Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids (2015)
Walt Disney envisioned Epcot as the centerpiece of Walt Disney World, and the park is a tribute to his optimism about a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Future World is home to some of Disney’s most innovative rides, such as Soarin’ and Mission: SPACE, and the bars and restaurants of the World Showcase, which promotes the idea of global harmony, can make anyone feel like a citizen of the world.
Epcot is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt’s original vision was to build a community where people actually lived, and he hoped that countries from around the world would send their citizens to live in this community and to share their culture while looking for innovative solutions for the future.
The Epcot Disney actually built follows more closely the form of a permanent World’s Fair. Spaceship Earth (or “the big ball”) is Epcot’s park icon, visible immediately upon entering, and it sets the tone for Future World, which shows off the latest in technology and invention. The World Showcase, where country pavilions are located around a pretty lagoon in the back of the park, has a much more mellow mood. Eleven countries from around the globe are featured, so guests can shop the bazaars of Morocco, taste a true Italian pizza, and stroll along a Parisian boulevard. The pavilions are staffed by representatives from the host countries, and Disney does an excellent job of pulling together architecture, music, entertainment, and food to truly give each pavilion its own unique flavor.
Epcot Touring Tips
Many off-site hotels and all on-site hotels offer shuttle buses to Epcot, and it is also easy to reach by car. If you arrive early in the morning, you can park close to the entrance gate and forego the tram. If you arrive a bit later, however, the trams do run quickly and efficiently. Just be sure to note the number of the row where you parked your car.
If you’re staying at the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian resorts, your fastest route is to take the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and then transfer to the Epcot monorail.
The Yacht Club, Beach Club, BoardWalk, Swan, and Dolphin resorts are connected by a bridge to a special “back-door” entrance that leads directly into Epcot’s World Showcase. You can get there either by water taxi or by foot.
Some Disney insiders insist that Epcot really stands for “Every Person Comes Out Tired.” The park is indeed sprawling—more than twice the size of the Magic Kingdom. It’s composed of two circular sections, Future World and the World Showcase, which form a basic figure-eight shape. The only in-park mode of transportation is the FriendShip (there are actually two) that crosses the World Showcase Lagoon; most of the time, you’ll walk.
Tips for Your First Hour at Epcot
On regular mornings, you’re usually allowed into the entrance plaza around Spaceship Earth before the rest of the park officially opens. You’ll have time to get a map and entertainment schedule and rent a stroller before the ropes drop.
If you’re an on-site guest and visiting Epcot on an Extra Magic Hour morning, only a few attractions will be open, but those will have a significantly reduced wait time.
If you’re staying at the Yacht or Beach club, BoardWalk, Swan, or Dolphin and thus entering through Epcot’s back-door entrance, walk through the United Kingdom and Canada until you get to the rope. It’s a bit of a hike to start the day, but the payoff is that you’re in a good position to beat the main crowd to Soarin’ once the ropes drop.
If you haven’t made your FastPass+ selections, find a kiosk and make them now.
Once you’re allowed into the main body of the park, ride Soarin’ first. This attraction, popular with all age groups, can draw long lines later in the day. Many guests prefer to ride twice, so head here even if you have a FastPass+ for later.
After Soarin’, assuming your kids are up for it, cross Future World and head for Test Track. If you didn’t get a FastPass+ at Soarin’, get one for Test Track. These two rides are the ones most apt to get crowded later in the day, so you want to ride them relatively early and use your FastPass+ option judiciously.
Next, visit The Seas with Nemo & Friends; after you disembark, head for Turtle Talk with Crush.
Afternoon Resting Places
When you don’t want to return to your hotel room but still need a short, air-conditioned break, here are your best bets:
The American Adventure
Circle of Life in the Land pavilion
Impressions de France
Universe of Energy
Epcot has many shows, so if the kids need to run off a little energy between presentations, check out the play fountains. One set is near Mission: SPACE, and the others are just to the right of the bridge leading to the World Showcase. They’re a great place to cool off on a hot afternoon, especially if you bring along bathing suits or waterproof diapers.
