Our 2019 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival ultimate guide provides tips, dining reviews, and info about Walt Disney World’s foodie event, lasting 87 days and running now through November 23, 2019! (Updated September 22, 2019.)
Suffice to say, Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival is beloved among many Walt Disney World visitors. It is the busiest time of the year at Epcot, and is popular primarily because it allows guests the opportunity to eat and drink their way around the World Showcase and parts of Future World, trying new and inventive cuisine along the way.
Personally, Food & Wine is our least favorite of Epcot’s four festivals (our favorite is far and away the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, which returns in January 2020), but we still have a good time with it. Although it can be an expensive event, we’ve found ways to get more bang for our buck, and have fun dining at Epcot before IllumiNations (and once October 1, 2019 rolls around, Epcot Forever). In this post, we’ll share some of those tips with you…
What to Expect & Festival Overview
At the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, there’s something for every budget. While you can enjoy some events without spending anything, it’s very easy to spend a lot of money, particularly as you graze around the marketplace booths. Once you start looking at the special events and celebrity meals, well, the sky is the limit on how much you can spend during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival!
We’ve done the Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival many times every year for the past decade-plus, spending more money on snacks than we care to think about. We spend several days in Epcot every year during August, September, October, and November, grazing the marketplaces and partaking in the Food & Wine festivities.
All in all, we have had a good time. Weather-wise, August is definitely the least pleasant month for the event and November is the best experience, but after grazing the booths the first three months, we’re usually a bit “over it” by the end. (However, if we were planning only one trip, it’d be in November.)
Beyond that, a few things stuck out that are worth noting. First, and I say this every year, but it’s true once again: by and large, your money doesn’t go very far. Portions don’t seem smaller than last year, nor do prices seem higher, but both were already pretty bad last year, so it’s not like this should be construed as a positive thing. You’ll definitely want to seek out a few sizable dishes, which we highlight in the aforementioned Best of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival post.
Second, crowds are far worse on the weekends and after work and not nearly as bad on weekdays between 11 am and 5 pm. When Epcot is more crowded, don’t be surprised if you wait in line 10 or more minutes at the cash registers and another 10 minutes at food pick-up.
In the past we’ve cautioned about long lines on the weekends for the more popular booths, which is especially true during peak times in October and November. This compounds the effect of being out in the sweltering heat and humidity. By contrast, on a weekday in September (or even later in the year), you might encounter no lines whatsoever.
Third, some of the best booths are in Future World. To be fair, there are great items scattered around all of the booths, but the best pound for pound options are those found in the “Culinary Corridor” and “Next Eats” sections of Future World. This includes the best booth of Food & Wine, Flavors from Fire, along with stand-outs like Coastal Eats, Earth Eats, and Active Eats.
Finally, and most importantly, food quality remains high. The last couple of years the food lineups have been really strong, and I would say that last year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival surpassed the previous year’s event in terms of quality. From the quality of the snacks to the booths themselves (some, like India, are gorgeous!), everything is incredibly well done. It almost makes the higher prices and smaller portions a bit more palatable. Almost.
For those looking to splurge on special events during Food & Wine, the slate of celebrity chefs might be of interest. These visiting chefs host a variety of daily demonstrations, Party for the Senses grand tasting experiences, beverage and cheese seminars, and other events, all of which are a big part of the festival.
Celebrity chefs include Cooking Channel host Tiffani Thiessen and Richard Blais, along with returning favorites like Alex Guarnaschelli, Robert Irvine, Masaharu Morimoto, Buddy Valastro, Art Smith, and Carla Hall, plus many others.
On the entertainment front, the Disney du Jour Dance Party return to Future World and are now a daily offering. Sundays through Thursdays, a DJ will perform; on Fridays and Saturdays, Radio Disney personalities pump up the mix with live performances. On opening weekend, Meg Donnelly from the Disney Channel original movie “Zombies” will appear. Watch for more weekend celebrity headliners to join the lineup.
Other returning family activities include the Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak scavenger hunt and the Family Play Zone. The popular Candy Sushi interactive experience also returns, offering guests the chance to learn how to roll sweet sushi treats with a Disney Chef in this hands-on offering at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. daily in the Land pavilion.
The popular Eat to the Beat Concert Series is also back, running through November 19, 2019. There are a total of 249 concerts in all. Some of the new concert acts include Sawyer Brown, Lauren Daigle, Boyce Avenue, and Kris Allen. Festival favorites are back, including Plain White T’s, Sugar Ray, Hanson, Sheila E. and Boyz II Men, among many others.
