Epcot is, admittedly, a little weird right now…
Since reopening in July, Walt Disney World has definitely felt different. From social distancing measures to no fireworks shows, the Disney experience is certainly unique during this season. Despite these oddities, the past few months have brought some surprising benefits including historically low crowds, heavily discounted resort rates, and the arrival of character cavalcades as a new offering in the parks. We recently gave an update on what Disney’s Hollywood Studios is looking like during this season, and our overall experience there was quite positive.
What about Epcot though?
It’s fairly safe to say that Epcot has remained one of Disney’s least popular parks since reopening, despite some weekends with increasing attendance. The effects of lockdown hit this park hard, resulting in severe delays in construction, changes to The Epcot Food and Wine Festival, and the (hopefully temporary) ending of the cultural representatives program in World Showcase.
What exactly should fans expect while visiting Epcot right now? Can guests still look forward to exploring a nearly-empty park? Are enough attractions open? What is World Showcase like without cultural representatives?
Here’s what we found during our most recent visit…
1. You might feel kind of lost
Our visit took place on a weekday—Thursday, September 24th—and we could tell as soon as we arrived that things were a little different.
For one thing, your options for even getting to the park are going to be limited right now due to heavily-reduced resort transportation, meaning no Epcot monorail. We drove a personal vehicle and arrived about an hour after opening, and the parking lot definitely looked surprisingly full. However, this was largely because attendants were spacing out cars more than usual. The new temperature and bag check procedure went quickly, and we were in the park in no time.
The biggest thing we noticed right off the bat is it is really awkward to find your way around Epcot right now due to construction barriers filling the park. Epcot probably took the hardest hit from the COVID-19 lockdown in that it badly threw off construction schedules for the park’s massive refurbishment. Disney has had to cancel and delay multiple projects, including significant changes to the layout of Future World. Huge swathes of the park are shielded off by colorful barriers with signage marking how to get to popular attractions.
If you’re a longtime visitor, you might be scratching your head a lot wondering where you are…
The barriers in Future World start to feel a bit like a labyrinth after a while. Popular pathways like the Fountain Plaza or some of the side routes leading to Future World East and West are inaccessible right now, meaning the entire traffic flow for the park will be different than you’re used to. The good news is that signage is legitimately helpful, but we definitely got lost more than once, an experience that felt odd in one of our favorite parks.
2. Crowds are still low… but may not feel like it
This has been a consistent theme across all four of Disney’s parks: crowds are increasing even if attendance is still historically low. Despite this knowledge, we expected Epcot to feel pretty empty, particularly compared to Disney’s Hollywood Studios…
Our actual experience was something of a strange mix.
On one hand, Epcot certainly doesn’t feel packed. The crowds were definitely light for this time of year. We didn’t feel like we were having to navigate giant groups of people, and even the longest wait times reflected that the park wasn’t actually that full. For the most part, attendance seemed pretty reasonable and people spaced out.
However, the park still felt busy, particularly for a weekday during a pandemic.
The problem likely comes down to Epcot’s strange layout right now. Epcot is already a park with a fair number of bottlenecks, but the construction in Future World has definitely made this more noticeable. Areas where crowds can spread out more easily aren’t as accessible right now, so a lot of people are using the same pathways, making social distancing increasingly difficult.
This was so noticeable that one of our biggest takeaways was that social distancing was noticeably challenging at times during our day at the park. Some of this comes down to bottlenecks, but to be honest, I think some of it was that the day we visited, an unusually high number of guests were hilariously bad at social distancing. We had multiple instances of people insisting on walking immediately behind us on pathways and inside pavilions like The Land, and we even saw several occasions of people trying to get away with taking off masks when they thought cast members weren’t looking (to Disney’s credit, there usually actually was a cast member watching who addressed this behavior). There were even times when plenty of space was available but people would crowd around us for no reason at all. I can’t explain the psychology of it.
The good news is that we were able to social distance most of the time, and particularly later in the day, the park started feeling emptier.
3. Wait times are all over the place, but are still pretty low
Throughout the day, we kept an eye on attraction wait times, expecting the trend we’ve seen in other parks that waits are longest from rope drop to lunch time then taper off throughout the day. While we did see some of this, Epcot’s wait times are a little more difficult to predict. To make matters more complicated, it seems Disney is using the old strategy of over-estimating wait times, meaning lines may not actually be as long as the time posted.
We definitely got to take advantage of some unusually low waits overall. Right around noon, the longest wait was Test Track at 45 minutes, followed by Soarin’ at 30, and Frozen at 25. All other attractions only had between 5-15 minute waits. Like many people in the park, we were at lunch at the Biergarten.
Just one hour later at 1:00 PM, these times jumped up to 60 minutes for Test Track, 45 for Frozen, and 40 for Soarin’. Rather than trying to wait for rides, we used this time to explore a slightly-emptier World Showcase, a decision that paid off. By 2:00 PM, lines were dropping back to 40 for Test Track, 35 for Frozen Ever After, and just 10 minutes for Soarin’. We took advantage of the latter and practically walked onto the ride.
These times mostly held for the rest of the day until closing, with one strange exception: due to a temporary ride closure, the line for Frozen Ever After dropped to 20 minutes around 4:30 PM. I’ve only been on the ride once, mostly because I’m still salty about Disney closing Maelstrom (I… may or may not have listened to the Maelstrom audio through headphones while riding this time), but I decided to seize the opportunity and hop into the line.
I’m glad I did because just five minutes later, the line swelled up to 70 minutes.
In short, if you see a mega-short line for an E-Ticket at Epcot like Frozen or Test Track, go get in that line.