The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is likely the most popular annual event at Walt Disney World. It is also an enormous event – the size and scope of the festival can be overwhelming for sure!
Most people vacationing at Walt Disney World will only experience the main feature of the festival, the Marketplace Booths. The Marketplace Booths are small themed buildings situated around Epcot where you can purchase sample-sized portions of food and beverages. Most samples cost between $3 – $7.
To make the most of your day (or more) at the festival, it helps to have some insider tricks from someone who’s been many times before. I’ve been four out of the last five years and have lots of ideas for saving you time and money. So here are my top tips for getting the most our of your experience at the festival!
PS – The most common question I get asked about the festival is how much admission costs. If you have a park ticket to get into Epcot, you are good to go! There is no additional cost to visit the festival, though there are ticketed events that take place that DO incur additional costs. For an overview of all of the other special events at the festival, check out this post.
Tip #1: Stay Cool
Do not underestimate how hot it will be at Epcot in the “Fall”! It is normal to experience highs in the 80’s into November in central Florida. Shade can also be hard to find at Epcot, so prepare for hot times even later in the festival.
To stay cool, I suggest taking lots of breaks in air conditioning. My favorite place to chill out during the festival is inside the old Odyssey restaurant, which houses the Craft beer booth this year. It is located between Future World and World Showcase near the Mexico pavilion. It happens to be close to many excellent booths, so you can bring your food into the air conditioning and chill out while you chow down.
I also suggest cooling off at the movie in the France pavilion (Impressions de France), the bakery in France, watching the American Adventure show, sitting inside the China pavilion, and at the Festival Welcome Center in Future World.
Here’s a few more suggestions: drink A LOT of water (free at any quick service dining location or bring a water bottle to refill at drinking fountains), wear light colored clothing, and bring along a hat to keep the sun off of your face. Getting overheated is guaranteed to ruin your day at Epcot so try to prevent that at all costs!
Tip #2: Pick Out Some “Can’t Miss” Items Before You Visit
Doing some quick math, there are around 200 items you could possibly try at the booths. Clearly you aren’t going to be able to try them all in one day (or even one week). It helps to make a short list of some items you really want to try before you visit. If you don’t you will likely end up too full to eat something that really sounds perfect to you!
The best way to do this is to check out the full booth menus and photos over at the Disney Food Blog’s Festival pages. AJ and her team try and photograph every item so you can have some idea of what’s there before you go. Or if that is overwhelming, check out my 10 Can’t Miss Items at the Festival – I’d never steer you wrong! 😉
This year I had a short list of items I knew I wanted to try with me when I went. It helped me pass up some stuff that I’m sure would have been ok and let me focus on what I really wanted to try. This led to me having the best time yet at the festival!
Tip #3: Avoid the Crowds & Lines
The festival draws a lot of locals, especially on Friday evenings and all day on Saturday. If you want to have the best experience, avoid these times! This year I attended the festival on a Sunday and it was the least crowded I’ve ever seen it, so I think you are safe visiting on a Sunday.
If you find yourself at the festival on a crowded day, I suggest avoiding the busiest times at the booths. These times tend to be from noon to 2 pm and then again from 6 to 8 pm. Your best bet is to visit some booths for an hour as soon as they open (11 am to noon) then visit more in the afternoon before the evening crowds hit around 6 pm.
Nothing dampens my spirit like waiting in line. I avoid it completely if possible (even at Disney World). In addition to visiting at an off-time, here are a few more tips to skip the lines.
First, divide and conquer. Find a place to meet and split up to get items from multiple booths at once. There is really no need for everyone in your party to wait in line at every booth. Next, I suggest making your way to the back of World Showcase as soon as the festival booths open (11 am) and begin with those booths. Though it will be VERY difficult to walk right past some of the popular booths, starting in the back and working your way towards Future World will help you dodge the crowds all day long! I tried this approach this year and I don’t think we waited for more than a few minutes at any booth,
Tip #4: Budget Accordingly (The Festival is Not Cheap)
It is shocking how fast $4 here and $5 there adds up. When I plan to make a meal of snacking my way around the festival, I allocate $30-$40 per person just for food. This is consistent with what you would pay for a meal at a table service restaurant at Disney World, so in that regard it isn’t too crazy.
But where you can really go over-budget is with drinks. Beer and wine samples are usually half sized portions, so about 3 ounces of wine and 6 ounces of beer/mixed drinks. Wine and beer samples usually cost between $4-$8 but mixed drinks are close to $10.
To make the most of your budget, I suggest sticking with beer and wine as those fancy mixed drinks are horribly overpriced! Also, to get the most bang for your buck, share a beer or wine flight with a friend. The flights contain 3 or 4 smaller sized samples. You’ll get to try the most for the least amount of money.
Here’s a few more tips to stretch your budget. If you happen to have snack credits from the Disney Dining Plan, definitely save them and use them at the festival. You can use a snack credit on almost any food sample, even those that are upwards of $8! I value a snack credit at $5, so using them at the festival on any items over that amount. Also, check out my top 10 favorites at the festival for some items that represent a huge value for what you’ll pay (I’m talking about you, Black Pepper Shrimp with Garlic Noodles).
Tip #5: Get a Festival Passport
Festival Passports are free and available all over Epcot. Inside you will find a detailed menu for every booth and stickers that you can use to keep track of what booths you’ve visited, among other things. This is the best guide for the festival out there, and also makes a great free souvenir!
Tip #6: Don’t Miss the Eat to the Beat Concerts
Another element of the festival that is included with park admission are the nightly Eat to the Beat Concerts. They take place three times each night (at 5:30, 6:45 and 8:00 pm) in the American Gardens Theater. They feature rock and pop stars from the 80’s and 90’s (think Starship, Billy Ocean, Wilson Phillips) and the concerts are SO MUCH FUN. Lots of folks would pay a pretty penny just to go to some of these concerts!
The most popular concert is the 8:00 show, so get in line early for a seat. Or, if you are a Chase credit card holder, visit the Chase Lounge in the American Adventure pavilion early in the day (I’d suggest before 1 pm) and get a free wristband that gives you preferred seating to any concert! You’ll just have to show a Chase card to gain entry to the lounge. We got wristbands and had awesome seats at the 8:00 pm show.
I would not suggest booking an Eat to the Beat Dining Package (which includes a meal and seating to a show) unless you are there on a very busy day and really want great seats. They are overpriced and I’d rather spend the money on trying more food at the festival. But that’s just my opinion.
Tip #7: Be Adventurous & Try New Things
Finally, the festival is an amazing opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and try new flavors. I love that I can try something different without having to commit to an entree-sized portion. I’m not a huge beet fan, but this year I tried the roasted beet salad at the Farm Fresh booth and it was one of my favorite items at the whole festival! I’d bet you will be pleasantly surprised if you try something you think you don’t like.
That’s it for my tips for making the most of the Food & Wine festival. Have you ever been? If so, what is the best item you’ve had there? Please leave a comment below!