Epcot International Festival of the Holidays Strategy & Tips

Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is an event featuring special entertainment and snacks around World Showcase during Walt Disney World’s Christmas season. In this post, we’ll take a look at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, which runs November 18 through December 30, 2018, and offer tips for making the most of Candlelight Processional, IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, and the Holiday Storytellers (mostly versions of Santa) during this event. (Last updated November 21, 2018.)

Of course, there’s also the food. We’ve covered that extensively in our Food Guide to the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays (and our individual booth reviews), so we aren’t going to spend too much time rehashing that here. Suffice to say, with the name change to Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, it’s easy to view this event as an extension of the popular fall Food & Wine event at Epcot. Some Walt Disney World fans joke that the other seasonal events are all “Epcot Food & Wine Festival Lite.” They’re not wrong–all of the booths for Festival of the Holidays are simply Food & Wine booths that weren’t removed with the rest, and instead received new signage and a holiday theme.

However, we think the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is about so much more than eating, and if you focus solely on the food, you’re missing the heart of the event. As we’ve pointed out elsewhere, pretty much this exact event has existed at Epcot for nearly the last two decades, with the only substantive changes being the removal of the Lights of Winter and Christmas Tree Lighting Show, both of which occurred nearly a decade ago. While we really miss the Lights of Winter, we still enjoy the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays–with or without food…

Let’s start with brief overviews of the entertainment available in Epcot during Festival of the Holidays:

Holiday Storytellers – These international storytellers share winter traditions from their native countries and (in a few cases) religions. In the European countries, these are mostly versions of Santa Claus. In addition to the Santas, representatives at the American Adventure describe the celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. In other countries, different traditions are recounted, usually with an emphasis on entertaining performances.

The Storytellers can be hit or miss, and whether you want to spend the time seeing listening to their stories will depend upon your personal preferences. If you are on the fence, we’d recommend starting your tour around the World Showcase in Mexico and continuing to Norway second as the most engaging Storytellers are near the beginning of the tour that way. If you don’t enjoy those countries’ Storytellers, chances are that you won’t enjoy any of the rest. (For our Holiday Storytellers at Epcot Tips, click here.)

Candlelight Processional – A retelling of the Christmas story with a celebrity narrator, mass choir performing seasonal melodies, and a 50-piece live orchestra. Candlelight Processional runs nightly from November 22 (Thanksgiving) through December 30, 2018, with performances at at 5:00, 6:45, and 8:00 p.m. You can find the celebrity narrators for each night by clicking here (opens in new tab).

One tip for Candlelight Processional is to book a dinner package if you’re visiting when one of the popular narrators is in town. They’re not too much of a premium if you were already planning on eating a table service meal, and will save you tons of time. We were there for the second night of Neil Patrick Harris’ run a couple of years ago, and we saw people waiting in line FOUR HOURS before the show. (For more info on Candlelight Processional, click here.)

IllumiNations: Peace on Earth Holiday Tag – Walt Disney World kicks the pyro into high gear during the Christmas season as the explosive “Peace on Earth” holiday finale to the standard IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show ends things with a  heart-warming bang.

Walt Disney World is billing Christmas 2018 as the “Farewell Season” for IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, as the regular fireworks show is being replaced at the end of Summer 2019. The ‘Peace on Earth’ holiday tag is seriously good, so be sure to catch the earth-shaking finale if you haven’t before. (For more on IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, click here.)

Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree – Naturally, there’s a paid scavenger hunt, as is the case with other festivals at Epcot. For the holidays, it’s Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree, which is akin to the Figment and Ratatouille ones during other festivals at Epcot. Chip and Dale are collecting ornaments for their Christmas tree, and you go around looking for them as they gather ornaments from holiday decorations in each World Showcase pavilion. Once finished, you receive a festive ‘reward.’

Now, here’s how we’d approach a day at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays…

Strategy, Tips & Itinerary

With all of that out of the way, our planning recommendation for the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is pretty simple. We’d recommend rope-dropping the park (see our morning strategy for Epcot here), and doing as much as possible in Future World before 1 p.m.

Around then, bounce to World Showcase, and grab the Turkey Poutine from Refreshment Port before continuing on with your schedule of Holiday Storytellers. In between these performances, make some time to grab snacks at the various Holiday Kitchens, and schedule time for a few attractions, as well. (Mid-afternoon would be a great time for a Frozen Ever After FastPass+.)

Our rationale for doing actual attractions in addition to the Holiday Storytellers is that all of the Storytellers perform outside, with zero shade. Moreover, all of the lines for the Holiday Kitchen are outdoors, in unshaded areas. Ditto the tables for the food. Are you spotting a trend yet?

