We’ll take a moment away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to catch up on some theme park touring at Epcot. In the last two posts, we took a look at most of the construction and other projects that are happening around Epcot with a look at Future World West and Future World East. Here at 7:45am on Saturday, January 25th, 2020, it seems like I basically have the place to myself.
At the moment, Test Track is closed for refurbishment for another month or so. According to DisneyWorld.com, they have the ride reopening on February 26th, but the first date with actual operating hours is February 27th. The correct reopening date should be February 27th, but we’ll see if Disney changes the date printed on their website.
With the current state of construction, getting to Epcot’s main entrance should be a lot easier than it was as recently as last month, with the walls coming down around the new tram loop. Ahead on the left is bag check on this side, with those arriving from the bus stops and monorail coming around ahead of us. I’m walking in from the parking lot or west tram stop.
Just since our visit last week, Disney has moved the line that they use for guests with early breakfast reservations and tours to the far right side.
Most of these people have pre-opening breakfast reservations at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway or Garden Grill at Epcot. The very early breakfasts at Epcot are not something that I typically recommend, though they do theoretically offer a touring advantage should you be quick enough to eat and be on your way to a nearby attraction by 8:55am. Garden Grill, inside of The Land Pavilion, is located above Soarin’ with a cost of $43.67 for guests ages ten and older and $25.56 for kids ages three to nine, after tax. If you were to get to Epcot at 7:30am, get through here at 7:50am, and have paid the bill for breakfast by 8:50am, then you could scooch down to Soarin’ before anyone from the main entrance could hope to arrive. At Akershus, breakfast is $55.38 for those ages ten and up and $33.02 for kids, after tax. You’ve got until about 9:05am to be done with breakfast and out in front of Frozen Ever After in Norway. That gives you about an hour to meet and take pictures with five princesses, eat, pay, and leave. If the meal runs long, then you’re behind everyone who is arriving from the main entrance just a minute or two after the Park officially opens at 9am.
Ordinarily, with Test Track open, Soarin’ is a relatively low rope drop priority. Frozen Ever After’s popularity has also dipped considerably since it opened a few years ago, to the point where the wait doesn’t hit 20 minutes until after 9:30am most days when Test Track and Soarin’ are both operational. Because of that, the pre-opening breakfast advantage is somewhat moot, as those who arrive from the main entrance and head to Soarin’ or Frozen first will only wait a handful of minutes, even if they’re towards the back of the group heading in that direction. I’m going to wait less than five minutes for Soarin’, despite the fact that I’m not using any tricks or taking advantage of pre-opening reservations.
Waits build much more quickly at Test Track, where the majority of guests at rope drop are headed when the ride is open. At the moment, waits for Soarin’ and Frozen rise more quickly because Test Track isn’t pulling the majority of the guests at rope drop, and most of the people who are on hand at opening choose between the two headlining attractions that are operating. Still, getting to Soarin’ or Frozen before appreciable waits materialize won’t be particularly difficult. Some people do still prefer to do the pre-opening breakfast and hurry through the meal, but there isn’t going to be a substantial touring advantage for those guests.
Moving guests with breakfast reservations over to the far right makes some sense, since it means Disney can more-easily open additional tapstiles down to the left. You’ll remember that the right half of Epcot’s entrance is completely walled off at the moment as Disney reworks the arrival experience.
As usual, there are few things that tourists enjoy more than a good line, which means most people are going to get in whatever the longest line is to start their day.
I arrived at 7:55am with the regular 9am opening, which is probably 15 minutes earlier than necessary. I’m the only person waiting at my set of four tapstiles as the lines grow next to me.
Five minutes later, a cast member came around trying to organize the lines. Each set of tapstiles has two scanners on each side, and guests will typically form just one line in front of the two sets. Disney occasionally tries to organize the mass of humanity into two distinct lines per set of tapstiles. After this cast member rolled through, each line became about half as long as it was before with guests now spread out and in their correct spots.
Here at 8:07am, the lines are beginning to back up a bit. This is right around the sweet spot where you’ll be comfortably close to the front of one of the lines, but you won’t be arriving unnecessarily early, either.
By 8:15am, the lines are backed up farther, but there still aren’t a ton of people on hand given the fact that there are so few tapstiles apparently opening.
Five minutes later, the scene is about the same.
At 8:25am, there are probably still just a few hundred people here waiting.
One wonders if Hollywood Studios, and its perpetual 7am openings, has caused guests to begin arriving a little later at the other Parks on other days. After all, if you were at the Studios at 6:15am in the morning on the day before, you’re probably looking to sleep in a bit, even if that’s at the All-Star Sports. The Disney Skyliner also drops most guests from Pop Century/Art of Animation/Caribbean Beach Resort/Riviera Resort, and Hollywood Studios at the International Gateway now, in addition to guests staying at the Beach Club, Yacht Club, BoardWalk Inn, Swan, and Dolphin resorts using the World Showcase entrance. At the moment, the Epcot Disney Skyliner route is opening at 7:30am at the latest, so you’ll have plenty of time to get to the International Gateway to rope drop Epcot.
