Planning a Perfect Disney Day, Without Actually Planning

August 22, 2022, 5:46 PM · Is it possible to enjoy a day at a Walt Disney World Resort theme park without actually planning in advance? Can you get your money's worth visiting Disney on a one-day ticket without making dining reservations, getting up early to join virtual queues, or paying for the Disney Genie+ or the Individual Lightning Lane line-skipping upcharges?

In other words, can you still do Disney old-school and get away with it?

Ultimately, whether any day at any park is worth the price charged is an individual decision - influenced by your household income, savings, past experience, and current preferences. So allow me to describe the type of day that someone could have if they wanted to go to Walt Disney World but did not have the time or inclination to do a lot of advance planning or pay for upcharges.

First, an overview. Walt Disney World, like its sibling Disneyland on the west coast, continues to require advance reservations to enter its theme parks. If you are not planning in advance and just wanting to show up today or tomorrow, chances are you will not be able to get a reservation to visit the Magic Kingdom - the original and most popular Walt Disney World theme park. So let's assume that you are left with the one park that pretty much never "sells out" - Epcot.

Epcot
Spaceship Earth at the main entrance to Epcot

No worries. Epcot remains many Disney fans' favorite theme park. It's Epcot's sprawling size and resulting large capacity that keeps it from being closed to new visitors. No matter how many people are there, Epcot almost always can find room for more.

So what is there to do at Epcot? Plenty. Do keep in mind that the park's central plaza is a construction zone at the moment, with disruptions likely to continue through next year. The park will look much nicer and should be easier to navigate once that project is complete, but for now, it will not keep you from enjoying plenty of Epcot's attractions. Epcot has no outdoor attractions, so you will have many opportunities to sit down in air conditioning, out of Florida's heat and humidity, when visiting.

Epcot is comprises four zones: World Showcase, which surrounds a giant lagoon at the back of the park, and the three zones of the former Future World at the front of the park - World Discovery, World Celebration, and World Nature. The construction is happening in the middle of the World Celebration area, which is the one you first encounter when you enter the park. World Discovery stands to the left and includes the popular new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind indoor roller coaster, the Mission Space zero-gravity simulator and the Test Track dark ride.

Guardians of the Galaxy uses a virtual queue at the moment, so unless you plan in advance to try to enter it via Walt Disney World's official mobile app at 7am, you likely will not be riding it during your visit to Epcot. There is a second-chance entry at 1pm, and you must be present inside the park to try to enter the queue then.

So let's skip Guardians and look at what else is available in the park. Spaceship Earth is the huge geosphere at the front of the park with a worthwhile dark ride inside, though you probably should skip it in the early morning, when everyone tries to ride it since it's the first thing they see after entering. To the right behind Spaceship Earth (behind all that construction) is the World Nature zone, which includes the The Seas with Nemo and Friends aquarium tour, The Land pavilion, and the Journey Into the Imagination with Figment dark ride. The Land is the biggie here, with the Living With the Land indoor farming tour boat ride, Awesome Planet movie, and the Soarin' Around the World flying theater ride.

Soarin' Around the World
From 'Soarin' Around the World'

World Showcase offers pavilions themed to Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada, starting to the left and walking clockwise around the World Showcase Lagoon. These pavilion include a mix of rides, shows, and restaurants, with my favorite being The American Adventure animatronic show and the Impressions de France movie that plays in the evenings. There's a Beauty and the Beast Sing Along during the day in that same theater in the France pavilion, which is fun for fans of that movie. When the park closes, the nighttime spectacular Harmonious fills the World Showcase Lagoon with images, lights, and pyro accompanying favorite Disney songs.

Perhaps the biggest attraction for many non-planners at Epcot is "drinking around the world," an informal tour where you and your group order drinks in each of the 11 World Showcase pavilions... then see how far you make it, either before getting too tipsy or too broke. Disney is making culinary tours "around the world" even easier with now-ever-present food festivals, which fill almost every week of the year at Epcot. You will find stands located throughout the park, offering food and drink often themed to its location.

But if you are not looking to drop a lot of money noshing around the park, you can find plenty of tasty dining options without making reservations in advance. Some of my favorite go-to's include Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie in France, Katsura Grill in Japan, Yorkshire County Fish Shop in the United Kingdom for counter service, and Les Chefs de France and Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in Italy for sit-down restaurants where same-day reservations are often available during non-peak seasons.

So here is what I would do, with no plans and no reservations, at Epcot.

