After our terrible travel day and a half day enjoying the resort, we tried to right the ship during the first park visit of our vacation. After a full night’s sleep and a morning of going over the day’s initial plan, we were ready to go to EPCOT to get our Walt Disney World (WDW) Christmas vacation back on track.
While my daughters slept in (compared to the last few days, at least), I was up hours before EPCOT opened to finalize our initial plan for the day (which, according to military custom, absolutely did not survive first contact). First, I purchased our Genie+ tickets for the day; Genie+ is the next generation of the FastPass system, costs $15 per person per day (optional), and is slightly more convoluted (while the discussion around the Genie+ system will not be a review per se, I may need to explain how it works to show how we used it effectively or not). Given that this is the first big vacation that we have been on in a few years, that my parents were with us, and the problems that we encountered during travel, I was willing to spend a few extra dollars to make our time in the parks a little more enjoyable and less stressful.
Using the system (open at 7am to make reservations), I reserved Frozen Ever After as our first Lightning Lane attraction, while also securing a virtual queue spot for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, the newest attraction at EPCOT. Then I packed for the day, ensuring that I had the girls’ MagicBands, rain gear, snacks, plenty of extra masks, and mobile phone chargers. I also packed a game called 5-Second Rule (Disney Edition, of course), to pass the time while we waited in line; given how Elaina crushed Grandma at Color Brain (Disney Edition), they were both really looking forward to a repeat performance and a rematch, respectively.
Once the Disney cartoons (expecting something different?) were on in the background, the girls got up and started preparing for our day. Without any coaxing from me, they both wore one of their many Grogu outfits (or Baby Yoda, for the Philistines out there), so I was very proud with their Day 1 wardrobe choices. While my parents were running a little behind (they got to the resort around midnight, so I did not blame them one bit), they met us at the bus station shortly before the shuttle picked us up for EPCOT.
Thankfully, the magic had already set in for the girls and they were ready to hit EPCOT running (or walking very fast, as running is strictly forbidden in Disney parks). The excitement really set in once they could see the EPCOT Ball from the shuttle, as they knew they were very close to get on an attraction. As tired as my parents were, they were great sports by being there early for rope drop with the girls.
Our plan for the morning was to immediately go to Frozen Ever After so that we got to ride it twice during the day; my parents had never been on it and the girls were really excited to take them. After that, we were going to head over to Test Track to see if we could get in two top tier attractions before the park opened for everyone (Disney Resort guests are allowed in the parks an hour early).
As a preview of things to come, as we were waiting for the park to open, it was announced that Frozen Ever After was down for maintenance. We immediately changed our plans to go to Test Track first. The cast members dropped the rope and we were off!
But we got a little distracted along the way. There were bronze statues of Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel Characters all over the parks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of WDW and Elaina happened to see a statue of Figment first (her favorite character at EPCOT). It only seemed polite to stop and say “Hello.”
By the time we got to Test Track, the line had swelled quite a bit, even though it was still much shorter than it would be for the rest of the day. My parents still wanted to go to Frozen Ever After first (hoping that it would be working again by the time we got there), so we headed in that direction. Unfortunately, it was still down, so we ended up sitting and having coffee and breakfast at the nearby Norwegian bakery. Although this made my parents very happy (they were still pretty tired from getting to the resort so late the night before), the girls and I kind of felt that we had missed our window of opportunity for the extra morning hour at EPCOT.
We did not, and thankfully, the day got better from here. We immediately went back to the EPCOT ball (or geodesic sphere) and walked onto Spaceship Earth before our hour was up. Nothing like the soothing voice of Dame Judy Dench to reset your morning. Afterwards, the girls played the medical and energy games at the base of the sphere while my parents took in the sights.
As another sign of things to come, while the girls played, I was on my phone using the My Disney Experience app to search for our next attraction. While having the park layout, wait times, Lightning Lane options, and more at my fingertips, the increase in “efficiency” also meant that I spent way too much time on my phone planning the remainder of our day. And this is the downside of Genie+ / My Disney Experience app: Even though it will allow you to get the most out of your time in the park, you will spend less time just taking it in because you will be on your phone. It was almost like I sacrificed my enjoyment and relaxation so that my daughters could have a better time (not necessarily a bad thing, but it was certainly noticeable). After playing games for about 20 minutes, we then headed back to Norway in the World Showcase to use our first Lightning Lane at Frozen Ever After. Of course, it had a mild malfunction while we were on the ride, which was slightly annoying, but did not ruin the experience.
Once you scan your MagicBand at your Lightning Lane ride, you immediately can select your next option. Unfortunately, by this time, Test Track was booked for the day, so we would not be going on that attraction this trip. We selected Journey into Imagination (with Figment!) and then headed towards France so that we could ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
After about a 15-minute wait (hooray, virtual queue!) walking through the streets of Paris, we were on the ride. Just love it when Disney puts the effort in to make their queues scenic and interactive, as it really helps the kids deal with the wait.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is hands-down the best attraction at EPCOT (in my humble opinion). While it is essentially an interactive motion simulator (we did get a little wet from a water spray), Disney has really found a hit with their new trackless ride system (which include Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway). And it made my Mom rewatch (and reconsider) Ratatouille, which is one of the most underrated Pixar movies (I will not budge on this), as it almost always makes me tear up at the end (not as much as Toy Story 3, but that is another story [sorry]). Anyways, everyone loved this ride and we wished the stand-by line was not more than two hours long so we could do it again.
