Epcot: First Impressions

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When we went to Epcot for the first time, I really did not know what to expect. It was part country fair, part futuristic world, part theme park. I thought that it was going to be a “one and done” day. I mean, I really shouldn’t be surprised. It’s Disney. Truly… my family only had the opportunity for one day, and I walked away saying of all the parks, it was definitely my favourite one. It exceeded every expectation and then some. We all went in not expecting to love it as much as we did. It really was better than we could have imagined.

Epcot is laid out differently than any of the other Disney parks. There are two main sections: World Showcase (which features countries from around the globe), and Future World (which is split into East and West sections, and highlights The Sea, The Land, Space, Imagination, and so much more!). Be prepared for this to be the largest walking day, as the park is large, and quite spread out. We did about 30,000 steps on our Epcot day. My husband would study the map at each park before we went so he had a really good idea of where everything was. If you are like him, you can see the Epcot map here.

Keep your eye out for play areas for the kids. They are sprinkled throughout the park to help get out some energy. They are usually strategically placed by some of the bigger rides. We found these areas to be perfect while waiting to switch off for rides using the Rider Switch service (read more about that here). It’s a little bit different in Walt Disney World, but if you are familiar with the Disneyland switch pass you will be good to go. When in doubt ask at the ride. Disney Cast Members will explain exactly how it works

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World Showcase

There are eleven different pavilions to visit in the World Showcase. Fun fact: Only Morocco and Norway weren’t originally at the park opening in 1982. This section opens later than the rest of  the park, so check the hours before you head out. Each pavilion represents a different country. They are even sponsored by their country and feature food and products native to that country. The workers are primarily native to their pavilion’s country. They surround a large man-made lake called World Showcase Lagoon which has a perimeter of 1.9 km (that’s just over 1 mile if you aren’t on the metric system).

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Keep an eye out for “Kidcot Fun Stops” at each of the pavilions. When we went, kids could collect stamps and do a craft at each of the pavilions. This was such a fantastic thing for the kids. At each “country” there were artists to give the kids a stamp in their passports. You could purchase an official Epcot passport for your kids to bring home as a souvenir. At the time they had Duffy the Disney Bear fans that they gave us. The kids coloured the front side and then the artists drew on the backs. My daughter still has hers proudly displayed in her room. In the China area, they even write your child’s name in traditional Chinese characters. It has since been changed from a fan to a sponsored baggie from Ziploc. They can collect cards from each country to colour, as well as the stamps still. You can learn all about it, with photos, here.

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The following pavilions are in the order you will find them going from left to right. The magic of Disney is strong here. You feel transported to each country and immersed in the sights, smells and sounds. Many of the pavilions have both sit down restaurants and quick service counters so you can sample the cuisine of that country. We had so much fun learning about each country. To know the love and care that each section was created with; really it was spectacular.


Mexico

You can’t miss the Mexican pavilion, with the Mayan pyramid proudly standing to welcome you to Mexico. When you enter the pyramid there are artifacts to read about and see. Once you pop into the pyramid, a typical Mexican market greets you. I’ve been able to visit markets near the Sea of Cortez on the west coast of Mexico, as well as the markets in Cuernavaca and Tulum. They nailed it here! My husband purchased a jalapeno lime margarita that was really fun. We also loved that the whole market felt like a night market with the lighting they had inside, which gave it such a fun atmosphere.

There is a ride inside the pyramid, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros, that was very similar to “it’s a small world,” style-wise. It was really fun to go on once, but was not something I’d wait more than ten minutes for. I would wait longer than that. It was super cute. Not something I’d FastPass, but I would’ve been sad to have missed it. Because it’s tucked away in the back, I don’t know that the line gets too long. And because the ride can accommodate so many people at once, it moves really quickly. 

Norway

When we were there in 2016, the Norway pavilion was under construction for the building of the new Frozen-themed ride, Frozen Ever After… so most of the buildings were covered. What we did get to experience were the pastries. We tried the school bread, and it was absolutely amazing! Think a sweet roll filled with custard dipped in coconut. You can check out the menu here for Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe. I feel like I can’t impress enough the authenticity of the dishes served. As someone who hasn’t traveled out of North America, this was an unforgettable experience. My family got to experience this in 2017 and we absolutely LOVED it. The Anna and Elsa meet and greets are here as well. You can also check out the Stave Church Gallery to see real Vikings artifacts and learn about the gods of the Vikings.

