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Is This the Very Best Theme Park for Older Women Travelers?

Looking for magic minus the madness? Six tips from a seasoned pro.

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2024 EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival
Olga Thompson/Disney
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I hate heat, crowds and screaming children. How, then, could I possibly love Disney World?

I love it because I have a system — developed over decades as an annual pass holder — that diminishes Disney’s madness and accentuates its magic. I know where to find peace, quiet and cocktails at the best theme park for my 67-year-old self: Disney World's Epcot.

If you think Epcot is stodgy compared to the Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you haven’t been there lately. Epcot has undergone a dramatic transformation since 2021 — adding attractions and renaming the areas around Spaceship Earth — or, as many of us call it, “the Epcot ball.” What used to be called “Future World” is now three areas: World Celebration, which includes Spaceship Earth and the fountains and shops around it; World Nature, featuring The Land and the Living Seas areas; and World Discovery, where the thrills are.

Across the lake is World Showcase — the 1.3-mile promenade featuring pavilions dedicated to 11 countries. Ooh la la, good news for Francophiles: the adorable Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure ride opened in France in 2021, and the fabulous French bakery quadrupled in size.

Disney’s best thrill ride — Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a smooth, zippy roller coaster that swirls you around the “universe” at 60 mph — opened in World Discovery two years ago. Nearby is the most in-demand restaurant at Disney: Space 220, where diners “blast off” to dine at the “space station.” (The 60-second “launch” is the best part of the experience.) And a new walk-through attraction, Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana, recently opened in World Nature — with two trails, one where you stay dry, and one where you mingle with waterfalls.

Epcot's happening! Here’s how I do it and why I love it most in the spring.

It’s time for the International Flower & Garden Festival: 

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Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Epcot features four festivals a year, each special if you like sampling new foods and drinks. Fall brings the International Food & Wine Festival (it’s usually August through mid-November). Then comes the Festival of the Holidays, and January brings the Festival of the Arts.

Spring means Epcot is in bloom — 30 million flowers sprout during the Flower & Garden Fest, and the scent is divine. This is my favorite time to go. The fest started February 28 and runs through May 27, with specialty gardens, a butterfly extravaganza, 70-something topiaries of Disney characters and outdoor kitchens featuring taste sensations from around the world. If you love gardening — or fancy cocktails — this is your spot.

How does a “La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush” made with Grey Goose vodka, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and white and red cranberry juices sound? You’ll find that slushy delight at the France pavilion.

“I love to go to Epcot during any festival season when I can enjoy treats while strolling from Mexico to Norway, China to Morocco,” says Jennie Hess, a regular who used to be a Disney publicist. “The park’s France pavilion is my go-to for my favorite La Vie en Rose cocktail or a French martini to pair with garlicky escargots. And don’t forget the crème brûlée for dessert.

Next stop: Italy

When Jennie and I are not dining in France, we meet up for snacks in Italy at Tutto Gusto wine bar. We then take in that night’s Garden Rocks concerts at the American Gardens Theatre across from the America pavilion. Concerts are included with your Epcot admission, and you can buy dinner packages that guarantee a seat — although I always find a spot without a reservation.

2024 EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival
Olga Thompson/Disney

Peter Noone! He’s still groovy! If you love Herman’s Hermits, The Spinners or Mickey Thomas and Starship, check out the Garden Rocks concert schedule. Each night, classic bands like these put on three half-hour shows (5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m.). Noone— the frontman for Herman’s Hermits — still looks and sings like he’s 30, and he gets a crowd each year.

Bonjour from Paris: I love to begin my day with a “jambon beurre” — a classic ham and cheese sandwich with Dijon mustard butter on a demi-baguette ($10.95) from Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie, the French bakery in World Showcase. To be called a “boulangerie” in France, a bakery must make its baguettes and pastries on-site — and that’s true at Epcot’s France, too.

The bakery opens at 9 a.m., two hours before World Showcase opens (the front part of Epcot opens at 9). Since I usually stay at the Walt Disney World Swan, a Marriott hotel on Disney property, I walk into Epcot through the back entrance, get my coffee and sandwich at the bakery at 9 a.m., and then wander through a topiary wonderland in near solitude for an hour.

This is Disney heaven: a quiet stroll amid the Beauty and the Beast topiaries in France and the Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Winnie the Pooh topiaries in the United Kingdom. New this year: a Tiana topiary in America and Encanto characters in Mexico and more.

Remember: Only fools go to Disney World in June, July or August. I say this as a fool who was there last August 12, the hottest day in Orlando since 2015 — when the temperature hit 100 and the “feels like” temperature was 108. Trust me, it’s not fun.

Every princess has a price: Visiting Walt Disney World is an investment, and the new Genie+ and Lightning Lane passes to get you to the front of the ride lines add costs. Those passes added $800 to my tab for my family of eight during a four-day trip last year. That’s just for the ride passes — and not the tickets to get into Epcot, which are $109 a day. You must plan ahead to avoid wasting money and time. My favorite resource for all Disney news is the Disney Food Blog, which publishes guides to Epcot’s festivals.

Make a plan, get your credit card ready … then tiptoe among the topiaries.

 
What's your favorite theme park? Or do you avoid them? Let us know in the comments below.

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