Walt Disney World - Epcot, Orlando
If you're traveling with kids, surely they'll want to meet up with Mickey, Minnie & co. There are some designated areas at all four theme parks where you can meet characters, but the lines can be long, especially for the most popular ones. There are also some "unofficial" greeting spots at all four theme parks, and the line up there is usually much shorter (see the link for a list of all these unofficial spots). My niece's favourite Disney character is Minnie Mouse, and she was ecstatic when she finally got the chance to have her picture taken with Minnie at Hollywood Studios, near Echo Lake. She also met Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) near the France pavilion at EPCOT, and of course we all got to meet Rafiki (from The Lion King) at Rafiki's planet watch in Animal Kingdom. All the characters were very nice and although they made sure the line would move fast enough so that everybody would get a chance to have their picture taken, we didn't feel too rushed when our time came. The characters took time to greet us and we were able to snatch some single and group pictures :o)
Whether you're travelling with big or small children, this is where you're going to want to use your fastpasses. The Sunset Boulevard & Pixar Place area is home to the Studios' three most popular attractions: the Tower of Terror, the Rock n' Roller Coaster and Toy Story Mania. Toy Story Mania is a fairly new ride, and it's like an interactive 3D videogame. You get to shoot at different targets and see who makes the most points - unlike the Buzz Lightyear game at Magic Kingdom, it's very easy to figure out how to play this one. I think it was my big sister's favourite attraction in all of Walt Disney World, she got us to do it three times!
Kevin and I were the only ones brave enough to go on the Tower of Terror and Rock n' Roller Coaster rides, and we loooooved them! Unlike most theme parks, Disney always makes sure to add a little gravy and set the ride in context, which makes it longer and more entertaining. In the Tower of Terror ride, you learn about the terrible lightning storm that struck the old hotel and caused the disparition of many guests who had been riding an elevator. The ride through the dark, abandoned hotel serves as a gloomy and exciting prelude to the impending 13-floor drop everyone knows is coming up. As for the Rock n' Roller Coaster, you arrive at a recording studio where the band Aerosmith is working on an album. Their manager shows up to let them know they're late for a gig, and offers to take us there in a limo. As you twist and turn and loop around to get to the show on time, you can hear Aerosmith's songs playing throughout the ride. The Tower of Terror and the Rock n' Roller Coaster were by far the most thrilling rides I went on at Walt Disney World!
Finally, Sunset Boulevard is also home to Fantasmic!, the Hollywood Studios' night show. Unlike the other night shows at Walt Disney World, Fantasmic! is only performed on certain nights, which makes for really big crowds. We showed up 45 minutes before the show and already it was standing room only. To be honest though, I think I would have been disappointed if I had waited more than 45 minutes. The show begins and ends with a bang, with great fireworks and fountains, but the middle part is rather boring. Clips from different Disney movies are either shown or reenacted, and after about 10-15 minutes people in the audience started to leave. Considering the theatre sits about 10,000 people, we thought it'd be wise to do likewise and we watched the last few minutes of the show while making our way towards the exit. I'm sure some people love Fantasmic!, but for me it was a bit of a let down after the other great night shows at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.
EPCOT's World Showcase has been described as a permanent World's Fair, a celebration of culture and diversity. In total, it houses 11 pavilions and the countries represented are Canada, the UK, France, Morroco, Japan, the US, Italy, Germany, China, Norway and Mexico. It is a bit different from the rest of Walt Disney World in that it doesn't offer as many rides and attractions but the World Showcase is still very popular, especially with adults or when it comes time to eat thanks to the wide variety of food offered. Most pavilions offer some type of entertainment or other - the ones we prefered were "Maelstrom", a fun ride aboard a Viking boat at the Norway pavilion; Gran Fiesta Tour, a smooth but colourful boat ride at the Mexico pavilion; and "Impressions de France", a slightly outdated but still beautiful film showcasing France's "plus beaux atours". As for the pavilion themselves, I think I was most impressed by the atmosphere inside the Morroco and Mexico ones. Part of me thinks I might have liked the France and Italy ones better if I hadn't been to Las Vegas's Paris and Venitian resorts so recently... Oh, and whatever you do, please don't judge Canada by what you see at EPCOT, we've so much more to offer!!
Because we were there in the summertime, we got to watch one of the "Sounds Like Summer" concerts featuring a tribute to U2. The band "2U" did a great job of impersonating Bono, The Edge & Co., both physically and musically. But no matter when you go to EPCOT, you should definitely stick around for the evening show called "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth". Next to the night shows at Magic Kingdom, this was our favourite: it combines beautiful fireworks with great music and some surprising special effects. It definitely was a great way to end our day at EPCOT!
EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt Disney's original idea was to have about 20,000 people live at EPCOT in an effort to create an ideal community. The plan was soon abandoned, but the park still opened in 1982 as a tribute to Walt Disney's philosophy and ideals. The main themes of the Future World section, which is easy to recognize thanks to its iconic giant ball, are technology and innovation.
