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
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.
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
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
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!