First, unless you are planning to eat just at the food festival booths, you really should download and use Walt Disney World's My Disney Experience app when visiting the parks. (Use Walt Disney World's free wifi to do it if you don't want to bother before you arrive.) You can use the app for making same-day restaurant reservations for sit-down restaurants and placing mobile orders for participating counter service locations. The app also gives you current wait times for all attractions through its free Disney Genie service (that's different from the Disney Genie+ paid upgrade), which is quite useful when deciding what to do next.

My top priorities when visiting Epcot are getting a good meal, watching The American Adventure, and then after dinner seeing Impressions de France before ending the day with Harmonious. At the front of the park, The Seas with Nemo and Friends offers an impressive aquarium (once the largest in the world) as well as an interactive Turtle Talk With Crush screen show that can be funny. The Living With the Land boat tour is always a vibe, and I enjoy the impressive scenery inside Spaceship Earth, though the show desperately needs a rewrite (which Disney promised before the pandemic scrambled so many plans).

The American Adventure
Animatronic Ben Franklin and Mark Twain host Disney's The American Adventure

In World Showcase, the Gran Fiesta Tour indoor boat ride complements the impressive interior of the Mexico pavilion. Canada and Mexico offer 360-degree travelogue movies, and I often lose track of time exploring the shops and exhibits in the Japan and Morocco pavilions. There's live entertainment in the American Gardens Theatre on many evenings before Harmonious, too.

If you want to wait in some lines and the times seem reasonable, by all means go for the Remy's Ratatouille Adventure dark ride in France, Frozen Ever After indoor boat ride in Norway, Soarin' Around the World, and Test Track. And if Disney ditches the virtual queue for Guardians and allows people to wait in a standby queue, I love that coaster.

Don't overlook another ride option - one that's actually outside the park. Exit through the International Gateway between the United Kingdom and France and you can ride the Disney Skyliner to Disney’s Riviera Resort and then on to Disney's Hollywood Studios before coming back. Just be sure to get back to Epcot before the park closes, so that you can walk through the park to your car in the Epcot parking lot.

Otherwise, just do what you want, when you want it. That's the whole point of an old-school, no-planning visit, after all. Just use the app and its map to help you minimize all the back-and-forth walking that you probably would like to avoid in the massive, sprawling theme park.

Epcot is very do-able without any advance planning and without paying for upgrades. The issue that it is so easy that many fans now have done this park so often that they've become a bit bored with the experience. That's why you will see a lot of bagging on Epcot online. But if all this is new, or relatively new, to you, then Epcot can be great fun, especially for visitors who are looking more for a casual good time than stomach-churning thrills or banking coaster credits. (There's only one credit in the park, after all - Guardians.)

Now is all this worth the one-day ticket price that ranges from $109 to $159, depending upon the day you visit? Plus the $25 per car parking charge? That's up to you to decide. But I hope that now you have a bit more information to help you make that choice.

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Replies (17)

August 22, 2022 at 6:41 PM

Poor Epcot, there was a time when it was a shining star of WDW, so forward-thinking and innovative. Now it's just a hodgepodge, doesn't stand for much of anything these days, and the only coherent part is the world showcase.

The Guardians Do Space Mountain is the final indignity, Disney just throwing up their hands and admitting the dream of Epcot is dead. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, where "Tomorrow" is defined as crass commercialism and comic book characters, got it.

August 22, 2022 at 7:30 PM

Kernal: "The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, where "Tomorrow" is defined as crass commercialism and comic book characters,"

Me: Which is also how you define the phrase "theme park".

August 22, 2022 at 7:53 PM

If you have kids, ignore the article above, especially if you have teens. If we count food as entertainment, you’ll need a second mortgage to feed them at EPCOT. Parents are better off planning just a little bit (you are parents…learn to plan!) and buying Genie+.

August 22, 2022 at 8:17 PM

I admit, I still like EPCOT. I think the atmosphere of the Mexico is genius and the original Soarin is/was theme park perfection. With that said, I do understand, and agree to a large extent, the criticism. It's not that I mind any certain character driven attraction, it's just the idea of EPCOT has been lost. I will admit a bit of tiredness with the travel films. And I can only eat (spent - ha ha) so many times in a day. Yes, I agree Robert, The American Experience is still tops and the Voices of Liberty (which sadly many do not stop and appreciate). Counting down the days to book restaurant/Candlelight reservations for day after Thanksgiving.

