2021 EPCOT Festival of Arts Review: Best Event is Back!

Travel

The 2021 Taste of EPCOT Festival of the Arts is now underway and we’ve had the chance to experience it, and thought we’d share photos, impressions, and a review of Walt Disney World’s first event of the year. We’ll make a few recommendations, offer thoughts on crowds, entertainment, and more.

It’s hard to believe this is the 5th year of the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts. While some weeks feel like they crawl (and by “some,” I mean literally every week since last March, with the exception of Christmas), the last several years have flown. I still remember attending the inaugural Festival of the Arts. We went in with incredibly low expectations because Disney had announced almost nothing about the event in advance. It was thus shocking to experience something really good and really polished from its debut year.

The last 4 years have built upon that, making Festival of the Arts far and away our favorite EPCOT event. However, I’ll admit to being a little apprehensive going into the 2021 EPCOT Festival of the Arts. My cynical assumption was that the “Taste of” branding meant that, like the Taste of EPCOT’s Festival of the Holidays before it, this would be a stripped-down version of the event with a stronger than normal emphasis on food. Thankfully, that is not the case…

Honestly, this has been a lingering worry for the last several years. While Disney PR and blogs follow the familiar formula of emphasizing the Food Studios, EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts has never depended upon buying anything to have a good time. (If you are going to make a purchase, a small piece of art–even a postcard–from a gallery is a much better idea.)

My fear is that the entertainment and exhibits cost money whereas the Food Studios are almost pure profit, so obviously the latter is favored by Walt Disney World. And given the circumstances, 2021 would’ve been the “perfect” year for cutting back on what makes Festival of the Arts special while having plausible deniability about the motivations for doing so.

I’m convinced there’s a fan of the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts somewhere high up in Walt Disney World management, because the event always goes the extra mile as compared to EPCOT’s other offerings.

A big part of this is probably that this is a creative event by creatives.

While Imagineers probably don’t take much of a personal interest in any other festival, this could very well be a passion project for many Disney employees and Cast Members.

The core creative legacy of the company and the nature of this event could easily explain why it receives more attention than other EPCOT offerings.

Regardless of the explanation, the 2021 EPCOT International Festival of the Arts is awesome. I’m disinclined to even use the “Taste of” language, as that sells it short.

With the exception of the Disney on Broadway concert series and some art seminars, everything from the full event is present. The things that are missing are totally forgivable given the circumstances.

Then there are the little additions for 2021 that further elevate the EPCOT Festival of the Arts.

Walt Disney World has cleverly used the ~43 miles of construction walls in EPCOT as a canvas for art, fun backdrops, and more. There was some of this during last year’s full festival, but not nearly to the same extent.

Over by the Living Seas, on the backside of the remaining Innoventions building, you’ll find the paint by numbers mural. This is something we feared would get nixed for 2021, but kudos to Disney for finding a way to make it safe and viable with physical distancing.

It may not look like much here, but this mural will become a Van Gogh-inspired nighttime skyline of EPCOT featuring Spaceship Earth. This one will likely be done in the next day or two.

America Gardens Theatre gets more use during the 2021 EPCOT Festival of the Arts than any event in recent memory.

The big highlight there is the return of the Voices of Liberty, who packed the house on our visit. Their “Moana medley” was off the charts, and they’re worth the price of admission alone. At other times of the day, the Animation Academy uses the same venue.

Between World Showcase and Future World, there are chalk art galleries that are actively being worked on during daytime hours.

We’ve noticed a lot of artists throughout EPCOT actively creating artwork. Really great to see.

World ShowPlace for a quasi-festival center that houses a handful of Food Studios.

More importantly, there’s entertainment, merchandise, artist booths, and a stage for live art in here. I know World ShowPlace will eventually return to being a private events space, but we really love how it’s been utilized for the last several festivals. It keeps getting better and better.

We could go on and on gushing about the 2021 EPCOT International Festival of the Arts. Isn’t it nice to have some good Walt Disney World news after the nonsense earlier this week?! It shouldn’t be, but the EPCOT Festival of the Arts is refreshing given all of the cutbacks of the last several months.

As with anything, it’s not perfect–but the “issues” we had were more like very minor inconveniences…

The biggest of those is that when we visited, there were no PhotoPass Cast Members stationed at the portrait photo ops that are located throughout World Showcase and Future World. Even if there were, they wouldn’t have “worked” as well as normal. I never thought of it before, but most of these rely on facial expressions and joviality, and sort of fall flat with masks.

