Home » EPCOT Festivals, Ranked! The Official, Definitive Countdown of EPCOT’s Seasonal Celebrations

    EPCOT Festivals, Ranked! The Official, Definitive Countdown of EPCOT’s Seasonal Celebrations

    Like it or not, EPCOT had a serious problem. It didn’t take long after the park opened that Walt Disney World’s second gate stumbled onto an identity crisis. Sometimes derided as a bland, boring, educational endeavor – long-outdated in the neon-patterned, thrill-focused ’90s – leaders needed to find a way to inject new energy, color, enthusiasm, and (most importantly) attendance into EPCOT.

    Today, EPCOT is always in flux. No, not just because of a massive, multi-year, open-ended, billion-dollar reconstruction effort that’s part-nostalgic, part-character-driven, but because of an expanding, rotating cast of festivals meant to transform the park into a local’s hangout, continuously refreshed with new plantings, new popcorn buckets, new food offerings, new performances, and new energy.

    Today, we’ll explore EPCOT’s five seasonal states by ranking our favorites. But be sure to tell in the comments: which of EPCOT’s annual events is your favorite, and which do you think could do with a reimagining?

    5. “Diet EPCOT”

    Over the last decade, “classic” EPCOT festivals have expanded their runs while new festivals have flickered into existence filling up vast swaths of the calendar. Nicknamed “Diet EPCOT” by fans, periods when EPCOT is not decked out for a festival are growing fewer and farther between.

    Given the dates (or anticipated dates) of EPCOT’s 2022 Festival seasons, your likelihood of seeing “Diet EPCOT” is extraordinarily low. Only about eight weeks of the year are unprogrammed (and honestly, those weeks are generally just 2-week buffers between each festival, so you’re exceedingly unlikely to ever see the park fully “undressed” of food booths, topiaries, and temporary signage).

    For some, Diet EPCOT is their preferred way to see the park, unencumbered by the layers of horticulture, food booths, and street performers that Disney’s used to add vibrancy, color, and activity to a park that’s generally not well known for its warmth. But increasingly, Diet EPCOT is like a hairless unicorn – exceptionally rare to see, and generally missing something that would make it nicer to look at.

    4. The EPCOT Food & Wine Festival

    The Food & Wine Festival is one of the “OGs,” launched way back in 1995. (Unbelievably, in 1995 the 30 day event ran only from September 28 to October 27; this year, it’s likely to run from mid-July to late November.) Given that the Food & Wine Festival is long-running and extremely EPCOT, it’s probably controversial to essentially rank it last on our definitive list of the second gate’s celebrations. 

    But let’s be honest: food and wine are pretty definitively a part of every EPCOT festival (plus Diet EPCOT). The Food & Wine Festival just charges guests top dollar for “tapas” sized samplers of international fare. And the Food & Wine Festival’s offerings aren’t just notoriously expensive; they’re notoriously uneven. With dozens of booths each offering a half-dozen items, your chances of spending $8 for three lukewarm, frozen raviolis are uncomfortably high, and eating them on a trashcan in the sweltering heat of late summer may be a rite of passage for Floridians, but it sure ain’t a great time.

    Sure, the Food & Wine Festival also offers some fun cooking demonstrations, wine pairings, and seminars, but nearly all are significant upcharges. Speaking of which, nearly every major theme park in the country now runs a “Food & Wine Festival” of its own. It makes sense. The food festival’s focus on tiny portions and tremendous prices is a great draw for passholders and a huge revenue-generator for the park. It’s not that it’s a bad time; it’s just that EPCOT’s other festivals arguably improve on the model. For example…

    3. The EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival 

    The Flower & Garden Festival is actually the oldest of EPCOT’s festivals, launching in 1994. It’s got major late-spring, early-summer vibes, which happens to gel really well with what EPCOT needs: more color. Yes, the Flower & Garden Festival sweeps across the parks many vast, concrete expanses with wonderful landscaping and iconic topiaries, plus (emboldened by the revenue brought in by the Food & Wine Festival) lots and lots of food booths (renamed “Outdoor Kitchens” to fit the context). 

