EPCOT Update: Getting Back to New Old Normal

After our longest hiatus since last summer, we’re back for another EPCOT construction and crowds update! This Walt Disney World park report will offer photos & commentary about construction progress on Harmonious, Moana’s Journey of Water, Creations Shop, Club Cool, and more.

This marked our first visit to a park since Walt Disney World rolled back a lot of health safety protocol. As a quick recap, the major changes are the gradual relaxation of physical distancing, dropping of temperature checks, and the new ‘outdoor optional’ policy for face masks.

As you might’ve noticed or read elsewhere, we’ve been away from Walt Disney World while visiting our families in Michigan and Indiana, and heading out to California. We drove back down to Florida a couple days ago, and are now feeling rested, recharged, and ready for the 95 degree summer weather! (Okay, everything except that last one.)

Walking into EPCOT was a bit surreal. While we’ve already experienced changes elsewhere resulting from the new CDC guidance, EPCOT was literally the place outside of home that we’ve been most in the last ~10 months. We don’t keep a running tally (that would be sort of odd and pointless), but I suspect we’ve been to EPCOT more during than span of time than all other places combined.

Basically, we had become so habituated to the “temporary abnormal” at EPCOT that it became…normal.

Given how long and frequently we’d been doing it, passing through the temperature check tent without stopping and walking around World Showcase without face masks would take some reacclimatizing.

Okay, it was odd at first but didn’t really take that long. We fully adapted to the new old normal (hopefully that’s as catchy as “temporary abnormal”) by the France pavilion.

We have a lot of thoughts about the new face mask policy, physical distancing, guest behavior, and how differently things feel in practice.

However, we’ve also only been back for one day at this point, and have park visits scheduled every day this weekend, so I’ll hold off until we visit all four parks. World Showcase is also potentially something of an outlier; it’s almost entirely outdoors, so it could feel a lot more “new old normal” than Magic Kingdom, which involves a lot more time indoors.

Speaking of which, if you happen to see us in the parks, always feel free to say hello.

When people do, it’s often prefaced with “sorry to bother you” or some sort of apology. This leads me to believe people either are intimidated or think we have important things to do. I can assure you neither are true. I spent a good 20 minutes yesterday taking photos of the sides of trash cans. There’s also no need to be shy about it; you cannot possibly be any more socially awkward than me. Perhaps the biggest downside of face masks going away is that it’s no longer as easy to mask this.

Unsurprisingly, no updates on Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, which has been finished for months.

Universal’s bullishness on reopening and debuting new things looks absolutely prescient right about now. I’m still holding out a sliver of hope that after Walt Disney World staffs up and increases park attendance limits, we might have a prolonged soft opening for this.

Work continues in Morocco, as Walt Disney World continues to make updates both big and small to the pavilion after taking over its ownership. Wouldn’t be surprised if this includes some changes, a new menu, and perhaps even a different name for Tangierine Cafe.

Morocco was an “all-star” World Showcase country before, so there’s understandable apprehension about any changes or “cartoonification” of the pavilion. However, everything we’ve seen thus far has been solid. Lots of little plussings and detail tweaks to give newer additions to Morocco greater depth. It’s almost as if Imagineering has been chomping at the bit to have free reign with the pavilion and make some enhancements for years.

Continuing with construction, there are some tents installed for Harmonious testing in the old fireworks FastPass+ viewing area. I’m still under the impression that a modified version of Epcot Forever will return for a limited engagement, hopefully later this summer, before Harmonious debuts.

For more details on this upcoming nighttime spectacular, including an anticipated opening timeframe, see our post covering Everything You Need to Know About Harmonious at EPCOT.

Walt Disney World hasn’t offered any updates on it, but construction can be seen on Moana’s Journey of Water (or whatever is coming to this location now–I assume it’s still Journey of Water).

After the prolonged demolition of Innoventions, it’s nice to see actual forward progress being made. Still hoping we get some new concept art for the EPCOT Future World overhaul soon!

On the other side, we have a look at the replacement for Electric Umbrella (left) and the new Club Cool and Creations Shop (right), the replacement for MouseGear.

