Planning for Epcot with Kids
Epcot can be a wonderful cultural experience for families. Even when our kids are picky eaters and love rides. Most of our strategy in planning our trips involve:
- Avoid lines.
- Avoid meltdowns.
- Build in rest.
- Good food makes for happy people.
- Making Magic Happen (it’s not automatic)
Are you headed to Epcot or trying to decide if Epcot with kids is worth a day of your trip? Some people would say the other Disney World parks are definitely a priority over Epcot at this point in Disney construction. However, I just asked my nine-year-old: “If you could only go to three of the four Disney parks which ones would you go to?” His answer: “Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot! I love the food and all the different countries.”
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Epcot is a wonderful change of pace and takes you on a journey through time and culture. My kids love trying new things and many of their favorite restaurants are in the World Showcase at Epcot.
If you’ve decided to visit Epcot. Yay! Planning can make your day! Or the lack thereof can lead to frustration and grouchy people young and old. Epcot is large and not overly populated with rides or kid attractions. Knowing where you are going and what is available for kids keeps you from wasting time standing around looking at your phone or reading maps of what there is to do and then deciding what to do when. That takes all the magic out of the day.
The first step is to get an understanding of what Epcot has to offer so you can make a plan.
Keys to planning your day at Epcot!:
- Download our Making Magic Happen Epcot Planner
- Dining Reservations aren’t just for food.
- Fast passes are very important at Epcot.
- Know where the good stuff is.
- Stay for the shows and fireworks.
Sign up for our email list to get your Free Disney Parks Planner Epcot Edition
Look up what Disney is offering the month you are traveling. Epcot has several Festivals throughout the year. All of them offer special food and drink offerings and different entertainment. Check those out and add things you would like to see or taste and add those to your Epcot Park Planner.
I love having a place to put all my information and ideas in one place. I like to keep track of my wish list items for the day and things I wanted to try alongside the plan of what to wear and what the important times are for the day.
The second step in your Epcot Planning is your Advance Dining Reservations or ADRs.
You can make these reservations 180 days out. (or 180 from your first day of arrival if you are staying at a Disney Resort) It is highly recommended that you do so. If there is a place you really want to eat at. You can usually get a reservation for table service at Epcot even if you are planning a trip last minute. Because of the sheer amount of restaurants at Epcot.
Epcot is a food paradise. There are 22 restaurants to choose from inside the park. Numerous others just outside the park in the resort area. We like to get an ADR for breakfast inside the park to gain early access to the rides. I also get reservations for off times to eat to avoid crowded restaurants. (free dining week in November- No thank you!)
Since the park hours are all day you will need a break at different times than when you get off work at 5pm. At home we like to eat at 11am and 5pm. At Disney we snack at 10 am, eat lunch at 1pm, snack at 4pm and eat dinner at 7pm followed by one last snack at 10pm to fuel us for the last couple of hours in the parks. Adjusted accordingly for park hours.
When Epcot closes at 9, I will look for a reservation in the 6-6:30 window. If they get behind, which happens a lot, A 7pm reservation may not be seated unitl 7:30. That would compress your time and make it feel rushed. You may even miss the fireworks.
Princess Storybook Dining at Akersuhus is our first choice for breakfast. It is 20 steps away from the Frozen Ever After ride and you can save your fast pass for other attractions by doing this one first.
TIP: Score an ADR for 8-8:20 am and you will be among the first to ride without the mad dash with everyone else from either of the other gates.
Other advantages of Akershus is that it is a character meet and greet experience. Princess Belle has her own room to meet her and get an autograph and take lots of pictures with your camera or using Disney’s Memory Maker.
Once seated you get to meet 4-5 other Princesses that rotate through the room. Aurora, Rapunzel, Ariel, Jasmine, Mulan and Snow White have been present during our visits. Jasmine and Mulan seem to switch out with others being mainstays.
If you take our approach you can arrive early and go through bag check and enter the park, take a family photo with very few people in the background, eat breakfast with princesses (pictures and autographs from all of them) and ride a tier one ride (more on that in a minute) without a fastpass by 9:15am. We usually ride the Frozen ride at this point.
We love our Junior Character Encyclopedia for character autographs. It is something we get out from time to time. It is easy to carry and has a lot of ‘character’ (see what I did there?). We picture it on our coffee table when we are older.
The Park officially opens at 9 am most days. That means you are still early enough to head over to Test Track with the lowest wait time of the day, probably already 30 – 40 minutes though. Or you can up your princess game and walk next door to Meet Anna and Elsa at their Summerhaus. Two More Princesses!
After you are done in Norway you are kindly forced to head back towards Future World anyway because the rest of the World Showcase will not open till 10 or 11 am, it varies.
Lunch and dinner are fun to plan because of all the options. You can dine on your favorite cuisine or try something completely new. You can be a foodie parent at Disney with picky kids. Almost everywhere, 99% of places have a pizza or macaroni dish for your kids. There are healthy options called Mickey Check meals but our little kids rarely want that unless its salmon.
