Another day, another Summer 2021 park report from Walt Disney World. This time, we head to Epcot for a Highway in the Sky aerial view of construction in Future World, fresh look at crowds, other changes, plus wait times, problem points, and congestion during the heart of summer tourist season on July 23, 2021.
In case you missed it, a good place to start is our Magic Kingdom Crowd Report: Busiest Week of the Year. As discussed in that post, attendance and wait times spiked there due to several Disney Park Pass reservation refills. The capacity increase kept Magic Kingdom mostly green on the reservation calendars, meaning that actual pent-up demand was playing out in that park.
It’s a somewhat similar story at Epcot, albeit with very different results. Magic Kingdom is currently amidst its objectively busiest week of the year and experiencing its statistically highest wait times. By contrast, things at Epcot are decidedly average. In fact, wait times are actually lower now than last month. That may not seem to make sense, but here’s our theory as to why…
For the better part of the last month-plus, Epcot has been the park with near-constant availability. Whereas Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios were regularly unavailable, Epcot was reliably green. We’ve called it the “consolation prize” park on several occasions, and for good reason–you could usually book Park Passes at Epcot when there were no other options.
Many visitors booking last minute reservations might’ve wanted to visit some other park last month or in May, but ended up getting stuck with Epcot. With attendance caps rising across the board, the other three parks are seeing their overall attendance increase because guests previously being shut out are now allowed to visit Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
At Epcot, the phenomenon is playing out in reverse. The artificial caps that were redistributing attendance to Epcot are largely gone. Demand is settling into more natural patterns, which means fewer people doing Epcot for lack of other alternatives. Additionally, summer is usually the least-busy time of the year at Epcot, so that means somewhat of a slow-down without throttles on attendance at the other parks.
At least, that’s my theory. I think it’s well-supported by the wait time data and no other good way to explain away the discrepancy between Epcot and the other three parks. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the numbers, beginning with average attraction wait times (all graphs courtesy of Thrill-Data.com).
For perspective, the average wait time across all attractions and the entire day at Epcot was 26 minutes, which is actually one minute below average. This made it the 191st busiest day since reopening a little over a year ago.
For context, Magic Kingdom’s average wait was 46 minutes the day we were there this week–and Magic Kingdom has many more attractions, making it harder to finish everything there in a day.
As you can see from the graph above, the wait times at Epcot over the last couple of months are largely holding steady, but dropping slightly. This decreasing trendline can be reconciled with higher tourist numbers at Walt Disney World by the above explanation.
Guests now have expanded last-minute Park Pass options, and those added guests are disproportionately choosing to visit the other three parks in larger numbers. Stated differently, when guests aren’t pushed towards Epcot by lack of Park Pass availability at the other 3 parks, they are choosing to go elsewhere.
You might think that doesn’t track with anecdotal reports of recent “feels like” crowd levels at Epcot. You’d be absolutely correct.
As we’ve pointed out countless times, wait times only paint part of the picture when it comes to Epcot crowds. Even with more Park Pass options, this is still Walt Disney World’s “local’s park.”
Many Annual Passholders treat Epcot as a glorified mall, bar, and/or food court, which is doubly true during festival season. This is why we always strongly recommend avoiding Epcot on Saturdays or Sundays during the fall. Although the wait time data often doesn’t show it, crowds are worse on weekends at Epcot.
This is why quantitative and qualitative info is necessary when it comes to Walt Disney World planning. If you looked only at the numbers, it might be easy to miss this weekday v. weekend discrepancy at Epcot. That’s why we’ve made so many visits to Epcot in the last year, all in the name of “research.” (Sure, let’s go with that excuse.)
With that said, if you asked me to predict “feels like” crowds at Epcot this week after visiting the other parks, I would’ve overshot the mark. My guess would’ve been that the start of the 2021 Epcot Food & Wine Festival plus the high crowd levels literally everywhere else would’ve kept things elevated at Epcot.
That largely was not the case. There were some areas of congestion and long lines at a few Global Marketplaces, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I would’ve expected. However, this was during the week–expect a different scene on the weekends, even during summertime.
During our weekday visits, it seemed like lines for the food booths have gotten progressively shorter since that event kicked off. My best guess here is that this is due to the extreme heat Florida is experiencing.
