June 22, 2024

EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival Is Stale. Here’s What We Want Disney to Change in 2024.

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EPCOT's Food & Wine Festival is its weakest event of the year. We've been saying this for several years–that despite its popularity and status as Walt Disney World's flagship festival, it rests on its reputation




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EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival is its weakest event of the year. We’ve been saying this for several years–that despite its popularity and status as Walt Disney World’s flagship festival, it rests on its reputation and legacy as the oldest EPCOT event. There was a point when this might’ve been a hot take or controversial opinion. Since 2020, it’s fairly undeniable–even if it’s a tough truth for longtime WDW diehards.

The reason that the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival is the worst event of the year is relatively straightforward. It almost entirely revolves around the Global Marketplaces at this point, with pretty much everything else having been cut since the ‘Taste of’ events started in 2020. To be sure, there are other enhancements, but they also exist at every single other EPCOT festival.

The difference is that all of those other EPCOT festivals also offer food, but have something else in addition to that. Food and arts. Food and gardens. Food and holidays. It’s not just the other stuff being icing on the proverbial cake. I would also argue that the other festivals arguably have better cuisine. Flower & Garden has become a powerhouse in the last few years with fresh and refreshing dishes. Festival of the Arts is inventive and artfully presented.

In fairness, EPCOT’s “worst” festival is still very good. In addition to wanting to write this post for a while, I’ve also had a post in drafts titled “EPCOT’s Festivals Are A Cut Above.” That idea was prompted by the cuisine for Food & Wine Festivals at Disney California Adventure and even my beloved Tokyo DisneySea, while pale in comparison to the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival from a culinary perspective.

Point being, I don’t want this to be a ‘grass is always greener’ post. EPCOT is still a culinary powerhouse, and even as cuts have been made in the last few years, it’s fair to say the last couple of years (not 2024) have seen the best menus ever at EPCOT’s Flower & Garden Festival. The EPCOT Festival of the Arts likewise continues to impress, even with some cutbacks during the overhaul.

The reality is that EPCOT’s festivals have ebbs and flows. We might yearn for the past when looking through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, but those events weren’t perfect either–and there are a lot of ways things have gotten better over the years.

The goal of this post is to marry past and present, with my ‘wish list’ for things I’d like to see return to the 2024 EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival. The event is stepping into a new era with the completion of CommuniCore Hall and the end of the EPCOT overhaul, and I’d like for that to be accompanied by a banner year for the big event. To that end, here’s what I’d like to see change…

Fewer Heavy Dishes – Another post idea that has been stuck in draft purgatory for a while is “Too Many Disney Decisions Are Made From Comfort.” The general idea of that is that decision-makers seemingly don’t account for the weather realities of Central Florida when planning things from their air-conditioned offices and conference rooms.

The idea for that post was born after eating a half-dozen new dishes at last year’s Food & Wine Festival during 110° (not a typo) “feels like” heat. But it just as easily could’ve been written while getting rained on in Toy Story Land and having nowhere indoors to go (aside from restrooms) or while walking around the many new areas that have extra-hot pavement thanks to no shade. The culinary team working on the following year’s EPCOT Food & Wine Festival menus should be doing so outside, in August and September while trying dishes from their own menus at random.

That would yield fewer stews, soups, meats and potatoes–and hopefully more seafood and plant-forward (not fake meat) dishes. There are endless possibilities for items that are refreshing and appropriate for Florida’s endless summers. It would be great to see more of those at an event that spans September. What I’d really love to see is a few booths like EPCOT Farmers Feast at Flower & Garden, which does rotating seasonal menus. It’s a great booth and a brilliant approach!

Festival Center – The opening of CommuniCore Hall should address this, but I still have lingering concerns that the events space inside that purpose-built pavilion in the center of World Celebration won’t offer quite as much as the Wonders of Life Festival Center (especially when paired with World ShowPlace and/or the Odyssey).

The Wonders pavilion was home to a variety of unexpected little surprises, such as DCA’s delightful Seasons of the Vine film, Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Experience, Junior Chef Kitchen sessions, book and wine bottle signings, shopping, and a bunch of other things I’m probably forgetting since it’s been so long since this space was used. (I think there was a Disney Junior Dance Party and stuff with the cast from “The Chew” but I’m not 100% certain.)