If you are on the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, I love to eat a sit-down meal 3 times a day. ADR’s are not just about food. I can order as much or as little as I like, I enjoy the break.
( I can power through and not take a break, but my experience suffers. With a sit-down table service meal, I can enjoy my kids and appreciate their ages and how precious the moments are when I am rested. I am even better when I eat real food, not just park food (hotdogs and pretzels) all day.
I would make the same ADRs when not on the Deluxe or any other Dining plan. Remember your feet need a rest. Your kids need to unwind for a bit. Sitting around the table together gives you all the chance to slow down and connect and bond even more during such an amazing experience. There are fewer meltdowns and fewer grumpy faces when we take the break and sit down at a table service restaurant.
I do not get the same power up from a quick service meal. Sometimes Quick service can’t be avoided. When given the chance to plan reservations in, I will always take the opportunity to enhance and extend our experience.
You do not need to eat or pay for a full meal every time. You can just order soup and salad and macaroni for your kids to split and still enjoy the benefits of Dining Reservations. I guarantee you will have a better day with some built-in stops. You are creating opportunities for Magic. Some of our best Disney memories are when we slowed down to sit and eat.
The third step in your Epcot planning is your Fastpass selections.
Planning your Fastpasses for the first part of the day in this park isn’t a bad idea. All the rides and attractions to use them on are in Future World.
The Fastpass tiers at Epcot have all the rides you want in the first tier. And the non-thrilling rides and attractions in tier two. You can only pick one awesome ride from the thrill list and two other Fastpass experiences from the other rides and attractions.
We have two little girls and our eldest boy to think of. Making Epcot work for us will always involve rope dropping Frozen Ever After or Test Track. We like to Fastpass Soarin’ because the line is boring! It is a metal box much like a windowless airport terminal. It moves very slow. Even with a Fastpass, this may still take 30 minutes.
As I said, Soarin’ gets our Tier one Fastpass selection. I love this ride. There may even be a glistening tear as we end the ride and usually, everyone burst into applause. It’s a winner.
The other tier one ride that you could use a fastpass on is Test Track. There is a single rider line for adults and kids 7 years and older. This is a great way to get this ride in if you are okay with riding in different cars with other people.
On one of these single rider experiences our son was 8 and riding by himself. He was directed to a car with another family who immediately tried to locate his family.
We had positioned our party to have Grandpa and Uncle in front of him and Dad behind him in line so he wouldn’t exit by himself. Although he is perfectly capable of doing so. It made me feel better. The family took notice to make sure he “found” his family. I am happy to report that most people on a Disney Vacation are happy and helpful. Not everyone is. Don’t be those people.
If you choose to wait as a group, Test Track has several points of interaction and built-in distractions for guests. One of our kids’ favorite parts is the room where you design your virtual vehicle. You can pick the color and type of engine. You can add flames and monster truck wheels. It is a great way to wait if you gotta wait.
Fact: The fastest Ride at Disney World is Test Track! Source: Cast member trivia
Our first Tier two fastpass selection is usually Spaceship Earth. It is a slow ride “inside the ball.” Everyone can ride this ride. As for our other tier two selection, it varies. None of the tier two rides need a fastpass. I would choose according to your family. You like the ocean- Nemo and Friends or Turtle Talk with Crush. If you like old school Epcot try Journey into Imagination with Figment. (It is not a true classic but a nod to it.) Want to sit inside in an armchair and air conditioning- Go for The Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival. I would choose this one personally. It is nice to sit.
You can do all of them without a Fastpass. However, it feels wasteful not to use them and my kids like “booping” their Magic Band on the touchpoints to get in.
TIP: Epcot is a big place. You will feel the effects on your feet if you are constantly zig-zagging across the park. Try grouping your fastpasses to an area and time block. Soarin and Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival with Fastpass windows opening 10:15 and 11:20.
The fourth step in planning your Epcot Day is to know where the good stuff is ahead of time.
If you look up “best treats or snacks at Epcot” there will be a barrage of yummy images. Plan accordingly or you will miss some or all the things that made you excited about your Epcot day snacks.
My family loves the Caramel in Germany. Karamell- Kuche features fresh caramel corn, caramel covered apples and strawberries, caramel pralines and more. Get a bite for now and save some for the Fireworks later.
I love Les Halles Boulangerie- Patisserie in the French Pavilion. You can find Macarons (not Macaroons- those are a drop cookie made with shredded coconut) and chocolate croissants, layered napoleons, eclairs and more. You can add an espresso or cappuccino to your snack to really make it sing.
Les Halles Boulangerie is also a quick service restaurant. They have other french lunch items like quiche, several different salads and a croque monsieur sandwich, bisque, potato, and leek soup. The only critique I have is the size of the space. It is tight. The tables are tiny and there are not enough chairs, ever.
In the same little alley in France is L’Artisan des Glaces with their handcrafted frozen treats. Ice cream by the scoop or as a sundae and a selections of sorbets. Along with some ice cream creations like the macaron sandwich or croque glace and the ice cream martini.
