Visiting Epcot in Summer 2020
Our preliminary coverage of the Walt Disney World theme park reopenings continues with a look at Epcot. We initially discussed touring Disney’s Animal Kingdom in some amount of depth. That introduction included a general overview of what to expect now that FastPass+, Extra Magic Hours, character meet and greets, nighttime spectaculars, parades, and most shows will not be available for some time.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Epcot’s opening on July 15th, 2020, is that the Park won’t open until 11am. That’s set to be true through the end of October. Here’s what things look like:
You can pull up the full size version of this chart that continues through October here, but it looks the same as what you see above all the way down.
You’ll notice that Disney has currently staggered the opening times of the Parks:
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 8am
- Magic Kingdom Park: 9am
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 10am
- Epcot in all caps: 11am
From a transportation logistics standpoint, this makes some sense. With physical distancing, the days of standing on buses are likely over. Guests will likely need to leave two empty seats between parties. This is good in some ways. You either won’t find yourself standing on a bus back to
All-Star Sports an open resort at the end of a ten-hour day, or have someone else’s butt in your face as you contemplate whether it would make more sense to switch places with them. It’s bad because it greatly reduces the number of people who will be able to board each bus. That may increase waits and mean not being able to board, even given relatively few people waiting.
Logistically, the staggered openings will make it possible for Disney to first use its fleet of buses to transport the majority of guests to Animal Kingdom, followed by the other Parks.
As far as Hollywood Studios and Epcot opening later in the day, it likely has something to do with the Disney Skyliner system. We’re expecting it to be operating when the theme parks reopen.
Before the shutdown, you might remember that we tried to use the Skyliner to arrive at Hollywood Studios early enough to secure a virtual queue return for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. We followed that up by taking the gondola system to Epcot to rope drop Frozen Ever After. We found a lot more success going to Epcot.
Even earlier in the year, during the best of times, Disney started Skyliner service just 30 minutes before the Studios was set to open. It’s likely that the later openings at the Studios and Epcot are due, at least in part, to Disney not wanting to pay to get the Skyliner service up and running before 9:30am, with the Studios’ 10am open. If the Studios opened at 7am, which makes a lot of sense given the incredible demand for Rise of the Resistance and Slinky Dog Dash, Disney would be obligated to open the Skyliner three hours earlier, at 6:30am, or get buses to all resorts going much earlier in the morning. Both of those are expensive options. Disney may not even have the staff to operate it if they wanted to do so.
Luckily, we’re a post away from having to directly deal with the Studios’ situation. The great thing about life is that whatever you can do today, you can also do tomorrow.
I’ll update the Epcot map shortly after we know exactly what will and won’t be open. We also don’t know exactly what the pathways will look like. I was in the midst of updating the map prior to the shutdown:
The two red arrows show the bypasses around the back of Spaceship Earth and into the Park. It’s worth noting that Spaceship Earth will reopen with Epcot. Originally, Disney had it slated to close for a lengthy refurbishment. Disney has stated that the re-imagining is “delayed.” That probably has something to do with capacity. Obviously, it also means Disney gets to keep some capital spending off the books this quarter. All of that is probably good. I remember the simpler times. We were only concerned about what removing Spaceship Earth from the FastPass+ lineup would do to overall FastPass+ availability. Now we live in a world without FastPass+, but also have Spaceship Earth. I don’t think I would have called that in January 2020.
At the moment, this is what we’re expecting to remain closed on the dining front. I have a question mark next to a couple of locations where their fate is unclear:
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
- Block & Hans(?)
- Chefs de France
- Cool Wash(?)
- Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe(?)
- Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie
- Lotus Blossom Cafe
- Monsieur Paul
- Nine Dragons
- Restaurant Marrakesh
- Space 220 – Coming Soon
- Teppan Edo
- Tokyo Dining
- Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar
- Tutto Italia Restorante(?)
- Yorkshire County Fish Shop
We weren’t too concerned about what dining options would be available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. For those visiting Epcot this summer, closures will likely come into play much more. In addition, because there is no College Program, and no International College Program, World Showcase will largely be staffed by your typical cast member, rather than cultural representatives visiting from their native countries.