Best Spots for IllumiNations
If you’re staying for IllumiNations, find a spot around the World Showcase lagoon 30 minutes in advance during the off-season, 45 to 60 minutes in advance during the on-season. Have a snack to help pass the time.
When staking out the perfect spot to watch IllumiNations, remember that much of the show takes place above you. If you sit beneath a tree or awning you’ll have trouble seeing the fireworks in their full glory.
Your Last Hour
Not staying for IllumiNations? This is the perfect chance to swing back through Future World and ride Soarin’, Mission: SPACE, or Test Track on your way out. Just be sure you’re at the exit gates by the time the fireworks end and the onslaught of people begins.
Lights are kept low during closing time to accentuate the effects of IllumiNations. This makes it easy to get separated from your party, so hang on tight to younger kids and make plans to meet at a certain place in case you lose each other in the exiting crowd.
Epcot is the food park. It has such an embarrassment of riches that it’s hard to choose.
The princess character meals at Epcot are popular but not as well known as those in the Magic Kingdom. They are held at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway, and at present the princesses show up at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They stay for only about an hour, though, so be sure to verify that you’re booking your meal at the time the characters are slated to appear. Also note that you may see Belle, Snow White, Mulan, or Sleeping Beauty, but Cinderella appears only in the Magic Kingdom. Reservations are a must; call 407/939-3463 (407/WDW-DINE) up to 180 days before the date you wish to attend. The earlier the better!
The princess meals aren’t just for girls. Consider this note from a mother of two in Delaware: “Even though it’s somewhat geared toward girls, my 7-year-old son really enjoyed the princess breakfast in the Norway pavilion. The waiter greeted him by calling him ‘Prince,’ which he loved, and the princesses treated him like royalty throughout the whole meal. He seemed quite smitten with them.”
For sit-down dining, one perennial favorite is the San Angel Inn in Mexico, which is a great place to escape on a hot sunny day. A shadowy waterway gurgles by, and the scene is that of an evening marketplace, romantically dark even at high noon. Another popular spot is Chefs de France in—you guessed it—France. Here the feel is of a Parisian sidewalk café, with white tablecloths and bustling waiters. Le Cellier in Canada is perhaps the most popular Epcot restaurant, due to its tasty steaks and elaborate desserts, and the Tutto Italia Ristorante in Italy serves up delicious classics. Kids enjoy the show-style teppanyaki dining at the Teppan Edo in Japan, and the food—which includes such upscale items as Kobe beef—is outstanding.
One of the greatest recent additions to Epcot dining, believe it or not, is a pizzeria. But what a pizzeria! Via Napoli is a great lunch stop.
Not up for full-service dining? For a quick casual meal in Future World, head for the Sunshine Seasons food court in the Land, where you can choose from healthy salads, hearty sandwiches, and a variety of well-prepared ethnic dishes at different counters.
In terms of World Showcase fast food, you have plenty of possibilities. If you’re concerned about how the kids will react to unfamiliar cuisine, not to worry. On kiddie menus the food is a nod to the country in question—for example, skewered chicken in Morocco or fish-and-chips in the United Kingdom—but the entrées are smaller and less spicy than the adult meals and look enough like chicken nuggets and fish sticks that the kids will eat them.
The Tangierine Café in Morocco has Mediterranean wraps, hummus, salads, and platters of chicken and lamb. The food is served in a pretty patio area with a perfect view of the pavilion. Don’t miss the pastry counter in the back for baklava and other honeyed delights, not to mention Turkish coffee so strong that you may set a land-speed record on your next lap around the World Showcase.
While the Tangierine Café is right in the middle of the action, the Yakitori House in Japan is tucked away in the back of the pavilion, with a soothing view of the manicured gardens and koi ponds. The food—especially the broiled skewers of chicken, shrimp, and beef—is tasty and a bit lighter than many of the counter-service options. Another good choice is Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe in Norway, which has wonderful open-face salmon sandwiches and delicious pastries.