By this time, everyone was getting a little hungry, so we started looking for food. Elaina was extremely disappointed because they did not sell bread in France outside of sit-down restaurants (it kind of killed the realistic French experience for both of us, as the whole area should have smelled of baguettes). We were also disappointed that almost all the restaurants and food stands at EPCOT (and the other parks for that matter) did not open until 10:30am; aside from the Norwegian bakery, we could not find anything open the first three hours in the park, so we were pretty hungry. While we waited, we took in the Canada Far and Wide show to check another attraction off our list; if they did not have plenty of animals from the Canadian wilderness in the film, Gabriella would have probably rioted.
Once the restaurants opened though, we all sat down and had a relaxing Chinese meal. It was not as great as what we are used to or even what I can make, but it put food in our stomachs and gave us the energy to keep walking all over EPCOT (which seems like the second biggest park for getting your steps in after Animal Kingdom). My parents and daughters laughed at me because apparently I “forgot to order any food for myself;” as I anticipated, there was plenty of leftovers from the girls’ plate and we saved $15.
So one of the things that kind of made the Disney parks “less magical” was the lack of character experiences. I completely get it, so this is not necessarily a complaint or request for Disney to change their policy, but it helps to know in advance to manage expectations. The girls were about 50 feet from every character when they waved at them and could not take any pictures with them. Again, I totally get it, but it is very tough to articulate that to your 8- and 6-year olds (“Doesn’t the suit protect Donald from the Coronavirus, Dad?”). Elaina also had a hilarious (but valid) complaint against Mulan’s character at EPCOT.
Elaina: “Dad, that’s not the real Mulan. She hated wearing that dress at the beginning of the movie. Why would she keep wearing a dress that she hates?!?”
Me: “Um… you’re not wrong… and we don’t say hate.”
After lunch, my Mom wanted to view the World Showcase, so we took our time walking through it, stopping at almost every country along the way (sorry, Morocco). The girls played drums in Africa…
… learned about Kawaii (an obsession of all things darling) culture in Japan, rode the Grand Fiesta Tour starring The Three Caballeros boat ride in Mexico, watched a traditional dragon dance in China, and tried to make a phone call in England. Gabriella did not want a giant pretzel in Germany, which was shocking considering that she had been talking about it for months. Elaina also got great enjoyment out of hearing and reading about all the holiday traditions in each country, as she had been learning about them in school.
By the time we got to our next Lightning Lane, Journey into Imagination, we were all getting pretty tired from walking. I do really appreciate my parents keeping up with us, as they must have been absolutely exhausted by now. As expected, the girls loved the attraction, but may have oversold it a bit to my parents.
They especially loved the ImageWorks, but it still felt a little smaller than when I was a kid (with a quick internet search, I found out that the attraction was significantly reduced many years ago, so at least I know my memory is not completely fading). The girls had a great time though, and as my parents and I agreed, that is all that mattered.
The girls then grabbed a bucket of popcorn and cotton candy as a snack while we walked about the park. Purchasing the collectable popcorn bucket on Day 1 of your trip is a win (write that down) and we definitely got our money’s worth out of it.
My Mom really wanted to go to Club Cool at EPCOT, which has a Coca-Cola tasting center, so we headed back to the main EPCOT area. While everyone enjoyed the Sprite from Russia (extra sugar!) and could not stand the Plum Soda from China (it seriously tasted like mesquite), Elaina was partial to the Bonbon Anglais soda from Madagascar. Considering that she does not like soda and is not allowed to drink it at home, the whole experience was just hilarious. Good choice, Mom.
By this time, the rain had started coming down, but thanks to being an expert planner, we had the girls’ ponchos on in a couple minutes. Crisis averted and we moved on to the next attraction, Living with the Land. While this gentle boat ride was not up to the level of thrill that the girls would be experiencing over the next few days, it kept us dry and off our feet, which was a welcome change.
After going on the The Seas with Nemo & Friends ride, the girls entered the aquarium, but seemed like they were already done for the day; I cannot blame them, as the “ride” bringing them to the aquarium really is that bad. After seeing the manatees, Elaina’s favorite animal that she is constantly reading about, we decided to head back for the day. Even though it was relatively early, no use in pushing the envelope at the risk of making the experience worse for them. It was a pretty good start to our day in the parks and I was content to leave it at that.
Because we all needed to catch up on our sleep, we turned in early, with the girls passing out about two minutes after their heads hit the pillow. Although an experience can always be better, EPCOT turned out to be a pretty good time and a great start to our trip (by this time, we had already pushed the airport experience out of our minds). Tomorrow was our visit to the Magic Kingdom, the Big Day, the highlight of the trip, and we were going to have an amazing time.
Thank you for checking in on us.