Trip Report

New Year's Eve at Epcot

December 31, 2008

A visual trip report and analysis covering the events of New Year's Eve at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

This one-day trip report takes a look at what it was like in Epcot for one of if not the busiest day of the year in the park.  I was with a group of people throughout the day and couldn't quite document everything as I would have liked, but this should give you an idea of the massive amount of crowds that the park saw that day.

As always, each of the pictures may be opened for a larger view.

December 31, 2008 - 8:15 AM

A perfect morning at Epcot

As we can see, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and visibility was perfect.  There was a hint of a chill in the morning air though that wouldn't last for much longer.  You couldn't have asked for a better day to celebrate New Year's Eve while in Central Florida.  The experienced cast members were repeatedly saying how the weather was the best that the area has seen at this time of year for at least the past ten years.

Free party hats and horns!

Did you forget your cheap, disposable party hat and noise-making horn?  No problem, Disney has got you covered!  Thousands of those plastic hats and loud horns were handed out free of charge in the evening.  Of course, I went inside the Odyssey to get mine for that old nostalgic feeling of eating there those many years ago.

December 31, 2008 - 8:25 AM

Arrival of monorail purple.

One after another, monorails full of people were arriving at Epcot.  For this brief period of maximum visitors, Disney had four instead of the usual three monorails running on the Epcot line.  Today they were using monorails purple, lime, orange and blue.

The people poured into the theme park.

When you combine people arriving via the monorail, Disney buses and their own mode of transportation, you get this flood of people through the turnstiles as a result.  Surprisingly, getting through the security checkpoint was a breeze.  The guard took a quick look in the main pouch of my camera bag and waved me through.  I've had annoying guards thoroughly check through each small zipper pouch on non-busier days.

December 31, 2008 - 8:50 AM

The extended line queue for Soarin'. The extended line queue for Soarin'.

In case you were wondering, when Soarin' has an incredibly long line that couldn't possibly fit in its usual stand-by line queue, the people get to stand outside the building and wait out there.  Disney set up a temporary outdoor line queue complete with temporary plants to keep the people organized.  The park wasn't even open for an hour yet and already these people were facing a two-hour wait in the stand-by line.  As we'll see in this trip report, that wait will get much, much worse.

Soarin's FASTPASS distribution line. Soarin's FASTPASS distribution line.

The line to get a FASTPASS for "Soarin'" wasn't much of a better sight.  Here we can see it stretching back all the way to the Living With The Land line queue.  It was amusing seeing the different reactions of the people as they walked by and realized why the people were in line.

- "That's the line to get a FASTPASS!?!"

- "Why wait in that line just to get a FASTPASS?"

- "I'm not waiting in a line just to skip a line!"

Well, those of us who actually waited in that line (it only took about ten minutes to stand in line and get a FASTPASS) had the last laugh.  FASTPASS was quickly "sold out" (or whatever you want to call it) within the next hour.  Boy, did those other people look jealous when we later used the FASTPASS line and skipped waiting in the ridiculously long stand-by line.

This was a day where for the park guests who got to the Epcot early enough, they were basically guaranteed a FASTPASS for one of the big attractions.  Whether they wanted Soarin', Test Track, or Mission: SPACE, by going straight for a FASTPASS machine they would be able to skip at least one of the major stand-by lines later that day.  By the time most people could get a second FASTPASS, the big attractions were already finished distributing their tickets.

December 31, 2008 - 10:00 AM

Temporary direction signs in the park.

Epcot had a bunch of these blue temporary direction signs up throughout the park.  On any normal day such a sign would have been pointless.  Epcot is spread out and it's fairly easy to look around and get your bearings by spotting familiar landmarks.  But when you factor in thousands of extra people crowding the park and obscuring views, and people who don't know their way around Epcot, you've got traffic flow problems.  People will (and did) just stop in the middle of the path and try to figure out where to go next.  These signs helped stabilize some of the traffic flow, and they were gone the next day.

December 31, 2008 - 11:00 AM

People flocking to The Land.

By now the park already had that busier-than-normal feeling to it while walking around Future World.  World Showcase was still empty and quiet as Future World was where many of the park visitors spent most of their time.

The big line for The Seas with Nemo and Friends. The big line for The Seas with Nemo and Friends.

