Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Disney World: Eat, Drink & Shop
Hola amigos! Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World over the May 5th holiday, you’re in luck! There are tons of ways to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture at Disney World, from listening to mariachi music and shopping for traditional handicrafts to snacking on guac and sipping on margaritas.
We know, it’s enough to make you say “Olé!” If you’re hoping to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Disney style, read on as we share our list of the best things to do, eat, and drink for Cinco de Mayo at Disney World. And best of all, you don’t need to wait for Cinco de Mayo to celebrate Mexican culture at Disney World, as most of the activities on our list can be done all year long.
Keep in mind that due to COVID-19, some Disney attractions – like character meet-and-greets and evening fireworks shows – are currently on hiatus as a result of health and safety guidelines and social distancing restrictions.
What Is Cinco de Mayo?
First things first, what exactly is Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “the fifth of May)? Contrary to what many people believe, while Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican heritage, it is not Mexican Independence Day. In fact, it actually recognizes Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla. And believe it or not, aside from the city of Puebla itself, people in Mexico don’t really even celebrate the holiday.
Instead, similar to how Irish Americans use St. Patrick’s Day to show off their heritage (and for non-Irish Americans to drink green beer and eat bangers and mash), Cinco de Mayo in the United States is a day for Mexican Americans to take pride in their culture (and for non-Mexican Americans to drink margaritas and eat their weight in tacos). Ah Americans, always looking for an excuse to have a party. All that being said, who doesn’t like having a reason to eat delicious Mexican food?
Is Cinco de Mayo busy at Disney World?
Unlike other holidays at Disney World, Cinco de Mayo tends to be slightly on the slower end of things. Schools are still in session and spring break is over. So, unless May the 5th happens to fall on a weekend, the parks tend to be less busy for Cinco de Mayo.
The main exception to this rule is at Epcot. Aside from some suggestions at Disney Springs and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, the vast majority of ways to spend Cinco de Mayo at Disney World can be found at the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. Cinco de Mayo also happens smack dab in the middle of one of Epcot’s largest special events: the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. In other words, things can get busy here no matter what time of the week you visit.
Things to Do for Cinco de Mayo at Disney World
Cinco de Mayo is all about celebrating Mexican traditions – and eating and drinking, but we’ll get to that a bit later. For a true taste of Mexican heritage, you won’t want to miss the Epcot Mexico Pavilion in World Showcase. With some tasty food and drink options lining the World Showcase Lagoon, the real centerpiece is the towering Mesoamerican pyramid at the heart of the pavilion.
Impressive on the outside, the inside of the pyramid – made to look like a quaint plaza in Mexico during a perpetual twilight – may just boast some of the best atmosphere in all of Walt Disney World. Truly magnífico!
Listen to Mariachi Cobre
When it comes to Mexican culture, no music is more quintessential than mariachi. Typically performed by a small band of strolling musicians playing a mix of violins, trumpets, and guitars, this style of traditional Mexican folk music is about everything from love to heroism. Mariachi is so iconic, that it played a key role in Disney/Pixar’s film Coco, an ode to Mexican culture and the other popular Mexican holiday, Día de Muertos.
Like mariachi music is a mainstay of Mexican heritage, Mariachi Cobre is a mainstay of Disney’s Epcot. Originally started in Tucson, Arizona, Mariachi Cobre has been sharing their culture with Disney guests ever since they first started performing at Epcot in 1982. Today, they’re one of the most well-known mariachi bands in the United States. Stop and enjoy their lively melodies at one of their multiple performances held daily in World Showcase.
Learn About Día de Muertos at the Mexico Folk Art Gallery
The Mexico Folk Art Gallery is the first thing you see after entering Mexico’s pyramid. The current exhibit is called Remember Me! which celebrates the traditions of Día de Muertos, the holiday which inspired Disney/Pixar’s Coco. The exhibit is small (perfect for squeezing in a quick air-conditioning break), and features art like papel picado, colorful Mexican paper cutting usually hung as a garland, and calaveras, painted sugar skulls, all by Mexican and Mexican American artists.
