We had the chance to ring in the New Year at Walt Disney World, and spent the evening at Epcot. In this report, we’ll share our thoughts and photos from the experience, and some helpful planning advice for anyone else debating between Magic Kingdom and Epcot for New Year’s Eve.
Prior to this, it had been a while since we’ve done New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World. We really enjoyed our last NYE experience, but everything is more expensive this time of year and discounts are scarce. However, I really like this time of year. We follow and recommend the strategy outlined in our Tips for Surviving New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World post: getting up to see sunrise in Magic Kingdom (although it was foggy several mornings this year), napping midday, and then staying out super late.
From our perspective, Epcot is the best park for New Year’s Eve. Animal Kingdom closes early, so it’s a non-factor (although it can be a good spot to start your day to avoid crowds), and Disney’s Hollywood Studios doesn’t do much of anything special, so it’s also out. That leaves us with Epcot v. Magic Kingdom for New Year’s Eve.
This is really easier than you might think. Magic Kingdom does its New Year’s Eve celebration on two nights–December 30th and 31st. There’s no material difference between the two in terms of entertainment, just no noisemakers and hats on New Year’s Eve (Eve). In other words, doing Magic Kingdom the night before and Epcot on New Year’s Eve is the most logical approach if you want to see both. (Click here to read about our New Year’s Eve (Eve) Magic Kingdom experience.)
All things being equal, Epcot also has the best party atmosphere for New Year’s Eve. At least, for adults without children. We don’t drink much anymore, and even if we did, we wouldn’t have imbibed on NYE–if only because lines for booze and bathrooms were equally outrageous. I also don’t really dance. At least, not publicly–no one should be subjected to seeing that.
For the most part, our actual experience at Epcot on New Year’s Eve was uneventful. We started with lunch at Ale & Compass Restaurant in Yacht Club, which was fine (a lot of people love this place, but I still don’t fully get the appeal).
After that, we headed into the park and immediately went to the Imagination DVC Lounge, spending about 30 minutes there before it started to really fill up.
After the Imagination Lounge, we went on Living with the Land to see its holiday “overlay” one last time. At this point, it was one of the few attractions with a posted wait of under an hour.
We had more FastPass+ to use at Epcot, but decided to bail on them. Quite literally–we got into the Soarin’ return line and it was so backed up that we figured it wasn’t worth the wait. We’re fortunate that we’ve done Soarin’ a lot and will ample opportunities to do it pretty much whenever, so we’re definitely in a unique position.
Personally, I think our perspective is almost necessary for midday visits during Christmas week and New Year’s Eve.
Maybe we’re just spoiled by being repeat visitors, but I’d have a really hard time justifying over an hour for the vast majority of attractions.
New Year’s Eve is a “being there” type of experience. It’s best not to have a set agenda; just enjoy the ambiance and have fun with it.
This is especially true at night when the dance parties get going and the frustration hanging in the air earlier in the day gives way to a sense of alcohol-tinged gaiety. (Think of this as the sweet spot before the light buzzes transform to sloppiness.)
Even though I wasn’t dancing or drinking, it was fun to just walk around and witness the dance parties at arm’s length. About the only one that didn’t have a palpable energy was the “Silent Groove” dance party behind Spaceship Earth.
It was really odd to walk through these dance parties, all of which were imbued with a clear sense of joviality, and then walk to the front of Spaceship Earth. Even after 10 p.m., the ride had a posted wait of 90 minutes, and everyone in line just looked miserable.
I love Spaceship Earth, but I cannot fathom waiting in line over an hour for it and missing the New Year’s fireworks for it.
I can understand not realizing the parks are very busy on New Year’s Eve, but at some point you’ve gotta cut your losses and make lemonade out of lemons.
Rather than doing attractions, we spent most of our afternoon and evening camping out for IllumiNations. Our friends Mark, Ben, Morgan, Jeff, Don, and Cory do this every year, and we joined them for the first time. I think we spent a little over 6 hours doing this.
