While we whole-heartedly believe that every Disney World theme park and resort has some stellar food and drink options, there’s no place that steals our food-loving hearts quite like EPCOT. Between the countless dining locations around World Showcase and its four festivals throughout the year, it can sometimes feel like you can go several lifetimes and STILL have new snacks, beverages, and meals you have yet to try!
With all of that in mind, there’s a unique NEW dilemma you may encounter in EPCOT that you might not even be thinking about!
Simply put…WHERE do you choose to eat? And no, we aren’t talking about which restaurant specifically to try (although that could be a tough decision in and of itself!). We’re talking about the choice between a sit-down or fast food meal around World Showcase, or snacking around the festival food booths!
Since EPCOT is essentially a year-round festival park these days with this year’s Food and Wine Festival starting all the way in mid-July, you’ll almost always have the option to dine at one of the many festival booths scattered around World Showcase (and even a few in Future World). There’s PLENTY to eat at the EPCOT festivals, and it’s pretty easy to eat the equivalent of a full table service meal after just a few booths.
We’ve totally been there though — your head is bigger than your stomach and you book that dinner or lunch reservation AND plan to “eat around the world.” But when the time comes, you’re STUFFED! So if you only have one day in EPCOT, which do you choose for your meal plans: a traditional table service or counter service restaurant, or snacking around the festival?
Why you SHOULD dine at a restaurant or counter service location.
One of the great perks to eating at a traditional dining location in a theme park, especially a table service restaurant, is that you have a guaranteed “break” during your day. If you feel comfortable dining indoors, you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy some air conditioning in the middle of what could be a hot day in the parks.
When you’re dining at the festival booths, you may wind up hunting down open (standing) tables all afternoon, not to mention the lines at the booths, the sun, the heat, etc. By choosing instead to skip the festival dining and eat your meals at a restaurant, you’re building in a nice chunk of time in your day where your party can kick back and relax (breaks are super important, especially in the summer!).
The downside (potentially) here is if you’re looking to maximize your day. Sitting down for a lengthy table service meal is bound to eat up at least an hour, likely closer to two of your day at most spots. That’s time you’re not riding rides or experiencing other aspects of the park. If you’re looking to squeeze every drop out of your day, avoiding sit-down meals might be more your style.
Depending on where you dine, you could also wind up experiencing a more “bang for your buck” at a traditional dining location as opposed to the food booths. EPCOT restaurants can definitely get pricey, but the portion sizes will also be much larger than the snack-sized dishes at the festival. Even costing around $5-10 each, the festival food portions are pretty small and costs can still add up quickly if this is your meal for the day.
Plus, sometimes you just want easy and reliable. You might not want to risk potentially not loving the unique festival tacos at the booth in Mexico, but you might know you love the kind of tacos sold at La Cantina de San Angel. Same applies to other dining locations. If you’re a pickier eater and want to plan your meals around foods you know you’ll like, you might prefer sit down or fast food restaurants.
This applies extra if you have kids with you. While there is a lot of food kids will enjoy at festival booths (they note on menus foods kids will typically enjoy!), if you have a pickier eater, don’t count on them filling up at the booths. The foods tend to be slightly more adventurous (the fests are a time to show off their coolest food, after all!), and you might find your kids complaining “I don’t want anything from here!” at each booth!
In contrast, even at the more adventurous restaurants in EPCOT, you’ll still often find chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and other more basic kid-favorite foods. If they’re not on the menu, just ask your server.
Why you SHOULD snack around the festival booths.
The biggest benefit to dining at the festival booths is that you have MUCH more flexibility in choosing what and how much you want to eat. If your party is in the mood for different cuisines, it’s more convenient to allow everyone to grab snacks at whichever booth they desire.
Plus, you can start and stop eating at any time! You aren’t bound to a specific menu or time of day that you’ll be dining — rather, you have much more freedom in choosing your culinary adventure that day. Think of it like grazing. You can nibble or sip leisurely as you make your way around World Showcase. It’s a nice way to be contently “full” without feeling stuffed all day!
The freedom of choice has another huge benefit — you’ll have more control over how much you wind up spending on food. You’ll just have to be careful that you don’t get carried away with buying every festival dish you see, or this could wind up becoming a more pricey investment! Disney World restaurants can get pricey, and the festival dishes are often a fraction of the cost (granted, the portion sizes are smaller, as we mentioned, but if you aren’t a heavy eater, this could be a benefit!).
Festival dishes run on average between $5-$10 for many items, plus you may find a few desserts for less than $5 these days.
If you’re a more adventurous eater, the festival booths may be the way to go. Since Disney can “experiment” a little more during the festivals, you’re more likely to find dishes that you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to try!
Like traditional dining at EPCOT, eating at the booths can have its drawbacks. For starters, almost all of the food booths are outdoors, leaving you with not all that much opportunity to escape the Florida heat while you dine. You’ll be huddled around a small standing table or juggling plates with your hands at most of the booths!
These days, with physical distancing and limited park capacity, it may be difficult to find a table to stop at so you can eat your food. If you’re running around World Showcase with your hands filled with food that’s either getting cold or melting, it can be a bit stressful finding a table!
In general, if you prefer the freedom to sample the foods and drinks you like over the course of the day, sticking with the booths can be a great (and surprisingly filling) option.
Why not have the best of BOTH worlds?
If you’re visiting EPCOT during a festival, it’s entirely possible you can enjoy the food booths PLUS dine at one of the park’s great restaurants. That’s a lot of food, but if you space out your meals, you may have better luck enjoying the best of both worlds!
Either grab an early lunch reservation in World Showcase and then snack your way around the festival for dinner (the festival runs the same hours of the day as World Showcase is open in EPCOT, so you’ll be able to visit the booths up until park closing). Or, vice-versa, start your snacking around World Showcase early for lunch and enjoy a more relaxed, seated dinner in the evening.
If you’re a Disney World veteran and visit multiple times, you may find that one festival caters to your palate more than others. If you’re looking for more hearty dishes, then the Festival of the Holidays may be when you choose to dine at the festival booths more frequently.
If you’re more in favor of dishes that are on the lighter side, or you’re looking for more fruity or floral flavors, then the Flower and Garden Festival may be more up your alley. Be sure to check out our coverage of all of EPCOT’s festivals to see which one may be best for you.
Keep in mind that the EPCOT festivals are way more than just the food booths (although that’s obviously the main draw). There’s also entertainment, merchandise, cooking demonstrations, and decor around the parks!
Eating at every food booth you see is certainly one way to do the festival, but it’s not the only way! You can enjoy a dining reservation at one of EPCOT’s restaurants, and perhaps choose to eat dessert at a food booth, or just stick to drinks at the festival! The option is yours!
So…DO you have to choose?
If you’re staying at EPCOT from park open to park close, there’s no reason why you should have to choose between dining at the festival AND dining at the restaurants. You will likely find that there is plenty of time to do both and space out when you eat so you aren’t bogged down by all of that yummy food!
If you’re on a more limited schedule (especially if you’re Park Hopping all over the place), you may have to decide how to prioritize dining at EPCOT. If you’ve been to EPCOT a ton of times, maybe this next trip is the one to try something new and check out the festivals!
Or, if you know your party needs that break during the day, you may want to consider grabbing an Advance Dining Reservation at a restaurant and perhaps grab dessert or a drink at one of the booths.
There are countless ways to “mix and match” your EPCOT festival experience, so definitely check out our coverage of the festivals, make sure to read our Best of the Fest lists, and consider picking up our DFB Festival Guides for comprehensive information and tips!