Even on a November or December afternoon, it can be in the 80s at Walt Disney World. If you do happen to get lucky with more favorable temperatures, you still have to deal with that Florida sunshine. The weather this time of year is delightful, but the potential for getting sunburnt doesn’t go away just because the temperature drops below 70 degrees.

The good news is that sunset occurs around 5 p.m. this time of year, so you can save a lot of your Holiday Storyteller and snacking experiences until around that time (note that some Storytellers end early, so make note of show schedules in advance).

The Holiday Kitchens all close at 8 p.m., so you’ll definitely want to grab the last of your snacks by that cut-off point. We’d recommend grabbing a surplus of items and grabbing a viewing spot for IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, which is the normal Epcot fireworks show with a earth-shaking holiday finale. (Read our IllumiNations Viewing Tips for the best locations.)

Alternatively, you might opt for the last showing of Candlelight Processional (that’s the one we’d recommend attending) at 8:15 p.m., in which case you’ll want to line up before 8 p.m. to watch that–or just hang out in the American Adventure courtyard and enjoy the performances from afar. If you do opt to watch Candlelight Processional, we’d recommend doing a FastPass+ for IllumiNations, as it’s really popular this time of year, especially among locals.

It is possible to do the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays entertainment in addition to regular Epcot attractions. However, as we note in our 1-Day Epcot Ideal Day Plan, the park is already pretty much a 2-day park, and doing the above as your second day at Epcot just makes things so much easier, and will allow you to have a much slower pace.

That’s what we recommend, and usually when we visit Epcot around Christmas-time, it’s primarily to enjoy the holiday offerings. We’ll also do some regular rides and shows if we have time, but there are so many seasonal offerings that they can easily take up the whole day (or, at least the entire afternoon and evening).

Epcot Holiday Kitchens

As we noted earlier in the post, our separate Food Guide to the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Holidays covers everything you need to know about what to eat (and what not to eat) at this event. Accordingly, all we’re going to cover here menus and our rankings of the various Holiday Kitchens (ordered from best to worst):

  1. Yukon (Canada) Holiday Kitchen
  2. American Holiday Table Kitchen
  3. Sapphire (Morocco) Holiday Kitchen
  4. Le Marché De Noël (France) Holiday Kitchen
  5. Shanghai (China) Holiday Kitchen
  6. Bavaria (Germany) Holiday Kitchen
  7. Tuscany (Italy) Holiday Kitchen
  8. Feast of the Three Kings Holiday Kitchen
  9. L’Chaim Holiday Kitchen
  10. Holiday Sweets & Treats Kitchen
  11. Las Posadas (Mexico) Holiday Kitchen
  12. Shi Wasu (Japan) Holiday Kitchen

Each one of those links above opens a new window with our full review of each Holiday Kitchen.

If you don’t care what we think, here are the menus:

BAVARIA HOLIDAY KITCHEN (GERMANY)
Food:

  • Potato Dumpling with Mushroom Sauce
  • Sauerbraten, Red Cabbage and Spätzle
  • Cheese Fondue in a Bread Bowl with Fresh Steamed Baby Vegetables and Marble Potatoes featuring Melissa’s Produce (Vegetarian) (Kid-Approved)
  • Black Forest Roulade with Cherry Whipped Cream
  • Peppermint Sugar Cookie (Vegetarian)

Drinks:

  • Possmann Pure Hard Apple Cider, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Possmann Pure Hard Black Currant Apple Cider, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Schöfferhofer Pomegranate Hefeweizen, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Cider Flight
  • Regional Riesling
  • Glühwein: House-made Hot Spiced Wine

AMERICAN HOLIDAY TABLE (THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE)
Food:

  • Slow-roasted Turkey with Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans and Cranberry Sauce
  • Hand-carved Smoked Ham with Green Beans and Sweet Potato Casserole (Gluten/Wheat Friendly)
  • Chocolate Pecan Tart with Whipped Cream and Caramel Sauce (Vegetarian)
  • Red and Green Chocolate Chip Cookie (Vegetarian)

Drinks:

  • American Heritage Milk Chocolate Gourmet Hot Cocoa with Wondermade Marshmallows (non-alcoholic)
  • Orange Blossom Brewing Cranberry Kringle Pilsner, Orlando, FL
  • Shipyard Eggnog White Porter, Clearwater, FL
  • JDub’s Season’s Greetings Peppermint Milk Stout, Sarasota, FL
  • Holiday Beer Flight
  • Cocoa Candy Cane: American Heritage Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa with Peppermint Schnapps

YUKON HOLIDAY KITCHEN (CANADA)
Food:

