Orlando doesn’t have seasons the way other states have seasons. Yes, there are subtle changes in the trees, the weather, and the tourist influx, but the most obvious signs that we’ve left one season and entered another are the theme park festivals and events, and few are more highly anticipated than Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, which heralds autumn and runs from late September through mid November.
We attended a media tasting event on 26 September, and while the food samplings were all excellent, the real stand-out taste sensations came from the super-smoky Frozen Smokin’ Hibiscus (Mezcal Jovan Smoked Tequila, Agave syrup, condensed milk, and a liquid nitrogen frozen hibiscus flower) and the sinfully lush Frozen Chew-tini (Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka, Carrot Mango Juice, and Citrus Sour Mix) placing this year’s emphasis firmly on creative cocktails. Both the Festival Chardonnay and Festival Cabernet Sauvignon were also superb.
There are 30 food and wine sampling kiosks—called Global Marketplaces—this year, including 6 marketplaces with an emphasis on craft beers and wine, and the return of the Dominican Republic marketplace. Even more exciting? In honour of the Festival’s 20th Anniversary in 2015, the sampling kiosks have moved beyond World Showcase into Future World, a festival ‘first’ and a welcome change. The 4 new Future World kiosks are:
Innovative samples can be found at Sustainable Chew (Pork Spareribs; Ricotta and Zucchini Ravioli; Vanilla Panna Cotta, and that lovely Chew-tini we mentioned) and Chew Lab (Olive oil poached salmon with fresh corn, bacon, and pepper jam; New York Strip with parsnip silk, balsamic glaze and arugula foam; and an absolutely heavenly Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with warm whiskey caramel; whatever you do, don’t miss it). Both are in the new Next Eats area in Future World, located near Club Cool.
Cheese Studio(trio of artisan cheeses; goat cheese panna cotta; and cheese fondue) and Wine Studio (8 specially selected wines that pair perfectly with your Cheese Studio choices) are natural companions. Both are in the Art of Wine and Cheese area in Future World, along the rose garden path leading into World Showcase.
We are delighted to report the Ocean Spray “Discover The Cranberry” bog has returned after a one-year hiatus, and during our media event Susan was able to fulfill a Festival-long dream of walking in bog. Although entry is not open to guests, it’s a surprisingly mesmerising element, and it’s great fun to talk to the cranberry growers (did you know cranberries bounce?).
What else does the Festival offer?
Seminars: The Festival Welcome Center (formerly the Wonders of Life pavilion in Future World, between Universe of Energy and Mission: SPACE) hosts several seminars, including seminars on mixology, chocolate, and culture (this year’s spotlight is on the Dominican Republic) as well as culinary demonstrations, book signings, and wine bottle signings. Some seminars have an additional $15 fee with your theme park admission.
Dining Experiences: It’s all about eating, right? On select dates throughout the festival, celebrity guests put on a What’s Cookin’ With… demonstration, with a plated brunch and sparkling wine. Reservations are necessary, and the fee is $129 per person. Additionally, lecture and tasting experiences focused on cheese, wine, cocktails, and various regional cuisines are offered, with fees ranging from $39 to $150. Festival events in the World Showcase countries include a fascinating (if potentially intoxicating!) Mexican Tequila Lunch; Italian and Moroccan food and drink pairings; an elegant Parisian Breakfast or Family Meal in France; Japanese Craft Beer Tasting, and more.
Signature Dining restaurant events: Can’t get enough food and wine? It doesn’t end at the park’s borders. Walt Disney World Signature Dining locations (16 high-end restaurants, including Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge, California Grill at the Contemporary Resort, Flying Fish and ESPN Club at the Boardwalk resort, and Fulton’s Crab House at Disney Springs) participate by offering specially-priced fine-dining evenings prepared by Disney’s master chefs. Prices range from $90 to $299 per person, gratuity included.
Party for the Senses: This is the mother of all events, and if you haven’t done it before, it’s worth adding to your must-try experiences. Each Party begins with reserved seating at an Eat to the Beat concert, then moves into the World ShowPlace Events Pavilion (in the former Millennium Pavilion, between the U.K. pavilion and the Canada pavilion), where your senses really are in for a party. With 50 tasting stations, superb entertainment, and a dazzling setting, the event is a major highlight. Choose from the themes, Disney Chefs From Around the World, Yelloween Masquerade (on Halloween night), and the brand-new Rockin’ Burger Block Party, offered on select nights during the Festival. Three pricing tiers include VIP, Reserved Seating, and standard Party, and range from $99 to $319.
Eat to the Beat concerts: Finally, something free! Live concerts held at the American Gardens Theater, lagoon-side at the American Adventure pavilion, are a big draw even for Orlando locals (Simon would attend every one of them if we had time). Big name bands perform 3 times daily (5.30pm, 6.45pm, and 8pm), and this year’s headliners include Smash Mouth, Pointer Sisters, and Chaka Khan. The concerts draw big crowds and the queue often forms an hour or more in advance. While it’s possible to enjoy the concert from outside the open-air theater, seating is first-come first-served, and premium seating is reserved for Premium Package holders. Want to avoid waiting? Book an Eat to the Beat Dinner Package (at select Epcot full service restaurants; lunch $38 to $61; dinner $51 to $76)
Various specialty packages are also available, as is specially-created Festival merchandise. Another fun addition this year is the World Showcase Scavenger Hunt, “Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak”, featuring Remy, the culinary-minded mouse from the hit Disney movie Ratatouille. Remy is making ratatouille (of course!), and has to find each of the ingredients around the World Showcase pavilions. Find each Remy statuette, place the corresponding sticker in the correct location on your paid-for scavenger hunt map, and turn it in for a prize (we won’t give away the surprise) when you’ve discovered them all.
The popular Drink Around The World unofficial ‘event’ is still going strong during the Food and Wine Festival, but participating groups often wear matching tee-shirts (usually with slogans like Drink, Drank, Drunk, or Getting Wasted With Mickey on them), so if you’re concerned about it, they’re generally easy to spot (you can usually hear them, too!). Although these groups are rarely a problem, guests with children may find visiting the festival at lunchtime and before 8pm more ‘family friendly’.
Weekends are exceptionally festive (read: packed), weekdays are comfortably festive, and we highly recommend getting a pre-paid (and reloadable) Disney Gift Card, which offers a little bit (!) of self-control as well as convenience when making your food and drink purchases (most samples are $3-$8). Many items can also be purchased using Disney Dining Plan Snack Credits.
Have questions about Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival? Join us on the ATD forum, the friendliest discussion boards on the internet!