Admire Intricate Hand-painted Alebrijes
Another part of Mexican culture hidden inside Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion is the Oaxacan folk art sculpture known as an alebrije. Remember the mangy Xolo dog that magically turned into a glow-in-the-dark mutt with wings? Known as alebrijes, these fantastical creatures were considered spirit guides in Aztec culture.
Today, people make alebrijes out of carved wood or paper mâché before painting them with vibrant, intricate designs, with the largest and most complicated pieces taking weeks to finish. Watch Epcot’s alebrije artist hard at work as she painstakingly swipes on the whimsical pattern from her stall behind the fountain in Plaza de los Amigos. Then, dig through a veritable forest of the finished spirit animals for one of your very own.
Hunt for the Perfect Gift at Plaza de los Amigos
As anyone who has ever lived or vacationed in Mexico can attest, some of the best shopping can be found in bustling, open-air bazaars known as tianguis. These typical street markets usually take place on certain days in villages throughout Mexico. Plaza de los Amigos is Disney’s take on the tradition, although you never need to worry about whether you’re visiting on a market day and there’s no haggling necessary. This fun store sells a ton of unique gifts from Mexico like sombreros, piñatas, and hand-painted ceramics.
Pick Up a Free Souvenir & Fun Fact at Mexico’s Kidcot Fun Stop
Kidcot Fun Stops can be found at each of the World Showcase pavilions and are totally free for Epcot guests. Mexico Kidcot Fun Stop can be found in the center of the same room that holds the Mexico Folk Art Gallery. Stop by for your Mexico traveler’s card with a fun fact on one side and a coloring scene on the other side. While you’re there, you can even talk to the cast members there who are usually natives of Mexico. It’s a great opportunity to ask them any questions you have about their country and learn a bit of their native language.
Take a Whirlwind Tour of Mexico at Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros
There’s no better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than with a relaxing boat tour past some of Mexico’s must-see sights. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros is one of the three Epcot attractions that is a slow-moving boat ride and the only ride at the Mexico Pavilion. The attraction has us joining The Three Caballeros – Donald Duck, Panchito Pistoles, and José Carioca – before their big concert in Mexico City, only to find that Donald has made a break for it.
A chase ensues, and two-thirds of the trio traipse after their missing member as he flies across Mexico on a magic serape. This dark, mellow ride feels a bit like “it’s a small world” at times, making it a pleasant escape from the craziness of Cinco de Mayo and the Flower & Garden Festival crowds.
Say “Hola!” to Mexico Donald
In our opinion, Disney character meet-and-greets are some of the most underappreciated experiences at Disney World. They’re so much more than just an autograph and smiling for the camera. Meeting Donald at the Mexico Pavilion is no exception. In his colorful sombrero and serape with some Mesoamerican stone carvings behind him, there’s no question that this is an adorable photo op. But, if you take a few extra minutes to talk with Donald (like stroking his ego by telling him he’s #1), you’ll surely be rewarded with a truly memorable interaction worthy of the Cinco de Mayo holiday.
Stay at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
As much as we love celebrating Cinco de Mayo at Epcot, it’s time to take this party to other parts of the Walt Disney World Resort. Although its inspiration is more of a colorful mélange of Mexico, Spain, and the American Southwest, the Disney Coronado Springs Resort is still the perfect place to stay at Disney World for a little Cinco de Mayo getaway.
Through much of the resort, the theming – a collection of manicured courtyards and plazas dotted by pueblo-style villas – though subtle, makes you feel as if you’ve been plucked from humidity-drenched Orlando and plopped into a picturesque village in Mexico. Add in one of the coolest resort pools at Disney World – the Lost City of Cibola Pool featuring a massive Mayan pyramid – and some of the most reasonably priced room rates on property and this moderate hotel is a winner.
Things to Eat & Drink for Cinco de Mayo at Disney World
Whether you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo in the United States or Puebla, Mexico, delicious food is a crucial part of the festivities. In the United States, that usually means Tex-Mex takes on Mexican cuisine like tacos, burritos, nachos, and, of course, margaritas. In Puebla, people are more likely to chow down on flavorful mole. In fact, the International Mole Festival takes place in Puebla each year as part of their annual Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Fortunately, you can enjoy both authentic Mexican and Mexican American favorites for Cinco de Mayo at Disney World. While most can be found in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase, you can also order various takes on Mexican food at Disney Springs, in the other Disney World parks, and even in the resorts.