There’s some really great art from the Black Death that Disney could’ve incorporated into the event this year; since much of it features demons and suffering, I can understand why it would be deemed inappropriate for a theme park.

We’ve also encountered heavy attendance, but fortunately, that can be avoided. What you experience crowd-wise will depend significantly on whether you visit Friday through Sunday, on a holiday, or regular weekday.

As we’ve said before, attendance fluctuates dramatically at EPCOT, and is driven disproportionately by locals, who are much more likely to go on weekends.

This is doubly true now that the EPCOT Festival of the Arts is held in January and February, which are naturally Florida’s off-season for travel.

With no events to prop up bookings, wait times are once again reflecting that at Walt Disney World. At least, for now.

There’s a lot merchandise for the 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts featuring Figment, which automatically makes it awesome.

And then there’s that spirit jersey in the middle and far right. This year doesn’t need any more negativity, so I’ll keep my thoughts to myself.

In that same spirit, here’s the booth for Wyland Galleries. In addition to the normal oceanic stuff, there are Disney inspired pieces, including some elaborate tables.

We used to live close to Robert Wyland’s studio and flagship gallery in California. That location is actually quite nice and has a beautiful mural outside.

One of the coolest components of EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts is the wide range of art for sale in the booths, and just how many artists are normally present to discuss and show their work.

We were worried that would be diminished or lessened given the circumstances this year, but if anything, the opposite was true. Not like we’ve kept count in past years, but it seemed like there have been more artists on hand this year. (Which sadly sort of makes sense when you consider how many other exhibits and events they’ve likely had cancelled.)

Being able to meet and chat with artists has always been one of the high points of the event. This ‘optional interactivity’ is one thing we’d encourage more guests to take advantage of to get the most out of Festival of the Arts–most of these artists love discussing their work with fans!

It’s also neat having a window into their creative mind. There are a lot of styles that aren’t to my personal tastes, but I can certainly respect the process. Hearing artists talk about their pieces makes you appreciate them even more.

As shared in our 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts Food Studio Menus, there’s one new booth at the event this year: Vibrante & Vívido Food Studio, which is located between Morocco & France.

Apologies in advance, but we have decided against doing individual booth reviews for this year’s event. In a normal year, we’d hit these up with friends and split items, but that’s not something we’re comfortable doing this year. We’re also very averse to food waste, so taking a photo, one bite, then throwing the dish away is absolutely not an option. (We even eat the entire dishes at the Italy booth!)

Instead, we’re going to cherry pick items that sound appealing to us and eat them for enjoyment. The way normal people experience the event! It might take a week or two, but we hope to have a non-comprehensive ‘best of’ list at some point.

For now, our most enthusiastic recommendation is the Passion Fruit Mousse with Dragon Fruit Jam at the Vibrante & Vívido Food Studio. The crust was hard and uninspired, but the delicious sweet-but-tart mousse was absolutely fantastic.

Don’t feel like you “need” to purchase festival snacks to enjoy the event. There are some good items, but unlike other EPCOT events, there is so much more to enjoy about Festival of the Arts.

In fact, if you’re on a tighter budget, we’d encourage you to skip pretty much everything at the Food Studios. There are delicious items, but they’re also overpriced across the board, even by Walt Disney World standards. You really won’t be missing much and can still have a blast!

Ultimately, that’s one of the big reasons why we love the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts so much–that it’s not simply Food & Wine Festival: Winter Edition. Ironically, the culinary component of this (and all of the other festivals) is stronger than EPCOT’s flagship foodie event, but it’s still the least compelling aspect of Festival of the Arts. We were worried that Walt Disney World would lean more heavily into food this year for the “Taste of” event.

Thankfully, that is not even remotely the case. A few things are missing, but they’re mostly insignificant or forgivable. By and large, the 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts is as strong as ever, once again making this the most “EPCOT Center” the modern park ever feels and EPCOT’s best event of the year. For the fifth straight year, the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts is the biggest selling point for planning a winter trip to Walt Disney World.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Are you excited to experience the 2021 EPCOT International Festival of the Arts? Happy to see so many artists and exhibits on display? Disappointed by anything missing? What do you think of the lineup of Food Studios? Do you agree or disagree with us that this is EPCOT’s best event of the year? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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