Again, a lot of the Food & Wine Festival offerings will presumably return and take residence inside CommuniCore Hall. That will be fantastic. I’m just skeptical some of this ‘little stuff’ will make the move, as Walt Disney World won’t want to devote prime real estate to third party sponsors or minor offerings. I hope to be wrong, and for the CommuniCore Hall to be the best festival center yet!

Party for the Senses – There were a lot of upcharge offerings at past versions of the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts, and I want to say there were more in 2018 (the following year is when construction started and things started to get slightly scaled back) than any other year in EPCOT history. Just a huge list of celebrity chef and other meals or tastings, some of which were outside EPCOT at Signature Restaurants and elsewhere.

While it’d be nice to see some of those return, many of them were super limited in capacity and were one-off offerings. The biggest exception to that was Party for the Senses, which was consistently one of the most popular upcharge events taking place at Walt Disney World. To my recollection, this was the biggest of the upcharges at the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, at least as measured by dates and total capacity. Party for the Senses also had a huge fan following, and is the event we’re asked about more than any other.

During Party for the Senses, a special host leads the evening’s festivities as guests eat, drink, and celebrate. This usually features dozens of tasting stations and countless dishes…and also a high price tag, at $250+ per person. Honestly, given how steep price increases have been since 2019, if this does return it’ll probably cost over $400…at which point it’s a no-go for us. We’ll stick to the Food & Wine Classic at Swan & Dolphin! Still, it’d be nice to see this and the other pricey special events return. If not for us, for the longtime Food & Wine fans who love this stuff.

More Inventive Menus – Look, I’m a Disney blogger. I’ve taken a solemn oath to support french fries and mac & cheese. And even absent those commandments mandating that I like those dishes, I’m a sucker for comforting cuisine. The problem, as I see it, is that Disney has leaned way too heavily into comfort foods at these festivals. That’s not just an EPCOT problem–DCA has done the exact same.

The “problem” here is that Disney seems to be giving guests what they want, instead of dishes they never knew they’d enjoy. We’ve written scathing reviews of the french fry booth, chicken wings booth, and donut booth in the years those were offered. (Not so much with the mac & cheese booth, as those dishes were fantastic.)

We were virtually alone in those assessments. The Fry Basket has garnered rave reviews, and a lot of excitement among Walt Disney World fans. Some of the longest lines at the festival are for dishes or drinks that are colorful or trendy, having lengthy lists of ingredients…almost all of which are artificial flavors and colors.

We’re hardly food snobs, but this is supposed to be Walt Disney World’s flagship foodie event…french fries should not be the big new highlight. (Sorry, not sorry.) There is room for cute and/or comforting cuisine. Stuff like that’s a lot of fun! The SPAM Hash (RIP) at the Hawaii booth was a great example of this, the type of dish that’s both comforting, fun and unique.

That type of dish should be the blueprint for Food & Wine Festival, and Disney should offer items that are inventive and interesting while also being approachable and popular. Things that surprise and delight guests’ taste buds, introducing them to new dishes from around the world…not things that would be perfectly at home on the kids menu at McDonald’s.

Larger Menus – One easy way to accomplish the above goal is making menus larger. Or rather, restoring menus to what they were just a few years ago. This has gotten especially bad as of 2024, with the first two festivals of the year eliminating 1-2 dishes per menu pretty much across the board.

The only exception to this has been the booths by third party operating participants. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what we want to see. If only Italy would be so merciful to only subject us to a couple of overpriced, microwaved dishes instead of a half-dozen!

I assume this streamlining has occurred for the sake of efficiency, as lines have gotten longer as booths struggle to keep up with guest demand. There are a few solutions to this, from better staffing in the kitchens to fewer ordering stations (use the DCA system of allowing ordering from one kiosk for all of them) to introducing more festival items at counter service menus to spread out demand.

Culinary Seminars & Demonstrations – While the exclusive and pricey offerings like Party for the Senses and meals with celebrity chefs have cult followings, the low-cost demonstrations are more our speed. In fact, these seminars are (were) our favorite aspect of the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival.

At $15 to $20 each, they offer a lot more than the free seminars, and a lot of times the samples you receive at these seminars are a better value than what you’d receive if you simply went around to booths and ordered items. In addition to the samples, you receive basic background information and some entertaining presentations.

