All photos by Alex Westcott on November 11th, 2020
Our travels take us back to Epcot for a fresh look at the state of construction and a more recent project update following our 25,000+ word, 500+ picture extravaganza covering how to tour the Park in one day. We managed to visit every Future World attraction, spent some time in World Showcase, rode the Skyliner over the France construction, and enjoyed a couple of quick service meals. The visit was also unique in that we were using a RideMax-optimized touring plan instead of my usual advice to just see Awesome Planet over and over again to increase your daily attraction count. The people will be very impressed when you tell them you managed to do 48 attractions in one day. Leave off the part about how they were all Awesome Planet.
If you missed that series, you can pull up any of the individual parts:
- Mark, the creator of the RideMax touring optimization software that we’re using to help guide us on our day, introduced us to the software. The app got our in-park wait at Frozen Ever After down to three minutes and then over to barbecue for lunch, so I’d say we did pretty well for ourselves. Oh, the wonders of technology. My touring plan would probably have us sitting next to crying children on Mission: SPACE three times in a row followed by eating the rubble of the Electric Umbrella demolition. That still might have tasted better than some of the things that the quick service had served over the years. We look forward to its replacement, Locally-Sourced, Sustainable Wind Power Covering.
- Part two followed with what to expect from the arrival experience before we headed off to Frozen Ever After. We also covered the thought process behind a number of decisions that you may find yourself making as you plot your day(s) at Epcot. RideMax made a lot of those decisions easier by letting us know how long we could expect each attraction we were interested in experiencing to take. As we continue with the plan, note how the software includes the walking time, attraction duration, and expected wait in a concise box.
- We continued in World Showcase with Gran Fiesta Tour and a walk up through the Italy Pavilion.
- Part Four followed with lunch at Regal Eagle Barbecue, a pleasant Skyliner gondola ride over France, a stop at the Canada Far & Wide Circle-Vision 360 film, and a return to Future World for the Imagination Pavilion attractions, including a very awkward stop at the Disney Visa Photo Spot.
- Part Five with everything in the Land Pavilion.
- And in Part Six, we closed the Park down, visiting The Seas with Nemo, Spaceship Earth, Mission: SPACE, and closing the night out with Test Track.
Our next touring series will cover an afternoon arrival at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Then I guess we can’t put off a return to Hollywood Studios any longer.
As we noted a couple of news posts ago, Disney officially confirmed that they had increased current Park Pass capacity to 35% of each Park’s theoretical capacity. That’s up from the previous cap, which Disney quoted as 25%. That’s either a 10% increase or a 40% increase depending on how you want to run the numbers. If Epcot can hold 100,000 people, then going from 25,000 to 35,000 is obviously 10,000 more people, or 10% of 100,000. But it’s also a 40% increase in that 35,000 people is 40% more than 25,000. The latter “feels” more substantial.
If you’re still thinking, “35%? How bad could that be?” I would first ask if you know where these people are standing. Since this is a self-esteem building exercise, and I would like you to get it right, I haven’t cropped out some of my favorite plants so it appears to be more obscure. I would then tell you that there are physical-distancing markers on the ground, so Disney is expecting the line to stretch back this far. And then I would tell you that it’s the end of the line just to enter the pyramid in the Mexico Pavilion, where there is even more line before you’d actually get to the stores or the ride inside. We’ll take a closer look when we formally arrive.
As a reminder, this is what wait times looked like across the day:
That’s 110 minutes to get started at Frozen Ever After with triple-digit waits at Test Track materializing shortly thereafter. If you’re wondering if Alex cares about you as much as I do, he actually waited in that Frozen line in the middle of the day to see how long it would take, and to get a glimpse of the plastic barriers Disney has installed behind each of the first three rows to increase capacity.
“Capping” attendance at 35% is probably not all that much of a limit most days. I’m not sure anyone has pictures of Epcot when it has closed completely to capacity. Even on (past) New Year’s Eves, when Epcot is the place to be if your personality can best be described as “Horizons,” and there are 90,000+ people inside, they still let more in. Magic Kingdom will rarely see a Phase I or II closure around Christmas, but that means you can still get in if you already have a ticket, hold a dining reservation, are staying at a Disney resort, or a plethora of other exceptions. New Fantasyland and the sheer size of the back of Storybook Circus increases the Park’s capacity considerably, at least as far as the fire code is concerned.
Considering physical-distancing protocols, where the majority of attractions are running at limited capacities, that 35% attendance cap can translate into wait times that would be equal to what they would be if the Park was at 60% to 70% capacity. For example, on The Seas with Nemo & Friends, they fill every other vehicle, in effect halving capacity and doubling waits. To put it another way, that basically translates to twice as many people waiting in front of you than actually are, since you’ll have to wait for two ghosts to be seated before your clamobile motors in. That was not a sentence I had previously expected to write. At Buzz, standard procedure is to fill every third vehicle, which basically cuts capacity by two-thirds, and triples what the wait would be otherwise.
