Epcot: Country Hopping at Disney World

Disney Epcot Center

After visiting seven continents, 70 countries, and all 50 US states, I finally spent one day at Epcot.

Disney World wasn’t a vacation priority for my family when I was a kid; our summers and many school vacations were spent in idyllic central Maine, where I spent my childhood soaking in the sunshine and the East Coast’s salty air. My first visit to Disney World was a brief adventure to the Magic Kingdom in high school, after my grandparents and aunt and uncle had relocated from Maine to the Tampa area. We spent six hours in the park: three hours in line for Space Mountain, two hours walking by some of the other attractions, and the balance parking and purchasing tickets. It was a nice day made memorable more so by spending it with my family than the park itself, and I never felt a deep desire to return.

The American pavilion at Disney's Epcot
The American pavilion
Almost 20 years later, my phone vibrated to announce a text message had come through, and my unexpected return to Disney World suddenly began to take shape. My friend Jamie, who lived just a neighborhood away from me when I first moved to Washington, DC, also shares a birth month with me: in fact, her birthday is just a few days before my own. Now a Florida resident with her husband Daniel, Jamie decided Disney World would be the perfect host for her birthday—and she wanted Adam and I to join her for the celebration.

It’s never difficult to convince Adam and I to take a weekend trip, and spending a couple of days at Disney World was an easy sell. Adam’s family visited Disney World, Disneyland, and Epcot over a series of family vacations during his childhood, and he was excited to see how the park had changed in the decades since his last visit. With just a single day to experience Disney it made sense to focus on just one park, and we settled on Epcot, which couldn’t have thrilled me more. Spending the day with great friends as we wandered from country to country? It doesn’t get better than that!

Many of Disney World’s parks can be visited in a single day, and Epcot is a great example. Here are some ideas and tips we discovered during our day at Epcot that might help you make the most of your visit as well!

What is Epcot?

The second oldest of Disney World’s parks (only the Magic Kingdom is older!), Epcot was born from an idea expressed by Walt Disney himself. He envisioned a big, ever-changing community concept that would be founded in technology and advancement while supporting the people who lived there. Termed the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT, Disney commissioned a model and began some initial planning and exploration into the concept before he died in 1966. At that point, the concept of the new-age city morphed into the concept of a theme park with a dual purpose: some people wanted the park to reflect the latest technology and inspire visitors to dream of what could be, while others wanted a park dedicated to cultural awareness and the connections between all people. Ultimately, both concepts merged together to create the Epcot that endures today.

It’s for both of those purposes that spending one day at Epcot is worthwhile. Between the park’s opening and closing, you can experience rides that will launch you into space and fly you above the horizon. You can sample cuisine from around the world, fluidly moving among countries as you explore the eleven pavilions that make up the Global Showcase. There is more than enough to see and do, and with a little planning your Epcot vacation can represent a great balance between entertainment and relaxation—or it can be fully focused on the elements you want to experience the most.

World Showcase and Drinking Around the World

For us, the big draw during our one day at Epcot was the World Showcase. Somewhat void of major rides (with a few exceptions), the countries represented are the stars of the show. Visiting the World Showcase can provide a lovely backdrop for a leisurely walk and an opportunity to feel like you have seen the world in a single day. Although you won’t necessarily get a strong introduction to the history and culture of any given country, there are plenty of opportunities to learn something new—and meet someone who calls that country home. One of the great practices at Epcot is that each country is mostly staffed by people from the country they represent.

Of course, in honor of Jamie’s birthday, our trip to the World Showcase involved a few local beverages. For visitors of legal drinking age, drinking around the world has become a popular attraction in itself when spending one day at Epcot. The concept is simple: visit each of the pavilions during the day and order and consume an alcoholic beverage at each stop.

Drinking Around the World at Epcot

There are eleven countries represented within the World Showcase, and each one of them has a few unique highlights and drinks that make them all worthy of your time during your one day at Epcot.

United States Pavilion

Why it’s unique: The American Adventure pavilion does a nice job of sharing some of the country’s earliest stories. Set in a more colonial era, you’ll have a chance to see some impressive paintings and statues within the show building that also hosts a 30-minute historical production. The big draw is the American Adventure show, which is hosted by animatronic versions of Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin as they discuss some of the USA’s most pivotal historic moments.

