First Impressions & Review: 2019 Epcot Food & Wine Festival

In this post, I’ll offer a preliminary review and first impressions of the 2019 Epcot Food & Wine Festival from our visits opening weekend. While still likely fun for first-timers, in a couple of ways, we found the event to be a disappointment as compared to years past, which we’ll cover here. (Note that we’ll be updating our Ultimate Guide to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival and Global Marketplace Menus & Food Photos posts very soon, too!)

My perspective on the 2019 Epcot Food & Wine Festival stands in contrast to opening weekend of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which was handled with near-flawless execution. The amazing results over at DHS are actually a bit surprising, especially for August in Florida…with an approaching hurricane. That park has had a palpable energy among guests and Cast Members alike and was a truly joyous experience. It’s almost as if WDW management diverted resources and focused the entirety of its energy on Star Wars Land’s grand opening.

If that’s the case, you can’t really blame Walt Disney World. The opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the big thing of the year, if not the decade, at Walt Disney World. On the other hand, Epcot just had the substantive details of its massive transformation announced, and the park is going to be a veritable construction zone by week two of the 2019 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival…

Nevertheless, Epcot is a park that’s charging full admission, so I think critique here is fair game. For the 2019 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, the iconography, in-park photo ops, decorations, and logos are all pretty much unchanged from last year…which were unchanged from the year before. That means more of Chef Remy, doodle-style foods, and a slightly modified logo.

Displays, logos, graphics, etc., all used to change every single year of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, and the fresh look for the longest event of the year was something we always appreciated. Three years of mostly identical stuff for Walt Disney World’s longest seasonal event just feels tired at this point.

Above is how all of that looked last year and the year before in the secondary display behind Spaceship Earth.

Here’s how the main display looks this year:

In fairness, the design refresh should’ve happened last year, in which case the visuals would’ve made sense to recycle again this year, for only the second year instead of the third. I’d be a lot more forgiving if that were the case, as Epcot is about to gear up for major construction and most of the best photo ops will be eliminated by that, anyway.

Still, would new banner designs and a few visuals be too difficult? Why not add a topiary display or big photo op over along the new pathway near Journey into Imagination? Then again, I haven’t seen any conversation about this online, so perhaps others simply don’t care, and Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival is all about the…food & wine for them.

Speaking of which, most of the new dishes and the new Global Marketplaces are unambitious. Even the booths that are technically new have menu items ‘imported’ from previous locations, and others that miss the mark.

While trying samples, we often found ourselves saying, “this is good, but not interesting.” (For instance, I found the Frozen Apple Pie pictured below to be unexplainably delicious, but hardly ambitious.) A lot of things that we enjoyed are more of the ‘comfort food’ variety, which isn’t what I’d expect of a foodie event.

Now, this isn’t to say that the cuisine at the 2019 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is bad or subpar. For the previous two years, we’ve commented on how food quality has been improving, and most exemplars of that remain as almost all fan-favorite dishes have returned.

It thus becomes a matter of expectations. Food & Wine Festival has always been a popular event with annual or returning Walt Disney World guests. As such, it has followed a roughly 75/25 rule, with about 75% of the items being classics, and another 25% new items that have the potential of becoming future favorites.

This approach has allowed Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival to cull and refine its menus into greatest hits, while still feeling fresh by testing out new ideas and inventive concepts. It has been a best of both worlds approach, appeasing those who want to revisit familiar favorites, annual guests who want “new stuff,” and first-timers who will likely enjoy both.

For returning guests, most of the familiar favorites are still here. Flavors from Fire continues to fire on all cylinders, the Next Eats area showcases the future of festival food at Epcot, and both the Islands of the Caribbean and Hawaii continue to deliver great tropical flavors.

There are great meats to be found, including at Australia, Africa, and even Italy. Speaking of Italy, half of its dishes are abysmal. (Would it really be an Epcot festival without something awful in Italy?!) Meanwhile, the Maple Bourbon Boursin Cheesecake and Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle remain the best desserts of the event. That’s all good news.

Other long-running booths and returning dishes that are fan favorites also remain solid. We’ll have individual Global Marketplace reviews soon and will detail each dish in those. This is more of a broad event review, so I’ll save the specifics for those posts.

The only big losses, from my perspective, are the Greece Global Marketplace and Light Lab. Greece was a fan favorite that ran for over 20 years. Light Lab, by contrast, was a really clever concept that they never got right. Those aside, almost all of my top booths and dishes appear again.

That’s good news for first-time visitors to the 2019 Epcot Food & Wine Festival, who will see all of the displays and logo with fresh eyes, and also get to enjoy a dozen or more items with fresh taste buds. For these visitors and even returning guests more concerned with Epcot “playing the hits,” this year’s Food & Wine Festival will not disappoint.

Where it’s a problem is for annual visitors who are primarily interested in experiencing and trying new things, rather than eating Epcot’s greatest hits. (And let’s be real, this is snack food from temporary kitchens; even at its best, it’s not exactly the culinary equivalent of Led Zeppelin.) Personally, I’ll take something new like Light Lab that swings for the fences but strikes out over the tried and true but pedestrian offerings of the Canada booth.

Of course, reasonable minds may vary on that, and I’m guessing a lot of you will disagree. We know plenty of Walt Disney World fans who love Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival because they enjoy revisiting familiar favorites. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, and we’re not suggesting otherwise. We, too, enjoy doing that to an extent.

However, we prefer the new and interesting aspects of Food & Wine Festival. Special events are one way to easily liven up a park, which is why festival season is crucial to Epcot. These temporary offerings are something new and different, which is essential in the park that has largely stagnated since the 1990s.

Of course, you may want to take my perspective on the 2019 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival with a grain of salt if you’re a big fan of this event.

As I’ve said repeatedly, Food & Wine is my least favorite of the Epcot festivals. For years, I’ve felt this event has been substantively lacking and far too reliant on people spending money on undersized and overpriced samples of food and alcohol, slowly eliminating the “edutainment” aspects of the festival.

While it’s our least favorite Epcot festival, it generates far more coverage than any of the other events at Epcot because there’s more reader interest. I’m still not totally sure why that is, but Walt Disney World hype built over time usually takes years to undo (for example, Le Cellier remained popular for several years after the Disney Dining Plan eroded its value).

To us, the Epcot International Festival of the Arts is the best Epcot event of the year, and it’s so good that I’d recommend planning a trip solely around it (and we’ve done exactly that). On the other hand, Food & Wine is a distant fourth/last place and we wouldn’t go out of our way to visit Walt Disney World this time of year for the event. At this point, I’d actually rather visit a week before it starts and take the lower crowds of Diet Epcot.

Overall, how much of this review of the 2019 Epcot Food & Wine Festival with which you’ll agree truly depends upon your perspective and priorities. We can only review things based upon our personal experiences and opinions, but hopefully we’ve qualified this enough so you know what you can disregard.

Even with all of this said, we’re still looking forward to the October 1 refresh/phase two (or whatever you want to call it) of the Food & Wine Festival. That’s when the Donut Box, Epcot Experience, and Epcot Forever all debut. It’s also shortly after the Disney Skyliner gondolas start operating, and much of Future World closes to make way for the park’s new neighborhoods. I’m optimistic that with all of that, the 2019 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will get a much-needed shot in the arm.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Anything you’re excited to try at the 2019 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival? Disappointed that the look of the evnet is pretty much identical to the past two years? What do you think of the lineup of Global Marketplaces? Special or premium events you’re doing during Food & Wine? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!


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