The Epcot International Festival of the Arts runs January 12 through February 19, 2018 at Walt Disney World. This post previews the event, covering the highlights this now-annual event in its second year. For 2018, the biggest change is that the Epcot Festival of the Arts runs the entire week, instead of just on weekends. (Last updated December 26, 2017.)
First, we have to start by saying wow–what an event. We went into last year’s 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 in our Festival of the Arts Review from last year, we left with this being our #1 seasonal event of the year at Epcot, eager to return for it in 2018.
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. Now, let’s delve into some tips and strategy for experiencing the event, based upon what we did last year…
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. That’s what we largely intend upon doing in 2018, as 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: a weekday and a weekend-adjacent day. Last year, weekends at Epcot were uncharacteristically during Festival of the Arts, primarily due to strong word of mouth about the event among locals. However, weekdays were a veritable ghost town, as the normal off-season vibe swept over Epcot.
It’s worth noting that the event did not run last year on weekdays and will this year (at least, most of it), so you are likely to encounter slightly heavier crowds on weekdays than last year. Crowds should still be relatively low, as most locals work weekdays and it’s unlikely many tourists will heed the advice from our Festival of the Arts review and book a trip specifically for the event.
Our rationale for doing a weekday and “weekend-adjacent” day is simple. First, you won’t be able experience all of Epcot and Festival of the Arts in a single day. Heck, we spent three 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.
Second, because the Disney on Broadway concert series (more on this below) is only shown Fridays through Mondays. Friday nights through Sunday nights will be the busiest days of the festival, leaving Monday as the best day for seeing the concert on a lower-crowd day.
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 around half of the menus at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts last year, 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.
Realistically, this is the component of the event that we expect to see the biggest tweaks this year. As was the case with the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays this year, menus were changed pretty substantially with portions (and in some cases, prices) reduced to more closely mirror the Food & Wine Festival. We’ll update with more tips on the food at Festival of the Arts once we get a chance to sample some of the new 2018 cuisine.
Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to peruse pieces of Disney Legends. Last year, the featured artists were Mary Blair and Herb Ryman, with the displays being located in the Odyssey. We wouldn’t mind seeing these same pieces return (they were gorgeous), but we hope this exhibit is expanded and moves to the Wonders of Life pavilion, which is utilized by the two “big” Epcot festivals. Since Festival of the Arts now runs all week, we’re hopeful this occurs.
It remains to be seen what Disney artists will be on hand to demonstrate their craft, but we’d expect favorites such as Joe Kaminski and Costa Alavezos to return. It was 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.
Last year, the interactive guest art was one of our favorite aspects of Festival of the Arts. We had a chance to help complete the mural pictured below, and it was a really fun experience. It was really neat watching this go from almost nothing one day to totally finished only a few days later.
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.
Performances will be 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday through Monday of each festival weekend. 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 didn’t book a dining package for Disney on Broadway last year, but did have free reserved seating thanks to Disney Vacation Club. It was totally unnecessary, as there was ample seating right up until show time. 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, this is unlike Candlelight Processional, which has developed a following over the course of years with returning guests and first-time visitors. 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 weekends, 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. Call 407-WDW-TOUR to book the dining packages or the Interactive Workshops.
Finally, there’s Figment’s Brush with the Masters Scavenger Hunt (that’s what it was called last year–not sure if the name will differ for 2018), 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 2018, 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, I don’t want to be so quick to cast aspersions here. To the contrary, I love the idea of even more festivals at Epcot, and think they really fit the spirit of the park as a permanent World’s Fair. So long as these festivals have actual substance to them and are not simply thinly-veiled ways to profiteer on food & beverage sales, I think increasing their presence is a good thing.
That couldn’t be further from the truth with the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, where (if anything) the food is the afterthought and all of the entertainment and park enhancements are the focus. This is my new favorite festival at Epcot, and it’s not even a close call.
Festival of the Arts 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.
Of course, all of this sentiment relates to the inaugural year, when the event was still finding its footing. When it comes to the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, everything is still new. Substantive experiences will be added, as will food marketplaces. It’s possible that 2018 will be better or worse than the first year. Most likely, the organizers will learn what worked and what didn’t in year one, and the expansion of this popular event will further enhance Epcot. Regardless, there will be some degree of new entertainment and offerings where there previously was none.
Overall, we’re looking forward to the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Arts, and are excited to be able to spend more time at the event now that it will run during the week when it’ll be less busy with locals back in work. This remains one of the few times of year that there’s a true off-season at Walt Disney World, and with low crowds, great weather, and now this special event, it’s really tough to go wrong!
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Did you attend the inaugural Epcot International Festival of the Arts? Are you excited to experience the 2018 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!