Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival runs September 14 – November 14, 2016 at Walt Disney World. This guide provides tips, recommendations, and advice for making the most of the great tastes at this fun culinary party! This year’s Food & Wine Festival at Epcot will be the longest ever, and during the event guests can eat and drink their way around the World Showcase and parts of Future World. It’s one of the largest scale and most popular events at Walt Disney World, and in this post we’ll cover what you need to know before you attend.
From marketplace tasting booths to the Back to the Basics series (included with Epcot admission) to hands-on tasting culinary demos with chefs and mixologists ($15/person) to the popular Party for the Senses and a lot more, there’s tons to do at Epcot during F&WF. There’s something for every budget; while you can enjoy some events without spending anything, it’s very easy to spend a lot of money, particularly as you graze around the marketplace booths. Once you start looking at the special events and celebrity meals, well, the sky is the limit on how much you can spend during the 2016 Epcot Food & Wine Festival!
We’ve been to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival many times, spending more money on snacks than we care to think about. Speaking of celebrity chefs, they are a big part of the 62-day festival, and this year Jamie Deen, “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro, Masaharu Morimoto, Elizabeth Faulkner, Norman Van Aken, and Cat Cora are some of the headliners. On the other (cheaper) end of the spectrum, there’s the Back to Basics series, special book signings, Eat to the Beat concerts, cultural adventures, culinary scavenger hunt with Remy, and Festival Passport, all of which are included with Epcot park admission. Suffice to say, F&WF doesn’t have to be expensive if you have the right approach.
Although this article will provide tips for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, there are a lot of things we recommend doing in the fall. Read our Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and our When to Visit Walt Disney World posts to get an idea of what else to do this time of year. Fall is the perfect time to visit Walt Disney World! Well, my personal “perfect” time of year is Christmas (nothing beats Christmas at Walt Disney World for me!), but fall is a close second.
If you’re looking for what’s new for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival or what our recommend plan of attack is for the festival? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our preview of what’s new, what we recommend doing, and strategy for keeping your sanity at the 2016 Epcot Food & Wine Festival!
World Showcase Snack Marketplaces
For most Walt Disney World guests, the Epcot Food & Wine Festival is these marketplaces. They are the little snack kiosks added throughout World Showcase with snack size portions available for purchase. While this is just one element of Food & Wine Festival, it’s the only element that most guests experience.
The two notable additions for Epcot Food & Wine Festival’s are the Chocolate Studio and Wine & Dine Studio marketplaces, the latter will focus on California wines, while the former will feature a “Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel.” Liquid nitro? Sign me up.
Year in and year out, the booths at the Food & Wine Festival feature new offerings and returning favorites. You can see exactly what will be back, and some of our snack picks in our FULL Booth Menus: 2016 Epcot Food & Wine Festival
page. That’s a great planning resource, and once this year’s Festival starts, we’ll update the menus with photos of every single food item available this year!
Additionally, here’s a quick list of the Food & Wine Festival Marketplace booths for 2016:
- Islands of the Caribbean (NEW for 2016!)
- Chocolate Studio (NEW for 2016!)
- Wine & Dine Studio (NEW for 2016!)
- CHEW Collective (NEW for 2016!)
- Brewer’s Collection
- Craft Beers
- Desserts & Champagne
- Farm Fresh
- Hops & Barley
- New Zealand
- South Korea
In addition to these main booths, there will also be other spots to get exclusive F&WF treats, including Intermission Cafe, Hops & Barley, and Refreshment Outpost.
We’re looking forward to the Islands of the Caribbean booth, and also revisiting Greece (which we somehow missed last year?). Really, though, most of these booths have at least one worthwhile item.
Food & Wine Festival Booths Strategy
Strategy for snacks? Seems like overkill, right? Not at all. While the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is a fun way to sample (mostly) good foods, it’s also insanely popular and expensive (I would say overpriced, but “popular and overpriced” seems like a bit of a contradiction).
By midday, some Food & Wine Festival booths have lengthy lines for ordering and pickup. By late-afternoon, World Showcase is a sea of sweaty humanity with some booth lines having wait times exceeding those for attractions. Add to this little shade and some slightly inebriated guests, and it can be an unpleasant mix. By evening, some areas of World Showcase feel like a mild frat party, with lines being quite lengthy, especially on weekends.
First, you can find the full menus for these booths on the Walt Disney World Food & Wine Festival page. We highly recommend reading these menus before your trip. Study them, learn them, master then. Knowing what you plan to try before you go is great so you don’t wander aimlessly or end up getting things that aren’t what you want most on impulse.
