
Cantina de San Angel
The empanadas are my favorite!
Choza de Margarita
Do not pass by without stopping for a margarita
Kringla Bakeri og Kafe
Stop by for the school bread and puff pastries
Don’t forget to meet Mulan! You won’t find her anywhere else on Disney World property
I stop here at least 4 times while in Epcot. Their caramel marshmallow rolls are TO DIE FOR. Seriously, I LOVE THEM.
Stop here for a tasting of real German wines, some of my favorite kinds of wine. You can also sample beer as well if that’s more your speed.
Miniature Train and Village
I love trains and have since my childhood. This small train village doesn’t disappoint.
A full service restaurant that serves the best pizza
Stop by to sample delicious Italian wines
Check out what’s going on at the America Gardens Theater! I’ve seen Boyz II Men, Hanson, and En Vogue perform as well as seen Neil Patrick Harris and Blair Underwood lead the audience through the biblical story of Christmas.
Don’t forget to buy a classic funnel cake from this area.
Mitsukoshi Department Store
I buy some of my favorite international candies and goodies here. It’s one of my favorite shops on Disney World property
Look, I won’t lie to you; Morocco is where I go to get a good buzz on. They use a heavy hand to pour their drinks and I’m never mad about it. I also find it’s one of the best themed pavilions and most fun to explore.
Don’t forget to meet Jasmine and Aladdin in this pavilion.
If you know me at all, you know I don’t have much to say about Paris. But I do love Disney’s pavilion version of Paris.
Do not skip the Grand Marnier Orange Slush
L’Artisan des Glaces
The famous macaron ice cream sandwich!
United Kingdom Pavilion
This pavilion has a special spot in my heart since I studied abroad in London during college.
Rose & Crown Pub
Buy a traditional UK beverage like a Guinness or my personal favorite, Strongbow
The Tea Caddy
I can buy my favorite UK candies here.
You must try the famous Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup Poutine. It’s insane. Or just try the soup. It’s also delicious. You can also buy a croissant doughnut at the same location. For those of you living outside the northeast (where these have become quite common), this is a must try.
Epcot also puts on two big festivals every year: Food & Wine in the Fall and Flower & Garden in the Spring. They are two of my favorite times to visit Epcot, especially Food & Wine. Disney adds almost 20 new food carts full of new cultural cuisines to try. It’s a food and beverage lover’s paradise. But I’ll save the festivals for a different post since this one is already quite long!
What’s your favorite part of Epcot? I’d love to hear about it!