We’re back at the Walt Disney World theme park we visit most frequently, with another EPCOT crowd and construction update. In this photo report, we cover wait times, project progress, new food, and strategy for extending your day post-sunset in World Showcase.
It’s been over two weeks since our last EPCOT update, but it feels like an eternity to us (and possibly much less time for those of you who don’t care about this park). This delay fulfills our virtual handshake agreement with readers to avoid ‘all EPCOT, all the time’ and there’s actually a lot to cover since we last visited.
This report actually encompasses two days–last Thursday and Friday. We could claim that this was research on our part, wanting to observe in-park crowd patterns because wait times clearly are not telling the full story with EPCOT. That would be false. The crowd component of this report is more a happy accident, incidentally discovered while visiting for our true motivation: food.
EPCOT had two new food “releases” this past week. Between those items being in our favorite culinary categories and the relative ease of scoring last-minute Disney Park Pass reservations at EPCOT, it only made sense to venture to the park.
Here’s a look at the first new release…
First, L’Artisan des Glaces in the France pavilion released its Pumpkin Spice ice cream.
You can read our updated L’Artisan des Glaces Ice Cream Review for thoughts on each. Suffice to say, this is our favorite ice cream shop at Walt Disney World and we’re suckers for all things pumpkin…
The following day, the Flavors from Fire booth finally opened at the 2020 Taste of EPCOT Food & Wine Festival.
Similar deal here–full rundown and photos of all items on our updated Flavors from Fire Booth Review & Menupage. There’s a reason this booth has been our #1 pick the last four years running.
Flavors from Fire is located on the quiet pathway between Test Track and the main artery of EPCOT that leads between Future World and World Showcase.
That photo also provides a nice segue into our next topic: crowds.
Both days featured low wait times, with the above screenshot being pretty consistent with what we observed. The only anomaly is Test Track, which was often higher.
Other than that, pretty representative of posted wait times throughout the day both Thursday and Friday.
If you don’t take our (anecdotal observation) word for it, here are the stats via Thrill-Data.com. (If you want an attraction by attraction breakdown of Thursday v. Saturday crowds, enemy of the site easyWDW.com offers a good look at that.)
The purple and green lines are Thursday and Friday; the red line is Saturday and the blue line is Sunday. However, the lower two clumped-together lines do not tell the full story when it comes to crowds…
On both days, Future World was mostly quiet.
About what you’d expect with posted wait times in the 10-15 minute range.
Even Test Track, which is unquestionably the busiest attraction in Future World these days, didn’t really have heavy crowds around it.
This is all fairly normal for weekdays during ‘festival season’ at EPCOT.
We did a few Future World attractions on Friday, and our actual waits were far less than the posted wait times.
For example, the posted wait time for Soarin’ Around the World was 15 minutes, but the actual wait was however long it took to walk through the empty queue.
Living with the Land had a 10 minute posted wait, but our actual wait was the boat dispatch time. (Which has been slowed down due to the lower crowds.)
Everything aside from Test Track was a walk-on (or close to it), regardless of posted wait times. It was a pleasant experience.
On Thursday, World Showcase was a similar story.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos earlier in the afternoon, as the visit’s primary purpose was to eat ice cream and then walk a few laps of World Showcase.
In my defense, there was no compelling reason to take photos earlier in the afternoon.
Crowds were modest, physical distancing and mask compliance were fine–it was basically just a normal, totally unremarkable weekday.
Friday was a different story entirely. Walkways were much more crowded, more on par with what we’ve experienced on recent weekends.
If we had to give a ballpark estimate, we’d peg the ‘feels like’ crowd level on Friday afternoon as about double that of Thursday afternoon. What’s notable here is that wait times for World Showcase attractions (basically, Frozen Ever After) were about the same between the two days.
The key difference was the lines at Taste of EPCOT Food & Wine Festival booths.
Just about every global marketplace had multiple guests in line at all times we walked past, which was definitely not the case on Thursday. There were also more people at the tables throughout World Showcase, and more guests appeared to be eating and drinking.