You probably don’t want me to be your server at Chefs de France for a variety of reasons. The fact that my French is limited would be relatively low on that list. Either way, it won’t be possible to eat there in the near term. Epcot will actually open without two of its three signature restaurants. There is no Takumi-Tei or Monsieur Paul. Eventually, these restaurants will reopen. It’s going to be some time before Disney can re-institute the International College Program. There’s then a lot of training. It’s hard to imagine a lot of these places reopening this year.
In addition, a plethora of shops will be closed to those visiting Epcot this summer:
- The Brass Bazaar
- Casablanca Carpets
- The Crown & Crest
- Das Kaufhaus
- Der Teddybar
- Die Weihnachts Ecke
- El Ranchito del Norte
- L’Esprit de la Provence
- The Fjording
- La Gemma Elegante
- Good Fortune Gifts
- House of Good Fortune
- Il Bel Cristallo
- Kunstarbeit in Kristall
- Princesa de Cristal
- La Tienda Encantada
- Les Vins de France
- Lords and Ladies
- Marketplace in the Medina
- Northwest Mercantile
- Plume et Palette
- The Queen’s Table
- Ring Carvers
- La Signature
- Souvenirs de France
- Sportsman’s Shoppe
- Stein Haus
- Rangier Traders
- Toy Soldier
- Trading Post
- Village Traders
- Wandering Reindeer
That’s over 35 shops and kiosks closed. That’s also on top of what Disney closed earlier this year with the planned overhaul of Epcot.
Even more depressing, in something like the China Pavilion, basically everything is closed. That includes the quick service, the restaurant, the stores, the Mulan meet, the entertainment, and most kiosks. The only thing that will likely be open will be Reflections of China. Disney already announced years ago that Reflections was headed for a big upgrade to seamless Circle-Vision technology. Some of the racial stereotypes in Reflections, particularly with the narrator, probably aren’t a great look in 2020, either. Without Reflections, the China Pavilion is basically shuttered. The Joy of Tea stand should remain open, but it’s out on the promenade.
The list basically eliminates sit-down dining in Norway, China, France, and Japan. Several quick services, like Katsura Grill, will open. Others, like Lotus Blossom Cafe, likely will not.
Officially, bars in Florida may no longer serve alcohol on premises. I’m not smart enough to know what that means for some Disney outlets. The company did close Jock Lindsey’s and Dockside Margaritas at Disney Springs after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation made the announcement about the closing. I don’t know if something like Nomad Lounge and Tiffins have independent liquor licenses, or why Dockside Margaritas, if they have their own license, couldn’t simply take their chairs away so you had to take your drink “to go.” They could probably figure out a way to re-zone the seating area as something else, anyway. It’s possible that Disney was looking for an excuse to close under-performing outlets. But Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar was “literally” open for one day before closing back down. They wouldn’t have opened at all if they didn’t want to be serving.
But shopping, dining, eating, and drinking, are a big part of the Epcot experience for most people. Seeing so many outlets shuttered (temporarily) will not only be a bummer for those trying to book them, but I’m guessing it will be pretty depressing to walk to Reflections of China with “literally” every other part of the Pavilion dark. Those visiting Epcot this summer are in for a very different experience. That may be even more true than the other Parks.
You’re probably caught up on what Epcot already looked like prior to the extended closure, but this post may help refresh your memory. You’ll notice that the arrow pointing towards what is Mouse Gear with a Space in the Name Now is a temporary location, rather than what was actually MouseGear. Disney has already gutted Actual MouseGear. At this point, they’re probably not in a big hurry to finish that project, either. We don’t hear a lot of canceled projects. Disney announced a new theater show at Magic Kingdom publicly, then never followed through with it. I don’t think they ever publicly copped to that fact. Disney also offered a vague announcement about major changes coming to the UK Pavilion based on Mary Poppins. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we never see that. Or, it may just take 15 years.
At the beginning of the year, my opinion was that the original closures weren’t such a big deal. Yes, Electric Umbrella closed, along with Fountain View Starbucks, Innoventions, Art of Disney, the Fountain of Nations, the Other Fountain, and some meet and greets, but once you got past those initial walls, it wasn’t all that bad, with just the detour around the construction behind the Fountain of Nations.
