Epcot Reopening Report: Beautiful & Bizarre

As Walt Disney World continues its phased reopening, we head to Epcot for that park’s first day back. In this report, we’ll share photos, crowds & wait time info, health & safety measures, mask compliance, entertainment details, plus thoughts on being back in World Showcase and Future World.

This follows our reopening reports from Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. When viewed in a vacuum, Disney has done a spectacular job, with thoughtful safety measures and enforced health protocol. Nevertheless, it’s tough to call those park debuts “successful,” as the timing could not have possibly been worse. A straight line was drawn in the national media between the record number of new cases in Florida and reopening of Walt Disney World.

Definitely not the kind of coverage Disney likely envisioned when the wheels were set in motion back in May, at a time that Florida was an unlikely success story. Some of the skewerings on social media and late night television have been funny, but less in the normal “who cares what people think of adult Disney fans?!” way and more of a nervous laugh way. Now Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are back, drawing out the unflattering coverage…

In typical Epcot fashion, it’s somehow simultaneously the most familiar, beautiful, and bizarre park at Walt Disney World in this era of temporary abnormal. Such is the paradoxical position Epcot occupies for many longtime Walt Disney World fans, including me. We criticize the park with regularity and question whether it’s even worth visiting…but also spend more time there than any other park at Walt Disney World.

On the beautiful and familiar front, a stroll around World Showcase is ostensibly much like it’d be during a normal summer day. The promenade is punctuated by flowers and a few topiaries, with makes it more vibrant and prettier than normal this time of year. There are also scattered festival booths added to the promenade, making it feel like it would in early June, during the final days of Flower & Garden.

It also feels like anytime from mid-June through late August. That stretch is almost always eerily uncrowded at Epcot, especially as contrasted with the other three parks. When “Diet Epcot” season is underway, Epcot isn’t as much of a draw for locals. It’s probably always less of a draw for tourists, hence the announced transformation. In any case, this first day back more or less just felt like the summer norm while walking around World Showcase Lagoon.

Up in Future World, or whatever they’re calling it now, it’s a similar scene. During our last visit, it was uncomfortable between the maze of construction walls and guests crowding through pinch-points.

Those walls and the sheer amount of construction also gave Epcot a cold and awkward feeling; the escapist illusion is not quite the same when demolition and heavy equipment are visible and audible pretty much everywhere you look.

The vibe isn’t much different now. Actually, the atmosphere in this area of the park is actually inarguably improved. There are slightly fewer walls and people, making that area of the park more comfortable. So, you “gain” the surreal quality of masks, plexiglass, and signage, but lose some of the construction.

It all about nets itself out.

However, this is all on the surface level when making a lap around Epcot. Once you dig a little deeper, things become more bizarre. For example, we grabbed food from the Japan festival booth and took it up to the Katsura Grill outdoor seating area. This is one of our favorite spots in Epcot, and it was delightful.

With the trees in bloom, vibrant umbrellas overhead, and the peaceful background music playing, this area offered a truly blissful and serene setting. We spent nearly an hour as the only guests up there, soaking up the atmosphere–it’s the closest we’ll get to Japan anytime soon!

Upon going inside or otherwise interacting with Cast Members, the illusion falls apart.

As has been discussed previously, World Showcase is reopening with “culturally inauthentic” Cast Members. (That’s a clumsy term, but I can’t think of a better one, so I’ll just roll with it in air quotes.) This means that many locations within World Showcase have Cast Members relocated elsewhere from Walt Disney World. This is more than a little jarring, and underscores just how big of a role Cultural Representatives play in giving these pavilions life, personality, and authenticity.

This is absolutely not a knock on the Cast Members currently working in World Showcase. To the contrary, they are fantastic and full of enthusiasm.

Our experience thus far with Cast Members at Walt Disney World since reopening has been unequivocally positive, and that extends to World Showcase. While there are no doubt mixed emotions about being back, everyone is outwardly positive and projecting happiness. Without question, this is the best guest service we’ve encountered at Walt Disney World in years.

Nevertheless, it’s weird to enter World Showcase pavilions and be greeted by mostly Americans. (Several pavilions do still have “authentic” Cast Members–as with the College Program, some participants of the Cultural Representative program holdover.)

