Epcot’s first festival took place back in 1994 when the International Flower and Garden Festival was inaugurated. It’s twenty-four years later and sample-sized food, musical performances, and special events abound as Epcot now hosts FOUR different festivals throughout the year!
I’ve been able to visit each of the festivals in the past year or so, and I love each one for a different reason. In this post, I’ll highlight what to expect at each of the festivals and what I think are the best aspects of each. Then you can decide for yourself which festival you’d like to visit next!
Epcot International Festival of the Arts
The Epcot International Festival of the Arts takes place during the first two months of the year and celebrates visual, performing, and culinary arts. 2018 was just the second year of the festival and I expect it to grow even bigger next year.
You’ll find art-inspired cuisine at booths around the park, visual art exhibits, seminars (both paid and free), live entertainment all day throughout the park, gallery tents featuring Disney art for sale, and a Broadway concert series Friday through Monday nights.
In the bleak and dreary month of February, I visited Epcot for Festival of the Arts and I was blown away by the energy of the festival. Everywhere I turned there was something festival-related – live performances, art installations, fancy food, and more!
I used some snack credits from my Disney Dining Plan to get some inspired food at the booths – the pork tacos from El Artista Hambriento booth near Mexico were my favorite item (though not the most aesthetic).
The food items that I sampled were good, but they weren’t even close to as good as what I expect at Food & Wine festival. They were an excellent value on the Dining Plan, however, with several items close to $10 that you can get with a snack credit!
The visual art displays (some of them interactive) around the park were a highlight. My favorites were the Living Statues in Future World and the masterpieces you could step into for a photo op. I attended a free seminar about a community art foundation in central Florida and it was ok, but nothing I’d recommend.
My favorite part of the festival was the Disney on Broadway concert I attended. I lined up about 45 minutes before the show and got a second-row seat to a Broadway-caliber performance from Josh Strickland (the original Tarzan on Broadway) and Ashley Brown (the original Mary Poppins on Broadway). Seriously, a ticket to see these two would cost HUNDREDS of dollars in New York, and I got to see them for free with my park ticket!
This is generally a less-crowded time of year at the parks, but watch out for President’s Day crowds which can be surprisingly big. So here’s what to expect a the Festival of the Arts:
- Incredible Disney on Broadway performances three times nightly Friday through Monday
- Stunning and interactive visual art displays around the park
- Live performances throughout the day
- Fun and visually appealing food that might not stand up to Food & Wine standards
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
The first Epcot festival is now the longest, with Flower & Garden fest running from the end of February through the end of May.
Epcot is always a treat for the senses, but the park explodes with color and beauty during Flower & Garden festival. This year there were over 100 topiaries around the park, including the new “face feature” princesses that look more realistic every year. Check out a complete list of topiaries with photos here.
In 2018 there were 15 Outdoor Kitchens (re-purposed Food & Wine Festival booths) that served up small portions of food and drink. It seems like people either love or hate the “Frushi” found at the booth near Japan (we loved it). Almost universally loved is the Violet Lemonade, an Instagram-worthy non-alcoholic slushie drink. I enjoyed almost everything I tried at the booths – the food was especially fresh and inspired.
This festival is the most kid-friendly, with impressive outdoor playgrounds set up around Epcot and two scavenger hunts geared toward kids. Kids will also love a perennial favorite, the butterfly house that is set up in Future World along the walkway leading to Canada.
Garden Rocks concerts take place three times nightly (5:30, 6:45, and 8 pm) on Friday through Monday during the festival. They feature bands and artists that had hits in the 80’s and 90’s (or earlier) and have some are repeat acts from Food & Wine festival.
I haven’t personally been to one of these concerts, but I imagine that they vary depending on who is performing and are overall really fun. Dining packages are available that include guaranteed seating (though on most nights you won’t need it – except during spring break).
You’ll also find special seminars on gardening and growing your own food as well as special festival merchandise sold around the park.
You can expect huge crowds during spring break, but after that crowds fall off and you can have a low-crowd experience at the festival, especially during the week. Overall this festival is much less crowded than Food & Wine and you shouldn’t have to wait in lines at the Outdoor Kitchens.
