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Epcot is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and it was Walt Disney's dream for a planned city. Alas, after his death, it became a theme park -- Central Florida's second major one, which opened in 1982. Its aims are described in a dedication plaque: "May Epcot entertain, inform, and inspire. And, above all . . . instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere."

Ever growing and changing, Epcot occupies 300 vibrantly landscaped acres. If you can spare it, take a little time to stop and smell the roses on your way to and through the two major sections: Future World and World Showcase.

Epcot is so big that hiking the World Showcase end to end (1 1/3 miles from the Canada pavilion on one side to Mexico on the other) can be an exhausting experience. That's why some folks are certain Epcot stands for "Every Person Comes Out Tired." Depending on how long you intend to linger at each country in World Showcase, this part of the park can be experienced in 1 day (though you can easily spend 2). Most visitors simply make a leisurely loop, working clockwise or counterclockwise from one side of the Showcase to the other.

Unlike Magic Kingdom, much of Epcot's parking lot is close to the gate. Parking sections are named for themes (Harvest, Energy, and so forth), and the aisles are numbered. While some guests are happy to walk to the gate from nearer areas, trams are available, but these days mainly to and from the outer areas. If you're a guest of the Epcot-area resorts including the BoardWalk, the Swan and Dolphin, or the Beach and Yacht Club resorts, you'll have an easier time of it. Simply hop aboard the water taxi (one services each resort) and you'll be transported directly to the International Gateway -- Epcot's back entrance. If you're feeling really energetic, you can even walk.

Be sure to pick up a guide map and entertainment schedule as you enter the park. The guide uses a white K in a red square to note "Kidcot" stops. These play and learning stations are for the younger set and allow them to stop at various World Showcase countries, do crafts, get autographs, have their Kidcot passports stamped (these are available for purchase in most Epcot stores and make a great souvenir), and chat with cast members native to those countries. They generally open at 1pm daily.

If you plan to eat lunch or dinner here and haven't already made Advance Reservations (tel. 407/939-3463), you can make them at the restaurants themselves or at Guest Relations (near Spaceship Earth) -- here you'll find a board that posts which restaurants still have space (including for which meal) and those that don't.

Before you get underway, check the Times Guide for show schedules and incorporate any shows you want to see into your itinerary.