I vividly remember planning our first family trip to Walt Disney World with my wife. We had a four year old son and we just found out prior to our departure that we would be expecting our daughter in November, 2008. We knew our first “family” trip to the world would make available many opportunities and some challenges as well. We could not wait to see our child’s face as he entered The Magic Kingdom for the first time. We were certain he would love the experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios but we weren’t so sure about Epcot.
I mean, Epcot is the park that teaches and educates. What fun would a pre-schooler have there? As a child of above average height, we thought he might be able to ride Soarin’ or Test Track. But beyond that, we were certain we would not spend a significant portion of our trip in Epcot. And I was right. We made it as far as The Showcase Plaza entering World Showcase, grabbed an icy family beverage, and began to make our way out of the park. It was an extremely warm day in May and we felt better served at another park or poolside back at the resort.
I’m ashamed to say our next trip was even worse. On this trip our son was celebrating his fifth birthday and we now had a six month old daughter. Our challenges seemed to increase while at the same time our opportunities seemed to decrease. Couple that with the rainiest month of May Central Florida had experienced in almost twenty years and the thought of even going to Epcot seemed like a joke. We did not have time to go to the parks to learn or be educated. This was our vacation after all.
Then, as we planned our next trip, a light began to shine on us. Actually, we began researching the parks more extensively and I began listening to Disney podcasts to learn more about the parks and how to tour with small children. It was then that I began to find out all that Epcot had to offer for our entire family.
As you enter Epcot, one of the first things your family should do is have your picture taken in front of Spaceship Earth. Spaceship Earth is the iconic symbol of Epcot and it looks something like the world’s largest golf ball. There are plenty of Disney Photo Pass Cast Members to snap a picture of you and they will use your camera if you like. You can then pass through the Leave a Legacy sculptures and almost immediately find some of Disney’s beloved characters available for a meet and greet under Spaceship Earth. Speaking of Spaceship Earth, this is an attraction for all ages that is a gentle moving and educational ride for the entire family. This is a great attraction for the family to get out of that hot, Florida sun for a few minutes and cool off.
After leaving Spaceship Earth you can go in a few different directions. You can head for a few of the different attractions, such as Mission: SPACE or Test Track at Innoventions East or Soarin’ at Innoventions West. Now while these attractions are not necessarily tailor made for the whole family, one of our family’s favorite places is in the area of Innoventions. Just after Innoventions West is The Character Spot. Our family loves this character meet and greet because we get to meet the Fab Five in a single area. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, and Goofy all in one place. We love to grab a snack and wait to meet Disney’s most famous characters in Epcot.
If you happen to be in The Land pavilion and Soarin’ isn’t the perfect match for your family, there are still so many options. There is The Circle of Life. The Circle of Life is a wide-screen movie about the environment and our relationship with the land, hosted by the stars of The Lion King. There is also Living with the Land. Living with the Land is a gentle 14 minute boat ride through unique indoor plant growing areas. An introduction shows tropic, desert and prairie biomes that existed before humans arrived. An automated narration explains all about the four greenhouses and the aquaculture facility.
After leaving The Land Pavilion, our family loves to experience an underwater adventure in The Seas with Nemo and Friends. This attraction and pavilion has evolved over the years and transformed the prior Living Seas Pavilion into a destination for families. The Seas with Nemo and Friends is a gentle moving attraction with a continuous load into a clamshell vehicle as your family rides through the very colorful story of Pixar’s Finding Nemo. The ride through has Nemo and friends magically appearing and swimming through a 5 million gallon saltwater environment, one of the largest aquariums in the world. After riding The Seas with Nemo and Friends, we head straight for Turtle Talk with Crush. This headlining attraction features a computer animated version of the wildly popular surfing turtle from the Pixar film. Crush has conversations with visitors and interacts with guests (especially the younger guests) during each 10 minute show. There is also a play area for children called Bruce’s Sub House, where your children can crawl through Bruce the Shark (a bit of trivia about the character Bruce is that this Finding Nemo character was named after the animatronic shark used in the film Jaws).
After leaving the Innoventions area, our family loves to head toward World Showcase, but not before stopping by and watching Fountain of Nations as the fountain performs to musical numbers. This is a sight to see especially if you have the opportunity to see the fountain during different times of the year.
As you look past Fountain of Nations you can see World Showcase Lagoon that separates Future World from World Showcase. Starting from left to right, we love to head to Mexico. You conceivably can make it through all 11 countries of World Showcase in an afternoon, but only if you are walking past each pavilion and not looking into what each pavilion has to offer. Some highlights for our family include snacking around the world, Kidcot, and of course shopping.
Depending on your interests or family situation, there are several different “crawls” around World Showcase. A “crawl” is fairly simple in that you pick a theme (in most cases in World Showcase food or drink) and you sample that theme in each pavilion around World Showcase. There are so many options in World Showcase, whether you want a snack to walk around with or you want an authentic dining experience. Whatever taste you have or if the mood suits, have fun developing your own “crawl” around the world. The “crawls” can become even better during Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival held each autumn. Additional countries are brought in and booths from nearly 30 countries are represented during one of Epcot’s signature events.
Having small children, our kids love to explore the Kidcot stations in each country. Kidcot is easily identified by the brightly colored signs in each pavilion and features a small table operated by cast members from the different countries. The cast members engage the children in conversations about their native country, work on crafts with the children, stamp their passport (sold or crafted separately), and write a personal message in their native language.
Shopping around World Showcase is an experience all its own. It also could possibly be its own vacation. Walking through each pavilion and digging a little deeper can unlock the most exquisite treasure. Authentic merchandise from each nation can be purchased and some of the richest experiences have little to do with the purchased fare. Chatting with cast members from the various countries is worth its weight in gold. Our family has found so much magic inside World Showcase.
It would be impossible to talk about World Showcase and not talk about Disney characters. Whether you find Donald Duck in Mexico reprising his role from The Three Caballeros or Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco, there are characters to wow the entire family throughout World Showcase. And here is a little known tip. Just outside of The American Adventure is a small wooden gate that looks rather inconspicuous. But if you happen to be there at the right time, Disney characters that are earning their ears will pop up from time to time for unannounced meet and greet opportunities. Sometimes there will even be a character that is no longer available for meet and greets that will be out. In January 2011 my 6 year old son at the time was able to meet Bolt and Bolt had been out of circulation for quite some time. Whatever you do, do not sell World Showcase short. There are so many wonderful things about this portion of Epcot.
Now at the end of a long day, whether our family had the chance for some down time or we are exhausted, we love to end an Epcot day with Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Illuminations is a 13 minute nighttime spectacular on World Showcase Lagoon. Earth Globe sits on the lagoon and is the first spherical video display system wrapped in 15,000 LEDs. This show features lasers, fireworks, and even flames set to some of the most recognizable music anywhere in the world. Illuminations has gone under changes and enhancements over the years, and seems to only increase in popularity. But none of the enhancements are as popular as the holiday tag at the end of the presentation each winter.
While there is so much that can be learned in Epcot and it is true that Epcot is not totally what Walt Disney may have envisioned, it cannot be denied that Walt’s vision of a family spending a day together at his theme park enjoying themselves is exactly what you will find at Epcot.