Last month we learned that on the same day EPCOT was set to reopen, a modified version of EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival would be starting!
But just how “modified” are we talking here? Now that we’ve had a chance to explore the Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival, we can tell you EXACTLY how different (or not so different) it is from Food and Wine Festivals of yesteryear!
What’s So Different About It?
At its core, the Festival experience is still very much the same. We still ate SO MUCH food and enjoyed our time sampling goodies from around the World, but it’s hard to ignore that there ARE big differences. We’re going to run through all the main changes we’ve noticed at this year’s festival for ya so you can be better prepared!
Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival (as EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival is officially being called this year) is a festival mash-up, incorporating elements of both Flower and Garden (because it was cut short due to the closures) and our beloved Food and Wine! Normally, EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival starts in late August, but 2020 is becoming a historic year for Disney World in more ways than one.
You can enjoy some of the best parts of the Food and Wine Festival AND some of the fun, Spring-like elements of Flower and Garden all at once (you can even still spy a number of character topiaries around the park!). This year will also be the very first-time EPCOT has ever held a festival during the Summer. The Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival will also be the longest-running EPCOT festival of all time, starting July 15th and ending sometime that has yet to be announced in the Fall.
All of this might sound like strange tides for us Food and Wine aficionados, but the differences only seem to pile up more from here on out!
Enhanced Safety Measures
One of the questions we’ve been getting asked a lot by our readers is how do you eat and drink at an EPCOT Festival during a global health crisis. And the answer is very carefully!
Luckily, Cast Members have put out more tables this year to encourage guests to stop and eat or drink their food instead of strolling around with it (which, FYI, is NOT ALLOWED).
Face masks must be worn at nearly all times while visiting Walt Disney World. The only exceptions are when you’re stationary and dining/drinking, when you’re swimming, or when you’re inside a relaxation station. While you’re allowed to pull your mask down if you’re actively snacking or sipping, guests are asked to pull off to the side of a walkway and remain stationary while they eat or drink.
A Cast Member will ask you to cover up if you’re walking around with your mask down, or step aside and be still if you’re strolling while consuming something.
The additional tables that have been placed throughout the World Showcase have been socially-distanced, and we’ve received the word from Cast Members guests ARE allowed to fully remove their mask if they’re standing at one of these tables. For us, we’re just more comfortable lowering our masks instead of taking them off, but you have the option.
There were plenty of tables open throughout the park when we’ve stopped by, so taking a mask-break to nosh on some Food and Wine goodies should be relatively simple.
Click here to see what the crowds were like on the opening day of A Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival!
Food booths themselves have implemented a few new procedures. When ordering your food, you’ll notice plexiglass barriers have been installed at the cash registers while queues have social distancing markers on the ground. Contactless methods of payment are being strongly encouraged and additional hand sanitizer locations have been installed.
You’ll also notice the utensil dispensers have been switched out with new-and-improved dispensers we’ve seen appear all around Disney World so guests can only touch the utensil they intend to use.
Click here to read about all the new health and safety enhancements at Food and Wine’s festival food booths!
Fewer Food Booths
Around 20 marketplaces are represented throughout the World Showcase at this year’s Food and Wine Festival with a few additional locations. Yes, it’s fewer than the usual number of booths, but it’s not much fewer. Last year’s Food and Wine fest had 34 booths plus a few festival offerings at several other EPCOT kiosks.
And rather mysteriously, we’ve begun to see other food booths appear throughout EPCOT that AREN’T open such as The Alps and Donut Box. Could they be reopening at a later time? Disney hasn’t announced anything yet, but it certainly seems like something’s coming!
But There’s New Stuff, Too!
One of the things we look forward to the most is trying BRAND NEW food booths and menus at Food and Wine! We’re not really considering Flower and Garden menu stuff that’s stuck around for Food and Wine as “new,” but if you’ve never been to the Flower and Garden Festival before, it’ll be new to you!
Since the normal rules don’t really seem to apply this year, EPCOT’s done a few quirkier things. They’ve introduced a booth called Wine and Dine Featuring Festival Favorites, which is serving up exactly what its name implies — CLASSIC offerings! You’ll find many beloved dishes from previous Food and Wine food booths not presenting at this year’s festival like Ireland’s Seafood Fisherman’s Pie or Poland’s Kielbasa and Potato Pierogi with Caramelized Onions.
Poland hasn’t attended the Food and Wine party in quite some time!
Mexico usually has some exciting flavors to try, and this year the Pork Tostada blew our minds! The tender delicious pork and crispy corn tortilla were like a fiesta in our mouths! There’s plenty of cilantro on top though, so if that’s not your jam, be sure to ask them to hold it!
Besides everything old being new again, we also stopped by the brand new Mac and Cheese food booth — a golden temple to noodle and cheese delights.
