Home » 9 Tips to Get the Most Out of Epcot’s Packed Festival Lineup

9 Tips to Get the Most Out of Epcot’s Packed Festival Lineup

Girls eating at Food and wine Festival

Are you missing out on one of Walt Disney World’s best lineup of events?

Within the course of just a few years, Epcot has exploded with a full calendar of festivals. With Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts starting just after the new year, the International Flower and Garden Festival in the spring, the International Food and Wine Festival in the fall, and finally the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays in winter, guests visiting Epcot have more artistic and culinary adventures to look forward to than ever before. Whereas Epcot’s festivals were once isolated events, they now have become part of the fiber of Epcot’s atmosphere throughout the year.

We’ve explored tips for getting the most out of Epcot’s popular Food and Wine Festival before, but what about Epcot’s festivals as a whole? All four share a great deal in common, so we gathered our 9 best tips to maximize your visit to any of Epcot’s amazing festivals. What’s your favorite?

1. Know the strengths of each festival

Girls eating at Food and wine Festival

Image: Disney

Running with seasonal themes, Epcot’s four festivals each have strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you’re looking for a culinary experience like no other, you are far more likely to enjoy the International Food and Wine Festival than the Flower and Garden Festival in the spring. Many guests arrive at Epcot’s festivals without even realizing what each has to offer. Avoid muddying your festival experience by having realistic expectations regarding each festival.

Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts runs from mid-January to late February, filling Epcot with color, stunning imagery, and creativity. The festival’s greatest strength is obvious—the myriad displays of international artists who flood the park on weekends throughout the festival. The Festival of the Arts also has some of the most fun activities for kids and adults of any of its counterparts, from contributing to Disney themed murals to taking an art class at the Festival Center (located in the Odyssey building). This festival’s Photopass experiences might also be some of the best offered all year. The food is visually stunning and definitely includes a few tasty offerings, but don’t necessarily expect the caliber of cuisine you would find at the Food and Wine Festival. Disney’s main culinary goal at the Arts festival is to stun you with presentation. Even the paper plates are nicer.

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is a celebration of spring and gardening in all its forms, from educational displays about farming to eye-bogging horticulture. The main strength of the Flower and Garden festival are its incredible flower arrangements and topiaries. If you love flowers, this is absolutely the festival for you. Our favorite special activity is the butterfly tent, where guests can peruse a garden filled with freshly born butterflies. The food at this festival surrounds fresh ingredients, and while the dishes are decent, in our experience, they aren’t as strong as the Food and Wine Festival. If you love taking photos, this is another great festival to get some incredible shots.

Food and Wine Festival Sign

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is the park’s biggest by far, and its most famous, living up to its name with a broad range of booths and special activities celebrating the international culinary scene. While there are a few dud dishes every year, across the board the Food and Wine Festival offers some of the most unique and delicious small plates you’ll find at Epcot all year. Celebrity chefs offer cooking classes and wine tastings throughout the entirety of the festival, and the Eat to the Beat Concert series is always impressive. The Festival Center, located in the old Wonders of Life pavilion, is one unique element of this festival that you won’t want to miss. If you are only going to visit one of Epcot’s festivals, this is the one!

Disney is a beautiful place to visit no matter what during the holidays, but Epcot took things to the next level with the addition of the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. Besides the beautiful lights and other visual splendor guests would expect from Epcot during this time of year, the holiday festival’s greatest strength are its holiday themed dishes and desserts. This festival doesn’t bring too many major additions to Epcot, but you won’t want to miss some of the charming sweet treats offered at booths during this celebration.

2. Know when to go

Girl and mom making candy sushi

Image: Disney

All of Epcot’s festivals are busy on their opening weekend and for a week or so afterwards as locals and eager vacationers flood in to be the first to see what this year’s festival has to offer. As a rule of thumb, the middle weeks of most of the festivals are the best times to visit. However, the same rules that apply to avoiding Walt Disney World busy seasons apply to the Epcot festivals as well.

