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 98Âº 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.
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!
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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!
Duckbutt. Made my day.
Tom, the idea of eating a meal outside in 98 degrees sounds really unappealing to this North-easterner. How do manage it? Cold salads? Ice cream for lunch? Perhaps its true that when you move south you adjust to the heat? Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Speaking as a northener as well, albeit a midwesterner, I personally think it *is* miserable. We did patio dining here recently when we had a hot spell…93 degrees and while there was shade and fans, it was sticky and I was excited to get back to the car AC.
I am a northerner as well from New York and Canada all of my life. I moved here 9 years ago and I love every minute of it. As far as eating, we eat inside and there are many restaurants at Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney Springs to get some awesome food. I eat the same foods here I ate at home and the past couple weeks in Buffalo New York and Toronto Ontario have been the same or hotter than we have had here and all my family still resides there.
We waited out the storm under one of the umbrellas in Morocco. I’ll take rain over how hot it was. We got there around 2 and were so hot from walking from the car to the entrance (not far) that we had to go to the cooling tent until our temps went down. Everyone we’ve encountered working at Disney has been outstanding over the past few days including the temperature check people.
Our favorite find in Epcot yesterday was the festival “tent”. I’m not sure what it’s officially called but it’s between Canada and England and there are usually characters there. Inside was practically empty when we went in and the nitro cake pops for $4 are AMAZING! Very rich. My husband and I shared and couldn’t finish it.
I’ve now got the ‘Duck Tails, Woo-oo’ theme tune going round and round in my head
Loved “Duck Butt”.
Loved the duck butt picture! Made me literally LOL. I find Epcot hot with all the walking on cement but still love the park. I love to constantly stroll the countries and just observe everyone…which of course right now there aren’t many of. Hopefully the numbers will finally take a turn for the better. I look forward to your report on Spice Road Table as it looks good and we have not been there as yet. Thanks Tom for all of your great reports!
Thanks Tom. Did you get any sense for the timing of a Ratatouille ride opening?
TOM- I’m curious if you (or anyone else who has been) have noticed anyone wearing the scarf type mask that pulls up over your nose and mouth rather than the looped ear masks. I know the rules technically say they must go around your ears, however I have seen some people saying at Disney Springs they are allowing the scarf masks. I ask because they are much more comfortable for my 7 year old and I myself am able to breathe better with them on. Have you noticed that they are allowing these in the parks at all? Thanks? We have a trip in September. A
I can’t speak for Tom, but I have not seen anyone wearing scarves instead of masks. I HAVE seen a few people who have taken gaiters and cut them to have ear holes. We spoke to one gentleman two days ago who said he did it because they would not let him into MK with the gaiter.
I’ve seen people turned away or told to buy new masks while approaching the parks/TTC while wearing neck gaiters. (There are mask vending machines outside the parks and at the TTC.)
Hi Sara. Every report I’ve seen says that Disney is not allowing the scarf type masks or bandana type masks. From what I’ve seen, it has to be the ear loop type. Not sure if Disney Springs is allowing the scarf, but the parks are not.
I’m so surprised by the ‘no gaiters’ because they’ve proven to be the best at preventing the spread, since there’s less gaps for breath to escape from. I wonder what their rational behind that is, considering some of the flimsy masks I’ve seen in other pictures and videos that WERE allowed in.
Maggie: It’s because they have no filter. That’s what is preventing virus going in/coming out. They are probably more comfortable than traditional masks, but they certainly don’t prevent the virus from spreading, so, if not, you might as well be wearing nothing. Masks need layer of fabric (preferably cotton), filter, layer of fabric–not headband material.
Actually I don’t think it has to do with filters at all, S. Even the masks Disney sells themselves don’t have filters according to the description on their website. No clue why they don’t allow neck gaiters, but it can’t be due to filters if the mask they send you to buy to replace it doesn’t have a filter either.
This is the park we are headed down for. My partner likes doing detail photography so having so few places open in world showcase is actually more thriling to us! I like rides more, so it’s really got the best for both. I can be a little more forgiving of masks off when there’s plenty of room to avoid people, but people are still required to stop to take off their masks and eat, right? I am worried compliance on that will slip given all the food booths…
That afternoon storm yesterday was fierce! I’m hoping to head to Epcot today. When people ask me how it is I say Avengers post Thanos snap. The same…but different. Crowds are crazy low but everyone is being extremely proactive with social distancing.
I literally about hit the ground the first time the thunder-clapped. That was proudly the loudest I’d ever heard–Thanos snap, indeed!
Oh, my goodness! That is the perfect analogy! Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long to get everyone back together.
I shake my head at this: “DVC Lounge was full to capacity”. Why would people congregate in an indoor spaces. Day one: proceed with caution. Day two: “let’s all congregate in an indoor space and suck in as much of a strangers air as possible”. Unbelievable. And then we read complaints about spacing between queue lines? Makes no sense.
I assume it was full to a significantly reduced capacity. What that meant in practice, I’m not sure.
The duck butts made my day!! Thanks for the great report. And I agree–why do they not put extra tables with umbrellas out? It is SO hot to eat there during festivals, standing in the sun. Still love Epcot though –even with all its issues it’s our favorite park!
There are definitely extra tables out. Definitely not enough with umbrellas, you’re right.
However, if you’re at all familiar with Epcot (and anyone visiting right now should be), it’s fairly easy to take your food and walk to a quiet spot with shade.