These seminars are not geared to the same level of foodie audience as the special event meals, nor are the samples of the same caliber, but you get what you pay for. We have done several of these, and they generally offer the best value at the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival. These low-cost seminars offer a good primer to the topic covered, plus pretty good samples.

Some of these used to be free way back in the day, but I don’t recall any of the ones that provide food or alcohol being free in 2018-2019. And honestly, that’s fine by us. As Walt Disney World has grown in popularity and the local audience increased, the same fans with a surplus of time clogged up these events by waiting in line for hours for them (over and over again). Providing a slight barrier to entry eliminated that, and improved things for tourists with limited vacation time. (I’m guessing that’s going to be an unpopular opinion, but oh well.)

BeaverTails – This was supposed to happen last year, but didn’t. If you missed that roller coaster, check out BeaverTails Are Gone Again…Already?! My guess is that Disney’s culinary team didn’t realize BeaverTails was a protected trademark and were going to make a knock-off version…but still call them “Beaver Tails” (with the space).

Regardless of what happened, this is the year to bring back BeaverTails. Hopefully Disney has worked out an agreement with the actual Canadian company to bring the delicacy back after a two-decade hiatus. But even if not, make their own knock-off version and just call it something different. One way or the other, the people demand these pastries!

For those who are unfamiliar with them, BeaverTails has been an iconic indulgence in Canada since 1978, and today combine the original recipe with premium quality ingredients. Served piping-hot, the hand-stretched whole-wheat pastries are both crispy and chewy at the same time. BeaverTails truly are iconic in Canada, having been eaten by Matt Damon, Ron MacLean, Ed Sheeran, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and U.S. President Barack Obama. BeaverTails were even featured in an episode of South Park.

Pumpkin Mousse – Even more than BeaverTails, this is the dish I miss most from EPCOT Food & Wine Festival past. The “Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce” was so beloved that Disney even shared the recipe online for Thanksgiving 2011. That same year, we ended up having a half-dozen of these (not going from memory, but my photo archive) over the course of our October trip.

In part, that was because it was delicious. But it was also cheap. This bad boy cost $1.50 the first year it was offered. That’s not a typo. One dollar and 50 cents. I would happily pay double that for it today and order just as many in 2024! In actuality, I’d probably be paying triple that amount given price increases–but it’d still be worth it. This pumpkin mousse was amazing, and that’s not just our bias for all things pumpkin talking.

Oh, and while we’re at it, bring back the Cranberry Bog. That Ocean Spray sponsorship really was fruitful in more ways than one!

Culinary Corridor – Also known as the Rosewalk, this is the walkway between the Imagination Pavilion and World Showcase. It’s just been redone for what feels like the third time since 2019, and has been home to food booths or seating areas for previous festivals. The Culinary Corridor was home to the “Next Eats” area that debuted in Future World back around 2017 with a small space devoted to the now-defunct ABC television series, The Chew.

In typical TV fashion, those booths inspired a series of spinoffs, and that has led us to the two groups of booths in Future World, those with “Eats” in the name and those with “Studio” in the name. The “Eats” booths were all behind the former Innoventions West building. The “Studios” were in the Culinary Corridor.

The whole Next Eats and Culinary Corridor areas contained some of the best booths at the 2019 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival–to the point that we recommended starting in this area while you’re still really hungry and getting more selective as you get to the weaker, less ambitious Global Marketplaces in World Showcase. These booths were a mixture of inventive, fun, and delicious–exactly what the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival is at its best.

To end this on a positive note, last year’s event sort of revived the Next Eats and Culinary Corridor–at least in spirit–with the debut of the Disney100 marketplaces (Char & Chop, Wine & Wedge, Bubbles & Brine, and Swirled Showcase). The first three of those were really strong, and Walt Disney World bringing back booths of this style or the Culinary Corridor/Next Eats area would be a huge win. While we’re at it, move Flavors from Fire back to its proper home over here, and restore the expanded menu!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What would you like to see brought back to the 2024 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival? Excited to finally have a festival center again in CommuniCore Hall? Think that’ll result in some of the “extras” being restored? Any hopes for Global Marketplace booths or menu items? Think any of the other demonstrations or seminars will return? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!




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