You can even guarantee your concert seats by booking an Eat to the Beat Dining Package for breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of many Epcot restaurants. We typically view this package as unnecessary unless there’s a really popular act or you want prime seats. Unlike Candlelight Processional, this is not as popular so there’s no need to spend unnecessary money on a dining package. Suffice to say, Food & Wine Festival doesn’t have to be expensive if you have the right approach.
If you’re looking for what’s new for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival or what our recommend plan of attack is for the festival? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our strategy for keeping your sanity at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival…
Food & Wine Festival Strategy
Strategy for snacks? Seems like overkill, right? Not at all. While the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is a fun way to sample (mostly) good foods, it’s also insanely popular and expensive (I would say overpriced, but “popular and overpriced” seems like a bit of a contradiction).
By midday, some Food & Wine Festival booths have lengthy lines for ordering and pickup. By late-afternoon, World Showcase is a sea of sweaty humanity with some booth lines having wait times exceeding those for attractions. Add to this little shade and some slightly inebriated guests, and it can be an unpleasant mix. By evening, some areas of World Showcase feel like a mild frat party, with lines being quite lengthy, especially on weekends.
Below are some tips to make your festival experience more pleasant…
Leave the Shrimp, Take the Salmon & Scallops – With rare exceptions, shrimp at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival is overpriced, rubbery, and just generally unappetizing. In all our years of doing the event, we’ve found it’s one thing that the culinary teams consistently do not get right. By contrast, salmon and scallop dishes are almost always good–better than you’d expect for their price and being prepared in small kitchens.
Avoid the Hot & Heavy – For an event that starts in August and continues in September and October–two months that are still typically quite hot and humid in Florida, there are typically a lot of hot and heavy dishes at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. While a lot of these are good and worth trying, you’ll want to space them out so they don’t further overheat you. Ideally, have them early in the day or later in the evening once the sun has gone down. (Although that flies in the face of one of our next tips…)
AC Break – During the hottest part of the day, taking a break from the activities in World Showcase and going to the in-door and air-conditioned films (like Impressions de France, which we love!) and other attractions is a good idea. General tips for surviving a hot day at Walt Disney World also apply here.
You can get free cups of water from any counter service restaurant, you want to hit places with air-conditioning (I’ll put in a plug for the underrated Impressions de France here, which has an especially moving score after a drink or two!), and you want to pace yourself when eating and drinking. We expand upon these tips in our Drinking Around the World Showcase article–the idea is the same here.
Go on a Weekday – We noted this above from a crowds perspective, but you’ll want to go on a weekday to avoid the party atmosphere. Weekends are when local college students descend upon Epcot, and turn the place into a veritable frat party. I love frat parties just as much as the next guy, but there is a time and a place for frat parties. Namely, at a frat house when you’re in college. Not in family-oriented theme parks. Your opinion of Food & Wine Festival could differ dramatically based on whether you go on a weekday or weekend.
Go Early – Slightly before Food and Wine starts, you should be lining up for your first kiosk. Lines are far shorter earlier in the day, but just as important is that it isn’t quite as hot at 11 am as it is at 2 pm. There is very little shade at the booths. If you’ve ever waited in line 30 minutes for some wine and creme brulee in France while sweating through your shirt, you know what I’m talking about.
Stay or Arrive Late – Lines for the Global Marketplaces typically peak during prime meal hours, and drop by around 8 pm as people are finding spots for Epcot’s nighttime spectacular. While we recommend doing likewise and grabbing a viewing location, sending someone to grab a few of the heavier dishes that you skipped earlier to enjoy after the sun has gone down is a great idea, too!
There’s probably more strategy than this, like a scientific approach to which direction around World Showcase you should go, the ideal moment to purchase items for maximum freshness, etc., but this is a solid plan of attack. After your second or third drink from one of the kiosks, you’ll be so oblivious to what’s going on that standing in line for snacks may not even bother you.
Food & Wine Festival Events
In addition to the booths at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, there are a lot of events. Some of these are regular things like seminars that are offered on a daily basis, and are easily accessible to the average guest.
Other offerings are premium special events (the use of both ‘premium’ and ‘special’ is basically Disneyspeak for ‘super-duper expensive.’) that are relatively unknown to the average guest and often sell out far in advance. We aren’t really fans of super-duper expensive stuff, but we are fans of words like free and low-cost.
Here’s a look at what Food & Wine Festival has in store for these events…
Low-Cost Culinary Demonstrations – The low-cost culinary demonstrations are our favorite aspect of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. At $15 each, they offer a lot more than the free seminars, and a lot of times the samples you receive at these seminars are a better value than what you’d receive if you simply went around to booths and ordered items. In addition to the samples, you receive some basic background information and some entertaining presentations.