August 22, 2022 at 8:35 PM

Good job imagining an EPCOT visit. There's lots of chatter about the downside of Disney visit planning. I think the negativity is misplaced. Planning then executing a Disney park family visit allows every father to become Clark Griswold of National Lampoon fame. Even though it all ends badly and someone will likely be in bandages, the family is brought together by the chaos.

August 22, 2022 at 8:36 PM

I really enjoy wandering around EPCOT, blowing my money on snacks and checking out all the weird, dated exhibits. If I was a Florida local I'm sure I'd long have outgrown it, but going every five years or so is just the right amount of EPCOT for me.

August 22, 2022 at 8:45 PM

If you've previously defined EPCOT as a theme park focused on comic book characters, well, you're an idiot. Who can't spell. ;)

August 22, 2022 at 9:55 PM

And the fountains on the barges STILL are not working! What a waste. Not much inspiration left at EPCOT.

August 22, 2022 at 10:54 PM

going from crass capitalism to crass commercialism does feel like a pretty natural evolution, so I feel like EPCOT has pretty neatly stayed in its lane

August 22, 2022 at 11:00 PM

This article is everything. As a Millenial with no children, I love EPCOT for all that is outlined here. Such a great park to head into and just wing it. Plenty of great food, drink, and fun!

August 22, 2022 at 11:54 PM

Ah, EPCOT, I miss the classic rides and just wandering around World Showcase to take in the performances and such. Yet I'm glad this and my mom's recent visit show still enough there to enjoy, just have to get the right timing for it. So I would set a reservation for Guardians but then go with the flow on the rest and suspect still a fun time, just not the same but better than some haters have it for the park.

The only beef I have? Even in the best of times, trying to sample World Showcase foods was a blow to the wallet, let alone now.

August 23, 2022 at 3:46 AM

If Epcot operated a pay per ride model (possibly still with a gate fee, though one around a quarter of what it is now), I could get behind the type of day proposed here. Unfortunately, when you're committing three figures to a theme park day upfront, it's gotta have more than what Epcot currently offers to be worthwhile in my opinion. However, I do think most Disney parks (except possibly Magic Kingdom) can be experienced with much less planning than a lot of hardcore enthusiasts do. Advance reservations for entry and for full service dining are essential, but it's entirely possible to show up at opening, go with whatever you feel in the moment, and have a perfectly enjoyable day.

August 23, 2022 at 5:49 AM

My wife and I went in April and besides making initial park reservations did no advanced planning. We went to each park once in the late morning and park hopped. We had a great time, went on all the major rides and had a great time. We are going again in a few weeks on a 10 day trip and again only have park reservations and expect to have another great vacation. Planning may be needed for a 4 or 5 day trip if you only go once a year or once every several years but those of us who visit 3 or 4 times a year do not need to plan and see everything every visit. Sit back and enjoy the environment.

August 23, 2022 at 2:09 PM

@ Douglas, good to hear! I think it's also about expectations, but it sounds like, apart from the park reservations, you just went with the flow & it had a great time...

Planning is certainly important for longer trips n& bigger families, but I do think for many...the thought no planning shouldn't deter visitors...as seen from your post, it's definitely possible to do...just have to manage expectations!

August 23, 2022 at 5:22 PM

Surely, downloading the app to make food reservations and check queue times defeats the title of this article?

Personally, World Showcase is still the most genius and unique experience of any theme park and worth admission alone. Epcot is still relevant even if the front part has been destroyed by gimmickry and out of place Disney characters and branding.

August 23, 2022 at 6:53 PM

I’m of 2 minds here. You either plan (and stick to the plan), or wander and try to experience the park spontaneously. The former allows you to experience far more but at the risk of higher stress and higher cost. The later requires more waiting in lines and the possibility of not seeing everything you want in a single day.

I think that’s the Catch-22 of a visit to a Disney theme park these days. There is this notion of an “ideal” visit, and elaborate plans written on how to achieve that goal. However, if you’ve already been to the parks, your ideal visit is going to be very different from someone else’s, and you may have different priorities for that ever increasing cost of admission. That is why Disney can charge for Genie+ now while making it a shadow of the free FP+ system it replaced, because as guests pay more and more to walk through the gates, they need to extract more value from each visit, even if it means riding mediocre attractions.

I say, screw Genie+, and Chapak’s cash grab, and just deal with the standby lines and lower expectations of what an ideal visit can be. It’s Disney’s new corporate motto, “pay more to get less”.

August 25, 2022 at 9:40 AM

Russell, ",,,,pay more to get less" is even more genial than World Showcase. Is it copywritten?

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