It’s a new year and that means it’s time for the newest festival at Epcot to make its return. The Epcot International Festival of the Arts is only a few years old, but it has brought a fresh look at the park during what used to be a fairly quiet time of year. The festival is a celebration of the arts, in its many different forms.
This year, the festival runs from January 17th, to February 24th, 2020. While the timeline is only just over a month for guests to visit, Epcot has a lot packed into those 38 days. In our Festival of the Arts Guide, we’ll try to unpack all of the experiences that are on offer. Whether it’s your first time visiting the festival, or you have been there since its inception, there is always something new to see or do.
The Epcot International Festival of the Arts is really broken down into 3 different sections (which we’ll get into below). While each “art” can be seen popping up in other familiar Epcot Festivals, the Festival of the Arts is unique in that it offers a smattering of it all. The 3 art disciplines on display are the Culinary Arts, the Performing Arts and the Visual Arts.
Like other Epcot Festivals, the Festival of the Arts can be a feast for the senses. There is so much to see, hear and taste around the park. There are even opportunities to get hands-on and interactive with the art.
Pop-up kitchens are scattered around the park for guests to sample an array of beautiful (and delicious) food. The America Gardens Theater in the American Adventure Pavilion is home to the Disney on Broadway Concert Series. There are also a variety of performers on stages set up around the park. Of course, the festival wouldn’t be complete without its stunning visual artists, showcasing some of the most unique Disney artwork you’ll find in one place. Each artistic discipline would be exciting enough to get us to visit Epcot. The fact that the Festival of the Arts features them all makes this one of our favourite times of year to visit Walt Disney World.
The Culinary Arts
This is the one that everyone can get excited for. The culinary arts are accessible to everyone (even those with dietary restrictions). Spread out around the World Showcase Lagoon, the Festival “Food Studios” not only focus on great taste, but visual presentation as well. For the Festival of the Arts, the food has to make a statement for your eyes as well as your palate.
There are about a dozen pop-up food studios, but the creative culinary crafts are available at a few additional places. Each studio offers a unique menu that feature dishes plated with such care that you’d assume you were sampling a tasting menu from a Michelin star restaurant.
Like the other Epcot festivals, there are definite winners to be sought out from the menus, but a lot of what you’ll enjoy depends on your own palate and preferences. Some dishes feature interesting combinations of flavours. The menus invite guests to be adventurous – taking typical ingredients and either preparing them in non-traditional ways, or making non-traditional flavour combinations that are meant to surprise and delight. We always recommend checking out the Disney Food Blog festival menus for pictures of each dish.
If you’re looking for the most Instagrammable piece of cuisine, you can pretty much have your pick of the lot. That being said, the classic Artist Palette Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookie is a hard one to pass up.
The Visual Arts
Visual arts are what make the Festival of the Arts unique from the other Epcot festivals. Sure, at the other festivals there are exclusive designs to be found, but the Festival of the Arts is different. Here, galleries are set up all over the park, showcasing some of the most talented artists whose work has a Disney-focus. Prints are available at each gallery and you can really get a sense of the artists style by seeing a number of pieces side-by-side.
Of course, the main goal of these galleries is to sell artwork, so if you are looking to add some Disney art to your collection, there’s no better place to look. There are even originals available for sale if you prefer the non-reproduced variety of artwork. Thousands of pieces are available for sale and the galleries are so eye-catching that you could spend your whole day just looking through them all.
The Visual Arts aren’t limited to just the galleries. Disney has also commissioned artists to reproduce works all over the park in the form of chalk-art. Each day, you’ll find artists set up along the walkways, turning them into masterpieces. The exception, of course, is on days when it is raining as it’s rather difficult to chalk in the rain.
The Performing Arts
Performance art can manifest in so many different ways and there are a variety of disciplines that fall under it as a category. Disney showcases a few of these disciplines on various stages set up around the park.
The example you see above is titled Art Defying Gravity. Performers show off creative feats of strength and dexterity to a musical score. I’d like to think that if only I went to the gym and didn’t spend my time eating at the festival food studios, maybe I’d be able to do something similar…then again…maybe not. Instead, I’ll leave it to the (clearly) trained professionals to show off their agility in ways I could never dream of.
