EPCOT Early Entry Morning v. Genie+
When it comes to Walt Disney World touring strategy, Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, and Extended Evening Hours are the best options. This photo report offers a look at morning in EPCOT on an 8/10 crowd level day, wait times and what we accomplished during the Extra Magic Hours replacement, plus how this on-site perk compares to using Genie+ to skip lines.
EPCOT opened to the general public at 8:30 am on this day, meaning Early Entry began at 8:00 am. We were out the door of our room at Art of Animation by roughly 6:50 am, before joining the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind virtual queue. After that, it was off to the Skyliner station over Hourglass Lake. Our aerial escapades in getting to the park are covered in Skyliner Strategy for Early Entry at EPCOT & Hollywood Studios.
Going from Hourglass Lake to EPCOT via the Skyliner is the longest route aboard the gondolas, requiring a transfer at the Caribbean Beach Resort hub station. All told, it takes about 20 minutes gondola-to-gate on average. That’s far less time than it’ll take getting from Art of Animation or Pop Century to EPCOT via bus, Uber/Lyft, Minnie Vans, or any other sort of vehicle. The Skyliner also drops you off at EPCOT’s International Gateway entrance, which is superior to the front entrance. However, that comes with caveats…
The comments section of that ‘Skyliner Strategy’ post is filled with questions about using the gondolas or getting to International Gateway from other resorts. Many of you have some very…let’s call them creative…ideas involving convoluted routes between wherever you’re staying at International Gateway.
I’d like to think that this blog teaches you how to think differently about hacking Walt Disney World systems to beat the crowds. (More likely, it fills your mind with useless pop culture references, County Bear lore, and hatred for Dino-Rama, which is still a societal net positive.) So kudos to putting your knowledge to use and coming up with creative solutions.
However, most of them are a bit much. It’s true that you’ll come out ahead by arriving to EPCOT via International Gateway, at least for now while Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind uses a virtual queue. Being so close to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is advantageous, and the walking distance disparity is insurmountable for those arriving from the front entrance.
With that said, we also like to think about things in holistic terms here. Not all vacation time has equal value, but it all does have some value. The added time of these convoluted routes is costly, to the point that we don’t recommend them. You’ll need to wake up significantly earlier and potentially spend extra, either of which alone would move those approaches to “not recommended” territory.
There’s not a tremendous amount of downside in starting at the front of the park except for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. That sort of presupposes that you need to do the Rat Ride first, which is not true. EPCOT has three “equal wait weighted” headliners, and this trio has average wait times that are usually within 5-15 minutes of one another.
This trio is also evenly spread throughout the park between the two entrances. One is up front, another is in the middle-ish, and the other is at the back. Given this, the two park entrances essentially offer the same advantages and disadvantages, but in the opposite direction, so to speak.
It is true that Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure typically has a longer wait time than Test Track. Month-to-date, the Rat Ride’s average is 69 minutes, whereas Test Track is 1 minute shy of that at 68 minutes. (Frozen Ever After is ahead of both at 73 minutes.) Normally, the gap would be slightly wider than this.
However, that doesn’t really matter. The extra time, money, and energy you’ll expend to arrive via International Gateway if you’re not staying at one of the resorts that can easily access the entrance far (FAR!) outweighs any upside. That is, assuming you can even get to International Gateway–those without breakfast reservations are routinely turned away by security at Yacht & Beach Club and BoardWalk.
In short, the cost of getting up early and jumping through hoops for the IG approach just doesn’t make sense. This is also one of the reasons we don’t recommend messing with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train during Early Entry. People often don’t properly account for the opportunity cost not just as it pertains to other attractions, but getting more sleep, fewer headaches, etc.
Anyway, thought all of that was worth addressing up front since it was a hot topic in the comments. All of this is probably going to be rendered obsolete in a few weeks when Walt Disney World inevitably retires the virtual queue for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Then, it’ll be Crescent Lake guests questioning whether they should Uber to the front entrance. (Same answer applies.)
This particular morning, I arrived at EPCOT’s International Gateway at approximately 7:20 am. Still 40 minutes to go before Early Entry officially started. I don’t recall what time bag check opened, but I’m going to say shortly after 7:30 am.
I was inside the park and making my way to France by 7:40 am. Again, EPCOT’s official opening time was 8:30 am, meaning an 8 am sharp start for Early Entry.
