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Epcot for Toddlers

Originally a park with few offerings geared directly to toddlers, Epcot has in recent years matured away from “edutainment” and toward more traditional Disney-type attractions, meaning there is more than a token effort to appeal to toddlers these days. That said many of the things for them to do are exhibits and interactive opportunities, not rides, so you probably don’t need more than a single day here to satisfy your little tyke. Of course, adults may wish to spend more time (often, two full days), and that may grow a bit old for toddlers.

We recommend if you are visiting with Toddlers to spend only 7 or 8 hours a day at the park. If you go in the morning then return to your Disney World hotel in the afternoon for a quick nap and head back to EPCOT in the evening your children will not be walking zombies by the third day.

Rides

An unnumbered list of “don’t miss” attractions might seem to make the most sense, since people differ so radically from each other that my experiences may not match your particular child’s preferences. But that would also neuter the utility of any list at all. Thus, here is my (admittedly highly subjective) list of rides for toddlers at Epcot, presented in order of importance.

  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends – an Omnimover dark ride that re-tells the Nemo story with a combination of sets and films, often using innovative effects.
  • Maelstrom – a dark ride on a boat, including a portion traveling backwards for a minor thrill. Short lines, and a short ride to match your toddler’s attention span.
  • Spaceship Earth – a classic Omnimover attraction with music and robotic performers. It lasts longer than most rides at other amusement parks (including the Magic Kingdom), but kids find it immersive.
  • El Rio Del Tiempo – A boat ride through Mexican history and sights. This is a slow-moving ride with a musical finale. It may not feature the most current effects, but its lack of a line will be most welcome.
  • Honey I Shrunk the Audience – a 3-D movie experience with some theater effects as well, designed to startle and delight. One loud scene (just following the attack of the mice) may frighten young kids, but by and large this is a fun diversion for all kids.
  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment – a stop-and-go dark ride with middling special effects and a largely uninteresting storyline for kids, this attraction might rank lower on the list if not for the fact that it’s moving, which is always a plus for kids.
  • Turtle Talk with Crush – a live interaction, along the lines of a stage show, with an animated character on the screen. Humor is highlighted in this fun but short interaction with Crush. Beware long lines, and don’t expect that your child may get personal participation—only a few kids per show get to participate.
  • Innoventions – two separate pavilions with interactive counters and displays designed especially for children, including toddlers. Part science museum, part corporate display, Innoventions offers a pleasant diversion in a temperature-controlled environment using the newest technology.
  • Living with the Land – an automated boat ride through simulated ecosystems and futuristic greenhouses. The line moves quickly, and there’s lots to look at, but the material isn’t gripping for most kids.
  • Ellen’s Energy Adventure – a traveling theater moves past full-sized robotic dinosaurs, eschewing physical thrills for multiple films. Kids might become bored by the extended movies (and dark spaces), and the sometimes loud sound effects may startle. The 35-minute ride time, though, is the biggest hurdle for most toddlers.
  • Reflections of China – a film projected in 360-degrees on screens all around you. The innovative presentation will be engaging, and the constantly-shifting imagery keeps kids involved for the whole 20-minute movie. Audiences have to stand, however, which can grow tiresome. No lines to speak of.
  • O Canada – another 360-degree film, paced slower and showing its age as a much older film.
  • Impression de France – this tour of France uses three giant side-by-side screens for 180-degrees. Audiences can at least sit this time, and the chairs are so comfortable, napping becomes a danger. The soundtrack of classical music is wonderful for adults, but at times too loud for tykes.
  • American Adventure – a stage show of robotic performers tracing American history over 30 minutes. This attraction is notorious for encouraging naps in the comfortable chairs, since the pace of the show is sometimes quite slow. Many toddlers fuss at the expectation that their attention be held for so long.

Older preschoolers may desire to take on the thrill rides: Soarin’ (40 inches), Test Track (40 inches), and Mission Space (44 inches). If so, move these rides to the top of the list. Soarin’ is a hang-glider simulation, so a fear of heights may impede enjoyment. Test Track will prove enjoyable for all involved. Mission Space is a simulation of space travel—there’s a version with actual weightlessness, achieved by rapid spinning, and one without. Some kids find the spinning nauseating, but most children quite like it (for the adults, the split is closer to 50/50).

At the other end of the spectrum are the rides you shouldn’t bother with. This list is also subjective, and refers to attractions that specifically toddlers may want to skip:

– Circle of Life – a movie at the Land pavilion that preaches environmentally-sustained habits using the characters from the Lion King. Political correctness run amok, the problem is not so much the message as the overbearing method of presentation and preaching.