What to drink: We spent our visit sipping a local beer from a stand just outside the show building. We tend to be bigger fans of the USA’s wine scene (especially after trips to California and exploring our own region in Virginia), but a cold beer on a hot day really did feel like the right choice to make when learning about America in the American Pavilion.

Canada Pavilion

Ice wine and beer at the Epcot Canada pavilion at Disney's Epcot
Ice wine and beer at the Canada pavilion
Why it’s unique: The Canadian Pavilion is beautifully connected to the great outdoors, which is a characteristic that defines Canada so well. From natural features like a waterfall and a canyon to cultural components including replicas of the totem poles you will find in British Columbia, it’s a well-designed representation of the USA’s northern neighbor.

What to drink: We tried ice wine, a sweet wine with an almost syrupy consistency, which in some ways is an acquired taste: It’s not a typical wine! Still ice wines are commonly produced in cold climates like the one Canada has, and we enjoyed trying it while we listened to a fantastic band perform in the pavilion.

Morocco Pavilion

Why it’s unique: Many of the pavilions we visited brought back surprising memories of countries we have visited and loved. When we arrived in Morocco, eager for a meal and another drink to check off our list, Adam and I were distracted by how eerily similar the pavilion looked to Marrakech’s Ben Youssef Madrasa. As we discovered, the Moroccan government guided the pavilion’s design, sending in their own artists and architects to oversee the development of the buildings. The end result is striking and perhaps the most authentic cultural experience you will find during your one day at Epcot. As I waited in line for my food order, I struck up a conversation with a cast member whose name tag declared he was from Marrakech. When I told him I had visited his hometown before, he smiled broadly. “Did you eat tagine?” he asked me. When I said yes (for almost every meal, in fact!) his smile got even bigger. “We have the best food in the world,” he told me, bursting with pride.

What to drink: We split a pitcher of delicious sangria from Spice Road Table, a restaurant that serves great food and has a nice drink menu if you are looking for something new to try.

Japan Pavilion

We loved the Sake at the Epcot Japan pavilion
We loved the Sake at the Japan pavilion
Why it’s unique: With pagodas and a beautiful torii gate to welcome you, the Japan pavilion has many of the features we loved about our own visit to Tokyo. Look for Matsuiza Taiko drummers, who perform regularly. Although I am picky about the souvenirs I buy when traveling, I really liked the gift shop, which had some great artwork, tea sets, and paper fans for purchase.

What to drink: The best drink I had at Epcot was in Japan, where I ordered a violet sake only because the color was so pretty. The delightful sweetness was exactly what I wanted on a hot afternoon, and if we weren’t committed to trying a drink in each of the 11 countries, I would have ordered a second one on the spot.

Norway Pavilion

Why it’s unique: Norway’s pavilion looks like a Norwegian village, and it’s reminiscent of some of the regions I saw when I visited Norway years ago. In addition to a brief introduction to Norwegian culture and architecture commonly found throughout the country, Norway is now home to the Frozen Ever After ride. The most impressive part of the pavilion is the Stave Church, a replica of the medieval churches that once dotted landscapes throughout Europe but are now best preserved in Norway.

What to drink: We tried a pilsner from the Aase Brewery, the oldest brewery in Norway. Light and refreshing, it reminded us a bit of Gull beer that is popular in Iceland—a good choice if you are looking for a drink directly imported from Norway!

France Pavilion

Why it’s unique: The thing I loved the most about my previous trips to Paris was the street culture: the sidewalk cafes and the shops selling fresh baked goods always provided the kind of old-world feel that so many people equate to France. Epcot’s France pavilion does a nice job recreating that feeling, and visually the layout is reminiscent of Paris itself. From shops selling French wine to the Eiffel Tower in the background, it’s easy to forget you haven’t boarded a transatlantic flight to wind up in such a neighborhood.

