The Epcot International Festival of the Arts returns January & February 2020 at Walt Disney World. This guide previews the event, looks back at last year’s, and offers info, tips, food recommendations, and our must-see highlights of this annual winter special event.
The event is now underway, and we spent a couple of days at Epcot over the long weekend, eating our way around the 13 booths (see our Food Studio Guide to the Epcot International Festival of the Arts for thoughts and dining tips) and enjoying some of the art on display. There’s a lot of new food, artists exhibiting their work, and interactive offerings this year, and we’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen and experienced thus far.
There’s also a lot we’ve yet to do. Given that the first weekend was a busy holiday weekend, we didn’t get a chance to attend one of the Disney on Broadway performances (we love and highly recommend this–the lineup looks solid this year) nor did we get a chance to attend a free seminar or paid workshops. We have plans to do a couple of the former and are debating booking one or two paid workshops, as we observed a couple of these in progress at the Odyssey, and they looked fantastic. As always, we’ll be back throughout the course of the event with updates and recommendations, but for now, here’s what you need to know…
The event’s first year, we went into Festival of the Arts cautiously optimistic, but knowing it could be a complete dud, a way to sell expensive snacks and drinks but otherwise devoid of substance. As we shared inour Festival of the Arts Review, we left with this being our #1 seasonal event of the year at Epcot.
With that out of the way, let’s offer a bit of background. The Epcot International Festival of the Arts is a special event celebrating the visual, culinary, and performing arts from around the world. The event will include Food Studios (naturally!) and an array of entertainment options.
The first thing you need to know is that there’s a lot to see and do at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, but the vast majority of the entertainment is not continuously running. Quite the converse, in fact.
While there was virtually always something occurring on the stage behind the Fountain of Nations between park opening and 5 p.m., many of the live performers are only out a few times per day, and some of their sets are fairly short.
Because of this, it’s absolutely essential that you consult a times guide or entertainment schedule for the day your visiting, and plan around the entertainment that is the most “rare.” Alternatively, if you have a surplus of time, you might want to take a slow approach, just meandering around World Showcase and stumbling upon art as you stroll. We really enjoy that sense of “discovery.”
The Food Studios, exhibits, and interactive art opportunities can be slotted in whenever, so fit those into your schedule when you have down time, but plan around the sporadic live entertainment and the Disney on Broadway performances.
Our next tip would be to spend two days at Epcot to experience Festival of the Arts: both weekdays. Weekends at Epcot are busy during Festival of the Arts, primarily due to strong word of mouth about the event among locals, who work during the week. As with every other Epcot festival, weekdays are far less busy.
We used to recommend a weekend plus a “weekend-adjacent” day, but that’s no longer the case. This is the case because Walt Disney World has announced that the Disney on Broadway Concert Series is expanding to seven days a week during the Epcot Festival of the Arts.
You won’t be able experience all of Epcot and Festival of the Arts in a single day. Heck, we’ve spent ~3 days in Epcot solely focused on Festival of the Arts last year (doing maybe 5 attractions over the course of those three days) and we still didn’t see it all. If you’re trying to do rides and festival activities, you’ll barely scratch the surface.
Let’s turn to the Food Studios. For many guests, these will be the highlight of the event, offering marketplace snack options in venues similar to those found during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. We thought the food was generally really presented exceptionally well, and tasted very good at last year’s event.
We sampled most of the menus at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, and were surprised that most portions were relatively hearty and value for money was fairly solid. In both cases, better than the Food & Wine Festival, but not as good of value as a regular counter service meal.
As we note in our Best Food at Epcot International Festival of the Arts post, the food is the least important component of the event. (We recommend several things in that post, but the one you absolutely must try is the Saumon en Croute Façon Paul Bocuse, which is arguably the best savory dish at any Epcot festival.)
While the food is very good and some portions are generous, it’s also on the expensive side–even more than Food & Wine Festival. This makes it a tough sell if you’re paying out of pocket–especially since this event does not revolve around food.
Conversely, if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, you can really clean up at Festival of the Arts by using your snack credits. With several items at around $10 each, these snacks are instantly some of the best uses of Disney Dining Plan credits in all of Walt Disney World.
Ultimately, you could skip the food entirely and still have an awesome time at the event. This is sentiment you might not read elsewhere, but keep in mind that a lot of the interest around Epcot’s festivals revolves around food; this is also how Disney monetizes the events. So of course it makes sense for Disney’s and other blogs to hype up the food…even if it’s far from the highlight of the event.
Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to peruse artwork by Disney Legends.
The first year, featured artists were Mary Blair and Herb Ryman, with the displays being located in the Odyssey. Last year, the exhibit contained poster art from the parks. Both were good, but the first year was definitely better.
It’s really interesting to watch them and others work; we were so captivated by one of the artists (whose name eludes me) last year that we watched him complete an entire Mickey Mouse painting, which he did in ‘unison’ with music.
Other artists will be painting landscape scenes throughout World Showcase. Additionally, chalk artists will reproduce classic works on park sidewalks, Epcot Living Statues will do roaming art, and guest performance artists will create live art with the wave of a paintbrush.
