If you want to do an afternoon or evening at EPCOT, this half-day itinerary offers a plan of attack for touring the park efficiently. EPCOT is arguably the least family-friendly park at Walt Disney World, so you may not need more than a few hours to do everything of interest if you have small children.
With that said, a full day at EPCOT is highly recommended for first-timers. Before opting for only a half-day, you should really read our 1-Day EPCOT Itinerary and see how much of that appeals to you. Although World Showcase has an (inaccurate) reputation of being “boring” and EPCOT might appear on paper to be light on worthwhile rides for kids, there’s much more to it than meets the eye.
We spend more time at EPCOT than any other theme park at Walt Disney World, and would even recommend that some adults do 1.5 or even 2 days at EPCOT. Now that Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure are both open, there’s a lot more of substance to do in the park. These join popular rides like Frozen Ever After, Test Track, and Soarin’ Around the World (among others) as must-dos at EPCOT. Experiencing all of those and seeing the fireworks is almost impossible in a single afternoon and evening…
Let’s start with what makes EPCOT half-day plan so this difficult. First, there’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. As of the time of this itinerary’s publication, this new EPCOT E-Ticket still uses a virtual queue. That could change in the coming weeks, but Walt Disney World has already confirmed it’s sticking around after TRON Lightcycle Run opens. Read our FAQ & Ride Guide to Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind for everything you need to know.
The thing is, Cosmic Rewind is going to be difficult regardless of whether it uses a virtual queue or standby line. We’ve managed to join the virtual queue when entering the park after 2 pm on at least a half-dozen occasions in the last 6 months, and the result is almost always the same: being called back towards the end of the evening. Alternatively, you might be able to buy Individual Lightning Lane access if the virtual queue fills up–or you may not be able to do Cosmic Rewind, period.
With Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind out of the way, there a couple of ways to approach a half-day in the park. The more conservative option is “stacking” Genie+ Lightning Lanes for the afternoon and evening at EPCOT, rope dropping another park, and doing as many attractions as possible with minimal via standby before Park Hopping to EPCOT once crowds catch up to you.
This is our recommended approach. Going this route, it is possible that you can score Lightning Lanes for 3 of 4 headliners at EPCOT: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Test Track, and Soarin’ Around the World. You almost certainly will not get all 4, and it’s going to be tough to get both of the first two on that list. On really busy days, you might only get 1 of the first 3. See our EPCOT Genie+ Priorities & Lightning Lane Ride Rankings for the ideal order of picks to maximize your selections and time saved.
The alternative is booking Genie+ as normal for your first park (or not at all), showing up at EPCOT with zero Lightning Lane ride reservations in hand, and being okay with skipping popular attractions and/or the fireworks. This is not our recommendation, as there’s a decent chance that you’ll be faced with three standby lines with hour-plus posted wait times if you don’t purchase the Genie+ service.
Unlike the other parks, wait times for the headliner attractions never sharply drop and crowds don’t die down at EPCOT. This is largely because EPCOT is the after-work park for Floridians, and a popular Park Hopper destination for tourists. People love dining at EPCOT, wandering World Showcase, and ending their evenings with the fireworks…hence this itinerary!
Suffice to say, EPCOT attendance increases throughout the day because more people arrive than leave, and wait times remain fairly steady for a lot of attractions. From a strategic perspective, the best time to do EPCOT is before noon, not in the afternoon or at night. The idea behind this itinerary is not drawing attention to a good time of day from a strategic perspective, but rather, to offer advice for common approach to doing EPCOT that is popular…but for good reason!
We just want to alert you to this practical reality so you don’t go into this half-day plan with the mistaken assumption. Unlike our plans for afternoons in Animal Kingdom and evenings in DHS, this itinerary does not exist because Park Hopping to EPCOT is a good idea from a low crowds perspective. Spending the afternoon and evening at EPCOT is a good idea–not since it’s savvy strategy, but because it’s an enjoyable time to experience the park.
To that point, this is how we most commonly do EPCOT despite the crowds. Not the specific plan here, but the idea behind it. While we’ve field tested the efficient approach here, our normal afternoon at EPCOT is arriving about 90 minutes before sunset, doing Spaceship Earth and the Land pavilion, grabbing food from festival booths, making a leisurely lap or two of World Showcase (with more stops for snacks), watching the fireworks, making 1.5 more laps of World Showcase, and heading out. We are what you might call “EPCOT Mall Walkers.” It’s eating and exercise while enjoying a theme park…how can you go wrong?!
Of course, we’re not going to advise tourists with limited vacation time to mall walk around EPCOT (unless you want to–it’s surprisingly fun!). Rather, this afternoon and evening at EPCOT half-day touring plan is optimized to minimize wait times to the greatest extent possible, giving you a rough blueprint for the best order of doing things, and the most possible flexibility. Anyway, on with the show…
Fly Through Former Future World – Most guests who spend all day in the park do EPCOT from front to back, meaning the wait times for attractions at the front of the park are longest at the beginning of the day and decrease in the afternoon.
