Early Theme Park Entry is a perk for on-site Walt Disney World resort guests, and it’s a valuable one when crowds are heavy. This Epcot photo report offers a step-by-step look at what I accomplished during the morning Extra Magic Hours replacement, strategy & tips, and how it worked out as an alternative to Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes.
This day at Epcot was a 9/10 on the crowd calendar, with an average daily wait time of 38 minutes. That’s park-wide, meaning Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, and Test Track were significantly higher (all at or above an hour), as they’re offset by short waits at the Seas with Nemo, Journey into Imagination, and other walk-on “wait” time attractions.
Also notable about this particular Early Entry is that it occurred after Epcot moved forward its opening time from 10 am to 8:30 am. This is the case for Spring Break 2022, and hopefully beyond. As we’ve seen in the past, rope drop crowds are worse with later park opening times and better with earlier ones. This is because people like to sleep-in on vacation, or so I’m told, which shrinks the pool of participants as the start time moves earlier.
For Early Entry at Epcot, we stayed in the Crescent Lake Resort area and entered through International Gateway, which is essential for the strategy covered here to work. (We’ll also cover modifications for those arriving via the front entrance.) That means staying at BoardWalk Inn, Yacht & Beach Club, Swan & Dolphin, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, Art of Animation, or Riviera Resort is necessary for this approach to work.
I left our room at 7:30 am with the goal of beating the first Skyliner arrivals. It didn’t work out that way, as guests were gushing out of the gondolas when I got to that point at 7:39 am. It was my understanding that the Skyliner officially started operating at 7:30 am, but either it quietly started early (not uncommon) or the opening time was officially moved forward to 7 am (that’s what Google believes).
For a lot of families, being out the hotel room door by 7:30 am is prohibitive. This puts me at a distinct advantage, since I can literally get ready in under 15 minutes. My secret is not washing my legs when I shower. Thanks to that time-saving hack, I was probably among the first ~500 people who arrived at bag check.
When after getting pulled aside for additional screening (the joys of an expedition-sized camera bag), I entered through Epcot’s International Gateway by 7:42 am.
In our experience thus far, getting to the parks for Early Entry is surprisingly easy. Bus transportation starts running early, as do the monorails, boats, and Skyliner. Again, most guests simply are not up and out the door by 7 am, which helps make things smoother for early risers. We’ve found it to be a far more pleasant transportation experience than leaving an hour or two later.
Our normal recommendation is to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of Early Theme Park Entry. That remains the case with Epcot, without regard for which ride you want to do first. To some extent, which entrance you use matters more than arrival time.
Everyone can enter Epcot without regard to whether they’re staying on site. As a practical matter, it’s (almost) impossible to get to International Gateway at this hour without being a resort guest, so that’s more or less moot.
Nevertheless, there’s a row of Cast Members stationed here to scan MagicBands, resort room keys, or whatever appropriate identification you might have if staying at one of the participating third party hotels. You get held back by the gift shop and can’t access the rest of the park without scanning here.
Unlike Magic Kingdom, guests are not held anywhere in Epcot prior to proceeding to the first attraction of the day–you go directly to the ride you want to do. I’d hazard a guess that, for those entering via International Gateway, about 90% of guests are heading to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
This is the logical choice from two perspectives. Due to its location in the France pavilion, it’s literally the closest ride to International Gateway. It’s also one of the two most popular attractions in the park, running neck and neck with Frozen Ever After.
Because there are no holding areas, it is absolutely pointless to try for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure if you’re coming from the front entrance. It’s a ~2 minute walk to the attraction from International Gateway, whereas it’s around a 15 minute walk from the front of the park.
I’ve seen people doing a dead sprint from the front entrance to France, and they still don’t end up anywhere near the front of the pack for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. As an added bonus, they start out the day sweaty and nasty. If this seems unfair…just give it a couple months. The tables will turn once Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind opens. That is, unless it uses a virtual queue…and it probably will. (In which case, the advantage remains with International Gateway arrivals.)
I stopped for photos, which meant I was a bit further back in this line, but still managed to queue up for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure by 7:49 am. At this point, only the exterior queue was in use–guests had not yet been allowed through the attraction’s front entrance.
The line started moving only a few minutes later, and the queue was constantly moving from there.
Since there are no Individual Lightning Lane guests at this hour and because Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure has a healthy hourly capacity, the line moves quickly.
Even if you arrived 10 minutes later and ended up in the overflow queue, it would amount to a wait of under 15 minutes. Perfectly reasonable for an attraction that regularly posted triple-digit wait times during the day.
Once finished with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, I made a beeline for Frozen Ever After.