We don’t want to extrapolate too much from this since it could be a blip or one-off.
However, our preliminary working theory is that locals and/or Annual Passholders are likely to visit EPCOT on Friday, taking the afternoon off work, leaving early, or simply coming for the last couple hours to eat.
This would reconcile the higher ‘feels like’ crowd levels with the fairly flat wait times. Annual Passholders who visit EPCOT regularly are more likely to prioritize eating and drinking, and less likely to do attractions.
This is a dynamic that can be observed every normal year during EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival. Higher congestion can be observed and felt in World Showcase, but wait times reflect what should be low crowd levels.
Accordingly, our recommendation shifts from ‘avoid EPCOT on Saturday and Sunday’ to ‘avoid Fridays through Sundays at EPCOT.’
Friday is unlikely to be nearly as bad in terms of wait times, so choose that if you only have an option between one of those three days–but you’re better off going Monday through Thursday.
Regardless of which day you choose, we’d strongly recommend lingering in EPCOT and enjoying sunset. You can easily stay the ~30 minutes after closing to see and experience it. (We hung around until around 8 pm both nights, and were not even close to being the last guests out.)
With global marketplaces open right up until park closing, consider grabbing some snacks right before closing, and extend your day with those.
Another option is grabbing an Advance Dining Reservation shortly before official park closing time (don’t choose Coral Reef since it’s at the front of the park).
We’ve noticed less availability in My Disney Experience for this, so if you’re unable to score something for 6:30 pm or later, try walking up to the restaurant. We’re big fans of doing Spice Road Table right now, which offers both outdoor seating and beautiful sunset views. Enjoy a nice meal and slow stroll out of EPCOT at dusk.
Totally switching gears now to wrap up the post, we have some construction progress on the EPCOT Central Spine project.
Previously, we’ve speculated that Walt Disney World hit pause on this so Imagineering could go back to the drawing board and figure out how this would be reworked, likely without the multi-story festival center.
It’s still unclear what the ultimate outcome will be with that, but we noticed work across the core of the park at what was previously Electric Umbrella.
Walt Disney World never officially announced what would become of this. Our expectation was–and still is–that it will be remodeled and reopen as a new counter service restaurant concept. Electric Umbrella did a lot of business thanks to its high traffic location, and it makes sense to reopen something here with a crowd-pleasing menu.
Panning to the right a bit, here’s a look at work on MouseGear, which has been totally gutted. From the other side (near Flavors from Fire) you can literally see through the building from the ground.
A lot of work remains to be done before the new restaurant and retail locations can reopen here. Not only to the interior of the locations, but to the core of Future World that provides access to these areas. That’ll maybe/hopefully happen by sometime in late 2021. That wraps up our look at EPCOT.
Ultimately, we think the crowd trends at EPCOT are pretty interesting. With more last-minute Disney Park Pass availability and fewer Cast Member blockouts, it makes sense that EPCOT trends are skewing towards what they’d be during a normal festival season. Back in July or August, it would’ve been irrational for a local to use a theme park reservation on only a few hours at EPCOT, as availability was in short supply. Disney Park Pass picks needed to be carefully rationed and their use maximized.
Now, that’s no longer the case. Unlike the end result of more Disney Park Pass availability on weekends, resulting in both higher crowd levels and wait times, there’s much better balance here. In our latest Walt Disney World park hours update, we called this ‘win-win-win.’ Locals win because they can enter EPCOT to eat. Tourists win because attraction wait times (at least on weekdays) are still relatively low. Disney wins because park profitability increases—that also ends up being a win for guests, as it reverses the cost-cutting spiral we all derided when fall hours were reduced. To that end, we’d love to see Walt Disney World do more to encourage locals to visit on weeknights, which in turn would help normalize crowds on the weekends.
What are your thoughts on EPCOT’s crowd patterns, construction progress, wait times, etc? Glad to see more fun food to try at EPCOT? Are you excited for all of the coming additions to EPCOT? Do you agree or disagree with any of our thoughts? 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!