The Yorkshire County Fish and Chips stand in the United Kingdom is always popular. Carry your food into the back garden and sit on a park bench while you listen to the British Revolution band sing rock ’n’ roll classics.
The Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie in France emits such phenomenal aromas of coffee and croissants that there’s always a line, even though the café is in an out-of-the-way back alley. Drop by for sandwiches, quiche, and a wide selection of decadent pastries, which are so good that they make the Boulangerie a favorite with Disney cast members. Bon appétit!
Money-Saving Tip Not on the dining plan but you’d still like to size up a few of Epcot’s posh restaurants? To save both time and money, stick to fast-food places for meals, and make reservations at a sit-down restaurant for a truly off time, like 3 pm or 10 pm, and just have dessert. You can soak up the ambience for an investment of 30 minutes and 20 bucks. Alternatively, as the average Epcot dinner for four costs about $100 without wine or beer, you can slice that bill in half if you visit the sit-down restaurant of your choice at lunch.
The Magic Kingdom isn’t the only place to see the characters, catch a show, watch fireworks, or buy souvenirs. Epcot provides a whole range of entertainment but with an international spin.
Character Meet and Greets
The character meetings and shows at Epcot are rarely as crowded as those at the Magic Kingdom. A well-marked character spot to the right of the fountains in Future World is your best bet to meet Mickey and his pals, and, in the World Showcase, the backdrops for individual character appearances can’t be beat. You might meet Aladdin in Morocco, for example, or Mary Poppins in the United Kingdom. Check your entertainment schedule for times.
World Showcase Performers
Singers, dancers, jugglers, and artisans from around the globe perform throughout the World Showcase daily. Times are outlined on your entertainment schedule.
Some of these presentations are more child-oriented than others. Children especially enjoy the young acrobats in China and the balancing act in France. Older kids can enter into the raucous action of the King Arthur skit in the United Kingdom or catch the “high-energy progressive Celtic music” of Off Kilter in Canada. This translates to rock music with bagpipes—a must-see. The British Revolution, a talented rock ’n’ roll group that plays in the United Kingdom, is also popular.
The shows are set up so that you can pretty much flow from one to the other as you work your way around the World Showcase. If you’re there 10 minutes before showtime you can usually get a decent spot. Be forewarned that for most of the shows you’ll either be standing or sitting on the sidewalk; only the stage where Off Kilter appears has actual seats, and even that venue is way too small for the crowds the group attracts.
A mother of two from Illinois wrote, “Please stress how great the World Showcase performers are. We got wonderful pictures of our children with the comedy performers, and the Chinese acrobats were so good that we went back for another show. You don’t hear much about the live entertainment in the World Showcase, but we found it to be the highlight of our day at Epcot.”
IllumiNations produces a lot of smoke. Before you select your vantage point, note which way the wind is blowing. If you have a pleasant breeze in your face now, you can be sure you’ll catch the full brunt of the smoke during the show.
This display of lasers, fireworks, syncopated fountains, and stirring music is a real-life fantasia and an unsurpassed Disney World classic. Very popular, very crowded, and the perfect way to end an Epcot day, IllumiNations takes place over the World Showcase lagoon at the 9 pm closing time. If you watch from the Mexico or Canada pavilions, you’ll be able to beat the crowd to the exits afterward. Guests staying at the Yacht or Beach club, or the BoardWalk, Swan, or Dolphin resorts, and thus leaving via the back-door exit, can watch from the bridge between the United Kingdom and France pavilions.
You’ll see things in Epcot that aren’t available anywhere else in Disney World: German wines, Chinese silk robes, Mexican piñatas, Norwegian sweaters, and English teas are all within strolling distance of each other. Once you’ve made your purchases, either have them sent to Package Pick-Up near the front gate and retrieve them as you exit or, if you’re staying on-site, have them delivered to your hotel. Both services are free.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Dining your way around the World Showcase is always a treat, but it gets even better during one of the park’s premier special events, the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It runs for approximately eight weeks, from late September through November. You can get exact dates, a list of prices, reservations, and information by calling 407/939-3378 (407/WDW-FEST). Details are also at www.disneyworld.com.