That might seem unpleasant, but it was actually pretty great. The entire time, we were away from crowds, and we mostly just sat around and chatted. We all had the chance to go out into the park in rotations, and everyone else did a table service dinner. Sarah and I were going to do Electric Umbrella, but the line was too long so we just didn’t eat dinner, period.
We were at the back of the normal IllumiNations FastPass+ area with no one behind us, and pretty much everyone in this viewing area was sitting on a blanket for the duration. They made everyone stand a little after 11 p.m., but for several hours before that, it was nice and relaxed.
Thanks to good company and a nice location with views of literally every Epcot dance party in the distance, this was a really fun and memorable experience. Probably not how you’d want to spend the night if you’re on a time-limited vacation, but for us, it wasn’t much different than hanging out at a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve…just a different venue.
As for the Global Countdown to New Year’s IllumiNations tag, it was fantastic. I go back and forth as to whether I prefer Fantasy in the Sky or Global Countdown, and it’s really tough to choose.
Global Countdown seems like the more fitting way to ring in the New Year, and it’s quintessential EPCOT Center, so there’s that. Fantasy in the Sky is more immersive and is also a delightful Magic Kingdom throwback, in its own way. They’re definitely the two best fireworks shows at Walt Disney World.
The Times Guide indicated that it’d be the final year for the IllumiNations Global Countdown to New Year, which is true from the perspective that it definitely won’t include IllumiNations next year.
However, if rumors we’ve heard about the interim Epcot Forever shows are accurate, there’s no reason Global Countdown couldn’t still go next year (albeit in slightly modified form). Here’s hoping that’s the case.
As for the dance parties, the fire and dragon in China was my favorite. Dragons are a common component of Chinese New Year, which is celebrated per the traditional Chinese calendar (in other words: not on New Year’s Eve). In China, dragons are a national icon symbolizing good fortune and bright future.
In Walt Disney World, dragons seem to symbolize rave music and fireballs. Nevertheless, it’s really cool to see and stand under the dragon with huge flames rising on all sides.
Walking around Epcot was surprisingly easy on New Year’s Eve. Crowd control was exceptional, with left/right lanes on the ground, and a ton of Cast Members directing traffic.
One of my biggest pet peeves about Walt Disney World guests is that too many have, seemingly, never walked in public before. As crowds decrease, guests just find exciting new ways to take up more space and loiter in walkways. Not so on NYE, when Cast Members were all over to make sure that people walked as socialized humans should.
Park cleanliness was an issue at Epcot on New Year’s Eve. Part of this is unavoidable. Restrooms have perpetual lines, people camp out in areas and leave their trash beyond, and there are simply a lot of people behaving badly.
To Disney’s credit, we did see multiple managers cleaning up post-IllumiNations, but that struck us as too little, too late given the condition of the park for hours prior to that.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, there were trash cans overflowing and men’s restrooms with no lines that smelled foul by mid-afternoon.
More to the point, this is an issue that has been percolating for a while, even on days that aren’t feeling the same crush of crowds. It’s a problem quite often, and was just an amplified one on New Year’s Eve.
It would be easy to dismiss this as guests being more disrespectful than they used to be, and that plays a part, no doubt. We also strongly suspect that Disney’s custodial crew is being spread too thin; that this is yet another corner being cut.
We’ve seen a lot of tweets about this recently, including several replies from the @WDWToday account encouraging guests to report this to Cast Members.
That’d be an acceptable response if this were an incredibly rare anomaly, but it isn’t. Moreover, it shouldn’t be the role of consumers to report when trash cans need to be emptied (especially since the things are equipped with sensors that serve that same function).
Walt Disney World needs to do better and live up to its own standards and reputations when it comes to cleanliness and maintenance. They’re charging premium prices–there’s no excuse for delivering anything short of a premium experience.
That rant aside, we had an exceptional time at Epcot on New Year’s Eve. It was a pleasant day with friends, and the tastes of the more raucous party atmosphere that we had gave it a fun energy. I definitely would not have felt the same way if we had small children or came with the priority of experiencing attractions, but with our expectations in check and our only priority being the fireworks, it was a great time.
Have you done New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World? Which park is your favorite? Thinking about doing a future NYE at Epcot or Magic Kingdom? 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!