By 8:30am, the lines stretched back far enough that Disney opened more.
But they did so way down to the left. The tapstiles used for breakfast reservations were not converted over for regular use, as is often the case.
So to be among the first to arrive, you’ll want to arrive at Epcot right around 8am. At 8:15am, you’ll still be ahead of the curve. By 8:30am, you’ll be towards the back. If you arrive closer to 8:30am, then you might check for a shorter line farther away from the main clump of people.
At 8:33am, we were let inside.
The entire right side of the courtyard remains walled off for the removal of the Leave A Legacy monoliths and installation of the various planters.
Soon, the other side should look just about like this side.
We’re simply continuing forward to the next holding area.
With the walls taking up so much space, we’ll be held much closer to the center of Future World than before, in anticipation of the rest of the Park opening.
During our visit last week, Gateway Gifts was closed off, but it has recently reopened with the planters blocking further access now moved a little closer to Guest Relations.
But that side of Spaceship Earth remains walled off.
What is now both Pin Traders and the Camera Center will also be open prior to the rest of the Park, though most people will want to hurry by to get a better spot for the joy that is the Jammitors.
The bypass that we used for our pre-opening Garden Grill breakfast last week is open and it will remain open throughout the day.
At some point, the area to the right of Spaceship Earth will be walled off for concrete replacement and potentially the attraction’s refrurbishment, and everyone will be sent around this bypass.
With Spaceship Earth expected to close for 18+ months in the near future, there will likely be no walking past Spaceship Earth at all for some time later this year and into next.
That’s probably part of why Art of Disney has closed in this location. You won’t be able to get to it. But for now, the holding area is just ahead where the red line is elegantly marked.
At some point, the bypass on the right will likely be used for those heading to Soarin’ first thing, while the left bypass around Guest Relations is used for those heading to Test Track and Frozen Ever After. The red line ahead is where the rope will keep us from moving farther into the Park.
I made it to the next holding area at 8:35am. As a reminder, the entire middle of Future World is walled off, as the length of this red line indicates. To get to the other side, you have to walk through one of the Future World breezeways to the right or to the left and then go around.
Cast members were letting guests know this, and advising everyone heading to Frozen Ever After first thing that they would need to take a right, because everything to the left was walled off. This is not the case, and it “felt” like going around the walls to the left, and then heading up to World Showcase on that side, would be quicker than trying to go around to the right and then doubling back. From the main entrance, my recommendation would still be to plan on rope dropping a Future World attraction – Test Track makes the most sense when it’s open, but Soarin’ is our choice at the moment. I can then rely on FastPass+ at Frozen Ever After.
From the International Gateway, it makes the most sense to rope drop Frozen Ever After first, since the ride is closer to that entrance and you’ll have an advantage, unlike the Future World rides, which are farther away. You can then rely on FastPass+ at Test Track or Soarin’. With Test Track down, Soarin’ is it.
Ordinarily, Soarin’ Around the World is a pretty easy 4th FastPass+ selection to acquire, thanks to its hefty capacity:
That’s much less true with Test Track closed. Test Track’s hourly capacity is somewhere around 1,300 riders per hour, which means it’s probably distributing about 900 FastPass+ per hour, or 9,600 per day. Take almost 10,000 daily FastPass+ out of rotation, and you’re looking at much less overall FastPass+ availability. In the screenshot above, even Spaceship Earth has “literally” no FastPass+ availability for one person less than 90 minutes into the day’s operation, at 10:21am.
With enough refreshing, and the ability to be flexible with how you go about your day, FastPass+ for every attraction will eventually become available:
Both Frozen and Soarin’ are available on the day-of for times much later in the day in this screenshot. If I were to continue refreshing, I’d be able to find earlier return times.
But even lowly Living with the Land is completely out of FastPass+ inventory for the day before noon:
That wouldn’t be the case if Test Track’s ~10,000 FastPass+ were in the mix.
FastPass+ availability, or the lack thereof, is one concerning thing about Spaceship Earth’s lengthy closure. Even if the ride isn’t at the top of your list, taking the attraction offline is going to eliminate almost 20,000 Tier 2 FastPass+ experiences every day. The Ratatouille ride coming online this summer will help offset that loss. But assuming Spaceship Earth closes after Test Track reopens and before Ratatouille debuts, Tier 2 FastPass+ at Epcot are going to be more difficult to come by than you might expect given the low historical wait times. But with the maximum allocation of FastPass+ being distributed for lower-priority attractions, wait times will increase as less of an attraction’s capacity goes to standby because more FP+ users are arriving with priority access.
I’m going to run into that myself today, when I’ll be waiting outside the Imagination Pavilion for the Figment ride when I get in line before 10:30am. That’s thanks in large part to the number of people using FastPass+ there because it’s one of the few attractions that has availability.
