2015: Epcot Rings It In Right

| January 1, 2015 | 10 Replies

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It was cold. It was crowded, and yet it was the best New Year’s Eve that I can recall. Never in my nearly four decades of life have I ever seen a celebration done so appropriately for the closing of a year.

The beginning of the day started a bit rough with crowd levels approaching uncomfortable levels. Around noon parking lots were filling to capacity. Lines for attractions were laughably long. There was virtually no sitting room in eating locations. The general strategy for survival was to grin and bear it, but by late afternoon there was a shift in the energy of the park.

It began slowly in the World Showcase. A twinge of excitement and anticipation hit as a DJ in the America Gardens Theatre started up and slowly gathered guests with his American top 40 hits of various decades. As each hour passed, other areas of the park put on their party dresses as well until it seemed like every corner of Epcot was singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

There were many reasons why this celebration stood out among the others I have experienced at theme parks. Some of them will resonate with you. Others may not. Judge for yourself, but most of my thoughts can be summarized in three words: demographic, parties and fireworks.
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THE DEMOGRAPHIC

An evening event lends itself to the idea of an older crowd. As parents we have all kept our children up past their bedtimes at one point or another, but (if we are being honest) rarely is that an experience without stress. The push to stay for a late event becomes more of a mission than a pleasure. It is often one that is unpleasant for the kids, parents and others who are around unhappy families. However, the temptation to party with Mickey is one that many families understandably can’t resist, and it can make for a New Year’s Eve of conflicting sentiments.

This was less of a factor at Epcot than I have noticed it being at other Disney Parks, namely the Magic Kingdom. This was possibly due to there being less attractions geared towards kids. Maybe it was due to the presence of alcohol park-wide. It could also have been attributed to the more adult-themed party scene complete with house music and crowded dance areas, or it might have been related to the more mature nature of “Illuminations,” as opposed to the whimsy of its competitor, “Wishes.” Most likely it was a combination of all these elements. Whatever the case may be, it was apparent that as midnight crept closer, the general demographic grew older. Certainly, after the first showing of fireworks at 6pm, the sight of young children became much less common, making the general atmosphere a bit more relaxed.

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THE PARTIES

It is hard to overstate the talent and creativity that carried out this aspect of Epcot’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Almost half of the pavilions in World Showcase, in addition to a singular section of Future World, hosted a dance party. The thing that impressed me was that even in their fundamental similarity, they each presented distinct elements, making them unique.

The United Kingdom pavilion featured music hailing entirely from its homeland and synchronized screens with psychedelic hues and formations. Japan added a new element to this year’s event with its silent DJ who live-broadcasted his classic rock mixes over the internet waves from the Japan pavilion. Guests were given earbuds to plug themselves into the virtual party happening right in front of them. In doing so, they joined others across the nation that were partying to the very same music in their own homes. The America pavilion had a Latin flare with a DJ that hosted his party entirely in Spanish. Using the America Gardens Theatre stage as a large dance space, dance hits originating from our Latin population gathered a mass of people that (at some moments) the theater barely contained.

On the other half of World Showcase, two countries seemed to compete regularly for “most popular.” The DJ in Italy played to a consistent crowd that seemed unwilling to separate itself from his techno/electronic tunes and laser beam overhead display. Meanwhile China packed it in all night long with its house music, synchronized pyro-blasts and smoke-snorting Chinese dragon.

A sole DJ and stage set up in front of the Fountain of Nations refused to be overlooked as well. Supplied with a mound of props such as Native American headdresses and plastic horns of overwhelming size, this DJ kept his audience lively with classic party hits like “Jump On It,” “Ice, Ice Baby,” and “YMCA.” It was entertaining.

The one appealing factor to all of this is that you were not held hostage by one particular type of atmosphere. The variety amongst the pavilions and Future World was broad enough that when one style of party grew tired, there was another that beckoned and was able to revive you. The assorted music genres and international cast of DJs lent itself to a natural flow around the park that engaged the crowd. Once you made it all the way around, you felt a bit like you had traveled, sampled and enjoyed quite a number of cultures.