Open-air booths serving the food, wine, and beer of more than 60 nations are set up around the World Showcase, offering everything from New Zealand lamb chops to Bavarian strudel. The sample-size servings range from $1.50 to $4.50, so you can happily nosh your way around the world, indulging in Walt Disney World’s biggest buffet. If you want to learn more about what you’re eating and drinking, cooking demonstrations and wine tastings are scheduled daily and are often free or at least reasonably priced.
True foodies and wine enthusiasts should consider one of the special-event dinners. The Party for the Senses, Winemaker Dinners, and Reserve Dinners are very heady events, held in secluded glamour points all around Disney property, and they sell out weeks in advance.
General Epcot Advice
In the off-season, Epcot hours are often staggered. Future World is generally open from 9 am to 7 pm (although Soarin’, Test Track, and Mission: SPACE generally remain operative until Epcot closes), and the World Showcase is open from 11 am to 9 pm. Keep the size of the park in mind, and follow these tips to make your visit more enjoyable.
Take Epcot in small doses if you’re traveling with young kids; four hours at a time is enough.
Tour Future World in the morning and then drift toward the World Showcase in the afternoon. You can escape to the films and indoor exhibits during the hottest and busiest times of the day.
On entering a World Showcase pavilion that has a show or film—France, Canada, America, or China—ask the attendant how long until the show begins. If your wait is 10 minutes or less, go on inside. If the wait is longer, browse the shops or take a bathroom break and return 10 minutes before showtime. Epcot theaters are so large it’s rarely a problem to get in.
Check your entertainment schedule and save time for some of the shows that take place in the pavilions of the World Showcase. Shows like Off Kilter or the Chinese acrobats have major kid appeal.
If you miss Soarin’, Mission: SPACE, or Test Track in the morning, return in the evening. Although they’re packed throughout the afternoon, it’s often easier to slip onto these popular rides while everyone else is eating dinner in the World Showcase or watching IllumiNations.
If you’re touring off-season and plan to spend mornings in the other parks and evenings at Epcot, make your dinner reservation times early (for example, at 5 pm), which will leave you several hours to tour after dinner.
Restaurants are open late, so if the kids have had a good afternoon nap and can keep going until 11 pm, arrange your dinner reservations for 8:30. The restaurants keep serving as the park closes down, so eating late buys you maximum hours in the park—assuming your kids can handle the schedule, that is, and assuming that you’ll be seeing IllumiNations on another night.
If you’re not staying for IllumiNations, begin moving toward the exit gates while the show is in progress.
EPCOT DON’T-MISS LIST
Mission: SPACE (if the kids are old enough and pass the 44-inch height requirement)
Soarin’ (if the kids pass the 40-inch height requirement)
Test Track (if the kids pass the 40-inch height requirement)
Turtle Talk with Crush
World Showcase entertainment
Future World comprises nine large pavilions, each containing at least one major attraction, and it is very much like a permanent World’s Fair, mixing educational opportunities with pure entertainment.
Future World Attractions
In 2010, Captain E-O, a circa-1986 film starring Michael Jackson, returned to the Disney parks for the first time in 15 years. The 17-minute presentation—which has silly characters, great dancing, and seat-grabbing 3-D effects—appeals to all ages. The basic plot is that Captain E-O, as a down-on-his-luck space commander with a misfit crew, uses music to transform a colorless planet into a world of peace and happiness. But it’s really all just an excuse to remember what a phenomenal performer Michael Jackson was. Scare Factor In Captain E-O volume is loud, the seats rumble a bit, and the supreme commander starts out pretty darn ugly, but there’s little doubt that Michael and the gang will ultimately carry the day, so the show won’t scare most kids.
Unlike at the Magic Kingdom, rides and attractions at Epcot are grouped into two tiers, and you can get only one Tier One FastPass+ among your first three. This means that you can’t get both Soarin’ and Test Track.
