We love visiting Epcot during the different festivals throughout the year. (In fact, we always plan a trip during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival each year, and we’re beginning to do the same with the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival!) Through all of our visits to the various festivals the park offers, we’ve noticed one major mistake that guests often make– they simply don’t spend enough time at the festivals.
I completely understand why it’s difficult for guest to spend lots of time at the festivals, but part of this is really just that the festivals require more planning than we may realize at first glance. The first time I attended the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival for instance, I spent the day in World Showcase snacking through the different countries before heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to see Fantasmic.
Now when I visit the festival, I spend at least two or three days in Epcot alone, and I make sure I do certain things like visit the Festival Center, take the festival-exclusive photos, and attend a seminar and at least one performance of the live music series. While the bulk of these festivals is really encompassed in simply walking around the park and tasting different treats, there really is so much more to experience than the outdoor kitchens.
A run-down of Epcot’s festivals
There is almost a festival of some sort during every month of the year at Epcot nowadays! This itinerary will work regardless of which festival you’re interested in attending, but just in case you’re still deciding here is a quick rundown of what each festival is like:
Epcot International Festival of the Arts: January 12-February 19, 2018. If you love visiting art museums and Broadway productions just as much as you love visiting theme parks this is the festival for you. It features seminars in various forms of art from animation and photography to music and everything in between, interactive art pieces, live entertainment, outdoor kitchens, and more.
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival: February 28-May 28, 2018. Detailed topiaries and floral works of art take center stage at this festival along with gardening seminars and tours, outdoor kitchens, live music series, and perhaps the best photo ops of any of the festivals.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival: 2018 dates have not yet been released, but last year’s festival ran from August 31-November 13. The OG Epcot festival, this fan-favorite includes the most (and in my opinion the best) food and beverage options, informative cooking and beverage seminars, a concert series, and opportunities to experience aspects of the festival at the resort.
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays: We’re also still waiting on 2018’s dates, but in 2017 this festival ran from November 19-December 30. While this festival is less “intense” than the others, the holidays are a busy time of year in the parks and it can still easily take up a full weekend. In addition to exclusive holiday meet and greets (like Santa!) this festival includes outdoor kitchens and holiday traditions from around the world.
Where to stay
For a trip that will primarily focus on attending one of Epcot’s festivals, we recommend staying at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. This resort is within walking distance to Epcot’s World Showcase, making getting to and from the majority of the festival happenings a breeze. The resort also features Disney’s complimentary boat and bus transportation to the park, but the quickest way to get right to the middle of the festival will be to walk and enter the park through the International Gateway entrance between the U.K. and France pavilions.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin is the most budget-friendly option in the Epcot resort area, though rest assured that this resort does not have any kind of “budget” feel to it whatsoever. The room rates here typically run just slightly above those found at Disney’s moderate resorts, but the experience is much more comparable to a Disney deluxe resort. And since the other resorts that would allow you to walk to Epcot are all Disney deluxe resorts, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin can be a steal when it comes to comfort and convenience during Epcot’s festivals.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, but it still comes with benefits you’ve come to expect from Disney resorts including Extra Magic Hours, FastPass+ bookings 60 days in advance, complimentary transportation and package pickup, and an on-site Disney planning center and merchandise location.
On top of this, the amount of dining options (17 restaurants and lounges total) make the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin a true standout for us. Since we often return to the resort late at night after a long day in the parks, we also love that this resort has 24-hour in-room dining, something that is not too common around resorts on Disney property. During our recent stay, we were able to order a very late dinner to enjoy in our room at an hour where only pizza (or nothing at all) would have been available at our usual resort.
Before you go:
- Check out Disney’s official websites for the festival you plan on attending ahead of time. On each site, you’ll be able to read up on the outdoor kitchens, live performances and music series, and sign up for seminars, behind the scenes tours, and more.
- Speaking of seminars, sign up for one! They do usually come at an added cost, but they can be so worth it. We tried a beverage seminar during our last visit to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and we thought it was totally worth it!
- If the festival includes a live-music series or holiday performance like Candlelight Processional, decide whether or not you’d like to purchase the dinner package. The dinner package reserves your seat for the show when you dine at certain buffets or off pre-fixe menus prior to the show.
- Review festival-exclusive dining menus. Especially for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (and increasingly so for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival) the outdoor kitchen menus are really expansive. It can be overwhelming to look at the menus for the first time when you arrive, so it doesn’t hurt to give them a once over before your trip.
When you arrive:
- Visit the Festival Center. The Festival Center’s function varies by event, but it usually houses festival-specific merchandise, passholder-exclusive gifts, seminars, and occasionally festival kitchens. If you didn’t already pick up a map, times guide, and passport on your way into the park this is also a good place to do so before you get too far into the event.
- Explore the park as you normally would. When I arrive at Epcot for a festival, I prefer to give the whole event a once over. If something from the festival intrigues me I’ll stop. But in general I like to do a first walk-around to get a feel for the event.
- While exploring the park however, keep in mind the times guide. There are certain events for the festival that never make it onto the My Disney Experience app or Disney’s website, so if you come across a timed event in the passport or times guide be sure to set time aside to experience those.
Throughout the day:
- Once you’ve gotten an overall look at the festival, go back to the things you really want to make sure you experience. And don’t forget about the ‘smaller’ parts of the festival like photo ops and merchandise because if your next visit is not during the same event they may not be there.
- Keep your passport book handy. This little cheat sheet of sorts will tell you everything from musical performance hours to all of the menu items and prices for the outdoor kitchens. It’s definitely going to make your visit easier to keep it nearby.
- Use your passport to read the menus for the outdoor kitchens– the stands set up outside of each kitchen are often crowded and awkwardly placed so you feel like you’re in the middle of the walkway. In many instances it’s much easier to check out the menus from the passport.
- Remember to stay hydrated. It isn’t just the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival that will have you drinking a little extra around the world. If you do partake in drinking around the world be sure to drink as much water as you are alcohol. (And if you’re not drinking around the world, still remember to stay hydrated– that’s always important when touring the parks anyway!)
- Skip the bottled water and order cups of water at quick service restaurants. If you are visiting outdoor kitchens, you’ll notice that many sell water bottles by the registers. The cost of water bottles over the course of a festival can really add up, so we suggest opting for complimentary tap water from quick service restaurants instead.
- Purchase a gift card. If the focus of your trip to the festival is either shopping or visiting the outdoor kitchens, Disney sells gift cards that are attached to bracelets which are extremely useful. It’s annoying to have to keep pulling out a wallet, and especially if you can’t use a MagicBand to charge to your resort, these gift cards are an easy alternative.
On your way out:
- Pick up any festival-specific merchandise. If you have your eye on anything with the festival logo or from one of the third party vendors that are only in the parks for the event, you’ll want to purchase it before you leave the park. You can sometimes find leftover festival merchandise on the Shop Disney Parks app, but if it’s something you really want you’re better off getting it while you’re there.
- Take some last-minute photos! I always stop for a PhotoPass picture by the festival decorations right near the entrance to the park on the way out. This area is much more crowded earlier in the day, and there usually isn’t a line for a photo by the time I would be leaving the festival.
- If you stay in the park until it closes, take your time leaving. While Epcot doesn’t have the same post-fireworks rush as say, the Magic Kingdom, it can still feel like you’re part of a cattle herd if you leave immediately after Illuminations. If you do happen to stay in the Epcot Resort Area though, you wouldn’t have an issue with the crowds or monorail, bus, or parking tram lines as you’d be able to walk right back to your resort.