We've covered all of the four Disney World theme parks individually since they reopened in July. If we're being toadally honest frogs, EPCOT gave us the widest variety of reactions. Let's start off with our tougher review. The ongoing construction and lack of cultural representatives has impacted the overall experience at EPCOT. We expect the cultural representatives will return once it's safe to travel from their home countries, and we can't wait until EPCOT's transformation is complete! On the positive side, a modified EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival began on the first day of the EPCOT reopening. It is running through Nov. 22, as the longest running EPCOT festival ever, just before the EPCOT International Festival of Holidays starts Nov. 27.
In our guide, we'll let you know all about our experience with crowds, a Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival and the new character experiences (teaser: these were my favorite out of them all!).
Entry into EPCOT
If you've been following our Walt Disney World reopening coverage, you should know the drill by now ... arrive later to beat the lines for parking and the early morning crowds. (If this is the first reopening guide you've read, be sure to check out the details of our recent visits to Disney's Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios!) With all of our repeat visits so far, we have not had any issues at either the main entrance or the International Gateway entrance. The process generally goes quickly and smoothly.
One time before entering the temperature screening area, we noticed that a guest in front of us was wearing a neck gaiter, which isn't an approved face covering. The situation was handled perfectly by the cast members stationed outside. The cast member asked him first if he had another mask. When he replied that he did not, the cast member let him know about the face covering policy and directed him to a nearby vending machine filled with disposable masks ($2 each). Kudos to the cast members and the guest for respectfully complying! We felt safer after seeing this exchange in action, knowing that the rule was successfully enforced.
If you're entering through the main entrance, you'll encounter the regular metal detectors. But if you're using the International Gateway entrance, you'll come across the new high-tech, contactless detectors — the same ones that are being used at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
EPCOT Attractions and Wait Times
At EPCOT, we've experienced relatively low wait times throughout the day. As two of the most popular rides at the park, Test Track and Frozen Ever After consistently show about a 45- to 60-minute wait all day. During our most recent visit, these wait times were actually even higher, holding steady at about 90 minutes or more. Soarin' can get busy as well, but it tends to fluctuate more as the day goes on (we had about a 20-minute wait around 4 p.m.). The remaining rides may be busier in the mornings, but generally have low waits in the afternoons and evenings. Weekends tend to be busier then weekdays.
Every attraction has safety measures in place, including floor markings six feet (or more) apart and touchless hand sanitizer dispensers. Some queues have plexiglass barriers when it's not possible to maintain physical distancing in switchbacks or places where the standby and FastPass+ lines are next to each other. There are no FastPasses available. However, people with a DAS card or those taking advantage of Rider Switch will typically use the FastPass+ line. Theaters have rows closed and appropriate spacing between seats in rows that remain open.
Except for Turtle Talk with Crush, traditional character greetings and EPCOT Forever, EPCOT has the majority of its attractions and shows available. Spaceship Earth was supposed to undergo a major refurbishment (its proposed final date of operation passed during the closure). But the ride's reimagining has been postponed, so it's operating as usual! Glad we didn't have to say "see you later" to the Phoenicians just yet.
Character Experiences at EPCOT
Out of all the new character experiences at Disney World, I think I personally enjoyed the promenades and pop-up appearances at EPCOT the most. Previously, you'd find the characters in the countries that represented them, such as Belle in France. Now, as part of the EPCOT reopening, you can watch a variety of promenades around World Showcase. So, yes ... Disney characters are now traveling around the world! It is so cool seeing Anna and Elsa strolling through Japan. There are three separate promenades with different characters:
- Frozen Promenade: Anna and Elsa
- Mickey & Friends World Tour: Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy
- Princess Promenade: Snow White, Jasmine, Belle and Aurora
But that's not all! Several other characters have popped up around EPCOT. Alice and Mary Poppins take turns greeting guests from the gazebo in the U.K. pavilion. We've also seen Joy dancing in the gardens right next to Journey into the Imagination with Figment. Alternatively, Winnie the Pooh catches butterflies in the same spot as Joy.
A Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival
Good news, frogs! A modified version of EPCOT International Food and Wine began immediately upon the EPCOT reopening. Usually the Food & Wine Festival starts late August or early September, so it's hoppening weeks in advance. It will run through the fall, making it EPCOT's longest running festival EVER.