It also appears that the former Innoventions breezeway is being enclosed. Club Cool and Creations Shop have a Summer 2021 opening date set (Imagineering just reiterated that again this week), which gives them until September 22 to finish everything up.

Keep in mind that Space 220 Restaurant had an opening timeframe of two winters ago and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind was to open “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary,” so that debut date is probably not set in stone.

Speaking of which, no updates on that upcoming restaurant or the Marvel ride this month. Still expecting the former to open this year and the latter to open next.

As the topiary photos suggest, the 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival is still ongoing–and will be for another full month!

Speaking of which, please check out our 2021 Epcot Flower & Garden Festival Food Reviews, Photos & Booth Menus if you haven’t already. We pigged out so you don’t have to–or so you can also pig out, but only on the good stuff.

We’ve reached the “soft reboot” part of Flower & Garden Festival, with new displays and flowerbeds being planted.

I’m pretty hyped about this. Minus the sea of construction walls, EPCOT has been looking good since the event started, but I’ve been lazy about taking photos. Really hoping to reverse that dry spell over the summer.

Crowd-wise, EPCOT was not bad at all. Certainly not what we expected from a day when every single park at Walt Disney World was fully booked across all three buckets of Park Pass reservations.

My guess is that Disney still hasn’t increased attendance caps much beyond 35% at EPCOT.

Visiting in person also underscores why Walt Disney World called it a gradual relaxation of physical distancing.

Signage, markers, and attraction loading procedures are all over the place. Some spots still reflect the old policies, while others have been updated.

It’s probably going to take some time to update the procedures and protocol across the entirety of Walt Disney World. It’s not like this was all installed and implemented overnight in the first place.

We didn’t see how long it took since most of that occurred while the parks were still closed. It probably doesn’t help now that the parks are short-staffed, so rolling back the policies is taking longer than might’ve been expected.

For anyone visiting now or in the near future, the good news is that it’s obvious Walt Disney World isn’t just “opening the floodgates” on attendance and hoping for the best.

We were worried that there would be some growing pains while attraction capacity caught up to park capacity. It would seem that’s not the case. Rather, the two are increasing in tandem. Of course, this was only one day of observations, but wait time trends over the last couple of weeks corroborate this theory.

Gran Fiesta Tour is one of the few EPCOT attractions (that we did) still fully physically distanced. Boats were being loaded with two parties per boat and two empty rows per party. This is possibly because it’s feasible; it’s a lower demand attraction than Frozen Ever After, for example.

Pretty good to see our fine feathered friends back!

Beyond headliner attractions, the longest waits we saw were for food. The long line on the left is for Choza de Margarita. You can’t see it in the photo, but there was also a long line for La Cantina de San Angel. Inside, La Cava del Tequila also had a long line (that one is normal). Mexico’s Outdoor Kitchen was inexplicably closed.

Central Florida’s labor shortages are well documented, so no need to fixate on that here. However, we do want to point out how that can–and likely will–negatively impact summer trips when it comes to dining. We’ll be paying close attention to that this weekend (and beyond) and will have more updates and advice soon.

Ultimately, a really great day at EPCOT–it is so good to be back! We were bracing ourselves for a busy holiday weekend, but so far, that is not the case (knock on wood). Most attractions had 5-15 minute posted wait times, and even headliners weren’t above 40-60 minutes. Actual waits were shorter still, by and large.

It was so much more pleasant to stroll around World Showcase, take photos, and simply soak up the atmosphere. We look forward to doing a lot more of that this summer, while continuing to document and report on Walt Disney World’s progress in getting back to new old normal. (Channeling my inner Yogi Berra with that one.) I really wanted to stick around for some night photography, but we “had” to do dinner at Cape May Cafe (for the sake of very important research that couldn’t be delayed), so that’ll have to wait!

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

What do you think about what we’ve covered in this EPCOT update? If you’ve visited recently, what was your experience like at EPCOT? Thoughts on the relaxed health safety protocol at the park? Noticed differences and inconsistencies as the gradual changes occur? What about construction progress on Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, Creations Shop, Food Restaurant, Club Cool, Harmonious, Moana’s Journey of Water, etc? 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!

41 Responses to “EPCOT Update: Getting Back to New Old Normal”
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