Upon entering International Gateway, there’s a row of Cast Members scanning 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.
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. Over 80% of guests were heading to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure on this morning, which was definitely down from the last time I reported on EPCOT Early Entry.
Despite stopping for photos, I was towards the front of the line for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Obtaining documentation for blogging puts me at a competitive advantage in situations like this, but that’s offset by starting at a ride targeted at families. Lots of slow movers in the group and people parking strollers.
In any case, I was in line for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure by 7:42 am. The ride open and the line started moving shortly thereafter, and I was on the attraction by approximately 7:55 am.
I was off Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at almost exactly 8 am, the official start time of Early Entry. Norway for Frozen Ever After was next on the agenda. This is the “correct” way to approach Early Entry from International Gateway, so if that’s sound familiar, it’s because this has been the exact itinerary every single time we’ve reported on EPCOT Early Entry. (Spoiler: the next steps will also be identical.)
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 8:15 am. I was feeling pretty good about this, as it was actually an improvement on my last Early Entry attempt by 5 minutes.
Unfortunately, Frozen Ever After was not a walk-on this time.
The posted wait time was 15 minutes, and the actual wait was 9 minutes. No big deal, right? Wrong. While I could’ve easily repeated Frozen Ever After (probably the superior strategy) before it was inundated by rope drop guests, my next destination was Test Track. That 9 minute wait time plus the attraction duration plus the walking time to Test Track plus whatever discrepancy might’ve existed in releasing rope drop crowds was my downfall.
I got to Test Track at 8:35 am, and this was the scene up front.
The posted wait time was already 60 minutes, which is by far the highest I’ve seen it when doing Early Entry and rope drop in the last several months. Even objectively busier days (as measured by wait times) haven’t been this bad. The queue spilled out past the monorail track and wrapped back beyond the walkway to Flavors from Fire.
Obviously, I don’t know when this line formed since it beat me here, but I’m guessing I missed being towards the front of this crowd by less than 5 minutes. It almost makes one wonder whether it was really worth it to wait for nearly a full minute for the fountain in France to clear of guests to take a photo that ended up going unused. (Nah. Trust the process.)
That’s simply how it goes sometimes–the best laid plans…yada yada yada. If I didn’t stop for the fountain, maybe I would’ve been spellbound by a squirrel in Germany (a country famous for its captivating critters). It’s why we keep running “on the ground” tests to see how strategy actually works in practice, not just in theory.
I’d say about 7 times out of 10, Early Entry at EPCOT is uneventful and it’s possible to knock out the trio of headliners with a below average wait at Test Track. (You’ll never beat the crowd entirely, but 25 minutes or less is a victory.) However, those other 3 times something like this–or a delayed ride opening–throws a monkey wrench into the plan.
My boarding group for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind was about to be called, so I lingered in this area rather than criss-crossing the front of the park for Soarin’ Around the World. I made the (correct) calculation that would have a short wait even after I was done with Cosmic Rewind.
Objectively, the right decision would’ve been to just do Test Track and bank on the wait time being significantly inflated. While even the long line can move quickly first thing in the morning, my fear was that it’d slow to a crawl once Lightning Lane redemptions began in earnest. My desire to wait even 45 minutes for Test Track is pretty low. I’d rather circle back and doing it in the evening, gambling on a lower wait time (at the very least, the long line isn’t in direct sunlight then).
Even with my lack of success at Test Track, this EPCOT Early Entry approach compares very favorably to buying the Genie+ service.
With paid FastPass, you can usually score Lightning Lanes for 2 of the 3 headliners. That has been our consistent experience in using Genie+ since Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure were added. However, you’re almost certainly going to be subject to the 120 minute rule for at least the second selection, meaning your third ride reservation won’t come until around 12:30 pm or later unless you get incredibly lucky. By then, all three are usually gone.
It’s possible that you’ll be able to score a ride reservation refill for the third Lightning Lane later in the day, but that’s far from a sure thing. Moreover, you can’t choose your Lightning Lane return times, so they might be inopportune or require a lot of backtracking. (In fairness, so does this Early Entry morning when paired with a normal itinerary–but I still think Genie+ tends to be worse in that regard.)
While Early Entry requires being out the door at the crack of dawn and means hustling around the park to start your day, you’d also need to wake up to have a shot at all of the headliners via Genie+ at EPCOT. And after that, you’d need to be on your phone and potentially refreshing throughout the day.