There wasn't any relief from the crowds here at The Seas with Nemo and Friends.  Everybody's favorite clownfish ride had a scary looking line that snaked back and forth in front of the building and headed out to The Land.  Luckily, Nemo uses an Omnimover ride system like Spaceship Earth and The Haunted Mansion and is a real "people eater."  This intimidating line only took about 45 minutes to complete.

December 31, 2008 - 12:15 AM

The stand-by wait for Soarin' --- 220 minutes!

You have to see it to believe it!

A 220-minute wait in the stand-by line for Soarin'!  This is just simply amazing.  Soarin' is an excellent ride that everybody needs to experience at some point, but to dedicate three-and-a-half hours to waiting in line for it is just insane.  But then again, if you hate being in a crowded park and have absolutely nothing better to do, reading a book or playing with a cell phone while waiting in the slow-moving line isn't that bad of an idea.  For me, I'd rather be out in the park.

The first (and last) time I saw a three hour line in this park was when Body Wars first opened and was still brand new back in 1989 and 1990.  In the summer, there was an incredibly long line stretching from the entrance to Body Wars all the way through the building and out to Future World.  That was for the first simulator ride in Epcot.  Today, Soarin' continues that incredible popularity with innovating simulator rides in Epcot.

December 31, 2008 - 1:00 PM

People are still arriving on the monorail.

Despite it already being busy in the park, people were still arriving by the dozens on the monorails.  This trend would continue for the next hour or two before empty monorails would finally be sighted.

No relief from the crowds for the Figment ride, either.

There wasn't a relief from the crowds on the Journey into Your Imagination with Figment attraction, either.  Ordinarily, this ride would have had about a five minute wait.  Today this wasn't too bad of a line and the wait only took about thirty minutes.  The indoor part of the line queue is quite short and the ride vehicles cycle through at a pretty good rate.  Along with Nemo and Spaceship Earth, this was one of the better line queues to wait in on this day.

December 31, 2008 - 1:30 PM

Busy post-show area for Figment.

It seemed like people were amused and having more fun here in the post-show area of Journey into Your Imagination with Figment rather than on the ride itself.  I think the current version of the ride is okay, but I'm still a huge fan of the original version with the Dreamfinder and the Image Works play area.  Tribute videos and home movies really help bring back the experience of those past times.

December 31, 2008 - 1:35 PM

And the people kept arriving.

More and more people continued to arrive at Epcot.  Here we can see people standing and looking down as they rode above on monorail lime.

December 31, 2008 - 1:55 PM

Temporary eating area inside of the Millennium Pavilion.

The old Millennium Pavilion was open for a few hours in the afternoon as a temporary eating location.  If my memory serves me correctly, this was called the Fantasia Restaurant, and one of the cast members standing outside said that it would only be open from four to eleven that evening.  The extra restrooms, however, were open all day with the rest of World Showcase.

Heavy crowds in the United Kingdom. Heavy crowds in the United Kingdom.

As we can see, around this time World Showcase was beginning to get not just crowded, but really crowded.  From the second angle it looks like there's a never-ending sea of people moving through the United Kingdom.  It was the middle of the day, hot, and really crowded --- not the best of combinations.  I could only imagine how bad it must have been in the Magic Kingdom or Disney's Hollywood Studios with all of the people crammed into those two small parks.

Busy times in Mexico.

This shot looking across the World Showcase lagoon shows the mobs of people moving in front of Mexico.  By this point there was no relief from the crowds as they have fully infiltrated both Future World and World Showcase.

World Showcase lagoon.

Here you can see some of the extra barges brought in for tonight's absolutely spectacular fireworks show.  Technicians were going from one barge to another checking and double checking the equipment to make sure it was ready for the main shows.  Today had two showings of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth with the second showing ending with the special New Year's Eve fireworks show.  Any other normal day only has one showing of the fireworks show.

Just keep on walking.

Perhaps one of the better things to do was to just keep on walking through the park.  The attractions were all busy, the lines for fast food stands were ridiculous, and most of the benches were taken.  So what does that leave you to do?  Just keep on walking through the park and waste time until A) something opens, or B) you think of something better to do.

December 31, 2008 - 2:05 PM

Live entertainment and heavy crowds in Japan.

The live entertainment throughout World Showcase was a welcome sight, but it created some real bottlenecks with the general traffic flow through the countries.  Here in Japan, a large crowd is standing and watching the entertainment as even more people shuffle by on the path.

This pattern continues in China.

The crowding problem is also evident when looking across the lagoon at China.

Special fireworks barges.

