After being a bit neglected over the last few years, Epcot is about to see some big changes that will be a bit of a departure from its original vision. I picked it to be my first park guide in my series about Disney World for grown-ups because it’s historically been considered the non-kiddie park. I dispute that, as it was always my favorite as a kid, but I was also kind of a weirdo. This is the place where you’ll see the most childless adults hanging around, so feel free to start here if you still feel awkward. Read on for my top tips about Epcot for adults. Don’t forget to check out my grown-up’s guide to all of Disney World here.
Drinking around the world
I guess I have to start with this one. Any Disney fan over the age of 21 (sorry, even though you’re drinking in pavilions made to resemble other lands, the standard American drinking age still applies) has probably heard about drinking around the world. It’s a pretty simple concept: you head to World Showcase – that’s the part around the large lagoon at the back where all of the different countries are– and have a drink from each of the 11 pavilions. You’ll want to get an early start – most places open at 11 – to make sure you can pace yourself throughout the day. You don’t want to be the person who gets kicked out of Epcot because you’re falling over drunk. I highly recommend saving your last drink for just before Illuminations so you can enjoy it during the fireworks show.
On any given visit, you’ll probably see at least a group or two of people with custom made t-shirts checking off countries as they make their way “around the world.” Come prepared to spend a lot. Buying eleven alcoholic beverages at Disney World prices will set you back around $100. I’m not much for beer and wine, but I’d highly recommend the margaritas in Mexico and the Grey Goose slushie in France.
I’ve been to more than a few theme parks over the years, and none of them come close to the dining at Epcot. This is the park for foodies, so make your dining reservations early. Each of the World Showcase pavilions has a restaurant (except for America – we just have a quick service place selling hot dogs and burgers, go figure) and there’s a highly-rated seafood place in the Seas pavilion. You can book your dining reservations up to six months in advance online or by calling the reservations line, and you’ll definitely want to do it early if you’re visiting in the busier seasons or want one of the more popular dining slots.
My favorites include:
- Mexico: The San Angel Inn is located inside of the Aztec-styled pavilion. The atmosphere is my favorite in the park because it’s set right alongside the beginning of the boat ride. The lighting is dim to reflect and evening on the water, yet it’s still lively and vibrant. Plus, if you sit by the railing, you can watch the boats pass by and wave at other guests.
- China: For some reason, Nine Dragons is one of the easiest restaurants to book most of the time. The food is delicious, and it’s the perfect spot if you haven’t made plans far enough in advance to reserve anything else.
- Germany: I’m mildly obsessed with German food, and this lively buffet is my favorite place to eat in Epcot. You sit at large tables, so if your group is small, you’ll likely be paired up with other diners in traditional Biergarten fashion. The pretzel rolls are worth the price of the meal by themselves, so fill up on those, or save room for one of the amazing desserts. There’s also live entertainment with a band playing German music, and dancing is encouraged.
- Japan: Everyone loves a good hibachi table, and Japan’s doesn’t disappoint. We absolutely adored our chef last time we were there, and our picture with him is one of my favorites from the whole trip.
- England: The Rose and Crown pub has some good food, but it’s especially good for dining late. Look for the latest reservation available – usually a bit after 8pm – and tell your server that you’d like to watch Illuminations. You’ll have access to a private viewing area without having to pay extra for premium viewing.
- Electric Umbrella: This is my quick-service place of choice because you get free refills on your drinks. It has a pretty standard American fast food menu, but the A/C is blaring and you won’t leave thirsty. It’s located right in the heart of Future World, so it’s a good spot to hit before heading toward the back of the park.
Some of my favorite rides are at Epcot. More rides are coming to World Showcase in the future, but right now the bulk of rides are in Future World.
- Soarin’ is my favorite ride at Epcot. Originally an aerial tour of California, the video was remade to include some of the most iconic places around the world (which makes more sense in the context of Epcot, really). You get loaded into rows of seats that raise into the air (if you’re scared of heights, request the back row as it stays closest to the ground) to give you the experience of hang gliding, complete with breeze in your hair and scents matched to the attractions on screen.
- Test Track takes you through the world of automobile testing. I can’t say that I love the new neon interior that was revamped a few years ago, but I did appreciate removing the cold and hot rooms. You get to design your own concept car and after the ride you can see how it performed on the track. For Disney veterans, beware that the on-ride photo spot was relocated after the renovation.
- Mission: Space is best enjoyed with a group of fun friends. You can pick between the more intense version that spins to simulate gravity or the easier version that doesn’t spin. You’re divided into groups of four and assigned a role to play on your mission to Mars. Commander is always the most coveted role in my groups of friends and family, and you can have a lot of great fun barking out orders if you have sufficiently fun companions (maybe not so much if you’re paired with strangers).
- Spaceship Earth is a sentimental favorite of mine. I’ve always loved the voiceover at the beginning on the way into the big orb. Back when I was a Cast Member, I got to tour it and walk along the track, and it was still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The big show at the top is the view of the night sky from space. It’s well worth a visit.
For tips on the FastPass+ options at Epcot, check out this post.
- The American Gardens theater has constantly changing performances depending on the time of the year. Even famous bands play there regularly. Check the park schedule for the day’s performances.
- The British Revolution in the UK pavilion plays covers of the biggest hits from British rock bands over the years.
- Matsuriza in Japan is a very cool demonstration of traditional drumming.
- The Jeweled Dragon acrobats in the China pavilion put on an incredible show of skill.
- The JAMMitors in Future World look like a group of custodians, but they turn their garbage cans into instruments for an energetic and very cool show.
