"I don’t like formal gardens. I like wild nature. Just the wilderness instinct in me, I guess.” Walt Disney, quoted in Jim Korkis, Walt's Words: Quotations of Walt Disney with Sources, Theme Park Press.
I had a chance to visit Epcot on Thursday recently, and while this post won’t qualify as a trip report I did want to share some strategies for making the most of a half-day visit to the park. The Flower and Garden Festival is in full bloom (couldn't resist the worn-out pun): the topiaries are impressive and the displays compelling, but main thing to remember about Flower and Garden is that it's time to avoid Epcot on the weekends for a while! The Festival ends May 29th. We broke two cardinal rules of Disney trip planning by visiting with no FastPasses on a morning with Extra Magic Hours (early entrance for guests staying on Disney property), even though we were staying off-property. It turned out fine, nonetheless.
We did, however, follow another cardinal rule by showing up at the entrance around 8:00 a.m.—one hour before the park opened to all guests. As usual, the crowd waiting to enter was large but quickly spread out once the “tapstiles” opened around 8:45. Everyone was headed toward one of three attractions: Frozen, Soarin’, or Test Track. We decided on Soarin’ and joined the herd bound for The Land Pavilion. The posted wait time was 15 minutes, but in reality there was no wait at all. After we “landed,” the wait time had gone up only to 20 minutes so we rode it again. The third theater, which opened in late May of last year, has undoubtedly made a big difference in the wait times for this popular ride. During both trips through the standby queue, I noticed a guy standing off to the side playing the Soarin’ Challenge (a game designed to occupy guests while waiting in line), even though there was no wait and he was the sole player. I’ll bet he got the high score.
There’s plenty of advice out there on where to sit for the best experience on Soarin', but I’ll add my two cents’ here, anyway. Avoid the "Leaning Tower of Eiffel" effect by shooting for Section B, Row 1. Some say Row 2 is better because it’s closer to center both vertically and horizontally, but I don't like looking at dangling feet during the flight. Otherwise the Eiffel Tower is noticeably (even laughably) curved to one side--depending on whether you're seated in section A or C. Ideally you'll be in the middle of Row 1, directly in front of the middle "For Your Safety" lighted sign. Monument Valley and the Taj Mahal suffer similar distortion in Sections A and C, but it's not as stark. Easywdw.com has some great photos of the effect here. You might have heard or read warnings about motion sickness on Soarin’, but the Egyptian Pyramids segment (just after the Great Wall of China and before the Taj Mahal) is the only one where I’ve noticed that this is a problem.
Right after disembarking from our second flight we headed to Norway in World Showcase. Frozen Ever After had a posted wait time of 50 minutes, which was relatively good based on Touring Plans data. When we arrived, the queue had not even gotten long enough for guests to be standing outside and the actual wait ended up being only about 20 minutes. This is one of a small number of attractions that you’re better off not experiencing in Row 1, since the way the ride vehicle boats are constructed in a way that blocks much of your front-facing view. Mouseplanet.com has a good photo that illustrates here. This is especially true in the Elsa’s ice palace segment, since most of the scene is directly in front of the boat. I never noticed this being an issue when the ride was still Maelstrom, but that may have been because most of your attention was drawn toward the ceiling in what is now the Elsa scene. (This was where the trolls cried, “Disappear! Disappear!” and sent your boat backward over the falls.)
By the time we arrived back in World Showcase from Arendelle, the line for Frozen had grown exponentially, so it was time to head back to The Land Pavilion for a late breakfast. I know I broke another trip planning best practice here by backtracking, but there’s a good reason: the Adult Breakfast Platter at Sunshine Seasons. If you are visiting Epcot prior to 11:00 a.m., I highly recommend it: one quick-service credit on the Dining Plan or $9.99 for scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, seasoned potatoes, and French toast bread pudding. The kids’ version ($5.99) is the same except for portion size and no sausage. It is similar to the breakfast platter available elsewhere (Capt. Cook's at the Polynesian, for example), with one important difference: the Sunshine Seasons version comes with French toast bread pudding instead of regular French Toast and a biscuit (or, in some cases, a Mickey waffle). With all due respect to the classic Mickey waffle, the bread pudding is worth the trip. We always try to time it so we are in line for the breakfast platter as close to 11:00 a.m. as possible. You usually get even larger portions since the restaurant is about to switch over to lunch (double bread pudding, please!), and it’s late enough in the day to keep you full until dinner so you can enjoy more attractions while everyone else is standing in line to get lunch around noon.
We didn’t include it on this visit, but after breakfast at Sunshine Seasons, a single-rider spin on Test Track is a great way to end your morning at Epcot. Sometimes on weekdays before lunch the wait time is short enough (20 minutes or so) that you don’t even need to take advantage of the single-rider option. What’s your idea of a perfect day—or ½ day—at Epcot? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!