For me, the official start of fall is when two things happen in Central Florida: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party begins at Magic Kingdom (although that is now a questionable one since this year it started in the middle of August!) and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival officially kicks off! If you’re planning on visiting the Epcot Food and Wine Festival with kids, then I have some great tips for you; we visit the festival multiple times a year with our little ones and always have a great time. I’ve outlined the best times to visit with kids, some of the most kid-friendly food and drink options (including the vegan and gluten free choices) and the best family friendly activities that everyone can enjoy. Take a look!
When to visit the Epcot Food and Wine Festival with kids
Pretty much anyone who has ever visited the Epcot Food and Wine Festival will tell you that the best time to go is as early on in the day as possible, from Monday to Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday all tend to be a lot busier, since that’s when the locals will be visiting, as well as people making short weekend trips to sample the festival’s goodies. It’s also best to go as early in the day as possible, both to beat the crowds and the heat – your appetite can disappear very quickly when stood in a long line in the 90 degree Florida heat! Although the festival is extremely family friendly, the later on in the evening you get, you can find more people enjoying their adult beverages, and there have been reports of people being a little rowdier later on. Don’t let this put you off; we’ve personally never encountered anyone who was behaving inappropriately, and I think the festival does have an undeserved reputation for attracting those who might be more likely to drink too much. If you’re really concerned, try to visit the booths earlier in the day, although it’s really never been an issue for us.
The best food and drink options for kids
Depending on how adventurous your kids are will determine just how much they eat and drink at the festival. My 5-year old Harrison is super picky and looking at the menus this year, there are very few things I know he’s going to want to try. My 2-year old Grayson, on the other hand, is a very adventurous eater and will happily try anything – so it looks like I’ll have to share most of the food with him! I’ve included some of the plainer options below with things that I think most kids would at least be willing to sample, but it’s definitely worth going through the menus ahead of time and looking for options that will suit your kids. Disney does note ‘kid-approved” options in the festival passport, so take a look at their suggestions too! You can find a comprehensive list of menus and photos here.
Active Eats: Loaded Mac’n’Cheese with Nueske’s Pepper Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Peppers and Green Onions (pictured below) – Grayson absolutely devoured this!
The Almond Orchard: Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Pulled Chicken, Toasted Blue Diamond Almonds, and Parmesan Cheese served with Nut Thins Crackers
Belgium: Belgian Waffle with Warm Chocolate Ganache and Whipped Cream
Light Lab: Phosphorescent Phreeze (pictured below) – this was very, very sweet, almost like drinking cotton candy. I could only manage a few sips but Grayson loved it, and the plastic tumbler was a cool souvenir. PLEASE NOTE: this item has currently been replaced with three individual slushies, each with a glow cube. There is no word on whether this is a permanent change or not.
Ireland: Warm Irish Cheddar Cheese and Stout Dip with Irish Brown Bread
Japan: Teriyaki Chicken Bun (pictured below) – this was packed full of piping hot teriyaki chicken and had a great flavor. If you’re giving it to a little one, make sure you check the temperature on it first, as ours was very hot and we had to wait for it to cool down before Grayson could try it.
Refreshment Port: Beef Brisket Poutine (pictured below) – this was a huge portion, and very good value for money. There was plenty of brisket, although I wasn’t a huge fan of the orange cheese sauce on top. Again, Grayson loved it.
China: Chicken Dumplings with Chinese Slaw
France: Creme Brulee with House-Made Raspberry Jam (pictured below) – while I thought the raspberry jam made the creme brulee a little soggy, the flavor was fantastic and Grayson ate every bite!
Taste Track: Croissant Donut with Chocolate Hazelnut Cream and White Chocolate Raspberry Gelato (pictured below) – this was another big portion. The gelato was fantastic (you got your choice of flavors to go with the donut) and Grayson gobbled that up, but it did make the donut a little hard because the gelato was obviously cold. I prefer croissant donuts to be warm, and even Grayson only had a few bites.
Kid-friendly vegan and gluten free options
The festival offers a number of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options; the vegetarian and gluten free options are marked on the festival map ((V) for vegetarian and (GF) for gluten free) but vegan options are less obvious. There are options that are vegan as they are, and others that can be made vegan with just a few adjustments, but remember that there’s only so much that can be done with the options at the festival since most items are prepared in part ahead of time.
