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Epcot remains one of Walt Disney World’s finest achievements. More than any other park, Epcot changes its personality, decorations, and diversions by the season. Although it used to possess the pretense of education, guests usually don’t learn much more than they already know (so as not to bore them or to insult their intelligence), but even though there isn’t much take-away information, that there’s lots to soak up if you explore. There’s plenty to do here without having to wait in lines, and unlike other parks, there are many places to sit. The wide variety of foods and alcoholic beverages is also a big draw. Epcot’s genial personality has earned it a spot as the fifth-most-visited theme park on Earth, racking up some 11.8 million entries in 2015.

The 260-acre park is divided into two zones, Future World and World Showcase, laid out roughly like a figure eight. Both areas started life separately but, as the legend goes, were grafted together when plans were afoot. Future World is where the wonders of industry were extolled in corporate-sponsored “pavilions.” The companies had a hand creating them and they also maintained VIP areas in backstage areas for executives and special guests. At the back of the property, around a 1.3-mile lake footpath, World Showcase was (and is) a circuit of countries, each representing in miniature its namesake’s essence. These, too, received funding from their host countries. The expense of updating exhibits has caused Disney to gradually phase out the educational aspects of the attractions. One by one, original pavilions have been replaced by sense-tingling rides, so that today, only two of the original displays, Spaceship Earth and Living with the Land, remain more or less as they originally were.

Getting In
The parking lot is at the ticket gates, although you can also catch the monorail from the Magic Kingdom parking area. If you park near the track, don’t bother with the tram; you can walk to the gates faster. Bags will be quickly inspected. As you enter the park, lockers are at the right of Spaceship Earth; wheeled rentals are to the left. Also on the left is Guest Relations, where last-minute dining reservations can be made, though often, you’ll just be deferred to the restaurant in question.

Hours
Future World opens at 9am, along with the Norway pavilion of World Showcase, and the rest of World Showcase opens at 11am. Street entertainment (there’s more on weekends) and character greetings dry up after about 5pm. The less scintillating Future World attractions close at 7pm, 2 hours before World Showcase. The nightly IllumiNations show usually takes place over World Showcase Lagoon at 9pm; at its conclusion, the hordes stampede for their cars en masse.  From Epcot, you can take a ferry to Hollywood Studios, the monorail to the Magic Kingdom (until very late at night, when it’s a bus), or a bus to Animal Kingdom.

A History of Epcot
Although people think of Walt Disney as prototypically American, he had a communist streak. He long dreamed of establishing a real, working city where 20,000 full-time residents, none of them unemployed, would test out experimental technologies in the course of their daily lives. In vintage films where he discusses his Florida Project, his passion for creating such a self-sustaining community, to be called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was inextricable from the rest of his planned resort. He wanted nothing less than to revolutionize the world. Truck traffic would be routed to vehicle plazas beneath the city, out of pedestrians’ way, while PeopleMovers (like the ones of Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Transit Authority) would shift the population around town. Between home and downtown, they’d take the monorail. Even on his deathbed, Walt was perfecting real plans for the city that would be his crowning legacy: one whose innovations would make life better for everyone on Earth. Had he lived just 3 more years, he would have made sure it happened.

The Best of Epcot
  • Don’t miss if you’re 6: Frozen Ever After
  • Don’t miss if you’re 16: Test Track
  • Requisite photo op: Spaceship Earth
  • Food you can only get here: Rice cream, the bakery at Norway
  • The most crowded, so Fastpass or go early: Frozen Ever After, Soarin’
  • Skippable: Journey into Imagination with Figment
  • Quintessentially Disney: Spaceship Earth
  • Biggest thrill: Mission: SPACE
  • Best show: Voices of Liberty, the American Adventure
  • Character meals: Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Norway; Garden Grill, The Land
  • Best shopping: Mitsukoshi, Japan
  • Where to find peace: Future World: the Odyssey Center catwalks; World Showcase: the gardens of Japan