This is actually one of the few strategic upsides to an afternoon arrival–you can start at the front of the park and work backwards. We assume many of you will be arriving via the International Gateway in World Showcase after Park Hopping from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even if this is the case, you should walk to the front of the park upon arrival and start there. Our recommended order is as follows:
- Spaceship Earth
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends
- Journey into Imagination with Figment
- Living with the Land
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Mission: Space
- Test Track
Depending upon the time of your arrival, you might need to skip some of the earlier entries on that list. Or not. The first four attractions on that list will be close to walk-ons most days after 3 pm, making them low-stress options for a condensed day at EPCOT that might give you a sense of accomplishment.
Make sure you save Soarin’ Around the World and Test Track for later in the afternoon–ideally after 4 pm. Those are the two attractions that will have the longest lines earlier in the day. Without question, the longest wait time you’re going to experience will be at Test Track, which doesn’t really start dropping until after 5 pm. Even then, you can expect to wait 45 minutes or more unless you do it via Single Rider.
Fast Food – It’s ‘Festival Season’ at EPCOT most of the year, and the food booths located at the front of the park are often some of the best options. This is especially true during Flower & Garden, where Farmers Feast and BRUNCHCOT (near Test Track) and Honey Bee-stro (between Journey into Imagination and the Canada entrance to World Showcase) are 3 of our favorite booths. The Food & Wine options up front are also strong.
Here are the various events along with their approximate annual timeframes:
Grabbing dishes from these food booths is a great way to do an efficient dinner on the go while also enjoying a bit of culinary culture. Feel free to make stops throughout World Showcase for more international flavors.
Navigate to Norway – From the World Discovery side of the former Future World, it’s easy to walk past the Odyssey festival center and make your way to the Mexico side of World Showcase. You can start with Gran Fiesta Tour if time allows (it should have a minimal wait), before navigating to Norway.
Norway is home to Frozen Ever After, which is the popular and relatively low-capacity boat ride based on the popular animated film franchise. Wait times for Frozen Ever After start falling a bit during the dinner rush, so aim to do this at about 6:30 pm if you’re using the standby line. Even then, you might have an hour-long wait time.
Scurry Around the Showcase – From there, make your way to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in the back of the France pavilion. Whether you race to the Rat Ride or take a leisurely pace depends upon how much time you have and whether you want to see the fireworks. We do not recommend rushing through World Showcase, even if that makes skipping Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
Wait times for this new attraction tend to plateau in the afternoon and early evening, not really falling until after 7 pm. The problem is that the posted wait time is still over an hour on average at around 8 pm. This means that, on a busy night, you might miss the start of the fireworks at 9 pm if you wait until 8 pm to do Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure via standby.
In our experience, wait times for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure are inflated, especially towards the end of the evening. We’ve jumped in line with 60-70 minute posted times at 8 pm and been off the ride by 8:45 pm on multiple occasions. This provided sufficient time to head to make it to Japan, our preferred spot for watching the fireworks.
Fall Back for Fireworks – EPCOT is ends each evening with a nighttime spectacular on World Showcase Lagoon. For the next couple weeks, that’s Harmonious. Starting April 3, it’ll be replaced temporarily by EPCOT Forever. Sometime on or after October 1, a permanent new nighttime spectacular–our assumption is something with drones–will debut and likely run through 2024 and for years to come.
Regardless of which is scheduled for your visit, it’s worth seeing. All of these features an assortment of songs choreographed to colorful lights, lasers, fireworks, and more. For planning purposes, consult our Best Epcot Fireworks Viewing Spots posts for a list of the best spots and other tips for viewing the show. (Tentatively, we recommend watching any of these from the Japan pavilion. A front row spot is not necessary; see the photo above.)
Fireworks Post Show: World Showcase Stroll – This is the optimal itinerary for an efficient evening at EPCOT, but I’ve gotta be honest with you: it’s not my preferred approach to the park. EPCOT should be sipped like a fine wine, enjoyed for the ambiance and beauty of World Showcase. It should not be chugged like a cheap beer, running from ride to ride to “complete” them checklist style.
One option is using Genie+ to cut down waits at the headliners and free up time; another is eliminating one or two of them entirely; a final option is doing the sipping and savoring after the park closes, slowing down to smell the roses after it’s no longer possible to do rides. Even if you take other measures to avoid the long waits, we’d still recommend going this route.
Since the restaurants in World Showcase make dining reservations until park closing and it takes some guests over an hour after park closing to finish their meals, you have over an hour to linger and slowly make your way out of EPCOT after the park closes. Take full advantage of this with a leisurely walk around World Showcase and out of the park. For this, we usually double-back to France from Japan, and then retrace those steps as we head back the long way around the lagoon towards Mexico. Trust us, it’s worth it.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. OurWhat to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
What would you include in your perfect evening at EPCOT? Do you think this plan makes sense, or is it an overzealous amount to accomplish in a single afternoon in the various ‘Worlds’ of the front and back of the park? Would you recommend a full day at EPCOT to a first-timer given the current state of the park? Agree or disagree with our half-day EPCOT plan? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Leave a Reply