Earth Eats: The Impossible Burger
The Almond Orchard: Almond Breeze Strawberry Smoothie
Greece: Greek “Nachos” (pictured below) – this was a delicious vegan option, and combined some really yummy flavors. I’d definitely get it again.
For more vegan options at this year’s festival, as well as all of the other vegan options at Walt Disney World, check out Vegan Disney World’s website.
Active Eats: Spice-Crusted Verlasso Salmon with Warm Lentil Power Salad, Crushed Avocado and Sherry Vinegar
Chocolate Studio: Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel
Canada: Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Beef Filet with Truffle-Butter Sauce (pictured below) – this is an old favorite; the mushrooms were delicious and the truffle butter was very good, but the steak is always overcooked for me since it’s such a small portion. As long as you go in knowing it won’t be a huge portion and the steak will probably be cooked to a well done temperature, you’ll enjoy it.
For more gluten free options at this year’s festival, as well as all of the other gluten free options at Walt Disney World, check out Gluten Free and Dairy Free at WDW’s website
What else is there for kids to do
Wreck it Ralph Playground
I say this all the time, but I wish Walt Disney World had more playgrounds in their parks – especially Epcot, which tends to get a reputation for not really being much fun for little kids. That’s why I love the Epcot festivals, because they almost always add a playground or two! The Food and Wine Festival playground can be found over by Test Track, and is a great space for kids to run around and burn off some energy. There are some smaller things for toddlers to play with, as well as things to keep older kids busy, and some benches and deckchairs where parents can sit and watch the little ones. Both my boys absolutely loved this playground, and I know we’ll be back!
Junior Chef Kitchen
This is a complimentary experience offered in the Festival Center on select Sundays, where kids get to make their own creations – and then eat what they create! The experience is for kids aged 4-10, and they will actually be decorating pancakes under the supervision of a Disney Chef. Space is limited, so if you think this is something your kids will want to try, make sure you get in early. You can sign up the day before or the morning of the experience at the Festival Center.
Candy Sushi Making
Presented by Skittles, this complimentary new experience will be held daily at 3.30pm and 5.30pm in Sunshine Seasons in The Land pavilion. A Disney Chef will teach guests of all ages how to create candy sushi and once again, you get to eat what you create! You can sign up for this event online the same way you would an advanced dining reservation, and space is limited. Since this event is open to adults as well as kids (and at the event we went to, there were quite a few more adults than there were kids) it can be hard to snag a spot already, but keep trying as times will open up as peoples plans change.
Eat to the Beat Concert Series
One of my favorite things about the Epcot Food and Wine Festival is the Eat to the Beat Concert Series, which brings acts like Sugar Ray, Plain White T’s, Postmodern Jukebox, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and many more to the America Gardens Theatre for complimentary concerts three times daily (at 5.30pm, 6.45pm and 8pm). This concert series offers dining packages in the same way that Candlelight Processional does, but in this case, I think a dining package is rarely necessary, since it’s possible to get a seat in the theater without too much of a wait for most of the performers.
Disney Du Jour Dance Party
On Friday and Saturday evenings, there will be a character dance party where guests can dance with characters such as Remy and Emile from Ratatouille. This is a great chance to see two pretty rare characters, and when we stopped by the dance party early on Friday evening, crowds were low and the characters were more than happy to pose for pictures and selfies.
Remy’s Ratatouille Hide’n’Squeak Scavenger Hunt
Each of the Epcot festivals usually features a scavenger hunt, and it’s my favorite way to keep the kids entertained and occupied as we tour the World Showcase. In the case of the Food and Wine Festival, the hunt features Remy, who can be found in various locations around the World Showcase and in Future World. You can purchase a scavenger hunt map from various merchandise locations in Epcot, which comes with stickers that can be placed on the map as you find Remy in each location. Once the map is complete, turn it in to receive your prize; this year you get to choose from one of four souvenir tumblers. My kids LOVE this scavenger hunt, and while they’re hunting all over the pavilions for Remy, I can take a few minutes to eat my food or check out a merchandise booth in peace.
One more thing…
When visiting the Epcot Food and Wine Festival with kids, I’ve found that the easiest way to pay for items from the booths is to use a Disney gift card on a wristband. This is the first year I’ve tried this method, and it made it so much easier to pay for things to just take the wristband off my wrist, have it scanned, and put it back on. Oh, and it also made it much easier for me to spend more since I wasn’t keeping track – so bear that in mind too!
Have you been to this year’s Epcot Food and Wine Festival yet? What tips would you give for visiting with kids? Let me know in the comments!