Breakfast is served pic.twitter.com/1a2wIokxuI
— josh (@easywdw) January 25, 2020
For your “enjoyment,” the Jammitors will come out at 8:45am to bang on garbage cans with sticks for about eight minutes. That’s at least true if you don’t visit on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Because Disney’s WiFi is so bad, I sent the tweet about the Jammitors right after they performed at 8:53am, but the video wasn’t uploaded and the tweet wasn’t sent for five hours. At that point in the afternoon, it did not make a tremendous amount of sense to be talking about breakfast, but I didn’t want to deprive my Twitter friends of the day’s opening interlude.
The crowd stretches back behind me towards the main entrance, which is part of the reason why our early morning arrival is so beneficial. I’ll be off Soarin’ and on my way to my next attraction before 9:20am, where I won’t wait more than a minute or two to ride. If I were to arrive at the main entrance at 8:50am, and then head to Soarin’ first, I’d wait about an hour there, disembarking closer to 10am. By that time, actual waits will already be 15+ minutes at most attractions and heading for a half hour or longer in short order.
So while we are standing around for a while ourselves before the Park opens, that early arrival is what’s going to allow me to get so much done early in the morning. If I wanted to arrive closer to regular Park opening, then I could rely on an initial FastPass+ at Soarin’ or Frozen and then feverishly refresh availability to acquire FP+ at the other at some point later in the day. I could then visit any of the Tier 2 FastPass+ attraction and experience a short wait at 9am.
At 8:52am, we were released from the holding area and free to walk around the walls of our choice.
Everyone is heading right.
If this narrow walkway gets backed up, you might be able to save some time by going around it to the left.
We’ll take a right through the Future World West breezeway. It’s such a bright and sunny day that we even have sunbursts reflecting on the windows.
Character Spot with Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy used to be a FastPass+ option on the left. Joy/Sadness and Baymax used to meet at The Other Character Spot in the building on the right. Both have since closed. See this post for where the characters are currently situated, when they meet, and the best times to visit them. We’ll check in on each over the span of these updates as well.
Our destination is Soarin’ Around the World in the Land Pavilion straight ahead. Many more people than usual are taking a left towards Frozen Ever After in Norway.
We may have to test our hypothesis that taking a left and heading through World Showcase on the Norway side is faster. But even if it is, you’d still have to double back afterwards to do anything else in Future World, which is a lot of walking first thing. You’ll be much better off if you’re relying on FastPass+ for Frozen. When Test Track is open, you can actually ride it first and then go up to Frozen and ride with a relatively short wait after. With Test Track closed, the only attraction open on the other side of Future World is Mission: SPACE.
We’ll be using FastPass+ there and at Spaceship Earth later in the morning.
Even now, with Test Track closed, Soarin’ is a pretty forgiving rope drop destination, with an hourly capacity that exceeds 2,000 riders per hour.
We’re headed up this path. You’ll need to be ready to jettison your stroller over here to the right as they aren’t allowed inside the Pavilion.
Then we’re headed around to the left. ECV parking is available on this level. There are elevators available in two places down to the left, with the first bank probably proving to be a faster solution. The escalator down is around to the right.
We’re headed down the stairs to the left with the Soarin’ marquee directly below.
As you can see, this is not the unpleasant, clumped march that we see at other priority attractions like Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Smugglers Run/Slinky Dog Dash at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. It’s more akin to something like Big Thunder Mountain. We’ll be saving an hour in line by heading here first, but it’s not the elbow-throwing fest that some other attractions require.
Here’s Garden Grill, where we could theoretically enjoy a pre-opening breakfast. If you were to arrive at the restaurant at 8am, you’d have about 45 minutes to eat and try to meet Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale, before it would be time to grab the check and pay. I’m passing by the restaurant at 8:57am from the main entrance, so if you leave breakfast at any point after that, then you’d be behind everyone that’s arriving from the main entrance or International Gateway. Garden Grill seats guests for breakfast through 10:30am, so theoretically you could ride Soarin’ and Living with the Land first, and then hit up breakfast around 10am instead. With time so spare, the Awesome Planet film is also on this level.
Soarin’ is posted at just ten minutes as we arrive at 8:57am.
I’m not going to run into any resistance.
Even by being slow and taking a picture every five steps, I’m still among the first hundred or so people to arrive.
I would guess that I was part of the second ride cycle of the day.
That puts me in the pre-show at 9:02am.
And I’m off the ride at about 9:15am, or just 15 minutes after the Park officially opens. On the left is now the end of the standby line for Soarin’ at 9:17am, which backs up nearly to the attraction’s entrance.
The posted wait of an hour is probably about accurate.
So far, my experience has been a breeze, thanks to my early arrival and choosing Soarin’ as my first stop. In the next part, we’ll move on to Living with the Land and the rest of the Future World attractions before we head up to World Showcase.