This post offers a review and some photos of the 2019 Epcot International Festival of the Holidays from our visits Thanksgiving weekend. With this event now underway, it’s now officially Christmas-time at every Walt Disney World theme park!
Picking up where the Food & Wine Festival left off only one week after that ended, Epcot’s Festival of the Holidays offers a more limited selection of food booths (known as Holiday Kitchens) along with live entertainment in each World Showcase pavilion (including Santa storytellers and live bands), a scavenger hunt, and an all-new ride overlay in the Land pavilion.
We had the chance to experience the 2019 Epcot Festival of the Holidays opening weekend. This is really more first impressions as we have yet to experience everything, but we’re nonetheless confident in our assessment of the event. To be honest, going into it, I was really worried about this year’s Epcot Festival of the Holidays…
My fear here was that with even more construction, Epcot Forever, and the Christmas season being a huge draw, Walt Disney World would phone it in even more with Epcot’s Festival of Holidays. Thankfully, that’s not even remotely the case. That’s not to say the event is flawless, but it’s far better than we expected.
Before we get to the highlights, let’s dispense with our main quibbles. First and foremost, there’s no holiday tag for Epcot Forever. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. It’s an interim fireworks show in its first (and only) season, so I can understand the decision to present Epcot Forever sans tag.
With that said, it’s still a tough blow for us. The IllumiNations Peace on Earth tag was one of our favorite parts of the holiday season at Walt Disney World. Last year, we saw it over a dozen times. Many of those visits were simply arriving after 8 pm, watching the fireworks, and then slowly strolling out to the Lights of Winter background loop that played as exit music in World Showcase.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios also probably will, but that has as much to do with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening as it does the sublime atmosphere of Echo Lake at Christmas.
We also experienced pretty intense crowds over the weekend at Epcot, but that was to be expected given that it was both the start of Festival of the Holidays and Thanksgiving weekend. We could’ve minimized this by arriving early and leaving before nighttime, but we did pretty much the reverse.
This is an unforced error on our part, and something we can’t/won’t hold against Festival of the Holidays. I will say that the “feels like” crowds were worse than last New Year’s Eve. That’s due to a mix of the construction exacerbating things, coupled with exceptional crowd control on NYE. Nevertheless, the size of crowds still caught us off-guard, but that doesn’t mean things won’t calm down next week.
Now for the “jury’s still out” aspects of the event. Namely, the Holiday Kitchens. Given the long lines for these and huge meals we had eaten for Thanksgiving, we decided to skip these for now. Plus, we really like a lot of the returning items, so we’ve decided to spread out our grazing over the course of the next several weeks.
As we do, we’ll update the individual booth reviews in our Food Guide to Epcot’s Festival of theHolidays. The good news for anyone going in the immediate future is that over 75% of the menus are the same as last year, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal that we’re taking our time. Sorry, but the event is far more enjoyable for us that way, and unlike Food & Wine, such a huge emphasis shouldn’t be placed on the culinary component of this festival, anyway.
Now for the good. First, there’s a healthy amount of holiday decor in Epcot. There’s no front of park planter due to construction, but that was to be expected.
Otherwise, Future World has a surprising amount of decorations. It looks and feels about as festive as it can given the circumstances.
Another seemingly minor thing I really appreciate is that the iconography and logos have been refreshed. They still feature Chip ‘n’ Dale, but the graphics are new–and good.
This is something I lamented with this year’s Food & Wine Festival, and I’m happy to see it’s not the case with Festival of the Holidays. (The merchandise designs are also solid.)
Speaking of Chip ‘n’ Dale, their Christmas Tree Spree scavenger hunt returns.
We didn’t do this, as the prizes were simply ornaments on thick card stock. One of them is a cool Figment design that we’d happily buy if it were glass or ceramic, but not cardboard.
We feared that Joyful – A Celebration of the Season wouldn’t return due to the demolition of Fountain of Nations, but they have a new stage in the FastPass viewing area for Epcot Forever.
This set-up is actually pretty nice, and the sloped space with World Showcase Lagoon as a backdrop is a perfect venue.
We’re also absolutely relieved to see the Holiday Storytellers return.
These Santas and other performers recounting holiday traditions around the world (plus some bands) seem like the type of thing perpetually in danger of being cut.
They’re entertainment, which is always vulnerable, and there never seems to be any fanfare around the Holiday Storytellers. Quite often, Walt Disney World doesn’t even mention them in press releases about the holidays.
They must score well in terms of guest satisfaction (so long as it’s not hot and sunny out, we always see them drawing healthy crowds), because they continue on.
We caught the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs & Matboukha Groove bands, as well as Le Befana and Sigrid & Julenissen.
My favorite of these acts, and the one I always make a point of seeing, is Sigrid and Julenissen. (Although they’re being billed as “A Magical, Mischievous Barn Santa and Sigrid” this year.)
From just outside the America Gardens Theatre, we caught the first Candlelight Processional narrated by Ming-Na Wen.
As always, Candlelight Processional was a moving and beautiful show. Afterwards, the crush of the crowd all trying to exit–in addition to the already slow traffic through World Showcase–was probably the worst experience with crowds I’ve ever had at Epcot. If you find yourself in this area as Candlelight Processional is letting out, save yourself the stress and duck into American Adventure.
Inside American Adventure, you’ll be rewarded with an under-the-radar gingerbread display.
This features the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and more. It’s really cool and worth checking out, even if you don’t stay for Voices of Liberty or the American Adventure (but you should!).
Finally, we return to Future World for the highlight of it all. Epcot’s newest holiday overlay is Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights. I’m not entirely sure how to approach this one.
I’ll preface this by saying that we absolutely love Living with the Land. It’s one of the Walt Disney World attractions we do the most. We also absolutely love Christmas lights.
Put those two things together, and we are squarely the target audience for Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights. Unsurprisingly, we absolutely love this overlay. I could go on and on about this, gushing about the calming atmosphere, thoroughness, and understated simplicity of it all.
My fear with heaping praise upon this is it might oversell a holiday overlay that’s relatively straightforward and not overly elaborate on an attraction that’s not as beloved by the general public as it is with us. Basically, I don’t want to elevate expectations to an unattainable level based upon our personal reactions to Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights.
With those caveats in mind, Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights is right up there with Animal Kingdom’s Merry Menagerie as the breakout hit of Christmas 2019 at Walt Disney World for us. Making the slow stroll out of Epcot while listening to the Lights of Winter BGM was previously our favorite way to decompress while subtly embracing the holiday spirit. Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights now fills that same role.
I foresee us ending many a night at Walt Disney World this Christmas season with a late night ride on Living with the Land. That’s good, as we still have a lot to see and do–and eat–in Epcot during Festival of the Holidays, so we’ll have plenty of chances to revisit Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights. We’ll also be back with more posts about enjoying the event, along with updates on the Holiday Kitchens!
Finally, a few plugs. First, the 2019 edition of our freeVacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is now available for download! This free eBook is 100 pages, with 200+ photos, and has been updated to include Animal Kingdom’s Merry Menagerie and other new additions. The eBook has tons of great tips & info for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here. Did we mention that it’s free?! 😉
Have you experienced the 2019 Epcot Festival of the Holidays yet? If so, what did you think of the crowds, food, or entertainment? Bummed about the lack of a Peace on Earth fireworks tag? Excited for Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights? Have a favorite Holiday Storyteller? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!