It’s time for the 2020 Taste of EPCOT Festival of the Holidays! With the debut day occurring on Black Friday, we head to the park for Walt Disney World’s first truly busy weekend of the Christmas season. In this park report, we’ll share our experience with the modified event, plus a look at lines, wait times, and how crowded EPCOT feels fully booked to 35% capacity.
While it’s been a week of high attendance at Walt Disney World, the Friday after Thanksgiving was the first day that EPCOT had no reservations available across all three buckets of Disney Park Pass inventory since Walt Disney World increased capacity from 25% to 35%.
In this week’s new Magic Kingdom Crowd Report: Fully Booked, 35% Capacity Day, we detailed our experience with heavy crowds, high wait times, and long lines as a preview of what you might expect during the busier dates around Christmas and New Year’s. We’re going to fixate less on that here because, quite frankly, the times EPCOT is “at capacity” should (hopefully) be pretty few and far between…
That’s especially true given the “Taste of” nature of the 2020 EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. Cancelled are Candlelight Processional and the Storytellers (Santas), which are two of the big draws for the Christmas season at EPCOT. While many of the Food & Wine Festival Global Marketplaces have been repurposed for Festival of the Holidays, those are still big voids in terms of what normally draws guests to EPCOT in December.
Nevertheless, we do expect weekends at EPCOT to remain elevated throughout the Christmas season…and then again for Festival of the Arts…and then again for Flower and Garden Festival. It thus remains our advice to avoid EPCOT on Saturdays, Sundays, and any other date when Central Florida schools are out of session or a lot of people are likely off work.
For those who are curious about EPCOT wait times on an at capacity day, above is a look at them courtesy of Thrill-Data.com. The blue line above shows Black Friday wait times, whereas the red line above shows wait times for the previous Friday.
Over the course of the day, we’re looking at roughly 20 minutes v. 40 minutes on average. Double the attraction wait times is just one reason to avoid EPCOT on weekends and holiday breaks.
The longer lines were apparent throughout the park, most notably at the trio of headliners. Test Track, Soarin’ Around the World, and Frozen Ever After all cracked triple digits at some point during the day.
Above is a look at the line for Frozen Ever After in mid-afternoon when it was at 100 minutes, with multiple switchbacks in the courtyard of the China pavilion.
Here’s another look exactly 90 minutes later.
At this point, the wait had “died down” and was only around 75 minutes. The line is still in the China pavilion, just not filling up the switchbacks at this point.
Because it was so busy even at rope drop, lines later in the day defied what we’ve been observing the last few months. Above is a look at Spaceship Earth in the evening, still sporting full switchbacks and a 35 minute wait.
On a normal day, the front of the park would clear out and wait times would plummet in the evening, aside from Test Track. This crowd dynamic definitely makes for more difficult strategizing, but the good news is that there are only a handful more days this year that will see “this crowd dynamic” at EPCOT. You can easily avoid them all!
We weren’t at EPCOT to do attractions, so those ride wait times were immaterial to us, anyway. It was all about the 2020 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays!
Unfortunately, we weren’t alone on that; many other guests shared our food-first agenda. The result was 15-20 minute lines at some of the Holiday Kitchens. Yes, even Italy.
Finding space to sit or stand and eat was also an issue. Fortunately, we are skilled in the art of trashcan-top dining, so it wasn’t so much of a problem for us. “Fussy” guests who take issue with eating on top of garbage might’ve had a more tough go of it.
However, this is almost always the case with the first day of any EPCOT Festival. The only reason there’s an “almost” in the previous sentence is because the 2020 Taste of EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival was not busy this year…but nothing was busy at Walt Disney World back when the theme parks reopened in July.
In addition to being this first day of an EPCOT Festival, it was also a holiday weekend. I still vividly remember our visits to EPCOT last Thanksgiving weekend for the start of the event–they were miserable. This was unquestionably better than those.
In our EPCOT Festival of the Holidays Review from last year, we wrote that the ‘feels like’ crowd levels were higher than New Year’s Eve and that the exodus from Candlelight Processional was probably the worst experience with crowds I’ve ever had at EPCOT. We visited the park multiple times last December, including Christmas week and New Year’s Eve, and never dealt with anything that bad again.
