Epcot is essentially two theme parks in one: the Future World area has science and future-themed attractions and dining, while the World Showcase has country-specific pavilions set around a lagoon. Epcot hours are 11 AM to 9 PM on weekdays, 11 AM to 10 PM on weekends.
Disney parks typically let in visitors 30 minutes before the posted opening time; the rides and restaurants inside won’t be open, but you can use the extra time to walk around, enjoy the ambiance, and get in line for your favorite ride. It’s always a good idea to arrive 30 – 45 minutes before the posted hours so you can start early and get in some fast rides.
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There are so many great Epcot rides; typically guests name their top 5 favorites as: Soarin’, Test Track, Spaceship Earth, Living With The Land, and Frozen Ever After. There are other rides you can run, but they may come at the cost of not seeing other sights in Epcot.
Are you a foodie? Or a picky eater? Great, because Epcot has a huge list of restaurants to dine at – picky eaters will find something they love, and foodies will find a huge selection of fantastic food from across the world. The top rated Epcot restarurants are Spice Road Table, San Angel Inn, Teppan Edo, and Biergarten.
Building Your Epcot Plan
Epcot is a very different theme park than Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Epcot has much fewer rides, but makes up for it in experiences. Epcot is divided into two sections: Future World and World Showcase. In Future World, there are rides about the physical world: outer space, land, oceans, etc. The World Showcase has 11 country-themed pavilions, with each pavilion having shops, restaurants and (sometimes) rides based on the country. For example, the Italian pavilion has a recreation of the clock tower in Venice and two different restaurants serving terrific Italian fare.
When Disney fans talk about Epcot, inevitably the conversation shifts to the rides Frozen Ever After (a slow water boat ride themed after the movie Frozen) in the Norway pavilion at the World Showcase, or Soarin’ (a glider simulator where you fly over major world landmarks) located in The Land building within Future World. There are plenty of other rides at Epcot, but those two are the most popular, most well known rides in the park.
Epcot is a two-day park; you really need two days, or at least a day and a half, to enjoy everything. If you only have 1 day at Epcot, here are my high-level suggestions on planning your day:
- Pick either Soarin’ or Frozen Ever After and ride that as the first thing in your day. This doesn’t mean you’re missing the other ride, but these rides are very popular and you want to run at least one early in the day when there are less people. You can come back to the other ride in the evening.
Personally, I recommend riding Soarin‘ early in the day and do Frozen Ever After in the evening. The Land building (which houses Soarin’) has a terrific boat tour called Living With The Land which takes you on a tour of Disney’s greenhouses. It also has a top-notch food court called Sunshine Seasons: by starting your day at The Land, you can ride both Soarin’ and Living With The Land and have lunch close by which saves time and walking.
- COME HUNGRY! Eat a light breakfast or preferably none at all. Epcot has tons of small food stands with food from around the world. You’ll be eating sample-size portions of food from across the world, so bring plenty of space in your stomach.
- Reserve a late dinner.
A Day At Epcot
Here is my recommended single-day itinerary at Epcot; it hits the major attractions while still having downtime to rest or run additional rides
Start your day off by going to The Land building. The Land building is on the west side of Epcot – take the right hand path if you’re entering Epcot through the main entrance. If you get lost, look for signs or wave down a friendly Disney employee; they’ll be glad to point the way.
The Land is home to two highly-rated rated Epcot attractions, Soarin’ and Living With The Land. Soarin’ is a glider simulator; you’re lifted into the air and “soar” over major world attractions. The ride is incredibly fun and realistic – you smell lavender while flying over India, or the smell of freshly cut grass while shooting over the African wild lands. Soarin’ is easily one of the best and most innovative rides in Disney World.
Living With The Land is slightly less popular, but still fun: you take a slow boat ride through Disney’s greenhouse and learn about the history of farming, plus see fish, plants, and even Mickey-Mouse-shaped veggies! Guests repeatedly rate this as a great attraction – it’s worth your time.
Assuming you entered when Epcot opened, it should be lunchtime now. As you’re leaving the exit for Living With The Land, you should see the entrance for the Sunshine Seasons food court.
The Sunshine Seasons food court is one of the best in Disney World: you’ll see multiple stations with the option of Asian fusion food, a grill with burgers, sandwiches, cold salads, and a very large selection of drinks and desserts. Eat your lunch here – there’s plenty of seating available.