This brand new food booth can be found in the World Showplace tent near the UK Pavilion along with Wine and Dine Featuring Festival Favorites, Appleseed Orchard (which debuted last year), and Desserts and Champagne — all of these booths, rather interestingly, you need to join a virtual queue to visit if crowds are high!
And once you’re inside the World Showplace tent, you gotta check out these Nitro Chocolate Cake Pops they’re being served this year for $4 a pop (they make them right in front of you with liquid nitrogen to freeze them!).
And for us, it wouldn’t be a Food and Wine Festival without some sort of novelty cup! The Hawai’i booth is serving their Aulani Sunrise in a new, cool-looking plastic tiki cup! We’ve also seen the cute and popular Spike the Bee sipper and Orange Bird sipper from Flower and Garden Festival make a re-appearance!
Several of the new offerings we tried this year have made their way onto our BEST of the FEST list!
Wanna know what to get at A Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival? Click here to see our BEST of the FEST picks!
Special Events Are Unlikely to Occur
Since four of Food and Wine’s food booths have taken over the World Showplace tent (where a number of special events are typically held), there are currently no chef meet and greets, cooking demonstrations, or seminars planned for Food and Wine this year. No Party for the Senses. No Parisian Breakfast. No Tequila Lunches. The list goes on and on.
There’s also no official “Festival Center” like we’re used to seeing at the old Wonders of Life Pavilion.
It seems possible Disney could make some special events available at a later time if it’s safe to do so. For guests who are drawn to these aspects of Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, this is a MAJOR setback. Since we’re used to attending many of these events, it feels really strange being at Food and Wine without them.
(R.I.P.) Beer Flights
Places like Hops and Barley and Appleseed Orchard normally sell flights so you can sample all their different beers and ciders instead of committing to just one. These flights have become a staple of the fests and you’ll often see guests strolling with the sharable flights in hand.
But this year, the beer flights have been benched for the time being. We normally love the chance to sample a variety of smaller tastes of the available beers, but there’s one good thing to come of the change… .
You can craft your own beer flight by ordering the smaller 6oz. glasses OR opt for a full-sized beer and go with the 12oz. cups! Typically Food and Wine beers come in one (often smaller than normal) size or as a part of a flight, so now guests can craft their own slightly larger flight or go for full-sized and get BIG glasses of favorite beers they previously might only be able to get as a smaller pour.
No Eat to the Beat Concert Series
Just like our experience at a newly reopened Disney’s Animal Kingdom, one thing that’s glaringly absent at Food and Wine this year is entertainment. Normally, Eat to the Beat, a free concert series, is held multiple times per day at the America Gardens Theater featuring big-name acts from previous decades…but not for 2020.
But…Mariachi Cobre and JAMMitors are performing at the America Gardens Theater and guests may watch them perform in the covered outdoor amphitheater. It’s not quite the same as interacting with them more organically pre-closure, but it’s nice to have the opportunity to see some live entertainment as you make your way around World Showcase.
The seating has been socially distanced while the performers themselves are also physically distancing.
No Food and Wine Merch Yet But…
EPCOT typically has an exclusive new line of Food and Wine merchandise year after year and a special line that’s just for Disney World Annual Passholders as well. Well, none of it has arrived quite yet — BUT…they’re filling the gap by offering all the Flower and Garden Festival merch again.
A lot of guests didn’t have the chance to pick up their goodies during the first go-around, so at least there’s that! Annual Passholders will also notice that the Festival freebie is absent this year. While other fests (including Food and Wine) usually offer a Passholder magnet in some form, Food and Wine typically offer Passholders a special complimentary souvenir on their fourth visit to EPCOT during the Festival. In past years we’ve seen coasters, cutting boards, and a variety of glassware offered.
But not to worry! We’ve been promised that specialty Food and Wine Festival merchandise will be coming to EPCOT later this Fall! So stay tuned!
We gotta say, there are some HUGE glaring differences between a Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival and the traditional EPCOT Food and Wine Festival — especially if you’re into the special events and entertainment offerings that the normal Fall festival would offer. Sure, there’s still a bunch of food to eat and fun themed merch to buy, but the true Food and Winey-ness seems to be lacking in the atmosphere surrounding the new hybrid festival. Plus, is it even really Food and Wine Festival if there’s no wall-to-wall guests crammed into World Showcase?!
We’ll reserve our final judgment until we see how everything pans out over time! Who knows — maybe once the new Food and Wine merchandise is released and (if) additional food booths reopen it could feel more like the Food and Wine Festival we know and LOVE!?
And if you missed out on the Flower and Garden Festival this year (because it only lasted about two weeks) you might think it’s waaaay cool to check out both EPCOT festivals (sort of) that are happening at the same time. We’re not really sure if anything like this will ever happen again (hybrid EPCOT festivals in the peak of SUMMER?!). But if you’re curious, have an open mind, and DON’T have preconceived notions about what Food and Wine should or shouldn’t be, we think you’ll probably have a really good (but different) time!
Have you been to the Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.