That’s all a long-winded way of saying you should extrapolate anything from EPCOT’s Black Friday crowd reports and wait times.
The only takeaway is that you shouldn’t visit EPCOT on Thanksgiving weekend next year, because it’s always a bad time. We could’ve told you that would be the case again without even visiting this year–we just can’t help ourselves!
Even then, in some ways things were better than expected at EPCOT on Black Friday.
World Showcase was not nearly as rowdy as what we’ve experienced even on less-busy weekends, congestion was a non-issue by late afternoon, and lines for some of the Holiday Kitchens did die-down at dusk. Small victories!
One plus as compared to the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival is entertainment. The character cavalcades are improved, and give World Showcase a shot in the arm of festive energy as they roll through.
These cavalcades include Queen Anna and Elsa in the “Frozen Holiday Promenade” plus Mickey Mouse and the gang on the “Mickey and Friends Holiday World Tour.” Finally, Santa Claus takes a grand horse-drawn carriage tour around World Showcase.
Another huge win is that the America Gardens Theatre has welcomed back the Voices of Liberty, who sing carols through their beautiful harmonies. Mariachi Cobre has also returned to the same venue, bringing to life Las Posadas, a celebration of Mexican holiday customs through music and dance.
Over at the Canada pavilion, the JAMMitors grace the Mill Stage with their playful percussion.
World ShowPlace is once again open as a quasi-festival center, and Walt Disney World has iterated on how this venue was used for Food & Wine, improving things for Festival of the Holidays.
While we question the wisdom of having them sing indoors, Joyful! A Celebration of the Season is an exceptional musical act and it’s nice to see them return. Shortly after they left the stage, a pianist appeared to perform elegant renditions of Christmas music.
World ShowPlace is also home to what’s previously been an under-the-radar gingerbread display inside American Adventure.
This features the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and more.
I’m a bit torn about the relocation. On the one hand, more Walt Disney World guests will undoubtedly now see it in this busy venue. It’s also nice to be able to walk around the entire display.
On the other hand, we always loved heading into the American Adventure rotunda to see this, followed by the last performance by the Voices of Liberty. It was a peaceful way to enjoy the early evening. Oh well, there’s always next year!
By late afternoon, World ShowPlace was only moderately busy. The Holiday Kitchens inside had short or no waits at all.
That’s not bad for an opening day, especially given the enjoyable entertainment in here.
There are also several Christmas displays set up on the perimeter of the venue. These are a nice touch and make for good selfie stations, while also further spreading out the crowds inside.
The headline from the quarterly earnings call was that the attendance cap had been raised from 25% to 35%, but Walt Disney World deserves more credit for the “efficiency enhancements” made to facilitate that.
In some cases, that means a maze of “please wait here” markers throughout the parks. However, there also has been lots of ingenuity and clever changes to help the parks absorb more guests.
Theme park ops deserves some kudos for rolling with the punches and implementing mandates in smart ways.
Setting aside the heavy crowds, the park was fairly enjoyable for the 2020 EPCOT Festival of the Holidays debut day. With that said, the losses of Candlelight Processional and the Holiday Storytellers definitely sting. Probably more so than the Christmas cuts at any other park, in large part because they’re the latest (temporary) losses in several consecutive years of holiday cuts at EPCOT. The cumulative consequences of that can be felt.
With that said, there’s still plenty to love about Christmas-time at EPCOT. As compared to summer and fall, there’s more entertainment, plus better ambiance and weather. Almost all of the decorations are back, and create a warm and inviting atmosphere in World Showcase. Then there are the new items at Holiday Kitchens plus Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights–two things we didn’t even get to in this post! There’s still plenty of time for that, as we’ll be spending many more evenings at EPCOT during this Christmas season, eating around World Showcase and ending our day with a late night ride on Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights.
If you’ve ever visited EPCOT during the post-Thanksgiving weekend, what has been your experience with crowds and wait times? If you’ve visited this holiday week, have you had any issues with lines for rides or food, breakdowns in physical distancing, or finding spots to eat? Thoughts about anything else covered here? Do you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this Christmas, or are you sitting this year out? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!