Last but certainly not least ... we hopped over for our EPCOT reopening visit July 17! Woohoo, we've made it back to all of the four Disney World theme parks! It had been too long since we've completed full days in every park within a week (boy, did we miss it). 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 did impact 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 will run through the fall, as the longest running EPCOT festival ever. Low crowds certainly don't hurt, either!
In our guide, we'll let you know all about our experience, including low crowds and short wait times, 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 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!) We arrived at 11:30 a.m. shortly after the park's 11 a.m. opening, and entry into the park was smooth sailing.
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.
We did not have to wait in any lines for the temperature screening, security bag check or the entry touch points. 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 Animal Kingdom.
EPCOT Attractions and Wait Times
At EPCOT, we experienced low wait times throughout the day. As two of the most popular rides at the park, Test Track and Frozen Ever After consistently showed a 30- to 45-minute wait all day. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to hop on either of them to test those wait times. It rained in the afternoon when we were planning to leap back to Future World East, and Test Track shut down. Our bad luck continued as we got in line for Frozen Ever After about an hour before park close, and the ride was having technical difficulties. We made it inside after about 15 minutes of waiting (the line had wrapped around Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, spilling onto the main pathway). Our best guess is that we could've made it to the loading station after another 10 to 15 minutes.
Other than those two rides, the remaining attractions all had posted wait times of 15 minutes or less. We went on Soarin', which took 13 minutes, and Living with the Land was a walk-on. The Seas with Nemo and Friends had a posted 20-minute wait time. It would've been a near walk-on, but they stopped the ride for about 10 minutes to clean the "clamobiles." After that ride, we explored the aquarium exhibits at Sea Base.
Every attraction has safety measures in place, including floor markings six feet (or more) apart and touchless hand sanitizer dispensers. Some queues had plexiglass barriers when it wasn't 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 had rows closed and appropriate spacing between seats in rows that remained 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 was 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 took turns greeting guests from the gazebo in the U.K. pavilion. We also saw Joy dancing in the gardens right next to Journey into the Imagination with Figment. Winnie the Pooh might've been busy eating honey while we were there, but we've heard that others have seen him catching 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 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.
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 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, as well as the gift shops, were closed — only leaving Reflections of China and the Joy of Tea and Food & Wine kiosks available. The rest of the pavilions had at least one restaurant and/or gift shop open.
EPCOT had the least amount of mobile ordering options, which were available at Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue (the American Adventure pavilion) and Sunshine Seasons (the Land pavilion). As for table-service restaurants, we 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. But of course, 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
When we arrived at 11:30 a.m., the park felt pretty empty. We didn't see too many people in Future World East. In fact, we walked over the bridge from Future World to World Showcase Plaza with only TWO other guests. We rejoined with other guests once we started walking around World Showcase, but there were still low crowds.
Unlike our experiences with crowds at the other three Disney theme parks, EPCOT seemed to get busier in the late afternoon and evening. We went on a Friday, so it makes sense that more locals would arrive after work hours. EPCOT is also the park that stays open the latest (it closes at 9 p.m.). 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. You can find them at China, Canada and Mexico.
- 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 at 8:10 p.m. — 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.