In addition to those performers, there are also a series of high school bands in the Disney Performing Arts Showcase. Each band plays a variety of jazz and pop music over the course of the day. Don’t let the fact that they are high school students deter you from listening. They are incredibly well-rehearsed.
While most of the performances occur every day of the week, there are some performers that only appear on the weekend. Visual Art in Performance invites a guest visual artist to paint their favourite Disney characters in front of a crowd. In this particular instance, the artists create their works in minutes and it’s a sight to behold for sure. It would be difficult for Disney to expect a crowd to watch for hours, so these speed-painters are great at capturing your attention and creating beautiful works of art in a fraction of the time.
The Epcot Living Statues
Still under the umbrella of performing arts, there are a series of living statues that arrive throughout the day, to the delight of the guests. These performers are set up on visually interesting plinths and guests are invited to go up and take pictures with them. Don’t be surprised if their poses change ever so slightly, as they will slowly interact with the guests.
Living statues aren’t new, but the ones at Epcot have taken the art to a new level with their settings. When you first see the statues, you are instantly intrigued as to what the story is about. Where is this character from? What little details are there to explain a part of their background? You certainly don’t need to dive this deep into their origin stories, but it’s nice that they are so well thought out.
They do rotate the statues in and out of the space, so if you don’t see them out, know that they will likely be there shortly.
The Disney on Broadway Concert Series
It just wouldn’t be a festival at Epcot without music. The American Gardens Theater is really just begging to be used throughout the year, so it comes as no surprise that the Festival of the Arts is another opportunity to make use of the space. The Disney on Broadway Concert Series is unique from the other festival concerts because it is meant to showcase the talent that Disney has currently on Broadway.
Performers in the theatrical arts can sometimes be underrated because the theatre only has a certain reach. Many of the performers have not become household names, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t extremely talented. For the guests that do know who these performers are, they get incredibly excited.
Twelve different performers, who have all graced Disney’s Broadway stage, have come to Epcot to reprise their favourite songs from their past performances. The concert line-up this year is:
- Jan. 17, 20, 21 and 24 – Kissy Simmons and Alton Fitzgerald White (“THE LION KING”)
- Jan. 18, 19, 22 and 23 – Heidi Blickenstaff (“The Little Mermaid”) and Gavin Lee (“Mary Poppins”)
- Jan. 25 – Special performance featuring Simmons, White, Blickenstaff and Lee
- Jan. 26, 28, 29; Feb. 1, 2, 5 and 6 – Kara Lindsay (“Newsies”) and Kevin Massey (“Tarzan”)
- Jan. 27, 30, 31, Feb. 3, 4, 7 and 8 – Liana Hunt (“Newsies”) and Adam Jacobs (“Aladdin”)
- Feb. 9 – Special performance featuring Lindsay, Massey, Hunt and Jacobs
- Feb. 10, 12, 13, 18, 19, 22 and 23 – Ashley Brown (“Mary Poppins”) and Josh Strickland (“Tarzan”)
- Feb. 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20 and 21 – Syndee Winters (“The Lion King”) and Michael James Scott (“Aladdin”)
- Feb. 24 – Special performance featuring Brown, Strickland, Winters and Scott.
Performances take place at 5:30pm, 6:45pm and 8:00pm so there are lots of opportunities to see these Broadway stars perform. It’s well-worth checking out because you could otherwise have to pay $100 USD per ticket to see them live on Broadway. Based on the schedule, most nights feature two performers, but there are three chances to see a quartet of Broadway performers share the stage.
As always, seating can be limited. While there is stand-by seating available, if you wish to guarantee a spot at a particular performance, there is…
The Dining Package
Like all of the Epcot festival concert series, you can guarantee seating at a performance by purchasing the Disney on Broadway Concert Series Dining Package. The dining package gets you reservations at a participating Epcot restaurant plus guaranteed seating at one of the 3 concerts held the same day. While you are at the restaurant, your meal will include an appetizer, entrée, dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage or a full buffet.
There are only 4 participating restaurants at Epcot, including the Biergarten Restaurant (this one is the buffet), Coral Reef, Garden Grill and the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room. The dining package is one cost for the meal, but that cost depends on which restaurant you visit and which meal you have made reservations for.
You can find the pricing information and book the Disney on Broadway Concert Series Dining Package here.
