I am so lucky because on Sunday October 1, 2017, I got to attend the Epcot 35th Anniversary Celebration. As all the merchandise says – I was there!
For those who don’t know, Epcot was founded (as EPCOT Center) on October 1, 1982 making Sunday, October 1, 2017 the 35th Anniversary of Epcot’s grand opening.
I really feel privileged to have been able to go to the celebration. I’ve never been to a special event or celebration at Disney before. Luckily this one was on a Sunday, so I didn’t even have to take off work.
To be clear the anniversary celebration was open to all those with tickets, including Annual Passholders; it was not a hard ticket event or anything like that. Still, I’m so glad I was able to go.
This post is a recap of the Epcot 35th Anniversary celebration, including all the little touches that Disney added to make the day at Epcot special. I’ve also included tips, tricks, and hints I picked up for what I hope will be my, and your, next Disney celebration adventure.
Before getting to the recap, I wanted to talk about getting to Epcot.
Unlike most trips I’ve taken to Disney, I wasn’t spending the night; I just drove from Tampa Bay for the day. For those not familiar, the drive is between 1 and 1 ½ hours depending on traffic. Not bad at all to get to go to Disney.
I knew I wanted to through IllumiNations and the special fireworks, so I didn’t rush in the morning as much as I could have. I’m a night owl and love Disney nighttime entertainment, so that worked for me.
Others may prefer to rope drop (get to the parks before opening so they can walk in as soon as the parks open). There are definitely situations to rope drop, but for me, this was not one of them.
But as I discuss below, I did miss out on the very beginning of the ceremony and a good spot for seeing it. And the merchandise lines were already hours long. So if that stuff is important to you, by all means get there early.
Whether you are an early riser or night owl, remember that days at Disney can be exhausting, so don’t try to do too much.
DNT: Disney vacations call for early mornings OR late nights. Don’t try to do both unless you and your family have a lot of stamina.
Epcot 35th Anniversary Ceremony
At exactly 10:01am (or so I am told), Disney put on a ceremony to mark the Anniversary of the grand opening of Epcot.
I say “or so I am told” because I did not make the very beginning of the ceremony. As I explained above, I knew IllumiNations and the special fireworks were more important to me and trying to do it all would make for a very tired Minnie. Yet another reason planning ahead is important.
DNT: Check what unique activities being offered during celebrations and other Disney events before going to know what you and your family do not want to miss.
The ceremony was held on the Fountain View Stage in Future World. The Fountain View Stage is next to the main fountain (clever name right?) on the opposite side from Spaceship Earth.
I saw photos on Twitter and Instagram showing people lined up for the show starting before the park opened at 9am. Based the photos, I didn’t speed to get to Disney (not that I am endorsing speeding).
By the time I arrived, the ceremony had already started and I was able to squeeze in just outside of Cool Club. As you can see from the photos, not the ideal spot, but not terrible either.
Although I did research (yes me always with the research) to find out what activities would be offered for the Epcot 35th Anniversary, I did not know what this kind of ceremony at Disney would entail.
What I saw was uninspired speeches and a very low energy a cappella mashup of old Epcot songs. The speakers were vice presidents of Disney Parks (one may technically have been a president; Disney hierarchy is confusing). I am sure they are great at their jobs, but amazing orators they are not.
The finale was a performance by Voices of Liberty, an a cappella group that usually sings traditional, patriotic songs in the American Adventure at Epcot. They have beautiful voices, but it lacked a pop.
I may just have been suffering from high expectations. I was expecting something more upbeat and energizing, with lots of songs. So, I was disappointed.
I am the first to admit that I may just have been the wrong audience for this – as much as I am a Disney Nerd, I do not spend all my days reminiscing for the old attractions and I cannot name any Disney execs.
Many in the audience seemed to enjoy it and I enjoyed basking in their happiness. It was cool to be surrounded by so many people who appreciate Disney.
Epcot 35th Anniversary Specialty Drinks and Food
Luckily, after the ceremony, the celebration continued. Since Food and Wine was still going on, I knew I had to check out some of the marketplaces (reviews to come). My plan was to eat and then wander and ride some rides, taking in the atmosphere.
As I explain below, I didn’t plan on getting any of the special I Was There 1-day only merchandise, so I wasn’t in any hurry to wait in line.
Turns out I made a great choice because the Food and Wine Festival marketplaces were selling a special Epcot 35 light up glass and blue champagne. The champagne was fine, but as you can see below, it is a cool glass and I don’t really turn down things that are blue. The glass was $7, and an extra $6 for the champagne.
