1-Day Relaxed Epcot Itinerary
Are you arriving late to Epcot, park hopping over for the afternoon after using your FastPass at another Walt Disney World park? Visiting during Food & Wine Festival? There are several reasons why you might want a more relaxed itinerary, and that’s exactly what this Epcot touring plan offers: eating, delightful strolls, quiet moments, more eating, IllumiNations, and the brilliance of the park at in the evening hours. Long lines and frenzied crowds don’t enter into the equation, even if the attractions are “worth it.”
In our 1-Day Epcot Ideal Day Plan, I remarked that we’ve spent entire days in Epcot without doing a single ride. In the spirit of this and how we feel Epcot is best-enjoyed, I thought I’d put together a 1-day itinerary for the park that offers a slower pace and respites from the crowds that flock to the Land and Norway for those E-Ticket attractions. This ideal day plan offers you freedom from worrying about FastPass+ and wait times, and to instead just slow down and experience Epcot for what (still) makes it a great park: its ambiance.
Now, this is not to say you should skip Frozen Ever After, Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track, or other headliners at Epcot. To the contrary, those are enjoyable attractions you should do. There’s no reason you can’t slot those into this touring plan or do those on your first day in Epcot. Think of this as an itinerary for your second day at Epcot, or simply an alternative itinerary if you’re not as focused on rides, or don’t want to wait in lines.
To be honest, we realize the practical reality of a visit to Epcot for many people reading this is “getting stuff done” and a no-rides day in a theme park is heresy. We get that, and for everyone but Annual Passholders and regular visitors, this Epcot ideal day plan is not best-used as a strict itinerary. Rather, use is as a starting point for your own relaxed day at Epcot, removing and adding to it as you see fit.
No matter how you use this Epcot touring plan, hopefully this post presents some ideas of fun things you hadn’t thought to do in Epcot before, and presents new ways to enjoy the park. With that said, let’s lace up our running shoes and prepare for rope drop…
Manatee Madness – Would you believe me if I told you that at 9:05 a.m. every morning, the marvelous manatees in The Living Seas put on a water ballet so magnificent that it would make Esther Williams blush? You might be a little incredulous, but you’d have no way of disproving me, since literally no one ever–in Epcot history–has rope dropped the manatees.
Until now. With this plan, you’ll race to the tanks in The Seas pavilion first, to enjoy a quiet stroll through before the crowds arrive. Manatees are one of Florida’s natural treasures, and are definitely worth spending some time watching.
Healthy Breakfast – From there, it’s over to the nearby The Land pavilion for breakfast. One of the educational high points of this pavilion is the bountiful harvests that can be obtained using new horticultural techniques. These are on display in all their glory at Sunshine Seasons’ bakery case, where you can choose from one of the most robust selections of desserts in all of Walt Disney World.
Like everything else served at Sunshine Seasons and Garden Grill, all of these desserts are grown in The Land greenhouses. (Probably.) And we all know dessert is the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast on vacation!
Behind the Seeds Tour – By this point, it should be time for the first Behind the Seeds tour of the day. As we indicate in our Behind the Seeds Tour Review, this is upcharge tour is well worth the modest price, and is entertaining and educational even for those (like myself) who have literally no interest in gardening.
It’s a fun way to get a taste for behind the scenes Walt Disney World tours without making a significant invest (in either time or money). Another alternative, if you’re such a staunch carnivore that you find the idea of plants morally repugnant, is DiveQuest in the Living Seas pavilion. I did this over a decade ago, and it still ranks as my all-time favorite scuba-diving experience.
Imagination Fountains – With lunchtime drawing near, we recommend killing a bit of time before eating a second meal at Sunshine Seasons by heading to the Imagination Pavilion. There, if you’re a Disney Vacation Club Member, you can head up to the newly-opened Member Lounge in the (former) upstairs ImageWorks, where you can either enjoy complimentary fountain drink from Coke Freestyle machines, or sip on the bitter taste of how much better this upstairs area used to be.
