Most photos by Alex Westcott with the exception of a few of the nighttime shots of Spaceship Earth with the fountain out from behind the “progress walls.” The post ends with more recent construction photos from mid-January that I took myself, if you can believe that.
It was a festive year at Epcot, all things considered.
The various character cavalcades were made all the more festive around World Showcase. Wintery characters like Anna and Elsa made their way around the promenade often throughout the day. They’ve since moved the Frozen characters to a sort of selfie station area in Norway as Disney has now returned to the more generic lineup of characters.
Horseback is the only way to travel around these Festivals.
The Christmas decorations actually continue to linger for the most part, even as the Festival of the Arts has taken over.
While the cavalcades are unlikely to continue after the traditional meet and greets return, they’re certainly an easy way for far more guests to see and briefly interact with the characters.
Even if it’s at a distance. Hopefully this will be the one and only year we discuss these sorts of things as we return to some semblance of normalcy in the coming months.
At Epcot, it was relatively easy to see most of the characters without needing to stand in long lines. Minnie was in plain sight in the gazebo. Mickey was in the lobby of the Pixar and Disney Short Film Festival. Joy, Wreck-It Ralph, and Vanellope were all there in the Imagination Pavilion exit area. That was less true at most of the other Parks, where meeting Mickey typically took about 45 minutes thanks to FastPass+. He was in Festival of Fantasy, of course, but the briefer cavalcades that run more often give people more of an opportunity. Minnie’s smile here is the exact same one I have when a Festival booth menu is the same as last year. I just look at it longingly.
Any interaction whatsoever with Santa would ordinarily take 20 minutes to an hour or more as he and Mrs. Clause took up residence to the right of the American Adventure building.
The carriage and wave are less personal than sitting on Santa’s lap after waiting in line for an hour, but you could always try to rush him and let you know what all you want for Christmas is Super Nintendo World. Wherever they build it in the states.
It seemed like Disney has been upping the characters available for distanced meets, which is nice. They could have cut the characters entirely, and probably not lost much if anything in terms of admission, but they opted to keep rolling them out. It certainly makes Disney “feel” more like Disney.
They really didn’t skimp out on the entertainment too much, with additional characters frequently appearing. These ladies are setting the course for Santa.
While the holiday are on their way out, I don’t think we would have seen Joy wearing a wreath of Christmas lights if she were meeting in her usual indoor spot in the Imagination Pavilion. It’s not exactly the Disneyland model of the characters mingling with guests more freely…since they’re not mingling whatsoever…it’s literally exactly the opposite of that…but it wasn’t something that Disney necessarily needed to do, or announced that they would. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to see what they’ve done over the last few months and am legitimately surprised they not only kept it up, but ramped it up.
While we’ll over here, we’ll take a holiday ride on Living with the Land:
Living with the Land may be my favorite of the holiday overlays, but I’ve always been partial to foliage.
As I’m sure you saw, even Figment received a little extra holiday cheer this year.
Rocking the holiday sweater.
Since he’s not wearing pants, we can assume he has a Zoom meeting coming up. Probably with me.
Every fanboy’s reaction to the new article of clothing.
I’m sure you’ll be able to buy your own sweater for $79.99 next year, probably made with whatever the scratchiest material in the world is.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Disney made the sweater out of 100% pine needles. shopDisney (the ‘s’) is lowercase isn’t going to get it to you anyway, so it may not matter if it’s made of gold.
I don’t think we’re expecting to see too many changes inside the Seas Pavilion since our last visit, but there might be a hat with a slightly different font or something in the gift shop:
The Seas used to quietly stay open through Park close, even if the number of interactive exhibits and what not was reduced in the early evening. Living with the Land, the video upstairs, and the Imagination Pavilion would historically close at 7pm, unless evening Extra Magic Hours were scheduled, in which case the rides would continue to operate for everyone up until 9pm, and then exclusively for those eligible for EMH typically from 9pm to 11pm. These days, just about everything in Future World is open through close. That’s still usually the same number of hours – 11am to 9pm instead of 9am to 7pm – but it “feels” like there’s more opportunity since you’ll likely have other priorities earlier in the day and can then visit The Seas and other locations with virtually nobody else around.
Both Mariachi Cobre and the Voices of Liberty continue to perform during Festival of the Arts at the American Gardens Theater in the United States Pavilion. There is a little less Christmas and a little more “Lion King” now in January.
