Epcot Really is a Park for Children
If you listen to some people they'll have you thinking that Epcot is designed exclusively for senior citizens. It's too bad it still has this stigma as Epcot can be just as much fun for for the little kids as it is for the "inner child."
First and foremost, rent or bring a stroller even if your little guy has outgrown it awhile ago. Unless your family has been training for the Boston Marathon, this is one big park and it's very easy to get tired out.
Epcot is the only Disney theme park with the "Kidcot" program. All of the World Showcase countries have "Kidcot stations". The kids are provided with a picture of Duffy Bear to color and at each station they can get a stamp to decorate it. Yes, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. "FREE" is a word rarely heard in Disney World.
An added bonus at the World Showcase, Kidcot stations is the chance for the kids to get their autograph book or Epcot Passport stamped. They'll learn how to say "Hello" in a different language. Kids love the idea of "collecting" the stamps and in the process will be taught some new skills.
Probably the best thing for kids is the ongoing redesign of the Living Seas. Previously (unless you're raising a future Marine Biologist) this attraction quickly became a yawner for the little ones. Not anymore. With the new focus on "Finding Nemo" this is one attraction that kids love. The best part is "Turtle Talk With Crush" but with popularity comes long lines. Try to get there first thing in the morning or be prepared to wait.
Another attraction designed for the little ones is the Imagination Pavilion. The Journey Into Imagination is a cute ride for all ages. Afterwards, there are all sorts of interactive stations for you to enjoy at the "Image Works - Kodak 'What If' Lab. (You don't have to go on the ride to access this area.) Then there are the fountains. They go up, they go over and they captivate the kids.
Imagination is also home to "Honey I Shrunk the Audience." This 3-D movie is great, but there are some scary elements to consider when viewing it with kids. If they (or you) don't like mice or snakes, skip this one.
"Living with the Land" is a boat ride. Don't let the Fast Pass option trick you into thinking this is an exciting attraction. While budding botanists familiar with hydroponics will love it, it's a bit on the B-O-R-I-N-G side. Still, simply being on a boat and seeing the fish and baby alligators in one section you go through may be just enough to hold their attention for one go round.
Thanks to the renewed popularity of Ellen DeGeneres, most kids will recognize her as the star of the Universe of Energy. It's a funny spoof of the Jeopardy Game Show that finds Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy going back to prehistoric times in search of the source of energy. Although this attraction is a bit on the long side, you can't beat the combo of dinosaurs and kids.
Test Track is great, but again, height requirement. If your kid is too short for this, you can still visit the "after ride" area where there are a couple of interactive displays as well as the latest GM model cars. Kids love hopping in and pretending to drive. (Dad usually enjoys this as well.)
Another attraction with height restrictions is Mission:SPACE. Kids love the action, but you may be reluctant to go on this ride if you've heard of its dubious history. After distributing countless motion sickness bags and sadly, after two real tragedies, you now have the option of choosing a less intense experience. There's also an interactive area that all ages can enjoy.
Spaceship Earth is one of the "grand daddies" of Epcot. A semi-snoozer, it probably has just enough elements to keep the kids interested at least for one go through.
One area that's often overlooked is Innoventions East and West. It's a shame since this is where the kids can work off some energy and learn while playing. There are tons of hands-on activities that they'll love to experience. Give it a chance, you'll be glad that you did.
Combine water with kids and you'll get soggy smiles. There are two fun fountains where kids can jump in and splash away. (Please don't toss them over the fence into the main fountain. That would be a bad thing.) Look for the fountain by the walkway towards Test Track and the other play fountain by the central walkway to the World Showcase. Warning, kids don't get wet, they get soaked. Be prepared with either a change of clothes or have them wear their bathing suit under their outfit that day.
I admit it, this is where the kids eyes roll back into their skulls and they get "that look." You know the one, you promised them Mickey Mouse and now they're looking at a bunch of boring buildings.
Be realistic, some of the World Showcase is over the kid's heads. When you were five years old, did you really care that the tiles in the Morocco Pavilion were handcrafted? (You probably still don't care.) This doesn't mean that the entire section is a wash, it just means that you have to plan more carefully unless you want whine to go with your wine.
