The Festival of the Arts at Walt Disney World’s Epcot is the newest of the park’s annual festivals but has quickly become one of its most beloved! What’s not to love about a celebration of Disney in the performing arts, visual arts, and culinary arts? All this month, we here at FashionEarsta have been celebrating the Festival of the Arts with our ear reviews, Broadway-themed videos and more!
One of the questions we’ve gotten the most from our fellow FashionEarstas is whether the festival (and Epcot in general) has changed significantly due to COVID-19.
Fortunately, we’re ready to answer that question! Three of our FashionEarstas–EarGoddess, the Chief Ears Officer, and the Fancy Floridian–were able to visit the Festival in early 2020 for the full, pre-COVID experience. And to follow up we sent the Fancy Floridian back to Epcot last weekend to give everyone an update on the 2021 festival.
So here’s our side-by-side comparison of 2020’s “Festival of the Arts” vs. 2021’s “Taste of the Festival of the Arts!”
2020 Festival of the Arts (Pre-Pandemic)
What an amazing experience last February was at Walt Disney World! Granted, we were also there for Valentine’s Day weekend, but it was a magical time full of art, good food, and crowds, to be sure. I will confess that my time there was very short, and it was my first time back to Disney in almost 20 years. So the entire experience felt like a beautiful, new discovery. The Fancy Floridian, who frequents WDW far more often, has a GREAT understanding of some of the details that I missed in my jaw-dropped wonder. Be sure to keep reading for her take on this year’s festival!
The general vibe of the parks was abuzz with love – love for incredible art, delicious and beautiful food and drink, and the romantic Disney magic everywhere. Epcot’s decorations and booths, the characters who are only seen on Valentines Day weekend, the amazing chalk paintings and street performers… it all added up to a lovely, joyful weekend.
Oh my goodness, the food! The creative and heavenly food at this festival was so delicious, albeit a bit pricey – a latte was $10! The pop-up festival booths offered artistic cuisine and featured deconstructed reubens, sushi doughnuts, and paintbrush churros! I definitely could have stayed three more days and not eaten half of the available options.
The lines for these booths were long, though they moved quickly. You’ll notice here that we were perfectly willing to wait for this Frozen French Martini – which is Grey Goose, Vodka, Chambord Liqueur, Pineapple, Orange and Grape Juice with Lemon-Lime Foam!) Well worth the wait, if you ask this FashionEarsta.
While there was plenty of live entertainment all weekend long, I was most enamored with the photo opportunities, the chalk paintings both 2D and 3D), and the fabulous street performers. The photos made it feel like a grownups playground, and we definitely indulged! In addition to plenty of acrobats, sketch artists, and live statues all about, there was also a very special appearance with Prince Philip near France. I waited in line for a couple of hours, at which point they ended the character appearance and said to come back hours later to wait in line all over again. So I had to be content with a few over-the-shoulder shots of Aurora and Philip in their gazebo, but still happy to have caught them!
The Crowd Levels
This may have been partly because Star Wars was so completely new to everyone, but it was absolutely PACKED that weekend. Lines wrapped around every building and moved relatively slowly. Animal Kingdom was empty in the evening for Disney After Hours but mobbed during the day. Magic Kingdom was busy but not ridiculous (except It’s a Small World), and Epcot was… well, it was teeming with people eating and drinking their way around the world, and celebrating art! Wait times were manageable for most parts of each park, but we admittedly had FastPasses for several that would have been excruciatingly long waits. Somehow, despite all of the crowds, we were able to hunt down the Fancy Floridian and grab a pic with her before we left! Such a fun weekend full of pixie dust, art, good food and LOVE!!!
2021 Festival of the Arts: What’s Changed?
Honestly, the atmosphere of this festival was not very different from what I experienced last year. Yes, we had to wear masks and yes, you’re no longer allowed to eat/drink while strolling the world showcase. But most of the decorations, booths, and other things that make an Epcot festival special were back! Unlike the “Taste of Food and Wine” festival that Epcot held immediately after the park reopened in the fall, this festival wasn’t noticeably different from last year’s offering.
I’m happy to report that the food at this festival is still delicious, expensive, and (mostly) tiny! Just like last year, the festival booths offer little “tastes” of art-inspired cuisine with punny names or vibrant colors. The animator’s palette cookie seems to still be hugely popular, as is the warm brie bread bowl in France.