Here we can see technicians working on one of several fireworks barges that would be used later this evening.  In the background are mobs of people moving through Future World.

December 31, 2008 - 2:15 PM

Looking back at Future World.

Looking across the lagoon as monorail lime glides nearly silently through Future World.  Right now Future World looks fairly peaceful and not that busy.  This was around the transition when most of the people moved into World Showcase for the remainder of the evening.

An empty monorail?

Could it be?  Is that actually an empty monorail?

Heavy crowds in Norway.

Despite the seemingly empty monorail arriving at Epcot, the park was still packed.  Here we can see some of the crowds in Norway.

The same for the Africa Outpost.

The same is true for the Africa Outpost.  Here you can clearly see the New Year's crowds as they pass through that small addition to World Showcase with its cold, tasty snacks.

December 31, 2008 - 3:00 PM

A 70-minute wait for Maelstrom in Norway.

There's nothing like a 70-minute wait for the Maelstrom boat ride in Norway.  To help keep people moving, they were not showing the 5-minute movie at the end of the ride.  The doors at the end of the ride were open and a sign said there wouldn't be any showings of the movie today.

December 31, 2008 - 3:15 PM

Huge crowds outside of Mexico.

The area between Mexico and Norway would prove to be one of the most crowded areas later at night.  Cast members had to literally stand together in a long line and divide the pathway in half (like a road to keep traffic moving) while yelling for the people to not stop and to keep moving.

A huge demand of the Gran Fiesta Tour.

In addition to the insane wait for Soarin', this is another excellent example of the huge crowds of people desperate to go on a ride, any ride.  That's part of the outside line queue for the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros boat ride on the left side of the building.

And the line queue keeps on going.

The line for the Mexico boat ride continues stretching away from the building and out to Future World.  There wasn't any indication to its full length, but at this point I'd guess and say it's between 45-60 minutes.  The boats hold a lot of people, but it isn't that fast of a loading or unloading procedure.

'Ghosts' in line at Mexico.

"Ghosts" in line in part of the extended line queue for the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros.  These people still need to snake a couple of times by the restaurant before entering the main part of the line queue near the loading station.

December 31, 2008 - 3:40 PM

Best of luck finding an empty table in The Land.

The seating area here in The Land was crazy.  People were so frustrated with not being able to find a table that some of them sat on the floor near the outer walls while others balanced their trays on the short walls holding in the tables.  Luckily, I didn't see or hear of any trays of food falling onto the diners sitting by the walls.  The actual lines to get the food were short; it was just nearly impossible to find an open table.

December 31, 2008 - 4:50 PM

Tilting problem on the Living with the Land boat.

It's always amusing seeing a boat like this tilt because of everybody (or just fat people) sitting on one side.  What I don't understand is when a pair of adults have an entire row to themselves, but they both sit on the far side of the boat even with it leaning in that direction.  If they sat in the middle they would still see everything on both sides and help balance the boat, making it a more enjoyable experience for everybody else.  But as well all know, people commonly don't think while they're on vacation.

New integrated aquaculture scene on Living with the Land. New integrated aquaculture scene on Living with the Land.

This is a brand new integrated aquaculture scene that was added to the end of the Living With The Land boat ride.  A couple of days ago this scene was hidden behind a large curtain.  This scene has not yet been added to the spiel on the boat ride.  The premise looks interesting with the combination of plants and fish.

December 31, 2008 - 5:15 PM

Lots of people visiting Spaceship Earth.

As we advance later in the day, demand for Spaceship Earth was still high.  It was around this time when the park began to experience another surge in traffic flow in and out of its gates.  People were arriving from the Studios and Animal Kingdom, while others were making their way elsewhere.

December 31, 2008 - 8:15 PM

Serious traffic flow in and out of Epcot.

This was one of the more surprising sights of the evening at Epcot.  It's a little bit hard to see in this picture, but there are huge mobs of people moving in and out of Epcot.  I would only image that most of the people were planning on heading over to the Magic Kingdom so they could be there for the festivities at midnight.  It actually felt like half of the mob was leaving while the other half was arriving at the park.

December 31, 2008 - 11:00 PM

Imagination fountain & monorail at night.

Here's my last picture of the New Year's events at Epcot.  As you can see, it's a motion-blur shot of the backwards waterfall and a passing monorail.  It's my last picture because at this point it was so dark that the crowd pictures wouldn't really work (they would be more "ghost" pictures), and most of the good spots for holding my camera for low-light pictures were taken by other people.  The spots were taken because of the people standing there and wasting time, not because they were taking pictures themselves.