You will also want to read our “Top Snack Picks” post which has our recommendations of what to get and what not to get, plus photos of the actual food. These two things are really helpful resources for planning what you might want to try before you visit. You may even want to type up a list of potential items to try and their locations in the park.
Below are some tips to make your festival experience more pleasant…
Go on a weekday – You’ll want to go on a weekday to avoid the party atmosphere. Weekends are when local college students (who apparently have disposable incomes?) descend upon Epcot, and turn the place into a veritable frat party. I love frat parties just as much as the next guy, but there is a time and a place for frat parties. Namely, at a frat house when you’re in college. Not in family-oriented theme parks. Your opinion of Food & Wine Festival could differ dramatically based on whether you go on a weekday or weekend.
Go early in the day – Slightly before Food and Wine starts, you should be lining up for your first kiosk. Lines are far shorter earlier in the day, but just as important is that it isn’t quite as hot at 11 am as it is at 2 pm. There is very little shade at the booths. If you’ve ever waited in line 30 minutes for some wine and creme brulee in France while sweating through your shirt, you know what I’m talking about.
AC Break – During the hottest part of the day, taking a break from the activities in World Showcase and going to the in-door and air-conditioned Festival Welcome Center is a good idea. General tips for surviving a hot day at Walt Disney World also apply here. You can get free cups of water from any counter service restaurant, you want to hit places with air-conditioning (I’ll put in a plug for the underrated Impressions de France here, which has an especially moving score after a drink or two!), and you want to pace yourself when eating and drinking. We expand upon these tips in our Drinking Around the World Showcase article–the idea is the same here.
There’s probably more strategy than this, like a scientific approach to which direction around World Showcase you should go, the ideal moment to purchase items for maximum freshness, etc., but this is a solid plan of attack. After your second or third drink from one of the kiosks, you’ll be so oblivious to what’s going on that standing in line for snacks may not even bother you.
Food & Wine Festival Events
In addition to the booths at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, there are a lot of events. Some of these are regular things like seminars that are offered in the Festival Welcome Center on a daily basis, and are easily accessible to the average guest.
Other offerings are premium special events (the use of both ‘premium’ and ‘special’ is basically Disneyspeak for ‘super-duper expensive.’) that are relatively unknown to the average guest and often sell out far in advance. We aren’t really fans of super-duper expensive stuff, but we are fans of words like free and low-cost.
Here’s a look at what Food & Wine Festival has in store for these events…
No-Cost Seminars – Although most Epcot Food & Wine Festival seminars became upcharge events out of necessity a few years ago (thanks to locals who camped out for hours before them!), there still are a few free seminars during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. More seminars are held on weekends; check the daily schedule for more info.
Other events include tastings and various sponsor-driven events throughout World Showcase and in the old Wonders of Life pavilion (the “Festival Welcome Center”).
Low-Cost Culinary Demonstrations – The low-cost culinary demonstrations are our favorite aspect of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. At $15 each, they offer a lot more than the free seminars, and a lot of times the samples you receive at these seminars are a better value than what you’d receive if you simply went around to booths and ordered items. In addition to the samples, you receive some basic background information and some entertaining presentations.
These seminars, in general, definitely are not geared to the same level of foodie audience as the special event meals, nor are the samples of the same caliber, but you get what you pay for. We have done several of these, and they generally offer the best value at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. These low-cost seminars offer a good primer to the topic covered, plus pretty good samples. We plan on reviewing more of these seminars this year, but for now check out our older seminar review to get an idea of what to expect.
Disney has a schedule of the culinary demos, and advance booking info on its Food & Wine Festival Culinary Demos page.
Premium Special Events
The Epcot Food & Wine Festival features a number of special events, many of which are quite pricey. Like, over $100 per person in price as the starting price. Reviews for these events are often prefaced with “despite the cost, we enjoyed it…” (or something along those lines), so if there’s one that strikes you as being interesting and you have disposable income, consider giving it a try. Not all of them cost quite that much, but they aren’t cheap.
Here are some of the premium special events:
- Interactive culinary adventures in the Disney resorts encourage guests to ask the experts, taste and cook alongside our chefs at select Deluxe Walt Disney World Resorts.
- The new “Mix It, Make It Celebrate It” hands-on workshop gives guests the opportunity to learn from professional chefs in cake decorating, garnishing, cocktail mixing, and other culinary activities.
- Rockin’ Burger Block Parties return at World ShowPlace, with each party featuring a celebrity chef and all-you-can-eat sliders and drinks.