There are about 20 food booths called marketplaces that feature cuisine and beverages from all over the world. Most of the pavilions have their own marketplace, but other places are represented too, including the Islands of the Caribbean and Brazil. For all of the delicious details, be sure to check out our Food & Wine guide that we've cooked up!
During our initial trip, which was a few days after it reopened, we observed that some guests would continue to eat or drink without masks properly on (or at all) while walking. However, Disney has updated its face covering policy to reinforce that guests must remain stationary while eating or drinking. That said, Disney has also upped the amount of tables available, so even on a busy holiday weekend, we had no issues finding a spot to stop and snack.
Cultural Representatives, Restaurants and Retail at EPCOT
EPCOT is unique because it has so many restaurants and retail locations, especially around World Showcase. The best aspect of the World Showcase pavilions have always been the cultural representatives who embody each country. They bring the pavilions to life with personality and authenticity. Because of COVID-19, these cultural representatives had to return to their home countries.
Upon the EPCOT reopening, other cast members have been temporarily assigned in these positions until the cultural representatives are able to return. The cast members stepping in are doing a fantastic job (we had a lovely chat with a cast member in China!), and there are still some cast members working in World Showcase who possess dual citizenship for the country that they represent. However, we didn't realize how much we would miss the cultural representatives as a whole, and exactly how their absence would affect the theming and overall experience.
We noticed that many restaurants and retail locations have remained closed in World Showcase, most likely due to the missing cultural representatives and understaffing. The most glaring example was in China. The table-service and quick-service restaurants are still closed — only leaving Reflections of China and the Joy of Tea and Food & Wine kiosks available. The rest of the pavilions have at least one restaurant and/or gift shop open.
EPCOT has the least amount of mobile ordering options, which are available at Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue (the American Adventure pavilion) and Sunshine Seasons (the Land pavilion). As for table-service restaurants, we've found that it varies if you need a reservation. Via Napoli in Italy had a sign saying that no walk-ins were being accepted, but Rose & Crown Dining Room may take walk-ins. The Rose & Crown host told us it really just depends if the restaurant has availability at the exact moment you ask. After a recent My Disney Experience update, it should now say if a restaurant has Walk-Up availability. But of course, it never hurts to ask, and you can always take advantage of the Food & Wine marketplaces!
The COVID-19 closure forced the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival to end early, but you can still see some topiaries (Remy in France, and Bambi and friends in front of the temporary MouseGear location) and purchase Flower and Garden 2020 merchandise throughout the park.
Touring Advice for EPCOT
Unlike our experiences with crowds at the other three Disney theme parks, EPCOT seems to get busier in the late afternoon and evening. EPCOT is also the park that stays open the latest. So we suggest hopping on rides in Future World earlier in the day. Afternoon showers may shut down and cause further delays for Test Track, so it's best to get that ride done early.
That said, with all of the construction in Future World, it's not easy to get from Future World East to Future World West (or vice versa). So you may want to start on one side of Future World, go around World Showcase and then end on the opposite side of Future World — unless you want to get your frog hops in!
Additional EPCOT Reopening Tips and Tidbits
- If you need a break from your face covering, EPCOT has three mask relaxation areas. The two outdoor locations are located in Future World East (by Test Track and Mission: SPACE) and Yorkshire County Fish Shop (U.K. pavilion). Akershus Royal Banquet Hall offers an indoor relaxation area. I think the Yorkshire County Fish Shop was my favorite out of ALL the relaxation areas at Disney World because of the beautiful waterfront views that you get when sitting right by the lagoon.
- Kidcot Fun Stop stations may not be fully operating, but you can pick up a Ziploc bag filled with stickers and coloring postcards from each country.
- Instead of popping up in Mexico and Future World, Mariachi Cobre and JAMMitors have scheduled performances starting at 1:30 p.m at the America Gardens Theatre. The two groups switch until the last performance of the day — each playing about once an hour.
Are you just as hoppy as we are that A Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival coincided with the EPCOT reopening? If you're planning to visit EPCOT, do you have any questions for us? Feel free to share in the comments below.