Best IllumiNations Viewing Spots

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This post highlights the best viewing spots for the IllumiNations fireworks at Epcot in Walt Disney World. Here we will provide some general tips about the best locations, and point out the best of these on a map of World Showcase. I’ve watched and photographed IllumiNations way too many times (actually, you can never see IllumiNations too many times–it’s by far the best nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World) and can say that not all viewing spots for Illuminations were created equally.

Unfortunately, unlike my Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Spots post which contained an easy to follow map with color coded areas of good, bad, and okay spots from which to watch Wishes!, the same really isn’t possible for Epcot. This is because within a span of 10 feet, you might have both an awesome and awful viewing spot, due to trees, food carts, or other obstructions.

Instead of a color-coded map that won’t really be helpful, for this post I’m going to instead highlight my 5 favorite spots, along with some alternatives to those spots, and general discussions about choosing a spot for watching IllumiNations. Choosing a prime location for IllumiNations is actually easier said than done, as certain variables, such as the direction of the wind and where there might be IllumiNations dessert parties or private events that eliminate potential viewings areas as options for regular park guests change often.

Before choosing a spot for IllumiNations on a particular day, determine which way the wind is blowing. There are all sorts of scientific ways for doing this (and there’s probably an app for it), but it should be as simple feeling the wind blow on you. If it’s intense enough that you can feel the wind, you will want to avoid anywhere that will be down-wind of the center of the fireworks in the middle of World Showcase Lagoon. The show can produce a lot of smoke, and if you’re down-wind of that, you may not see much of the second half of the show. Most nights it’s not windy enough for this to be a problem, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

The first thing you should do when arriving at any potential viewing spot is to survey the area above and around you to see if there are any torches, light poles, or trees blocking your view of the Lagoon. If so, and you still have the time to find a different spot, do so.

If you didn't blink for 103 seconds, this is what Illuminations would look like to you. I don't recommend not blinking for 103 seconds. This fireworks photo was shot with a neutral density filter.More on neutral density filters:

Along the same lines, but easier said than done, look towards the middle of World Showcase Lagoon to determine whether you can see to the middle, or if your view is blocked by a little island of trees. There are a couple of these that can impact views of the Earth Globe barge during the show.

The good news is that, obstructions and weather aside, since IllumiNations takes place in the center of World Showcase Lagoon, if you pick a spot that can see the center of the Lagoon, you will be able to see IllumiNations. It isn’t like Wishes in this regard, as some spots that have good views of Cinderella Castle actually are poor views of the fireworks due to perspective distortion. There’s no perspective distortion here. The bad news is that IllumiNations doesn’t just take place high in the air…it also has low-level fireworks and a globe display, meaning you really will want a “front row” spot along the rails around World Showcase Lagoon.

That pretty much covers the basics, now let’s take a look at my favorite specific spots… (more…)

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2015 Guide

The 2015 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs March 4 to May 17, 2015 at Walt Disney World. This guide covers our tips & tricks for experiencing the highlights of the Flower & Garden Festival, as well as what to expect from the new for 2015 offerings. Actually, as of right now, it doesn’t sound like a whole lot has changed for 2015. The “Outdoor Kitchen” food kiosks return for 2015, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more added, making this like a mini Food & Wine Festival.

Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to enjoy expert-designed flower and garden displays, Disney character topiaries, the “Garden Rocks” live music concert series (formerly Flower Power concert series), special programs and seminars by HGTV (the main sponsor), DIY, and Epcot expert gardeners. Most of the offerings for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are included with theme park admission to Epcot.

Because most of the event is basically a “plussing” of Epcot at no additional charge, we highly recommend it. Whether you’re a first time guest or a seasoned veteran of Walt Disney World, visiting during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival is a great idea. Epcot is at its most beautiful during Flower & Garden Festival. (Disney often uses the #EpcotInSpring and #EpcotInBloom hashtags to promote the beauty of Flower & Garden Festival, and hashtags never lie! ;) ) Really, though, the park smells and looks wonderful, and there are a lot of unique offerings, displays, and photographic opportunities.

While Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival used to be our favorite time to visit Epcot, the prices have skyrocketed, as have the crowds of drunks. Flower & Garden is a nice time to visit for lower crowds, and you can still enjoy some of the snacking (albeit to a lesser degree) without the headache of the crowds and lines. In general, many of these spring dates of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are great times to visit Walt Disney World (consult that guide to avoid the busy weeks).

Thinking a visit to Flower & Garden Festival might be for you? Then keep reading this guide for our ins and outs, and top picks for the festival!


1-Day Epcot “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If we were going to spend a “perfect” day in Epcot, the plan in this post would be it. These are the attractions we would do, the restaurants at which we’d dine, and the quiet moments we would stop to enjoy. This post continues our series of single-day itineraries designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We call this series our “Daily Trip Blueprints,” or DTBs for short.

We think Epcot is like a fine wine (parts of it are more like a boxed wine, but you get the idea…), in that it’s meant to be sipped rather than chugged. Our ideal experience wouldn’t be complete without strolling through the quiet corners of the World Showcase, watching the Fountain of Nations dance, stopping to marvel at (and take ~235 photos of) Spaceship Earth, etc. As such, this Daily Trip Blueprint isn’t a touring plan or strategy guide for efficiently experiencing every attraction in Epcot. For our ride ratings and reviews of each attractions, read our comprehensive Best Epcot Attractions & Ride Guide post. We are about savoring memorable experiences, not crossing attractions off, checklist style. We know this approach isn’t for everyone. If you are a “commando” Walt Disney World tourist, this post isn’t for you.