Epcot Character Spot
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth
Journey Into Imagination with Figment
Living with the Land
The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Turtle Talk with Crush
Ellen’s Energy Adventure
Universe of Energy features Ellen DeGeneres, Alex Trebek, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Ellen has a dream in which she’s a contestant on the game show Jeopardy!, and when she’s thoroughly skunked by smarty-pants Jamie Lee, she realizes she needs to know a lot more about energy. Luckily for her, neighbor Bill Nye the Science Guy is happy to help.
The Disney twist comes when the 97-seat theater begins to break apart in sections that align themselves in sequence and form a train. A curtain lifts and you begin to move through a prehistoric scene that carries you back to the era when coal deposits first formed on Earth. All around you are those darn dinosaurs, among the largest Audio-Animatronics figures Disney has ever created. After your train has once more morphed into a theater, there’s a final film segment in which a newly educated Ellen gets her Jeopardy! revenge.
When entering the Universe of Energy, ask the attendant how long it is until the next show begins or check the digital clock. Don’t enter sooner than 10 minutes before showtime; this is a 30-minute presentation, and there’s no point in wearing out the kids before you begin. The theater can seat many people, so there’s rarely a reason to line up and wait.
Despite its proximity to the front gate, Universe of Energy isn’t a good choice for the morning; save it for the afternoon, when you’ll welcome the chance to sit down for 30 minutes. Scare Factor The dinosaurs are big and can be scary to younger kids.
A persistent Disney rumor is that Innoventions might be closed as part of a larger Epcot overhaul. Also, Ellen’s Energy Adventure is often closed in the off-season, and there are also rumors that it, too, might close permanently.
Innoventions is a pavilion with many interactive exhibits, but it doesn’t contain a big-deal ride or attraction. Rather, it lets you experience virtual reality, learn through hands-on games, and experience products and games before they hit the market. The Imagineers even make fire safety, saving money, and weather fun.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the options at Innoventions—just wander over to a kiosk and start playing. Cast members can answer questions or help you get the hang of the games and experiments. Exhibits change frequently, keeping things fresh, and many of the stations are kid-friendly. Even preschoolers will find plenty to do.
One of Innovention’s best exhibits, the Sum of All Thrills, lets theme-park guests play the role of Imagineer and build their own ride. The experience begins with a tutorial in a design room. A few lessons on math and engineering sneak in along the way as participants use a touch-screen computer to pick a vehicle shape and determine how fast the ride can and should go. The information is saved on a magnetized card that is fed into a simulator; visitors then get to experience the track they just created. Kids get to take the cards home where they can be used on a website sponsored by attraction developer Raytheon to access more fun math and science games. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Rumor has it that both Journey Into Imagination and Captain E-O are leaving (again!) to make way for a new Phineas and Ferb-themed attraction.
Journey into Imagination
The ride’s premise is that Dr. Nigel Channing (Eric Idle), the rather stuffy head of the Imagination Institute, must be broken out of his shell and taught the true meaning of imagination, and the lovable purple creature known as Figment is just the dragon for the job. The ride is pretty simple, especially in contrast to other Future World attractions, but younger kids like it, and there’s rarely a wait. After the ride, stop off at the interactive exhibits in the ImageWorks labs. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Epcot’s most technologically advanced thrill ride launches guests into a simulated space adventure, from the excitement of liftoff to the wonder of flight. To develop the story and design, Disney Imagineers worked with 25 space experts from NASA, and the result is completely immersive and interactive.
You’re grouped into teams of four and each person is given a crew position—Commander, Navigator, Pilot, or Engineer—and assigned the tasks that go along with that role. Once you board your pod, everything happens fast. If you’ve opted for the spinning version of the ride, the motion is so rapid that it really feels like flight. The sustained g-forces during the launch are by far the most intense part of the ride. And before you fully recover, you’re required to take on your crew role and push a few buttons (made somewhat more difficult by the gravitational pull of the ship’s movement) as directed by mission control. (These “tasks” engage the kids, especially if they’re a bit nervous about flying, but if you mess up, not to worry. You’ll land safely back in Orlando just the same.)
