One of the main reasons I go to Disney, like many of you, is for the food—and the best of it can always be found at Epcot (hello, beautiful pastries in the France pavilion!). Trust me: I’m a theme park journalist.
Fall is usually when the park comes alive with its Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which is a must-do for a lot of people, including me. But this year’s festival got an overhaul, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic—and I reserved my spot the first day it opened to see how the new Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival would play out (and tell you, of course).
The first thing I should note? This is the longest Epcot festival ever. It started July 15 and doesn’t have a specific end date; Disney has only said that it will last until “late fall.” This festival is taking some of Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival and the park’s traditional Food and Wine Festival, combining everything into a really cool hybrid festival. When you go, you’ll see some returning menu favorites from Flower and Garden, which ended after only 10 days due to Disney’s closure from coronavirus. You’ll also spot some of the cutest topiaries and merchandise from the Flower and Garden Festival around Epcot. As for the Food and Wine part of the festival, returning fan-favorite foods are everywhere, and there’s even a new macaroni and cheese festival booth.
If I’m being honest, Epcot was the park I was most concerned about visiting during the reopening phase of the Walt Disney World theme parks. It’s generally known as Disney’s more adult-focused park, with the ability to eat and drink your way around World Showcase. So I was worried the compliance with Disney’s mask policy wouldn’t be great, but was I pleasantly surprised. I visited all four parks during my first stay at Disney after it re-opened, and Epcot was the one where the mask policy was followed the best, in my experience.
I entered Epcot right before its 11 a.m. opening, and since I knew that World Showcase wouldn’t start serving food before the official opening, I hopped in line for Test Track, then headed back to World Showcase to make my way towards a food paradise. I always start on the Mexico side of World Showcase, and this time was no different. Because the Mexico and Norway pavilions both have attractions, this is the most popular way to go for most people, but it wasn’t crowded by any means.
As you enter World Showcase you’ll see large pillars with the Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival information on each side. This is the most important thing I looked at all day. Why? Well it has a QR code that you’ll need to scan to have access to the digital festival guide, including festival booth menus, entertainment schedules, where to find merchandise, and activities for kids. I used the menu page the most, that way I knew what I wanted to order from at least two or three festival booths ahead as I came up to them.
The first festival booth I came across was Mexico, where they had an outstanding ribeye taco, served simply with ranchera salsa, onions, chives, and a lime wedge. The ribeye was tender, and the lime and salsa added a nice bright note making for three perfect bites. After the taco, I had to head inside to La Cava Del Tequila where you can get signature margaritas like blood orange or avocado. But I was only there for one thing, the Teremana Blanco Small Batch Tequila that’s brought to the world by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. While this isn’t officially part of the Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, I had to make the pit stop. As a tequila connoisseur, trying a tequila made by the voice of Maui from Moana was the ultimate Disney experience for me.
Continuing around World Showcase, I came to the first area where I could go inside, rehydrate, and take my mask off. These areas are called mask relaxation zones, and there are three inside Epcot. One at the Norway pavilion, which is air conditioned, one near Test Track, and one near the United Kingdom pavilion, both of which are outside. The Norway one is inside of the princess character dining restaurant, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, and was empty besides one other group on the opposite side of the restaurant. Because of this, I felt completely safe to take my mask off, and cool down for a while before making my way around World Showcase again. Taking these types of breaks is the only way I can see doing any Disney theme park right now, especially Epcot where the majority of things are outside.
As I made my way to the China pavilion to get their chicken dumplings with Chinese slaw, I heard a few familiar songs from the soundtracks of Frozen and Frozen 2. This could only mean one thing—the sisters from Frozen would begin to make their way around World Showcase. Since character meet and greets are not available to guests right now, Disney has created a new way to see characters through character cavalcades. At Epcot, one of them includes Anna and Elsa, who wave and smile for socially distant selfies as they travel around World Showcase. Other character cavalcades include Mickey and Minnie and the Disney princesses. If you hear the music change at all around World Showcase, you’ll know characters are on their way!