- American Adventure is a bit on the cheesy side, but I’ve always quite liked the closing song and the rosy vision of the future.
You can learn stuff
Ok, not as much as you could when I was a kid, but there are still some bits of educational entertainment available. This is the biggest piece of the original mission that Epcot is losing, but we live in a culture that doesn’t exactly celebrate education these days, so it’s not that surprising. I remember the glory days of Innoventions though. There was a walk-through of a smart house from the future that featured lots of gadgets that are becoming part of real life now, in addition to other fun exhibits. Spaceship Earth tells the story of how human communication has evolved over the centuries. It was updated a few years ago because one of the futuristic scenes was highlighting video chats – which are now the present, not the future. The Seas pavilion houses an enormous aquarium tank, and is also home to some injured manatees that were rescued from nearby waters. The Land pavilion is probably truest to the educational mission of Future World with a boat ride through a working greenhouse. Disney scientists even work with NASA on developing techniques for growing food in space. The pavilion also offers a very reasonably priced special tour through the greenhouse called Behind the Seeds.
One of my favorite things about visiting the parks is taking fun pictures. Here are the must-do spots for great pictures.
- Spaceship Earth: Well, duh.
- World Showcase pavilions: Take a picture in front of each pavilion to chronicle your trip “around the world.”
- Jumping fountains: You’ll need a quick shutter finger, but if you time it right, you can get a picture of a stream of water passing right over your head.
- Inside the shark at the Seas: In the play area in the Seas pavilion, you will find a shark mouth that you can climb into and pose for a silly picture trying to claw your way out of its jaws.
It’s the place to be on rainy (or extra hot) days
Back before you had to schedule every second of your vacation months or weeks in advance, Epcot used to be our go-to park for rainy days or ones that were predicted to be extra hot. Why? Almost everything is indoors so it doesn’t shut down in the rain. Indoors also means that extra cold air conditioning that Disney is famous for. Unlike the Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom where many of the rides are outdoors, the majority of Epcot’s rides and shows will go on even in the midst of a lightning storm. You’ll get wet moving from building to building, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the attractions. Except for Test Track – that one closes because the final portion of the track is outside.
Places to relax
There are some great spots in Epcot to relax. When I was a Cast Member, I used to go to the park on my days off just to have a snack and people watch or read a book. One time, I was sitting on a bench in Canada reading a book about hockey and someone thought I was part of the atmosphere entertainment.
In Future World, my two favorite relaxing spots are by fountains. As you enter the park from the front and pass under the giant ball (you can’t miss it!), you’ll arrive at a plaza with a giant fountain that shoots streams ridiculously high in the air (watch which way the wind is blowing and don’t stand too close). The bursts of water are timed to music and I adore watching them “dance.” If you wander over to the Imagination pavilion, the jumping fountains there are a lot of fun too. You can hang out and relax or try to chase the playful streams of water that leap from one pad to the next, jumping over guests on the sidewalk below.
All of the pavilions in World Showcase have good spots to chill out. There’s a beautiful garden in the China pavilion that is the perfect place for a break. The Italy pavilion has a little area of benches way in back where you can give your feet a rest. The gardens in the UK pavilion are another great spot for relaxing, and you may even get to catch a show while you’re at it.
Illuminations is definitely the grown-up nighttime show
The nightly show at Epcot takes place on World Showcase Lagoon and is themed around the different cultures of the world. After starting with a blast of fireworks, the show slows down and features a lighted globe floating through the water showing images of different places and people from each continent, as well as colorful fountains. This can be hard to see if you’re a kid unless you snag the front row (get there early for that), but you can probably manage to peek over shoulders if you’re an adult. Plus, you’ll understand the message. Don’t worry – the show kicks back into a faster pace with some massive balls of flame and fireworks. Not to get too spoilery, but the best part is when the globe splits ope to launch fireworks from inside of it, which is how I’ve secretly always hoped we’d fend off an alien attack.
Come for the festivals
Epcot is great year-round, but it really shines during my two favorite festivals. The Flower and Garden festival in the spring is the most beautiful time at any of the parks. Gorgeous topiaries of favorite Disney characters pop up all around the park, and brightly colored flowers seem to cover every square inch of the park. There are usually some good classic rock bands playing in the American Gardens theater too. I’ve seen The Monkees there a bunch of times, though that was before their lead singer, Davy Jones, passed away.
Food and Wine, which takes place in the fall, is the most famous festival. Pop-up booths line World Showcase and you can buy small portions of local wines and delicacies to sample. You can easily spend a whole afternoon strolling through the different booths, but be careful: those $4 or $5 samples add up quickly. Weekends during the event can get very busy as locals and annual passholders swarm the parks in search of some international culture. If you’re visiting during Food and Wine season, you’ll want to try to hit Epcot on a weekday to avoid the worst crowds.
New Year’s Eve
NYE at Epcot is still the best party I’ve ever attended. As the clock ticks down to midnight, guests pack World Showcase dancing at stages set up throughout the area. You can choose your favorite DJ or band and stay there or float around to all of them. Yes, it’s crazy crowded, but it’s also an absurd amount of fun. There are also plenty of unique drinks to sample. The night is capped off with a special New Year’s presentation of Illuminations which features each country celebrating in the order that January 1st begins in their time zone. Get there super early as the park typically closes for capacity and be prepared to battle crowds, but it’s an absolute blast. Don’t forget to grab your free party hats and horns.
For more Disney tips, check out these posts:
- The Grown-Up’s Guide to Disney World
- The Grown-up’s Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- The Most Important FastPass+ at Every Disney World Park
- How to Visit Disney Parks Solo
- What to Pack for a Disney World Vacation
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