This is why, on balance, Early Entry is superior to Genie+ at EPCOT.
Not only is it more clean-cut and less stressful, but that’s also the intangible x-factor: being at EPCOT as the park is waking up to start the day. Seeing horticulturists water plants and people-less World Showcase pavilions glow in the morning light. Hearing the background music and savoring the details. When it comes to atmosphere or “user experience,” Early Entry absolutely trounces Genie+ at EPCOT. One entails enjoying the crisp ambiance of a pristine park…the other involves burying your face in your phone, trying to navigate a counter-intuitive app. It’s no contest.
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.
Genie+ is significantly improved at EPCOT now that Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure have been added to the lineup. Unlike before, we now recommend it to off-site guests or those who won’t arrive first thing in the morning. However, anyone who can should instead take advantage of Early Entry. It’s objectively and subjectively superior.
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Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at EPCOT? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day? 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!
We are staying at the Grand Floridian in the winter. My mom is coming to stay for a couple of nights later in the week. She is not “officially” on our reservation, but is in my “Family and Friends” section of Disney Experience App. Will mom be able to gain early access to the parks with us?
Heading to Orlando for the first long trip in a while from the UK & not sure what I’d do without you Tom !
We’re staying in the Swan so definitely taking advantage of the extra evening hours but wondering how we will manage to score the 6pm Guardians VQ reservations
Tom, You were in the park and heading to your first attraction from the international gateway about 50 minutes prior official opening time. Does this hold true for the main entrance as well? Thanks.
I know that Test Track has a lower average wait time, but the more than occasional breakdowns add SPIKINESS to the data. Might it worthwhile to pull out the phone after exiting one’s first attraction of the day and deciding then and there whether to move TT to #2? (I’d be fine with no reservation systems but I LOVE having a virtual wait time guide on my phone.)
I agree with your assessment of early entry at the International Gate at EPCOT, my question is, which the fastest way to get to Norway for Frozen, going down to Canada and across, or all the around the “Worlds?”
Tom, here’s an EPCOT-related question. On evenings with Extended Evening hours for Deluxe Resorts, I know there is an extra 6:00 p.m. “drop” for the Cosmic Rewind virtual queue. For the 1 p.m. drop, you have to have checked into to EPCOT before to be eligible. Does the same rule apply for that 6 pm drop?
You don’t have to be in the park for the 6pm! I got it for us from our hotel pool. It was great.
Thanks Larissa, but did you previously tap into Epcot that day? Tom has stated before that at least for the 1 pm drop, you don’t have to be IN Epcot, but you have to have at least tapped into Epcot. So you could be back at your hotel at 1 pm as long as you were in Epcot earlier in the day. I was wondering if the same rule applied to the 6 pm.
Hi Tom – Would you be willing to leave the EXIF data in the photos you post? I’m an amateur photographer and seeing the settings you’re using helps me learn.
Of course, that could also be the secret sauce and I’d understand why you’d want to strip it out.
Removing the EXIF data isn’t anything purposeful to preserve my “secret sauce” or anything of that sort–the site does it automatically to make the file sizes smaller for faster loading (unfortunately, some detail is also lost due to compression).
To answer a relatively common question, I usually shoot at f/11 to achieve the sunbursts in my photos. Hope that helps! 🙂
Thanks for the reply, Tom! Appreciate the info. I know I’m the oddball here in wanting that data and since I’m guessing it makes the site load faster for the other 99.9% of the readers it’s the right move.
We arrive in 2 days. We were able to purchase Genie+ in advance months back. Unfortunately our 3 park days are Friday-Saturday-Sunday. Using Genie + has me a bit on edge but this blog has been immensely helpful in planning. Having used the VQ for RoTR- I have that down. We will utilize the above strategy via the IG for our Epcot morning. I won’t add my 2 cents around Genie not taking into account our dining reservations when allocating return times for Genie.
“I won’t add my 2 cents around Genie not taking into account our dining reservations when allocating return times for Genie.”
I hope you do add your 2 cents about this somewhere (ideally in guest satisfaction surveys), as this is exactly the type of iterative improvement that Disney knows needs to be made.