The Seas / Spaceship Earth / Journey Into Imagination With Figment
After lunch, you have a choice of 3 options. On most days you’ll have time for two of these options; on busy days you may only have time for one option.
- Go towards the entrance of Epcot and visit The Seas pavilion, which houses several Finding Nemo-themed rides and a huge aquarium. Also visit Spaceship Earth: housed inside the Epcot “globe”, this slow tracked ride takes you through a history of human communications. Recommended for all.
- Go across Epcot and visit Mission: Space and Test Track. Recommended for teenagers and adults.
- Go south and visit Journey Into Imagination With Figment. Recommended for children 10 and under.
Regardless of which options you choose, you should finish by 3 PM so you have enough time for the World Showcase section of Epcot.
If you pick option one, head towards the blue The Seas building. If you’re exiting out of The Land building from Sunshine Seasons, The Seas building will be on your left hand side. You’ll start with a Finding Nemo-styled ride called The Seas With Nemo and Friends. This slow tracked ride takes you through the storyline of Finding Nemo where you’ll “find” the lost Nemo at the end of the ride. At the end of the ride, you’ll be dropped off in the middle of a huge aquarium. Take some time here to stare at the fish swimming around you. Smaller children may enjoy Turtle Talk With Crush, which is a “chat” with Crush the turtle from Finding Nemo – guests get to ask fish-related questions to Crush.
Afterwards, go towards the giant Epcot globe. At the bottom of the globe you’ll see the entrance to Spaceship Earth. This tracked ride takes you up into the Epcot globe on a short tour of human history and communications, ending with a gorgeous view of the Earth from space.
The second option is to go across Epcot from The Land building and ride Test Track and Mission Space. Both of these rides are more action-based than the other rides in The Land or The Seas: Mission Space is a spaceflight simulator, while Test Track is a driving simulator where your ride vehicle races at high speeds, sharply turns corners, and runs down hills. If you’re running out of time, I suggest riding Test Track over Mission Space.
Mission: Space is split into two “missions” – the Green or the Orange mission run. The green mission is a slow, relaxed spaceflight simulation where you’ll launch, orbit the Earth once and then return to Earth. The orange mission is a much more intense ride which spins, shakes, and throws you around on a space flight from Earth to Mars. To put it another way, this ride is the only ride in Disney World to have motion sickness bags available in case you need to empty your stomach contents quickly. If you get sick easily, skip this ride or run the easy green mission.
The third option is Journey Into Imagination With Figment, located in a giant glass pyramid building south of The Land building – if you’re leaving The Land, the Journey building will be on your right hand side. This is a fantastic ride for smaller children.
Whichever option(s) you pick, try to finish up the Future World area by 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM. Walk south towards the lagoon and the World Showcase.
The World Showcase is a set of 11 country themed pavilions set around a lagoon. Ideally, you should start World Showcase no later than 3:00 PM – this gives you 30 – 35 minutes per pavilion and time for dinner. It’s easy to lose track of time while in the various shops, so make sure you’re watching the clock.
I recommend working through the World Showcase in a counterclockwise manner: go towards the Canadian pavilion first (if you’re facing the lagoon after coming from Future World, go to your right).
The Canadian pavilion has extensive garden areas – they are the perfect backdrop for a picture. Sometimes you might even catch Winnie the Pooh exploring the gardens!
Take the garden path (pictured above) down towards the mountain scenery; the path will eventually take you to the sit-down restaurant Le Cellier and the auditorium for the Canada Far and Wide film. This is a relatively short film which is a fascinating overview of Canada’s cultures.
The second floor terrace of the Canadian pavilion (look for the totem poles) has a store called Northwest Mercantile. It’s a great place with a terrific selection of Canadian-made and -themed clothing: shirts, jackets, pajamas, etc with maple leaves/hockey/bear designs on them. If you love maple syrup, this is the perfect place for you: the store stocks maple syrup flavored cookies, popcorn, caramels, and other candy. There’s also the typical selection of clothing, blankets, wall hangings, beer glasses, and so forth with maps of Canada on them.
While you’re on the terrace, pick up a cold drink at the nearby Trading Post Refreshments. Strongly recommend a Moosehead beer if you’re an adult; sodas and energy drinks are also available.
United Kingdom Pavilion
There are no rides in the United Kingdom pavilion, but the shops easily make up for it. The shops sell various British merchandise: football/Dr. Who/Winnie the Pooh clothing, tea, perfumes, crackers, and other British food. Pick up some tea and crackers for a quick snack back in your resort room.
