This ultimate guide to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival provides tips, recommendations, and our thoughts about the annual Walt Disney World foodie event! While 2018 dates are not yet official, Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival is likely to return at the end of August and run through mid-November 2018 at Walt Disney World.
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.
Note that this guide has yet to be updated for the 2018 Epcot Food & Wine Festival, as specifics have yet to be released. However, over 90% of the details for 2018 should be identical to last year’s event. Accordingly, this info should still be pretty useful if you’re planning for a 2018 Walt Disney World trip, but you’re still better off waiting until around Summer 2018 to do your planning, as that’s when the bulk of details will be released…
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 Epcot Food & Wine Festival!
Our Impressions: 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. During our fall trip to Walt Disney World, we spent 5 (partial) days in Epcot, grazing the marketplaces and partaking in the Food & Wine festivities. All in all, we had a good time. We covered our favorite items in our new Top 10 Food & Wine Snacksand our Worst 7 Dishesposts, so if you’re looking for what you should (or should not) try, check out those.
Beyond that, a few things stuck out that are worth noting. First, and I say this every year, but it’s true once again: by and large, your money doesn’t go as far. Of the (many) returning items we tried, either portions were smaller or prices were higher…or both! Take the Spicy Hummus Fries, which we praised in last year’s Top 10 Epcot Food & Wine Snacks post, for example. These were literally half the size they were last year (2 “fries” this year versus 4 last year) for the same price. This was hardly an isolated occurrence.
Second, crowds were bad on the weekends, but lines, inexplicably, were not. In the past we’ve cautioned about long lines on the weekends for the more popular booths, but aside from France, I don’t think we ever waited more than 60 seconds (to order) at any booth. We went on the weekend out of necessity because we didn’t think we’d have enough time during the week to try everything. Thanks to Hurricane Irma stranding us, we had plenty of time at the end of the trip, and those weekday visits with cooler weather were comparatively amazing.
Third, the best booths are in Future World. To be fair, there are great items scattered around all of the booths, but the best pound for pound options are those found in the “Next Eats” section of Future World. This included the best booth of Food & Wine, Flavors from Fire, along with stand-outs like Coastal Eats, Earth Eats, and Active Eats.
Fourth, the Odyssey Center is another gem of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. This also houses the Craft Beers booth–and the glorious return of the Handwich to Epcot!–as well as an EPCOT Center 35th Anniversary tribute exhibit, short film, and merchandise stands. Oh yeah, and air conditioning. It’s a nice place to just decompress after being out in the heat for a while. (Another great option for that is Seasons of the Vine in the Festival Center.)
Finally, and most importantly, food quality remains high. After last year’s event, I commented that this was the best lineup of food in recent memory. I would say that the 2017 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival surpassed last year’s event in terms of quality. From the quality of the snacks to the booths themselves (some, like India, are gorgeous!), everything is incredibly well done. It almost makes the higher prices and smaller portions a bit more palatable. Almost.
Now, on with the rest of our Ultimate Guide to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival!
Beyond that, there are some other new things at this year’s Epcot Food & Wine Festival of which you should be aware. Honestly, one of the highlights of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is the Figment merchandise! Just look at all of that fun stuff above. The Disney Parks Blog just released a page full of merch for this year’s event, and there is some cool stuff.
You can’t eat merchandise (well, you shouldn’t eat it), so let’s move along to the culinary events. Celebrity chefs are a big part of the 75-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.
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 look at what’s new, what we recommend doing, and strategy for keeping your sanity at the 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.
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: Epcot Food & Wine Festivalpage. That’s a great planning resource, and once this year’s Festival is underway, we have updated 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:
Islands of the Caribbean
Wine & Dine Studio
Desserts & Champagne
Hops & Barley
New/Newly Returning Booths
Earth Eats from the Chew
Flavors from Fire
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 Flavors from Fire and Light Lab (okay, we’re suckers for gimmicky names, I guess), as well as revisiting favorites like Canada, France,Islands of the Caribbean, and Greece. Really, though, most of these booths have at least one worthwhile item.
Food & Wine Festival 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.
You will also want to read our Top 10 Snacks at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival 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.
Leave the Stew, Take the Cannoli – One of the most popular items at the entire Food & Wine Festival is Canada’s Cheddar Cheese Soup. This is somewhat understandable, as it’s delicious. However, it boggles my mind when I see people ordering this in early September, while I’m drenched in sweat. Same goes for the stews, and pretty much any ‘heavy’ foods. On the hotter days (or midday any day), opt for lighter items like desserts, iced drinks, and things that will keep you cool. Save the heavier dishes for once the sun goes down.
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.
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.
For those wanting to do a “festive” Halloween Party for the Senses, there’s the Yelloween Masquerade Party for the Senses. 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…” featuressome 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.
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.
Special Entertainment & 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, as some of the great performers include Wilson Phillips, Sugar Ray, 38 Special, and Boyz II Men.
In addition to the “Eat to the Beat” Concert Series, there are authentic performers throughout World Showcase, added to help entertain the huge crowds that Food & Wine Festival draws. There’s a mix of new acts and returning favorites…
Suroît(Canada) – New to Epcot, Suroît hails from Canada’s Magdalen Islands in Quebec. For four decades, their Cajun, Celtic, bluegrass, and rock music stylings have entertained audiences. Suroît will perform on the Mill Stage at the Canada pavilion, August 31 – October 1.
Bodh’aktan (Canada) – Making their return to Epcot, Bodh’aktan mixes Quebecois, folk, and polka to create rock/dance music. This popular, kilted band makes its Epcot encore at the Canada pavilion October 2 – 22.
Raffy (Canada) – In case you haven’t noticed by all these acts coming to Canada, this area is a popular spot for guests during Food & Wine thanks to popular booths being located in the area. It also absorbs crowds pretty well. Raffy is a musical quartet making their Epcot debut October 23 – November 26 on the Mill Stage. This quartet performs an eclectic style where pop rock meets reggae; the band is said to have “an electrifying energy will have everyone smiling and singing along!”
Margret Almer & The Bavarian Band (Germany) – World-famous yodeler Margret Almer makes an encore appearance at Epcot starting on August 31 and performing through the holidays. She’ll be performing with the Bavarian Band.
Musique Aramenco (Morocco) – Another returning favorite, Musique Aramenco takes the stage at the Morocco pavilion September 1 – December 30 performing a fusion of traditional and modern Moroccan music.
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 4-6, 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 have put a bit of a damper on it.
After skipping the event entirely two years ago, we returned last year and had a surprisingly good time at Food & Wine. In part, this is because we picked weekdays to visit, and had great luck with getting excellent food from the marketplace booths. It was a much better experience than we had on our previous visit to Food & Wine. Initially, we only planned on doing one day of Food & Wine, but we ended up doing three. The only downside was the heat and humidity, but we balanced our day out with plenty of AC breaks, so it wasn’t too bad.
In fact, we had such a good time that we are returning to the 2018 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Once again, we are likely visiting at the start of September, which does not bode well in terms of weather, but it should be lighter crowd-wise. We are determined to follow our own advice and strategy from last year, picking weekdays with mild weather forecasts to go, and doing it early in the morning.
Part of our poor experiences in prior years 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.
Have you done the Epcot Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World? What did you think? Any favorite marketplace booths or culinary demonstrations you’d recommend? Ever had any negative experiences? Have any tips of your own to share? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!