I was thrilled when Walt Disney World announced the inaugural International Festival of the Arts and the first weekend coincided with a trip I already had planned for my oldest son and myself. I love a good Epcot Festival and was excited that we would get to be a part of the very first weekend of the first season of the Festival. I did some rearranging of our schedule to maximize our time at Epcot over the weekend so that we could take in all that was offered, and we ended up with a day and a half at the Festival overall. Festival activities are available Friday-Monday until February 20. There is a passport available for this event like the other Festivals—it is most helpful to pick up one of these to help you locate everything, along with a times guide for performances. There are many aspects of the Festival of the Arts to enjoy so let’s dive right in:
The Visual Arts
We started our first Festival day the afternoon of our arrival and our first stops were to take in some of the exhibits of visual arts. The festival center for the Arts Festival is in the Odyssey building between World Showcase and Future World on the Test Track side—this is different than the old Wonders of Life Pavilion that was used for the Flower and Garden Festival and the Food and Wine Festival. Inside it was pretty chaotic, but it was a Saturday in Epcot which are always crowded plus the first weekend of the Festival. Inside we found exhibits of the artwork of Mary Blair and Herbert Ryman. While the exhibits were small, as a Disney fan I found them very interesting for a historic standpoint as well as visually beautiful. Mary Blair is famous for many things in the Disney universe, but this exhibit highlighted her concept work during the South American Goodwill tour. The Herbert Ryman side of the exhibit featured beautiful concept art from the conception of Epcot—a huge thrill for Epcot fans like me. There were also some pieces of art available for sale in this Odyssey Location. Epcot is also highlighting the World Showcase galleries that have art exhibits as part of the visual arts of the festival.
If you are in the market to purchase a piece of art you will find a wide variety or artists on hand (that will change through the Festival weekends). They are set up all along the World Showcase promenade and offer a wide range of styles. Most of the artwork features Disney subjects, but there were a few artists featuring other subjects. I came home with at least 4 pieces . . . it was a bonus to have the artists on hand to talk about and sign their pieces. Several were even working on pieces as guests watched. Another nice touch was at each Character Meet & Greet in World Showcase there was a painting/portrait on an easel of that character, and each one was a different style of painting. And I can’t forget the horticultural visual arts—the very first Figment topiary made an appearance to the back of Spaceship Earth and he was perfect!
The Performing Arts
While Epcot always has some fun live performances the Festival of the Arts kicked it up a notch with several shows. During the day there was a performance artist on the stage by the Fountain in Future World painting live to music. The artist we watched painted Donald Duck in time with the musical background.
At various times in front of the stage Living Statues (similar to those found at Disney Springs) would appear. These were really interesting as they were all themed to Future World attractions at Epcot. Each had a base and we saw a couple of different statues during our visits. There was a silver/pewter statue and each time we saw the statute it was a Mission: Space themed astronaut. There was a gold base with one statue that was themed for Test Track and one who was an artist themed for Journey into Imagination (complete with a Figment sketch). The third was copper colored with statues for the Land and Universe of Energy. I thought the details were very nice on these. During the day we heard several youth groups performing on the Fountain stage—a nice addition to the Festival. Part performing arts/part visual arts were the chalk artists you could watch creating masterpieces out of chalk on the ground in the park—amazing talent.
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The pièce de résistance, however, was the Disney on Broadway series of performers on the America’s Garden Theater Stage. With 3 nightly performances over the weekend you need to see at least one. The artists change through the Festival, but we were lucky enough to see Ashley Brown (the original Mary Poppins) and Josh Strickland (the original Tarzan). They performed a variety of songs from Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid and Frozen. And it was phenomenal. We booked a package at Biergarten for preferred seating at the 8pm show and this worked out perfectly for us. We arrived about 20 minutes ahead of time and got seats 3rd row center.
The Culinary Arts
Food is a highlight of every Epcot Festival, and this one is no exception. With kiosks located around the World Showcase plus one in the Festival Center at the Odyssey you have many choices of beautifully presented dishes. If you go on a Saturday (and maybe even a Sunday) be prepared for very long lines at the food kiosks—so long that we weren’t even willing to wait on Saturday for food. Some of the highlights were the flatbread and the croissant doughnut sliders located at the Odyssey, the chocolates with paintings on them, and the Mexican dishes at the “Starving Artist.” From the descriptions and the plates I saw walking around World Showcase there didn’t seem to be any bad choices—we were just too full from lunch at Biergarten for the concert seating and the other plates for dinner to take advantage of everything. I guess we needed 1 more day . . .
I will admit that on Saturday, our first day and the second day of the Festival, I found the Festival merchandise situation to be frustrating. It was almost like they didn’t expect people to come or to want to buy the commemorative merchandise. We went to 3 locations where the Passholder specific shirts were supposed to be available before finding any. And there it was a long line to check out with one register and some sizes were sold out. The Cast Members who were working this spot (in Innoventions East) did a great job keeping the long line flowing. Several of the merchandise locations looked like they were put up overnight especially this one, and none had enough space for the number of guests wanting to buy shirts and tumblers. I noticed later they had added some items to Mouse Gear. I came home with the Passholder tee (my favorite among the 4 offered) and the Tervis tumbler (because I can’t resist a Tervis). I was very happy to see Figment so prominently figured into all of the Festival merchandise because he really is the perfect representative for an Arts Festival. Aside from the Festival merchandise you have plenty of opportunities to part with your money, as I mentioned the artists set up around World Showcase offering prints, original paintings, mixed media and other art pieces. I think the variety offered there was really nice.
The Other Fun Stuff
We really had no problem filling a full day and a half with all of the Festival Activities and a few attractions. Really, I think we could’ve done 2 full days as we did not have time to take in everything the Festival offered. There are several classes and seminars that you can participate in. Some required pre-registration and a fee, and others were free to attend. Some were taking place at the Odyssey and others were in Innoventions East. The two that I regret not having time to attend on our weekend were the free photography workshop and the Animation Academy (brought back from its days at Hollywood Studios).
I think my favorite activity, because I’m a bit of a Figment-ophile, was the scavenger hunt for the paintings in World Showcase. The map with stickers was $6.99 before tax and available at the pin trading kiosk behind Spaceship Earth or at the shop at the entrance to World Showcase. We opted to purchase the map and redeem at the same time so we would have our choice of magnets as the prize. There were a few to choose from that represent the artwork you are searching for—famous works with Figment insert (imagine the Mona Lisa as Figment). The art was fun to find because it was sometimes hard to spot—we got a nice tour of some of the pavilions looking for the pieces. The maps were also available to purchase during the week, so if you didn’t make it on the Festival weekend you still had a chance to participate.
The Festival also offered some really neat PhotoPass opportunities where you could put yourself into a work of art. There were a few masterpiece paintings where you could step into the frame and pose as the subject—very fun!
Overall I really enjoyed the Epcot International Festival of the Arts and I certainly hope they continue to offer it each year. If you have a trip planned during the Festival this year definitely make some time on a weekend to visit Epcot. Don’t miss a Broadway performance. I really hope in the future they will expand the Festival to last throughout the week, particularly the food booths to help spread out the crowd and give guests more opportunity to experience all they had to offer.
Did you have a chance to experience the Festival of the Arts yet? What was your favorite part?