Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Early Bird Gets The Mouse: Epcot

Here in part II of our The Early Bird Gets The Mouse series, we examine how to utilize our most important tip of all ("Get there early. Very early. As in before "rope drop" early.") in Epcot.

Basically, you should tackle Epcot in much the same way as you tackle Hollywood Studios. Each park has 3 major attractions that you have to accommodate for first thing in the morning. You need to get a fastpass for THE most popular attraction (Toy Story Mania/Soarin') as fast as you can upon park opening, ride the second-most popular one immediately after getting the fastpass (Rock N Roller Coaster/Test Track), and ride the 3rd most popular one after that (Tower of Terror/Mission: Space)...then the fastpass should be ready to go. All within about an hour and a half.

To elaborate, I can say with all confidence that when at Epcot, the ride you should run to first and grab a fastpass for is Soarin'. And it's not even close. In Walt Disney World, for all intents and purposes it's behind only Toy Story Mania as the most popular attraction in all of The Mouse. And that's the reason why you should treat it in the same way you should treat Toy Story Mania when hitting DHS first thing in the morning - get a fastpass and run away. The line will fill VERY quickly and it will likely be a sizable wait no matter how fast you get over to the attraction.

And there's good reason for Soarin's popularity. Bottom line, it's a great ride - an exhilarating ride. I'll never forget watching my wife, Hope, experience this for the first time. She was speechless over the thrill of it, and this is a woman who is used to thrill...she had been skydiving several times in recent years before that and eats the meanest of roller coasters for breakfast. But the feeling of Soarin' made her speechless. It's unique, and it feels good. The music, the scenery, the scents, the huge screen, the breeze in your face. It's beautiful. It deserves to be as popular as it is (although the film needs some cleaning).

And like Toy Story Mania, almost everyone can ride Soarin'. That's the key to it's popularity - it's exhilarating without being too over-the-top thrilling and nearly everyone can experience it.

But its popularity is what necessitates an immediate fastpass. And as we recommended for Toy Story Mania in our Hollywood Studios 'Early Bird article, you should NOT ride Soarin first, but get the fastpass and move on to Test Track and then Mission: Space. It will save tons of time, and will almost guarantee that you're done with the big three rides in about an hour and a half after park opening - leaving you the ability to take the rest of the park at your pace the rest of the day.

And as we recommended in the previous article, you've got to get there early. If you're dealing with a 9 am start time on a non-Extra Magic Hours morning, get there at least a half hour early. You want to be by the turnstiles by 8:30 to be amongst the first to make the trek to The Land pavilion. If you're not there before rope drop, you're risking the whole point of the tip, because sometimes the gates open slightly early...and if a few thousand people get the head start on you because you arrived at the turnstiles at 8:58, you're out of luck.

So that being said, here's our strategy for getting the absolute most out of the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow (when it opens at 9:00 am with no morning Extra Magic Hours):

8:20-8:30 am: Arrive at the turnstiles at Epcot
As mentioned, this is important because they sometimes open the gates slightly early. And even if they don't, you want to be up front in the lines waiting to get in. When it comes to the morning "sprint" to Soarin', if you have long turnstile lines in front of you, it can make a big difference in your fastpass return time. Get there amongst the first guests, and your return time should be between 10:00 and 10:30 am.

9:00 am: Get to Soarin! Go go go!
Like with Toy Story Mania, don't ride it! Just get your fastpass, and head back out across Future World and boogie toward Test Track. If you get there quickly enough, it will be a minimal wait - 10 or 15 minutes - because the vast majority of people entering are heading to Soarin'. But they don't know your master plan...

9:15 - 9:20 am: Head to Test Track ASAP
After Soarin' fastpasses are well in hand, get across Future World to Test Track. At this time, the line should not be long yet - again, most people are trying to get on Soarin. The wait should be no more than 15 minutes at this point. Add another 15 minutes for the pre-show and ride, and you've complete Test Track at about 9:45 - 9:50 am. Head across the way to Mission: Space.

9:45 - 9:50 am: Head to Mission: Space
I'll be honest here: after the initial scare this ride gave everyone with its intensity, it lost a lot of popularity. It used to very much be in the league of Test Track when it came to huge lines with massive wait times...not anymore. It still has its moments, but not like the good old days of pre-green teams. If you're standing in line at Mission: Space by 9:45, you've done very, very well. Because it too won't be more than a 15 minute wait at this time of the morning because everyone is obsessing over Soarin' and Test Track.

10:15 - 10:20 am: Head back to Soarin, fastpass in hand
By this time, your Soarin' fastpass that you picked up just after 9 am should be just about ready to use. The queue for Soarin' is long, even with fastpasses, so it won't be too fast. But it's a million times better than waiting in the standby line. You can expect a 15 minute wait and another 15 minutes to complete the pre-show, ride, and exiting routine. All in all, you can expect to be out of Soarin' by about 10:45 or so.

With this plan, you've gotten the 3 biggest, best rides in Epcot out of the way and done. The rest of the day, you can chill and stroll, just like Epcot was meant for. And by this time, it will almost be time to get another fastpass - so if you want to experience Soarin' or Test Track again, grab another fastpass for a return later in the day.

And as with Hollywood Studios, there's a LOT here to see. Above all, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Illuminations provides the same end-of-night wow factor that Fantasmic does for Hollywood Studios. To cap off your day with that show is a must-do.

Other things NOT TO MISS in Epcot:
Spaceship Earth
Club Cool
Sum Of All Thrills
Turtle Talk with Crush
Living With The Land
Voices Of Liberty
American Adventure
Off Kilter
Impressions De France (the movie)
O Canada (the movie)
Kim Possible (China)

There are just so many things to see (and TASTE) in Epcot that you have to dedicate much of the afternoon and evening to World Showcase. Each of the live acts are worth checking out - all of them. All the movies are worth it. Eating and browsing the shops will take up much of your time. But if you play your cards right first thing in the morning before World Showcase opens - if you get the Big 3 out of the way immediately within that first hour and a half, you will be well on your way to seeing all the things you really SHOULD see in Epcot.

By all rights, Epcot's icon, Spaceship Earth should very well be one of the things you should hit first. It is one of my favorite attractions in all of The Mouse, and deserves to be in that top 3 list. However, we're talking mostly about wait times and the ability to get the most out of your day with this tip...and later in the day, Mission:Space, Test Track and Soarin' will all have HUGE lines while Spaceship Earth will free up for the most part. The reason why you want to avoid Spaceship Earth in the morning is because since it's front and center as you enter the park, a huge amount of people decide to hit that one as well. Why stand in line for Spaceship earth at 9am when you can get the big 3 out of the way and do Spaceship Earth a little later with next to no wait? Save Epcot's icon for around lunch time and it'll be close to a walk-on (depending on time of year, of course).

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