This ultimate guide to the 2018 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival provides tips, recommendations, and our thoughts about the annual Walt Disney World foodie event! This year, Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival runs August 30 until November 12, 2018, ending right before the start of the popular Christmas season. (Last updated September 14, 2018.)
During the event guests can eat and drink their way around the World Showcase and parts of Future World. It’s one of the largest scale and most popular events at Walt Disney World, and in this post we’ll cover what you need to know before you attend. From marketplace tasting booths to the Back to the Basics series (included with Epcot admission) to hands-on tasting culinary demos with chefs and mixologists ($15/person) to the popular Party for the Senses and a lot more, there’s tons to do at Epcot during F&WF.
The 2018 event is now underway, and we’ve spent several days through September 2018 strolling around World Showcase, attending culinary demonstrations, and grazing at the various booths. There’s some fun new stuff, including Croissant Doughnuts, Pancake Milkshake, Beef Brisket Poutine, Charred Chimichurri Skirt Steak, Jerk-spiced Chicken Lollipops, and more. We’ve tried all of these items and are in the process of booth by booth reviews, which you can find in our index of Epcot Food & Wine posts.
Other new additions will include a playground, character dance parties on Friday and Saturday nights, and complimentary Junior Chef Kitchen where kids will learn the basics of preparing foods. That last one will probably be a welcome relief to parents who have had to suffer through “peanut butter and grilled cheese” and other such abominable concoctions their kids have cooked up in Easy-Bake Ovens. Joking aside, we think these family offerings are a great addition to an event that has historically had a dearth of kid-centric entertainment.
Additionally, the Eat to the Beat Concert Series returns with a full lineup of bands (I don’t recognize any of them besides 98 Degrees). Walt Disney World has also announced two new events: Sunday Brunch with the Chef and Food & Beverage Pairing, the latter of which will occur on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
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!
For now, here’s an overview of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival (with some 2018 details that we don’t yet know still pertaining to last year’s event), and tips for making the most of it based upon our experiences last year…and every year before that for the last decade of the event…
2018 Food & Wine Festival Impressions
We’ve been to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival many times, spending more money on snacks than we care to think about. During our fall trip to Walt Disney World this year, we spent several days in Epcot, grazing the marketplaces and partaking in the Food & Wine festivities. All in all, we had a good time. We covered our favorite and least favorite things in our new Best Ofand our Worst Ofposts. Those include individual items and entire booths so you know what to try and what to avoid.
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 our Best of Epcot’s 2018 Food & Wine Festival post.
Second, crowds were bad on the weekends, but lines, inexplicably, were not. In the past we’ve cautioned about long lines on the weekends for the more popular booths, but aside from France, I don’t think we ever waited more than 60 seconds (to order) at any booth. Part of this is that we visited at the start of the event–and crowds peak in October–but another explanation could be that guests are starting to balk at the high prices.
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 “Next Eats” section of Future World. This included 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. After last year’s event, I commented that this was the best lineup of food in recent memory. 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.
Now, on with the rest of our Ultimate Guide to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival…
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 75-day festival. For 2018, 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 other (cheaper) end of the spectrum, there’s the Back to Basics series, special book signings, Eat to the Beat concerts, cultural adventures, culinary scavenger hunt with Remy, and Festival Passport, all of which are included with Epcot park admission. Suffice to say, F&WF 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 look at what’s new, what we recommend doing, and strategy for keeping your sanity at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival!
World Showcase Snack Marketplaces
For most Walt Disney World guests, the Epcot Food & Wine Festival is the Global Marketplaces. They are the little snack kiosks added throughout World Showcase with snack size portions available for purchase. While this is just one element of Food & Wine Festival, it’s the only element that most guests experience.
Year in and year out, the booths at the Food & Wine Festival feature new offerings and returning favorites. You can see our photos and reviews of what we’ve tried at previous events in our FULL Booth Menus: Epcot Food & Wine Festivalpage. That’s a great planning resource, and once this year’s Festival is underway, we will have updated the menus with photos of every single food item available this year!
Additionally, here’s a quick list of the Food & Wine Festival Marketplace booths:
Islands of the Caribbean
Wine & Dine Studio
Desserts & Champagne
Hops & Barley
Flavors from Fire
In addition to these main booths, there will also be other spots to get exclusive F&WF treats, including Intermission Cafe, Hops & Barley, and Refreshment Outpost.
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…
Go on a weekday – You’ll want to go on a weekday to avoid the party atmosphere. Weekends are when local college students (who apparently have disposable incomes?) 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 in the day – 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.
Leave the Stew, Take the Cannoli – One of the most popular items at the entire Food & Wine Festival is Canada’s Cheddar Cheese Soup. This is somewhat understandable, as it’s delicious. However, it boggles my mind when I see people ordering this in early September, while I’m drenched in sweat. Same goes for the stews, and pretty much any ‘heavy’ foods.
On the hotter days (or midday any day), opt for lighter items like desserts, iced drinks, and things that will keep you cool. Save the heavier dishes for once the sun goes down. (In actuality, you’re going to want to skip Italy’s cannoli, too–I just liked that line.)
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 Festival Welcome Center 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.
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 in the Festival Welcome Center 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…
No-Cost Seminars – Although most Epcot Food & Wine Festival seminars became upcharge events out of necessity a few years ago (thanks to locals who camped out for hours before them!), there still are a few free seminars during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. More seminars are held on weekends; check the daily schedule for more info.
Other events include tastings and various sponsor-driven events throughout World Showcase and in the old Wonders of Life pavilion (the “Festival Welcome Center”).
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. We plan on reviewing more of these seminars this year, but for now check out our older seminar review to get an idea of what to expect.
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 September 22, October 6, 13 and 20, plus November 10, 2018.
“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 Disney premium here, but also scarcity pricing, in that many of these events are extremely small, and 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. During these 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.
After skipping the event entirely two years ago, we returned last year and had a surprisingly good time at Food & Wine. In part, this is because we picked weekdays to visit, and had great luck with getting excellent food from the marketplace booths. It was a much better experience than we had on our previous visit to Food & Wine. Initially, we only planned on doing one day of Food & Wine, but we ended up doing three. The only downside was the heat and humidity, but we balanced our day out with plenty of AC breaks, so it wasn’t too bad.
In fact, we had such a good time that we are returning to the 2018 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival later in the season after visiting for several days in late August and early September 2018. We’re looking forward to experiencing the event without the sweltering heat and humidity.
Part of our poor experiences in prior years was our own fault, but the point I’m trying to underscore here is just how important it is to have a plan. 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!