Review of Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts

Disney World

We went to the first weekend of Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts at Disney World in Orlando. (We have annual passes to all of the theme parks in Orlando, and we’ve done a fair amount of secret shopping, if you didn’t know). I found out about this new festival at Epcot through the free TBT newspaper and Disney sent a rather vague postcard about the festival to our house. We love Epcot and any of Disney’s festivals, so we were psyched about them having a festival specifically about the arts. (As an MFA and two former music majors, WE LOVE THE ARTS).

Except, the International Festival of the Arts failed to live up to this expectation. It felt like a thrown together, half-assed money grab very unlike what I’d expect from Disney. We heard a lot of other park guests who were verbally upset that they came. They felt misled from Disney. (To be honest, we kind of did, too).

You’ll notice the differences when you first walk into Epcot. There isn’t the same type of detail in the festival signage and displays as the other festivals. The normal display case of festival-related brochures is also missing. We eventually found a times guide that said there was stuff in the festival center. We didn’t realize they meant a sort of makeshift festival center, so we walked all the way to the real festival center to discover it was closed.

We made our way to the Odyssey Festival Center, which is where their Craft Beer area is during the International Food and Wine Festival. There we got a small booklet that looked the same as they hand out during the other festivals (only much thinner without the usual information such as concert performers and dates).

Because there was such a limited amount of festival-related food and drinks, the lines were more obscene than normal. We skipped waiting in the line and walked around the art exhibits in the festival center. While this was good in intention, they were small and combined with the merchandise for sale, came across more as a small gift shop than an art display.

Disney did offer art-related seminars, one at 1:30pm and one at 4:30pm. We did miss that, but I will say that they were almost entirely led by Disney employees, not professional artists. It helped create the “put together last minute” vibe.

We walked around the World Showcase. None of the food seemed particularly exciting and it was very nominal. Some of it was served at usual restaurants and not stands. Plus, the “art festival” look they were going for kind of failed. Disney put up makeshift tents instead of the normal buildings they do. They also sold Toms Shoes, which isn’t art but a corporate shoe company…

We made it to the America Gardens Theater. There wasn’t anyone in line but they were letting people in. We walked over to the theater entrance, but not through the ropes since it seemed silly to walk round and round when there wasn’t a line and we weren’t sure if they were letting people in. It was 4:30pm, after all. It was one hour before the concert. I spoke with an older woman, who told me that I needed to walk all the way back through Italy to walk through the ropes. I begrudgingly agreed and walked my pregnant self all the way back around. I couldn’t help but notice how she let in the people after us without making them walk. Whatever.

Well, inside the theater, cast members seemed confused. They only opened one rope on the other side of the theater. I guess they wanted guests to walk to the other side of the theater, walk down to the stage, and then walk back up to the seats. They also blocked off the middle sections with rope. I gave up and just sat on a white bench in the back.

Then cast members only let in like three people at a time until the show started. A few minutes before the show started, they had everyone who’d been waiting for up to an hour and sitting in the seats move to the newly opened middle rows. Then, once the performers were on the stage, the opened the ropes and let everyone else run in a mad rush to the seats, instead of seating them before the show started. It’s not like Disney hasn’t done this before. I don’t know why the cast members suddenly forgot how to load this theater. They did it just a few weeks ago for Candlelight Processional.

The concert was the one good thing about Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts. Although cast members shouldn’t let people stand up and block everyone else (always a pet peeve) and Epcot should use the screens to project what’s happening on the stage (for all of these concerts), it was nice for Disney to incorporate Broadway stuff at Epcot.

That being said, I wouldn’t go back to just see the concert again. I had put the International Festival of the Arts in my planner to go to for the next six weeks. This has since been deleted.

We walked toward the front. We ate a Pop’t Art and the Margareta Flatbread on the way. The Pop’t Art was a pop tart, no matter where the apostrophe lies. It had too much frosting and was too soft. The flatbread was delicious, however, and worth the wait.

We left at like 7:30pm. We were going to head to Universal, but the traffic instead moved us home. (Ok, we did eat dinner at Cracker Barrel, first).

If I had to rate Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts, I’d give it two stars, which would be generous. I think calling it a “festival” is a branding mistake if they aren’t going to make it the scale of their other festivals. If I just went to Epcot for this festival, I probably wouldn’t check out the other festivals because I’d think they’d be the same. (The International Flower and Garden and the International Food and Wine ARE NOT THE SAME. THEY ARE AWESOME. Don’t let this festival sway your judgement or attendance).

I love the idea of an arts festival. This one just failed in execution. Disney should rely on its Broadway community more at the parks. This is a great idea. But if they’re going to have a festival, it needs to have the same care and attention that the others do. Use the real festival center, find (even local) artists to present, and give your guests a good time. I think this is where Disney has been lost this year: guest satisfaction.

To be honest, Epcot’s Festival of the Arts seems like just another recent idea of how to bring money into the parks. We go to the parks a lot and noticed that attendance is way down. People aren’t going to Disney parks the way they used to or at the volume they go to Universal. For a point of comparison, we walked on to Soarin’ three times in a row about a month ago. The new King Kong ride was a three hour wait the last time I went.

Since I don’t work at Disney, I can’t say this for sure, but I feel like Disney’s been trying to tackle their attendance and revenue problems with all of these new ideas. They’ll send out an email with some new thing they “came up with” to generate money. None of it’s appealing. (The eat around the universe game, where you eat something at each of the resorts, is now monetized as a package, for instance).

Here are some ideas I think would do really well for Disney:

  • All day music festivals (using the parking lot like they do for runs), with added admission fees to meet bands
  • 5 song versions of Disney Broadway musicals
  • Being nicer to Annual Passholders (I’ll write more about this in a different post, but they’re really far below what the other parks do and we spend less money at Disney as a result)
  • Health expo (think the old Epcot body stuff but better)
  • Clean up the parks (bathrooms and trash cans should not be overflowing all of the time)