When it comes to Walt Disney World touring strategy, Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, and Extended Evening Hours are the best options. This photo report offers a look at morning in EPCOT on an 8/10 crowd level day, wait times and what we accomplished during the Extra Magic Hours replacement, plus how this on-site perk compares to using Genie+ to skip lines.
EPCOT opened to the general public at 8:30 am on this day, meaning Early Entry began at 8:00 am. We were out the door of our room at Art of Animation by roughly 6:50 am, before joining the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind virtual queue. After that, it was off to the Skyliner station over Hourglass Lake. Our aerial escapades in getting to the park are covered in Skyliner Strategy for Early Entry at EPCOT & Hollywood Studios.
Going from Hourglass Lake to EPCOT via the Skyliner is the longest route aboard the gondolas, requiring a transfer at the Caribbean Beach Resort hub station. All told, it takes about 20 minutes gondola-to-gate on average. That’s far less time than it’ll take getting from Art of Animation or Pop Century to EPCOT via bus, Uber/Lyft, Minnie Vans, or any other sort of vehicle. The Skyliner also drops you off at EPCOT’s International Gateway entrance, which is superior to the front entrance. However, that comes with caveats…
The comments section of that ‘Skyliner Strategy’ post is filled with questions about using the gondolas or getting to International Gateway from other resorts. Many of you have some very…let’s call them creative…ideas involving convoluted routes between wherever you’re staying at International Gateway.
I’d like to think that this blog teaches you how to think differently about hacking Walt Disney World systems to beat the crowds. (More likely, it fills your mind with useless pop culture references, County Bear lore, and hatred for Dino-Rama, which is still a societal net positive.) So kudos to putting your knowledge to use and coming up with creative solutions.
However, most of them are a bit much. It’s true that you’ll come out ahead by arriving to EPCOT via International Gateway, at least for now while Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind uses a virtual queue. Being so close to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is advantageous, and the walking distance disparity is insurmountable for those arriving from the front entrance.
With that said, we also like to think about things in holistic terms here. Not all vacation time has equal value, but it all does have some value. The added time of these convoluted routes is costly, to the point that we don’t recommend them. You’ll need to wake up significantly earlier and potentially spend extra, either of which alone would move those approaches to “not recommended” territory.
There’s not a tremendous amount of downside in starting at the front of the park except for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. That sort of presupposes that you need to do the Rat Ride first, which is not true. EPCOT has three “equal wait weighted” headliners, and this trio has average wait times that are usually within 5-15 minutes of one another.
This trio is also evenly spread throughout the park between the two entrances. One is up front, another is in the middle-ish, and the other is at the back. Given this, the two park entrances essentially offer the same advantages and disadvantages, but in the opposite direction, so to speak.
It is true that Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure typically has a longer wait time than Test Track. Month-to-date, the Rat Ride’s average is 69 minutes, whereas Test Track is 1 minute shy of that at 68 minutes. (Frozen Ever After is ahead of both at 73 minutes.) Normally, the gap would be slightly wider than this.
However, that doesn’t really matter. The extra time, money, and energy you’ll expend to arrive via International Gateway if you’re not staying at one of the resorts that can easily access the entrance far (FAR!) outweighs any upside. That is, assuming you can even get to International Gateway–those without breakfast reservations are routinely turned away by security at Yacht & Beach Club and BoardWalk.
In short, the cost of getting up early and jumping through hoops for the IG approach just doesn’t make sense. This is also one of the reasons we don’t recommend messing with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train during Early Entry. People often don’t properly account for the opportunity cost not just as it pertains to other attractions, but getting more sleep, fewer headaches, etc.
Anyway, thought all of that was worth addressing up front since it was a hot topic in the comments. All of this is probably going to be rendered obsolete in a few weeks when Walt Disney World inevitably retires the virtual queue for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Then, it’ll be Crescent Lake guests questioning whether they should Uber to the front entrance. (Same answer applies.)
This particular morning, I arrived at EPCOT’s International Gateway at approximately 7:20 am. Still 40 minutes to go before Early Entry officially started. I don’t recall what time bag check opened, but I’m going to say shortly after 7:30 am.
I was inside the park and making my way to France by 7:40 am. Again, EPCOT’s official opening time was 8:30 am, meaning an 8 am sharp start for Early Entry.
Upon entering International Gateway, there’s a row of Cast Members scanning MagicBands, resort room keys, or whatever appropriate identification you might have if staying at one of the participating third party hotels. You get held back by the gift shop and can’t access the rest of the park without scanning here.
Guests are not held anywhere in EPCOT prior to proceeding to the first attraction of the day–you go directly to the ride you want to do. Over 80% of guests were heading to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure on this morning, which was definitely down from the last time I reported on EPCOT Early Entry.
Despite stopping for photos, I was towards the front of the line for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Obtaining documentation for blogging puts me at a competitive advantage in situations like this, but that’s offset by starting at a ride targeted at families. Lots of slow movers in the group and people parking strollers.
In any case, I was in line for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure by 7:42 am. The ride open and the line started moving shortly thereafter, and I was on the attraction by approximately 7:55 am.