Those who aren’t DVC Members can instead wander up to the dancing fountains there. There’s a contagious sense of happiness up there as kids and adults of all ages play, laugh, and just generally have fun with the water. Not interested in either sort of fountain? Bask in the original background music of Walt Disney World’s #1 restrooms (as awarded by the foremost authority on the topic). 😉
Lunch – Dining recommendations are tricky here. We inevitably dine at Sunshine Seasons at least once per trip for a full meal (in addition to desserts), and it ranks as one of my favorite counter service restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. However, if you’re interested in a leisurely day in Epcot, The Land pavilion might be a madhouse by lunch, and there are several compelling table service options that are delicious and won’t break the bank.
To that end, we’ll offer a few recommendations for each meal. Since you’re already in the area, Sunshine Seasons is our first pick, and you really can’t go wrong here, especially if you have picky eaters. As a table service alternative, Tokyo Dining has inexpensive Chef’s Special lunch options.
Unibroue & Chill – If you’re not willing to sell a kidney to finance the costs of Drinking Around the World Showcase or are just otherwise too “mature” for that sort of thing, you can experience the highlight of that by purchasing a Unibroue (La Fin du Monde is the best beer in World Showcase) from the stand outside of the Canada pavilion. Then, head down through the Victoria Gardens that pass Le Cellier, up through a series of stairs near Hotel du Canada, and walk back to a quiet little bench back by the waterfalls gushing down from the simulated Canadian Rockies.
There’s a certain serenity to enjoying your beer on this bench in an area of the park that is seldom busy (except when O Canada gets out…hence the people in the top photo), with the roar of the waterfalls as ambient background noise.
Impressions de France — Okay, I know the idea of this list is a day without attractions, but this isn’t a ride, and I think it fits the spirit of the post as a leisurely experience to enjoy in Epcot. Plus, I’m the author, so I can put what I want to put on the list. Impressions de France is a panoramic, 220-degree film exploring France. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’re no doubt familiar with it, since I praise this film at just about every chance I get.
It’s the attraction at Epcot we do more than anything else (yes, even more than Spaceship Earth and American Adventure) and is one of our picks for Underrated Walt Disney World Experiences. The score is hauntingly beautiful, and the imagery as you swoop through different parts of France is stunning. Besides receiving a digital projection, it remains unchanged since 1982. Somehow, it has aged remarkably well (like a fine French wine!) and afterwards, always has us itching to book a trip to France to see all of these places in the flesh.
Impressions de Desserts – Most of our afternoon and evening will be spent criss-crossing World Showcase, and you’ll put some serious steps on your Fitbit in the process. To combat any benefits of all this walking, your Snacking Around World Showcase game needs to be on point.
Fortunately, there Artisans de Glace and Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie each have exceptional options. Kringla Bakeri og Kafe also is a can’t miss. Ditto Karamell-Küche. Aw, heck, you really should hit as many of the dessert spots as you can (and don’t miss Refreshment Port near Canada, where you can order Epcot’s take on the Cronut).
Japan Gallery – Our next stop is the new Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture Gallery. As unabashed fans of Japanese culture, this is right up our alley, and has a lot of substance jam-packed into a small area. It features a lot of the characters you’ll find in Japanese pop culture, including some famous ones. (Totoro is basically Japan’s version of Mickey Mouse.) Unlike many of the educational displays around World Showcase that won’t hold the attention of kids, this one definitely should.
More importantly, it covers the role that kawaii plays in Japanese culture, and how it cuts across a multitude of social identities in Japanese life, and is not just the fodder of school children. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the Melty-Go-Round statue of Harajuku Girl designed by Kawaii artist and designer Sebastian Masuda. (We recently had the pleasure of dining at his Kawaii Monster Cafe in Tokyo, which is aptly described as like eating in the belly of a cute monster.)
American Rotunda – While we certainly won’t stop anyone from doing American Adventure (it’s not a ride, so you’re not breaking the rules), but officially, all we’re recommending here is the Voices of Liberty and the American Heritage Gallery inside the lower rotunda of the building.
Pretty much every Disney fan is familiar with Voices of Liberty, the a cappella group that (deservingly) has a huge following. The American Heritage Gallery is more under the radar, and has nice interactive displays while showcasing museum-quality art pieces and other treasures from the Kinsey Collection. What’s on display rotates, so even if you’ve seen this display in the past, you should check it out again.
Skyleidescope – Fun fact: Epcot is the best park at Walt Disney World for enjoying the sunset. I don’t care if you’re talking the beautiful golden light accentuating the lavish details of the World Showcase pavilions or clouds as colorful as the, well, imagination over the Imagination pavilion.
