We begin our morning at 7:49am on the morning of Wednesday, March 21st.
Crescent Lake is one of the prettiest areas on property, particularly during sunrise and sunset.
Those colors are only sort of captured here:
Epcot, of course, has two entrances.
Guests staying at the BoardWalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan, and Dolphin Resorts have the opportunity to walk or take the boat to the International Gateway.
There is not ordinarily transportation from these resorts to the main entrance, but you could drive or take a taxi/Uber.
Part of the reason why you might want to stay at a Crescent Lake Deluxe is the convenience of walking to Epcot.
But there are certain advantages and disadvantages of the International Gateway.
The first positive, at least at the moment, is the fact that it’s incredibly chill. There’s nobody else in sight at 8:05am.
That will likely change with the opening of the gondolas.
Epcot’s station is right here.
It remains to be seen how many guests from Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, and Riviera make the International Gateway their rope drop destination.
But it will certainly be some.
I’d expect those resorts to continue offering bus transportation.
Dangling a thousand feet in the air during a July thunderstorm is probably not everyone’s idea of a pleasant trip.
But for now, and probably for at least another 15 months, the International Gateway should remain a much less busy experience than the main entrance.
The Friendship Boats that pick up at the BoardWalk, Yacht/Beach Clubs, and Swan/Dolphin begin service at 8am.
This is the first boat arriving with about eight people at 8:19am.
That’s an early-enough arrival.
I prefer to be in control of my own destiny, so I typically walk.
If the boat is arriving at the same time you are, it usually takes about the same amount of time to walk or sail. Otherwise, it’s usually faster to walk. The boats are painfully slow, which isn’t the worst thing in the world on a cool afternoon. But if you “feel” like you’re in a hurry, then it’s going to “feel” like it takes a million hours to travel a short distance. The walk from the BoardWalk to the International Gateway is under ten minutes.
Guest Relations is set up at the far left ticket window should you have any questions or problems.
Although I could have gotten in line just after 8am, I decided to hang out and enter the queue right at 8:30am, since I figured that would be a more reasonable arrival time. There is still nobody headed this way.
And there’s only about a dozen people in front of me at 8:30am. One gentleman commented on my 11-24mm f4 lens being a “beast.” I said yes, but people make fun of me for having such wide pictures.
As is customary, bag check began at 8:35am and we were allowed to enter the Park immediately after.
I was inside the Park two minutes later and there is nobody else waiting.
As a reminder, this is what the main entrance typically looks like before 8:15am.
This is a lot more people.
If you’re staying elsewhere, but planning on having breakfast in the Crescent Lake area, then you can obviously choose to enter through the International Gateway. For rope drop, you’ll want to be done with breakfast by 8:30am at the latest to give yourself enough time to get to the entrance and go through bag check etc. Trattoria al Forno does offer breakfast without the character experience if that’s of interest. You’ll either be seated outside or in the back room. Other sit-down options include a very good breakfast at Ale & Compass Restaurant, which I review here. That opens at 7:30am, so you should have enough time to enjoy your meal and be on your way, particularly if you know what you want to order quickly. There’s also Cape May Cafe as a good character breakfast option as well as the BoardWalk Bakery for quick service. My review of breakfast at Trattoria al Forno is located here.
Or you can be like me, and take your good morning scotch to go. The morning view is beautiful, particularly with a table on the water and a Jersey Crumb Cake or Breakfast Sandwich from the BoardWalk Bakery.
There may be no more pleasant way to start your day at Epcot. I managed to snap this picture right as the duck’s green head blended in perfectly with the green garbage can behind it.
Okay, back to pushing little kids out of the way on our quest to a popular theme park attraction.
We’re on our way up the hill where we’ll be held.
This is 8:40am. There’s nobody coming in.
And it looks like about 18 people are in front of me.
And it continues to be all smiles behind me at 8:50am. Despite it being spring break, this is a below average number of people waiting. I was a bit surprised by the lack of people – you’d expect the resorts to be full with your usual number of people hurrying over after breakfast.
The release time varies – our 8:52am launch is typical, but it could be anywhere between 8:45am and 9am. The French Bakery opens at 9am, but only those uninterested in the Future World attractions want to head that way. It’s a very pleasant morning sipping mimosas and munching on a variety of pastries. Or so I’m told. I don’t have any experience with that sort of thing. But France is as far as you can go, so don’t head right expecting a shortcut to Frozen. It will be interesting to see what happens when Ratatouille opens, considering the International Gateway is so close to France. But you’d have to imagine that Guardians of the Galaxy, which is just about as far away from the International Gateway as possible, will be the big priority. But if you can get FastPass+ for Guardians, it makes sense that you’d be able to visit the other priority attractions in short order. Fortunately, those sorts of major changes are what keeps the website in business. Or I could cover walking to Frozen in 2,000 words for the 50th time.
