The day started early with an 8:00 a.m. park opening, with minimal waits at security, ticket booths, and turnstiles. New Year’s Eve is traditionally the busiest day of the year for Epcot, and this year was no different. Throughout the park, extra capacity was added in anticipation of the large crowds. Portable toilets were brought onstage near the Imagination pavilion, and grassy areas were fenced off for additional Illuminations viewing areas.

To help distribute crowds throughout the massive park, World Showcase opened at 9:00 a.m., with most of the regular entertainment wrapping up by mid-afternoon. Temporary bars were set up around World Showcase, and temporary stages for DJs were added to several pavilions. At the Land pavilion, the Behind the Seeds tour was offered at 15-minute intervals throughout the day, rather than the typical 45-minute spacing.

Due to the anticipated crowds, Illuminations was presented twice, at 6 p.m. and 11:40 p.m. The early show included the “Peace on Earth” tag that runs throughout the holiday season, while the 11:40 p.m. show ended with a special countdown to midnight. The sun hadn’t quite set by the start of the first show, making the lasers and spotlights difficult to see; however, darkness had fallen by the end of the show, helping to kick off the night.

Following the first Illuminations, World Showcase turned into a large party. Six DJs and three live bands played at six locations around World Showcase Lagoon. The Illuminations globe was turned into a countdown clock, while lasers projected another countdown onto Spaceship Earth. Party hats and noisemakers were handed out at various locations throughout the park.

Crowds were heavy and waits for restrooms (especially for the women’s side), food, and drinks grew long, but it never got unruly. Because World Showcase has few attractions despite its large size, it was clear that most guests were there to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the festivities. From certain angles, fireworks from the Magic Kingdom and Studios were visible on the horizon, adding to the excitement.

Immediately following the conclusion of the second Illuminations, the countdown began. Featuring short bursts of fireworks and traditional music, each World Showcase pavilion was highlighted in the order that the country celebrated the new year. There was then an in-the-round countdown followed by a huge Auld Lang Syne grand finale.

After ringing in the new year, the most dangerous part of the journey was the return to the hotel. We waited about 2 hours for a bus, and there were still thousands of guests waiting when we finally boarded. As the night wore on, buses returned to Epcot to be parked for the night, even though huge crowds remained waiting. Although the day in the park was remarkably smooth and festive despite massive crowds, this aspect needs serious reevaluation.