Epcot Festival of the Arts Review
With only one weekend left in its schedule for the year, a review of Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts is a bit late to be of any value for most of you for 2017. However, given my strong feelings about it and since it’s likely going to be a recurring event, I think it’s worthy of a post. Plus, it might not be too late for some of you locals.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Epcot International Festival of the Arts is what Walt Disney World describes as “the ultimate cultural celebration as food, art and entertainment.” The event features cuisine, visual arts, and live entertainment in an exciting extravaganza replete with phenomenal artists, gourmet food, musical performances, stage productions, and other excellent artistic acts.
September 21, 2017 Update: Epcot’s Festival of the Arts will return January 12 through February 19, 2018. The event will run 7 days per week, with some entertainment offerings planned only on the weekends. This is great news for fans of the event, and we’re optimistic that other improvements will be made to this surprise hit of an event. What follows is our original review of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts…
In our post previewing the Art Festival, I expressed optimism about the concept, and felt it was a natural fit for Epcot. As the dates of the event drew nearer and scant details were made public, I felt some trepidation. Was this being thrown together at the last minute because attendance was lagging? Would it actually deliver in terms of entertainment, or was that just puffery? Was it actually just another excuse to sell booze?
After one lap of Epcot on our first day at the Festival of the Arts, all of my fears were allayed. This wasn’t just Food & Wine Festival: Winter Off-Season Edition. The Epcot Festival of the Arts was an engaging and fun addition, worthy of the park to which it was added.
The first thing that struck me was how well-designed all of the displays and photo ops were for the event. From the brush-stroke designs on the decor around Spaceship Earth to the immersive painting PhotoPass photo ops, everything was done at a really high level. Going off of decor alone, it certainly didn’t look like the event was thrown together last-minute.
Then there was entertainment. I was surprised by the sheer number of acts. Behind Fountain of Nations, there was a stage that alternated between youth (and perhaps other) groups and artists starting and completing artwork in the view of guests.
When neither was occurring, there were living statue performers in front of the stage who would mess with guests. We spent a good chunk of our days in Epcot at this stage, and I think there was pretty much always something occurring here until 5 p.m. daily.
Back in World Showcase, there were artists scattered around, painting/sketching/etc. scenes in the view of guests. The highlight of these (for me) was the chalk artists, working on the sidewalks. All of these artists coupled with the musical acts that normally inhabit World Showcase gave the pavilions a palpable, lived-in energy. It was fantastic.
We attended one of the Disney on Broadway concerts, and it was also exceptional. We are mostly indifferent to the Flower Power & Eat to the Beat concerts, but we both loved this. If we were locals, I think we would’ve gone to see each duo of performers–the show we saw was that good and left us wanting more.
I loved the interactive nature of virtually everything at Epcot Festival of the Arts. From artists who talked guests through their work to statue performers who engaged with the audience, there was a lot of this.
The highlight for me in all of this was the paint by numbers murals that guests could help complete. This just screamed “EPCOT Center!” and it felt like the park reclaiming some of its ‘inquisitive youth’ that has been lost since the mid-1990s.
We helped paint this mural, and it was a ton of fun watching it progress throughout the day into something beautiful. The concept and process was an unequivocal hit with guests, all of whom seemed to be having a great time.
Of course, as with any Epcot festival, there are food kiosks. There has been a ton of coverage about these on numerous other blogs, so we’ll keep this brief. We thought the food was generally really presented exceptionally well, and tasted very good.
What we tried was at least on par with Food & Wine Festival in terms of inventiveness and quality. The downside of that was that all prices, even by Epcot Festival standards, seemed to be inflated by about $1-2. This was particularly true with the savory options.
The foods were fun and tasty, but relative to other offerings and entertainment at the Arts Festival, they barely merit mentioning. Unlike Food & Wine Festival, you won’t be missing out (at all) if you attend the Arts Festival and don’t spend any extra money. (That, in itself, is refreshing.) Food is a fun enhancement to the Arts Festival, not a crucial element.
Although we spent 3 days at Epcot during the Arts Festival, there was a lot we missed. We didn’t do Figment’s Brush with the Masters, we didn’t peruse all of the art galleries, and we didn’t see all of the atmospheric art acts (nor could we have–they were constantly changing). Not being able to see it all was definitely a plus, from my perspective.
