They said we were crazy. Of course, the "we" was really me.
A few years ago, MJ and I celebrated New Year's Eve at Disneyland in what can only be described as a disastrously memorable experience. Back then I swore to never set foot near a theme park on New Year's Eve again, confident that the frightful memories would prevent me from making such an awful decision for all eternity. Apparently the old memory bank just isn't what it used to be, because when it came time to ring in 2014, I inexplicably found myself walking through the Epcot turnstiles.
|Dreaming of an empty park. Dream on...|
MJ was quick to remind me that the decision to go to Epcot on New Year's Eve was completely my idea. She was right - after a few days in Las Vegas I was feeling "wild and crazy" as we say, and Epcot seemed like it would be a walk in the park. Plus, there were many things that would make Epcot easier for us than Disneyland. OK, so by "many" I really mean just one...alcohol.
It sounds terrible, but trust me - if you're going to take on a Disney park during New Year's Eve, make sure it is one that serves alcohol (i.e., anywhere but the Magic Kingdom) because you'll definitely need it. That, and a sound strategy for taking on the busiest day of the year at Disney. Here's what we did...
On the spur of the moment, we decided to start the last day of the year bright and early at Cat Cora's restaurant Kouzzina at Disney's Boardwalk Resort. The cover was that we needed a hearty meal to start what would no doubt be a busy day, but the real objective had nothing to do with food. I just wanted the parking space. You see, the Boardwalk is just a short stroll from Epcot's International Gateway entrance, which meant we could leave our car at the resort and skip the ridiculous parking situation at the main gate.
|No, Cat Cora won't cook your french toast. An old pic from a previous visit.|
Is parking your car at the Boardwalk and going to a theme park all day totally above the board...not exactly. But, you didn't hear it from me, Disney doesn't tow cars...ever. The problem is that you need a restaurant reservation to get past the semi-retired security guard out front. With ours in hand we pulled in like we owned the place and loaded up on French Toast before heading to Epcot. As I parked the car in my traditionally off kilter fashion, I had no idea just how great the last minute decision to park at Boardwalk would prove to be...
By 9am we were in the park and headed for a spin on Test Track before things got too busy. We were already too late...
We arrived at Test Track to find a 240 minute wait, a 90 minute wait in the single rider line, and all of the Fast Passes had been distributed for the day in a park that didn't close until 1am. I'll give you a minute to let all of that soak in. Did you catch the 4 hour wait part? For a 3 minute ride? And that it was only 9:30am? Sweet...moving on.
|The line for Test Track. All 4 hours of it...|
After suffering through the single rider line - I mean, how else were we going to kill 15 hours? - MJ and I located an empty park bench and settled in for a little people watching. 2 hours worth of people watching, to be exact. It might sound boring, but combine Disney, an Irish coffee, and a park bench and you've got yourself one heck of a good time.
And that, in a nutshell, would be most of our day. Sitting on a bench. Checking the time. Playing Angry Birds. Pointing out the Ronoldo looking dudes for MJ. Her reciprocating with every sighting of Mama June. Before long it was time to peel ourselves off the bench and brave the walk over to World Showcase for our lunner (lunch/dinner) at Teppan Edo.
We barely made it through the bedlam alive.
|The sea of people in World Showcase.|
Alright, so in all honesty the crowd was insane, but no worse than a really busy weekend during the Food & Wine Festival. What was insane, however, were the lines. 300 minutes for Soarin', 280 minutes for Test Track, 75 minutes for Spaceship Earth. Seriously...75 minutes for Spaceship Earth - an omnimover ride where the line is continuously moving. What's next? 45 minutes for Living with the Land? Oh yeah, that happened too.
The meal at Teppan Edo made for a nice break from our day full of nothing. Although, long one of my favorite restaurants at Disney, it is losing ground in my book as the menu price continues to climb. I enjoy Japanese Hibachi as much as the next guy, but not at $35 a head for lunch.
When I made our FastPass+ reservations before leaving home, I intentionally made them for the evening so that I wouldn't get bored and toss in the towel on the day. After taking our turns on Spaceship Earth, Nemo, and Soarin' - now "only" 180 minute wait - there were only a couple hours left until midnight.
I could see the promised land.
We propped ourselves up on a 5 foot high wall, and watched as Scooter the DJ rocked the House of Mouse. I'm not kidding - the music was good, he wasn't Disney cheesy, and all of the 15 and 55 year olds on the dance floor seemed to be having the time of their life. But hands down the highlight were all of the dads competing for Father of the Year by flailing about with their sugar high little sons and daughters. I'm quite certain Disney picked up some awesome footage for an upcoming series of commercials while we were sitting there.
|Scooter the DJ rocking Epcot.|
As the hour approached, MJ and I made our way to a little nook between the Canada and UK pavilions. Not only did we have a perfect view of the fireworks, but we were strategically placed next to a coffee/donut stand, a bathroom, and a bar. All of the things we'd need to survive the next hour.
After the normal showing of Illuminations, the countdown to midnight was on. Rather than just a boring "5,4,3,2,1" Disney started about 5 minutes before, by putting on a small fireworks show over each country in the World Showcase in the order which they had welcomed 2014. Finally, at long last, it was our turn...
I've seen more fireworks shows at Disney than I can count. None of them came close to matching this one. The grand finale was so loud, so bright, and so long, I wound up covering my mouth like a shocked teenager catching a glimpse of One Direction. I had resolved before the show to leave the camera in my pocket and capture the moment in my mind - thankfully, MJ kept her iPhone on the ready.
|And this wasn't even the finale.|
We had survived. The only thing that stood between me and the comfortable bed back at Saratoga Springs was the short 10 minute drive from the Boardwalk. Or so I thought.
At first it seemed like my master plan had failed me. We were forced to exit the Boardwalk going in the opposite direction of our resort, then we were made to merge onto World Drive heading toward, of all places, the Magic Kingdom. In all the 10 minute drive took north of 45, but as we looked at the solid line of cars exiting Epcot and the Magic Kingdom - most of which were crawling or not moving at all - it was clear the strategy of parking at Boardwalk had paid off big time. I'm pretty sure my head would have exploded if I found myself in that traffic.
In the end, the battle of New Year's Eve at Epcot was no where near as torturous as I expected. Amazingly enough, MJ and I managed to get through the whole thing without a single exasperated tiff or the aide of alcohol. Sure, we had an Irish coffee at 10am and a glass of champagne at 6pm, but otherwise there were no outside agents making the experience more tolerable. Well, if you don't count my three rounds of iced coffee and donuts.
Will I do it again anytime soon? Definitely not. But have I sworn off theme parks on New Year's Eve? Surprisingly, no. This trip to Epcot taught me that with the right strategy and a heap of patience, ringing in the new year at a theme park isn't so bad. And if you can survive...well, the fireworks payoff will make it all worthwhile.
Enjoy Your Stay