Interactive guest art is another one of our favorite aspects of Festival of the Arts. We have had a chance to help complete several different murals, including the one pictured below.
It’s also a really fun experience in the moment, and satisfying once you see the finished product a few days later, knowing I helped make that!
This is not just fun to watch and do, but enhances World Showcase’s ‘lived in’ energy. One element of traveling that we think is often overlooked is the artistry.
Whether it’s the street performers of Seattle, the musicians of Paris, or the painters of Kyoto (and so on), it’s always fun to stop for a moment and pause to appreciate talented individuals who add to the beauty of these scenes. Walt Disney World does a great job of injecting these entertainers and artists into the park, they are a welcome addition.
There will also be more structured entertainment for the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, thanks to a collaboration with Disney Theatrical that will bring music and Broadway talent to the America Gardens Theatre stage. Over the six weeks of the festival, some of the performers from Disney on Broadway’s award-winning shows will sing songs from various shows in concert, live on stage.
Previously, performances were 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday through Monday of each festival weekend. However, Walt Disney World announced they’d expand to the entire week next year, and it remains to be seen whether the 3 shows per night will continue.
It should go without saying, but these 2-person shows are not the entire Disney on Broadway productions; rather, they are concerts featuring select songs from the aforementioned shows…lest there be any confusion. 🙂
Unsurprisingly, with these shows, there are also accompanying dining packages that guests can book for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The dining package includes a three-course meal or full buffet and priority seating at the 8:00 p.m. concert at participating Epcot restaurants. Prices range from $44 to $70 +tax for adults and $21 to $42 +tax for children.
We have never booked a dining package for Disney on Broadway last year, and have attended at least a half-dozen times. Not once has the entire seating area filled up. On several occasions, the seating area was about half-full, and this includes this year when “off-season” crowds in January and February were significantly larger than normal. As such, we wouldn’t recommend purchasing a dining package unless you’re visiting on a busier Saturday, or you really want the best seats possible.
In our estimation, the Disney on Broadway concerts are unlike Candlelight Processional. The latter has developed a following over the course of years with returning guests and first-time visitors, and also occurs during a very busy time of year.
Conversely, this is still new, features performers who (for most guests) don’t have the name cachet as the Candlelight narrators, and is held largely during the doldrums of January and February. Most days, we doubt standby seating will be an issue.
In addition to the dining packages, there are other premium events at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts called “Interactive Workshops.”
These include watercolor painting, mixed media art, calligraphy, and floral arrangement classes., You can call (407) WDW-TOUR to book; for more information on workshop and seminar offerings, visit ArtfulEpcot.com.
Finally, there’s Figment’s Brush with the Masters Scavenger Hunt, which offers guests the opportunity to sleuth through World Showcase art in search of Figment. We thought this was really clever last year, and look forward to seeing how Figment is hidden in art around World Showcase this year
While there are paid workshops and other offerings, most of the offerings for Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts are included with theme park admission to Epcot. Disney has released scant details about the full slate of the festival’s lineup for 2020, so we’re probably glossing over other experiences, too.
The original announcement of the Epcot International Festival of Arts was met with groans from a lot of Disney fans. For many, there was a sense of consternation about this, with remarks that Epcot is trying to make the park one year-round “festival.”
While I understand the basis for rebuffing these efforts, particularly as the extension of the Epcot Food & Wine and Flower & Garden Festivals seems to be for the sole purpose of selling more snacks and booze. The marketplace booths at both are incredibly lucrative, and offer high margins for Disney.
However, Epcot International Festival of the Arts has proven itself to be something different. Food and drinks are the lowest priority here, and there is so much “other stuff” that it’s hard to view this as a thinly-veiled way to sell high margin stuff. When you consider how much all of the artists and entertainers likely cost, the cynicism melts away.
To the contrary, the Epcot Festival of the Arts is a true enhancement to Epcot. It cherrypicks the elements of Flower & Garden and Food & Wine that we like best, and enhances the park in an organic way that feels like it recaptures a bit of the original spirit of EPCOT Center. The event’s ambiance makes it even more enjoyable to just wander around Epcot, and there are strong educational and entertainment components.
With a few years under the event’s belt, we’re confident that Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts has found its footing. While we hope that it continues to evolve and expand each year, it was largely the same the first two years, so we are not expecting huge changes for 2020. To be sure, some substantive experiences will be changed, as will food marketplaces. However, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any large-scale changes that materially alter the event.
Overall, that’s a good thing. The Epcot International Festival of the Arts has been our favorite festival for the last two years, and we are now fairly confident in proclaiming it the best seasonal event of the year at Epcot. That might be hard to believe given the barrage of coverage that Food & Wine receives, and given that this is the shortest and newest event, but if we could only choose one to attend, this would be it. Despite the surprise spike in crowds last year, we would highly recommend this event–and this time of year–to anyone considering when to visit Walt Disney World in 2020.
Did you attend Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts either of its first two years? Are you excited to experience the 2020 Festival of the Arts? Any tips you want to share to make the most of the experience? 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!