Since this is a review, what little “bad” there was merits mentioning, too. My biggest criticism of the Arts Festival is that it used Odyssey as its Festival Center rather than the old Wonders of Life pavilion utilized by the two other festivals. The larger location would have allowed for better/more galleries like those honoring Mary Blair and Herb Ryman.
While I enjoyed seeing their artwork in something larger than a coffee table book, each of these exhibits could have been double (or 100x) the size. Hopefully the positive guest response to the event’s inaugural year will lead to the Wonders pavilion being the Festival Center next year.
I wonder if this event is something that was a struggle to bring to fruition. In recent years, part of Epcot’s problem is that it has devolved to cater to the lowest common denominator, talking down to guests to (supposedly) meet them at their level. Modern Epcot’s wisdom has told us that the marvels of the ocean can’t speak for themselves: they need exposition from a talking cartoon turtle. (Etc.)
The Arts Festival bucked that “wisdom.” Instead of pandering to guests, it challenged them with exhibits and entertainment that educated and inspired. And–surprise, surprise–guests rose and met Epcot at its level.
It was great to see people embracing every aspect of the event, making days in the doldrums of January and February nearly as crowded as peak season.
It’d be naive to think that the Epcot International Festival of the Arts will mark the moment in time when Epcot self-corrected, changing course to live up to its lofty ideals and legacy. When Bob Chapek says he wants to fix Epcot, I do not think that’s what he has in mind. (Quite the converse, actually…)
Rather, my suspicion is that the Arts Festival is a passion project that a small but caring team made happen. It also wouldn’t surprise me if this group had a good amount of creative latitude, with only modest expectations for the level of crowds the event would draw.
In our anecdotal observations, Festival of the Arts drew huge crowds. I would be absolutely shocked if its performance did not exceed expectations. This generally leaves me optimistic about its future. The logical thing to do would be expand it, increasing the performances, exhibits, and decor.
The other possibility is that the above happens, but along with greater efforts to monetize the event. Add in paid seminars, more food booths, and eye-catching drink options throughout the park. Scale back on performers since not as many are “needed” to draw big crowds.
The former is the optimistic outlook, the latter is the cynical one. In reality, my expectation is that the event will return for 2018 with more dates and more to see, but also with more ‘premium’ offerings and more food kiosks.
I’m fine with this. Grazing the food kiosks was fun, but it’s non-essential to enjoying the event. If that is “needed” to justify the cost of performers and other elements, that’s a fair tradeoff from my perspective.
As it stands, in only its inaugural year, the Epcot International Festival of the Arts is my new favorite festival at Epcot. It’s not even a close call, either. It cherrypicks the elements of Flower & Garden and Food & Wine that I like best, while including a substantive element that is (personally) more interesting to me. Most importantly, as an EPCOT Center fan, it conveys (some of) the spirit of the original park with an ambiance that makes it even more enjoyable to just wander around Epcot.
I’d go as far as to recommend planning a Walt Disney World trip around Festival of the Arts to some people. Prior to this, our #3 time to visit Walt Disney World (on our Best and Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World) was late February into early March; I’d now move that forward to late January into early February. This recommendation certainly isn’t for everyone; I still prefer Halloween and Christmas seasons at Walt Disney World, so if those seasons appeal to you and you’re only visiting once, go then. If you want an offseason visit with low crowds and mild weather, planning a visit around Festival of the Arts makes sense.
There’s another group to whom I’d suggest planning a trip around the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Arts: out-of-towners considering a trip for Epcot’s 35th Anniversary on October 1, 2017. Delay your visit.
Unless the nature of the Epcot’s Art Festival changes significantly, it’s imbues EPCOT Center more than whatever D23 is able to cobble together for October 1. This is no knock at D23–that team has done some tremendous events. The problem is that Walt Disney World management is otherwise uninterested in honoring anniversaries, and the ragtag D23 team doesn’t have the resources to put together an event of the same scope and scale as the Festival of the Arts.
Granted, there will be plethora of limited edition merchandise (so if a pin set is what EPCOT Center means to you, by all means…) and likely a couple of panels looking back at a park that no longer exists, but that’s probably it. I enjoyed being at the 30th Anniversary of Epcot, but the contrast between what we saw celebrated in the seminars and then what we saw upon walking out into the park was…depressing.