We’ll take a look at some of the festivities:
I have tried this mating technique a couple of times with what some may define as “mixed success,” while others prefer the term “complete failure.”
The theater has plenty of capacity for anyone to find comfortable seats for either show:
Personally, if the performers couldn’t safely play through the Candlelight Processional, you would have thought my slam poetry about rising fountain beverage pricing would have been a better filler than another rendition of “Santa Baby.” I’m chalking the scheduling fluke up to the fact that I didn’t go to the audition, but I think my track record speaks for itself.
Christmas decorations were probably toned down a little bit overall this year, but there was still plenty to see:
Or we at least have proof that there were a few decorations in France, if nothing else.
As we’ve discussed recently, they’ve began filling every row on Frozen Ever After, basically doubling its capacity and halving waits. Here’s our simple two-bar chart of what waits looked like before and after the change:
If you missed it, and would like to spend about 20 minutes unearthing the secret that doubling capacity lowers waits, at least until Disney raises capacity to offset the increases, you can check out “Walt Disney World Starts Filling Every Row on Attractions Among the Heaviest Christmas Crowds of the Year.” The good news being that Frozen waits are now about half of what they had been. The ride used to average about 80 minutes in the month leading up to the change. Now we’re under 40 minutes.
We can see if that trend has continued into January:
Considering I probably wouldn’t bring the point up again if the website’s hypothesis no longer reflected reality, but you can see waits are much lower, particularly after much of the Christmas crowd level on the 2nd and 3rd of January. On weekdays so far in early January, the overall average has come in around 30 minutes, if that. The attraction actually experienced one of its worst days ever, at least so far as its operation is concerned, on the 8th. It was only up at the end of the night, when the cool temperatures had already pushed a lot of people home.
Waits to enter the Mexico Pavilion and then eventually make it down the ramp inside remain in the afternoon most days, particularly on the weekends. You’ll likely want to head over there after your headliner choice.
The wait to get inside is typically five to twenty minutes to enter and then you can take your time inside so everyone else ends up waiting longer. It’s sort of like the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs meet and greet during something like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, if anybody remembers that thing. If you’re going to wait longer than you’d like for the opportunity to do something, you’re only going to take longer to complete the operation yourself. If you wait 2+ hours to meet the Dwarfs, you’re going to get a picture with every conceivable mixture of group members. And that’s why the wait is as long as it is.
Once you enter the actual queue for Gran Fiesta Tour, the wait is posted at five to ten minutes, even if people are waiting an hour to get inside to enter the queue.
Sometimes you have to bring your own Donald.
We’ll let Alex walk us out, only to head back in ourselves:
And with that, the Festival of the Holidays ends, with the 7-day Festival moratorium holding the Festival of the Holidays off until January 8th.
All things considered, Epcot/EPCOT did just about everything they could for the holidays given the present conditions. We all missed the holiday performers, Candlelight Processional, and special holiday entertainment, but there wasn’t much of an opportunity to pull the majority of it off safely. Hopefully none of this will be an issue next year and we can order our 4-ounce beers from the Yukon booth without having to try to yell “the little cup of the Ale Gâteau Forêt-Noire” through a felt mask, ideally at a charming French Canadian cast member instead of Chad from Colorado. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with you, Chad.
We’ll take a look at wait times from January 8th, 2021, the first day of the Festival of the Arts, while we’re here:
As previously mentioned, Frozen was down almost all day, putting some pressure on other attractions. But the 25-minute overall average wait is just two minutes shy of what we experienced on Christmas Day, and the same as this past Monday, when waits were significantly higher at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. The Frozen downtime makes just about everyone who was trying to decide whether to go there or Test Track headed to the sim track first since there was no other reasonable choice. Higher early waits at Test Track lead to higher waits at Mission: SPACE, as the simulator isn’t ready for an influx of astronauts that early. Who is though?
It also looks like Test Track went down at the very end of the night, which means you wouldn’t be able to get in line last thing. The website’s overarching advice is to do Test Track first if it’s operating and you arrive early enough, which is typically about an hour before official Park open these days. Otherwise, one of Disney’s least-reliable attractions is liable to be closed for technical difficulties later, and you won’t be able to ride last thing, as you wouldn’t have been able to on this particular day. I’m, not sure what, if any, compensation Disney would give you if you calmly passed along your disappointment about not being able to experience Frozen. If you’re visiting the Park on a second day, they may offer a set of the equivalent of FastPasses. Of course, they can’t exactly do that for everybody. And with the ride closed completely most of the day, nobody really spent time waiting in the actual queue, so Disney may not be feeling quite as generous. But you can always ask, and with the way Disney funnels guests out of the Park, you’re probably passing by Guest Services anyway.