Our favourite attractions at Future World were without a doubt "Soarin'", an over-the-top IMAX-like experience that allows you to fly over the different landscapes and cities of California, and "Test Track", in which you get on board a vehicle as it is being submitted to a series of road tests (suspension, brakes, handling, acceleration...). After the ride is over, you end up in a GM show room where you can sit and take pictures in fancy cars. Again, I'd recommend getting a fastpass for one and go wait in line for the other as soon as you enter the park as these are EPCOT's most popular attractions.
To our surprise we also very much enjoyed "Spaceship Earth", especially because we could pick the language of the narration and the kids were happy to get a break from English. "Turtle talk with Crush" was hilarious, and I'm still not quite sure how they managed to get Crush to interact with the crowd the way he did. Right next to it was the Caribbean Coral Reef, a huge aquarium where I was delighted to see all the little fishies I had met in Belize the previous winter, including some daulphins and two manatees :o)
The other attractions in that section weren't as exciting, but they weren't boring either. I have to say though that none of us was brave enough to try Mission: Space - the fact that the ride comes equipped with motion sickness bags was enough to scare us away from it!
We never realized that Disney had an aquarium until we stumbled upon it in the Sea section of EPCOT after we exitied the Finding Nemo ride. The aquarium has a number of small exhibits and one large tank, which has sea turtles, rays, and dolphins swimming through it. Although this aquarium wasn't as good as ones we've been to in Boston, Mystic, and Camden, it was a nice break from the outdoor heat.
Living with the Land is an educational attraction at EPCOT in which you ride slowly through a series of exhibits about climate and ecology, followed by a tour of experimental greenhouses in which new methods are being used to grow fruits and vegetables. It makes for a nice break from the faster rides and will teach your kids a few new things as well. We found the experimental vegetable gardens to be fascinating. The vegetables that they were growing were huge. In many cases, they were being grown hydroponically, with little or no soil.
Every night at the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT ends with a fireworks display. We saw both of them and they both served as enjoyable ends to fun days. The Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom are shot over Cinderella's castle, and are best viewed from the Main Street USA section of the park. The EPCOT fireworks are done over the lake, and also include a number of ground-level displays as part of the show, the centerpiece of which was a spinning globe.
In October and November, EPCOT holds its International Food Festival, which features food and drinks from over 30 countries around the world. The food booths from the various countries are arrayed around the lake among the park's permanent nationality sections. Our favorite booths were the Turkish (manti and Efes beer), Polish (Kielbasa), Argentine (beef and wine), and Czech (beer) booths.
We loved strolling around, trying out the various foods, and then watching the fireworks at the end of the evening.
They have added so much to Epcot that we really could not see everything in one day. The new simulator ride: "Soaring" was great. There was motion, wind, Imax-like screen and even smell. You could smell the orange orchard as you soared over it.
The zero gravity "Mission to Mars" was fabulous. But not for the clausterphobic. The choices for dinner in the World Showcase are unbeatable. I've been to the German, French, and Japanese. The Mexican looked and smelled wonderful. Very strange to go into what is set up as four star dining when everyone is wearing shorts and t-shirts. You should really stay for the fireworks show. Get there early and try to get up close to the water in the center of the park. Be prepared for lots of walking. Look at the pictures below and you will get an idea of the distances from one area to the next. No train here. There is a boat that can cut out a tiny bit of the walking across the World Showcase. Bring food and lots of drinks. Lockers near the front gate.
Epcot is huge; over twice the size of the Magic Kingdom so be prepared for some walking.
Epcot was designed to be an educational and entertaining park. Epcot is divided into the World Showcase and Future World.
The World Showcase contains various Pavillions: Mexico, Norway, China, Italy, Morrocco, France, Canada, Japan, United States, Germany and United Kingdom. Each of the pavillions have restaurants, shops, educational information and people from the various countries represented. Each pavillion employs staff that are on a one year work visa from that particular country. We had fun hopping from pavillion to pavillion enjoying the shops, attractions and food.
Future World is comprised of: Innoventions, Journey into Immagination, Living with the Land, Mission Space, Test Track, The Seas, Universe of Energy and Spaceship Earth. The attractions in Future World are fun and educational. I particularly enjoyed the Seas with Nemo, Soarin, Test Track and Mission Space.
You need at least two days to see everything properly especially if you are travelling with kids. The World Shocase itself can take you over half a day if you want to see and experience everything from the food, attractions and shops. I think Epcot is lost on very young children and is better suited for older kids and adults.
One of the most fun activitities for children during their visit to Walt Disney World are the character meals. These are breakfasts, lunches and dinners during which kids can meet characters from various Disney cartoons and movies. The characters will speak with your child, pose for pictures with them (and the entire family, if requested), and give them their autographs. Because of their popularity, character meals generally require reservations in advance. The hardest ticket in town is princess breakfast at Cinderalla's castle, which often books up six months in advance. An alternative, if your daughter wants to meet princesses, is the princess breakfast at the Norwegian restaurant in EPCOT, which we got into on less than a week's notice. Other popular character meals include the Winnie the Pooh meals at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, Mickey Mouse breakfast at the Contemporary Resort, and the Lilo and Stitch luau at the Polynesian resort.
EPCOT is Disney's grand experiment at making learning fun. It is a large theme park (nearly the size of its better-known neighbor the Magic Kingdom) and consists of two major areas: Future World and World Showcase.
