It is the granddaddy of Walt Disney World special events. And given its longevity, popularity, scope, and far reach, it is fair to characterize the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival as being one of the country’s largest and most influential celebrations of its kind. It’s so popular that Disney can take at least some of the credit for the proliferation of food festivals across the nation (and certainly for festivals at other theme parks).
With its scrumptious small plates, culinary demos, wine tastings, seminars, hands-on interactive cooking experiences, and more, the Epcot event is a foodie’s paradise. You don’t have to be a full-on gourmand to enjoy the festival, however. With so much variety, there are dishes and beverages to please virtually everyone.
Typically scheduled for the late summer and into the fall (the 2020 event kicks off July 15), the annual Food & Wine Festival also coincides with one of the loveliest times of year to visit Walt Disney World. Starting in October, summer’s intense heat and humidity dissipate, and the rainy season ends. With schools in session and summer vacations over, the crowds are generally lighter, and Disney World’s ticket prices and room rates are typically lower than during peak seasons.
History of Epcot's Food & Wine Festival
Epcot held its first Food and Wine Festival in 1996 over 30 days and with considerably fewer booths than are offered today. The concept took hold, and the festival has been growing ever since. Julia Child was among the first of the celebrity chefs to participate in the event in 1997 (back when the notion of “celebrity” chefs was novel).
Its success has inspired other Epcot festivals, all of which include marketplace food booths among its features. They include the International Festival of the Holidays, which celebrates Christmas and other holidays around the globe, the Flower & Garden Festival, which is held in the spring, and the International Festival of the Arts, which celebrates the culinary arts along with performing arts and is held in the early part of the year.
With a nearly year-round schedule of festivals, Disney built a 12,000-square-foot kitchen facility in 2017. Instead of trying to share space with the park’s existing restaurant kitchens, the dedicated festival facility is able to focus on and accommodate the marketplaces. During the height of the Food and Wine Festival, chefs pump out as many as 4,000 sheet pans of steaming food from the festival kitchen.
How to Navigate Epcot's Food & Wine Festival
The booths set up throughout the park, which Disney refers to as “marketplaces,” are the heart of the festival. They serve up small portions of savory and sweet dishes as well as a variety of wines and other beverages. Many of the kiosks are located near the park’s World Showcase pavilions, such as France and Japan, and represent the cuisine of the host countries. There are also visiting nations and regions, which might include far-flung places such as Africa, New Zealand, Spain, and Patagonia, dishing out food and drinks inspired by the locales.
Typically, each booth offers two or three food items and two to four beverages. Some of the dishes might be considered snacks or appetizers, while others would generally be thought of as entrees. (This isn’t referring to the amount of food; all of the servings are fairly small.) For example, the Germany kiosk might have a snack-sized bratwurst in a small pretzel roll, while the Canada kiosk might serve a sample of filet mignon, one of the menu items at the Canadian pavilion’s popular Le Cellier restaurant. Some of the booths also offer desserts such as baked goods or frozen treats.
Most booths serve an array of wines, including reds, whites, and sparkling varieties that are paired with its savory items. The marketplaces also offer cocktails, martinis, beers, and specialty drinks.
There are more than 30 booths to explore, and they extend beyond World Showcase into Epcot‘s Future World. Most of the marketplaces are outside, while some are located in the park’s former Communicore buildings. Themes for the specialty marketplaces might include "Earth Eats," which features plant-based items, "The Chocolate Studio," and the "Light Lab," which has offered iridescent items such as the sparkling "Glonut," a fluorescent donut.
A few of the marketplaces focus on beverages. One might be devoted to craft beers, for instance, while another might serve mimosas. The festival’s welcome center includes a wine shop with an extensive selection of wines (along with a few food items to accompany the drinks).
The 2020 Food and Wine Festival
As with nearly everything, the pandemic has influenced the 2020 version of the foodie festival. For one thing, the event kicked off much earlier–on July 15–than usual. The official name for the modified event is “A Taste of EPCOT Food and Wine Festival.” There are 20 marketplaces, instead of the 30+ that have been featured in recent year. Other modifications to the festival:
- There is no Eat to the Beat concert series (although in-house acts, such as the JAMMitors, are performing at the America Gardens Theater.
- There are no special events planned, such as Party for the Senses (see below).
Special Events at Epcot's Food & Wine Festival
If all you did was wander among the marketplaces and enjoy some of the dishes and beverages, the festival would be a delightful (and tasty) experience. But if you really want to go deep, Epcot offers many ways to celebrate and indulge your inner foodie. Note that during the pandemic, none of the following special events arte planned for the 2020 event.
- Party for the Senses: Acclaimed chefs prepare a smorgasbord of gourmet dishes, and a variety of wines flow freely at the separately ticketed events. The parties (there are generally five scheduled) are held on weekend nights in Epcot’s World ShowPlace Events Pavilion. Live entertainment is included. Party for the Senses ain’t cheap. For 2019, the per-person price ranged from $229 to $359. Advance reservations are strongly recommended.