Once you got to The Land Pavilion, Test Track, or what have you, things weren’t all that much different. And nothing of that much consequence closed. Nobody was as big of a proponent of grabbing lunch at Electric Umbrella and sitting outside, while listening to the music, the sound of the water from the fountain, and the tourists as they walked by, than me. But even I probably wouldn’t recommend doing that as your one meal at Epcot. Like with Animal Kingdom, Disney eliminating so many options does make choosing easier. You don’t have to decide between Tokyo Dining, Teppan Edo, and Takumi-Tei. None of them are open. There’s always Spice Road Table.
Earlier in the year, Disney moved most of the characters elsewhere, typically to shorter waits, and often with better backgrounds. Of course, there are no character meets or “real” character meals available at the moment. So we lost Innoventions, Character Spot, and now everything that was inside of them.
We’re also taking away most of whatever authenticity World Showcase still carried. Our safety net away from the construction and chaos of Future World is not exactly intact. Of course, as demand increases, we can also expect Disney to reopen many of its stores and restaurants. Epcot is unique in that a number of third-party operators run the restaurants. Japan is Mitsukoshi, while Italy is Patina, for example. I don’t think anybody has ever seen what those contracts look like, or how much anyone is paying in rent, or whether Disney can take the locations over and operate the outlets themselves, but we’ll have to see what’s possible given international travel bans and the like. There are a lot of things still up in the air. And things will continue to change this summer and fall as we head into 2021. Hopefully most of those changes are positive.
One thing is for sure. Epcot will reopen with a Festival:
It “feels” like it was about ten years ago that the theme parks closed, but I remember that I was one day away from finishing my Flower and Garden Festival booth reviews. That was just in time for the Festival to shut down in its entirety. In the couple of weeks that Flower and Garden ran, Disney was obviously unable to move all of the merchandise that they created for the event.
It’s also a lot easier to keep the kiosks up than it is to take them down. So, “A Taste of EPCOT” was born. For those visiting Epcot this summer, you can expect to see an arrangement of outdoor kitchens similar to what Flower and Garden looked like. They’ll now likely sport their Food and Wine names instead. You can read Disney’s official announcement here. The post also confirms some other cancellations, such as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary. We’ll have to see what things look like come November on the winter-ish stuff.
I’m not expecting a lot of new items from the Festival. It would make sense for Disney to choose favorites from past Festivals. That’s particularly true of items on the low-end of the cost spectrum. The kiosks would serve those items for much of the rest of the year. As you may recall, there is currently no such thing as the Disney Dining Plan. Snack credits don’t exist. It’s likely that the more expensive items will be less popular with guests.
Historically, we’re talking about nine dollars for four ravioli that were potentially prepared before the shutdown began. For a snack credit, you might be okay with that. For almost ten bucks, or roughly the cost of an entire lunch at Olive Garden, people will potentially be less enthusiastic. Not that I’m known for being unenthusiastic about the Italy booth or anything.
From a touring efficiency perspective, the late open is concerning. We’re used to most of World Showcase opening at 11am. That’s with the exception of Frozen Ever After, the Anna and Elsa Meet and Greet, and the rest of the Norway Pavilion. Those opened at 9am since the ride debuted a few years ago. The French bakery also opened with the Park. The new Ratatouille clone officially still has a Summer 2020 opening date; Disney has maintained silence on when the attraction will actually debut. Since the French bakery is not reopening on July 15th, it will be some time before anyone heads that way early in the morning.
Even if the Ratatouille ride is more or less ready to go today, it’s possible that Disney would put off its opening for some time in order to help reduce costs. If there’s anything Disney hates doing at Epcot, it’s spending their own money. That’s why virtually everything at Epcot arrives with a sponsor attached. It’s also why they don’t operate most restaurants. Norwegian college program cast members typically operated the Frozen ride on the cheap. There are no such cast members in the France Pavilion. The restaurant operator isn’t even planning on opening its restaurants.