What to drink: French wine was our go-to, but only because we ordered glasses before seeing the popular Grand Marnier slush that many others decided to choose. Still, the wine was great, and its lower price point might be attractive if you are drinking around the world during your one day at Epcot.

United Kingdom Pavilion

Pimm's Cup in the Epcot UK Pavilion! Adam's favorite
Pimm’s Cup in the UK Pavilion! Adam’s favorite
Why it’s unique: One of our favorite places on the planet is London, and our trip to the United Kingdom pavilion felt like a homecoming. Red phone booths, cottages, and architecture representing the centuries of building construction in England give the pavilion exactly the right feel.

What to drink: We had a pint of cider and a Pimm’s Cup from the Rose and Crown, which also serves plenty of British beers and pub fare. The pub is extremely popular and was crowded during our visit, so we happily enjoyed our round as we wandered what really felt like the streets of London.

China Pavilion

Why it’s unique: There are quite a few ways to learn about Chinese culture when visiting the China pavilion, including a museum within the replica of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. Acrobats often perform outside, and inside the temple the Reflections of China movie provides images that might inspire a future vacation.

What to drink: I tried the Bai Joe Punch, which combined Chinese Bai Jiu with lychee, coconut, and pineapple for a refreshing tropical cocktail. Adam went more the more dessert-style Tipsy Ducks in Love, which is concocted of bourbon, coffee, tea, and chocolate syrup. The drinks were strong and well-made; paired with an egg roll they made us very happy.

Mexico Pavilion

Why it’s unique: If you have traveled to Mexico, there’s a good chance you have seen the central American pyramids with their characteristic architectural design. The exterior to the main building in the Mexico pavilion looks quite a bit like the Mayan pyramids like Chichen Itza. Stepping inside the Plaza de los Amigos took us into a loud, colorful marketplace overlooking an indoor lagoon and, in the background, pyramids and volcanos that presented the perfect backdrop.

What to drink: I loved my blood orange margarita from La Cantina de San Angel. We all ordered margaritas, and each of them were huge and strong—they did not skimp on the tequila!

Germany Pavilion

Brats and Riesling at the Germany pavilion at Epcot
Brats and Riesling at the Germany pavilion (beer was also available, of course)
Why it’s unique: Looking like it was plucked from the Bavarian countryside, the Germany pavilion takes its inspiration from several well-known German cities. The clocktower, which looks similar to one we saw in Munich, was a highlight for us. We also loved the food options; we stuck around for a while to indulge in bratwursts swimming in sauerkraut, a great choice if you are drinking around the world and need a snack during your one day at Epcot.

What to drink: We stuck with glasses of German Riesling during our visit to Germany, but the grapefruit beer was also delicious.

Italy Pavilion

Why it’s unique: With gondolas that will remind you of Venice and fountains like the ones we saw in Rome, the Italy pavilion is a great place to explore Italian cuisine and architecture during your one day at Epcot. Look for a replica of St. Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower, and Neptune’s Fountain which resembles the Trevi Fountain. Many people also seek out Via Napoli, a restaurant famed for its Neapolitan-style pizzas and impressive architecture (the vaulted ceilings and stained glass are stunning!).

What to drink: We sipped very strong cocktails—a Bellini and a Limoncello cocktail—from a cart near Via Napoli. Sitting outside under umbrellas with our drinks gave us a chance to cool off a bit in one of the park’s most beautiful settings.

BONUS: Sodas Around the World

Epcot has soda samples from around the world!
Soda samples from around the world!
It wasn’t all about alcoholic drinks during our one day at Epcot! We found Club Cool, where free samples of popular sodas from various countries around the world are offered for anyone daring enough to try them. Interesting flavors were on display from countries like Greece, Thailand, and Zimbabwe, and we were excited to see they had Inca Cola as an option—one of our favorites from our trip to Peru.

In total, we spent about seven hours exploring the World Showcase and drinking around the world. If you are planning to do the same, allocate the majority of your visit—and certainly your afternoon—to the task. By spacing out our beverages, incorporating plenty of water to stay hydrated, and pausing for food and some occasional shopping, we ended the day feeling exhausted but sober. We awoke the next morning refreshed and without a dreaded hangover, and we considered our drinking around the world experience to be a complete success.

