The 2021 Epcot International Festival of the Arts kicks off January 8 and will run until February 22. Note, this article was written pre-Covid so some activities may no longer be offered or be modified.
In previous years Disney added an International Festival of the Holidays and has extended the length of both its long-running Food and Wine and Flower and Garden Festivals, you might be excused for thinking that this is simply “another” festival and that Epcot is the park of perpetual festivals. But the Festival of the Arts truly is different, and here is why it’s fast-becoming my favorite time to visit Epcot.
Where Do You Start?
First off, you will want to pull three items from the display at the front of the park: a Guidemap, a Times Guide, and a Festival Passport. The map not only tells you where all of the “normal” Epcot attractions are, it also tells you where the food kiosks, seminars, exhibits, performance art, and photo ops are located.
The Times Guide has a listing of all the workshops and seminars that are going on. It also lists special festival entertainment including musical and visual arts performances. And it lists the over 30 visiting artists who are scattered throughout the park.
Tip 1: Keep the kids entertained by having them search out art pieces with Figment’s Brush with the Masters scavenger hunt.
The hub of this festival is the Odyssey Festival Showplace and I like to head there first.
At the Odyssey, you will find the Painter’s Palate food booth and a large open classroom area where the seminars and workshops are taught. You will also find a fascinating exhibit called The Art of Disney Attraction Posters showcasing classic (and modern) posters from Disney parks around the world. There is a desk at the front where you can purchase tickets to the workshops and two areas selling festival merchandise (including passholder-exclusive merchandise).
There’s So Much to Do!
While the Food and Wine Festival does have wine tasting and other learning events such as cooking classes and food pairings, it seems like the Festival of the Arts has even more options. Last year, many of the offerings were only on the weekends. This year, they run straight through the entire festival.
You can find a listing of the workshops and seminars online. The workshops cost $39 per person plus tax and can be booked ahead by calling (407) WDW-TOUR (or stopping at the ticket desk in the Odyssey, if they happen to still have space). Passholders and Disney Vacation Club owners get a 15% discount. The seminars are free, you just have to get the tickets ahead of time at the ticket desk.
Tip 2: Get tickets to free seminars by going to the ticket desk an hour beforehand. Seminars are at 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm.
The weekend I was there, the free seminars all looked interesting and included “Trailblazing Ladies of Animation” and “Artful Uses for Your Park Map.” I only had a chance to attend one seminar, however: “Principles of Background Art and Matte Painting in Animated Films.” This was taught by William Silvers, former Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios Senior Background Artist. Later we went over to the Art of Disney, the permanent art gallery in Epcot, where he was appearing. Visual arts are all around you, with more than 30 booths spread out around the World Showcase and Showcase Plaza. Take the time to look in the booths as you stroll past – you’ll see original works of art and more affordable reproductions. Many times, the artists are on hand and willing to talk or even sign an autograph.
There are Artful Photo Ops scattered throughout the park, where you can insert yourself into famous works of art like Washington Crossing the Delaware or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
Future World East featured a chalk artist creating masterpieces on the sidewalk in front of the old Universe of Energy Ride.
There are also hands-on opportunities: a Disney artist teaches drawing at the (free) Animation Academy, held intermittently at the Odyssey Festival Showplace. You can also paint a section of a giant mural at the Expression Section, and, new this year, you can discover cultural artifacts and create mementos of your own as you go on an Art Walk through the World Showcase.
Every evening the Disney on Broadway Concert Series at the America Gardens theater showcases Broadway artists performing Disney songs. Shows are at 5:30 pm, 6:45 pm, and 8 pm. Dining packages are available that include guaranteed seating for the concerts. Annual passholders can get a free wristband to get seating for one of the evening concerts from a castmember in the American Adventure.
Tip 3: If you don’t want to purchase a dining package, you can always stand behind the seating at the America Gardens Theatre. You’ll still be able to see and hear everything going on onstage.
Community and school groups frequently perform at the theater, too.
And there are various “performance art” events happening at the Fountain View plaza throughout the day. We caught part of a Cirque du Soleil-type performance called “Art Defying Gravity.”
Food and drink are a big part of any Epcot festival, and the International Festival of the Arts is no different. But with this festival, there is a bit more emphasis placed on plating, and the snacks themselves are almost works of art.
Disney Magic Diva has already written at length about the snacks, but some of the more “artistic” ones we ordered were the Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Chocolate from Pop Eats and the Taiyaki: Stuffed Japanese Pastry with Sesame Cream and Raspberry Sauce from the Takumi Table booth in Japan.
Tip 4: Don’t rule out purchasing artwork even if you have a limited budget: the past two years, I have purchased a signed, limited edition Star Wars print for under $50. There are even small works that cost just a few dollars.
The Hungry Artist (El Artista Hambriento) booth in Mexico even features a margarita with a work of art *in* it – a painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, printed on edible paper, floats in the drink.
Even if you aren’t particularly interested in art, you can grab something to eat and drink from one of the booths and simply stroll around the park.
While this festival is only in its second year, it doesn’t feel like an afterthought. It has the food and beverage booths of the other festivals, but it also offers much more. Temperatures are moderate (it was downright chilly the weekend I went) and crowds are somewhat lower. I’m definitely adding this to my list of “must-do” events at Disney World.
If you want to visit Epcot during one of its festivals, you can get FREE planning help from Authorized Disney Vacation Planner Patricia at All for Dreams Travel!
**Feature image courtesy of Disney Magic Diva