Friday, January 1, 2010

Review: New Year's Eve At Epcot

For years we've avoided Walt Disney World during New Year's Eve. According to many people, including several manager CMs at Epcot we spoke to, it is the single busiest day of the entire year at the parks. Busier than Christmas Day, busier than 4th of July, busier than all of them. Well, despite that, New Year's Eve at Epcot was something we decided we wanted to try at least this once.

The Plan
Honestly speaking, we didn't have one plan - we had a plan A, B, C, D and even E.

Plan A was to simply get into Epcot and stay there through the countdown fireworks that followed the last showing of Illuminations at 11:40 p.m. That is what we wanted most.

Plan B was in the event that Epcot closed due to capacity, we'd go to Hollywood Studios, which was also doing a midnight countdown and fireworks.

If both Epcot and The Studios were closed, plan C was to go to the Wilderness Lodge or the Poly to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from their respective beach.

Plan D was to go to the Boardwalk and at least see the high fireworks from Epcot.

Plan E was the last resort - if we literally couldn't get anywhere to see the fireworks, we'd go to Animal Kingdom (open until 8 p.m.), have fun, then probably hit DisneyQuest and then head home to see the countdown from our living room. This is not what we wanted, though.

Putting The Plan Into Action
There were a few things that we had to consider before we actually put our plans into action. Hope was working until about 3 p.m., so that meant a relatively late start out to The Mouse. This automatically removed Magic Kingdom as an option for our late afternoon/evening New Year's Eve excursion because by all accounts, it was going to close due to capacity (and it did before 2 p.m., according to Twitter updates) and you simply have to get to Magic Kingdom in the a.m. to safely get in. So that was out.

Epcot then became the favorite because, A) it is huge and can more easily accommodate large crowds and still have some room to breath, which was appealing, and B) we wanted to see the New Year's Eve Illuminations fireworks because of how impressive the 4th of July fireworks were at Epcot. We figured they would do it right - and they did (more on that later).

Part of the countdown fireworks finale.

Well, we grabbed the camera, our pin lanyards and packed our backpack full of food - which again the security check had no problem with - and took off shortly after 3:00 p.m. We arrived at Epcot about 45 minutes later and here is where it gets interesting.

Chance with this gingerbread and AP

The Epcot Parking Lot
Now, we've been to Epcot before on very crowded days (spring break, 4th of July) and I've never had to park in the Wonder parking lot. If you don't know where Wonder is, if you're standing in front of Spaceship Earth looking out at the parking lot, Wonder is the one that is to the farthest right-hand side of the lot toward the very back.

They had to brush the dust off of the Wonder parking lot

We not only had to park in Wonder, but we had to parallel park on the far right parameter of Wonder. I've never seen parallel parking enacted at a Disney parking lot before, but did this day. They were doing it all around each parking lot that we saw and along the tram line areas! They were also parking cars on the grassy areas surrounding the lots as well. It was insane.

It's not every day you see parallel parking along the TRAM LINE

By the way, on our way through the lot, in an area that I'm sure isn't seen very often by guests, we saw the sad remains of a now-defunct Epcot gem: the Lights of Winter. Considering we're still in The Season, seeing this was like pouring salt on the wound!

A moment of silence as we pass by the
Lights of Winter grave site

Entering Epcot
The entrance to Epcot was swarming. We did utilize the "Cast Member and Guest Entrance" on the far left of the turnstile area, and the line was reasonably short there - while the others were crazy long. So that got us in rather easily.

Set up immediately inside of the turnstiles was a poster explaining that there were "hats and noise makers" at certain locations around the park. The first thing I though was, "How much do those cost?" We'd be surprised later.

Hats and noise makers...
all the party people say yeah!

Almost right off the bat the dense nature of the crowd was felt. People all over the place; sitting on almost every available bench, seat, curb and anything else that could be used as a place to sit down. And this was the case as soon as you stepped in the park...not just around World Showcase.

However, Epcot is set up so that the walkways in most areas are expansive and wide, enabling relatively smooth travel no matter how many people are there. There are indeed bottleneck areas, but the Spaceship Earth plaza area and most of future world accommodates large crowds VERY well. That is not to say though, that the crowds weren't crazy. Here's the Spaceship Earth line (a 60-minute wait):

People had plenty of time to contemplate how easy
it was to learn their ABCs

We made our way to Club Cool for a drink and then noticed the area behind Innoventions for the hats and noise makers:

Free stuff at The Mouse? Get out!