Dine on Mole in a Quaint Village Square at San Angel Inn Restaurante
Inside the Mexico Pavilion’s pyramid, a meal at the table service San Angel Inn Restaurante feels a bit like you’re dining al fresco in a Mexican plaza at dusk. With the Mayan pyramid rising above the boats floating past you on the water below and a volcano in the distance dripping with gently flowing lava, this is a Mexico that could only exist at Disney World.
The menu here is very similar to what you’d find at Mexican restaurants across the US, albeit with heaps more atmosphere. That being said, there are some authentic gems to be had here like Mole Poblano, the signature dish of Puebla, Mexico. This tasty sauce is traditionally made from a complex blend of chiles and spices along with other ingredients like chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit.
Get a Taste of Mexican Cuisine at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival
One of the highlights of springtime at Disney World is the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. This annual celebration is perfect for green thumbs and foodies alike, with outdoor kitchens throughout Epcot dishing up all manner of seasonal flavors. The Mexico booth for the Flower & Garden Festival is called Jardin de Fiestas. Literally meaning “party garden” in Spanish, this outdoor kitchen serves a small selection of food and drinks.
The dishes – all gluten-free – use fresh ingredients like avocado (the Sope de Chorizo with plant-based chorizo and avocado mousse) mango-habanero relish (the Tostada de Chochinita with braised pork). Beverages, in contrast, are botanical-inspired and feature creative elements like corn liqueur (the Passion Fruit Margarita), lettuce juice (the Garden Margarita), and elderflower liqueur (the Tulum Mexican Craft Beer made with Caribbean seawater and an elderflower floater).
Enjoy Dinner & a Show With Mexican Eats During the Epcot Fireworks
Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion is blessed with not one, but two different waterfront restaurants which, if you’re lucky enough to grab a spot at the right time, make perfect viewing locations for the Epcot fireworks.
La Hacienda de San Angel is Mexico’s other table service restaurant. Dishes here tend to be a bit more authentic than what you’d find at San Angel Inn Restaurante, with a focus on Southern Mexican cuisine. With dim lighting and beautiful décor, this is our pick for a romantic Cinco de Mayo date night. Next door to La Hacienda, La Cantina de San Angel is the pavilion’s quick service offering, serving up more Tex-Mex flavors as well as traditional Mexican sodas.
Sip on a Tequila Flight at La Cava del Tequila
For a holiday known for a good time (and for a place for drinking around the world), it should come as no surprise that one of our recommendations for celebrating the day at Epcot revolves around alcohol. After all, tequila is the “essence of Mexico,” and Epcot is blessed with one of the best tequila bars in the country: La Cava del Tequila. Don’t believe us?
Just ask actor and Disney fan Neil Patrick Harris who names the La Cava del Tequila as one of his favorite bars in the world. This epic Disney bar serves up over 200 kinds of tequila. Enjoy it swirled into a refreshing margarita (more on that next) or sip it straight as part of a tequila flight to truly appreciate the nuances. Just be forewarned, all that hype means that the wait can be long.
Cool Down With a Margarita (or Two)
Ok, we’ll admit, this next suggestion is a bit of a cop-out, but margaritas are so nice we had to include them twice. While La Cava del Tequila is our top pick (try the La Cava Avocado for an especially fresh sip), you can find margaritas across Walt Disney World. To stick close to the Mexico Pavilion but skip the lines of La Cava del Tequila, stop by Choza de Margarita just outside. Or grab something blended or on-the-rocks from Warung Outpost in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, BoardWalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas at Disney’s BoardWalk, or Dockside Margaritas at Disney Springs.