There was tremendous concern over Mission: SPACE after two people died on the ride shortly after it debuted. It was ultimately shown that the victims had preexisting conditions, and the ride was not to blame, but Disney decided to offer a tamer—in other words, nonspinning—version of the ride for younger children and anyone with health concerns. As you approach the attraction, signs direct you toward either the orange team, which boards the spinning capsules, or the green team, which boards the nonspinning capsules. If you opt not to spin, you have the same engaging preshow and postshow and the same visual effects; the main difference is you don’t feel the dramatic g-forces during the liftoff portion of the ride.
We all know Mickey is a star, and he actually has his own constellation in Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. Look for him in the starry sky at the beginning of the ride, just after you load.
In motion simulators you can avoid motion sickness by looking away from the screen, but on the spinning version of Mission: SPACE, where your cabin is actually moving, the opposite is true. If you begin to feel queasy, keep your head back against the seat and focus intently on the screen. Shutting your eyes is the worst thing you can do.
As you exit, there’s a small Space Base crawl area for younger kids and a cool competitive group game called Space Race for older kids. Scare Factor The height requirement is 44 inches for either version (spin or no spin), which will weed out the younger kids. But take Disney’s safety recommendations seriously: no pregnant women, children under seven, or anyone with high blood pressure or back, neck, or motion-sickness problems, especially on the spinning version of the ride. That said, there’s a fair amount of bouncing around in both sets of capsules.
Time-Saving Tip Mission: SPACE can have long lines, but the lines for the spin version of the ride are often longer than those for the no-spin version. Visitors should use that to their advantage. “I wasn’t sure my kids could handle the g-forces of Mission: SPACE so I talked them into going into the green, nonspinning line,” said one mom. “An added bonus is that the green line is much shorter. We waited five minutes on a day when the regular line had a 40-minute wait.”
Whatever their age, few travelers can remain blasé at the sight of Spaceship Earth, the most photographed and readily recognizable symbol of Epcot. Even preschoolers rate it highly, probably because of the excitement of actually entering the “big ball.”
The ride inside, which coils toward the top of the 17-story geosphere, traces developments in communication from cave drawings to computers. You climb past scenes of Egyptian temples, a Greek classroom, and the invention of the Gutenberg press. A simple interactive game near the end lets you answer some questions and then see your own “future”—complete with your own face.
Take a few minutes to check out the postshow as you exit the ride. Most of the exhibits are technology based and geared toward older kids, but children of any age will enjoy watching their image flash on the screen and their hometown light up on a global map that indicates those of past guests. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Test Track is the fastest ride in all of Disney World—we’re talking 34 separate turns, 50-degree banking, and speeds of 65 mph. In other words, this isn’t the Tomorrowland Speedway.
The ride begins in the queue. Guests are invited to create their own vehicle using a touch-screen computer. Every choice used to build the car, from the tires to the shape, will affect its ultimate performance. Up to three people can design a car together, or everyone can design his or her own.
As you board the real Test Track vehicle, your design is downloaded into the car’s computer system. This allows you to test your personal car in a variety of simulations, measuring it in terms of efficiency, responsiveness, capability, and power.
Thanks to an onboard computer, the cars constantly adapt to road conditions, vehicle weight, and the location of the other 28 cars on the track.
You go through various tests inside, but the real excitement comes when your car emerges onto the outdoor track that circles the building. Here cars reach their top speeds—they could go higher than 65 mph, but Imagineers didn’t think it would be prudent to break the Florida speed limit—as they go through a mile of curves, hills, and turns. It’s one powerful ride.
Test Track can draw long lines and frequently runs out of FastPass+ times. If your kids are old enough to handle the intensity, consider going through the Singles Line. You won’t get to ride together, but your wait time will be cut significantly. Scare Factor Children must be 40 inches tall to ride Test Track. It’s all about speed, with no flips or plunges, so kids five and up should be fine.
This cheerful pavilion, devoted to the subjects of food production and the environment, is home to three attractions, a rotating restaurant, and one of Epcot’s most elaborate fast-food courts. Because there are so many places to eat here, the Land is crowded from 11 am to 2 pm, when everyone heads in for lunch.