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China

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Be prepared for beautiful gardens and acrobatic entertainment. The shopping in this area is really fun. In Richmond (a city that is known for its large Asian population near Vancouver, BC) there is a night market with vendors. The shops felt like this. We bought some candy to try which was really fun. Check out the “Inside Shanghai Disney Resort” exhibit for a peek at Disney’s newest theme park. You can also meet Mulan here. The Chinese acrobat shows are at various times, so keep your eye out for their schedule. My husband absolutely LOVED this aspect, and we stuck around for several shows as they had a few different ones.

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Germany

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This area really reminded me of Fantasyland. You can meet Snow White here. There wasn’t as much to wander through compared to other pavilions, but obviously, it’s worth stopping in. In the shops you can buy a handmade cuckoo clock from Germany. They’re pricey, but the craftsmanship is unbelievable if you are looking for something special. There is also a beer glass shop, if you’re into that sort of thing, as well as a Werther’s shop. The caramel apples from the Werther’s shop are so so good. They will even cut it for you if you ask. Different carts offer pretzels, and the Bratwurst sausage with sauerkraut in the restaurant located here was divine. We had a pretzel here, and it was the only thing I bought that day I was disappointed with. It was dry and not good at all. Hoping that was maybe just our experience that day and not always the case, but still, I would skip it next time. 

Italy

The details here are staggering. We enjoyed sitting in this area and taking in the sights. There is a perfume shop to wander through, and fountains to sit by. We tried the lasagna at the quick service stand which was no less than amazing. This section also offers a fancier sit-down restaurant. We had the pleasure of eating here and enjoying various dishes, with our favourite being the cannoli. We also had a great chat with the waitress about where she was from and how the work program functions for those from the different countries. Each of their name tags has the city they came from. She was from a small village with a big name that I cannot remember! 

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The American Adventure

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The America Gardens Theatre is set in front of the lake here, which gives you a gorgeous view of the lagoon. While we were there, several dance troupes and choirs performed on the stage. You can also catch Epcot’s Friendship Boats here, which transport you across the lagoon. We had a good chuckle checking out the moonshine selection inside the store at this pavilion. There is a historical presentation to attend, entitled The American Adventure, if you’re into that (which had a fun choir while you wait). A recent addition here is the American Heritage Gallery, which currently features a celebration of American Indian art. While I appreciate the nod to American history, this land was a little bit boring to be honest. The kids especially didn’t care to spend much time in this area. 

Japan

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This pavilion is a little smaller than the rest. Like the others, it was very visually appealing with well manicured topiaries and fountains. Don’t forget to check out the Bijutsu-kan Gallery, which showcases the origins and evolution of Japan’s “cute” culture. I always enjoy looking at each countries shops. There are always unique and interesting things to find. It’s fun to buy one small thing from each pavilion. My daughter picked out a beautiful fan here. 

Morocco

This was one of my very favourite pavilions! When it was being built, the King of Morocco himself sponsored the building of it. Supplies were sent from Morocco, and supposedly he even sent his favourite architect to work on it. It was enchanting to walk through the market and go through the buildings. The tile work is absolutely incredible. Aladdin and Jasmine can be found in this area. There is a gallery of arts and history to check out. A lot of our group chose to eat at the quick service restaurant here, and they all said it was tasty and had big portions. Yup! Tangierine Cafe had really delicious food, great portions and at a decent price point. My husband and I shared moroccon kefta platter because we had been buying some smaller plates in the other pavilions. I also tried a coffee here that had orange blossom and spices. It was… interesting, but not something I would have again. 

France

Save your coffee and pastry for France. There was a gorgeous courtyard to sit in, where you can drink your Parisian coffee. The stores were lavish and centered on the cafe scene. Throughout the day you can check out “Impressions de France,” which is a 20 minute film highlighting the grandeur and charm of the French countryside. You will also find Belle in this area! The other thing we liked about the France pavilion is our older two girls are in French Immersion, and while they won’t use it much at home, the Cast Member at the Kidcot Fun Stop started to talk to them in French and we LOVED that they could practice it!

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United Kingdom

If you’re a fan of British music, a tribute band plays a range of music native to the UK. Alice tells stories and is available for a photo op. Beer tasting and fish and chips abound here. This was such a fun area to explore. Exported treats and teas, football (soccer for us North Americans) jerseys and so many other fun things. 