The road leading to the inside of the pavilion goes to a small garden. It’s a terrific place to sit down and rest if you need a break, along with being a fantastic place for photos. Occasionally you may see a Disney meet and greet here such as Mary Poppins or characters from Winnie the Pooh.
Hungry? Try ordering a plate of fish and chips from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop, which is adjacent to the lagoon. There’s a small outdoor area nearby with tables and chairs to enjoy your food. The fish shop is located on the side of the Rose & Crown Pub (a sit down restaurant).
The French pavilion has top notch food, as you would expect. One of the restaurants (Monsieur Paul) is closed, but the other restaurant Les Chefs de France is open, as well as the bakery Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie which serves up various pastries and sandwiches. If it’s a warm day outside, try L’Artisan des Glaces for French ice cream.
Pick up a pastry from the Patisserie, and shop the smaller shops here. There’s a wine shop and numerous smaller shops selling French cookies and snack food, as well as the usual pavilion-specific toys and clothing. The French paviion is a great place to buy gifts thanks to the variety of goods it stocks.
In the back of the French pavilion is the Palais du Cinema, which plays the wonderful Beauty and the Beast SIngalong where you get to sing along with popular Beauty and the Beast songs. A short film about French culture – Impressions de France – plays in the evenings. If you can, watch both films – guests highly recommend them.
If you love exotic foods, visit Spice Road Table located right on the lagoon – it’s an extremely underrated restaurant that has amazing food. It’s an unusual restaurant in that it doesn’t accept reservations – go in and ask if there’s a table available.
There are some shops open, but they have a limited selection of clothing available. Unfortunately, this is a pavilion that was hit hard by the pandemic, and the many exotic goods it once carried are no longer available. If you’re low on time, consider skipping this pavilion until more shops open up.
This is a great place for photos though – the Moroccan pavilion is one of the most visually stunning pavilions in Epcot, especially the arching entrance and the fountain.
The Japanese pavilion is one of the highest-reviewed areas of Epcot. The Japanese shops sell everything: Japanese food, jewelry, clothing with Pokemon/Sailor Moon/Gundam/other anime characters and household items like lunch boxes. If you know a fan of Japanese manga/anime, this is a fantastic place to buy them a gift.
Every time I come here I get a package of mochi (Japanese rice cakes filled with jelly) – they’re terrific for snacking on while at Epcot, or to take back to your hotel room. If your hotel room has a microwave, consider picking up some noodle cups for late night hunger pangs.
If you’ve never tried a hibachi restaurant like Benihana’s (the cook grills your food in front of you) try booking a dinner at Teppan Edo – it’s a very highly rated restaurant. It’s essentially an attraction and a meal! You choose your meat (or veggies if you’re a vegetarian) then the chef will prepare fried rice, a side of veggies, then your main course of grilled meat/veggies. I usually order chicken with an extra side of scallops. The other two sit-down restaurants are temporarily closed, but the fast food restaurant Katsura Grill serves up some excellent chicken teriyaki and ramen noodles. If you’re interested in trying a Japanese alcohol, I suggest the sake!
Photo opportunity: Take a picture of your party using the Japanese gate in the lagoon as your background. The gate acts as a beautiful frame for your photo and you get the wide expanse of the lagoon as your background.
The American pavilion is the midpoint of the World Showcase. Take a moment to rest and gaze at the lagoon. The noteworthy ride here is The American Adventure, where animatronic Presidents talk about the history of the US. This is a really good show to see, but it is quite lengthy at 29 minutes long – skip it if you’re short on time.
What should not be skipped though is the BBQ restaurant. The Regal Eagle Smokehouse, a BBQ restaurant themed after the patriotic Muppet Sam the Eagle, serves up some excellent eats. If you need to rest a bit, this is a good place to do so. I recommend the ribs, although the smoked chicken is good too.
Photo opportunity: just inside the doors is a replica of the US Capitol Rotunda (the domed, circular room) which offers a great opportunity for terrific shots.
The Italian pavilion has plenty of terrific food and drink options, which is what you’d expect when you think of Italy! There are two different restaurants: Via Napoli (specializing in pizza) and Tutto Italia (pasta and meat dishes).
In the far left corner inside of the pavilion is Pizza al Taglio, a fast food pizza counter serving up slices of pizza, cannoli, and drinks. Unfortunately the pizza window is only open seasonally, so it may not be open when you’re there. It’s a great place if you need a quick snack in the middle of the day.
