From World's Fair to Food Fest: The Evolution of Epcot

February 17, 2016, 9:08 PM · Walt Disney World today announced the dates for this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The 21st annual event will kick off on Sept. 14 and run through Nov. 14 this fall. That's 62 days — up more than a week from the 53 days that the festival ran last year.

While the Food & Wine Festival anchors Epcot's fall months, the park's Flower & Garden Festival takes care of the spring. Once just featuring topiaries and other horticultural displays, the Flower & Garden Festival now includes food and drink kiosks... just like the Food & Wine Festival. Flower & Garden doesn't offer as much food and wine as Food & Wine, but it's enough to keep visitors spending as they eat and drink around the park between March and May.

With the Flower & Garden Festival's 90 days of operation, Epcot is now offering its two food festivals for 152 days of the year — that's five out of 12 months. If Disney keeps adding a week or two to each festival, as it has this year, within a couple of years Epcot will be running its food festivals more often than not throughout the year.

When it opened in 1982, Epcot was designed as a sort-of permanent World's Fair, with a Future World celebrating the work of industry and the progress of technology, and a World Showcase celebrating the culture and heritage of participating nations. That model has weakened over the years, as corporate sponsors have dropped out of Future World and Disney has slowly added its own fictional characters and franchises to World Showcase.

But with its two food festivals, Disney seems to have found a new distinguishing model for the park. Epcot is the place where you come to nosh. It seems to be working for Disney, as the ever-expanding calendar for the events suggests.

Replies (9)

February 17, 2016 at 10:36 PM · Epcot is quite a strange phenomenon in a number of ways. The design of World Showcase certainly appears to uniquely lend itself to an easy evolution into a space that emphasizes food (and alcohol).

However, the aesthetic disparity between World Showcase and Future World is what really stands out to me in terms of to the current iteration of Epcot (as compared with the period before it started its evolution to the present version). World Showcase remains one of the most visually stunning areas (or collections of areas, you might say) in any theme park. Future World, on the other hand, is aesthetically the weakest area in perhaps any US Disney park. Innoventions Plaza and various places in/around the breezeways feature tacky signs (e.g., for Electric Umbrella, Mouse Gear, and Innoventions), poles/tarps, brightly-colored water play areas, a centrally-located pin trading station, and very numerous scattered merchandise carts.

Wouldn't the guest experience of Epcot be vastly improved by the relatively un-intrusive (in terms of construction) and inexpensive project of removing/replacing those eyesores and visually-contradictory elements, or even just altering them so as to create a more uniform, and more Disney-quality, Future World aesthetic?

February 18, 2016 at 5:04 AM · Magic Kingdom got the new Fantasyland. Animal Kingdom gets the new Avatarland. Disney Studios is getting Star Wars land and Pixar expansion. Heck, even Downtown Disney got to become Disney Springs with a new Town Centre land.

Next, Disney, please give Epcot some love. Add some new countries (note the plural). Maybe a couple of new C or D ticket rides to some of the old pavilions. And not just character overlays, please.

A complete upgrade in the fashion of what the other parks are getting would be nice. And fair. And needed.

February 18, 2016 at 5:03 AM ·
February 18, 2016 at 5:24 AM · I always saw EPCOT as the place where you can try food from around the world.

While the events are full of food, they also meet EPCOT's original plan: to educate! Whether it be learning how to pot a plant or cook like somebody on Food Network, you do learn SOMETHING during these two great events.

These events are also popular with the locals which brings them out during the off months.

February 18, 2016 at 9:36 AM · The two festivals bring back the idea of a worlds fair or exposition . It has a (loose) theme, focused on a specific topic (food, horticulture), and is (pseudo) international. They are popular and that is the reason why. To get back to the roots of EPCOT, Epcot needs to add a science exhibition as well. While most companies won't (can't) support a ride, they are far more likely to support a short term mini pavilion. Innoventions seemed be a try to do this, but was way too permanent.

On top of it, there are plenty of events that could be identified to bring families in for Science events. la music, cheerleaders, sports ). They did it with FIRST a few years ago. How about a high school version of the Rube Goldberg competition, bring back the robot competition, hackathons, (or find some way to freeze something and compete). Unlike cheerleaders, this ties directly in to Future World and essentially becomes in park entertainment for finals.

Disney knows how to create these events, Jan 15-beginning of Flower is available

February 18, 2016 at 2:29 PM · The time has come to rename EPCOT as Food Kingdom. As Flower and Garden (a thinly disguised reason for food booths) and Food and Wine grow to meet with a brief Christmas season now designed to sell dinner packages for Candlelight, only the summer remains. I'm amazed that they haven't created the BBQ Festival to fill in that empty period. World Showcase has become Restaurant Showcase. Given the poor performance of ESPN, maybe Disney should buy the Food Network.
February 18, 2016 at 2:59 PM · This is why we call Epcot Disney's Food Court.
February 19, 2016 at 7:43 AM · @Rob: My girlfriend also calls it Disney's Food Court, haha.

My fascination with cultures around the world makes me want to think that EPCOT is so much more, but sometimes it's very hard to deny that it has become a location for food and drinks.

February 21, 2016 at 9:43 AM · Flower and Garden show has been around for many years WITHOUT food.

I really agree with the statement that companies are willing to put up a temporary "mini pavilion" vs going all in.

At the end of the day, does it really matter? EPCOT is still EPCOT regardless on what event is going on. You can still go on Spaceship Earth, you can still go on the Behind the Seeds tour. Just like holidays around the world, it is a "thing".

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