To our surprise, they were FREE. Yes, something else free at Disney World! The hats and noisemakers were everywhere. But you did get used to the noise after a while, and they were great to have after the stroke of midnight. The hat is also a nice souvenir of the event and really added to the fun and festive atmosphere.

Chance was decked out in his party gear

The Dance Parties
A nice surprise was the quality of the dance parties all throughout the park. This was great and made the atmosphere at Epcot this night a LOT of fun and turned the park into one big party. The sound systems were great and stages were awesome as each party had its own theme and feel.

Hope and Chance doing the Chicken dance!

A stage was set up behind the Fountain Of Nations and hundreds - if not thousands, of people were really enjoying this. The DJ here spun mostly the standard stuff - The Chicken Dance, YMCA, Thriller, Twist and Shout and the like. The demographic of this crowd was mostly kids and familes. Chance had a BLAST here. And so did Hope and I.


Another stage was set up in the courtyard of the China pavilion. This was INCREDIBLE. The had a Chinese dragon prop set up along the lights that hung over the crowd, but this played second fiddle to the fire. From all around the World Showcase, you could see the fire shooters at the top of the lighting rigs shoot cones of fire straight up into the air, and it was awe-inspiring to see. It really made you want to get over there and check it out.

The party area in the China pavilion was VERY cool

The Italy pavilion had a dance area that had amazing laser and light effects. China and Italy had a distinct "club" feel to them - especially with the architecture of the surrounding pavilion lending to the atmosphere. Both Italy and China were comprised of slightly older crowds and more singles (and more drinking). It was a lot of fun.

Phenomenal lighting and laser effects in Italy

The American Gardens Theater had a more latin groove dance theme and it was packed as well. By the time we got around to there, it was about 10:30 and we decided to get away from the chaos and noise and go see The American Adventure (Chance caught a nap). I still love this attraction and the Audio Animatronics are still amazing. After that 40 minutes off our feet, we were invigorated and decided to head back out toward Future World and get set up for the final Illuminations with the New Year's countdown special.

Ben Franklin and Mark Twain didn't
notice me sneaking in this quick pic

The Main Event: The Fireworks and Countdown
They did show Illuminations (along with the Holiday tag) at 7:40, and saw it from in front of the Fountain of Nations by the dance party stage. So we decided it would be a good place to see round II at 11:40, and it also meant an easier escape out of the park after it was over, instead of fighting along World Showcase and the sea of people trying to leave.

The only problem with this area while viewing Illuminations is that you can't see the globe, and some of the countries and their respective visual effects/fireworks are a little obscured. But that was OK, as it was still well worth it - especially since it made leaving a LOT easier.

After Illuminations ended just before 11:55, they went from country to country around the Showcase and announced what time those countries celebrated New Year's. Then a short fireworks display went off in the theme of that countries flag and colors. They ended it with a bust of fireworks around the Showcase from each country in unison. Very cool.

The ring of fireworks that was set off from
each country simultaneously

After that, the countdown begun, and everything/everybody went CRAZY. It was a party. A huge party - at Epcot. And I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else at the stroke of midnight. The fireworks continued for several minutes and the finale was, as expected, awesome (the pics just don't do it justice). Just like 4th of July, the fireworks above the lagoon are so loud and so rapid that they THUMP into your chest. It is truly awe inspiring. You look around and people's jaws are dropped. While it didn't last nearly as long as the fireworks from the 4th, that is OK because it was still worth it. The whole night was worth it.

Part of the finale burst of fireworks after the countdown

So if you ever get the chance to visit during New Year's Eve, and you can brave the crowds without losing your mind, I highly recommend it. It's one big party, and it was HUGE fun.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. From the perspective of someone that has never been a local, I have always thought that I would not attempt Christmas Day or New Year's Eve at any Disney park unless I was a local. The idea of planning a Disney vacation at such a crowded time (we are off season people) just turns me off.

    While I would love to see the fireworks, etc. at midnight, it's just not worth it to me.

    Now, I can live vicariously through a local (it all works out, see?)!!

    That is INSANE about the parking. Hubs and I had a discussion about the Outer Rim parking lots (especially at EPCOT) on our last trip. It was pretty crowded on this particular day in July and Jeff wondered when those outer lots were used (and how he wouldn't want to be there if they were, lol). I told him that I suspected the use of those lots had gone down tremendously in the 90's with the opening of all of the Disney resorts outside of the monorail resorts.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and Happy New Year!