It’s a little over a half-mile between the two, and I walk pretty quickly. However, I “offset” this by stopping a couple of times for photos, arriving to the Norway pavilion at 8:20 am. I feared that this would already be too late for a minimal wait at Frozen Ever After. I was wrong.
Despite the 25 minute posted wait time, Frozen Ever After was literally a walk-on. I never stopped moving from the time I entered the building until the load area.
This one caught me by surprise, and I definitely would not bank on similar success if I were you. Still, it’s likely that Early Entry is pulling guests to the headliners closer to the entrances–Test Track and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure–leaving shorter or nonexistent lines in the window of time before most guests are done with those attractions. At least, that’s my theory.
As you can tell, I was thrilled to be doing Frozen Ever After. (That’s a joke–I actually quite like the ride, the camera is just in an awkward spot and I always forget to pose for it.)
Even when I exited the attraction, Norway was still pretty quiet. I wanted to make it to Test Track before official park opening time, but I’m guessing Frozen Ever After’s actual wait time was still at or under 10 minutes.
I got to Test Track at 8:35 am, so 5 minutes after official park opening time. The posted wait time was also 25 minutes here, falling from a 40 minute posted wait just a few minutes before I arrived.
This is just a guess, but given the lack of people outside the entrance, it feels like I just barely beat the rope drop crowd here. My actual wait ended up being around 15 minutes. (Forgot to write down the time I boarded, so trying to reverse engineer this. It was not a bad wait at all, and part of that was spent designing my SimCar.)
My next stop was Soarin’ Around the World, which was posting a 10 minute wait as of 9 am.
My actual wait time was 11 minutes. Had I been two parties earlier, I would’ve walked onto the attraction. As always, Soarin’ wait times are a bit of a crapshoot, depending upon where you hit its load cycle.
Going into the morning, my intention was to see how quickly I could knock out every ride in Epcot.
Let’s just pretend that’s what I did, and everything else was a walk-on until 10 am. It’s possible this is not how the morning played out, and in actuality, I got distracted by a pretty tree.
What can I say, I’m like a raccoon with a camera–easily entranced by shiny objects.
I spent approximately three monorail passes (my favorite unit of measuring time) over by this tree and the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival floral tapestry. After that, I shot some topiaries that are otherwise tough to get due to crowds.
However, I really could have done everything else by around 11 am. Only the attractions I had already done had posted wait times over 10 minutes until then.
Given crowds later in the day, my approach of taking photos after Soarin’ arguably has merit. Try getting a photo of the Beauty and Beast topiary without guests eating in the image, or Kermit and Miss Piggy without people exiting the restrooms.
The alternative front entrance approach to Early Entry would basically just be to skip Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. I still think it makes sense to go deeper into the park and start with Frozen Ever After, potentially doing that twice if you or your kids so desire.
This approach is corroborated by wait times. As noted, Test Track’s posted wait time dropped from 40 minutes to 25 minutes at around 8:25 am, which is not uncommon. The attraction had processed the first wave of guests, and there was a lull before park opening.
Similarly, this is why our 1-Day Epcot Itinerary (No Genie+) recommends not messing with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at or shortly after rope drop, but instead an hour or two later. That’s because the initial surge drives its wait time high, but then it typically subsides thereafter.
The point with all of this is that you either want to be ahead of “the pack” or well behind it, but not part of it. If you’re arriving at the tail end of a surge of other guests, you’re waiting too long.
Admittedly, the other issue with the approaches covered here is that they all entail a lot of walking. Epcot is a big park, and I had logged over 2 miles before 10 am. Keep in mind, that’s with largely standing in one spot by a tree for a good half-hour.
That alone is going to make this strategy prohibitive for a lot of parties. I don’t have a good “answer” to that, but I do want to at least acknowledge it.
The reality is that the headliners at Epcot are all spread out, and the best strategies for the park all entail a lot of walking.
The alternative is buying your way out of lines with Individual Lightning Lanes, or doing Future World headliners at the start of the day and World Showcase ones at the end of the day. That won’t save you as much time as this, but it will save you far more steps.
Ultimately, we highly recommend taking advantage of Early Theme Park Entry at Epcot. Even with all of the caveats here, starting at the front of the park, worse luck, more efforts at minimizing walking, etc–it’s still a superior option to paying for Genie+ and Lightning Lane access.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Genie+ just doesn’t offer enough upside during a full day at Epcot. This remains true even with the Frozen Ever After now in the lineup. That’s a positive addition, but unless you’re Park Hopping to Epcot (and can thus use Genie+ in multiple parks during the same day), the better strategy is simply starting early, pacing yourself, and staying late. If you want additional strategy for the starting your day at the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.
Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Epcot? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day at Epcot? Do you agree that Early Entry at Epcot is superior to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes? What’s your preferred approach to mornings at Epcot? How would you have done things differently? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!