The Rides at Epcot

When it comes to thrill rides, Epcot is not the first park you’ll think of when planning a visit to Disney World. Still, our one day at Epcot included several memorable rides and attractions that you should consider when planning your own Epcot adventure. Here are a few of our favorites.

Journey into Imagination with Figment

You’ll see a smiling purple dragon throughout Epcot, and Journey into Imagination with Figment is the best way to learn his origin story. The ride takes you on a misguided tour of the Imagination Institute as Dr. Nigel Channing does his best to explain how the five senses promote imagination, but he is often thwarted by Figment, the dragon who is committed to stealing the show. The ride is a whimsical, musically-driven experience that embodies Disney’s original goal for Epcot: to, “be a showcase to the world of ingenuity and imagination.”

Test Track

Test Track at Epcot
Test Track
The first ride we sought out during our time at Epcot was Test Track. We spent the first few minutes of the experience building a virtual concept car, making use of the opportunity to select and adjust features on a large touchscreen that guided us through the design and development of our own car. As we made decisions about the features we most wanted in our car, the screen would update us on its stats, including how powerful and efficient it would be in real life. Once our car design was complete, we boarded a “test car” that drove us through almost a mile of track as we learned about how our cars compared to others in our test car. Ultimately, our car proved to be the fastest—and least efficient—car in our group, a victory for us because we designed for power, but a reminder that a fast car can have some drawbacks!

Mission: SPACE

Before even joining the line at Mission: SPACE, I had a decision to make: how brave was I feeling?

Mission: SPACE simulates a mission to Mars, launching teams of four visitors toward the Red Planet on a mission briefed through video before boarding the spacecraft. Each person is assigned a role, which makes it easy to assume the identify of someone boarding a spaceship for parts unknown. Prior to beginning the ride, though, visitors select one of two lanes: the green lane, a fun but lower-key experience, and the orange lane, an intense ride that incorporates more than 2G—twice the gravitational pull of Earth—to make the flight feel realistic. I felt brave during my one day at Epcot, so I chose the orange lane with Daniel and Rob, bidding a brief farewell to Jamie and Tammi as they headed toward the green line. I found intense to be a good descriptor for the ride; I’m not prone to motion sickness (as I learned on our trip to Antarctica!), and I found the ride to be exhilarating without making me nauseous. It ended up being one of my favorite rides of the day.

Spaceship Earth

Our capsule was awesome!
Epcot is symbolized by the enormous white Spaceship Earth, and the ride that shares its name is worth seeking out during your one day at Epcot. The ride escorts you through the history of communication, from the earliest days when humans inhabited the earth. Transitioning from drawings on cave walls to the invention of the printing press, telephone, and television, the cars pass by a number of scenes played out through music and animatronics. The best part, though, was at the end of the ride, when a screen in our capsule asked us to respond to a number of questions. After a few moments, a video featuring our very own smiling faces (taken from a photo from earlier in the ride!) showed us the future we had created based on the questionnaire. Adam and I both laughed out loud as our cheerful images piloted a spaceship into the future, and Spaceship Earth became a favorite moment from our Epcot experience.

Soarin’

We ended our one day at Epcot at Soarin’, an absolutely perfect way to tie in Epcot’s themes of technology, imagination, and global connectedness. Soarin’ straps you into a seat that gently lifts upward, tilting you toward an enormous Omnimax screen. As the chair simulates the experience of paragliding, the screen reveals some of our planet’s most famous attractions. For most visitors, the ride is a fun way to see iconic scenes from around the globe. For Adam and I, fortunate enough to have taken some magnificent vacations over the years, it was like flying through a scrapbook.

“Look to the left! That’s our hotel!” I whispered as we flew past the Sydney Opera House toward the Harbour Bridge. Sure enough, we could see the Sydney Harbour Marriott as we drifted by. Not long after that, we glided above the Great Pyramids of Egypt, followed by the USA’s own Monument Valley. As the ride concluded, lowering us back to the ground, I asked Adam what he thought of the experience. “It kind of makes me want to plan another vacation,” he said. Nothing like a scenic ride to inspire a little wanderlust!