- Mix It, Make It, Celebrate It!: Don’t just enjoy delicious food and drinks. Learn how to cook like a pro by participating in classes alongside master chefs. The interactive sessions, which run for 75 minutes, are generally held midday, and guests get to chow down on their creations at the end. There are many classes from which to choose. The 2019 fee was $45 per session. You should make advance reservations.
- Specialty Dining & Pairings: In conjunction with the International Food & Wine Festival, Epcot offers a series of multi-course, prix-fixe meals at many of its restaurants. Themes might include a Mexican tequila lunch (relax, there's food on the menu as well as tequila) at La Hacienda de San Angel, a Parisian breakfast at Chefs de France, and a hibachi experience at Teppan Edo. Sittings for each meal are scheduled on select days and times, and, as is the case for most of the festival’s special events, you should consider making reservations in advance as they frequently sell out. Prices vary.
- Celebrity Chefs: A large roster of renowned kitchen maestros lend their expertise and star power to the festival. You could see one of the chefs by attending a culinary demonstration. They are presented in Epcot and around the Walt Disney World resort. In 2019, the cost to attend a demo is $19. Or you could share Sunday Brunch with the Chef and enjoy a buffet meal with a side serving of expert know-how from celebrated masters of their craft. The 2019 cost was $139 per guest. The festival also features chefs presiding over food and beverage pairing sessions, cheese seminars, and beverage seminars.
- Kid-Friendly Events: Families with younger children can get in on the festival fun by participating in a variety of special events such as the Disney du Jour Dance Party. DJs spin tunes (some of which may be food-related, perhaps?) every day during the festival and Radio Disney stars perform live on Fridays and Saturdays. Or you could participate in Remy's Ratatouille Hide & Squeak Scavenger Hunt. The preceding two events are included with admission to the park. For an additional $10 per participant, you could learn how to roll “sushi” at the Candy Man-Style Maki. The yummy treats replace traditional sushi ingredients with items such as gummies and crisped rice.
Live Music at Epcot's Food & Wine Festival
You could work off some of the calories you'd consume at the marketplaces by bopping to the bands that perform three times each day during the festival. The live concerts are held at Epcot’s America Gardens Theatre. The shows are included with admission to the park, and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The national acts represent many styles of music, including country, pop, rock, and R&B. The 2019 Eat to the Beat lineup included country-rockers, the Allman Betts Band, classic rockers such as Starship and 38 Special, and boy band legends, Boyz II Men. The Eat to the Beat concerts are not planned for 2020.
Tickets, Reservations, and Other Things to Know
For 2020, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will be held a record number of days starting on July 15 and continuing into the fall. (Disney has not announced an end date, but the event typically wraps in late November. The festival is included with general admission to Epcot. Special events, such as culinary demonstrations and seminars, require additional fees.
Reservations for the festival’s special events are strongly recommended and can be made up to 180 days in advance. To book a reservation, call Disney World’s reservation center at (407) 939-3378. If you are staying on property, you could also ask the concierge at your hotel to make a reservation. But if you wait until you arrive at the resort, the events you would want to experience may not be available.
Prices at the marketplaces vary and mostly range from about $4 to $8 per item. Disney does offer a multi-item tasting voucher. It’s convenient, but unless you opt only for the highest-priced items, it’s generally less expensive to pay for each item a la carte.
Tips & Tricks
- You could just show up, and you’d probably have a ball winging it, but you really should do some advance research before coming to the festival. You could check Disney World’s list of marketplaces and note the items you'd most want to try along with the booth at which they are located. The event’s welcome center has a nifty ”Passport,” a complimentary guide to all of the festival’s booths and items. That could serve as a handy day-of checklist.
- Check the Eat to the Beat concert schedule and try to plan your festival visit to coincide with one of your favorite bands. It could be a memorable and unique way to experience “dinner and a show.”
- Speaking of the festival’s concerts, demand for some of the more popular acts could make it difficult to get decent seats—or to get into the theater at all if you arrive too late. Consider purchasing an Eat to the Beat dining package. It includes a meal at one of Epcot’s restaurants along with guaranteed admission (in premium seats) to a performance. Prices vary.
- You’re going to be reaching for your wallet a lot as you eat your way around the marketplaces. The booths accept all major credit cards, but an easier and more elegant solution would be to charge everything using a MagicBand as part of Disney World’s My Disney Experience program.
- The festival is a favorite among local Floridians who are Disney World passholders. They tend to flock to the event on weekends and on weekday nights. If you want to avoid crowds, consider going early on weekdays.
- Looking for more great things to eat? Check out our guide to the best restaurants at Disney World. There are a ton of wonderful eateries throughout the resort.
- It’s unlikely you'll be spending all of your time at the Food & Wine Festival. Discover the 10 best things to do at Disney World, including the top rides and shows.