What changes get made going forward largely depend upon guest feedback. Complaining about it costing money is an absolute lost cause, but politely pointing out missing features or ways it negatively impacted your trip…that can help! 🙂
This post is very useful. But that’s not the reason I have replying to this comment by DJ. It appears to be the ONLY way I might be able to communicate with Tom Bricker. The Contact page lists only one address for emailing this website, and that address does not work. Here is the contents of the email I was trying to send to Tom Bricker:
I have been reading your posts extensively in preparation for my trip to WDW in September. However, I have one problem with your posts. You do not show any dates posted on the posts. You do sometimes insert in the body of the text a date updated notation. While it is logical to assume that the most recent posts are at the top of the Home page, if I search for a topic, I may not be able to tell if it is 2 months old or 2 years old. Obviously, the more recent posts are more useful.
I would appreciate it if you would consider adding a date/time stamp to the top of your posts. I believe this would be a significant benefit to your readers. And I cannot see where it would require that much additional effort. Having run a website for several years ago, I know that putting a date on things is not that difficult.
Thank you for your attention to this request.
Wow Tom !!! You get around, fast !!! Saw you Sunday night taking photos on Main Street Disneyland ( you’re Tom …. Good blog) sorry we didn’t stop and talk but we were on our way to Rise of the Resistance before it closed and of course ……. it was broken down once again by the time we got there , just like it was on Thursday.
And here you are back at Disney World. (I’m pretty sure you wrote this blog before you came to California ).
Was wondering if you’re going to do a rope drop on Disneyland and DCA ???
“Was wondering if you’re going to do a rope drop on Disneyland and DCA ???“
Now back to Florida for Halloween…
Do you have a strategy for early morning for starting from the future world entrance? I was thinking Test track then frozen them Remy’s? Or skip Trst track for night bc it’s better then anyway?
I would really like to read this as well .
When you got to Test Track, could you have done the single rider line for less than a 60 min wait at that point?
Hi Tom! Thanks again for all of your wonderful advice . Will you be doing a write up on strategy for the extended evening hours ? I’m wondering if I would get more out of staying late as opposed to getting to the parks (Epcot and Magic Kingdom ) early since that perk is only offered for specific hotels .
I might do another EPCOT evening hours write up when Cosmic Rewind changes. Otherwise, it’s not a high priority post while the VQ is in use. The “old” Magic Kingdom one from last fall is still accurate.
Fwiw: I did Epcot extra evening hours in both May and July, and I got way more done in May. It felt like “the secret was out” or something about Monday nights now (although it’s probably just bc guardians is open) and because the park closes at 9, and Harmonious starts at 9, you just lose so much time to the insane after fireworks crowds. If you don’t need to watch Harmonious, (and I wouldn’t bc you lose 20+ minutes out of 120 there..) I would try to plan to do either FW rides or WS rides during the extra hours. We were walking as fast as you probably can in Disney, but it was just dodging so many bodies and Scooters and the walk felt like it was over a mile (from Remy to TT/Guardians). Now in May, there was no one there and I rode all 4 headliners after hours (before guardians opened). If you are doing the 6pm drop, I would watch harmonious from the lake area closest to FW, or just ride TT, then go VQ. Honestly getting through Guardians takes a solid 45 minutes with no down time. There’s about a 30 minutes wait in the VQ esp right after Harmonious, and two pre-shows. We personally stack genies for afternoon and then stay late, but early morning is really nice too. Obviously your experience may be different! Enjoy! Guardians is hands down our fave.
Thanks Larissa! I feel like EEH reports are hard to come by. I’ve also heard the guardians 6:00 VQ is gone in 5 seconds!
Not getting test rack (the third headliner) with that early of an entry is disappointing. I thought given those times you would have rode that and then sailed onto soarin. I’m getting nervous how GoTG going standby is going to impact things esp IG entry. Let’s face it: paying the freight anyone but annual pass holders want to hit all of these in one day without excessive waits.
Really? Everything but Test Track with minimal waits in the morning is still a success, from my perspective. I even could’ve double-dipped FEA, which would be objectively good strategy for anyone wanting to do that twice.
With a full day, you could definitely circle back and do Test Track around 6 pm with a manageable wait.
My wife already purchased Genie+ for every day of our trip next month before I read your strategy, so we’re going to try and maximize both options. Genie+ for Frozen at 7 a.m. Early entry via IG and straight to Remy. Then hit the “non-major” rides on that side – Soarin’, Living with the Land, Nemo, etc. – and knock them all out quickly. Hopefully we’ll have a good return time for Frozen and GotG (although if virtual queue is gone, that’ll throw a wrench in the works). Relax at Pop Century in the afternoon while selecting Genie+ for Test Track in the evening. Return later for TT, Mission: Space, Spaceship Earth, and fireworks!