One side note: If you ever need to talk to Guest Relations, you want to de-blogger yourself as much as possible. This means leaving cameras and any external phone chargers with another family member. Showing up in no shorts is better than arriving in cargos, so take those off beforehand, whether you’re wearing anything underneath or not. No bucket hats. If you’re wearing a fisherman’s shirt, make sure you at least have some hooks or bait in view. Carrying an actual fish with you is always better as they’ll want you to be on your way as soon as possible, and are far more likely to capitulate to your demands, at least in my experience. I wouldn’t say no to a guy holding a fresh bass that is obviously about to be blackened as a Festival Favorite.
We’ll change gears slightly as we focus on what’s happening now, even as the majority of the Christmas decorations are still up around the Park.
The walls down at the front of the Park, for the most part, make for a huge improvement in the arrival experience.
You’ll still need to take the right towards Future World West/Soarin’/Seas/Imagination or a left for Frozen/Test Track/General Confusion after passing Spaceship Earth, and pass through a corridor.
But the opening of the front of the Park is much more welcoming than the giant walls we had seen for about five months.
This is where you’ll take the right towards The Seas with Spaceship Earth directly above us. You can see how gutted these buildings are.
We should be looking at what used to be the Art of Disney? Soon it will just be a large area for activities.
If you hadn’t visited before the walls came down up front, you may not appreciate just how nice it is to enter the Park now.
Back up in World Showcase, the Jammitors don’t even chase you down in their truck, but it certainly feels like they do with these omnipresent ovens that double as some sort of drum. I guess if you hit just about anything it makes noise. I grab my La Fin Du Monde from the Canada Cart and sprint in whichever direction seems to make less sense. Granted, I don’t move very fast these days, so a new jammity set inevitably begins before I’m out of range. I usually joke that after I’m unable to walk, which will be in 6-8 weeks if Chef Mickey’s keeps changing the colors of sprinkles on its waffles, I will just ride in the scooter and the pictures will be about six inches lower. Talk about a fresh perspective.
Much wider: Here.
The barges for the upcoming HarMONious show are a major discussion point.
There will be four on the water that look like this and then the gigantic ring of water barge coming in as well. Eventually, they’ll work as a fountain show, potentially blocking views even more.
The “rumor” is that the barges will be out there all day, rather than being driven in from backstage in the late afternoon.
Since I’m rude, I made this:
(artist rendering) maybe five barges won’t be so bad pic.twitter.com/FpoVS7oViF
— josh (@easywdw) January 12, 2021
Hopefully there will be a way to “hide” the barges in certain spots around World Showcase, even if water seems to be the answer to everything. Use it while you’ve got it, I suppose.
The barges should be equipped with a number of lighting elements and arms that I’m assuming point to the exit so you can get out of there sooner rather than later.
Personally, I found the whole avant garde musical score and history of the world told through the seldom shooting of fireworks during IllumiNations a little too cerebral. Hopefully HarMONIoUs is just Aladdin, since Morocco needs all the help they can get.
In case you’re keeping track at home, the large hole in the middle of the Park is still there with almost everything inside these (progress) walls gutted.
Something I will always wonder is if they would have gone through with this project of tearing down the middle of Future World if they weren’t partway through before the March closures. Electric Umbrella isn’t exactly Commander’s Palace, but there is something to say for the theme park hamburger on theme park day. Sometimes you just want to feel bad about yourself or enjoy the comforts of a piece of meat that may or may not arrive in bags by the thousand.
Temporary Mouse Gear retains an evening line just to head inside and shop, even with mobile order designed to speed things up. You shouldn’t run into one earlier in the afternoon. And there are still a lot of stores.
Heavy façade work continues outside the future home of Cosmic Rewind, where apparently the Home Depot was having a sale on plywood when they were out in the van buying the fountains for the Moana walk-through.
We will say goodbye to the decorations at Animal Kingdom and then see if we can get half way through the Festival reviews before it ends.