Canada

20170506_134525As Canadians, this area was underwhelming. It did not “feel” like home to us; however, Canada is a vast country with many landscapes, so coming from the West Coast, it is not a surprise that it didn’t depict “our” Canada. This area also features a 14 minute 360-degree video experience called “O Canada!”. We almost stayed for it, then thought to ourselves… do we really need to watch a video about our own country? The showtime didn’t really coincide with when we were there, and the kids were getting antsy, so we chose to pass. It really is a beautiful country, so if you’ve never been, watch it for us. There are several entertainers at this pavilion, including previous Cirque du Soleil performers. That being said, we had a Cronut from Canada (which I’ve never actually HAD in Canada… I thought it was from New York, but who knows) with ice cream and it was SO good! Like our mom said, it was the best thing she had all day. Fun random fact: It was hotter that day back home in Vancouver, BC than it was in Florida.

Future World West

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In this section of Epcot you will find The Seas with Nemo & Friends. This attraction is a ride, coupled with a large aquarium. Have your camera ready to snap some shots of their little faces as they gaze into the giant tanks. You can expect to spend at least an hour going on the ride and checking out the various fish in the aquarium. My personal favourite were the manatees! I’m actually a little sad we spent so much time here, as we had only one day and we missed out on a few other bigger things. Keep that in mind if you hit this attraction early in the day. Turtle Talk with Crush is also in this section… this has never been our cup of tea but some people are all about it (I’ve heard it’s hysterical to get a kid to ask Crush the names of his kids).

You will also find attractions here such as Soarin’ Around the World (this was closed when we went in 2016, but we have the same attraction in Disneyland) and Living with the Land. Epcot was conceived by Walt Disney as a self-sufficient city. The agriculture shown on this ride (Living with the Land) is fascinating. It can be a little dull for the littles, so bring a snack to keep them from getting too fidgety. This ride totally exceeded my expectations. We were also pleasantly surprised to learn that there is an adorable holiday overlay for this ride (which is a fancy Disney way of saying that they add Christmas elements).

Make sure to check out Club Cool hosted by Coca-Cola. This is a perfect stop in the afternoon when it’s hot outside. You can sample a bunch of different soda flavours from all over the world. In Disney Springs they have the same experience only you have to pay… in Epcot, it’s free! Kids and adults alike enjoyed this stop!

At the Club you can try:
– Fanta Kolita (Costa Rica)
– Krest Ginger Ale (Mozambique)
– Mezzo Mix (Germany)
– Smart Watermelon (China)
– Lift Apple (Mexico)
– Vegeta Beta (Japan)
– Kinley Lemon (Israel)
– Beverly (Italy)

In my opinion, this is an absolute MUST do!!

You will also find Journey Into Imagination with Figment in Future World West. It’s a cute ride that’s worth going on once. When you get off the ride you can explore The What-If Labs and interactive play areas for kids. There are also fun photo booths in this area which you get to keep if you have a PhotoPass. And the current Epcot park map is showing that you can see a Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival in 4D… this is a fun thing to check out!

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Lastly, there are some great Character Spots here.  You can meet Baymax (a serious highlight for our girls… when Lexie impromptu went in for a fist bump my heart almost exploded). You can also meet Joy and Sadness from Inside Out, as well as Mickey, Minnie and Goofy.

Future World East

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be an astronaut, make sure you try Mission: SPACE. There are two different experiences. One simulates the G-Force of leaving Earth (Orange Mission) but can make people feel nauseous. I’m pretty bulletproof when it comes to rides, so my husband and I tried this route. It was really fun, but not something I’d go on over and over again. If you do get sick on rides, stick to the safer Green Mission. Our group of three found the Orange Mission to be a bit much, and we don’t normally get motion sick; so if you’re going to be brave, make sure you’re not eating too close to when you are riding. This ride has a height restriction so I ended up staying with the littles and didn’t get on it. This is one of the areas where there wasn’t much for little kids to do, so we ended up having to literally just wait outside. 

For the other fellow thrill-seekers, Test Track is where you will get your fix. The ride itself is similar in concept to Radiator Springs Racers in DCA. In the lineup, you design a car. You go through different scenarios testing your vehicle. And then the ride takes off as you accelerate to top speed on the outdoor track. At the end, you get to see how well your car performed based on varying factors such as aerodynamics, control in the elements, and so on. Note: if there is a storm in the area, this is one of the rides that will shut down without notice. We got to go on it earlier in the day, which was awesome, but then we were in line later in the evening and they made the announcement about shutting down due to weather. We found Orlando to be super fickle weather wise… Epcot was our hottest day and yet there was still the threat of an impending storm. This can happen daily, so heads up. I very recently had a friend that went to Walt Disney World and I mentioned this to her. We suggest buying ponchos from the dollar store or Walmart before you leave. My friend got busy, you know how it can be before a trip, and thought, “Nah, I don’t need the ponchos”. They ended up having to leave the park early because a storm came in and drenched them. Trust us when we say this is a MUST. 

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The rest of the things to do in Future World East are a bit spread out and sporadic. There is Spaceship Earth, which is the giant ball at the front entrance you can’t miss (make sure to take advantage of getting a photo here at night when it’s all lit up, it’s unbelievable). Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future is here, which consists of challenge games and interactive displays. We’ve been told this is an awesome attraction to do when you need to beat the heat. Innoventions is here, which is fun if you love science, and is broken into two parts: COLORTOPIA (experience the world of color with interactive zones) and a new section called The SpectacuLAB, which is a “fascinating show” according to the Walt Disney World website! Lastly, you can do “Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure”. We skipped that as our kids weren’t so into it. And coming soon to Future World East will be a brand new, indoor Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster… we can’t wait!

Festivals 

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Epcot has four festivals per year. We happened to be there for the International Flower & Garden Festival. It was really cool to see the different topiaries and flower displays, especially since we left Vancouver in the rainy season and felt like we’d been living in constant cloud since October. They also had a Butterfly Exhibit you could walk through during this festival which was super pretty, and also a quick thing to do. Here’s a quick rundown of the festivals you can experience at Epcot throughout the year:

  • International Festival of the Arts: January – February. This festival debuted in 2017 and celebrates all things art; whether that be visual, culinary or performing. What an incredible cultural experience it would be to go at this time!
  • International Flower & Garden Festival: March – May. The food carts are fantastic to sample from, and the topiaries are truly spectacular.
  • International Food & Wine Festival: September – November. I mean, pretty self-explanatory, right? I can’t bear to look at the menus and see what I’m missing! I’d love to go one day during this time.
  • International Festival of the Holidays: November – December. DCA just started doing this these last couple years as well. Visit Santa as he’s known in the various countries. Check out how each country celebrates at this time of year.

Food

If you are a foodie, reserve a large budget for Epcot. While we were there in April, there were carts at each pavilion that served small food portions for $7 or less. This allows for you to taste cuisines from all of the countries.

Some stand out meals that we had were in Morocco, The American Adventure, France, Canada and China. Morocco was hands down my favorite meal of the trip. The hummus was amazing; the flavours were familiar and yet exotic. The meals were large and able to be split. The American Adventure had a BBQ cart with incredible southern food. My family had the smoked brisket hash from here and it was delicious! France had the most amazing pastries and coffee. I had the macarons, which lasted me several days. We had also heard about a Mickey-shaped Raspberry Macaron in France and we split it as a family of 5 and it was a lovely little treat. The cronut from Canada was a definite highlight for the whole group. We had it with soft serve ice cream. Need I say more? In Germany we had a caramel apple from Werther’s and the bratwurst from Germany. The bratwurst comes with paprika chips and they were so good I would order this again. China had a small plate of pot stickers, and they were super yummy. The sauce is incredible. Just before entering the World Showcase there was a Caribbean food cart, I’m not sure if it’s still there but we got a hot dog with a pineapple chutney that was probably my favourite bite in the whole park. SO good. Agreed. It was the best bite of the day for me by a long shot. It was a spicy sausage with the pineapple chutney and bits of taro chips. The fish and chip in England are legendary if that’s your cup of tea. 

One quick note is that outside of World Showcase the food is slim pickings in Epcot.  Because we were at World Showcase for lunch, by dinner, we were nowhere near there, and had already done a TON of walking. We went into the quick service restaurant Electric Umbrella (in Future World East) and had very basic, completely forgettable food… and while I can’t remember what I ate that day, I DO remember waiting in a nearly 40 min line up for the food… what a waste of time! So if I was to do it again, I would try to better plan how we did the park so we were near, at least the beginning of, World Showcase at lunch AND dinner.

 


One thing I love to hate about Disney is that I never seem to get enough. Some new additions that I’m looking forward to are: the new Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, a Ratatouille ride, and a Beauty and the Beast sing-along show. Guess we’ll just have to go back!

For our thoughts on the other 3 parks, check out Magic Kingdom: First ImpressionsDisney’s Animal Kingdom: First Impressions and Disney’s Hollywood Studios: First Impressions.

Have a magical day!
Elisia, Heidi, Danielle and Erica

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