We see no fun in pre-planning restroom breaks and stressing out over finishing X number of attractions. Instead, this is a rough itinerary that you can loosely follow of our favorite things to do during our “ideal day” in Epcot that balances savoring those special moments along with attacking the park efficiently. This post assumes moderate crowds at Epcot on the day of your visit. Consult our When to Visit Walt Disney World post to determine how bad crowds might actually be, or to plan your visit during a time when the park isn’t busy. Feel free to skip attractions, snacks, meals, etc., that are on the plan entirely, if certain things don’t appeal to you.

If you’re for something more comprehensive to plan every aspect of your Walt Disney World vacation, from where to purchase discount tickets to when to visit and more, read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

FastPass+ sort of throws a monkey wrench into this itinerary, as not everyone reading is going to have access to all FastPass+ selections; that depends upon how early you make your ride reservations (read more about FastPass+ in our MyMagic+ FAQ). Epcot uses a tiered system for FastPass+, and my top picks for each tier are as follows: Soarin’ (Tier A), Misson: Space, and Spaceship Earth (Tier B). I also really like the IllumiNations FastPass+ viewing area, but that’s a Tier A selection, and choosing it instead of Soarin’ or Test Track means a long wait at one of them. If you don’t care about either of those attractions, or don’t mind missing them, I strongly recommend using that FastPass+ for IllumiNations. It’s a really great view. For the plan, we’ll assume you are able to make the recommended FastPass+ selections.

We’re also going to arbitrarily assume that you want to stay in a hotel that’s most convenient to Epcot. This is an odd assumption if you’re spending several nights at Walt Disney World (and you probably are). We’re mentioning it because it’s one of those things that could be(?) helpful if Epcot is your “most important” park, and you want the best hotel for Epcot. My top picks for Epcot are BoardWalk Inn or Beach Club. While these are a bit pricey, the good news is that you can save money at them by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do… (more…)

Best Epcot Attractions & Ride Guide

There’s a lot to do in Epcot, but not all of its attractions are equal. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World, you need to know which Epcot rides and attractions are not to be missed, and which you should skip. This guide to Epcot rides contains short reviews and numerical scores for every major attraction in Epcot. Everyone’s preferences vary, and we keep this in mind as we give an idea of the target audience in our synopsis of each attraction.

This Epcot ride guide includes headliners and less-popular attractions that many guests overlook, but that are worth checking out. We recommend experiencing as much as you have time to experience, even if we don’t rate it highly. It is worth noting that Epcot has a deceptively high number of “things to do,” even though it’s actual attraction count is significantly lower than the Magic Kingdom, so it’s quite likely that you’ll experience fewer attractions in Epcot than you expect. A lot of the things to do in Epcot are in the form of World Showcase entertainment. If there are adults in your party, also expect to spend a decent amount of time in World Showcase just absorbed in the atmosphere (perhaps Snacking Around the World or Drinking Around the World, which are common and fun ways to stroll from country to country). World Showcase is often viewed as boring, particularly by kids, but we vehemently disagree with this perspective. It’s just a different, slower paced type of theme park experience. If you’re wanting to know how we would spend an ideal day in Epcot, read our 1-Day Epcot Park Itinerary.

Regardless, this guide to Epcot’s attractions should give you an idea of which attractions are must-see for you, and which ones you won’t have time to do. Note that this list only covers Epcot. We have a separate Magic Kingdom Ride GuideDisney’s Hollywood Studios Ride Guide, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Ride Guide.

Popular attractions are popular for a reason, and most people will hear praise for attractions like Soarin’ and Test Track from a variety of sources. We recommend these attractions (we’d be crazy not to!), but we also point out a number of lesser-known attractions that aren’t too popular. It’s these less-popular attractions that round out a day in the park, and experiencing the “right” ones can make or break your day. Epcot is definitely not about the thrill rides–it’s a park that merges education and entertainment (for “edutainment”), so hopefully you’re game for experiencing some of these “edutainment” attractions…because a lot of them make our list of recommendations! (more…)

Biergarten Review

Biergarten is a buffet restaurant in Epcot’s World Showcase Germany at Walt Disney World that is set in the middle of a Bavarian Village celebrating Oktoberfest year round. Biergarten serves authentic German cuisine for lunch and dinner (menu). At the center of the village is a stage where costumed musicians perform traditional Oktoberfest entertainment and where guests can get up and fun fun on the dance floor. Biergarten is a 1-credit restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, and also accepts Tables in Wonderland. As a buffet, it’s priced slightly below average for a table service restaurant, making it a good option if you’re paying out of pocket, but a poor option for maximizing your value on the Disney Dining Plan.

Biergarten is an interesting restaurant. The exterior is somewhat understated, with only the painted name of the restaurant above a small archway at the back of Epcot’s Germany pavilion. However, once you step inside, you’re inundated by the sounds of the traditional oompah music, other entertainment, and a Bavarian Village setting (outside, no less!). The seating is communal, which may not appeal to all patrons, but was fine by us. The other guests at our table chatted with us throughout the meal and we had a good time. If you’re looking for a romantic meal or are shy, this may not be the best dining option for you.

This review covers two visits to Biergarten, the most recent of which occurred in Fall 2014, after which this review was updated/basically re-written… (more…)