Many visitors consider fall the best time to visit Walt Disney World, and one of the main reasons is the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Who doesn’t like to eat, right? Some families with children may be deterred by the unusual foods, the crowds and the cost. All of those factors can be managed with a little forethought, however.
I am a planner, for sure, but when I go to the Food and Wine Festival, I don’t like having the entire day pre-planned. Instead, I like to know what my options are and have some alternate activities in case things don’t go as expected. Here are a few tips that have worked for my family through the years that I hope you will find helpful, as well.
1. The day and time you visit the World Showcase promenade makes a huge difference in how your experience will play out. The best time to go is on a weekday when the majority of the food booths open at 11 a.m. This is the least-crowded time, because locals tend to crowd the festival on weekends and evenings. If you cannot avoid a weekend visit to Epcot, then at least try to be in the park when the marketplaces start serving. And if you arrive sooner, you can check out the four kiosks that have expanded into Future World, which opens at 9 a.m.
2. Once you have chosen your festival day, use FastPass+ to book three attractions for the day. You don’t have to use them, but you just might be happy to take a break from eating and the Florida heat (or afternoon rain). For this reason, I would book FastPasses in the middle of the afternoon. And new to FastPass+ this year is the option to reserve a seat at an Eat to the Beat concert. Guests without sampler packages sometimes wait in line for hours, so if there is a performer you want to see, this could be a good solution for you.
3. When you get to Epcot, purchase festival gift cards that include the wristband. If your children are old enough to trust, allow each to wear one of the gift cards. My kids always get a kick out of paying, and it’s easier for my husband and I, too. If you do not want your children handling the money, the wristlet gift cards are still a good idea for the adults because it means not having to dig through your purse or wallet to pay at each marketplace. Swipe and then eat!
4. Get a festival passport for each family member. Each marketplace will stamp the passport (for free), and kids love collecting the ink. Plus, if you are a Walt Disney World passholder, you can get your passport stamped at Innoventions each day you visit the festival. On the third visit, cast members reward you with a collectible 20th anniversary wine glass.
5. Determine which direction you will start around World Showcase by looking at the menus in the festival passport. My family and I like to study the foods, and we choose the side that has the most things we are interested in right away because we usually only make it halfway around before we are full. As you are sampling the dishes, offer to share with other family members so you will not fill up as quickly, leaving more room to try other foods and drinks.
6. Everyone likes free stuff, right? Be on the lookout for giveaways, such as packets of Craisins by the Ocean Spray cranberry bog and Ghirardelli chocolate squares in the Bean to Bar display inside the Festival Center.
7. Speaking of the Festival Center, this is a great, air-conditioned place to take a break. There are exhibits and festival merchandise to peruse, a café for a bite to eat, low-cost demonstrations, and even a free movie screening about what it takes to prepare for the Food and Wine Festival.
8. Another place to cool off and rest tired feet is the Chase Lounge inside the American Adventure. Chase Visa credit and debit cardholders can access this lounge by presenting their cards. Inside the third-floor lounge, guests can enjoy complimentary beverages, a photo booth, animation sketch classes and charging stations for devices. My children were excited just to be allowed inside private rooms that typically are not open to the public.
9. Finally, the new Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game takes family members on a scavenger hunt around World Showcase as the little chef collects ingredients for his signature dish. Maps and stickers for this interactive game can be purchased for $9.95 plus tax at Disney Traders, Festival Center, Pin Central, Port of Entry and World Traveler (International Gateway). Whether you choose to search for each ingredient or not, return your map to the redemption location at Port of Entry by November 16, 2015, to pick up a pin.
Remember that pacing yourself and taking breaks can make any day at a theme park more enjoyable, no matter what your age.