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2017 Epcot Festival of the Arts Preview

The Epcot International Festival of the Arts runs January 13 through February 20, 2017 at Walt Disney World. This post previews the event, covering what we anticipate will be the highlights this brand new event.

This special event will celebrate the visual, culinary, and performing arts from around the world. It will run Friday through Monday, and will include Food Studios (naturally!) and an array of entertainment options. For now, we have basic info about the event–we’ll return with tips & a full guide once we have a chance to experience it firsthand.

Let’s start our discussion with those new Food Studios. For many guests, these will be the highlight of the event, offering marketplace snack options in venues similar to those found during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Disney promises that the Food Studios will showcase culinary creations delicious and intricate, and photos released thus far showcasing ‘fancy’ Pop Tarts and Cronuts look shockingly beautiful and potentially delicious.

We’re looking forward to this, especially if these ‘artful’ creations are as inventive as they are pretty. It’s too early to say whether that will be the case, but just by glancing at those photos, we’re guessing they will be. Our only concern is that with fancy plating and presentation will come higher prices than those at Food & Wine Festival.

Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to peruse pieces of Disney Legends Mary Blair, Herb Ryman, and others; there will also be displays from current Disney artists Joe Kaminski and Costa Alavezos, which will allow guests to watch the creative process live.

This means Disney artists will be painting landscape scenes throughout World Showcase. Additionally, chalk artists will reproduce classic works on park sidewalks, Epcot Living Statues will do roaming art, and guest performance artists will create live art with the wave of a paintbrush. (We’re not sure what this last one means–I guess we shall see.)

2017 Epcot Festival of the Arts Preview

We are optimistic that this will not just be fun to watch, but will enhance World Showcase’s ‘lived in’ energy. One element of traveling that we think is often overlooked is the artistry. Whether it’s the street performers of Seattle, the musicians of Paris, or the painters of Kyoto (and so on), it’s always fun to stop for a moment and pause to appreciate talented individuals who add to the beauty of these scenes. It remains to be seen how Disney will inject these entertainers and artists into the park, they should be a welcome addition.

There will also be more structured entertainment for the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, thanks to a collaboration with Disney Theatrical that will bring music and Broadway talent to the America Gardens Theatre stage. Over the six weekends of the festival, some of the performers from Disney on Broadway’s award-winning shows will sing songs from various shows in concert, live on stage.

January 13-16 and 20-23, 2017 Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland will perform songs from Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid. January 27-30, 2017 and February 3-6, 2017 Kerry Butler and Kevin Massey perform songs from Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, Newsies, and Aladdin. February 10-13 and 17-20, 2017 Kissy Simmons and Alton Fitzgerald White perform songs from The Lion King, Aida, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid.

Performances will be 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday through Monday of each festival weekend. It should go without saying, but these 2-person shows are not the entire Disney on Broadway productions; rather, they are concerts featuring select songs from the aforementioned shows…lest there be any confusion. 2017 Epcot Festival of the Arts Preview

2017 Epcot Festival of the Arts Preview

Unsurprisingly, with these shows, there are also accompanying dining packages that guests can book for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The dining package includes a three-course meal or full buffet and priority seating at the 8:00 p.m. concert at participating Epcot restaurants. Prices range from $39-$69+ tax for adults, $23-$41+tax for children.

For those who are wondering, we don’t plan on booking a dining package. Candlelight Processional has developed a following over the course of years with returning guests and first-time visitors drawn to headlining narrators in Walt Disney World’s busy (or at least, busy-ish) season.

Conversely, this is brand-new, features performers who (for most guests) don’t have the name cachet as the Candlelight narrators, and is held largely during the doldrums of January and February. Most weekends, we doubt standby seating will be an issue.

In addition to the dining packages, there are other premium events at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts called “Interactive Workshops.” These include watercolor painting, mixed media art, calligraphy, and floral arrangement classes. One such example is the Gesture Drawing Class, led by former Disney animator Todd Bright, which will teach guests the foundational practice of gesture drawing to quickly illustrate and convey a story.

Each Interactive Workshop costs $39+tax (APs and DVC members receive 15% off some workshops), and different options are held each Friday through Monday of the Festival. Call 407-WDW-TOUR to book the dining packages or the Interactive Workshops.

2017 Epcot Festival of the Arts Preview

Finally, there’s Figment’s Brush with the Masters Scavenger Hunt, which offers guests the opportunity to sleuth through World Showcase art in search of Figment. While this vague description doesn’t indicate whether it will be like the free World Showcase hunts, or like the Remy Hide and Go Squeak at the Food and Wine Festival, but our guess would be the latter.

While there are paid workshops and the Figment Scavenger Hunt will probably have a nominal fee (but include a “prize” at the end), most of the offerings for Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts are included with theme park admission to Epcot. Disney has released scant details about the full slate of the festival’s lineup, so we’re probably glossing over other experiences, too.

At least until we start hearing feedback from others, we plan on holding off on booking the premium experiences. Sometimes, these things can be hit or miss, and unless we hear a strong consensus that something is really good, we’re perfectly content only enjoying the free entertainment…and the snacks at the food studios. (Unless the price is outrageous, we’ll likely do the Figment Hunt.)

2017 Epcot Festival of the Arts Preview

We didn’t report on the Epcot International Festival of Arts when it was originally announced, so we’ll take the opportunity to share our thoughts on this new festival here. From a lot of fans, there seems to be a sense of consternation about this, with remarks that Epcot is trying to make the park one year-round “festival.”

While I understand the basis for rebuffing these efforts, particularly as the extension of the Epcot Food & Wine and Flower & Garden Festivals seems to be for the sole purpose of selling more snacks and booze. The marketplace booths at both are incredibly lucrative, and offer high margins for Disney.

However, I don’t want to be so quick to cast aspersions here. To the contrary, I love the idea of even more festivals at Epcot, and think they really fit the spirit of the park as a permanent World’s Fair. So long as these festivals have actual substance to them and are not simply thinly-veiled ways to profiteer on food & beverage sales, I think increasing their presence is a good thing.

With both Food & Wine and Flower & Garden, there is a lot of underlying substance, and a strong educational and entertainment component. I think the criticism of the recent proliferation of each of these events derives from the perspective that, in recent years, both events have trimmed back their substantive elements while dramatically increasing their food & beverage marketplace components. The criticism is more about trajectory than it is about a dearth of substance. I get that, but I think you also can’t ignore that there is substance to these events. (You also can’t ignore that the component guests seem to flock to the most is the marketplaces.)

When it comes to the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, everything is new. Substantive experiences will be added, as will food marketplaces. Once we experience the final lineup, it’s possible to quibble over the balance between substance and food studios, but that does not change the fact that at least one component of the event will be new entertainment where there previously was none.

From that perspective, I have a really difficult time criticizing the announcement of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, and what it could add to Epcot’s lineup. How the festival ends up being executed is another matter entirely, but it’s impossible to pass judgment on that today. I can’t knock the idea of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts itself–it could end up being an excellent addition to Epcot.

Overall, we’re looking forward to the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, but are tempering our expectations because we know a lot of times the first iteration of any event like this is a test run to see what works and doesn’t work, and it takes until the second year before the event really hits its stride. Nonetheless, we anticipate that the Festival of the Arts will be a nice “plussing” of Epcot at no additional charge. From that perspective, it’s tough to go wrong. As with Flower & Garden Festival, we expect this event to breathe new life into Epcot with an infusion of art, displays, and other offerings around the park. We’ll return with our thoughts on the event once we experience it, plus tips for making the most of your time there. In the meantime, what are your preliminary thoughts on the Epcot International Festival of the Arts?

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