There’s something about Epcot that just brings out the best in a sunset, and this is the perfect time for just relaxing in your personal happy place in the park. Whatever scene you enjoy sitting back and enjoying in Epcot, I can almost guarantee you that it is best enjoyed between the golden and blue hour.
Dinner and a Fireworks Show – For dinner, whether you want to do table or counter service is largely going to be influenced by how much snacking you did earlier. I’m going to guess you’re in no condition for table service (if you are, either you did something wrong or your stomach is da real MVP) so my picks now are Tangierine Cafe in Morocco or Katsura Grill in Japan (table service picks: Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco or Yachtsman Steakhouse at Yacht Club).
Tangierine Cafe is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in all of Walt Disney World, but on a leisurely day, few things beat the whole experience of grabbing a meal at Katsura Grill and eating it outside at night by the water up there, with the sound of the IllumiNations preshow music in the distance. After that, head up to the second story of Japan’s department store (maybe stopping inside for World Showcase’s best shopping experience beforehand if you have the time) for an incredible vantage of IllumiNations.
IllumiNations Post Show Stroll – After IllumiNations ends, stay put for about 10 minutes. From this location in Japan, you’re almost in the middle of World Showcase, which allows for a nice long walk towards the front of the park. By waiting 10 minutes, you allow the initial surge of guests to pass, and can stroll out. My preference is heading back towards Morocco, and taking some time to explore it in solitude.
Go inside the Fez House. Go all the way back by the fountains near Restaurant Marrakesh. Look up at the archways and down at the tile-work. Really appreciate these nooks and crannies that most guests never even explore. Same goes for France and the United Kingdom as you pass these areas and their peaceful alleyways. World Showcase restaurants are seating guests until park close, so you have plenty of time to explore these areas after the park closes before having to worry about being shooed out of the park.
Fountain of Nations – After you’ve taken your time drinking up the detail of World Showcase, head towards the front of the park for a private showing of the Fountain of Nations. The water is beautifully lit at night, and the music to which the fountains dance just sounds crisper. Enjoy this for a few minutes, then dance your way across the fiber-optics in the pavement near Innoventions, and then marvel at Spaceship Earth’s grandiosity before calling it a night.
From rope drop to post-close, that’s one exhaustively full and satisfying day at Epcot…and all despite the fact that you didn’t do a single ride! For me, this type of day is Epcot at its finest, and why I continue to love and cherish my visits to this park, even if I do lament what has happened with its slate of attractions.
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Can you fathom the idea of spending an entire day in Epcot without doing any rides? Do you agree or disagree with our recommendations? Have any other spots, meals, or ‘serene’ things to do in Epcot you’d add to the list? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!
It’s posts like this one that remind me why I love this blog. Even though the draw of the Magic Kingdom is undeniable and it’s attractions are iconic, there is no park I love to just BE in more than EPCOT. The atmosphere and vibe of the park really speaks to me, and this “no attractions day” idea is something I’ve always wanted to do.
God, I love leaving Epcot from the back of the park after Illuminations. I love the music, and waiting for the crowds to go before walking though a quieter World Showcase, and the light up sidewalk in future world. I think this is at least part of the reason Illuminations is my favorite of the nighttime stuff. It’s pretty easy to grab a spot with a least a little elbow room and a decent view, I love the show itself, and the mad exodus is easy to wait out without the craziness of MK after fireworks.
Thanks, Tom, for this great blog. My husband and I usually bypass the American Adventure and France. I know, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never heard the Voice of America!!!!
This next visit, after reading your blog, we will try all of these. Can’t wait to try the Japanese shop on the 2nd floor for Illuminations viewing, and leisurely walking out of the park at night. This makes me look forward to this visit to Epcot much more than we usually do. A totally different way of looking at Epcot. THANKS!
We’ve rope-dropped the manatees! (Well, minus a Satrbuck stop) It’s not quite ballet, but they at super lively in the mornings, and it’s a great time to ask the cast members a zillion manatee questions, if that floats your boat. This was one of my wife’s favorite parts of our trip!
“To combat any benefits of all this walking,”…hilarious!!!!