On the other hand, Festival of the Arts offers the best of both worlds: it pays homage to EPCOT Center’s creative legacy while also offering something fresh and substantive. Earlier in the post, I proclaimed this Epcot’s best festival of the year. I’ll go one further: this is the best thing to happen to Epcot in years (admittedly, not a high bar). It is a breath of fresh air for present-day Epcot, and will make EPCOT Center fans rekindle their love for the park, instead of lamenting the past. If you attended this year’s Epcot International Festival of the Arts, what did you think? Any other thoughts or questions?
Would like to know if they have posted any food pricing for the 2018 festival and if we can use snack credits. There are 23 of us going for a special occasion and the use of snack credits would come in handy.
Menus haven’t been released yet, but I’d say it’s a near-certainty that you’ll be able to use snack credits at the booths.
We had a trip planned for November of 2017 that would have allowed us to participate in Food & Wine and MVMCP. Sadly, three days before we had to postpone and will now be there during Festival of the Arts. Although I am still bummed about missing the Christmas celebrations, after reading this review I am more excited about the January trip.
We will be there the first week of Feb. and I just found out about this. I am super excited as we love Brodway and the arts! It feels cultured and educational and as a teacher I can’t wait to attend. Have not been this excited to go to Epcot in years. Thanks for the info.
We will be going in January for the festival in 2018. Tom, do you perform tours?
We were there for this just by accident. Unfortunately, for us, we felt like there wasn’t enough done to advertise what was going on with the festival. We stumbled upon some things, but didn’t have a good overall picture of what we should have seen, so we probably missed some stuff. My kids loved doing the mural wall. It was a great time of year to visit, though! I hope they expand the art exhibits.
We too were pleasantly surprised by this festival. It was much more relaxed than the F&W we attended in October, and my children loved taking the animation class, watching the chalk artists work, and wandering through the stalls. We didn’t have the opportunity to try any of the festival food but LOVED the nighttime performance. I hope they continue to expand this festival for future years.
I thought the festival was Awsome went every week to check out the new artists som are very talented with other projects besides the fantastic art abilities. The food kiosks were different than the food and wine. The food was displayed on the plate in a art presentation. I think using the oddessy building was a good choice since it blended in with the festival Where do I find information on next years event. The flower and garden festival uses the wonders building which I think is a good choice since it’s bigger more room for cooking demonstrations .
Thank you for this wonderful review! While we don’t get to visit Disney as often as we would like, these reviews help me tremendously in planning our next trip (and, I get to live vicariously a bit). Since my husband and I are both music teachers, and our daughter is a budding musician, the Arts Festival is of particular interest to us. Your review has helped solidify when we will be taking our next Disney trip!
The arts, and particularly live performance, are absolute selling points to me. No plans to visit WDW in the near future, but having seen the response to this Festival, it would certainly encourage me to visit at this time of year. Loved the reports of artists at work throughout Epcot, and hope to see it expand (in the right way….) over the years ahead.
I loved the Festival of the Arts, but I would recommend that they change the location of the food kiosks next year. Other than El Artista Hambriente near Mexico, none of the kiosks seemed to have anything to do with the pavilions that they were near. The one at the American pavilion was focused on German and Dutch artists and even had a Black Forest drink. So, that one should have been near Germany. The Pop Art kiosk could have been near the American pavilion. The E=AT2 could have been in Odyssey or even Future World. The kiosk with the sidecar drink and charcuterie plate should have been near France. I think I would have connected more with the food kiosks had they been placed more carefully.
I went the 1st weekend in Feb, and it is also by far my favorite festival of the 3! The best part for me was what i figured were the real meat and potatoes of the festival….the galleries! I made it a point over 2 and a half days to visit each one of the artists’ booths around the world showcase to see so many different interpretations of our favorite disney and star wars characters. Some of my favorites were Gonzalez, Coleman, and Kaz. But i fell in love with the Larry Dotson gallery in Norway, and Larry Dotson himself was there! He agreed to bring prints that i wanted to see the next day after i asked him, and i was so impressed i bought one of them on the spot!
What a great experience, I look forward to the next trip back when i can try and go for another great piece with the artist standing right there!
We were there the weekend after opening and we loved walking around World Showcase checking out the displays. It seemed so much more laid back than Food and Wine, too, which was nice. I would definitely go back. My favorite elements were the walk in paintings-we had a lot of fun trying to get the kids to pose the way we wanted them to for photos.
