Attending the annual International Food & Wine Festival in Disney World’s EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) theme park in Orlando, Florida is one of my favorite activities at the Resort. Founded in 1995 to boost attendance during the slower autumn season, the Festival has evolved into a months-long extravaganza. The 2022 celebration featured 32 pop-up booths representing different countries or cuisines, as well as entertainment, scavenger hunts, and other events.
Doug and I have attended EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival several times, and had the chance to return in 2022. I’d attend every year if I could.
Since it’s grown so much, it helps to have an insider view of how to get the most out of your visit. Here are four tips about EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival you should know about.
1. Conduct Advance Research to Deal with the Crowds
Don’t expect to avoid the throngs, even if you visit on a weekday in October when schools are in session, as we did. The Festival has become increasingly popular over the years.
As a result, it’s more important than ever to look at Disney’s official website and other resources to map out your visit, such as whether any booths are new and which foods are standouts. Armed with a cheat sheet created before we left home, I knew of at least a few foods I wanted to sample as soon as we got to the Festival and before the lines got too long, such as the Feijoada from Brazil.
Advance planning is also vital if you want to enjoy any of the rides in EPCOT. You’ll want to pre-purchase “lightning lane” passes for the most popular ones. The standby wait for some of the rides was 90 minutes. Ugh.
2. Understand that the Vibe of the Festival has Changed
When we first attended EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival years ago, it was great fun but also more educational, with sit-down wine and beer tastings and celebrity chefs giving presentations.
Now there may be more booths serving food and wine, but it’s more like an all-day happy hour with a younger crowd. There were a lot of people wearing “drink around the world,” “on the Food and Wine Festival drinking team,” and “get a buzz with Buzz Lightyear” T-shirts, which turn out are not Disney products (they’re sold on Etsy).
I also wondered if I was the only visitor with questions, such as why certain foods and beverages had been chosen to be showcased. Was India serving Chenin Blanc because it’s known for that grape? Why was the Alps booth serving North Carolina Beer? That kind of information wasn’t readily available. I’ll bet a lot of people didn’t know why Spam was on the menu at the Hawai’i booth.
Of course, EPCOT itself has also evolved, moving from recreating the spirit of various countries to tying the countries to Disney movies and products. It’s more commercial than it used to be.
For instance, in the past when one strolled through “France” one could buy cute French personalized parasols. Now the merchandise in France is mainly geared toward the movie Ratatouille. The Norway pavilion is all about Frozen; the American area now features The Princess and the Frog.
I understand that Disney needs to keep things fresh, that those tie-ins increase profits, and that the demographics and preferences of the visitors to the Festival may have changed. But I hope those parasols make a comeback.
3. Don’t Expect Truly Exotic Food and Wine Offerings
Another tip about EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival is that the food and wine aren’t all that adventurous. This is not a high-end wine tasting event.
For example, while almost every booth sold wine, beer, and other adult beverages, they were well-known traditional offerings, like Riesling in the Germany Pavilion, California Chardonnay in the American area, and Prosecco in “Italy.”
That’s fine, but I was hoping to try wines I was less familiar with. It would have been a great opportunity to sample varietals from places like Hungary and Georgia, both renowned for their wines but less popular in the United States. Those countries were not represented at the Festival. Perhaps they’ll read this and participate next year. 😊
4. Anticipate Odd Gaps in the Countries Represented
The 11 permanent pavilions in EPCOT, which opened in 1982, represent countries that are either “Western” or otherwise familiar to Americans, like Japan.
But strangely EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival continues to skew in that direction 40 years later. Of the 32 booths at the 2022 Food and Wine Festival, I’d classify fully eight as “American” (not including Hawai’i), offering classics like wings and French fries, and another eight booths representing Europe. There was only one booth from sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya) and one from South America (Brazil). I understand that geopolitical and other issues are at play, but I hope that participation will broaden.
I guess it’s a little like EPCOT itself: it’s the essence of the world but not the real thing.
We hope that our tips about EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival will help you plan your visit. When I return (and I will) I’ll be taking my own advice.
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