- Here’s what to expect at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival:
- The most kid-friendly festival with playgrounds, scavenger hunts, and the butterfly house
- Gorgeous flower displays and topiaries – bring your nice camera
- Fresh and inspired food and drink at the 15 Outdoor Kitchens
- Lower crowds that Food & Wine (except during Spring Break)
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Ahhh, Food & Wine… some people would say that fall is the most wonderful time of the year at Disney World thanks to this event!
Epcot’s most popular festival takes place from late summer through the middle of November every year. It began with about a dozen booths serving up sample-sized portions of food and beverages back in 1995. There are now over 35 booths all around World Showcase and Future World and the festival grows in size and scope every year!
Weekend crowds (and unfortunately some drunkenness) are the first thing to expect at Food & Wine. Locals flock to the festival so I highly suggest avoiding Epcot on Friday through Sunday this time of year.
Next, expect the food to be outstanding. I am rarely disappointed with anything I try at the festival! Every year there are both returning favorites and new items, so even if you have been in the past, expect that about 50% of what is offered will be new every year. Beverage offerings have expanded to include beer, spirits, and mixed drinks.
The Disney Food Blog is an exhaustive resource for research and planning what food you might want to try at the festival. And I strongly suggest making at least a short list of things you really want to try, because otherwise you can get overwhelmed quickly with all of the options! Also, expect to wait in line at the more popular booths.
Every day during the festival there are low-cost seminars and demonstrations in the Festival Center which is located at the old Wonders of Life pavilion. They are a great way to “plus” your experience if you have been to the festival before (check out other ways to enhance your visit to Food & Wine fest here).
Every night during the festival there are three “Eat to the Beat” concerts in the American Garden amphitheater at 5:30, 6:45, and 8 pm. The lineup includes lots of artists most people over 30 years old will recognize and the concerts are very popular (especially on weekends). I saw Starship with Mickey Thomas recently and it was SUCH an awesome show.
There are Eat to the Beat Dining Packages available every year that include guaranteed seats to the show and a meal at one of Epcot’s table service restaurants. These are a good way to go if there is an act you really want to see and don’t want to spend 1-2 hours waiting for seats.
Here’s what to expect at Food & Wine:
- Huge crowds on weekends that bring some unfortunate drunkenness (not as family-friendly as other festivals so visit during the week with kids) and waits for more popular booths
- Popular concerts every night of the festival and dining packages with guaranteed seating
- Low-cost food and beverage seminars every day that are a nice way to plus your experience
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
While this is technically Epcot’s newest festival, many elements of the festival have been around for years as part of Epcot’s Holidays Around the World celebration.
Each night from the day after Thanksgiving to December 30th there are three nightly performances of the Candlelight Processional. The performances include a massive choir, live orchestra, and celebrity narrator who reads passages from the biblical Christmas story. The show is tremendously popular (for good reason – it’s amazing!) and many people who wait in line will be turned away due to the limited seating.
The best way to see the Candlelight Processional is to book a dining package that includes guaranteed preferred seating to the concert. You can read all about the dining packages and my recommendations for the best ones here.
Due to the popularity of Food & Wine, it seems that food booths are a permanent feature at Epcot festivals! Festival of the Holidays features traditional fare from around the world at Holiday Kitchens. The food I tried was outstanding, with the mini turkey dinner (for only $5.25!) from the America booth and the Buche de Noel from Canada being stand-outs.
Holiday storytellers around World Showcase share traditions from their country with guests throughout the day. There is a schedule of when and where to find each storyteller in the Times Guide, which you can grab when you enter the park. You can meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus in the American Adventure pavilion. Expect festive live music performances throughout the park during the holiday season as well.
I also have to mention the incredible special “holiday tag” ending to Illuminations, the nighttime show at Epcot. It adds a few more minutes of jaw-dropping pyrotechnics to an otherwise excellent show. My husband saw this version of Illuminations first and is forever disappointed with the “standard” non-holiday version!
In summary, here’s what to expect at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays:
- Nightly performances of the super-popular Candlelight Processional and dining packages with reserved seating
- Delicious sample-sized food and drink at the Holiday Kitchens
- Lots of bonus entertainment including live music, storytellers, Santa meet and greet, and an incredible special ending to Illuminations
As you can tell, each festival at Epcot has something unique to offer guests. Which festival you enjoy most will depend on your own tastes and interests. I personally love them all and can’t wait to head back to Epcot for my next festival visit.