We’re headed left.
Past the World ShowPlace after passing through the United Kingdom.
Past Canada. Be sure to salute the poutine.
Because I’m very slow, I’m well behind those running/hurrying to Frozen. The guy running with the stroller is already in Mexico ahead of me.
Ostensibly, Disney’s goal is to have the first guests from the International Gateway and the main entrance arrive at Frozen Ever After at the same time.
And that’s typically what happens. Those entering through the International Gateway typically arrive after the first guests at other priorities like Test Track and Soarin’ because they’re further away.
That’s particularly true with main entrance guests being held in front of Spaceship Earth. There’s going to be a thousand or more people heading towards the headliners at the same time. Back in the day, when it was the tapstiles that slowed entry, International Gateway guests had more of an advantage as few main entrance guests could scan their tickets and enter at any given time, no matter how far the backup might be.
I merged with those heading in from the main entrance at 8:56am.
It’s a steady stream, but it’s far from overwhelming.
Continuing onward with the people we just saw in front.
And into Norway. You can see stroller parking on the right.
And a tight turn into Norway.
We were released at 8:52am and I arrived at Frozen Ever After at 9am. You could pretty easily shave off two minutes.
While it might initially “feel” like it, the line is not actually backed up outside the entrance.
It’s a lot of people stopping to take pictures here and there.
If only people would fill in all the available space.
We’d already be on our way to Soarin’ right now! Maybe even off that ride too!!
I was on the ride at 9:08am:
I was back out front at 9:16am for a total experience time of 16 minutes. The posted wait is still 20 minutes compared to the 10 minutes I saw when I arrived.
And that wait may be surprisingly accurate. There’s nobody walking towards Frozen in this picture taken at 9:16am.
There’s more people leaving Norway than are coming in.
Here’s a look at Frozen Ever After wait times so far in March:
Say what you will about Disney’s maintenance and capacity issues, but they have done a masterful job of reducing downtime at Frozen. We still see downtime on five of twenty-two days, but it’s typically just for about an hour at a time. That’s less than 25%. And in March of this year, the ride was never down at Park open and never went down before 12:30pm.
Compare that to last summer:
Each red square indicates about 15 minutes of downtime, which means the Frozen was down on 40 of the 50 days between June 1st and July 10th. That’s 80% last year versus 22.7% this year.
Here’s Test Track so far in March 2018:
Wait times are considerably higher – the overall average wait is 75 minutes versus Frozen’s 61 minutes. Downtime is also more common and the ride is down before noon on six days, including four when it’s down at or immediately after rope drop.
Soarin’ continues to pull up the rear with its 51-minute overall average over the last three weeks. It also experiences no overall downtime, though individual theaters do occasionally shut down for one reason or another. You can see that in the sudden jumps in wait times. March 3rd is a good example of that around 4:30pm.
Frozen Ever After FP+ remain the priority as they’re still harder to get than either Test Track or Soarin’. But a Test Track FP+ will likely save you more time. 50% more than Soarin’ and about 20% more than Frozen.
Here’s what wait times look like on your average busy day:
Around 9:30am is as early as I could reasonably expect to arrive at my next attraction given that I’m walking from Norway in World Showcase. At that time, Test Track’s posted wait is 75 minutes and the actual wait should be at least an hour. Soarin’ is posted at 65 minutes with the likelihood that the actual wait will be closer to 50 minutes. Neither of them is particularly viable as a second option, but Soarin’ would make more sense. Test Track single rider is a good choice later in the morning with an actual wait that should be around 15 minutes whether you get in line at 9:30am or 1:30pm.
Ideally, you’d ride one of the priorities first thing, use FP+ at a second, and ride the third at Park close. That minimizes waits as much as possible, though it likely means giving up IllumiNations. On this particular day, the wait for Soarin’ at 8pm is right around 20 minutes, so riding and then seeing IllumiNations would be perfectly possible. Test Track makes a lot of sense as your FastPass+ selection because it guards against downtime and waits are longer than elsewhere. If Test Track is down at Park open 20% of the time, there’s a real possibility that you’ll run into that. Being able to use FP+ after it reopens saves time and stress.
While this is as far as we go this time, we’ll return next week to see more of an efficient touring plan in action. The takeaway is that the International Gateway provides a less stressful rope drop experience, but there is more of a possibility that you’ll be behind those heading in from the main entrance. For more of a foolproof day, you’d want to arrive at the main entrance by 8am to be ahead of everyone heading in. Even if everyone from the International Gateway arrives at the attraction first, you’re talking about maybe 100 people. If you’re heading in from the International Gateway and everyone from the main entrance arrives first, you’re talking about 1,000 people.
But it certainly worked nicely on March 21st.