The Festival of the Arts is positioned in one of the best times to visit all year if you like low crowds. Avoid MLK Jr. weekend, Valentine’s Day, and President’s Day, as well as any RunDisney or Disney Leap Year events. The Flower and Garden festival falls during a slightly busier time in the spring. With spring break dates varying across the country, much of March into early April is now considered busy season, so consult a crowd calendar before picking your dates. Also, be aware that Memorial Day weekend is the official start of summer, so expect big crowds from that weekend into June.

Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival used to be known for drawing large crowds, but that has changed over the last few years. As with all things, avoid opening weekend as well as Halloween. Beyond that, we have always found weekday crowds for the Food and Wine Festival to be reasonable. If you aren’t a fan of drunken shenanigans, avoid weekend nights as they sometimes draw rowdier patrons looking to drink their way around the world.

Finally, the Festival of the Holidays falls uniquely split between Disney’s lightest and busiest seasons. The week after Thanksgiving leading up to the week before Christmas is one of the loveliest times all year to visit Walt Disney World. Holiday cheer can be enjoyed en masse, and crowds are uniquely chill. However, just a week before or later (specifically Thanksgiving week and the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve) are positively bonkers. The crowds are ridiculous. No matter how fun ringing in the New Year at Walt Disney World may sound, if you aren’t a major extravert or don’t have a problem with batty crowd levels, you will want to avoid Walt Disney World during the actual holidays.

3. Identify any can’t-miss special events

Honey at the Honey Bee-stro from the Flower and Garden Festival

Image: Disney

All of the Epcot festivals host special exhibitions, concerts, classes, and presentations throughout their run surrounding the festival’s theme. Many of these are one-off experiences with guest artists, horticulturalists, chefs, and musicians, so plan accordingly if there’s something you really want to see. Finding the calendars for these special events can be a challenge, but thanks to the abundance of resources available online, you can generally find information on most festival special events on Disney’s blog or on expert websites. Some extra special highlights include concerts like the Food and Wine Festival’s Eat to the Beat Series or cooking exhibitions with celebrity chefs and sommeliers.

As a tip, if you want to see an exhibition without paying for admission, many of these events can be watched by spectators in the Festival Center from standing and sitting areas. You won’t get the full experience of participating in the class or sampling the dishes in question, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the presentation overall without paying extra!

4. Find out what to eat (and what to skip) ahead of time

Liquid Nitro Almond Truffle

The glorious Liquid Nitro Almond Truffle… Oh, so ugly, but oh, so GOOD!

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Never trust Disney’s official pictures to tell what festival dishes will look like. Food photography can be deceptive. Instead of fancy white plates like Disney displays on their website, expect cheap paper trays or plates and plastic forks. Instead of perfect browning on that filet mignon, expect to possibly get mixed results on the cook of your meat.

Instead of risking your hard-earned dollars on visual trickery, take advantage of the efforts made by reviewers who visit the festivals on opening weekend, especially the Food and Wine festival. Well before the festivals start, Disney releases menus for all festival offerings. Identify some dishes that sound good, then Google specifically for what reviewers on popular blogs liked and disliked—don’t trust Disney’s official blog!

For example, the much maligned “Glo-nut” sounded pretty awesome when Disney announced it as part of their Light Lab experience for the 2017 Food and Wine Festival. However, it ended up being literally just a donut with white frosting that glowed. Reviewers caught on, made fun of it relentlessly and Disney didn’t bring it back the following year. The purple Sweet Potato Pie from the Festival of the Arts is another dish that looked extremely cool, but some reviewers have had mixed feelings about it flavor-wise.

On the flip side, the Liquid Nitro Almond Truffle pictured above might be one of the most hideous desserts you can find at Walt Disney World, but many festival guests say it’s the best dessert they’ve eaten at Walt Disney World! Seriously, it’s like icy heaven on a plate. Get your advice from a wide range of reviewers and identify the dishes you don’t want to miss—then proceed with caution with any that universally underwhelmed reviewers.

5. Know if you might have access to special perks

Holiday dancer at Mexico pavilion

Image: Disney

Generally, Passholder discounts are not offered on booth dining at Epcot’s festivals. However, there are plenty of other perks available for Walt Disney World Annual Passholders. Epcot’s festivals draw a lot of attention from locals (Florida locals even have access to an Epcot-After-4pm annual pass), so Disney comes up with some very fun ways to entice them to make repeat visits.

