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. Opening times vary with the season, but typical hours are 11 AM to 8 PM.
Disney parks typically let in visitors 15 – 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.
In this guide, I’m going to synthesize my own experiences plus data from surveys (click here to take the WDW survey yourself!) to recommend the best rides and attractions.
There are so many great Epcot rides; my favorites are: Soarin’, Living With The Land, Journey Into Imagination, 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. I personally love the Coral Reef Restaurant in The Seas building, and Teppan Edo in the Japanese pavilion.
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 and 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. Go all the way to the bottom of the building and find the Soarin’ entrance.
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.
Living With The Land is slightly less popular, but still fun: you take a boat ride through Disney’s greenhouse and learn about the history of farming, plus see fish, plants, and even Mickey-Mouse-shaped veggies!
Assuming you entered when Epcot opened, it should be lunchtime now. The best fast food restaurant is in the same building as Soarin’, Sunshine Seasons.
Sunshine Seasons is a food court: you’ll see multiple stations with the option of Asian fusion food, a grill with burgers and various cuts of meat, sandwiches, salads, and a very large selection of drinks and desserts. It’s the best fast food place to eat lunch in Epcot: there’s a wide variety of dishes and plenty of seating.
The Seas / Spaceship Earth / Journey Into Imagination With Figment
After lunch, check the Disney Experience app. Depending on the wait times for Spaceship Earth, Journey Into Imagination With Figment, and The Seas With Nemo & Friends, I will either backtrack toward the entrance of Epcot for The Seas and Spaceship Earth or head further south into Epcot to Journey Into Imagination With Figment. If you love science, I recommend running The Seas and Spaceship Earth; they’re both highly educational and interesting rides. The Seas With Nemo & Friends in particular drops you off in the middle of an aquarium, where you get to see fish swim all around you and learn about them. Spaceship Earth takes you up inside the Epcot “globe” on a historical tour of human communications.
If you’re less fond of science, Journey Into Imagination With Figment is a gentle, tracked ride which takes you through an exploration of imagination and of the senses. It’s a great place for smaller children.
There are two other rides in Epcot’s Future World: Test Track and Mission Space. Both of these ride are more action-based than the other rides in The Land/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. I love both of these rides, in particular Test Track. If you’re running out of time, I suggest riding Test Track over Mission Space.
I strongly recommend hitting Test Track and Mission Space at lunchtime/early afternoon, for a couple of reasons: (1) the inside queue lines get you out of the midday heat, (2) you’re finishing up the Future World area, enabling you to move to the World Showcase with no need to come back which saves walking time, and (3) wait times drop a little during this time so you’re not waiting too long.
I recommend finishing 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 keep track of time. Make sure to recheck Epcot hours – at the time this was written, Epcot closed at 11 PM.
I recommend working through the Showcase in a counterclockwise manner: go towards the Canadian pavilion first (if you’re facing the lagoon after coming from The Land, go to your right).
The Canadian pavilion is one of my favorites. Get out of the hot sun and watch the film Canada: Far and Wide, it’s an amusing film that is educational and entertaining.
The Canadian pavilion has extensive garden areas – they are the perfect backdrop for a picture. Take plenty of them!
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 football (American soccer)/Dr. Who/Winnie the Pooh clothing, tea, perfumes, crackers, and other stereotypically British food. I usually buy a sample of Twinings tea as a gift or to drink myself.
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 with tables and chairs to enjoy your food.
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.
I love to 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. Definitely worth buying to bring back to your hotel room! 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 songe – and Impressions de France, a short movie about French culture. I strongly recommend and love both films.
If you love exotic foods, make a reservation at Spice Road Table – it’s an extremely underrated restaurant that has amazing food. If not, consider skipping this pavilion especially if you’re low on time. This pavilion was hit hard by the pandemic; the other two restaurants in this pavilion are closed and the shops are more limited than before.
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.
Easily my most favorite pavilion in Epcot. The Japanese shops sell everything: Japanese food, jewelry, clothing with Pokemon/Sailor Moon/Gundam/other anime characters and even household items like lunch boxes.
Every time I come here I get a package of mochi (Japanese rice cakes filled with jelly) – they’re a terrific gift for someone back home or a quick treat for yourself. If your hotel room has a microwave, consider grabbing some noodle cups for snacking.
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 favorite of mine. 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 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 corner of the pavilion is the Via Napoli pizza window (open seasonally, so it may not be open when you’re there) which serves fast food pizza slices. A great place if you need a quick snack in the middle of the day.
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.
I strongly suggest trying the Bratwurst from the Sommerfest fast food counter.
The best part of the German pavilion are the shops: you’ll see a lot of well-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. I always love spending some time at this shop and admiring the high quality German engineering and craftsmanship evident in the shop.
One of my favorite pavilions in Epcot, the Chinese pavilion shows the film “Reflections of China” which showcases some beautiful views of the country and its peoples. You also should check out the shops as well, there are some beautiful items for sale. It’s my second-favorite shop after the Japanese pavilion shops.
Sometimes people on Disney fan sites call this 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. If you don’t care about Frozen, you can skip this pavilion because there’s not much Norway remaining here.
If you need a bite to eat, try the bakery Kringla Bakeri og Cafe. It offers sandwiches and also Frozen-themed pastry items. I recommend either the ham or smoked salmon sandwiches, plus a pastry (there’s usually something Frozen-themed with chocolate in it!) and a glass of your favorite beverage.
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 COVID 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 my favorite Epcot 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.