Nothing wrong with that approach, especially if you want to re-ride attractions and/or take midday breaks. Have fun!
Okay, I think I must have misunderstood something here. I thought Genie+ could not be purchased in advance of our visits? I thought we had to purchase it in the mornings before 7AM if we are staying in a Disney resort and if staying off property you can’t purchase it till the park opens. You said your wife already purchased it a month before your trip? How does one do that?
I guess I misunderstood how Genie+ works. You said your wife already purchased it a month before your trip? I thought we could not purchase it until the morning of our visits. 7AM for resort guests and after park opening for off site guests. I thought I had to purchase Genie+ in the morning since I’m staying at Port Orleans FQ then proceed to trying to book our first attraction on Genie after that or purchase an ILL. How does one go about buying Genie+ a month in advance?
Sorry for the double post. It said I posted it twice and then gave me the option to cancel so I did and rewrote another only to now find both of them on the board.
Carol – we booked our trip many months ago, and at that time you could still buy Genie+ in advance. So even though that’s no longer an option, ours is still valid. Sorry for the confusion!
Oh I see. Thanks Craig. To bad I missed the boat on that one. I would have loved to have been able to purchase it early. Oh well.
Great article Tom! We will be staying at the Poly in a few weeks and our toddler keeps asking about Remy’s. We are early risers and plan on doing early park entry. What is the best option, in your opinion, to get on Remy’s? I was planning on Uber to Boardwalk for Intl Gateway? Thanks, Josh
Assuming your toddler isn’t abnormally tall (and thus able to do Test Track), starting with FEA and then hitting the rat ride. The opposite order entails a bit too much backtracking, I think.
So long as you beat the rope drop crowd to Ratatouille–and you should be able to do so with that approach–you’ll be fine.
Just FYI my husband and I tried this on 07/29 and the security would absolutely not let us in to even be just dropped off without a reservation. They bordered on aggressive. They said we could go to swan and dolphin because that isn’t Disney owned.
Hi Tom. What happens to the 90%+ of guests that don’t rope drop?
I really wish you would write about bow to fix the real problem. Genie has major flaws and affects a great deal of guests in a negative way, including 90%+ of parkgoera who don’t rope drop.
That would be more helpful.
“I really wish you would write about bow to fix the real problem.”
Build more rides or otherwise add capacity (e.g. more entertainment and other offerings). That is it, literally.
Everything else is rearranging the deck chairs. Going from FastPass+ to Genie+ did not materially change capacity–it just made for different winners and losers. To the extent that current wait times are viewed as a problem, the only real solution is building more. (Or discouraging people from visiting via pricing, unfavorable changes, etc.)
That’s what I was afraid of because I know that’s not happening.
I wish Disney would give some “ride anytime”option to guests. Even if it’s only a minority (like deluxe resort guest) and they charge a boatload for it because I would pay and it would be worth it.
That would be worth it to me and I would t have to worry about getting on the rides no matter what time I got there.
Thanks for the advice!
You asked what happens to 90% of guests who don’t want to be up for rope drop then you said
“I wish Disney would give some “ride anytime”option to guests. Even if it’s only a minority (like deluxe resort guest) and they charge a boatload for it because I would pay and it would be worth it.
That would be worth it to me and I would t have to worry about getting on the rides no matter what time I got there.”
What happens to 90% of Disney park goers who do not have nor will likely ever get close to having the money to stay at a deluxe resort and pay a boat load more price for passes that let them ride any thing they want with out having to wait? Thats a lot tougher, if not impossible, for them than being up for rope drop is for you or any one else.
This is a “me” kind of thinking instead of a “we” kind of thinking.
Eventually if every one ends up thinking this way….. nothing is left for any one. And there will be no more Micky hugs for anybody.
Jeff, I think there already are options to obtaining “ride anytime” passes, in the form of buying into Golden Oak or into WDW’s version of Club 33. Both used to come with a lot of Fast Passes, and I assume they would still include some type of special ride passes. So the option is there, but the costs are prohibitive for the vast majority of us, as it does indeed cost a “boatload” for either option.
Jeff, you should look into a VIP tour. They take you where you want to go and you get to use the Lightning Lane line at every eligible attraction 🙂