Broadway performers Kevin Massey, Kerry Butler, Steve Blanchard & Meredith Inglesby strike a pre-festival pose with Mickey — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Party, karamu, fiesta, forever…
The wise words of Lionel Richie are a way of life at Epcot, which now spends roughly 246 days of the year amid some kind of spectacular festival for guests to enjoy.
Orlandoans nearly purged a few months back trying to score tickets for the upcoming run of Hamilton at the Dr. Phillips Center, with the best seats going for well into the hundreds. But lovers of Broadway can get three doses of Tony-worthy tunes a day – and amazing seats – with the price of Epcot admission at its International Festival of the Arts, running now through February 25.
Now in its third year, “Arts” is the baby of the bunch, but is growing by leaps and bounds, says Dave Kesting, general manager of festivals.
Art under your feet: A chalk artist’s take on Big Hero 6 characters Hiro and Baymax — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
“There’s more than 100 world-class artisans, Disney and non-Disney. In visual arts, you’ll see everything from paintings and lithographs to sculptures. You’ll see people carving wood, making jewelry and you can even make your own candle or develop your own artist’s calling in our Animator’s Academy, a complimentary class that’s part of your park admission.”
The performing arts are expanding, as well. Broadway veterans will be performing three shows, seven evenings a week, for the festival’s entire run. Kevin Massey’s credits include A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Memphis, and he was among the original cast of Tarzan. He’s watched the crowds grow since the first festival in 2017.
“It’s been such an unexpected hit, I think – and it’s the pinnacle of fun gigs!” Massey laughs. “We have the daytime free and we’re big Disney fans, too, just like everyone else. There are so many theater-savvy people here in Orlando and you can see how excited they are to see some Broadway talent come down. It’s so accessible! But there are also people coming to the park who may not be aware of how many shows Disney has on Broadway. And they have really enjoyed the performances.”
Planners were surprised to find that the fun, art-based photo-ops were the most popular festival feature; they’ve added new ones each year — Photo courtesy of Disney
The Arts fest’s runaway hit, one that surprised all its planners, were the creative photo-ops: art-themed pieces that guests could step into for pics and selfies.
“We thought they were cute,” Kesting admits, “but we had no idea that they were going to be the biggest thing that the guests loved!”
They’ve added new ones each year and he says they’ll continue to do so.
You can find this year’s, a two-fold storybook scene themed on Peter Pan, in the U.K. section of the World Showplace.
“We’re going to take you to Neverland and you can either immerse yourself with the mermaids at Mermaid Lagoon or take a visit to Skull Rock on a pirate ship. And that brings in some of our younger guests, too…The little ones may not know Monet or The Scream or Frida Kahlo – but they’ll recognize Peter Pan. Though there will be just as many adults taking pictures in there as children!”
The culinary arts are just one of those celebrated; some dishes, like this lemon-blood orange tart, go from palette to palate! — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Here’s what else Epcot has on the calendar for 2019.
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
March 6 – June 3
A team of dedicated horticulturists create and prune each one-of-a-kind topiary — Photo courtesy of Disney/Matt Stroshane
Arguably Epcot’s most colorful festival, the entire park comes alive in celebration of spring blooms with breathtaking garden spaces and gorgeous Disney-themed topiaries for the International Flower & Garden Festival. Not to mention, a host of outdoor kitchens will be serving fare with a focus on what’s freshly grown.
“There will be three new culinary experiences,” says Kesting, “and the Garden Rock entertainment series – like Festival of the Arts – will be expanding to seven days a week.” New acts on the roster this year include The Smithereens, Colin Hay from Men at Work, Air Supply and Glass Tiger. More will be announced as the festival approaches. “You’ll be able to see performances for all 90 days!”
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival debuted in 1995 and has grown every year since — Photo courtesy of Disney
No word on whether Food & Wine‘s Eat to the Beat concert series will be getting extended hours, yet, but it certainly could happen. Kesting was willing to tease the idea of new dishes and even the possibility of entire new Marketplaces.
This was Epcot’s first foray into festivals and is hugely popular with locals as well as repeat guests who slate their Disney vacations to time while it’s running. “The guests love the food,” says Kesting. “It’s a no-brainer.” On top of the outdoor kitchens, guests will enjoy food and beverage pairings, seminars and culinary demos.
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
The Candlelight Processional is among the most loved holiday traditions at Epcot; each year, new and returning celebrities (like Neil Patrick Harris) show up to narrate — Photo courtesy of Disney/Mariah Wild
Much like all the Epcot celebrations, Festival of the Holidays taps into the international vibe of 11 World Showcase nations and also features an abundance of seasonal music and flavors.
“The holidays are a time to spend with family,” Kesting notes, “and there will be new offerings to tout soon. Our guests are very proud of and passionate about the Disney product and we do a great job of listening to them.”
Old favorites remain, he notes, and some – every now and then – get updated. “We always want to keep things fresh and changing – in the food for sure, but also amid all the festivals themselves.”