While tourists are something of a captive audience (causing high crowds at the other three parks), the locals who would flock to Food & Wine are waiting until the weather cools. That’s just a guess, though.
The locations with the longest lines were, unsurprisingly, beer carts and ice cream stands.
Meanwhile, some of the very same Global Marketplaces with ~15 minute lines last week had open registers. I’m as a shocked as you that no real guests want hot bowls of noodles when the feels like temperature is 105º!
Back in Future World, the longest wait of the day continues to be at Test Track.
Our 1-Day Epcot Itinerary (and all of them, really) is in desperate need of an update as it recommends rope dropping Test Track. With the 11 am park opening coupled with the return of ‘regular’ rope drop, this is now bad advice. In actuality, Test Track’s wait time peaks in the first hour of the day, and is shortest in late afternoon.
Unfortunately, there’s no tremendous upside to rope dropping Epcot. But with the park opening so late, what else are you going to do–sleep until noon? This is a big reason why we recommend buying Park Hopper tickets and reserving 2 days at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and 0 days at Epcot.
Starting your morning at DHS and ending at Epcot can extend your day by a couple of hours. This also gives you more chances at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, lower overall wait times, and more fireworks. Read about what to expect and why in our 2021 Guide to Park Hopping at Walt Disney World.
Switching gears, we got our first ride aboard the Epcot monorail in roughly 18 months, giving us fresh glimpses into the massive Future World construction site.
It’s interesting to see, but also a bit anticlimactic. Unless you’re a big fan of dirt piles, tents, and porta potties, I guess.
It’s no secret that all construction was paused at Walt Disney World for several months during the closure. We’ve also mentioned countless times that Imagineering took significant components of the Central Spine redesign back to the drawing board.
Nevertheless, it’s disappointing to see so little taking shape in this gigantic construction zone.
Unlike other projects, this one couldn’t be shelved. Components of it could, like the multi-story festival center that is currently housing what appears to be a break area with picnic tables for construction workers (I certainly hope that’s not the finished concept!), but not the entirety.
Even from the outset of the closure, it was obvious this would need to be completed in some form. So why not quickly make adjustments to scope/scale, leave some question marks for later, and fast-track the components during the closure instead of mothballing the entire thing? For example, Creations Shop and the Electric Umbrella replacement could both be finished by now, with a walkway in front of them cutting through the core of Future World and these mazes of construction walls.
To that point, Creations Shop is wrapping up for its target opening season of this summer. As part of that work, you can see a new construction wall being erected inside the existing construction zone so guests can access the front entrance of the store.
I’m not sure what’s taking so long with this MouseGear remodeling. Of course, those expeditions to Home Depot for rare and exotic flooring are arduous–I get it, I’ve gotten lost in those aisles many times!
There’s no opening date yet for Electric Umbrella’s successor, so the walkway will almost certainly dead-end before the old Innoventions breezeway. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk along this walkway the way from Spaceship Earth to Creations Shop and beyond?
I’m still holding out hope this will be possible by the Christmas season, but I have no clue where that restaurant stands. There has been visible progress since late last year, so crews are actively working on it, which is promising.
Here’s a look at a portion of the future site of Moana’s Journey of Water.
This seems like it has a shot of opening next year. It’s a walk-through water trail–think an interactive play area–rather than a fully-fledged attraction, so work might progress faster now that components of it are starting to go vertical.
Above is a video Sarah shot from the monorail to give you a better idea of how the construction zone looks right now.
When the rest of the Central Spine reopens largely depends upon the ambitiousness of whatever Walt Disney World ends up building. If the replacement for the multi-story festival center is simply some picnic tables under tents, maybe the entire thing will be done in 2022. Personally, I hope this is sufficiently ambitious to the point that it cannot be finished until 2023. While I would’ve preferred the company expedite this project during Walt Disney World’s closure and low crowd portions of last year, what’s done is done. At this point, I’d rather the company give Imagineering a healthy budget and time and do this overhaul the right way–they probably won’t get a second chance on it.
Thoughts on anything covered in this Walt Disney World park report? Happy to see that Epcot isn’t quite as chaotic as Magic Kingdom, DHS, or Animal Kingdom? If you’ve visited Epcot recently, what was your experience with crowds and wait times? Thoughts on construction progress on Epcot’s Central Spine overhaul? Hopeful that some of this will start wrapping up late this year or in 2022? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!