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THE FIREWORKS

If there is a singular holiday that is recognized world-wide, it is the New Year. And if there is a singular theme park that recognizes the the diversity of culture world-wide, it is Epcot. For this reason, Epcot almost seemed tailor-made to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a sense that reached far beyond the ability of other parks. Never was this more apparent than in its climatic finale, a unique performance of “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.”

The daily fireworks show that centers itself on the themes of unity and peace played as it is regularly scheduled to do; however, in its final performance of the evening, a “tag” was added to correspond with the approaching calendar countdown. During the final minutes of 2014, a broadcasted voice acknowledged the countries around the world that had already rung in the new year with their differing timezones. For those that were represented around the World Showcase, each lit up individually and (for a brief moment) set off fireworks that featured their national colors to music distinct of its representative nation. After their acknowledgement, the remaining countries that shared our timezone began the official countdown for the year of 2015 in a fashion that built anticipation. One pavilion illuminated in a flash of light and launched a single firework with each descending second until the exact moment of midnight struck. In that moment the final pavilion, the America pavilion, initiated rockets that shot across the World Showcase Lagoon. As if in domino effect, a massive display of pyrotechnics erupted from within the Lagoon with such presence that had it not been for the apparent celebration of world-wide unity it could have been mistaken for a declaration of world-wide war.

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At the end of the day, I was left with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. Not every moment had been perfection, but every moment did feed a growing anticipation…anticipation for what lay ahead as we let go of what fell behind. It appropriately captured the essence of the New Year.

My opinion is that Epcot played its hand as a holiday venue with class. As I stated before, some may agree. Some may not. Ultimately, though, it can’t be denied that Epcot has proven itself capable of throwing an unforgettable event, if not–in fact–the party of the year.



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Category: Disney World, Events, Florida Events

  • Nora Martinez

    Loved the article and made me want to be there for New Year’s Eve someday soon. Thanks!

  • Sam Vigorito

    JL, what a great blog. Normally when I think of holidays at Disney, MK comes to mind. But what better place to ring in a new year than the namesake of Walt’s hope for the future. I hope I have the opportunity to experience that soon!

  • momeja

    That was a great review, and I agree with Nora that it makes me want to see it someday. I’m curious about something, though. Would it have been possible to arrive at Epcot only for the evening celebration and stay away from touring there during the day? I honestly don’t think I’d have the stamina to stay in the park for 15 hours when it was that crowded but I don’t know if the park closes due to capacity! If you can arrive later, what time would you recommend arriving?

    • Kelly

      It was stated in the article that a bunch of people left with their kids after the 6pm fireworks. I’m sure you could get in after that rush left and not have to stay in a crowd all day. :)

    • imjenilynn

      As Kelly stated, there was a significant number of people exiting the park after the first fireworks showing. So while I cannot prophesy when Epcot will close and reopen due to capacity issues in future years, I can say that it seems likely that you should be able to enter the park around 7pm if it closes at all in the first place.

  • April Nicole Keefe

    Epcot has the best NYE fireworks I’ve ever seen! We went last year and it was definitely a night we’ll never forget (neither will the couple who got engaged next to us during the show!). I can’t wait for the chance to do it again!

  • Gaz

    Really enjoyed reading this! I can’t imagine a more better place to celebrate new years than epcot!

  • Lois Syrek

    Wow! Great blog – I want to be there next year :)

  • MrNico

    The Holiday version of Illuminations is pretty awesome on its own. I was there for the 30th Anniversary and it was even more so than usual. Maybe I’ll do the NYE some time…

  • Sam Moore

    We were there and enjoyed every minute of it. Even the tired EPCOT feet couldn’t spoil the event. Every time we do EPCOT. For NYE and read a review, we find we missed several things we wanted to see. Guess we will have to go again next year and try again