Over the bridge from China is the Africa festival booth, where I ordered piri piri shrimp with citrus-scented couscous. The flavors were good and the shrimp had a nice spice to them, but were dreadfully overcooked, as if they had been sitting under the heat lamp for a while. The one thing I believe could be the downfall of the modified Epcot festival experience is the lack of consistency in food across the festival booths because of the decrease in park capacity. Chefs in the festival kitchens are getting food prepared, but some of it could have been sitting there a while, making it not as great as you might have remembered or would have wanted. While the Africa booth was the only time I experienced this, I also did not hit all 20 festival booths in the one day I was at Epcot. If you do want to get to all 20 booths, you’ll need two days worth of park passes for Epcot.
From the Africa booth my next stop was the American Adventure to cool off from the heat inside the show that plays in the back of the pavilion. Usually, you’ll find The Voices of Liberty singing in here, but for now it’s just a nice place to cool off while you watch the American Adventure show, which lasts about 30 minutes. Before you leave the America pavilion you must stop at the funnel cake stand to get the mini street corn funnel cake. The sweet funnel cake is topped with roasted corn, cotija cheese, cumin cream, and paprika.
One fan-favorite food from the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival can be found at the Brazil festival booth. Pão de queijo is a type of Brazilian cheese bread that is worth the trek to the back of Epcot just to get. The bread is soft with a big glob of melty cheese right in the middle. Another returning favorite is just around the corner in the France pavilion. The la vie en rose slushy has a cult-like following and can only be found during festival season at Epcot. The slushy is a pale pink, making it perfect for Instagram photos then sipping as you explore the France pavilion.
Another new offering for this year’s modified Epcot International Food and Wine festival is the addition of World Showplace Marketplaces. This is located between the United Kingdom and Canada pavilions where cooking demonstrations and special ticketed events usually take place during the festival. Since those events have been canceled, Disney moved four of their most popular festival booths inside this space for a sort of food court of festival foods. The four food booths that are inside include the Appleseed Orchard, Wine and Dine featuring Festival Favorites, Desserts and Champagne, and Mac and Cheese hosted by Boursin Cheese. Yes, there’s an entire festival booth dedicated to macaroni and cheese!
This space is limited capacity, so when you arrive, there might be a small wait. When I arrived here there was about a 10 minute wait to get inside, but once inside you could spend as long as you wanted trying out different food and drink, which meant a big bowl of macaroni and cheese was calling my name! There were high-top tables and tables with chairs available for everyone to stay socially distant, which made this space even more inviting. Once I found a table, I headed right to Mac and Cheese hosted by Boursin Cheese, where there are four different varieties of the dish to choose from, including lobster, buffalo chicken, plant-based sausage and peppers, and plain. I went for the plain one, with all intentions of going back for the other three on another trip to Epcot. The macaroni was one of the best things I ate all day.
The other thing not to miss inside the World Showplace Marketplace is the Desserts and Champagne booth’s liquid nitro chocolate cake pops! These cake pops get dunked into melted chocolate then directly into liquid nitrogen to freeze the chocolate. The cake pops are delivered to you still steaming from the liquid nitrogen which makes for a unique experience. The cake pops do take a few minutes to prepare but it’s worth the wait, especially since you’re inside.
One thing to note about the festival is that Disney said that you will find that some food booths are not open right now. As the festival continues into the fall, more festival booths will open and allow guests to try new things. I love this idea since I know there will be something new to try every time I walk into Epcot the rest of the time the Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival goes on. Another thing you’ll find as the festival goes into fall is new merchandise. Right now the Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is only selling merchandise from the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. After talking with a cast member, I learned that the merchandise for the Food and Wine part of the festival would be arriving around the time that Food and Wine would normally start, which is late August.
If you do choose to go to the Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival know that while the festival is different this year, there’s still plenty of opportunity to try something new and even find a new Epcot food favorite. And the added perk of less crowds in the park right now makes it super easy to hit as many of the food booths as possible without waiting in long lines just to order!
I’m glad I went to the Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. My honest opinion is that while Epcot is doing well with serving guests and I loved how quickly I could get from food booth to food booth, I miss how alive and vibrant Epcot usually feels during their Food and Wine festival. Chatting about food with other visitors and finding out what their favorite thing they tried that day at the festival is unlikely to happen this year. Even with the modified version of the festivals, I would make another trip to Epcot to try out more bites from the Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.
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