Tom, true, and we have done that–walked to find shade. Usually down towards the water.
I still think Animal Kingdom is the hottest park but World Showcase on a sunny afternoon can come pretty close! Love it in the evenings…
I did Epcot yesterday as well, with my 2 boys, 7 and 10. After a quick temp screening we were in at open with no wait. We did Spaceship Earth, twice of course. Then Mission Space, Soarin, Nemo and the Aquarium, and the Pixar short movie among others.
We did everything twice or more, practically walking on. Even without roller coaster type rides, Epcot was ‘cool’ enough for kids which I was worried about.
I saw 100% mask compliance outside of eating, which is impressive in today’s world.
It was a great day!
Thanks for sharing your experience!
Good to hear!!
Man. Epcot. My favorite park. I watched some live streams of some vloggers visiting different parks. I didn’t have an intense longing to visit WDW until I saw them at Epcot. Epcot is a strange place but full of magical energy that makes me want to visit again and again.
It’s funny – I feel that this park offers the least amount for kids in terms of rides and entertainment. Yet my family seems to spend the most time at this park.
“Epcot is a strange place but full of magical energy that makes me want to visit again and again.”
That about perfectly sums it up–the appeal of Epcot is hard to put into words. Either you “get it” or you don’t. I’m probably a bit too tough on Epcot, but I’m tough because I love it so much.
My six year old likes Epcot’s food best so we eat there all the time when we go. Sort of perfect for dinner and two rides.
the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, IL actually owns several retired disney vehicles, from both film and parks. they have at least one of the double-decker buses, which i remember fondly from the mid-90s “Character Carnivale” and the barbie limo from the very weird foray into the world of barbie at epcot, plus others, as well as old disney store displays and such. it was a cool trip down memory lane when we visited. i highly recommend if you’re ever (post-pandemic) in northern illinois with time to kill. tons of other cool movie and tv vehicles all over as well.
Thanks for the tip!
Every once in a while, photos of the Epcot double-deckers pop up on social media in random places (I think one was just spotted in NJ, maybe?) so they’re definitely still out there.
I’m so old I have a vague memory of riding one of double-deckers as a kid when it was a Main Street Vehicle in the 1980s! Glad to hear that at least one is still going strong.
The Florida case numbers are not correct. The bigger question, is why?
And there are reports suggesting that the same is true the other direction: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-positivity-rate-florida-paints-rosy-pandemic-picture-20200715-cpwwngaefzdnpitbs7buh7zsei-story.html
For me, even if the real numbers were somehow half what’s reported, they’d be cause for concern. I don’t know where the truth lies, and I doubt anyone commenting on this blog does. Let’s please not turn this into another debate on the topic.
I look at the numbers, like I’m sure most Floridians are, but I don’t look so much at the positive case rate. I’m more watching the Hospitalizations and the deaths. In the past 48 hours 13 people have died in my county and 17 have died in Orange County. That is insane, but pretty much the norm since Universal/Legoland opened (and I know they are not the only reason). Winter Haven has passed a mask ordinance and the stores are enforcing. First time I have gotten groceries that I felt somewhat ok with the experience. I was also at Epcot yesterday and I found all the CM’s very helpful and enthusiastic. We were at dinner during the “deluge” and I have to say that walking World Showcase afterwards in just soft rain was downright DELIGHTFUL.
Are they doing a virtual queue for the DVC lounge? Also wondering how they were dealing with the beverages up there. Thanks!
I’m not entirely sure. We saw people waiting, but as soon as we realized the lounge was full, we turned away.
We were hoping that it would be totally empty. Pretty naive given that DVC resorts are essentially the main ones operating and how hot it was yesterday!
Having seen some videos of this it seems Disney is doing it as best they can, not packed at all with a lot of social distance outside.
I would just hope everyone that visits WDW, or anywhere Florida for that matter, self quarantines for 2 weeks once they return home wherever that is.
We’ve touched upon this elsewhere, but not everyone reads every post, so we’ll reiterate:
For as long as we’re going to the parks, we aren’t going anywhere else–not even grocery stores. We are doing everything we can to mitigate risk while at Walt Disney World, but still are cognizant of the inherent dangers. As long as we’re at the parks, we’re only around others who have “opted in” to visiting WDW. We’ll wait at least 14 days from our last theme park visit before going anywhere else.
I love Epcot and the Food and Wine Festival but I don’t know why Disney cannot put out more tables to eat at and have umbrellas. It is so hot and difficult to eat standing at a table
with no umbrella. Every year I am disappointed at the lack of shade at all the parks.
This is Florida and by now they should get it.
I look forward to the Festival in Sept. Thanks for the good article.
Yes!!! This would be a very small investment for Disney, but would greatly increase the visitor experience. My local park makes its own shade with large canvas canopies and umbrellas placed over the playground equipment, benches/tables, sand play areas, etc. Some are intertwined with trees…it’s actually quite lovely.
I agree. They definitely need more shade here and and at Animal Kingdom. I got heat stroke the last time I was at Animal Kingdom. It’s never happened to be and was terrifying. We couldn’t find any shade anywhere. Florida is hot, and walking around on the hot pavement with no shade makes it even hotter. Not all of us are used to such temps.
Not a great deal has made me smile of late, especially with 355 days till our next visit.
However, Duckbutt did the trick. Thanks Tom x
Haha, glad you enjoyed that little detail!
Agree! It was the BEST!