  • Seared Salmon with Crown Maple Whisky Glaze, Parsnip Silk, Apple Chutney and Hazelnut Croquant
  • Traditional French Canadian Tourtiere with Canadian Ketchup
  • Maple Bûche de Noël: Maple Mousse rolled in Gingerbread Chiffon Cake with Cranberry Sauce and Pecan Crumble (Vegetarian) (Kid-Approved)
  • Gold Chocolate Chip Cookie (Vegetarian)

Drinks:

  • Frozen Coffee (non-alcoholic)
  • Unibroue Éphémère Strawberry and Rhubarb
  • Inniskillin Riesling Icewine
  • Inniskillin Pearl Vidal Icewine
  • Inniskillin Gold Oak Icewine
  • Ice Wine Flight
  • Frozen Coffee with Tap 357 Whisky

FEAST OF THE THREE KINGS
Food Items:

  • Pastelón: Sofrito-marinated Beef with Sweet Plantains and Olives (Gluten/Wheat Friendly)
  • Queso Fresco-stuffed Arepa topped with Shrimp, Crushed Avocado Aji and Tomato Sauce (Gluten/Wheat Friendly)
  • Arepas topped with Melted Queso Fresco (Vegetarian) (Gluten/Wheat Friendly) (Kid-Approved)
  • Tres Leches Rice Pudding with Pumpkin Seeds (Gluten/Wheat Friendly)
  • Green and White Sugar Cookie (Vegetarian)

Beverages:

  • Coquito: Tropical Eggnog (non-alcoholic) (Kid-Approved)
  • M.I.A. Beer Company Trey Reyes Mango Golden
  • Coquito: Tropical Eggnog with a Bacardi Gold Dark Rum Floater

HOLIDAY SWEETS & TREATS
Food:

  • Peppermint Sundae: Chocolate Ice Cream, Whipped Cream, and Peppermint Candy (Gluten/Wheat Friendly) (Kid-Approved)
  • Holiday Tree Sugar Cookie (Vegetarian)
  • Holiday Cookie Stroll Completer Cookie – Red and Green Mickey Sugar Cookie (Vegetarian)

Drinks:

  • Hot Cocoa
  • TG Lee Eggnog (non-alcoholic)
  • Chocolate Apple Shake featuring Twinings Winter Spice Tea (non-alcoholic)
  • Shipyard Eggnog White Porter, Clearwater, FL
  • Hot Cocoa with Assorted Cordials (Baileys Irish Cream, Frangelico Liqueur or Fireball Cinnamon Whisky)
  • Firenog: T.G. Lee Eggnog with Fireball Cinnamon Whisky
  • Chocolate Apple Shake featuring Twinings® Winter Spice Tea and Butterscotch Schnapps

L’CHAIM! HOLIDAY KITCHEN 
Food:

  • Pastrami on Rye with House-made Pickles and Deli Mustard
  • Potato Knish with Herb Sour Cream (Vegetarian)
  • Chicken and Matzo Ball Soup
  • Black and White Cookie (Vegetarian)

Drinks:

  • Egg Cream: Milk, Chocolate Syrup and Seltzer (non-alcoholic)
  • Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Lager
  • Blue Cosmo Cocktail

REFRESHMENT OUTPOST
Food:

  • Warm Caramel Stuffed Salted Pretzel with Soft-serve Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce (Kid-Approved)

Drinks:

  • Shipyard Eggnog White Porter, Clearwater, FL

REFRESHMENT PORT
Food:

  • Turkey Poutine: Sweet Potato Fries with Turkey Gravy, Cranberry Relish and Crispy Onions

Drinks:

  • Eggnog Shake (non-alcoholic)
  • Eggnog Shake with Baileys Irish Cream

FIFE & DRUM (THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE)
Food Items:

  • Holiday Apple Pie Sundae with Soft-serve Ice Cream, Caramel Sauce and Crunchy Streusel Topping (Kid-Approved)

Drinks:

  • Budweiser Reserve Collection Copper Lager

TASTE TRACK
Foods:

  • Croissant Doughnut tossed in Cinnamon Sugar
  • Croissant Doughnut with Chocolate and Holiday Sprinkles (Kid-Approved)
  • Croissant Doughnut with Eggnog Pastry Cream and Gingersnap Crumbs
  • Gelato

Drinks:

  • Pancake Milkshake
  • Banfi Rosa Regale Sparkling Red

LE MARCHE DE NOËL HOLIDAY KITCHEN (FRANCE)
Food:

  • Napoléon de Saumon Fumé, Brioche à L’aneth: Smoked Salmon Napoleon in a Dill Brioche
  • Bouchée à la Reine Traditionnelle: Turkey and Mushrooms in a Veloute Cream Sauce served in a Light Puff Pastry
  • Bûche de Noël au Chocolat “Christmas Log”: Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Caramel Ganache

Drinks:

  • Spiced Rum Punch Slush: Spiced Rum, Rhum Clement V.S.O.P., Orange and Pineapple Juice with Cinnamon
  • Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot Blend, Château La Grand Moulin, Blaye, Côtes de Bordeaux
  • Holiday Kir: Sparking Wine and Monin Cranberry Syrup
  • Willm, Brut Blanc de Blanc Sparking Wine

SAPPHIRE HOLIDAY KITCHEN (MOROCCO)
Food:

  • Grilled Lamb Kefta Kebab with Whole Wheat Pita, Cucumber, Olives, Tomatoes, Mint Yogurt Sauce and Harissa-cilantro Dressing
  • Confit of Chermoula Chicken Drum with Cinnamon Granny Smith Apple, Toasted Almonds, Brussels Sprouts and Pinot Noir Glaze
  • “Sfenj” – Warm Beignets with Cream, Cinnamon Sugar, Toasted Almonds and Chocolate Sauce

Drinks:

  • Casa Beer
  • Kasbah Prestige Red Wine
  • The Andalusian “Poinsettia” Cocktail: Sparking Wine, Orange Liqueur and Cranberry Juice topped with Orange Blossom Water
  • Walnut Spiced Coffee with Walnut Liqueur and topped with Cinnamon and Whipped Cream

TUSCANY HOLIDAY KITCHEN (ITALY)
Food:

  • Cavatappi ai Quattro Formaggi: Baked Four-Cheese Pasta, Parmesan Crumble and Truffle Essence (Kid-Approved)
  • Mozzarella in Carozza: Golden-crusted Fried Mozzarella Sandwich and Tomato Sauce (Kid-Approved)
  • Crespelle di Mele: Cinnamon Apple Fritters and a Vanilla Sauce Drizzle with Chocolate Caramel Sauce
  • Bacio al Cioccolato: Warm Hazelnut Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Mascarpone Cream
  • Panettone Mignon: Miniature Traditional Italian Christmas Fruitcake

Drinks:

  • Moretti Lager
  • Moretti La Rossa Double Malt Beer
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Chianti
  • Prosecco
  • Corbinello
  • Moscato

SHANGHAI HOLIDAY KITCHEN (CHINA) 
Food:

  • Pork and Vegetable Egg Rolls (Kid-Approved)
  • Mongolian Beef Bao Bun and a Fortune Cookie
  • Celebration Barbecue Pork with Steamed Rice and a Fortune Cookie
  • Spicy Mala Chicken with Steamed Rice and a Fortune Cookie

Drinks:

  • Sweetened Bubble Milk Tea: Mango Flavored Milk Tea with Tapioca Pearls (non-alcoholic)
  • Jasmine Beer
  • Plum Wine

SHI WASU HOLIDAY KITCHEN (JAPAN)
Food:

  • New Year Celebration Soba: Buckwheat Soba Noodles in Hot Dashi Soup with Chicken and Spinach
  • Holiday Green Tea “Yule Log”: Delicate Spongecake rolled with Whipped Cream Filling

Drinks:

  • Ichigo Milk Boba: Popping Strawberry Boba Cream Drink with Japanese Calpico (non-alcoholic)
  • Sapporo Draft Beer
  • Cinnamon Apple Cider: Plum Wine, Orange Juice with Lemonade and Apples

LAS POSADAS HOLIDAY KITCHEN (MEXICO)
Food:

  • Enchilada de Pollo con Mole: Chipotle Chicken in a Corn Tortilla topped with Mole Negro and garnished with Shredded Oaxaca Cheese and Sesame Seeds
  • Tamal de Camarón: Corn Tamal stuffed with Guajillo-marinated Shrimp topped with Mole Rojo and Shredded Cotija Cheese
  • Arroz Con Leche: Rice Pudding with Cranberries

Drinks:

  • Cerveza Mexicana Artesanal: Allende Mexican Craft Ale served with a Floater of Kahlúa
  • Noche Buena Margarita: Libélula Joven Tequila, Cranberry and Lime Juices and Agave Nectar topped with Lime Foam and Sprinkles
  • La Posada Margarita: Cazadores Blanco Tequila, Horchata-Cinnamon Liqueur, and Agua de Horchata topped with Cinnamon

Don’t feel bad about gorging yourself at these booths. You’ll be learning about holiday culinary customs in other cultures as you graze, so the argument could be made that you’re doing all this eating to learn. The way we see it, we pretty much have to try all of these snacks. It is our responsibility as citizens of the world. 😉

For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World, check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.

YOUR THOUGHTS…

Do you have any favorite things from Epcot International Festival of the Holidays/Holidays Around the World at Epcot? Which Holiday Storyteller is your favorite? Do you enjoy a particular Candlelight Processional narrator? Thoughts on the Peace on Earth tag? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!


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