Disney continues to modify ride vehicles to increase capacity. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway now has plastic barriers between rows so they can fill every one. Before that installation, it would just be me in the two-row portion of the train, effectively cutting capacity by about 80% across those two rows. At best, a family of four or five might have been able to squeeze into a single row, which would have “only” decreased capacity to 50%. While they won’t be able to seat anyone next to me, hopefully the people in the next row have some friends. With four people in front of me, and me sitting there trying to take pictures around a large slab of acrylic behind them, the capacity of our single vehicle would be around 62.5% – a big increase from 12.5%.
On other attractions, like Mission: SPACE, there is really no way to pair up groups in such tight quarters. So after identifying myself as a single adult male blogger by my very presence, I take up the equivalent of four seats in the capsule, in turn reducing the capacity of that vehicle to 25%. Before the March closures, they would place me with a group of two or three unfortunate victims, making all of us a little uncomfortable, but also moving through more people and reducing wait times. I would also note that the crews I’ve piloted have never touched down on Mars unsuccessfully, even if my crewmates may not appreciate the tone I use when barking orders.
Potentially, the lack of FastPass+ priority helps reduce wait times. Back in March, between 60% and 80% of most rides’ capacities went to those with FastPass+, rider swap, disability access, VIP tour guides, Club 33 connections, etc. Now, the vast majority of the available capacity goes to standby. Of course, that also means you won’t be able to take advantage of FastPass+ yourself to bypass some of those longer waits.
On the flip side, the shorter hours on weekdays also come into play. The overall average wait on Veterans day was 33 minutes with the Park operating from 11am to 9pm. Even that 9pm close is two hours later than what we saw last month. But waits ended up being shorter each day over the following weekend, thanks to the earlier opens and closes.
Here’s the chart from just two days after our visit, on Friday with a 10am open and 10pm close:
Despite higher attendance, the average wait is ten minutes shorter heading into the weekend. If you got in ten lines over the course of the day, you could expect to wait over an hour and a half less. And that’s on a day that’s technically busier, at least as far as attendance is concerned.
Waits on Saturday and Sunday were also shorter than Wednesday, in large part because of the extended weekend hours. Wednesdays are historically the least-crowded day across the theme parks. That is evidently not true when there is a national holiday involved.
Alex pulled up to the toll plaza right at 11am, which was also the time the Park opened. It then took 17 minutes to park and walk up to temperature check, since trams remain out of service. If it was a serious touring day, and you were driving or taking an Uber/Lyft, you’d want to arrive about 45 minutes before Park open, with the expectation that the parking lot will open between 30 and 45 minutes early. Timing the parking lot opening can be one of the trickier things these days because it varies based on demand. On busier days, Epcot’s lot will open closer to 45 minutes early, while on less busy days, it’s closer to 30 minutes. The same is typically true at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. At Hollywood Studios, the parking lot typically opens between 60 and 70 minutes before the Park. Back in March, you could have arrived at 7am and parked without trouble. But keeping you safe and comfortable in your vehicle as long as possible is part of the physical-distancing measures in place.
Once the parking lot opens, at the same time the first buses begin arriving from the Disney resorts, temperature/bag check will begin, and Disney will allow you to enter the Park and head to the attraction of your choice. The tricky part comes when you arrive too early and cones block you from even being able to stop in front of the entrance, which would necessitate driving around in a circle and returning in hopes that the cones are gone and it’s engine-shut-off-time. That’s typically more of an issue at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, but if crowds continue on the path they’re on, people will begin arriving earlier and earlier at Epcot, too.
If they let people park earlier, the entrance would look like this, which is obviously out at the moment as people pile on top of each other before 8am. Most will be headed to Test Track, a ride that didn’t officially open this century.
Back to the day at hand, the Evolv scanners, which Disney has now installed at every Park and Disney Springs, reduce the wait for security to basically zero regardless of how many people are arriving.
Each one of these things can scan over 3,000 people per hour.
And it looked like they were preparing more. Or this is very much not the line you want to be sent to with the actual police standing guard.
If you’re confused about where you are, Disney gives you one last chance to change your mind as they’ve now painted the Park’s logo on the newly-painted ticket booths. Of course, Hollywood Studios is the next-closest theme park, so Epcot could be a synonym for heaven as far as we’re concerned.
It’s artsy because it’s tilted. Maybe two more degrees to the right would be appropriate. We’re working on it.
You’ll still need to walk around the thousand-plus-pound pillars sporting the classic EPCOT logo in the middle of the fountain construction.
Aerial view of the current work on the EPCOT signature fountain. Zoom in, there’s texture on the sloping water surface. pic.twitter.com/cf6q8LHDqP
— bioreconstruct (@bioreconstruct) November 14, 2020
That’s what it looks like over the top. We’ve got a ways to go with no indication that anyone is in a particular hurry to finish.
Maybe once they turn on the water, it will be easier to slide the pillars out and take them that way.
— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) November 17, 2020
Construction/demolition continues in the middle of Future World in what may end up being one of Disney’s bigger mistakes that they’ve made in the last few years. Obviously, nobody could have foreseen our current conditions when what is largely a beautification project began, but it seems unlikely that Disney would have gone through with knocking down Original MouseGear, Electric Umbrella, FountainView Starbucks, Innoventions, Character Spot, the Fountain of Nations, etc. if they hadn’t already begun knocking things down. Or they would have at least delayed it by a few years, as they did with the Spaceship Earth refurbishment that didn’t quite start before the theme park closure. And then quietly canceled the Mary Poppins overlay of the UK Pavilion and whatever attraction they were going to build there. A few months ago, Disney rattled off their priority projects, none of which were at Epcot. According to the earnings report and conference call last Thursday, they also confirmed that theme park spending for the next fiscal year is going down, which isn’t a big surprise. But back in March, you could hear the construction going on here during the day. You probably won’t hear any such noise at the moment. A Property Brother may occasionally knock down a wall with a sledgehammer to check for water damage. If a slick-looking individual tries to hand you a bill, don’t pay it. Return it to Guest Services.
Holiday merchandise is out in force.
It’s weird when the hairline on your hat matches what’s underneath. At least there won’t be any surprises when I take it off during Soarin’.
Starbucks has a new collection of tumblers out.
This one looks to be based on things that aren’t happening this year, like the Candlelight Processional and Sunset Seasons Greetings, in addition to things that have never happened here, like “it’s a small world” HOLIDAY.
The Epcot tumbler is optimistic about the future PLAY! Pavilion with Harmonious featured in the center underneath what will be the new fountain and Spaceship Earth.
The capitalization schemes can be a bit tricky to follow. Disney has begun referring to Epcot as EPCOT again, but they don’t always.
Below is from an August 2019 Disney Parks Blog post:
Harmonious was originally styled as HarmonioUS, which may have worked on some level, but it also looks like the name of the show would be pronounced Har-moe-nee-oh-US, which isn’t exactly a word. MouseGear had been one word forever, but Disney now typically refers to it as Mouse Gear. There was never more than one gear though, so if you called it MouseGears, you should still feel bad either way. I capitalize some things correctly, like Mission: SPACE or DINOSAUR, but leave off the exclamation point after Fantasmic! because it seems like the next letter should be capitalized and I’m just not that excited about the proposition. They actually auction off the use of exclamation points each year and I could only afford six. So I’m using them wisely! I should probably be thankful that I don’t have to figure out how to put a little hat over the first ‘e’ in Creperie yet. Maybe sometime in March or April.
When things that Disney officially announces don’t happen, it makes it somewhat difficult to be a sideline prognosticator. That’s why we typically cover things six to eight weeks after they happen. You can’t be too careful in this political climate.
Back on Monday, Disney offered updates on a number of projects. The PLAY! Pavilion, which is expected to be full of meet and greets and interactive games, wasn’t mentioned. It’s hard to say how much work is going on inside.
Meanwhile, we did see inside the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind building with a look at the track and vehicles. More information can be found in today’s news and wait times post. Façade work is really just getting underway, while they’re already pulling cast members from other positions to test the vehicles. In the meantime, they’re basically going to build the TV section of a Best Buy in there.
Mission: SPACE encountered some technical trouble early in the day, which is part of the reason why the back of the line is here. Or this could be the back of the line for Test Track.
Mission: SPACE’s entire queue is full and stretches back outside the entrance. Where it ends, nobody knows.
But Test Track’s line now backs up all the way over into that corner near the physical Space 220 Restaurant building. It used to stretch straight back towards Temporary Mouse Gear, but there wasn’t enough space after the capacity increase to hold everybody.
You’ll wait on the left, until a cast member tells you it’s safe to cross over to the right, and into the regular extended queue.
We’ve got 90 minutes posted, but it’s probably closer to 60 or 70 minutes. With six feet between parties, all of the lines appear longer. Your wait will be about 40 minutes from the time you pass underneath the wait time sign. There’s about 20 minutes worth of line across the way.
Test Track does back up even further as Disney can build a temporary queue winding around these markers.
We’ve seen that queue fill closer to Park open.
The Taste of Epcot Food and Wine Festival will wrap up in a few days after a confusing season that began on the day the Park reopened in July. Some booths opened. Others closed. Items were on the menu. Then they weren’t on the menu. “THE DONUT BOX” as pictured opened a couple of months after most of the other booths, and was originally only open on weekends, before moving to daily service for a couple of weeks. Hopefully things will return to “normal” next year and we can get back to reviewing every item negatively knowing that it will be available daily and not just every other Tuesday between 2:07pm and 4:53pm. The website is admittedly not on a good run as far as review output is concerned. I got about two-thirds of the way through Flower and Garden before the March closures. Then half way through Food and Wine before realizing that Epcot’s daily attendance was lower than the number of food items on the Italy booth’s menu. That obviously isn’t the case anymore, but this was no ordinary Festival. The Festival of the Holidays takes over on the 27th with 16 booths. At a minimum, I suppose I could assign each item a numerical score and an appropriate number of exclamation marks after “tasty!!!!” or “not tasty!!!!!!!!!!!!” so you can better sort out what I’m really trying to say. I would tell you how much those exclamation points cost me, but it would be embarrassing. Let’s just say I had to sell that hat I was wearing earlier in the post.
We’ll move up to World Showcase in the next Part.