Mickey and I were lucky enough to get to go to the 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival for opening weekend. We were invited to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and lucky for us, he chose to celebrate at Food and Wine. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I went to Disney World without pre-planning. I didn’t research; I didn’t book fastpasses or ADRs (advanced dining reservations). I was just along for the birthday ride. We had a blast without planning, but it got me thinking about whether I would recommend planning or winging it for the Food and Wine Festival. My resounding answer is – yes. It is important to have a plan or strategy going into the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival to fully appreciate it.
The 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is already in full swing, having started on August 31. Hopefully you will get to experience the festival during its historic 75 day run, and if you do, I highly recommend having a plan. Going into the Food and Wine Festival without a plan of attack is like going to the mall, pulling the first thing you see off the rack, and buying it, without checking the size or if something that suits you better is right around the corner. With a whopping 35 marketplaces this year, it can be overwhelming, not to mention needlessly expensive, unless prep work is done.
Disney Nerd Tip (DNT): Have a plan for conquering the Epcot Food and Wine Festival
Food and Wine Festival Basics
The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is one of 3 (or 4 depending on if you count International Festival of the Holidays) multi-week events at Epcot where food and beverages (alcoholic and non) are sold at little kiosks. Epcot calls these kiosks “marketplaces.” Each marketplace is themed. In the World Showcase the marketplaces are, unsurprisingly, themed based on countries. The countries are not limited to the those represented by permanent pavilions, rather representing a variety of cuisines across the globe. In Future World, the marketplaces have more topical themes, such as cheese, chocolate, etc.
Each marketplace sells food and alcoholic beverages matching its theme. There are usually 2-4 food options, and 2-4 alcoholic options. Some booths have non-alcoholic beverages as well. The prices generally range from $3 at the low end to $11.75 at the high end, not including select very high priced alcoholic beverages. Most selections are in the $5 to $8 range. And many are smaller than you’d expect, and can hardly be said to be a good values from a pure quality perspective. But if value is all you care about, you probably wouldn’t be eating at Disney anyway.
DNT: Be prepared for sticker shock at how much you can spend at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival
You can use Disney Dining Plan snack credits for many of the food options. And if you have counter service credits, you can apply those for 3 food options, but they must be all at the same marketplace. (Yet another reason planning ahead is important).
Disney also sells special gift cards for Food and Wine. They come as mini cards attached to a lanyard you can wear on your wrist. There is no fee for the cards, but you have to activate them with a minimum of $15. A special gift card is also available for a minimum activation of $200; it comes with a neck lanyard, plastic sleeve and medallion. There is no fee for using these cards, but no savings either.
If you are looking for savings you can try the festival tasting sampler. It is a card that entitles you to 8 food or drink options at any of the Food and Wine Festival marketplaces (except certain very high priced items). When the numbers are crunched, it comes out to a cost of $8.61 a sample. This can offer more or less savings depending on what kinds of items you intend to get at the Festival. As noted above, most of the food items are under $8. The sampler should not be used for these items. However, there are many drinks and a few “luxury” food items that cost a bit more. If you intend to sample those, the tasting sampler makes more sense. One more thing to note, as of opening weekend the sampler could only be purchased a few places. I got mine at the open air Festival shops that line the promenade walking from Future World to the World Showcase (not to be confused with the 2 larger shops along the water in the World Showcase). If you aren’t sure, ask a cast member (or a few). It took us several tries before someone could point us in the right direction. Hopefully that was just an opening weekend hook up.
DNT: The Festival Tasting Sampler comes out to $8.61 a sample. Don’t use it for anything that costs less than that.
Planning is Crucial for Food and Wine
If your only goal of going to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival is to take in the atmosphere (nothing wrong with that), or money and stomach space is no issue, then planning is not necessary. However, for the rest of us, based on sheer number of options, some prep work is necessary to enjoy yourself and not waste money. Especially, if you intend to use the Dining Plan credits or the Tasting Sampler. This is true even for Annual Passholders who are going to Food and Wine multiple times, unless you like wasting time and money.
It is possible to do all your planning during the day of your visit. You can do this by picking up a Festival Passport, and reading the whole thing cover to cover to see what you want to try at the different marketplaces. The Passports are available at the entrances of Epcot, as well as throughout the different marketplaces. One issue with this method is you don’t know what is actually good. Some sound options sound better on paper than they are in reality.
DNT: Festival Passports, in addition to containing crucial information about the marketplaces, make great souvenirs
If you really want to get a sense of what is worth your hard earned money (and lets be honest Disney is already expensive enough without wasting money on bad food/drinks), I suggest starting before you get to Epcot. My personal favorite place to start is the Disney Food Blog. They have a rundown of every item available at the Food and Wine Festival. Next I check out reviews. This website will soon have reviews for you to peruse. In the meantime, however, check out Disney Food Blog, Disney Tourist Blog, Easy WDW, and WDW News Today, among others. Personally, I like to look at a variety of websites. I don’t always agree with each and every review on a blog and, like many other things, it is good to get a variety of opinions.
DNT: Check out the menu of everything available at Food and Wine before coming up with a game plan
DNT: Reading reviews before hitting Food and Wine is one way to make sure you don’t waste your money
Once I’ve checked a variety of reviews, I put together a list. My memory isn’t what it used to be (let’s be honest it is exactly what it used to be, I’ve just never had a good memory), so I prefer to keep a list on my phone to reference once I get to the parks. This is an important part of prepping that people often overlook – bringing their research with them. You can go the old fashioned way and bring a notebook or folder, or use an app on your phone. Personally, I use Google Keep. As much as I love to keep things analog (you should ask Mickey about my notebooks full of ideas for this blog), for my Disney lists I go digital because it allows me to edit the list as I get more information (and try things myself). If one review says something is terrible, but others say it is great, you may want to give it a try.
DNT: Bring a list of what you want to try with you to avoid sensory overload
I am by no means suggesting that reviews are the end all and be all of Food and Wine Festival. They are just one part of planning. As I said above, the first step is to check out everything that is available. And while reviews are helpful for avoiding the really terrible (this year that would be Light Lab), everyone’s taste is different and there are always things I have on my list to try that aren’t recommended by others.
DNT: Don’t rely on reviews alone, pick what you want to do by yours and your family’s personal preferences
Most Importantly – Have Fun
The most important part of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, and I’d argue the most important part of Disney World overall, is to have fun. Do what makes you happy. While I recommend some advance prep, especially if you are only going to Food and Wine once, you should do whatever works best for you and your friends/family. How do you prepare? What are your favorite Epcot Food and Wine Festival tips? Share your personal Food and Wine strategies with us all by leaving a comment below. As always, if you have any questions, let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email.