    The Flower & Garden Festival is lovely, and certainly one of the most beautiful times to visit the park. If there’s a complaint to be had, it’s that this festival probably feels the most like one that’s stored in a warehouse and rolled out identically each year, with the same topiaries and garden trails and accessories. In other words, it’s a nice “activation” of the park visually, but lacks something programmatically. Only the “Garden Rocks Concert Series” really offers things to do, and while that’s enough to bring locals in in the evenings, it’s probably not enough to inspire booking a plane ticket to Orlando.

    2. The Epcot International Festival of Holidays

    “A Salute to All Holidays, But Mostly Christmas,” EPCOT’s Festival of Holidays is nonetheless a really wonderful new-ish endeavor for the park, formally beginning only in 2017. It ranks high on our list because when it comes to the holidays, you really can’t go wrong. Though it’s a short festival (essentially running only between Thanksgiving and Christmas), the Festival of Holidays does successfully come across as a really vibrant, joyful, colorful, and celebratory season… which isn’t easy to do when it doesn’t snow.

    Though this festival is new enough that traditions are still changing, there are a few key programmatic pieces that have made it really great. One is the absorption of the long-running Candlelight Processional – an annual, celebrity-hosted, choir-backed retelling of the Christmas story. There are also World Holiday Storytellers around World Showcase, each with mini-performances relating to the country’s cultural traditions around the season, from Christmas to Lunar New Year to Hanukkah to the Epiphany. There’s also a wonderful Holiday Cookie Stroll (think a bar crawl, but with international cookies) and of course, “Holiday Kitchens”. 

    Of course, the Festival of Holidays is also renowned for a holiday ride overlay! Though holiday overlays of the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, “it’s a small world,” and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! are annual events at Disneyland, they’re much less common at Disney World. The exception is a fan-favorite one: “Living With the Land: Merry & Bright Nights” adds simple Christmas lights to the greenhouses and gardens of the Land pavilion’s educational boat ride… a truly adorable overlay for such a “classic EPCOT” experience.

    It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Festival of Holidays grow in scope, but probably not its footprint. After all, it’s hemmed in by the Food and Wine Festival that runs through mid-November, and by our number one festival that kicks off as soon as the holiday crowds depart… 

    1. The EPCOT International Festival of the Arts

    Also debuting recently (in 2017), the Festival of the Arts is such a natural fit for the park that it’s shocking it didn’t happen sooner. Combining the colorful gardens and plantings of the Flower & Garden Festival with the culinary samplings of the Food & Wine Festival and the personally-sized programming of the Festival of Holidays, the Festival of the Arts is basically a best-of EPCOT festival ingredients. If EPCOT’s festivals are meant to draw in locals, gussy up an otherwise stark theme park with color, and add vibrancy and energy to the long walks between pavilions, then the Festival of the Arts is practically a master class in how to do it.

    Sure, the “tapas” style offerings at the “Food Studios” are still pricey, but instead of merely being overpriced sample-sized raviolis, they’re clever, Instagrammable apps and deserts, like “deconstructed key lime pie” and “paintbrush churros. And because “arts” can mean visual, culinary, musical, and performing, the park also offers the synergistic Disney on Broadway concert series, inviting performers from Disney’s The Lion King, Frozen, Beauty & the Beast, and other serious theatrical offerings to take on classic songs.

    But the coolest part of the Festival of the Arts is how incredibly interactive it is. Not only are there real artists creating and selling real artwork; there are also opportunities for guests to get in on the action. The most famous is probably a “paint-by-numbers” mural that arms guests with paint and a paintbrush and sets them loose to contribute to a real piece of art on display in the park. From chalk art to garden art, photo ops to scavenger hunts, this is probably the most interactive of the festivals, and thus makes the park feel beautifully alive.

    Festival Seasons

    Year after year, “Diet EPCOT” becomes a thing of the past, and EPCOT’s full slate of Festivals shows no signs of slowing down! Even if the once-promised Festival pavilion has been downgraded to a new stage in the park’s reborn “Communicore,” the full slate of celebrations is still on track for 2022 and beyond…

    So which festival is your favorite? Which would you like to see improved, and how? Let us know in the comments below!