For the main fireworks show, I shot several high-quality videos with my Canon S3-IS digital camera.  The only problems are that they are very large file sizes and my DSL Internet connection crashes when I try to upload large files to YouTube.  The files are also too large for me to host here, and my hosting company wouldn't appreciate that kind of bandwidth.  At some point I'll find a way to upload the videos.

So what was it really like that day in Epcot?

Crowded.

The people were there with a vengeance.  Everywhere you looked there were mobs of people.  The only way to temporarily escape them was to go into World Showcase as soon as it opened in the morning and stay in the quieter areas of Future World later in the evening.  In the middle of the day the people were everywhere.

It was so crowded that people were retreating to the grassy areas throughout the park to lay down and relax.  The naturalistic grassy areas in Future World were covered with people walking around, laying down, and playing with children.  it was sickening to see them disrespect the park like that, but on a day like this nobody stopped them.

Nearly every single snack cart and counter-service eating area had long lines.  We're talking twenty to thirty minute waits standing in line to get some food.  The Sommerfest counter-service restaurant in Germany had a line that went all the way through the pavilion and out to the main World Showcase pathway.  People were sitting on the curbs and grass as they had lunch, unable to get a table or nearby bench.  The snack carts and fast food stands in America had some of the longest food lines in the park.

The best way to deal with the crowds was to be ready for them in the first place.

Being ready means not underestimating them.  This means that if you want to go on rides, you had to get to the park as soon as it opened, grab a FASTPASS for your favorite ride, and then jump in the stand-by line for your next favorite ride.  The quicker you moved in the beginning, then the more rides you should have been able to enjoy before facing the longer wait times.

Being ready for the crowds also means having an early lunch.  The long food lines were frustrating, but it was even more frustrating finding a place to sit and eat.  My group planned ahead and had tables and benches secured before we had the food, but many other people didn't.  They helplessly walked around with their trays of food before they ultimately gave up and resorted to sitting on the ground or doing something else.

You need to be ready for huge crowds, especially at meal times.

Throughout the later afternoon and evening, World Showcase was a solid wall of people.  The cast members did a pretty good job with traffic flow at some of the tighter paths, but they could only do so much.  It was nearly impossible to get an electric power cart from the Odyssey to Norway and then back again.  It was just a solid wall of people with most of them not watching where they were going.

It was a nice touch with the two showings of IllumiNations.  I'm not sure how much it accomplished with crowd control and people being able to see the showings, but it was a good attempt.

As far as the second showing of IllumiNations, you couldn't even try to get close to World Showcase lagoon.  Instead, my family and I stood on one of the bridges linking the Odyssey to the rest of the park.  The water had a nice reflection of the fireworks and the view of the night sky was still wide open.  The benefits were that we found good spots about five minutes to midnight (didn't need to waste an hour or two or three and fight with the crowds for a good viewing location) and we weren't crowded.  This will be evident once I find a way to get my videos posted.

The main fireworks show welcoming in 2009 was nothing short of spectacular.  Large fireworks lit up the night sky, and the grand finale was nearly deafening with the awesome rapid-fire explosions in the sky.  This was definitely something that you didn't want to miss.

After the fireworks ended a lot of people flocked to Innoventions plaza as a DJ had a huge dance party going well into the night.

After experiencing a crowd of that magnitude, I'm glad that I was at Epcot and not the Magic Kingdom or Disney Studios.  Epcot is more spread out and can better handle the larger amounts of people.  Plus, Epcot attracted the older guests while many of the families with younger children went to the Magic Kingdom.  I'd rather deal with tired or drunk adults rather than screaming and cranky kids and ankle-crushing strollers at the end of a day like that.

As bad as it may seem, it was quite an experience to be there on one of the two busiest days of the year.  For Epcot, I'd venture and say that New Year's Eve sees a little bit higher crowds than on Christmas Day.  Would I do it again in the near future?  I'm not sure.  I know how to handle it if I go again next year, but I don't know if I'd willingly go through that experience again any time soon.

Maybe I'll go if they don't pass out those horns again.  It's not a pleasant experience dealing with the crowds and having people scream into those noise-making horns for over six hours straight.  Thoughts of ramming them up people's noses occurred throughout the night.

But that's just me.

Happy New Year!