That’s at the pavilions that are even open. In many cases, next to nothing is operational.

China is probably where this is most noticeable.

Nothing is open except Reflections of China.

Other pavilions with third party participants are operational, albeit short-staffed.

We inquired with Via Napoli as to whether they’d be using their outdoor seating area, and were informed that they didn’t have enough servers to open that section. They might in a couple of months.

It’s a similar story in Morocco; some of the pavilion is open, but with a skeleton staff.

Fortunately, one of the operational restaurants is Spice Road Table, which is entirely open-air seating. Once we make our way through all the Taste of EPCOT Food & Wine Festival booths, dining there is our next order of business.

In terms of wait times, things weren’t too bad at Epcot.

Frozen Ever After’s queue extended to the promenade, but even at this point the posted wait was only 20 minutes. (We didn’t time it, but the actual wait was less than that.)

The longest wait that we would have encountered was actually for the Imagination Disney Vacation Club Lounge.

Even while everything else in Future World (aside from Test Track, which was down) was a near walk-on, the DVC Lounge was full to capacity and had a line of guests waiting to enter. We thought we would be the only ones with this idea, but probably should’ve known better given the 98º weather and disproportionate number of DVC guests right now.

I was hoping to see Winnie the Pooh or Joy from Inside Out frolicking in the grass over by the Imagination pavilion, but that didn’t happen either time we were over there.

There was actually a decent amount we missed at Epcot, as an intense afternoon shower caused us to cut the visit short.

In terms of other entertainment, we saw a few motorcades through World Showcase.

It’s really too bad Walt Disney World sold off all of the double-decker buses that used to drive through World Showcase. It’d be the perfect time to bring back the character omnibuses!

Regardless, these additions are nice.

They give a splash of entertainment and life to World Showcase, which might otherwise feel a bit too quiet in the summer to some guests. (We are not among those guests–we love a serene stroll through World Showcase.)

In terms of mask compliance, Epcot was generally pretty good. We were a bit fearful that it would be worse due to the festival, and that was the case to some degree while outside around the festival booths.

However, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Plus, all of this was outdoors with adequate physical distancing–so not really an issue, anyway.

Indoors, in queues, and where it matters, mask compliance was near perfect.

Overall, I’d put it at about 93%. I’d hazard a guess this will be about the norm for Epcot–slightly worse than the other parks due to the outdoor areas of World Showcase. That’s also the place in all of Walt Disney World where physical distancing is easiest to accomplish, so not at all an area of concern for us.

Duckbutt.

There’s a lot we haven’t gotten to in this Epcot reopening report, which is partly by design and partly due to that prolonged and intense afternoon storm.

Our original goal was to stick around Epcot until closing, as it’s the one park at Walt Disney World that’s presently open after sunset. However, when we saw that the storm was just going to hang over the park for a couple of hours, we opted to head home.

We did a lot of the Taste of EPCOT Food & Wine Festival booths during our time in the park, but we didn’t roll with the normal crew (for obvious reasons), so it’s going to take the two of us longer to knock all of that out than normal. We also checked out construction progress around the park, but it makes sense to break that out into a separate post, since there’s a lot of that. So, if you were hoping to hear more about Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, progress in Future World, Global Marketplace reviews, etc., stay tuned for that–we didn’t forget about it.

The good news for Epcot fans is that we will back at this park more than anywhere else at Walt Disney World. The World Showcase atmosphere plus Epcot being open late plus it likely being the easiest Disney Park Pass reservation for us to make last minute (without more resort stays) plus the best outdoor dining options are a winning combination. These factors make Epcot the most appealing park to us in all of Walt Disney World right now. We’ve had a lot of quibbles with Epcot over the last few years, but we will gladly take this ‘imperfect underdog’ exactly the way it is right now. We are so thankful to be back, and eager to resume our evening strolls and dinners at Epcot!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Did you visit Epcot on reopening day? What was your experience? Thoughts on any topic discussed here? Looking forward to returning to Epcot, or is it a skippable park for you in its current state? Do you have any questions about the current modified Epcot experience? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? 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!


61 Responses to “Epcot Reopening Report: Beautiful & Bizarre”
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