Some Passholder perks include free goodies like festival magnets you can stick to your car or fridge, unique buttons, and even a cheese board for repeat visitors to the Food and Wine Festival in 2018. Passholders also get access to discounted pricing for premium seating and dining packages for the festival concerts, as well as the ability to buy special festival merchandise not available to the public. If you are a Passholder or DVC member, be sure and research what perks are available for the festival you’ll be visiting.

6. Budget using festival gift cards

Dark chocolate raspberry tart from Food and Wine Festival

Image: Jett Farrell-Vega

Want to stay on a budget during your festival visit while also speeding up your time in line? Invest in one of the festival’s limited-edition gift cards or touring kits. These themed gift cards come with a wrist strap and are available at all of the Epcot festivals. Guests can load them up with any amount starting at $15 then use them to make quick purchases at festival booths, the Festival Center, and merchandise locations. This becomes really convenient on busy weekends where you don’t want to fumble with your credit card at the register or break the budget spending more than you allotted.

Fill up on treats before your gift card empties? Festival gift cards can be used anywhere at Walt Disney World and also make great souvenirs. If you want the effect of your own mini dining plan, these are a great way to do it. Certain festivals also offer food and drink packages, such as a wine sampling card that guests can pay for and fill up as they go.

Oh, and if you are on the Disney Dining Plan, most of the festival offerings count as snack credits! This is one of the few very, very good uses of the dining plan!

7. Take your time

Girl at Frida Khalo painting Photopass for Arts Festival

Image: Disney

A Walt Disney World vacation can often feel like one long sprint from ride to ride, reservation to reservation. In contrast, Epcot’s festivals are a unique time to slow down and indulge all five senses as you tour the Most Magical Place on Earth. While a few attraction stops can be fun during a festival day, resist the urge to pack your festival visit with Fastpass+ and dining reservations. Instead, plan time into your schedule to peruse the art exhibitions for the Festival of the Arts or take photos of the beautiful lights and trees displayed during the Festival of the Holidays. Instead of planning multiple table-service reservations during the Food and Wine Festival, build your meals out of stops at festival booths.

If you’ll be visiting during the Food and Wine Festival, do not skip the Festival Center! For nostalgia fans, this is one of the only ways to visit the old Wonders of Life pavilion from Epcot yesteryear. Every year, the Festival Center has new films, exhibitions, wine displays, knife vendors, and festival merchandise you can’t find anywhere else. You also can score some free chocolate from the Ghirardelli section sometimes! The mimosa bar introduced in 2018 has also been a huge hit.

8. Grab merch while you can

Woman trying on Festival mouse ears

Image: Disney

Speaking of the Festival Center, spy a piece of festival merch you’re in love with? Don’t plan on it being available next year. Every year, Epcot changes the merchandise it offers at each of its festivals. I’m not a fan of impulse buys, but if you’re truly in love with a piece of festival merch, get it before you leave or identify an online seller you can reliably purchase it from. It probably won’t be back next year! This especially goes for Annual Passholder merchandise. Some festival merchandise shows up in outlet shops throughout Orlando, but don’t count on finding that one item you’re in love with per se.

Having trouble narrowing down which piece of merch you want to purchase if you’re on a budget? You have a few options. First, identify a few pieces of merch you really like early in the day. Spend your day enjoying the festival, then come back later to see which one spoke to you the most. If you buy something then change your mind, you can always return and exchange it or get a refund.

9. Go more than once

Couple taking selfie at Food and Wine Festival

Image: Disney

If you are a Florida local or will be visiting Walt Disney World for a good length of time, hit the Epcot festivals more than once! The Food and Wine festival in particular keeps things fresh from week to week, so you’ll always find something new the next time you visit. Passholders even get rewarded for visiting some of the festivals multiple times with special freebies mentioned above. Instead of feeling like you have to try everything a given festival has to offer, plan to visit Epcot a couple times on your trip. This can be a great reason to purchase a park hopper pass, so you can enjoy Disney’s other parks during the day then enjoy Epcot’s festival offerings at night.

What’s your favorite way to get the most out of Epcot’s festival lineup?