Snack on a Churro
Although they’re not technically Mexican in origin (they actually have roots in Spain and Portugal), churros made their way to Mexico during its colonization by Spain and never left. This sweet snack – sticks of fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar and served with gooey chocolate or caramel for dipping – is the perfect on-the-go treat for exploring Disney World. You can find churros at snack carts across Disney World. Our favorites, however, come with chocolate hazelnut spread from La Cantina de San Angel in Epcot.
Have Trendy Beef Birria Tacos at 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck
Birria dishes – native to the Mexican state of Jalisco – are experiencing a bit of heyday in the foodie world right now, and with good reason! Whether you’re noshing on Birria tacos or quesadillas, each comes with a flavorful sauce made from stewed beef, chiles, and spices (like Mexico’s take on a jus) that’s just right for dipping.
4 Rivers, a beloved restaurant chain local to Orlando, has jumped into the Birria fray at their 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck in Disney Springs. Their Birria Tacos and Quesadillas are stuffed with yummy barbacoa beef and melty Oaxaca cheese, the perfect vessel for dunking in the rich, beefy Birria gravy.
Sidle up to Frontera Cocina for Some Cinco de Mayo Drink Specials
For Rick Bayliss (celebrity chef, seven-time James Beard Award winner, Mexican cuisine aficionado, and the mind and palate behind Disney Springs Frontera Cocina), one of the hearts of regional Mexican cuisine is none other than the home of Cinco de Mayo itself: Puebla, Mexico. The menu here is filled with authentic, regional flavors from across Mexico, including a couple of Oaxacan-style versions of the classic mole sauce. Aside from food, this is the place to go if you’re looking for Cinco de Mayo drink specials at Disney World. Keep the party going with live music as you celebrate.
Celebrate With Chips, Dip, and Tequila at Paradiso 37
Paradiso 37, Taste of the Americas is a Disney Springs institution. The food here isn’t exactly what you’d call authentic Mexican cuisine – it’s more of a fusion of North, Central, and South American cuisines, with the 37 in the restaurant’s name representing each of the hemisphere’s 37 countries. That being said, Paradiso 37 sure knows how to throw a party befitting Cinco de Mayo. With frequent live Latin music, lights made out of margarita glasses, and over 30 kinds of tequila, the vibe here is festive. Come here for salty chips dipped in salsa, guacamole, or queso, all served with a healthy splash of tequila.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With a Margarita Cupcake from Sprinkles
Cupcakes from Sprinkles might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Cinco de Mayo at Disney World, and that would be a mistake. Two different kinds of margarita-inspired cupcakes are on offer at the Disney Springs bakery – just in time for Cinco de Mayo – and they both sound delightfully boozy.
For that classic margarita on-the-rocks flavor, the Patrón Margarita Cupcake (available April 26 to May 9) features a key lime cake crowned with a tequila-infused margarita frosting and rimmed with sea salt. For those that typically go for something fruity and frozen instead, try the Patrón Strawberry Margarita Cupcake (available May 3-9) featuring a strawberry cake instead of the key lime.
Munch on Guacamole at Sunset at Three Bridges Bar and Grill at Villa del Lago
This is another restaurant at Disney World that, while not strictly Mexican cuisine, does use a lot of Mexican (and Spanish) elements as inspiration. Sitting in the middle of Lago Dorado lake, Three Bridges Bar and Grill is at the crossroads of (you guessed it) three bridges that span the lake. This convergence is echoed in the playful intersection of familiar favorites with unexpected flavors.
Vegetarians and vegans will be especially happy here, with two of the most popular menu items here – the House-made Guacamole and Roasted Corn Dip, both made with the addictive flavor of Tajin – being completely plant-based. Aside from the food, the other highlight here is definitely the waterfront view and open-air setting. As this is technically a lounge, not a restaurant, no advance reservations are available here, so plan to join the walk-up list instead.
Well, that concludes our roundup of all the ways to celebrate Mexican culture for Cinco de Mayo at Disney World. If you’re looking to save some cash on your next Disney trip (more money for churros!), then you won’t want to miss our discount Disney World tickets.
Have you celebrated Cinco de Mayo at Epcot or elsewhere at Disney World before? What are your favorite ways to enjoy Mexican heritage at Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments!