What to eat, drink, see, and do at Disney World's Epcot theme park.

By Carlye Wisel
February 12, 2019
Courtesy of Disney

Walt Disney World’s futuristic Epcot theme park began less as an entertainment location and more as a utopian society. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), as originally dreamt up by Walt Disney himself, transformed from a community concept into a World’s Fair-inspired park with an emphasis on science, technology, and the arts by the time it opened in 1982. Although Walt’s plans were tweaked a bit to get the park we see today, Epcot remains an iconic Disney World park, known for its geodesic sphere and, of course, the Walt Disney World Monorail.

Epcot is essentially two parks in one. On one side, Future World boasts attractions housed within separate buildings themed to space travel, imagination, and aquatic life. On the other side, Epcot’s World Showcase features 11 “pavilions” themed to countries with respective dining, entertainment, and attractions, set on an idyllic waterfront lagoon. (Grab an Epcot map at the park entrance — it will come in handy later.)

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom

Children of all ages can find something to enjoy at Epcot (remember that children under 3 can enter for free and do not need Epcot tickets), but with its plentiful bars, entertainment, and festivals, adults will find World Showcase especially appealing.

Summertime and the winter holidays are peak seasons at Disney World parks, but Epcot Center also draws crowds for its seasonal festivals. The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival draw crowds in spring and fall, particularly on weekends. Always be sure to double-check your travel dates for on-site events.

For handy tricks to beat the crowds and tips on having the best-ever vacation at Epcot Disney World, check out our definitive guide to this unique theme park.

Getting to Epcot

Standard vehicle parking costs $25 per day at Epcot, while preferred parking costs $45-50, depending on the season. Epcot offers a tram within the parking lot to ease long walks to and from the entrance. The main parking lot, which is split into two halves, is also where buses from Disney hotels, shuttles from hotels outside of Walt Disney World Resort, taxis, and ride-share services like Uber, Lyft, and Minnie Vans pick up and drop off guests.

Gene Duncan/Courtesy of Disney

There is monorail service to and from Epcot. The Walt Disney World Monorail connects Epcot to the Ticket and Transportation Center, where the Magic Kingdom parking lot is located. To reach Magic Kingdom or nearby hotels on the monorail, guests will need to exit and board a separate Disney monorail tram.

Epcot is the only Walt Disney World park with two entrances. Ride-share vehicles, Minnie Vans, Disney buses, non-Disney buses, and the Disney Monorail all drop guests off at the main entrance near Future World, but World Showcase has an International Gateway second entrance. Because of this unique feature, guests at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels can easily walk or take a short boat ride directly to World Showcase. Guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios can also utilize the Disney Skyliner gondola system to arrive via Epcot’s International Gateway entrance, along with those traveling from resorts including Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

Epcot Hours

Guests should take note that Future World and World Showcase — the two sides of Walt Disney World’s Epcot — have different hours. Epcot’s World Showcase opens a few locations earlier in the morning, generally at 9 a.m., and it opens completely at 11 a.m. Be sure to check Epcot’s hours before traveling, as they change daily.

Guests staying at Walt Disney World hotels can utilize Extra Magic Hours, which allow for up to two extra hours in a Walt Disney World park each day. Select hotels, including Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels, and Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels also offer Extra Magic Hours benefits.

Purchasing Epcot Tickets

Walt Disney World sells individual park tickets and “Park Hopper” tickets, which allow guests to go between all four Florida Disney theme parks for one price. Most families can experience Epcot restaurants and rides in one full day, but adults who are interested in dining or seasonal festivals may want to return more than once. If so, purchasing Park Hopper tickets would be an ideal choice.

Walt Disney World tickets are now dynamically priced. This means that Disney Epcot tickets cost more or less, depending on when you visit. Be sure to purchase tickets early — admission purchased in-person at Epcot can cost more — and visit the Walt Disney World website for occasional promotions and discounts.

How to Use a FastPass+

FastPass+ comes with all Disney tickets and can be scheduled at least 30 days prior to arrival — 60 if you stay in a Walt Disney World resort or hotel with Extra Magic Hour benefits. FastPass+ lets guests “skip the line” during an hour-long return window on three attractions each day, and because of this, you’ll want to plan ahead.

FastPass+ for Epcot rides are offered in two “tiers.” Guests can choose one attraction from the first group, and two attractions from the second group. This will undoubtedly shift as new rides are introduced in the coming years, so check out My Disney Experience to schedule FastPass+ experiences in advance.

The Best Epcot Rides

There are plenty of family-friendly favorites in both Future World and World Showcase. Epcot rides that will please all ages include classics like Soarin’ Around the World and Spaceship Earth, and slower rides, like Living With the Land and Journey into Imagination with Figment (which are perfect for an air-conditioned break on busy summer days).

There are a couple of rides in World Showcase as well. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros is a delightful boat ride with short waits (most of the time), and Frozen Ever After brings guests face-to-face with Olaf, Elsa, Anna, and the rest of the “Frozen” characters.

In addition to all the slow, relaxed rides, this Disney World park has several thrill rides. Test Track is an exciting, high-speed race that little kids will be able to enjoy, while Mission: SPACE mimics a NASA shuttle launch to Mars with two different experiences. The Green Mission is a less intense trip, but the Orange Mission is best for adventurous types.

New attractions are on the way to EPCOT. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a squealing good time themed to the beloved Pixar film, will open in summer 2020 within the France pavilion. The very first Marvel ride at Walt Disney World, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, will also debut in the coming years.

David Roark/Courtesy of Disney

The Best Epcot Experiences

The Seas with Nemo & Friends is an ideal destination for younger children, as the entire Epcot pavilion is themed to the “Finding Nemo” franchise. Start with the slow-moving ride, which emerges into SeaBase, an enormous aquarium home to turtles, sharks, stingrays, and other aquatic life. While there, be sure to visit Turtle Talk with Crush, an interactive experience where children can converse with characters from the movie.

Meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Joy and Sadness of "Inside Out," and Baymax from "Big Hero 6" within Future World. (Many of these meet-and-greet locations have been changing as of late, so always double-check the Walt Disney World website.) Character meet-and-greets can be found across Epcot countries as well, with “Frozen” princesses Anna and Elsa meeting at the Royal Sommerhus in Norway, and princesses like Snow White, Jasmine, and Mulan meeting in Germany, Morocco, and China.

Plan to spend at least half a day exploring Epcot’s World Showcase, visiting countries like Mexico, Japan, Italy, and France within the Disney World park. There is plenty of shopping, entertainment, and dining, as well as art galleries and live music.

New films and shows are coming to Epcot, including The Land Pavilion’s nature-focused "Awesome Planet" film in Future World, the new 360-degree digital film "Wondrous China” within Epcot’s China Pavilion, "Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along" in the France Pavilion, and "Canada Far and Wide" in the Canada Pavilion.

There are multiple new experiences arriving as well, including a walk-through attraction called Journey of Water, inspired by “Moana,” and an all-new, immersive, family-friendly play area. Unlike water splash zones or interactive queues, this Play Pavilion will be modeled after a modernized city with colorful facades, character experiences, and a roster of child-centric activities.

Exploring Epcot at Night

Now that Epcot’s inspiring fireworks show "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth," has concluded its two decade-long run, a new nighttime show, “Epcot Forever,” serves as its temporary replacement until the permanent Epcot show “HarmonioUS” opens in 2020. With a soundtrack of familiar Disney favorites as well as lights, lasers, and pyrotechnics lighting up the World Showcase Lagoon, the new extravaganza aims to be so much more than just another fireworks display. Still, the true highlight of evenings here are the wide array of dining and drinking options. We highly recommend having at least one dinner in this Walt Disney World park and taking in the Epcot countries once the sun sets.

The Best Restaurants at Epcot

The World Showcase pavilions are home to the best dining within this exciting theme park. Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria remains a favorite with Epcot guests of all ages; the pizzas, which are cooked in wood-burning ovens, are delicious. Kids will love Epcot’s San Angel Inn Restaurante (set right next to the Gran Fiesta Tour ride) and Teppan Edo, where food is cooked in front of them teppanyaki-style. Many of these locations take Disney Dining Plan as well.

For an elegant night out, Tutto Italia Ristorante, Le Cellier Steakhouse, and Monsieur Paul are ideal choices, and the waterfront views from Spice Road Table can’t be beat.

Reservations open 180 days in advance, so book early if you can. If you are unable to (or if you prefer flexibility), most Epcot countries offer quick-service dining for grab-and-go entrees; often, a meal can be made simply by snacking at multiple locations.

Epcot has two character dining options: Garden Grill Restaurant with Mickey Mouse and other characters and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall with Disney princesses. An innovative outer space-themed restaurant, Space 220, will soon open in Future World, while the new La Crêperie de Paris will debut at the France Pavilion in summer 2020.

Drinking Alcohol at Epcot

Beer, wine, and liquor are available for purchase throughout this Disney park, but the best place to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of Chardonnay is within Epcot’s World Showcase. All of the Epcot countries sell regional alcoholic beverages, letting guests try margaritas in Mexico, sake in Japan, and an array of wines in Italy. It’s even become quite popular to "drink around the world," tasting Disney drinks in different locations.

Gene Duncan/Courtesy of Disney

Special Events at Epcot

Epcot is known for its exciting and increasingly popular year-round festivals, all of which are included with admission. From early March through early June, the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival brings character topiaries and the Garden Rocks concert series, and late August through mid-November brings the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Both are known for their food festival booths, which bring delightful tasting plates of cuisines from around the world to Epcot countries.

The Epcot International Festival of the Holidays brings global customs, celebrations, and the Candlelight Processional, a live retelling of the story of Christmas with a live orchestra and a celebrity guest, to Walt Disney World each November and December. And, the newest entry, Epcot International Festival of the Arts, pairs the culinary arts and fine arts together, with performances by Broadway stars in January and February.

The Best Epcot Hotels

There are plenty of hotels to choose from, but a select few will help you get the most out of those Disney Epcot tickets.

If you’re planning to visit an Epcot festival more than once, choose a hotel that is walking distance from the park, like Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, or Disney’s BoardWalk Inn.

With the addition of the Disney Skyliner gondola system, four Disney hotels are closer to Disney World parks than ever before. Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, the new Disney’s Riviera Resort, and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort are now just a short gondola ride away from the International Gateway entrance of Epcot, making them an ideal choice as well.

Changes Coming to Epcot

Epcot is entering a phase of massive transitions. Spaceship Earth, the ride housed within the park’s emblematic “golf ball”, will be overhauled as Future World pavilions are annexed into all-new neighborhoods named World Nature, World Discovery, and World Celebration. Mary Poppins’ Cherry Tree Lane will be added to the UK Pavilion (along with the character’s first-ever attraction), as experiences themed to “Ratatouille,” “Moana,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” debut in coming years.

Expect plenty of construction — but with that, the debut of exciting new attractions, rides, restaurants and must-see features, breathing new life into this Disney theme park.

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