Circle of Life
This 20-minute film stars Simba, Pumbaa, and Timon from The Lion King, and the beloved characters do a terrific job of pitching the conservation message. Simba explains how humans affect their environment, both positively and negatively, so the show is educational and entertaining. Because the Harvest Theater is large, with comfortable seats, Circle of Life is a smart choice for afternoon. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Living with the Land
You travel by boat past scenes of farming environments, ending with a peek at fish farming, drip irrigation, and other innovative agricultural technologies. It’s a fairly adult presentation, but it moves swiftly, so kids shouldn’t be too bored. If you have older kids who might benefit from doing a school project on the subject of futuristic farming, consider the hour-long “Behind the Seeds” greenhouse tour. The sign-up booth is tucked away near the entrance to Soarin’, and the price is $20 for adults and $16 for kids. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Soarin’ provides a bird’s-eye view on an exhilarating flight above the beautiful state of California. It works like this: You’re lifted 40 feet off the ground inside a giant dome. The interior of the dome is actually an enormous screen with images of redwood forests, Napa Valley, Yosemite, and the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll feel like you’re hang gliding as you gently climb, bank, and descend your way through the scenery. The details make the ride: You’ll feel the wind blowing through your hair and smell orange blossoms and pine trees. One mother of three from New York raved about the experience: “Soarin’ was the favorite of everyone in our family, including our 5-year-old. She is normally afraid of heights but insisted on riding it three times, and the last time she actually wanted to sit on the highest row so she could see better!”
Soarin’ may be the most popular ride in all of Walt Disney World, both in terms of being highly rated and in terms of the ride volume. Perhaps it’s because the ride appeals to all age groups, preschoolers to grandmas (though guests must still be 40 inches to ride). Scare Factor It’s not scary unless you are especially bothered by heights.
Time-Saving Tip Soarin’ is madly popular. Visit first thing in the morning, and make sure to use your FastPass+.
The focal point of the Seas pavilion is a saltwater aquarium so enormous that Spaceship Earth could float inside it. It also has popular restaurants and two attractions.
The Seas with Nemo & Friends
The Finding Nemo ride within is a hit with preschoolers. You board “clamobiles” (similar in shape to the Haunted Mansion “doom buggies”) and travel through a coral reef looking for Nemo. On the way, you meet Dory, Bruce, and other stars from the film. At the end of the ride, you disembark at Sea Base, where there are interactive exhibits. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Turtle Talk with Crush
Don’t miss the lighthearted and funny Turtle Talk with Crush, in which the laid-back animated turtle interacts with kids in the audience through real-time animation technology. Encourage your child to sit up front on the floor and ask Crush questions. We get tons of positive mail about this show. “Adorable,” wrote a mom from Canada. “Our children considered it one of the highlights of the day.” Turtle Talk with Crush is far more popular than its out-of-the-way location and small seating area would indicate. If you have preschoolers, try to get here before 11:30 am. Afternoon shows can be crowded. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
If you really want to experience the Seas, a program called DiveQuest ($175) lets visitors 10 and over scuba dive in the aquarium, while the Epcot Seas Aqua Tour ($140) lets guests 8 and up snorkel. Whether you go under the sea or stay on top, these three-hour programs give you bragging rights and a cool T-shirt. Call 407/939-8687 (407/WDW-TOUR) if you’re interested.
Pretty by day and gorgeous by night, the World Showcase comprises the pavilions of 11 nations: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The countries are like links in a chain that stretch around a large lagoon. Really large. Making a full circle is a 1.2-mile trek.
Some of the pavilions have full-scale attractions, while others have only shops and restaurants. Wonderful live entertainment is also available; check your entertainment schedule for showtimes.
Each pavilion is staffed by citizens of the country it represents. Disney goes to great pains to recruit, relocate, and if necessary, teach English to the shopkeepers and waiters here, bringing them to Orlando for a year and housing them with representatives from the other World Showcase nations. It’s a cultural-exchange program on the highest level. These young men and women save the World Showcase from being merely touristy, and provide your kids with the chance to rub elbows, however briefly, with folks from other cultures.