I agree fully with this review. It was a lot of fun to be there for this, and I don’t feel like I even came close to getting to see all of the things on offer. I really enjoyed the Herb Ryman and Mary Blair exhibits, and also wish they had been larger.
It certainly makes visiting during the January / February timeframe even more attractive (especially since I’m personally more drawn to this than either of the other two festivals). Although I could have done without the high number of small herds of drunk and obnoxious adults I ran across throughout the day. I realize that EPCOT and WDW are not only for families with kids, but it would be nice if some people could remember that there are, indeed, families present.
At any rate, my wife wasn’t with me, but was excited to see that she and Sarah share the same taste in ears…
I entirely agree with this. It was a great festival, and also I thought they did enough to distinguish it from F&G which of course is right on its heels!
I thought it was nice to see Odyssey being put to good use for a change. But I agree, they should have used WOL as well. Maybe they hadn’t produced a suitable film?
The only aspect I think you underplay, is the food. While it was (for once!!!!) not the biggest things about the event, there is a lot to appeal to those who enjoy the artistic side of food preparation. This seemed a very sizeable step up from the offering at F&W and also its closer cousin F&G. The deconstructed food stall seemed like quite a brave step and illustrated a desire to target the more adventurous crowd! There was definitely no comfort food on offer, except perhaps the risotto. More to the point, despite being significantly more expensive, the quality increase more than made up for it (with the huge caveat that both F&W and this are overpriced for what you get). The significantly increased labour required for most dishes more than justified the price increase, I would suggest.
I didn’t mean to downplay the food–it was more about “up-playing” everything else, as I’ve seen countless blog posts about the food booths, and very little about the other aspects. (Perhaps we bloggers are conditioned to writing about Disney food?)
We liked all 6 food dishes we tried. Given the preparation and plating, you’re probably right about price points.
Yes the food definitely had the increase in preparation to go along with the theme of the festival (the funniest had to be the deconstructed reuben sandwich) but the cost definitely was inflated and not nearly as tasty as the F&W options
Nice! This sounded fun form the description, I’m glad to hear that it came though.
It sounds like most of the festival was in the “back half” of the park – the stage behind the fountains and the world showcase. If that is the case, perhaps the Odyssey was chosen over the Wonders of Life for proximity. I’ve never been inside the Odyssey, so that would have been fun.
I dunno…Food & Wine is pretty much concentrated at the back of the park, yet it uses the Wonders building. (It also uses the Odyssey–and I believe Odyssey has been open more and more for craft beer offerings.) I think it comes down to Disney’s expectations for the event.
I thought the festival was great! I completely agree with you, it felt like it brought back elements of the Epcot of old. However, in the future, I’d love to see it run all week long. If I didn’t visit Disney multiple times a year, I would have been upset to see a multitude of closed canvas tents peppering the World Showcase on days the festival was closed. It felt like they removed a lot of open space in the park, and were ultimately just unnecessarily closed through the week. Here’s hoping it’s open all week long next year!
I’d hope and assume it will run all week long next year. As with using the Odyssey instead of Wonders, I think this was a matter of underestimating how big of a draw this would be.
As a local, I’ve been to the festival three times, and your review is making me want to go back! I did go see all three duos, but since most of my trips were planned around that I wasn’t there early enough to see much of the other live performers. We did get to do an animation class, see the statues once, and paint the mural. Overall, we really enjoyed the parts of the festival that we did experience!
The animation class is another thing we missed! Really wish we would’ve spent even more time in Epcot this trip…
We went down for a last minute trip the first weekend of FEB, mainly with this festival in mind, and WOW! We were so impressed! This review is SPOT. ON. We really enjoyed the concerts, as well as the figment scavenger hunt. Or kids are young (6,5,3,1), and we literally spent 5 hours one night in EPCOT only doing one ride, The Three Caballeros, and the rest of the time spent time in world showcase doing the scavenger hunt. So fun. Will be a repeat visitor for sure.
So the scavenger hunt took ~4 hours to complete (subtracting an hour for the ride)…or did you do other stuff along the way?
Yes – we took 3 or so hours probably. Granted, we took our time, ate dinner, ate snack, got some drinks. 🙂 It allowed us to spend more time than we typically would with our kids in world showcase and they were entertained. 🙂 I would say you could fly through it in an hour or hour and a half.
Sad we’ll miss it by just a couple of weeks!