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EPCOT Unmasked: The World Showcase Social Media Won’t Show You

Epcot World Showcase
Credit: Jill Bivins

EPCOT is home to some of the most underrated attractions at Walt Disney World, but the most underrated by far is the World Showcase. Despite sporting two extremely popular rides (and one seriously underrated ride), the area remains grossly misunderstood and hotly debated. The chance to travel the world in a matter of hours just doesn’t seem to hold the appeal it ought to, especially with families with small children. As a parent, I get the criticism but it’s misguided. As with most things, you get out of it what you put in. Whether you’re traveling with kids or without, read on to discover the secrets that make World Showcase one of the best themed areas at Disney World (and settle a debate once and for all)

Worldd Showcase Pagoda in Japan Pavilion

Credit: Disney

EPCOT’s World Showcase at a Glance

EPCOT is divided into two sections. The front half of the park (formerly Future World) is divided into three different neighborhoods: World Discovery, World Celebration, and World Nature. Each neighborhood focuses on a specific theme. For example: in World Discovery you’ll dive into how things work and blast off into space and in World Nature you’ll learn about sustainability and explore how water interacts with every living thing.

The back half of the park is the World Showcase. This area wasn’t really changed much during the revitalization. It consists of 11 Pavilions, each themed to a different country. The countries represented are Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Japan, the United States, Italy, Germany, China, Norway, and Mexico. From authentic architecture to native cuisine, you can immerse yourself in the cultures of the world and discover what makes each country unique!

France Pavilion

Credit: Disney

World Showcase: More Than a Mall, More Than a Bar 

Much of the criticism for World Showcase stems from people who claim it’s just a giant (expensive) shopping mall. With so many shopping opportunities it’s easy to see why. Each Pavilion has at least one shop where you can buy authentic merchandise from that country. With so many wonderful things to buy, t’s easy to lose track of time (and budget) and feel like all there is is shopping. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Related: Drink Around the World Like a Pro (Without Ending Up in the Headlines)

Alternatively, many skip the shops entirely and choose to indulge in the other thing EPCOT’s World Showcase is (in)famous for: alcohol. Drinking Around the World is a time honored EPCOT tradition. If you’ve read the site for very long, you’ll know that we are big fans of this activity (when done responsibly). However, because of this, the World Showcase has developed a reputation of being full of drunks and just being about alcohol. This isn’t true either.

Things to Do

While shopping and drinking certainly are plentiful in the World Showcase, there is so much more. Whether you begin your world tour in Mexico or Canada (more on that in a bit), you’ll immediately feel transported to another place (and often another time). The Pavilions showcase architecture that is unique to the country it represents. Often, the architecture harkens to bygone eras like the colonial style seen in the American Pavilion. The U.K Pavilion takes you on a journey through time: you begin with the thatched roof style building from the 1500s and evolving as you go deeper into the area up to the Victorian style of the 1800s.

Every Pavilion features at least one restaurant, many feature more than one. In nearly every country, you’ll find a mix of quick service restaurants/snack-type locations and table service restaurants. Availability is limited at table service locations and reservations are recommended (read: required). Quick service and bakery locations, however, are walk-in only and an easy option for those in a hurry.

Most Pavilions have an attraction of some sort, either a ride or a brief film about the country.

Frozen Ever After

Credit: Disney

Are There Any Characters in the World Showcase?

Yes! The World Showcase is one of the best places to meet some of your favorite Disney characters! Each meet and greet takes place in the character’s country of origin. They often change, especially during special events so check Walt Disney World’s official website for current listings. At the time of this writing the characters you can meet are:

  • United Kingdom: Winnie the Pooh, Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), and Mary Poppins
  • France: Belle and Aurora
  • America: Colonial Mickey and Goofy (seasonally)
  • Morocco: Jasmine and Aladdin
  • Germany: Snow White
  • China: Mulan
  • Norway: Anna and Elsa
  • Mexico: Donald Duck

Related: A Defense of Characters in World Showcase 

Mexico or Canada: Where to start? 

There’s no official right way to go when it comes to whether you begin your “world tour” on the Mexico end or the Canada end. This is a hotly debated point of contention amongst Disney die-hards and you won’t find too many people who don’t have an opinion. It’s like pineapple on pizza: everyone has an opinion and they’ll defend it fiercely.

So which way is best? There are pros and cons to each. Mexico is, by far, the most popular place to start. If you’ll notice, though, I listed everything beginning with Canada and working around to Mexico. That is because this is how I do it and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on. I get the Mexico love: There are maragritas. Gran Fiesta is a great ride and Frozen is right next door. The food is spectacular, and there are two different restaurants to choose from. Also did I mention there are margaritas? Its popularity (and even the margaritas) are a drawback though.