- Party for the Senses returns weekends in October. The highlights for 2016 are on October 8, with the new chefs from Disney Springs, and October 15, with Disney chefs from around the world.
- For those wanting to do a “festive” Halloween Party for the Senses, there’s the Yelloween Masquerade Party for the Senses October 28 and 29. It’s a bit of soiree, with dancing and gourmet tasting, complete with Champagne, wine, craft beers, and specialty cocktails paired with food.
- “What’s Cookin’ With…” features some of the country’s top celebrity chefs, beginning in the morning with a delightful plated brunch and sparkling wine toast. This starts with a demo, followed by the chefs answering questions from the audience and sharing their anecdotes.
For a comprehensive list of the Premium Special Events along with reviews and additional information, check out Walt Disney World’s list of different special events or call 407/WDW-FEST (939-3378). You can also find pricing, dates, and booking details there.
Personally, these don’t interest me at all. Well, they do…but not for those prices. While I would consider myself somewhat of a foodie and I’m sure the dishes prepared at them are excellent, it seems to me that you’re paying a significant premium over what something comparable would cost in the real world. I think there’s not just the standard Disney premium here, but also scarcity pricing, in that many of these events are extremely small, and Disney knows there are enough guests with significant disposable incomes who won’t balk at high prices to fill the events. That’s just my take, and again, it’s an outsider perspective, as I’ve never done any of these.
Eat to the Beat! Concerts
The Eat to the Beat concert series is presented nightly at the American Gardens Theater across from the American Adventure in Epcot’s World Showcase. During these concerts, popular bands from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s perform some of their greatest hits for the Food & Wine Festival crowds. These concerts are included with Epcot admission, and take place three times per evening, at 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 8:00 p.m. While free, this year Disney is offering an Eat to the Beat Dining Package that includes reserved seating.
No, you’re not going to find current big-name artists like ZZ Top or whatever the kids are listening to these days, but it’s a free concert in Epcot. You can’t really complain! For 2016, eight new acts join the lineup, and favorites are back, including Wilson Phillips, Sugar Ray, 38 Special, and Boyz II Men.
You can find the full line-up and performance dates on Disney’s Eat to the Beat schedule page.
ABC’s “The Chew”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not hip. Last year, I had not even heard of the television show “The Chew” when it was announced that they’d be broadcasting from Epcot. However, I became very familiar with it by the end of F&WF, and I ended up really enjoying and appreciating their informative and entertaining presentations. This year, “The Chew” is back to tape a week’s worth of shows October 5-7, meaning Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly, and Daphne Oz will be around again.
In addition to recording the show at Epcot, “The Chew” will have a presence throughout the entire 62-day festival at The Chew Collective marketplace in the “Next Eats” festival area of Future World. Last year, we found this Next Eats area had some of the most innovative and delicious dishes, so we’re really excited to see what’s next.
If you just can’t get enough of “The Chew,” you can watch show highlights, cooking and entertaining tips, and same-day episodes of “The Chew” Monday through Friday at 1 p.m in the Festival Center in Epcot.
Summary & Conclusion
If you like food, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival should be a lot of fun for you. You don’t need to be a foodie to enjoy it, as there’s really something for everyone. I’ll level with you: Food & Wine Festival used to be our favorite event of the year at Walt Disney World, but rising prices, long lines, and being around too many wasted college students put such a damper on it last time we went that we skipped it altogether last year.
We are returning this year, and are determined to follow our own advice better this time, picking weekdays with mild weather forecasts to go, and doing it early in the morning. Part of our poor experience last time was our own fault, but the point I’m trying to underscore here is just how important it is to have a plan. Food & Wine Festival can be a great event and you don’t have to break the bank doing it, but it can also be expensive, crowded, hot, and unpleasant. Planning makes all the difference in the experience you have.
If you take away nothing else from this post, remember that. Additionally, there’s a ton to do. Even if you went to Epcot every day of Food & Wine Festival, you couldn’t experience it all (but you would go broke trying!). We mention cost here a lot, and for good reason: you can spend a ridiculous amount of money without really trying. Just grazing the various booths for an afternoon can set you back a lot of money.
This isn’t meant to scare you away from the Food & Wine Festival. It can be a tremendous amount of fun if you plan ahead, avoid the hordes of people on the weekend, and get lucky with mild weather. It’s the second best time of the year at Epcot, after the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, in my opinion. World Showcase feels like an actually living, breathing World Showcase during the festival, with a culinary focus.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it.
For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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Have you done the Epcot Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World? What did you think? Ever had any negative experiences? Have any tips of your own to share? If you have any questions or thoughts to share, please post them in the comments. We love hearing from readers!