If you wish to further your artistic talents, the Festival of the Arts offers unique workshops for that very purpose! Workshops take place only on the weekends during the festival, but there are lots of great options. Each event is interactive and you do get to create your own piece of art during the 75-minute workshop taking place between 10am and 11:15am in the World Showplace Events Pavilion.
Professional artists lead each group of guests through the workshop. Guests can choose from a variety of events focussed on areas like 2D Cel animation, Disney 3D Papercrafting, Gesture Drawing Basics: “Story Telling Drawings” and more.
Guests do need to register in advance by calling (407) WDW-FEST or (407) 939-3378. There is a fee for each workshop of $45 USD, plus tax.
The Photo Ops
Visual Arts comprise such a large component of the festival. I, myself, am not great at drawing or painting. Whatever designs I may have in my head; I can’t translate them through my hands onto the page. Thankfully, visual art also encompasses photography as well! The photo ops at the Festival of the Arts put you in front of the camera in a variety of places around the park. Sure, there are the Festival of the Arts signs for you to pose with, but this festival showcases so much more.
While the art for sale is contemporary, Epcot also gives guests opportunity to place themselves in a historical art setting…literally! There are photo op booths set up around the park, where you can put yourself into a classical piece of art. PhotoPass Photographers can be found at most of the locations where they will direct you to pose a certain way, mimicking the original artwork. It takes a certain level of performance to match your pose to your surroundings, but the final result is well-worth the effort. Take a look at some of our favourites:
It’s hard to compare the Epcot Festivals to one another, because it’s sort of like comparing apples and...other kinds of apples. To be honest, Epcot as a park is really just a series of festivals with a short period in the summer with no special events to look forward to. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Tons of people have their favourite festival and plan their vacations around those dates.
Each festival has a fair number of similarities and a few distinct differences between each. They all have exclusive food booths. They all have musical acts to perform on the America Gardens Theater. What makes the Festival of the Arts different is the way in which it showcases those standard elements.
The food is a visual journey. Plating is just as important as taste. It’s artistry on the plate. With the Food & Wine Festival, there are so many pop-up kitchens in the park, that I can imagine it would be next to impossible to pull off the level of attention to detail we see in the Festival of the Arts. This festival has a few really great “food studios” and the focus is on artistic quality over quantity.
The music isn’t focused on headliners. It’s about incredibly talented performers who might otherwise fly under the radar. These performers have honed their crafts over years of hard work on Broadway.
The rest of the performers all contribute to a level of awe and whimsy in the park. It’s engaging to see different artistic disciplines on display. Even the chalk artists draw crowds (as well as paintings… just a little joke there).
The visual art is what really clinches it for the Festival of the Arts. I, personally, love to peruse the different Disney artists and see the biggest collection that is not only on display, but on sale as well. The thousands of beautiful pieces are unlike anything you can find at the other festivals. That’s what makes the Festival of the Arts unique, and that is what makes it one of my favourites (Flower & Garden is in the mix for top spot).
All that is to say that I love the Festival of the Arts. It’s fresh, new and innovative. Disney is now in the 4th year of the festival and it promises to be just as good as the years prior…maybe even better.
Now there are a couple of things I struggle with. Firstly, the cost of the dishes at the food studios are higher than normal. Compared to the other festivals, you are paying a premium for the artistry involved (think $10 tasting plates instead of $7-8). That adds up over time and it can make a trip to the Festival of the Arts an expensive endeavour for foodies.
The other thing I can gripe about is the fact that it’s a 38-day festival this year. That’s a generally short window for guests to travel in. I know that the Food & Wine and the Flower & Garden are the big festivals each year. The Festival of the Holidays can’t really be extended since Food & Wine finishes in November. The Flower & Garden Festival picks up in March, so really, the Festival of the Arts can only be a short one. I know there’s not a lot of wiggle room, but I truly believe it’s worth it for Disney fans to experience…at least once.
The Bottom Line
I do believe that everyone should experience the Epcot Festival of the Arts sometime in their travels. It’s tough to say how the festivals will evolve once the construction at Epcot is complete, but I can only imagine it will enhance them. Not to get too preachy, but the Arts can be easily overlooked, but sorely missed when it’s not in our lives. I love that Epcot is giving guests an opportunity to experience and interact with the Arts through the festival. Anything that brings some extra colour to our lives is great in my book!