But, I was able to get a piece of 1-day only merchandise without waiting in a 2-hour plus long line. To me that was well worth it. And unlike some of the other specialty merch, these DID sell out before the end of the day.
Plus it lights up. Which I did not know upon purchasing it, but discovered when I was putting it away. Got to love little surprises. And you can bet your butt it’s my new mimosa glass.
Specialty cupcakes were also available. They were all over social media. Not that I blame them. The cupcakes were very cute. I saw the ones available at Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe in Norway, but I was full from my Food and Wine tastings so skipped it.
As with the champagne glasses, these cupcakes sold out long before the park closed. Not really surprising given the obsession these days that people have with cupcakes.
Epcot 35th Anniversary Free Swag – Buttons, Maps, and Photos
Disney was Disney and did its best to monetize the Epcot 35th Anniversary celebration, but there were some freebies, which I’m always a fan of.
Castmembers were handing out I Was There buttons at the main entrance of Epcot. The buttons were themed all orange and 80s, and it was fun to see everyone wearing them. Mine is pictured above.
Normal celebration buttons (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) are cool because they usually make you stand out, and people are say congrats or happy birthday. But on for the 35th Anniversary, it was neat to see everyone sharing something.
Special maps were also handed out for free during the day. They were similarly themed and make fun souvenirs. I’m glad a castmember was handing them out to keep people from grabbing too many. It would have been sad if they had run out early.
DNT: Don’t forget to grab the special freebies, like pins and maps, to keep as souvenirs of Disney celebrations.
Can’t forget the special photo opportunities. For the Epcot 35th Anniversary, Disney had photopass photographers out taking pictures with an Epcot 35 frame. And as with all photographers at Disney (unlike some other parks), they will take pictures with your camera for you, making this free even if you haven’t don’t have photophass.
DNT: Photopass photographers are happy to also use your own camera to take pictures.
Epcot 35th Anniversary Legacy Showplace
In the Odyssey pavilion (where Craft Beer is during the Food and Wine Festival), there is a display of art and models celebrating Epcot’s past and future. Being a Disney Nerd, I found it fascinating, but for most it is more of just a quick air conditioned detour.
The Epcot 35 Legacy Showplace isn’t an Oct 1 only special event (I’ve seen reports that it was open before and may even still be around), so you may still be able to check it out.
Epcot 35th Anniversary Fireworks
To cap off the day, Epcot planned a Fireworks spectacular for right after IllumiNations. This is what I was most looking forward to.
I love fireworks. Epcot certainly brought a lot of boom for the special fireworks.
I actually got stopped on the bridge to Africa for a few minutes during the afternoon while they brought out the fireworks (for liability reasons I presume, Disney keeps guests off bridges while fireworks are on boats underneath).
The guys in charge of the fireworks were actually bragging to guests that it was going to be spectacular. And it was.
The pictures don’t do it justice. Let’s just pretend it was because I was too busy oohing and aching, and not because of my lack of photography skills.
As an aside, I watched the fireworks from the Italy Isola, which is the area of Italy next to the lagoon. You get to it by going over the staircase bridges.
I’ve never seen IllumiNations from there, and it was a great spot. Highly recommended if it is open (it is often reserved for private parties).
DNT: Italy Isola (area of Italy next to the lagoon over the staircase bridges) is a great spot to watch IllumiNations.
I also really enjoyed the laser show on Spaceship Earth after the show. I don’t recall seeing it after IllumiNations before, but we usually exit through the International Gateway, so I may just have missed it.
There was regular IllumiNations themeing (including the Siemens logo – R.I.P.), but there were also some cool Epcot 35 designs. Again, forgive the photo quality.
Epcot 35th Anniversary Merchandise
I should start by saying many Disney fans are crazy. Many thought I was nuts for trekking to Orlando and braving the crowds to be at Epcot for only one day, and a spectacularly busy day at that.
But there is a whole other level. I’m talking waiting in line for over 2 hours for merchandise level.
I know people wait in crazy lines for rides all the time, but to me that is different. You are waiting in line for an experience.
Standing in a several hour line for merchandise that says you were there seems silly to me since you spent much of your time “there” in line.
It seems more like a right of passage. A way of bragging about how big a fan you must have been. Not to mention how you braved the Florida heat.
Then again, it would never occur to me to wait in line on Black Friday or for a new iPhone. To each their own.
As crowded as the park was, and as long as lines were for the special merchandise, the lines for the rides were not that long. I’m not sure if this was because most people were doing either Food and Wine or the special merchandise lines, but even Test Track was down to 30 minutes at one point.