Related: The BEST Margaritas at Disney World (Are Not the Ones You Think)

Crowds are a fact of life at Walt Disney World, but knowing how to navigate them can mean this difference between a good time and a frustrating experience. If you stick with popular advice, you’ll be going with the crowd. That’s why we advise starting in Canada. The World Showcase typically opens at 11:00 am, two hours later than the rest of the park. That means everyone has spent their morning on EPCOT’s first half, riding rides line Test Track, Soarin’, and Spaceship Earth. Once 11:00 rolls around, they’re all headed for the same place: World Showcase. Following the crowd to Mexico means just that: you’re in the crowd. For that reason we advise bucking the trend and going to Canada first. Swimming upstream means you’ll experience much lower crowds (read: have a better time).

World showcase

Credit: Disney

Also if drinking around the world is on the agenda, starting with tequila may not be the wisest way to go. Starting in Canada means a slower and less boozy start to the 11-stop challenge. I outlined the best way to do this (and how to complete the challenge like a pro) in this article. It’s tempting to go for the gusto straight out of the gate, but it’s also a good (bad) way to overindulge and either not make it all the way or get entirely too intoxicated to have a good time.

Biergarten World Showcase

Credit: Disney

World Showcase Food

Food is one of the biggest draws at EPCOT’s World Showcase. In fact, some of the best food at the Walt Disney World Resort is located here. The food here is so good that it’s usually the sole reason we get Park Hopper theme park tickets when we visit. There’s too much to choose from to settle on just one or two meals here! There’s also too much to contain in this article alone. Look for a dedicated guide to the best food in the World Showcase soon! For now let’s discuss some highlights:

  • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: a character meal inside of a castle the Norway Pavilion where you can feast on traditional Norwegian favorites and meet your favorite Disney Princesses
  • Rose and Crown: dine on comfort foods like Shepards Pie and Fish n Chips in a traditional pub setting.
  • Spice Road Table: leave your comfort zone and experience the flavors of Morocco at this small plate restaurant!
  • Le Cellier Steakhouse: take a journey down to a Canadian wine caller and enjoy some of the best steaks Walt Disney World has to offer (and don’t miss the Canadian Cheese Soup).
  • Biergarten: German food is definitely a live it or hate it kind of thing but this can’t miss restaurant has something for every taste bud in a fun atmosphere (you’re seated with others) and an oomph band to entertain!

Layout

A few years ago I did the DestiNations Discovered tour (which sadly hasn’t yet returned from the closure of 2020) and my appreciation for World Showcase grew exponentially. There were some things that were common knowledge, like the fact that the World Showcase was meant to serve as sort of a permanent World’s Fair. However, did you know that the design was purposefully done to unfold in front of your eyes? As you walk toward the World Showcase from the center the only country you see is America. As you get closer, the other countries reveal themselves like performers on a stage. This was done to symbolize the fact that America is front and center in our daily lives, but the rest of the world awaits discovery.

World showcase America Pavilion

Credit: Jill Bivins

The area is situated around a lagoon and forms a semicircle. When looking at a map, the semicircle sits atop the park like a crown, symbolizing that this is the crown jewel of EPCOT. The Skyliner has brought a lot more traffic to the International Gateway, a once secret back entrance to EPCOT. This means more people than ever begin their day in World Showcase. If you enter from this gate, our touring recommendation doesn’t change but rather than beginning in Canada, begin in France and hit up Canada and the United Kingdom on your way out at the end of the day.

UK Pavilion

Credit: Disney

EPCOT’s World Showcase is a remarkable destination that offers an immersive cultural experience like no other. From the moment you step foot in each pavilion, you are instantly transported to different countries and continents, allowing you to learn and appreciate their unique traditions, architecture, cuisine, and entertainment. It’s so much more than just a mall and a bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Jill Bivins

Jill Bivins has been visiting Disney Parks since she was 2 years old and loves sharing her Disney adventures with the world. She likes to say Disney is in her blood and writing is in her bones — so any time she has the opportunity to combine these loves she is one happy camper! She has a deep abiding love for Epcot and as a die hard Star Wars fan has a serious love for Hollywood Studios as well. When she isn't exploring or writing about Disney Parks, Jill is homeschooling her 8 year old son, playing with her brand new baby son, or pretending to be a farmer on her family homestead (despite being unable to keep even a cactus alive). Find Jill on Instagram @minnieonmain.