There are a number of shops at the sides of the pavilion selling a number of fascinating items. A great place for gifts are the shops located in the front left of the pavilion; they stock perfume, jewelry, handbags, as well as the usual snack food, drinks, and clothing that all pavilions carry.
Photo opportunity: at the front of the Italy pavilion is a set of bridges connecting to a “pier” which juts out into the lagoon. A terrific place for photos with the lagoon in the background. Another fantastic photo opportunity is the fountain in the middle of the Italy pavilion.
Germany is one of the most loved Epcot pavilions thanks to their great food and even better shops. The Sommerfest fast food counter serves up tasty bratwurst, pretzels, and a good variety of German beers. The Biergarten sit-down restaurant offers buffet-style dining with a top-notch selection of German food. Both Biergarten and Sommerfest are located in the back of the pavilion.
The best part of the German pavilion are the shops, located on the left hand side as you’re coming in. The shops feature a wide array of beautifully-crafted items for sale: glasswork, cuckoo clocks, model trains, jewelry, crystal decorations, laser-cut designs in acrylic, etc. There’s also the usual assortment of country-specific candy, stuffed toys, clothing, etc. Spend some time looking around the shops and admire the high quality German engineering and craftsmanship.
One of the most highly-rated pavilions in Epcot, the Chinese pavilion shows the film “Reflections of China” which showcases some beautiful views of the country and its cultures. Enter through the large cone-shaped building on the right of the pavilion (pictured above). This place is also a terrific photo opportunity.
Hungry? The China pavilion offers the fast food Lotus Blossom Cafe and the sit down restaurant Nine Dragons. Both restaurants are good; their food is very similar to many local neighborhood Chinese restaurants common in the US. Nine Dragons is highly rated by many Disney guests – it has a gorgeous interior and a variety of tasty food. Many guests recommended the Kowloon Spare Ribs and the ginger ice cream for dessert.
Enjoy shopping? The Chinese store is huge, taking up the whole back and part of the left side of the pavilion. It stocks Chinese clothing, various stuffed toys, Buddha statues, and various other merchandise that would be difficult to find anywhere else.
Many Epcot guests characterize this pavilion as the Frozen pavilion for good reason: it’s been taken over by Frozen-mania! After the success of the movie Frozen, Disney renovated the Norway pavilion to focus on Frozen and Frozen memorabilia.
If you love Frozen, obviously this pavilion and the ride Frozen Ever After is a must-do. It’s a gorgeous ride which mixes in elements from Frozen, and the short film Frozen Fever. The ride exit comes out in the shop area, which hosts a variety of Frozen-themed merchandise. If you have any fans of Frozen in your family, this is a great place to purchase gifts.
Regardless of your opinion on Frozen, a must-visit is the fast-food bakery Kringla Bakeri og Cafe. It offers sandwiches and also Frozen-themed pastry items. Try the ham or smoked salmon sandwiches to get a sample of the flavors of Norway, plus a pastry (there’s usually something Frozen-themed with chocolate in it!).
The Mexican pavilion is a bit of an outlier: other World Showcase pavilions are usually wide open/have a open-street design to them, but the Mexican pavilion is one large building. Due to pandemic restrictions Disney limits the amount of people inside the pavilion, and so you may see a line for this pavilion.
Once inside, you’ll find one of the few World Showcase rides in the far left corner of the pavilion. The Gran Fiesta Tour is a slow water boat tour of Mexican sites themed with Donald Duck – I like to think of it as a Mexican-themed it’s a small world ride. The wait for the ride tends to be short as well, only 5-10 minutes. But if the wait for the ride or the pavilion itself exceeds more than 15 minutes, skip it and return later.
There are two sit-down Mexican restaunts: La Hacienda de San Angel, located outside the Mexican pavilion next to the lagoon, and San Angel Inn, located inside the pavilion in the back. La Hacienda de San Angel is a gorgeous restaurant: it features large tall windows perfect for watching the evening fireworks display. Reserve a table about 30 minutes before the fireworks start so you’ll have plenty of time to be seated and order before the fireworks begin.
Inside the Mexican pavilion is the equally-beautiful sit down restaurant San Angel Inn. While it doesn’t have a view of the evening fireworks the restaurant is decorated in a twilight palette of colors, giving it a comfortable, romantic feeling. Ask for a table at the very back of the restaurant, near the pyramid: it’s fun to wave at all the boats from the nearby Gran Fiesta Tour ride!