As mentioned earlier, the Kidcot stations at each country are a godsend. Kids love making their own souvenirs, and with a bit of luck, you'll be able to browse some shops while they admire their handiwork.
Speaking of souvenirs, you've no doubt discovered that the Mouse and his many friends come in all sorts of shapes and forms and your kid will want each and every one of them. At the World Showcase, your wallet can get some welcome relief. It's surprising how inexpensive a lot of the merchandise is.
World Showcase offers Agent P's World Showcase Adventure. It is an adventure for the entire family. You are given missions to solve in many of the World Showcase countries. It's a great way to spend some time with your family and discover some hidden treasures in each country. Be prepared for some surprises along the way.
In Japan there's an extensive assortment of Hello Kitty and Anime items and some very reasonably priced and unique candies. (This is the perfect solution if your kids promised to bring back something for their friends.)
In Germany almost every flavor and shape of Gummy candy that's made is found here. Italy has Perugina chocolates in small packs. The United Kingdom pavilion also has wonderful candies. Canada has maple sugar treats. Again, inexpensive and something the kids will love.
Mexico is great for finding a reasonably priced toy. China has some little trinkets that don't cost much at all. You can find inexpensive handcrafted Christmas ornaments in Norway. Let the kids pick one out and you'll bring back great memories when you give it a special spot on your tree. There's a HUGE carved wooden Troll in Norway that's a perfect picture op.
Now onto some action. At the Mexico and Norway Pavilions there are boat rides. The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros rarely has much of a wait and is just short enough and colorful enough to keep the kids interested.
Look for the Koi fish in the ponds at Japan. With any luck, a candy making demonstration will take place!
Facing Germany, head to the right and look for the model trains. These are great and the kids will get a kick out of watching them run.
Over in Morocco you'll usually find Aladdin, Jasmine and/or the Genie doing Meet & Greets. If they're not out front, go through the open market shops opposite the Marrakesh Restaurant. They're often there with no wait at all for a picture and an autograph.
Speaking of the Disney Characters, many of the most beloved names are derived from Fairy Tales that originated in the World Showcase countries. For instance, you may find Snow White in Germany, Beauty and the Beast in France and Pinocchio in Italy. There's also a double decker bus with many of the Disney characters (including Mickey & Minnie) that makes appearances. At Epcot's Guest Relations they'll be able to provide you with the day's schedule.
Some of the best snacking can be found in the World Showcase. In Japan the shaved ice is always a hit, Germany has wonderful soft pretzels, Mexico has churros, funnel cakes are found at a kiosk in front of the America Pavilion, and both France and Norway have bakeries with some of the yummiest treats the whole family will enjoy.
Don't forget the character meals. The Princess Storybook Dining in Norway and the Chip and Dale Harvest Feast at the Garden Grill are very popular with the kids. (Be sure to make a reservation as early as possible for these venues.)
There are some real snoozers in the World Showcase as far as the tot set is concerned. The movies in France, China and Canada are simply not going to hold their interest. Ditto for the American Adventure. While it's an amazing animatronic show, the subject matter is going to find most youngsters squirming in their seats.
Throughout the day most of the countries schedule entertainment. Some of it has kid appeal, some of it does not. Off Kilter may be a lively, fun band to you, while it's just a bunch of guys in skirts to your kid. Gauge your child's reaction to see if it's worth sticking around to watch the shows.
At night, IllumiNations is spectacular but there are a few things to keep in mind. You are very close to the fireworks and I've seen more than a few kids lose it during the loud booms. It can be scary (and painful) for little ears. The other problem you might encounter is getting a decent view. The best spots are up front around the lagoon, but if the park is crowded, scoring a good view can be a challenge.
There you have it. Epcot with kids can be magical or it can be your worst nightmare. The good news is, even if you don't get to see all of the "adult" venues, by creating a great experience for your kids they'll be happy to go back to Epcot again and again. Don't be surprised if it ends up being your family's favorite destination.
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