World Showcase Attractions
The American Adventure
This multimedia presentation, combining Audio-Animatronics figures with film, is popular with all age groups. The technological highlight comes when the Ben Franklin robot walks up the stairs to visit Thomas Jefferson, but the entire 30-minute presentation is packed with elaborate sets that rise from the stage, film montages, and moving music.
It’s worth noting that some guests find the patriotism of the American Adventure a little heavy-handed. There seem to be two primary reactions to the show—some people weep through it, and some people sleep through it. Most of our readers rate it as one of the best attractions in Epcot. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Get your kids involved in the World Showcase by visiting the Kidcot Fun Stops. Children begin a craft project (at present it’s Duffy the Bear, but sometimes they make a mask or musical instrument) at the first booth you encounter, and as they move to each country, they receive another element to add to their project. It’s a great icebreaker to help them interact with cast members.
Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure
This interactive game, which leads you all around the countries of the World Showcase looking for clues, is a great way to encourage kids to explore the nooks and crannies of the various pavilions. The idea is that you’re helping Agent P, a.k.a. Perry the Platypus from the popular Phineas and Ferb TV show, in a secret-agent adventure.
You can register to play by stopping by the kiosk on the bridge between Future World and the World Showcase. (If you’re entering from the back-door entrance, there’s a location there, too, as well as ones near the Norway and Italy pavilions.) Missions may take you to Norway, China, Japan, France, Germany, Mexico, or the United Kingdom. After signing up, you’re issued a FONE (or Field Operative Notification Equipment) that will provide you with clues to help capture the villains.
Following the clues is fairly difficult, so this is a good game to play as a family. It takes about 30 minutes to complete a mission—those in the know claim Germany is the best. If you get hooked, you can go immediately to another country and start a new mission. “My 11-year-old son loved it,” said a mom from Texas. “It did just what the designers of the game undoubtedly intended—make him actually excited about visiting the World Showcase pavilions.” But be careful. One mother of two reported that “it was all our kids wanted to do. We had trouble getting them to Future World for any of the rides!” Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Check out the mural of Vikings in the line before you board Maelstrom. One of the guys in the ship is wearing mouse ears!
Gran Fiesta Tour
This mild little boat ride stars the Three Caballeros. The story has Donald skipping out on a singing gig and José and Panchito searching throughout Mexico for their friend. The Gran Fiesta Tour is a very simple ride, somewhat reminiscent of “it’s a small world” on a more limited scale, but younger kids like it. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Impressions de France
What a difference a seat makes! Like all the Epcot films, Impressions de France is exceedingly well done, with lush music and a 200-degree widescreen feel. It’s easy to get in, even in the afternoon, and no one minds if babies take a little nap. The 20-minute film shows on the hour and half hour. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
In this Norwegian boat ride, your Viking ship sails through fjords and storms, over waterfalls, and past a threatening three-headed troll—all within four minutes. You disembark in a North Sea coastal village, where a short film is presented. (If you want to skip the film, no biggie—just keep on walking through the theater. Most families do.) The adjacent Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe is one of the best places in the World Showcase for a quick snack or lunch. Scare Factor Maelstrom sounds terrifying, but the reality is much tamer than the ride description. The much-touted “backward plunge over a waterfall” is so subtle that passengers in the front of the boat are not even aware of the impending doom. The darkness and the troll put off some preschoolers, but the ride is generally fine for kids five and up.
This 20-minute Circle-Vision 360 film, starring Martin Short, is gorgeous and stirring but difficult to view with kids under six. To enjoy the effect of the circular screen, you must stand during the presentation, and no strollers are allowed in the theater. This means babies and toddlers must be held, and preschoolers, who can’t see anything in a room full of standing adults, often clamor to be lifted up as well. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Reflections of China
Another lovely 360-degree film. But again, it’s not an easy attraction to view with young children. Scare Factor It’s not scary.