I heard the lines were even shorter for rides during the ceremony in the morning. This is similar, but even more extreme, to ride lines during parades and nighttime shows.
DNT: Ride lines are often shortest during parades and nighttime shows.
I think Disney made this merchandise line problem worse. They offered the special I Was There and other 1-day only merchandise only at special locations, and those special locations each had unique items. So if you wanted everything you’d have to wait in each line; each 2-hour long line…
I heard someone say they thought Disney did this to make it seem more exclusive. Well, news flash, when you already have to buy a ticket and physically be in the park to get the merchandise, it doesn’t need to be more exclusive.
I came up with a solution in case anyone at Disney is reading this.
I get the desire to limit how many of these kind of items people can buy (I’m looking at you e-Bay buyers). But rather than keeping everything in one store, distribute the merchandise throughout the park, but give everyone a coupon or link it to your MagicBand. It may take some more logistics because Disney would have to move merchandise around and keep restocking, but better than a 2-hour line.
And if you think the line is necessary because the merchandise was so limited, keep reading…
I decided early on not to wait in the crazy lines. Mostly this was because they were really long lines. But it was also because I wasn’t super excited by the special 1-day only merchandise.
The 1-day only merchandise is different from the Epcot 35th Anniversary merch that is more widely available. On October 1, 2017 and only on that day special I Was There merchandise was available – t-shirts, pins, ornaments, hats, etc. All were highly 80s themed.
There were other products that were first available on October 1, but seem to still be available, like the Figment Funko.
When I first saw the shirts, I wasn’t all that interested (I’m sure the lines helped my disinterest). I’m not a big fan of 80s style, despite being an 80s baby. But as the day went on and I saw them on more and more people, they grew on me.
Seeing guests in the I Was There swag was an unexpectedly fun bonus. Even Mark Wills, the Eat the Beat performer that night, rocked the shirt. And a fun performance to boot.
Even though the shirts were growing on me, it was not enough to convince me to wait in the crazy long line. Besides I already had my Epcot 35 mimosa glass.
Not to mention that I had the map and button discussed above. These little touches really make you feel the Disney magic. And even better they are FREE. My wallet was saying thank you.
I also picked up an Epcot 35 shirt and a snow globe (which was technically not Epcot 35 but who is really counting) at the International Gateway store World Traveler. Not special day of merch, but I’d always know when I bought it and isn’t that what matters?
My understanding is much of this merchandise is still available. And cute. Check it out if you can.
But fate wanted to part me with more money. On the way out of the park, after the fireworks ended, I took a chance to see if the pop up shop with the I Was There shirts and pins was still open. It was and they were still letting people in.
When I arrived at the park and throughout the day, the line went all the way back to the entrance to the park. At times wrapping around itself. Not to mention that the lined snaked through the building lasting 30 minutes to an hour inside.
After the fireworks, there was no line to get in the building at all. And just a short line inside.
I asked the castmember at the door and she said it was open, but had very limited merchandise. This was a lie. Normally I’d say exaggeration or try to give her the benefit of the doubt, but given the circumstances I think this was a flat out lie.
Despite her discouragement, I decided to give it a shot anyway. There must be a different definition of limited that I am unaware of. Only the figment hats were sold out when I got in line and the ornaments sold while I was paying.
This isn’t to say that other things didn’t sell out. As can be seen below, there were times that merch was running low. Later in the day, cast members were restocking, but they didn’t have everything or every size.
Some products were be back in stock late in the week (such as the popular Figment Funko), but others were gone for good. So if you have your heart set on something that you HAVE to have, get to the park as early as possible and be prepared to spend much of your day in line.
To be honest, I was peeved that the castmember was lying. If you are going to keep the store open, don’t pretend people can’t get what they want.
In the end, I was able to get an I Was There t-shirt in my size and a pin. I’m not a huge pin collector but I do have some that I trade and a few to commemorate my runDisney events. So this was a fun one to add to that collection.
To top things off, the Annual Passholder discount applied. I left happy and Disney took more of my money. Win-win for everyone.
DNT: Lines go down around park closing, even on special occasions.
DNT: Stores stay open after the official closing time of the parks. Great time to do souvenir shopping.
I really had an amazing time at the Epcot 35th Anniversary celebration. If you got to go, what was your favorite part? If you didn’t, will you try to go to a Disney celebration in the future? Let me know in the comments. As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment or send me an email. Follow along with more adventures on Twitter and Instagram.