By Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Where can you:
Taste your way around the world at more than 30 global marketplaces!
Enjoy nightly live entertainment from popular artists!
Learn from the pros during beverage seminars and culinary demonstrations!
The answer of course is the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. I can remember when Epcot was the park you visited when the Magic Kingdom was too crowded and you needed a break. The annual Food and Wine Festival has changed that perception and for some 62 days starting Sept. 14 and ending Nov.14, there will be long lines of internationally inspired small plates of food and sips of beer and wines.
Carol and I have had the great opportunity to attend, and I recommend it highly. For me, some highlights are Marketplace Booths known as the World Showcase Booths – an opportunity to enjoy food and wine from all over the globe as you eat your way around Epcot. The booths are small, standalone structures, and this year there will be over 30 of them. The appetizer-sized portions available at the booths usually range in price from $4- $8 (with drinks ranging from $3-$6) and Disney Dining Plan credits can be used for many items. There’s a free “passport” available that you can get stamped as you visit the various booths. You can read all about the booths and see the menus on the Disney Food Blog- Food and Wine menu and booth index. Each booth offers small tapas sized plates of food and often in addition have small servings of alcohol that are associated with the region or country. The booths normally open at 11 a.m. and close around 9 or 10 in the evening. I recommend going early to avoid the crowds and if possible weekdays rather than weekends.
The Welcome Center for the Festival is located in Future World near Mission: Space and Ellen’s Energy Adventure and features some experiences and opportunities for shopping (guests using the festival passport can get their completion stamp here.)
One of Carol’s favorite parts of the Festival was the Ghirardelli Chocolate Exhibit called “Bean to Bar.” In the past it has included displays on how chocolate is made as well as chocolate sculptures made by Disney chefs. There are chocolate tastings for a small fee plus the opportunity to purchase specialty chocolate delights.
The Festival Center Wine Shop located in the same venue offers hundreds of wines from the wineries highlighted during the festival. In addition to wine, there are spirits, beers and a unique collection of bottles. Some of the wine events include the opportunity to have a bottle autographed by the winemaker.
In 2010 Disney added a Craft Beer booth and now has been expanded to the Odyssey Center with a lounge setting. Beef flights with goodies are available, and I understand a popular air conditioned venue.
The Party of the Senses is held most Saturdays during the Festival. This event is designed to awaken all of your senses. It is billed as an exclusive event and will truly impress your taste buds. During the two and a half hour extravaganza, food and beverages flow freely as awe inspiring entertainment is performed by Cirque du Soleil performers. Warning: this is an expensive event – the year we attended it was around $150 per person plus Epcot regular admission.
Once you pass through the gate you are given a Food and Wine Festival commemorative wine glass and handy plate with space for the glass. You get to keep the glass, not the plate. The combined acts and music are truly outstanding. Unless you have been there it is difficult to describe the enormity of it all. Picture a room the size of the Springfield Prairie Capital Convention Center. Be assured there is plenty of food and drink, plus the variety and personation is truly Disney first class.
The food tables at the Party for the Senses each week are taken up by Disney chefs as well as chefs and beverage companies who are visiting presenters that week at the Food and Wine Festival Culinary and Beverage demonstrations. This means that you’ll always get to try something a little bit different, plus you might even see a celebrity or two!
An option for the Party is the Wine View Lounge. Guests who pay for the Wine View Lounge upgrade spend $260 for the event and have access to specialty beverages and food items. They also have a guaranteed table and are let into the event 15 minutes earlier than the rest of the guests.
Eat to the Beat Concerts. What better way to celebrate all things food and wine than with a concert series that provides a heaping helping of piping hot hits? Each night during the Food & Wine Festival, the America Gardens Theatre stage lights up with one of the industry’s top recording artists — it’s a side dish you can’t resist! Some of the featured performers this year are Starship with Mickey Thomas, Air Supply, Los Lobos, Wilson Phillips and Tiffany.
I have found that the best way to book events for the Festival is by phone, calling 407-WDW-Fest (939-3378.) All bookings for many of the special events such as the Pastry for the Senses must be booked by phone. Select events plus a total list of them are available online at epcotfoodfestival.com or Disney world.com/dining.
Disney Springs. One other food related Disney venue you need to visit while in Florida is Disney Springs. Disney Springs is an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida. If you have not been there recently, you are probably asking what is Disney Springs? Disney Springs (which was known as Downtown Disney up until September of 2015) is a shopping and entertainment area that’s free for anybody to enter. There are over 50 dining options, amongst them such well-known names as House of Blues, Wolfgang Puck, Rainforest Café and Art Smith. Disney Springs has been undergoing numerous changes the last few years as many parts have been transformed, and many things added. New this year are food trucks. We are planning to visit Disney Springs again this December, and I will write more in a future column.
The DFB Guide to the 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is full of everything you need to make the most out of your time at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, and I recommend it highly. It is written by the same people who produce the free Disney Food Blog. For more information on the Blog or to order the Guide go to http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/the-disney-food-blog-newsletter/