I was off Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at almost exactly 8 am, the official start time of Early Entry. Norway for Frozen Ever After was next on the agenda. This is the “correct” way to approach Early Entry from International Gateway, so if that’s sound familiar, it’s because this has been the exact itinerary every single time we’ve reported on EPCOT Early Entry. (Spoiler: the next steps will also be identical.)
It’s a little over a half-mile between the two, and I walk pretty quickly. However, I “offset” this by stopping a couple of times for photos, arriving to the Norway pavilion at 8:15 am. I was feeling pretty good about this, as it was actually an improvement on my last Early Entry attempt by 5 minutes.
Unfortunately, Frozen Ever After was not a walk-on this time.
The posted wait time was 15 minutes, and the actual wait was 9 minutes. No big deal, right? Wrong. While I could’ve easily repeated Frozen Ever After (probably the superior strategy) before it was inundated by rope drop guests, my next destination was Test Track. That 9 minute wait time plus the attraction duration plus the walking time to Test Track plus whatever discrepancy might’ve existed in releasing rope drop crowds was my downfall.
I got to Test Track at 8:35 am, and this was the scene up front.
The posted wait time was already 60 minutes, which is by far the highest I’ve seen it when doing Early Entry and rope drop in the last several months. Even objectively busier days (as measured by wait times) haven’t been this bad. The queue spilled out past the monorail track and wrapped back beyond the walkway to Flavors from Fire.
Obviously, I don’t know when this line formed since it beat me here, but I’m guessing I missed being towards the front of this crowd by less than 5 minutes. It almost makes one wonder whether it was really worth it to wait for nearly a full minute for the fountain in France to clear of guests to take a photo that ended up going unused. (Nah. Trust the process.)
That’s simply how it goes sometimes–the best laid plans…yada yada yada. If I didn’t stop for the fountain, maybe I would’ve been spellbound by a squirrel in Germany (a country famous for its captivating critters). It’s why we keep running “on the ground” tests to see how strategy actually works in practice, not just in theory.
I’d say about 7 times out of 10, Early Entry at EPCOT is uneventful and it’s possible to knock out the trio of headliners with a below average wait at Test Track. (You’ll never beat the crowd entirely, but 25 minutes or less is a victory.) However, those other 3 times something like this–or a delayed ride opening–throws a monkey wrench into the plan.
My boarding group for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind was about to be called, so I lingered in this area rather than criss-crossing the front of the park for Soarin’ Around the World. I made the (correct) calculation that would have a short wait even after I was done with Cosmic Rewind.
Objectively, the right decision would’ve been to just do Test Track and bank on the wait time being significantly inflated. While even the long line can move quickly first thing in the morning, my fear was that it’d slow to a crawl once Lightning Lane redemptions began in earnest. My desire to wait even 45 minutes for Test Track is pretty low. I’d rather circle back and doing it in the evening, gambling on a lower wait time (at the very least, the long line isn’t in direct sunlight then).
Even with my lack of success at Test Track, this EPCOT Early Entry approach compares very favorably to buying the Genie+ service.
With paid FastPass, you can usually score Lightning Lanes for 2 of the 3 headliners. That has been our consistent experience in using Genie+ since Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure were added. However, you’re almost certainly going to be subject to the 120 minute rule for at least the second selection, meaning your third ride reservation won’t come until around 12:30 pm or later unless you get incredibly lucky. By then, all three are usually gone.
It’s possible that you’ll be able to score a ride reservation refill for the third Lightning Lane later in the day, but that’s far from a sure thing. Moreover, you can’t choose your Lightning Lane return times, so they might be inopportune or require a lot of backtracking. (In fairness, so does this Early Entry morning when paired with a normal itinerary–but I still think Genie+ tends to be worse in that regard.)
While Early Entry requires being out the door at the crack of dawn and means hustling around the park to start your day, you’d also need to wake up to have a shot at all of the headliners via Genie+ at EPCOT. And after that, you’d need to be on your phone and potentially refreshing throughout the day.
This is why, on balance, Early Entry is superior to Genie+ at EPCOT.
Not only is it more clean-cut and less stressful, but that’s also the intangible x-factor: being at EPCOT as the park is waking up to start the day. Seeing horticulturists water plants and people-less World Showcase pavilions glow in the morning light. Hearing the background music and savoring the details. When it comes to atmosphere or “user experience,” Early Entry absolutely trounces Genie+ at EPCOT. One entails enjoying the crisp ambiance of a pristine park…the other involves burying your face in your phone, trying to navigate a counter-intuitive app. It’s no contest.
Ultimately, we highly recommend taking advantage of Early Theme Park Entry at EPCOT. Even with all of the caveats here, starting at the front of the park, worse luck, more efforts at minimizing walking, etc–it’s still a superior option to paying for Genie+ and Lightning Lane access.
Genie+ is significantly improved at EPCOT now that Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure have been added to the lineup. Unlike before, we now recommend it to off-site guests or those who won’t arrive first thing in the morning. However, anyone who can should instead take advantage of Early Entry. It’s objectively and subjectively superior.
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Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at EPCOT? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day? Do you agree that Early Entry at EPCOT is superior to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes? What’s your preferred approach to mornings at EPCOT? How would you have done things differently? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!