Updated Look at EPCOT’s Early Entry Rope Drop Procedure With New World Celebration Gardens Now Open

    Earlier this month, most of the construction walls in the middle of EPCOT were removed, and the World Celebration Gardens area was revealed. With the Gardens open, we wanted to return to EPCOT to see how the Early Entry process has changed, and show you around so you can prepare for your upcoming vacation!

    First, here’s our video walking around World Celebration Gardens if you’d like to familiarize yourself with the area before we jump into our Early Entry report.

    EPCOT Early Entry Arrival Timing (T-minus 60 minutes)

    We’ll start with a look at the arrival timing during a busy holiday week. Crowds will start to normalize toward the second week of January following the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, and we’ll probably return to take another look at Early Entry then. In the meantime, let’s talk about timing your arrival to EPCOT for Early Entry.

    EPCOT parking plaza (file photo)

    Just like every other theme park, Early Entry at EPCOT begins 30 minutes before the park officially opens. That said, if you’re a Walt Disney World regular, you’ll know that two things are universally true: posted wait times are inflated and if you arrive when the park opens, you’re late. In our case, we were driving ourselves to EPCOT, so we can’t be of much use to help you time your bus departure from the Walt Disney World hotel. One thing that we can offer in terms of useful advice on timing is that the parking lot (and bus drop-off areas) open one hour before Early Entry starts. That means that you probably want to think about catching a Resort Hotel bus some 90 minutes or so before Early Entry officially begins.

    While park opening hours fluctuate for some of the Walt Disney World theme parks, EPCOT is pretty reliably going to open at 9am. That was the case when we visited, which meant that Early Entry began at 8:30am. Working that back further, that means that the parking plaza and bus lots opened at 7:30am. We arrived at the parking plaza around 7:26am and had a short wait while 6 or so cars in our lane started going through the parking plaza at 7:30am sharp.

    Entering EPCOT & Long Lines (T-minus 45 minutes)

    After we parked and made it through security, we found that Cast Members had already begun letting guests into the park. In short, the very first people that will make it into EPCOT are very likely those using the Disney Resorts bus line, and those with no bags that will be checked for secondary screening. We failed to tick both of those checkboxes.

    Guests waiting to enter EPCOT (7:43am)

    As you’ll soon see, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first person through the gates or the 500th person. The pathway will open up soon enough, and someone will run right by you as a Cast Member yells fruitlessly at them to walk.

    There are no Annual Passholder entrances during Early Entry, so we had to wait the full 5 minutes for the Cast Members to process the guests in front of us. Again, it’s a bit stressful after the third person taps their MagicBand and the tappoint turns blue, but take a deep breath, there are still two more lines to wait in before you even get the opportunity to wait in more lines.

    Once we made it into the EPCOT entrance plaza area, we saw what looked like a very long line forming for Early Entry guests. Keep in mind that we visited on one of the busiest days of the entire year for EPCOT, and your experience will likely not be nearly as bad as what you’ll see below.

    EPCOT Early Entry check-in

    So, what’s the line for? This is the line for Cast Members to verify that you have an Early Entry credential on your account. You’ll need your park ticket for Cast Members to scan in either a hard-ticket form, MagicBand, or MagicMobile digital wallet. Why do you need to verify that you have an Early Entry credential? The EPCOT entrance plaza is open to all guests, and in order to make it past the first checkpoint to wait in line at the second checkpoint, you’ll need to verify that you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort.

    To help visualize where you’ll have to go to check in for Early Entry, check out the image below. The green area is where all guests can wait for the official park opening time. For guests looking to take advantage of the Early Entry perk for all Disney World hotel guests, head to the right side of the plaza and look for the line forming in the blue area below.

    In contrast, there were very few guests simply there to get ready for the regular park hours rope drop, but this is a look at the plaza area that is open to all guests regardless of Early Entry status. There are ropes on either side of the fountain to designate the non-Early Entry holding area here in the plaza.

    Release the Tourists, Part 1 (T-minus 35 minutes)

    Around 7:55am, Cast Members let the first guests past the Early Entry verification checkpoint. They might’ve let guests in a little early due to how long the line was getting, but you can count on this verification checkpoint opening around 30 minutes or so before Early Entry officially starts. At EPCOT, you’re only walking to another holding area, and no attractions will be operating before the Early Entry period officially begins. That said, you’ll want to know what attraction you want to ride first, and wait in one of a few holding areas until closer to the start of Early Entry.

    The holding areas have changed a bit since the World Celebration Gardens opened to guests, and that change prompted the whole idea behind this article. Before we take a look at the Early Entry rope drop holding areas inside of World Celebration Gardens, it’s worth noting that the super long and intimidating line actually moved quite well. Right now, the Early Entry verification checkpoints at the parks may be the most efficient operation at the theme parks, it’s seriously impressive. I was in no rush, so I held back at the end of the long line and I don’t think it took more than 2 minutes for Cast Members to process the entire queue. Anywhere else at Walt Disney World that’s a 15-30 minute wait.

    To make the process go smoothly for your traveling party, make sure that you all stick together. Only one person in the party needs to verify their Early Entry access, and then let the Cast Member know how many guests are in the traveling party.

    Early Entry Rope Drop with All-New World Celebration Gardens Holding Areas (T-minus 30 Minutes)

    Now that we’ve verified our Early Entry access with Cast Members, we can freely roam around the World Celebration Gardens area. Before we get there, we have to walk to either side of Spaceship Earth. It really doesn’t matter which side you go to, but I will note that the World Nature bypass walkway (pictured below) is not open during Early Entry. Eventually, this will become a backstage area again.

