EPCOT’s International Festival of the Arts runs until February 22, 2021 at Walt Disney World. This guide offers info, tips, food recommendations, and our must-see highlights of this annual winter special event. (Updated January 14, 2021.)
It’s hard to believe this is already the 5th Anniversary of what Walt Disney World has dubbed the “ultimate celebration of world-class food, amazing visual art, and live entertainment.” We’ve already visited for the 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts several times, and have a review of what’s new, different, and the same at EPCOT’s “best fest” of the year.
EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts is our favorite event of the year, and we love chatting with artists, watching the performers, and eating our way around the 13 booths (see our 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts Food Studio Menus for more info), and enjoying some of the art on display. We love trying the new food, seeing artists exhibit their work, and participating in the interactive offerings at the event.
After being blown away by the inaugural event, and while some of the specifics have changed in the last few years, our impression remains the same: Epcot’s Festival of the Arts is our #1 seasonal event of the year at Epcot.
In this post, we’ll cover some of the reasons why we love it, and why we recommend experiencing it for yourself in January or February 2021!
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 includes 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 is virtually always something occurring throughout the park 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 live entertainment.
You won’t be able experience all of Epcot and Festival of the Arts in a single day. Accordingly, we advise spending two days at Epcot during 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.
This is especially true in Winter 2021, as tourism is down considerably making Walt Disney World’s visitor numbers disproportionately locals who visit Friday through Sunday. Consult our January 2021 Crowd Calendar and February 2021 Crowd Calendar for Walt Disney World for specific best and worst dates to visit.
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 Food Studio Guide to the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, the “culinary arts” are the least important component of the event. We have several specific snack recommendations there, but none are essential to enjoying the event.
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.
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 Walt Disney World and other blogs to hype up the food…even if it’s far from the highlight of Epcot’s Festival of the Arts.
Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to peruse artwork by Disney artists in galleries.
For the 2021 Epcot Festival of the, you should make sure to check out World ShowPlace, which is a quasi-festival center and home to numerous galleries, exhibits, and food booths.
Additionally, there are live artists creating artwork in Epcot. It’s really interesting to watch them; we were so captivated by one of the artists 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!
There will also be more structured entertainment for the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Unfortunately, there is no Disney on Broadway concert series on the America Gardens Theatre stage during the 2021 Taste of Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Expect that to return in 2022.
However, the Voices of Liberty return to that stage for the 2021 Epcot Festival of the Arts, and the Animation Academy is also available in the same venue–all physically distanced. We highly recommend experiencing both.
Ultimately, 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 three years. However, the big differences for 2021 are that Walt Disney World’s phased reopening is still ongoing and EPCOT is in the midst of a massive construction project to transform Future World.
Regardless, Disney continues to deliver on the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, which is why it has been our favorite festival for 5 years running. 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 2021.
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Did you attend Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts either of its first two years? Are you excited to experience the 2021 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!