The first section that most visitors enter is called Future World, whose best-known symbol is a huge sphere called Spaceship Earth that looks like a 200-foot diameter golf ball. Within Future World, there is a mix of rides and educational exhibits that are grouped together in various broad themes, such as energy and oceans. The educational elements of future world consist of a large aquarium and two buildings (called Innoventions East and West) that feature exhibits about science and technology. Some of the rides are also educational. Spaceship Earth takes you on a voyage through Earth's history, while Living with the Land teaches you about ecology and farming.
Future World also has some of Disney best rides. Our favorite was Soarin', a simulated hang glider ride over the California countryside. Other rides that we enjoyed were Test Track, where you go almost 100 km/hr in cars on a small banked track, and Mission:Space, a space capsule simulator that takes you on a hypothetical trip to Mars. Mission:Space is available in two levels of motion - mild and full-strength.
World Showcase is the other major section of EPCOT. it is like a permanent World's Fair, with 11 sections, each representing a different country (USA, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Germany, China, Japan, Morocco, Norway, and Mexico). The country-themed sections vary in their content. Some focus on food and shopping, some also include rides, while others feature films and exhibits about their country. We enjoyed the films in the China and Canada sections. In the China section, we also saw some talented acrobats as well as an exhibit of historic artifacts.
EPCOT is very large, so bring a stroller if you have a you child. Plan to spend the morning and early afternoon in Future World and the late afternoon and evening in the World Showcase. If possible, get a fastpass for Soaring as soon as you enter the park. Also, use fastpasses to reduce your wait time for Test Track. If you have small children that can't handle rough rides, take them to the Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, and Finding Nemo rides, as well as Turtle Talk, a fun lesson about turtles.
I was looking forward to Epcot, alas was disappointed mainly because Epcot is more for the big kids than the little kids. To really enjoy Epcot you need to be able to stop and watch the street performers, look through the displays and interact with the area you are in. Some of the things we did in Epcot include visiting Mexico and going on the boat ride in the pyramid, riding test track, going on a Viking voyage, went on an undersea voyage in a clam-mobile and ate lots of good food. Richie and I have decided that we will go back to Epcot to do some shopping and tour around without the little ones.
When visiting Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom, you can expect to pay the following Disney World parking fees:
$12.00 - Car / Taxi / Shuttle / Limousine / Motorcycle
$13.00 - Camper / Trailer
$16.00 - Bus / Tractor Trailer
The car parks are huge, and they lay on tram like vehicles to bus you to the entrance, apart from at Magic Kingdom where you get the choice of taking a ferry or the monorail.
Remember where you parked (normally marked by a Disney Character and then your row number) to save time when you get bak to the car park. If you do forget the tram driver will probably know roughly where you are if you tell him/her the time you arrived at the park.
BTW the parking is free at Disney's Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon as well as Downtown Disney. There aren't free trams here, so be prepared for a walk.
Happy to help
Orlando Tourist Attractions
P.S. If you are an annual passholder or Walt Disney World Resort Guest then parking is absolutely FREE!
If at all possible, it's best to visit the parks during off peaks times and when the weather is a little cooler. Of course, some of the most spectacular times to visit are during the holidays - particuarly Christmas and Easter. If you go during a busy time, try to break up your day - spend the morning and early afternoon at the park, go back to the hotel for a break/swim, and then head back to the park in the early evening. Enjoy!
LOWEST Attendance at Disney Parks:
January (except New Year's Day) until just prior to Presidents' week in February
The week following Labor Day until just prior to Thanksgiving week
The week following Thanksgiving until the week prior to Christmas
MODERATE Attendance at Disney Parks:
After Presidents' week in February through early March
Late April through early June (except Memorial Day weekend)
The first part of Thanksgiving week
HIGHEST Attendance at Disney Parks:
Presidents' week in February
Mid-March through Late April ("Spring Break")
Memorial Day weekend
Mid-June through Labor Day
Thanksgiving Day and weekend
Christmas week through New Year's Day
Also, during regular attendance periods, our Parks tend to be the busiest on the following days:
Magic Kingdom® Park: Monday, Thursday, and Saturday
Epcot®: Tuesday and Friday
Disney-MGM Studios: Sunday and Wednesday
Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
What are the Theme Park's operating hours?
Operating hours vary greatly from Park to Park at different times of the year.
Disney's Magic Kingdom Park normally opens at 9 a.m. The closing time varies from 6 p.m. to midnight. The later closing times occur near the winter holidays, the Easter holiday, and during the summer, generally from mid June through late August.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Park normally opens at 8 a.m. The closing time varies from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The later closing times occur near the winter holidays, the Easter holiday, and during the summer, generally from mid June through late August.
The Disney-MGM Studios normally opens at 9 a.m. The closing time varies from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The later closing times occur near the winter holidays, the Easter holiday, and during the summer, generally from mid June through late August.
Epcot Future World normally opens at 9 a.m. And the World Showcase does not open till 11am. The closing time varies from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. The later closing times occur near the winter holidays, the Easter holiday, and during the summer, generally from mid June through late August.