    While I wanted to walk around a bit to monitor the various holding areas, you’ll want to try and stick to one area depending on which attraction you’d like to ride. Keep in mind that even if you are at the very front of the line, some Olympic track & field hopeful is going to hurdle three strollers and race right past you on the way to Test Track. It’s inevitable. Accept it.

    Test Track/World Discovery

    Eligible attractions in World Discovery during Early Entry include:

    • Mission: SPACE
    • Test Track

    If your first stop is World Discovery, not much changes for you if you’ve Early Entry rope dropped this area before. You’ll be looking for the breezeway between Connections Cafe and Creations Shop. This is where the Test Track Early Entry holding area has been for some time now. We’ve annotated the various rope drop holding areas in the photo above to give you more context on the photos below. The Test Track/World Discovery holding area is in red in the photo above.

    As we walked toward the Test Track holding area, we noticed that there were Cast Members stationed at the activation alcoves that would offer a pathway around the Early Entry holding areas.

    Here’s a look at the crowds for the Test Track holding area (breezeway left, below), and the World Showcase perimeter holding area (center right, below).

    World Showcase perimeter holding area during Early Entry

    About half of the breezeway to Test Track/World Discovery was full around 8:04am. As you’d imagine, Test Track is a very popular option due to the typically high wait times during the day, and proximity to the front of the park. We’ll probably return in the new year when the crowds have subsided a bit to test some Early Entry rope drop strategies.

    World Discovery holding point | EPCOT Early Entry

    Soarin’/World Nature

    Eligible attractions in World Nature during Early Entry include:

    • Soarin’
    • The Seas with Nemo & Friends
    • Journey of Water – Inspired by Moana
    • Living with the Land

    The biggest change to Early Entry rope drop is where guests queue for the World Nature side of the park. The big draw here will be Soarin’, which is currently showing the Over California version.

    Signage throughout the World Celebration Gardens area is quite helpful, and you can rely on it to find where you want to go. Taking a look back at our chart, World Nature has two holding areas, with the southernmost one being the most popular, by far. The one near Spaceship Earth may or may not be in use when you visit, but it’s really only useful for guests looking to rope drop Journey of Water – Inspired by Moana. We would recommend that you leave Journey of Water for later in your day. Instead, you should take advantage of lower wait times during Early Entry at some of the more popular attractions such as Soarin’, Test Track, Frozen Ever After, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.

    Back to our on-the-ground report, here’s our walk from next to Spaceship Earth, along a pathway toward the still-under-construction CommuniCore Hall, and then a right turn toward the World Nature holding area.

    Here’s a look at the crowd during one of the busiest days of the year, about 30 minutes before Early Entry officially begins. As you can see in the second photo below, a Cast Member will be at the front of the group to hold guests in this area until the official start of Early Entry. In this case, Early Entry began at 8:30am and you can count on waiting right up to a minute or two before 8:30am in the best case scenario.

    World Nature holding point | EPCOT Early Entry

    World Showcase

    Eligible attractions in World Showcase during Early Entry include:

    • Frozen Ever After
    • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

    If you’re entering EPCOT from the front of the park through the World Celebration Gardens as we have, we recommend avoiding Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure during Early Entry. The reason is that guests entering through the International Gateway entrance have a huge advantage over guests walking from World Celebration Gardens. For more on the logistics of trying to rope drop Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure from the front of EPCOT, and why you should avoid it, check out our earlier report below.

    Riding Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure During Early Entry at EPCOT (The Wrong Way)
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    With Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure scratched off the list, that leaves one attraction in World Showcase during Early Entry: Frozen Ever After. Frozen Ever After will be our target for this morning’s Early Entry efforts, and we’ve included a timelapse below of the walk to the Norway Pavilion. We decided to rope drop from the World Showcase holding area nearest the central planter. Again, it doesn’t really matter where you rope drop from once people start running, but it was considerably less crowded near the central planter when we visited.

    With crowds not an issue, we stopped by the Walt the Dreamer statue to grab a few photos with fewer people around. Thankfully, crowds for a photo with the statue were effectively limited to opening day earlier this month.

    Walt the Dreamer | EPCOT Early Entry

    Turning around, we can see how low the crowds were in the central planter area. Most guests were at the perimeter holding areas.

    Ok, with our coverage of the Early Entry rope drop areas complete, it was time to walk to the Norway Pavilion to rope drop Frozen Ever After.

    Rope Dropping Frozen Ever After During Early Entry

    Timelapse Video

    While it is certainly tempting to try and race to the first ride, the real benefit of Early Entry is simply being there for it. If Early Entry was an extra hour, we might consider trying to game it more with an over-complicated strategy. The fact of the matter is that an extra 30 minutes might amount to one ride, if you’re lucky – especially during busier times of year.

    In the timelapse video above, you can see that while a lot of guests passed us as we were walking to Frozen Ever After, we didn’t stop moving until we were well inside the queue. It took us 5-7 minutes to walk from the World Celebration Gardens to Frozen Ever After, and I was on the boat by 8:45am.

    Frozen Ever After | EPCOT Early Entry

    From there, we walked over to a completely empty Gran Fiesta Tour and rope dropped that when it opened at 9am with the rest of the park.

    That wrapped up our Early Entry for the day. If you’d like to see more of this type of park touring reporting/coverage in 2024 in addition to our typical news/photo updates, let me know in the comments below or on social media!

    As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news, photos, and info from around the Disney Parks!

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