This one is still on my Epcot bucket list because 1) we either go for the Patisserie or 2) we over indulged on some other nearby snack and have no room for anything else. This one is priority number one on our upcoming trip to Epcot.
Scope out your must have eats or drinks and make sure you note the location in your plans. I generally plan our itinerary primarily around meals and snacks then figure in Fastpasses and shows.
The other thing to keep your eyes open is for your adult beverage. Oh yes, a little alcohol goes along way when you are tired and mildly dehydrated no matter how much water you drink.
I find that I am a little more gracious in the afternoon when we hit up the margaritas in Mexico or grab a cocktail in Morocco. That rude guy who nearly knocked me to the ground and didn’t say excuse me!!!- God bless him. I have more grace when we have eaten and rested and grabbed a little something for the adults.
The Last step in planning your Epcot day with kids is staying for the shows and Fireworks.
Spend the last part of your day winding around The World Showcase spending about 35-45 minutes per country to really taste, try, see what all they have going on.
Each country has some sort of street performers or mini stage for performances throughout the day. These guys are great! They are good at what they do and do a fantastic job engaging you.
My favorite is the Serveur Amusant in France. Two guys, a whistle, some wine bottles, and several chairs…not a single word. Fantastically Funny.
Epcot has numerous entertainment options. There is almost always a concert of some sort or celebrity band. We have seen Hansen, Earth Wind, and Fire and Chaka Khan in the American Amphitheater.
We have attended the Candlelight Processional and listened as Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton from The Fresh Prince) read the Christmas story out of the second chapter of Luke surrounded by a 50 piece orchestra and full choir. Astounding.
We have also witnessed the “Guardians of the Galaxy Live” rock out some tunes from the movie. My kids love the soundtrack, so we made it a point to see it. It was fun.
I like to pair the entertainment with a great treat or drink. Example: during the Guardians Concert run at Epcot last year you could get a Baby Groot cupcake and Guardians slush with or without alcohol. The shows are usually after lunch and usually more than once. It is a nice sit-down break and good timing for snacks in between meals.
If you had to choose between sit downs for lunch or dinner. I would say get a dinner reservation. You are definitely tired and it helps pass the time before the end of night Fireworks.
On the flip side, I could also advise that lunch is a hot part of the day and quick service restaurants full of hot, hungry people don’t make for pleasant interactions. If you are not planning to stay the whole day get the table service lunch reservation!
After dinner, the park slows down a little. The World Showcase is lit up and is very immersive down each corridor in the different countries.
Illuminations is a 12-minute Fireworks show over the Lagoon in the center of The World Showcase. You could have Fastpassed this experience but there are plenty of great places to watch the show from around the lagoon. Anywhere you can get a spot up against the barrier facing the center of the lake is a great spot. You won’t miss anything it is all straight up. Ok, there are some lights that twinkle on the buildings at one point for like 20 seconds.
Again I like to have some snacks and drinks for the kids to munch on. We will always fill up our reusable popcorn bucket and refill water bottles. We should have some caramel saved from our stop in Germany. And mom and dad hopefully have found some libations or yummy draft of craft beer.
I will opt to sit on a wall or the ground at this point in the night. See My mom’s gear list of what to sit on. Sometimes our kids sit on their dad.
I have planned to go back to the resort for a mid-afternoon rest in past trips, but if you have never seen Illuminations now is your chance. Illuminations is set to retire at the end of the 2019 summer. The holiday “tag” that Disney adds for the Fourth of July is legendary. This tag adds about 3 minutes to the show and takes the fireworks to the next level.
If you have seen it and it is not a holiday, head out before Illuminations to get one last family photo at night in front of “the ball” and beat the crowd of people that will soon follow.
TIP: I highly recommend Advanced Purchase Memory Maker when you are going to be at Disney for 3 days or more. The Downloads are high quality and their cameras are professionally adjusted for the lighting conditions. A La Carte, the individual photos/downloads are $15.00 a piece last I looked, which was 2 years ago. We have made it a part of our Disney budget, currently priced as I write this it is $169 for unlimited downloads. Purchase 4 days out for the advance price or $199 for Immediate use or after your trip.
Remember you are Making Magic Happen! When you are there and all this planning is coming to fruition you are avoiding meltdowns and long lines. When after a long park day your family is not exhausted and the whole family is chanting “We love Disney World!” That is the point of all of this planning. So you can enjoy your family and the vacation. You may even have a magical Disney commercial kind of day. Take lots of pictures and savor the time you have together.
Remember the keys to planning your day at Epcot!:
- Download our Making Magic Happen Park Planner Epcot Edition
- Dining Reservations aren’t just for food-hello A/C!
- Fast passes are very important at Epcot- goodbye 1-hour waits!
- Know where the good stuff is
- Stay for the shows and fireworks
Sign up for our email list to get your Free Disney Parks Planner Epcot Edition