Great new thoughts for us to try. We used to enjoy these semi-attraction free days quite often, but have stopped.
The best places to sit and relax a bit were in the many shaded garden areas along the main walkways, and also in a few hidden gems tucked back a bit. Unfortunately these have mostly been turned into smoking zones, so we hurry past them. Possibly new areas for those could be placed a bit further away from the crowds. (There are always a few rebels who stand “near” the zone, but still fully in the walkways.)
With those areas relocated, the wonderfully shaded benches near the lovely, well-tended gardens might be free for all to enjoy once more.
This would be the retro-cherry on top, and bring back even more of Epcot’s peaceful ambience.
This is exactly why Epcot is my favorite park. I never want to leave! You’re making me rethink my “one day at Epcot” plan for our next trip.
I love this post. We do this a lot, though more often than not we “cheat” by riding Spaceship Earth. Dame Judi Dench just puts us in the zone! We have our favorite snacks, favorite places to relax, and generally love just walking around. I wouldn’t mind some changes or additions to certain countries, a la Norway’s new Frozen theme. I’ve always felt a Mary Poppins attraction would be amazing in the UK, or even adding some new countries. And don’t get me started on Universe of Energy. Epcot is our favorite park, rides or no rides.
I would suggest one additional thing, before you leave Future World be sure to stop by club cool for your complimentary cup of Beverly. I find nothing helps with the Florida heat like a cool glass of Italy’s finest carbonated beverage, Beverly. Or sip it, like Tom often says, “Like a fine wine” slowly as you stroll around to world showcase. It may change your whole outlook on the park if you can experience it with the fine taste of Beverly on your tongue.
Can you do a HS no rides itinerary next?? Oh wait… that’s kind of what we’re left with right now… 🙁
In all seriousness though, great post. My wife and I do something similar to this, but usually later on in the day once the crowds get too big to get on any of the rides. Epcot has so many hidden gems in it, that if you spend the day rushing around from one ride/attraction to the next, you’ll wind up missing most of them.
Great post Tom. Much like you, I fell in love with EPCOT when I was a kid in the 80’s. It is still my favorite park, and we often go everyday when we visit. No need to go on any attractions (although I tend to hop on Space Ship Earth if there is no line). World Showcase at night is my happy place 🙂
Love this post!
I like exploring the Rocky Mountains in Canada, checking out (and reading every sign) at the many mini-museums in World Showcase, and going to concerts at the America Gardens Theater.
For the poster who wanted to eat dessert at San Angel Inn, they have the best cheesecake!
Needs more live entertainment options. Epcot has tons, beyond Voices of Liberty. Grab a daily schedule and hop countries to see them all. Don’t forget the Jammitors up front, too. I’ve spent a few no-ride or FP+-only rides days doing just that.
This is almost exactly how I did Epcot when I was pregnant last summer (minus the drinking and staying past close) and it was one of my favorite days I’ve spent there. The ambiance is top notch.
The great thing about a day like this is that you can eat and drink as much as you want and you won’t gain a pound. Seriously, rope drop to post close at Epcot is a solid 10-15 mile walking day. Especially when you aren’t spending an hour napping at Universe if Energy. Wear comfortable shoes and consider a friendship boat ride for one of those World Showcase jaunts!
You’re totally right. There have been days at Epcot where I’ve gone over 20 miles. A Friendship Boat ride is a great idea; I’m not sure why I always forget that!
Just about everything you advised for a no ride Epcot day, is what I advise to senior Disney guests, myself included (“senior” as in “older Disney guests who do not do rides”). It’s good to know we have something in common.
My son and I were discussing Drinking around the World Showcase the other night. He thought it a generally good idea. Yes, he could see where it would be expensive, but thinks it worth the investment, and does not feel maturity has anything to do with it.
All in all, I guess there is something for everyone at Epcot.
I would LOVE to have enough days at WDW to justify doing this sometime! My favorite “spot” would be the koi pond in Japan. I would add in watching Jeweled Dragon Acrobats – closely tied with Voices of Liberty for favorite atmosphere entertainment. For me personally, I dislike Mexican food, but would just go have dessert at San Angel to enjoy the ambiance of the pavilion. Add on a silly note, I could spend a good 10 minutes watching the “mine mine mine” seagulls at the Seas 🙂