It comes as no surprise that the rides to get busy the fastest in the morning are the thrill rides (with the exception of Mission Space, which has the capacity to handle crowds without lines forming). Visit those either first or last, or use FASTPASS for them (see below). Spaceship Earth is closest to the entrance, so it gets a line in the morning. Skip that for now, and come back later, and there will be no line.

Lines are minimal or basically absent on almost all rides at Epcot. For film-based attractions, you may have to wait one cycle before the next film begins. Rides that do have a line are mostly the thrill rides, as well as Turtle Talk with Crush.

Be sure that you prioritize your choices. Many families ride only 10-12 attractions per day, so plan to spend a second day or to knowingly skip many.

Entertainment

There are several smaller entertainment experiences at Epcot localized to smaller venues, especially in the country pavilions of World Showcase. Few are of “must-see” quality, and are advisable only if you need a break or wish to take in a particular kind of cultural offering. One consistent crowd-pleaser is the troupe of gymnasts at the China pavilion, though this too is fairly low-key.

The major entertainment of the day occurs late at night: the Illuminations fireworks, which explode over the central lagoon of World Showcase. Simply put, do not miss this show. The decentralized nature of this show means you can view from anywhere around the lagoon, but choose a spot where you can see the globe in the center of the lake, or else your view of the fireworks may be slightly obscured. It’s worthwhile to stake out a spot for 30-45 minutes before the show begins if you’re traveling with toddlers, or else they’ll find themselves in the second or third row of spectators, and adults may have to hold them up to see everything.

Dining

Epcot is the park at Disney World with the most dining options. If you just want something quick, there’s fast food at Electric Umbrella and healthier options in the Land pavilion. In World Showcase, just about every country pavilion has a counter-service option, so you can really explore different tastes during your visit, and you’ll regret it if you don’t sample as many as possible. Being adventurous is half the fun of exploring Epcot.

The park is rife with table service options—almost every country pavilion has one. All are decent, though they have different pricing levels. At the top end, the Bistro in France and Le Cellier steakhouse in Canada enjoy the best reputations, and you’ll find the atmosphere of Mexico’s Cantina de San Angel hard to beat. All of the options, though, are decent. Character dining can be found in Norway and the Garden Grill at the Land pavilion.

Reservations for all table service restaurants are a must, and are available on a rolling 180-day schedule (simply call 407-WDW-DINE). Many of these restaurants fill up their available seats weeks before the date.

Characters

In addition to the Character Dining mentioned above, you can find costumed characters that simply walk around (check with a Cast Member to locate the schedule for any particular character). Additionally, there are some structured character meeting areas:

– Figment – the former icon of Epcot, this purple dragon was invented just for Epcot and can still be met at the top of the Imagination pavilion.

– Disney characters by land – the country of origin for the original story serves as the greeting place for numerous Disney characters, such as Belle in France, Snow White in Germany, Mushu in China, and so on. These characters are not always present, though, so you may wish to check for schedules.

PhotoPass

At all the character interactions, as well as key photogenic locations, you may run across park workers offering to take your picture and “put it on a card.” This is a free service and ideal for vacationers. On your first such encounter, you’ll get a card. On all future encounters, hand over the card and they’ll swipe it, making sure that whatever photos are taken get added to your account. When you return home after your vacation, you can view the pictures online, and order prints of any that you desire, with no pressure whatsoever.

Shopping

Toddlers can find Epcot trying if the day consists of following around adults as they sample food and ride grown-up attractions—Epcot just isn’t geared for children as neatly as the Magic Kingdom. If adults do a lot of shopping for themselves, the problem is compounded. Shopping for toddlers specifically should also be kept to a minimum, though you may find it helpful to let them explore the country-specific shops as their interest dictates. A central store with the most common souvenirs can be found at Future World’s MouseGear.

Hidden Treasures

Here are a few experiences that don’t draw nearly as many crowds, but may be of paramount importance to your particular toddler (pick and choose as your preferences dictate):

– Kidcot – tucked away into a corner in every pavilion is a table stocked with crayons and paper for children to color. Kids can be issued a free mask and have fun collecting paper charms from every pavilion to hang onto the mask, giving the travels around the park a sense of purpose.

– Playground at Mission Space – no slides, but this indoor playground has plenty of tubes for exploring, and it has the advantage of being indoors, meaning a true escape from heat, humidity, or rain.

– Living Seas aquarium – When visiting the Seas with Nemo, don’t forget to head upstairs and spend time ogling the enormous fish tank, at one time the largest in the world.

– Interactive play zones at the Imagination pavilion – make music by waving your arms and simply jump on carpeted tiles that make special effects noises.

– Germany outdoor train set – children adore watching this garden-scale miniature train set navigate the scale model German villages and mountainous countryside. Many won’t want to leave!

– Interactive Fountains – splash-zone fountains near Mission Space and at the meeting of Future World and World Showcase give kids a chance to cool off in the hot summer months.