I feasted on my favorite dish – the new Warm Brown Sugar Stuffed Pretzel with Banana Soft-Serve Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce at the Refreshment Outpost (find it in the African-themed area between China and Germany). This warm pretzel was HUGE and delicious!
One thing I was glad returned this year was the Wonderful Walk of Colorful Cuisine – a foodie scavenger hunt much like the Festival of the Holidays’ Cookie Stroll. Unlike Figment’s art-themed scavenger hunt where you look for the hidden paintings around the World Showcase, this more adult-geared hunt tours you through five colorful food items (and rewards you with the Artists’ Palette cookie at the end. I didn’t partake, but it seemed like a nice way to ensure that you hit the “highlights” of the festival’s food offerings.
Do be prepared to wait in long lines for the more popular booths, especially in France, Germany, and Italy. But longest line I saw all day (other than a 110 minute wait for the Frozen Ever After ride) was for the Choza de Margarita booth in the Mexico pavilion – that’s a stand that’s open year-round and isn’t just for festivals, but I guess margaritas will always be popular!
There were noticeably fewer live performers at this year’s festival after the unfortunate layoffs of most of Epcot’s long-time entertainers (only the Voices of Liberty and JAMMitors have survived to perform at this festival). Sadly, the extremely popular “Disney on Broadway Concert Series” evening shows have been cancelled entirely, which seems a bit strange since they performed at the outdoor theater where crowd control would have been simplest.
The living statues were also noticeably missing, which was a huge bummer.
However, there were still at least a few entertainment offerings in each of the entertainment categories we’ve come to expect.
The main festival stage has been moved to inside the World Showplace expo center (between Canada and the UK in the World Showcase) along with most of the festival’s biggest offerings (the most popular food booths and the Thomas Kincaid art vendor were also moved inside). This likely means that crowds can be controlled (nearly impossible to do outside!) but it was an ok tradeoff for the chance to see a few of my favorite acts, including the acrobats of “Defying Gravity.” Unfortunately, they were not announcing or publishing showtimes on the main stage, so I never actually got to see any acts there.
Chalk Art and the “Expression Section” Murals
Both are still present and accounted for! If you have your heart set on painting a part of the “Expression Section” mural, though, be prepared for a long wait. I did visit on a Saturday, but nevertheless the line was 45 minutes just to get a little cup of paint and a brush!
The Disney fine artists were out and about, signing their work and chatting with visitors! I was surprised that this was happening, but hopefully everyone was taking safety precautions and sanitizing their hands!
Expect long lines for the most popular artists such as Thomas Kincaid and Paige O’Hara (the voice of Belle is also a talented painter!) But those lines definitely aren’t anything new!
Magic Shots and Living Paintings
I always take full advantage of the festival magic shots, and this year’s Figment-themed shot didn’t disappoint! I did notice that the living artwork opportunities were not manned by PhotoPass photographers this year, so be prepared to ask a friend to sit out so that you can snap a picture.
The Crowd Levels
While park reservations are still being capped to limit capacity, Epcot seemed full to the brim on the Saturday on which I visited. Socially-distanced lines appear a lot longer than they are and spread through the park’s walkways, which meant that everything seemed to be full of people and you have to dodge crowds.
With the recent return of park-hopping, Epcot has once again become everyone’s favorite destination in the evenings. Expect large crowds of park visitors to start their day at another park and then head to Epcot around 4-5pm to enjoy dinner and drinks at the festival booths. Practically, this means loooong lines at bus stops and skyliner stations headed to Epcot. I hopped from Epcot to Hollywood Studios via the skyliner around 3pm and there were no waits for transit. But when I headed back to Epcot at 4:30 to retrieve my car, I waited 55 minutes at the skyliner transfer station alone!
Also, bachelorette parties and large groups who are “drinking around the world” have returned in full force, which tends to mean more…relaxed… approaches to social distancing and mask-wearing. The cast members are doing all they can to enforce COVID safety measures, but increased crowds and increased amounts of alcoholic beverages being imbibed means that a lot of guests are getting away with flaunting the rules right now.
So that’s our comparison of 2020’s “Festival of the Arts” with 2021’s “Taste of the Festival of the Arts!” Have you had the chance to visit the festival, either in the past or in its new iteration? What do you think of the changes? Do you have any entertainers or shows that you desperately want Epcot to bring back?
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Pixie dust and glamour!
The Fancy Floridian