On the other hand, Epcot both comes with the lowest demand as far as the Park Pass system is concerned, and the highest overall capacity. Opening Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure would help drive interest in a Park that is now probably well over a year off from opening either Guardians of the Galaxy or the Play! Pavilion, not to mention whatever is going in on in The Hole in the center of Future World. Rumors abound about canceled or scaled back projects now that Disney’s revenue stream is a fraction of what it was as recently as January or February. On the plus side, at least they didn’t announce that they were going to build an entire new theme park, like Universal did.
Touring Epcot has been fairly straightforward over the last couple of years. For a while, Frozen Ever After was the top priority. That has since transitioned back to Test Track, which routinely sees the longest waits. And, when it was a thing, the lowest FastPass+ availability.
With the Park Pass system, attendance at each Park is capped for the day. Unfortunately, with Epcot’s 11am open, just about anyone who wants to can arrive by then, even if they want to sleep in until 9am or enjoy a lengthy table service breakfast somewhere. Attendance caps aren’t going to do us a whole lot of good if everyone is there at Park open and headed to the same place. Historically, Epcot achieved its peak wait times literally between 11am and 11:20am. More broadly, waits were longest from 10:30am to 4pm. That makes sense, as people inevitably sleep in or are otherwise delayed. They then arrive later in the morning and clog up standby queues, in turn increasing waits.
Like with Disney’s Animal Kingdom, those visiting Epcot this summer will not run into any FastPass+ priority slowdowns, as FastPass+ doesn’t currently exist. Unfortunately, that also means we won’t have any FastPass+ to use.
Upon reopening, there will be no single rider lines. Parties will also be spaced out much more than before.
On a ride like Mission: SPACE, in the past, parties of two would find themselves paired together in each four-person vehicle. Come summer 2020, those visiting Epcot will have the capsule to themselves, whether they’re a party of one or four. On Soarin’, they’re going to have to leave at least one, and probably two, empty seats between parties.
On Test Track, there probably isn’t six feet between the person in the front row and the person in the back row, so it’s entirely possible that each party will enjoy their own vehicle. Disney may put two people in the first two front row seats on the left, and then two people in the two right seats in the back. But even then, if you take out your tape measure app on your phone, there probably isn’t six feet there. On Rise of the Resistance, you can expect each party to take over their own ride vehicle. In my case, with no known friends or family, that means it’s just me.
On Frozen Ever After, we may be looking at cast members loading just the first and third, or second and fourth, or first and fourth rows. It’s unlikely that physical distancing protocol would allow for Disney to fill every row.
This all means big reductions in capacities at just a handful of operating rides. With the 11am open, it’s going to be a struggle to make it to Test Track, Soarin’, Frozen Ever After, and other rides before considerable waits form.
Like with the other theme parks, this does depend entirely on how many people show up in July and beyond. At Universal, it’s been dead during the week. When I left around noon on Thursday, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts was posting a 15-minute wait, even with physical distancing measures entirely in place. I rode Revenge of the Mummy “literally” with nobody but a friend in the vehicle with me. There was nobody in line for the Woody Woodpecker roller coaster at 11am.
But Escape from Gringotts was also posting a 55-minute wait during Early Entry at 8:30am, when only it and the Despicable Me attraction are open. And both Universal Parks open at 9am to all guests. And Universal is using virtual queues for several rides, like the popular Hagrid’s roller coaster. On top of all that, it’s still Universal. Disney is officially using no virtual queues as of the time of this writing, but that could always change. By 11am, things had noticeably picked up at Universal, crowd-wise.
And that’s the problem we may run into for those visiting Epcot this summer. The 11am opens gives plenty of people an opportunity to arrive in time for opening, and they’ll inevitably head to one of the three major priorities, even if they’re just following the crowd to wherever they’re headed. In the past, at 11am, crowds have probably not yet peaked, even if wait times have. Those wait times stay similarly long even as thousands of people stream up into World Showcase, where there aren’t a lot of attractions that post wait times to bring the average back down. Thousands more arrived later in the day. Still, imagine all of the people inside Epcot on a regular day at 10am now waiting outside the gates, six feet apart. I have a feeling that it’s not going to be pretty, particularly on Saturdays.