These seminars, in general, definitely are not geared to the same level of foodie audience as the special event meals, nor are the samples of the same caliber, but you get what you pay for. We have done several of these, and they generally offer the best value at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. These low-cost seminars offer a good primer to the topic covered, plus pretty good samples.
The Epcot Food & Wine Festival features a number of special events, many of which are quite pricey. Like, over $100 per person in price as the starting price. Reviews for these events are often prefaced with “despite the cost, we enjoyed it…” (or something along those lines), so if there’s one that strikes you as being interesting and you have disposable income, consider giving it a try. Not all of them cost quite that much, but they aren’t cheap.
Here are just a handful of the many premium special events:
Interactive culinary adventures in the Disney resorts encourage guests to ask the experts, taste and cook alongside our chefs at select Deluxe Walt Disney World Resorts.
“Sunday Brunch with the Chef” is a 2-hour event featuring a breakfast buffet hosted by a culinary TV personality, and includes a sparkling wine toast as well as a meet-and-greet photo opportunity with the celebrity chef.
The “Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It” hands-on workshop gives guests the opportunity to learn from professional chefs in cake decorating, garnishing, cocktail mixing, and other culinary activities.
Party for the Senses returns for select dates in September, October, and November.
“What’s Cookin’ With…” featuressome of the country’s top celebrity chefs, beginning in the morning with a delightful plated brunch and sparkling wine toast. This starts with a demo, followed by the chefs answering questions from the audience and sharing their anecdotes.
Personally, these don’t interest me at all. Well, they do…but not for those prices. While I would consider myself somewhat of a foodie and I’m sure the dishes prepared at them are excellent, it seems to me that you’re paying a significant premium over what something comparable would cost in the real world.
I think there’s not just the standard Walt Disney World premium here, but also scarcity pricing, in that many of these events are extremely small. Disney knows there are enough guests with significant disposable incomes who won’t balk at high prices to fill the events. That’s just my take, and again, it’s an outsider perspective, as I’ve never done any of these.
Special Entertainment & Eat to the Beat! Concerts
The Eat to the Beat concert series is presented nightly at the American Gardens Theater across from the American Adventure in Epcot’s World Showcase. The Eat to the Beat Concert Series will run August 29 through November 19, 2019, concluding a few days before the rest of the festival in order to set the stage for the return of the park’s beloved Candlelight Processional during the holiday season.
During these Eat to the Beat concerts, popular bands from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s perform some of their greatest hits for the Food & Wine Festival crowds. These concerts are included with Epcot admission, and take place three times per evening, at 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 8:00 p.m. While free, this year Disney is offering an Eat to the Beat Dining Package that includes reserved seating.
No, you’re not going to find current big-name artists like ZZ Top or whatever the kids are listening to these days, but it’s a free concert in Epcot. You can find the full line-up and performance dates on Disney’s Eat to the Beat schedule page.
In addition to the “Eat to the Beat” Concert Series, there are authentic performers throughout World Showcase, added to help entertain the huge crowds that Food & Wine Festival draws.
Summary & Conclusion
If you like food, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival should be a lot of fun for you. You don’t need to be a foodie to enjoy it, as there’s really something for everyone. I’ll level with you: Food & Wine Festival used to be our favorite event of the year at Walt Disney World, but rising prices, long lines, and being around too many wasted college students have put a bit of a damper on it.
We’ve done Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival multiple times each of the last several years and have generally enjoyed our experiences. In part, this is because we picked weekdays to visit, and had great luck with getting excellent food from the marketplace booths.
The biggest downside to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival is that it’s almost all outdoors, and in August, September, and sometimes October, the heat and humidity make this tough. Try to balance your day out with plenty of AC breaks, so it isn’t too bad. November is generally much more pleasant.
Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival can be a great event and you don’t have to break the bank doing it, but it can also be expensive, crowded, hot, and unpleasant. Planning makes all the difference in the experience you have. If you take away nothing else from this post, remember that.
Additionally, there’s a ton to do. Even if you went to Epcot every day of Food & Wine Festival, you couldn’t experience it all (but you would go broke trying!). We mention cost here a lot, and for good reason: you can spend a ridiculous amount of money without really trying. Just grazing the various booths for an afternoon can set you back a lot of money.
This isn’t meant to scare you away from the Food & Wine Festival. It can be a tremendous amount of fun if you plan ahead, avoid the hordes of people on the weekend, and get lucky with mild weather. It’s the second best time of the year at Epcot, after the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, in my opinion. World Showcase feels like an actually living, breathing World Showcase during the festival, with a culinary focus.
Have you done the Epcot Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World? What did you think? Any favorite marketplace booths or culinary demonstrations you’d recommend? Ever had any negative experiences? Have any tips of your own to share? 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!