It is here! My favorite of the Epcot festivals is the International Festival of the Arts. Ever since Walt Disney World reopened in July, the festivals have been going by the monitor “A Taste of” which indicates that it may be missing some of the activities you are accustomed to experiencing at these festivals. That being said, as Disney has learned what does and doesn’t work, this has been the most complete festival since reopening. There is not much missing in the 2021 edition from its 2020 counterpart.
There is nothing like a good theme park scavenger hunt, and that is where we are going to start here. Each of the eleven World Showcase pavilions contains a classic piece of art that has been updated to include Figment. It is titled “Figment’s Brush with the Masters.” The map costs $7.99 and when you finish you get to pick from different folding cardboard art pieces featuring one favorite character (of in the case of Chip and Dale, characters) and one that is a beautified Spaceship Earth. Of course, Disney doesn’t force you to finish to get the prize. If you are looking to complete this challenge, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the painting that is hidden at the Mexico Pavilion is inside the pyramid. With social distancing, there is often a queue to enter the Mexico Pavilion. If you are on a time crunch, you may want to start in Canada, so process-of-elimination will help you complete the Mexico Pavilion without waiting in line. Secondly, if you are having trouble finding one on the walls, don’t forget to look into the windows.
While not an official scavenger hunt, every World Showcase pavilion features a little character artwork on some of the exterior walls. This is a nice little touch that makes for some great pictures. Many of the pavilions even feature characters who are under-utilized in the parks. I am all for any type of quest that gives guests more of a reason to really explore deep into these pavilions. We can get so focused on rushing to the next ride, dining reservation, or festival food booth that we miss the beauty of the countries being represented.
It wouldn’t be an Epcot festival without a walk or stroll to get you to try different food options. “The Wonderful Walk of Colorful Cuisine” challenges you to try five offerings. If you get the five associated stamps, you are rewarded with a complimentary culinary treat at the Decadent Delights booth in Showcase Plaza. Between my wife and I, we are now just two snacks away from finishing this endeavor. She started our quest with the Vanilla, Rose Water and Pistachio Panna Cotta at The Masterpiece Kitchen outside of the Canada Pavilion. While this dish was beautiful, and she liked it, her overall opinion was that it was underwhelming as far as flavor.
In the World Showplace building between Canada and the United Kingdom, I was able to get the lone plant-based option for the “Wonderful Walk.” Remy’s Ratatouille is available at the Festival Favorites booth. This has been the food highlight of the festival for me up to this point. It almost tastes like a fresher version of spaghetti. The vegetables are extremely fresh; the presentation is beautiful; and it is surprisingly filling for one of the least-expensive dishes. I have been to Epcot twice since “Festival of the Arts” has started, and gotten it both times. That first taste wasn’t a fluke.
The Vibrante & Vivido Food Studio sits between the French and Moroccan Pavilions, and features the Blue Corn Pupusa. This contains shredded pork, guajillo and arbol chili sauce, cabbage slaw, and Aji Amarillo crema. It was too spicy for my wife’s particular taste, but she acknowledged that everything was flavorful and quality. She wouldn’t get it again, but this is definitely a great option for someone who wants more kick in their snacks.
To complete the walk, we still need the Mouskoutchou at Mosaic Canteen near Morroco, and the Pistachio Cake at the Painter’s Palate in the World Showplace building. I want to try both of these, myself, but I decided to try the Veganuary challenge. I was going completely plant-based on my first two visits to “Festival of the Arts.”
Our favorite dishes were not limited to the “Wonderful Walk of Colorful Cuisine.” My wife adored the Old Shanghai Shi Zi Tou at the Painted Panda. It was pork and water chestnut meatballs served with taro root. I was thrilled to see that they brought back the Plant-based Bratwurst at Refreshment Outpost, which is topped with a coffee barbecue jackfruit. The spice of the brat mixes with the coffee flavor and the mustard flavor to really make your taste buds do some calisthenics. Her overall favorite was back at The Masterpiece Kitchen near Canada. She got the Salmon and Cream Gateau with egg yolk cream, paddlefish caviar, and micro-herbs. It was another beautiful presentation with fresh ingredients.
The purpose of the festival, however, is to focus on the art. Most of the artwork on display throughout Epcot centers around Disney and Star Wars, and is for sale to add to your collections at home. Many of the artists who created these beautiful works will be available for signings on occasion. At my home office, I have a beautiful painting of Merida, which is signed by the artist Heather Edwards during last year’s festival. On my second visit of 2021, I was able to meet (at an appropriate distance, with two tables separating us for safety) Southern Californian artist Ashley Taylor. I had purchased a piece she did of Hercules, Megara, and the Muses for my office, and I got her to sign a Pocahontas print for a friend of mine who has a milestone birthday in February.
When I lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I was very active in my own painting. I had works on display and get sold in galleries in the Keystone State, but I didn’t really keep up with it when I moved a few years ago. It is personally wonderful to immerse myself back in that world. I have so much respect for the talents these people possess, and they are always so enthusiastic to talk about their work. This is one of the reasons that I think this is a great experience for families with small children. So much of the artwork is centered around Disney and characters. It may make them interested in talking to some of these artists, and it may be that “One Little Spark” of inspiration to pull kids towards taking the arts more seriously.
There are also chalk drawings on the bridge to Showcase Plaza, and some 3D chalk photo-ops that are really cool. You’ve got to build up that Instagram presence. Scattered throughout the park there are different photo-ops where you can put yourself in some of the most iconic paintings in history. I made a particularly striking Venus de Milo, but I just can’t seem to find that picture. You will have to take my word for it. Learn how to draw a beloved Disney character at the Animation Academy at America Gardens Theatre near the U.S. Pavilion in World Showcase. Guests can take part in a “paint by numbers” mural in Future World, in which you are asked to paint five squares. This will eventually lead to a completed mural, created by your fellow Disney fans. Disney nerds (which is all of us, let’s be honest) will love “Drawing on Inspiration” in Future World West. This exhibit features depictions of classic Epcot attractions as illustrated by two Disney Imagineers.
There is also a lot of live entertainment to witness, because art isn’t just about painting and drawing. The awe-inspiring vocal group Voices of Liberty is performing tunes from “The Disney Songbook” at America Gardens Theatre, where you can also catch Mariachi Cobre. The two acts alternate showtimes throughout the day. In the World Showplace building, see the acrobats of Art Defying Gravity; the EPCOT Pianist playing classic Disney songs; and several visual artists will create works in front of you on stage in a very short amount of time.
Unfortunately, my favorite Epcot festival is also its shortest. “A Taste of Epcot International Festival of the Arts” officially kicked off on January 8th and only runs through February 22nd. At that point, it will make way for “A Taste of Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival,” starting on March 3rd and going all the way until July 5th.