How Much Will One Day at Epcot Cost?

If you are planning to spend just one day at Epcot, you’ll invest quite a bit into your experience. Tickets for adults start at 109 USD and can be even more on peak days; combined with extra costs for food and drinks, you may find your in-park expenses double or triple the cost of your ticket. Disney World is not a cheap day trip, and one day at Epcot can be surprisingly expensive. If you are planning to drink around the world, know that not all drinks are created equal: while specialty cocktails are delicious and easy to find, most locations have less expensive beer and wine options that can save you a few dollars. If you are traveling with friends, sharing drinks to cut down on costs can save money, calories, and room to try a few more beverages!

More Information: DisneyWorld.Disney.go.com

Tips for Making the Most of Your Day at Epcot

Here are a few tips to help you plan out your Epcot vacation.

Get there early

You’ll need every moment you can get to make the most of your one day at Epcot, so arrive before the park opens so you can be among the first to go through security. We arrived before the park opened at 9 AM, and as soon as they dropped the rope to signal the park was open for business we were ready to go. We also stayed until the park closed for the evening, allowing us a full 12 hours to enjoy every moment of our experience. It’s a long day, but with so much to see and do it’s worth it!
Good night from Epcot

Know your Magic Band pin number

If you stay at a Disney property, your Magic Band—a contactless wristband that can be used to access everything from the park to your hotel room—can serve as your wallet for the day. In order to use your Magic Band to pay for meals and drinks, you’ll need a pin number that can be provided to you at check-in. Be sure you know your pin before arriving at Epcot to take advantage of the convenience.

Reserve your FastPass

We were fortunate that Jamie, Daniel, Rob, and Tammi are Disney experts, and they reserved several rides for us using the Disney FastPass system. FastPass serves as a reservation system; you can preselect the rides you want to experience and the time you will arrive for them, which allows you to minimize your time in line. For popular rides like Test Track and Soarin’ we saved quite a bit of time by having a FastPass reservation in place.

Have a plan

Epcot is a huge park, and if you have only one day at Epcot you’ll need a plan for how to prioritize your time. In addition to securing your FastPass reservations, consider the rides, restaurants, shows, and shops you want to explore. You can certainly incorporate flexibility into your day, but know what aspects of your trip will be prioritized in case lines are longer than expected.

Prepare for the sun

Italy, USA, and Japan Epcot pavilions
Italy, USA, and Japan Epcot pavilions
We visited Florida in the summer, and it was exceptionally hot—exactly the kind of weather you would expect a day at Disney World to include. We arrived at Epcot with all of the essentials: sunscreen, bottles of water, and a few items Jamie gave to us: a battery powered fan that could be filled with water for a refreshing mist and a towel that, when wet, provided some serious cooling when worn around our heads or necks. Although we couldn’t have made it without water and sunscreen, the fan and the towel were critical to our comfort. Think about what you might want to stay comfortable when planning your visit—other items, like a good hat or a shirt with UV protection, might also be important additions for your packing list.

Stay near the park

There are plenty of hotels in the Orlando area, but if you are planning to spend one day at Epcot you may appreciate the convenience of staying near the park. Disney resort hotels are connected via a private bus network, which means you’ll have free, convenient transportation to and from your hotel. Although the buses can be crowded and you may find your hotel is one of the later drop-offs, it’s easier than staying further away and battling traffic—and if you choose to drink around the world, driving will not be an option for you.

If you are looking for more hotel options in Orlando, check out these specials from Booking.com for a few alternatives to the resorts.



Booking.com

Enjoy Walt Disney’s Epcot!

Having the chance to visit Epcot ended up being a true highlight of my summer. Celebrating Jamie’s birthday while experiencing Disney World for the first time as an adult combined to create a truly memorable day. Although most people will rightfully want more than just a day to visit the happiest place on Earth, even one day at Epcot can be the magical experience Disney promises to provide. With a great plan and a desire to let your imagination wander, Epcot is a destination worthy of your bucket list—and a great spot for a short vacation!

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* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited Disney’s Epcot and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Epcot based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.

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