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Many park guests typically define what's new at the Walt Disney World Resort by what major attractions are being built, like for the New Fantasyland. But in the shadow of these major accomplishments are a lot of other updates and openings in the parks. This time, we want to look at all that's happened in the last 12 months at Epcot.


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If you're wondering if it's worth going back to Epcot because there isn't much that's new, like at the Magic Kingdom Park, think again. Some people say that Walt Disney World is stagnant—that there's nothing happening. But in Epcot alone, you could spend much of your day seeing all the new attractions and experiences. This article gives you a reason to take another look at not only whether you should spend a day there, but how you should spend it.

Future World

Test Track Presented by Chevrolet

This one's gotten the most attention of any of the new developments at Epcot, and deservedly so. While the vehicle and track are the same, there is little else that is similar to the old Test Track, including a new sponsor. A new queue brings you into what goes on when designing new vehicles by letting you design your own. After you board, you experience a new setting almost molded out of Tron. Then a new post-show experience let's you continue developing and testing your own design. It's an exciting change to Epcot and makes the future seem more fantastic than ever.


Newly designed Test Track has a very cool look to it. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Innoventions

Some new attractions are part of Innoventions at Epcot. Habit Heroes was really destined to open in 2011. But after a lot of controversy in its design, it underwent a very extensive retooling. The new attraction is worthy of a visit, especially if you have young children. They'll enjoy the interactive nature of the experience, and there's some good messaging in it, as well.


The Heroes have got it right now, at Innoventions. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

For those who think that Epcot has lost its educational focus, IBM's newest attraction in Innoventions West, IBM THINK, demands your attention. This is a thinking person's exhibit. Yes, you sit through a movie, but the bulk of the insights to be gained from this attraction come from the exhibition space. Interactive panels really give you insight to new ideas that are out there and the possibilities of the future. While less entertaining than any of the other ones at Innoventions, it's definitely the most insightful.

We should also say, that Vision House, which highlights green residential design and sustainable living, opened not much more than a year ago. If you haven't done this attraction, you may want to add it to your schedule, as well.


Paneled screens give you a taste of what to expect inside IBM's new THINK exhibit. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Fastpass+

Technically, this innovation hasn't officially opened. But it's worthy of some mention here, because it will change the way you plan and enjoy your time at Epcot. Gone are the days where, if you wanted to get a Fastpass to Soarin', you had to hurry over there within the first few hours of the day—only to receive a pass that required you shlep back there hours later when you've already moved on to World Showcase. Now you can identify that time in advance, and then plan your schedule accordingly.


Here is a newly designed Fastpass+ entrance to The Seas with Nemo and Friends. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Epcot Character Spot

This meet-and-greet has been remodeled, and it's a great place to grab some colorful photos with Mickey and friends. Consider going toward the latter hours of the day, or use a Fastpass+. This is one of the new Epcot attractions where you will be able to utilize that. You should note that another dedicated character location was created in the France pavilion, as well, for Princess Aurora.


Pluto awaits guests at the new Epcot Character Spot. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

World Showcase

Just as an exhibit like IBM THINK adds an educational discovery experience in science, World Showcase provides a cultural discovery in and of itself.

Mexico: La Vida Antigua

What was once a retail space is now a cultural celebration of life. You can't miss it if you're heading to the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. It's housed inside the entrance to the pyramid, and offers a closer look at how the ancient Mayan peoples planted, used a calendar, established cities, and even played sports. If you lament the fact that El Rio del Tiempo has now become "Finding Donald Duck," then slow down to really study this exhibit.


An Aztec solar calendar greets guests to this new exhibit. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection.

Some feel that the American Adventure misses so many aspects of our country's history as it races through several centuries of experience. That's why you should check out The American Heritage Gallery, where this important collection of African-American achievement is housed. The collection traverses 400 years with more than 40 museum-worthy pieces. A dash of Disney magic is used in the form of glowing, talking lanterns that add context and understanding. This may all seem like high-brow experience—especially for a theme park—but it offers important context when you see Frederick Douglass riding down the river in the American Adventure.


This is perhaps one of the most thoughtful exhibits done at Epcot in recent years. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Agent P's World Showcase Adventure

Yes, this is a re-tooling of the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. But it hosts new props and clues, and, for the kid-at-heart, it's lots of fun. It provides an opposite-style experience to the museum showcases offered in Epcot. By the time you're done, you'll have a good appetite to check out Epcot's food and beverage options.

France

Every year, some part of Disney's dining experience gets reinvented at Epcot. This year was no different, and, in many ways, was over the top. The focus this time around was France, in what has created a new trio of foodie experiences adjacent to the already successful Chefs de France.

The most exciting and best received of all the food and beverage changes this year was in moving Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie to an all-new, much bigger location. Now found in the back of what was the train station or exit to the Impression de France show, there are more culinary choices than ever. And there's more seating! Unfortunately, you will also find more people, because this new bakery is a hit, and dining here can be a meal in and of itself.


You an find great food and pastry options here in this new corner of France. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

In the wake of the bakery being moved, the former space now offers L'Artisan des Glaces, where classic French ice cream and sorbets are served by the scoop in cups or cones. For those who want something different, a double-scoop is served in a martini glass with a shot of Grand Marnier, cream-flavored vodka or rum from Martinique.


A cool choice for a hot day at L'Artisan des Glaces. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There is probably no more formal dining experience at Epcot than Monsieur Paul's. This intimate and elegant experience above Chefs de France pays homage to Paul Bocuse, considered by many to be the world's first celebrity chef. Fifty years ago Bocuse did what no other chef had ever done: He put his own name on the restaurant. Prior to that, chefs were kept behind kitchen doors and in the cellar. Bocuse chose to come out and talk with diners and with occasional press as they visited. Monsieur Paul's is authentic French dining cuisine. It is an expensive experience, but one that won't be too easily forgotten. Ask for a window seat around Illuminations so as to finish your meal with a real "bang."


Posh settings in crush raspberry and a light-green foam sets the tone for this beautiful restaurant. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I should mention in passing here that Tutto Italia was also redone just a little more than a year ago with an adjacent lounge. So if you haven't done that yet either, make sure you check it out as well.

Absent from this list are the abundant offerings found during Epcot's Food & Wine Festival, Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival, and, also Epcot's Christmas Around the World. There is usually something different in each of those events, so you may want to come by during that time of year and check those out.

And, of course, there are all your old favorites like Spaceship Earth, Le Cellier, and Illuminations. You need not worry about having enough in Epcot for a full-day experience; you'll find plenty to do.

What about you? What have you enjoyed of these newer offerings over the last year? What do you look forward to doing? Share your experience of what you look for when you go to Epcot.



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(Send an email to Jeff Kober)

J. Jeff Kober, (@MousePlanetJeff) president of Performance Journeys and CEO of World Class Benchmarking, is also a thought leader on best-in-business practices at the Walt Disney Company. He brings those ideas to organizations via keynotes, seminars, and workshops to organizations around the world. He has authored "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney" as well as a "Disney at Work" series of apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available via DisneyatWork.com. You can find out more about his newest book, "Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence" at LeadWithYourCustomer.com.