Fortunately(?), there is no nighttime spectacular at Epcot, which means you won’t be missing anything by getting in line for an attraction at the very end of the night. My estimation is that starting with Test Track will be perfectly viable for those able to arrive around 10am. What we can do after is going to depend entirely on how many people show up, but it’s very possible that even with a relatively modest attendance cap, and no FastPass+ priority, that wait times will build relatively quickly. We’ll be able to look at the distribution over the first few days and be able to figure out how aggressive we can be with our plans.
In the past, we’ve started with either Test Track or Frozen, and then gone to Soarin’ immediately after. With three theaters, and most people headed in the opposite direction first thing, waits have built slowly enough at the flight simulator, that heading there second was viable in most situations. We did exactly that earlier this year, at the start of the spring break season, in addition to dozens of times before that.
But that was with 9am opens and rides operating at full capacity. With an 11am open, we’re likely looking at a more significant early morning rush, even if attendance caps come into play at some point. Fortunately(?), there is no FastPass+ priority to bog us down, but those same people will just be in front of us in standby at our second, third, or fourth attraction.
Officially, there is no Park Hopping. So we may not see an influx of diners at the end of the night, either. It would not surprise me if Disney actually allows guests to book a second theme park on the same day after they enter their first, based on availability. That is not the official policy, but Disney wants you at a Park, spending money. Of course, you can do that back at your resort, too.
With a lot of people potentially swearing off Epcot with the construction that’s already underway, in addition to being less interested by the dining and shopping options available, it’s possible that demand will be so low on some or most days that touring Epcot is a breeze. At Universal, a Park that does see long waits on busier days, you couldn’t really go wrong with so few people there.
It remains to be seen how many people show up to Walt Disney World. For those visiting Epcot this summer, we’ll likely have to adjust our plans as demand rises heading into the fall. I think the Food and Wine Festival will “feel” less special with the concerts now cancelled, and the potential that menus and booths won’t change from their July debuts. One potentially positive thing is that the Festival kiosks will serve food when dozens of dining outlets are closed.
For those visiting Epcot this summer, there should be a couple of different ways to attack it. My first inclination is to start with Frozen. After that, enjoy World Showcase for a few hours to the best of your ability. People should initially fill Future World, stopping at Test Track first. Around 5pm, you can return to Future World, when crowds will have migrated to World Showcase. By 6pm, you can get in line for Journey into Imagination. Around 6:30pm, you can get in line for Living with the Land, followed by Soarin’. Then it’s time for The Seas with Nemo, Spaceship Earth, Mission: SPACE, and ending the night with Test Track by getting in line a couple of minutes before close.
If few people show up, then we’ll be able to do our usual morning in Future World, where we start with Test Track and Soarin’. It’s just going to come down to wait times. That will be based on what capacity looks like, and how many people show up to a theme park two hours late whether it opens at 9am or 11am.
For years, most people have recommended two days at Epcot with so much to see and do in World Showcase, coupled with the length of some attractions in Future World. With The Hole, and so much closed in World Showcase, and the potential for no Park Hopping, and no indication that Ratatouille is actually about to open, it’s possible that things will be as easy as they are at Universal at the moment.
We’ll know for sure what the realities of the near-term will be soon enough. Initial crowds and wait times may also give you a good idea about whether or not you want to keep Epcot on your itinerary at all this year. With so much bulldozed, so many walls, and nothing currently new to draw guests in, short waits are the one thing Epcot potentially has going for it. If Test Track’s actual wait is 10 to 20 minutes most of the day, and the line “feels” like it moves quickly with no FastPass+ priority, then the Park “feels” a lot more attractive. Likewise, if you can cycle through Frozen a couple of times with short waits first thing in the morning, people may find real value in visiting.
If crowds and capacity further limit what people are able to do, then most are probably looking at another day at Hollywood Studios or Magic Kingdom. Like at Animal Kingdom, for those visiting Epcot this summer, opening day wait times and crowds will likely not be indicative of reality. Festival coverage will be high. And while it’s the first day for Hollywood Studios too, that Park quickly filled to capacity for Annual Passholders and resort guests. In some situations, Epcot may be all you can get. That will also end up driving attendance higher. With higher attendance comes longer lines and a less pleasant overall experience.
We’re just going to have to see who shows up.
As much as I would love to pretend that it doesn’t exist, we’ll take a look at Disney’s Hollywood Studios next.