Last weekend kicked off the 16th annual International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot. I had the good fortune of being on hand for this weekend’s festivities, so I wanted to report back to our readers with some tips for enjoying the festival. In 2011 it will run from September 30 through November 13, giving guests a month and a half to try dishes from all over the world. The theme is “Passport to a World of Flavors,” which is illustrated in the main entrance’s garden, featuring an ocean liner and other modes of transportation. With 30 booths set up along the banks of World Showcase Lagoon, the culinary celebration can get a bit overwhelming. There is no way to taste everything the festival has to offer in one day (or even a couple of days) so my best advice is to have a plan of attack so you leave feeling full and happy rather than disappointed.
There are several online resources where you can check things out in advance. We’ve already had a few posts here on the TouringPlans.com blog to get folks excited about this year’s offerings; Evan has written to discuss how to keep the whole family happy during the festival, and Tom explored the value of Free Dining during Food & Wine. We’ve also had two guest posts by the Disney Food Blog’s AJ in which she took a look at the seminars and demonstrations Epcot will present this fall and gave a preview of the entire festival. Her site is also a haven of information on the Festival every year, so be sure to visit it before you visit the booths.
Once you have done some research on the Food & Wine Festival, I suggest selecting some “must have” samples from around the world. Asking each person in your group to pick a few booths to visit will ensure everyone enjoys the festival. Picking some menu items in advance will give you an idea of how you want to plan out your day and how much it might cost.
The prices of menu items leads me to my next tip: you may want to treat yourself and go crazy at the festival, but most of us would like to rein in our spending when we’re roaming from booth to booth. My advice is to give yourself a budget for the event. Whether your idea of a reasonable amount to spend is $20 per person or $200, buying a gift card is a sure way to keep yourself in check. That way you’ll have your set amount and won’t be able to go over it without giving it some thought. It is easy to rack up a large bill with cocktails costing $7.50 a piece. I also like buying a gift card for my Food & Wine time so I don’t have to fumble around with cash every time I order something yummy. Disney makes gift cards even more accessible for Food & Wine by selling small ones with a stretchy band to be worn like a bracelet. The design of these cards is meant to make quick transactions on your many stops around the booths.
So you’ve done your research, you’ve set your budget, and you’re about to enter the park. Now what? I suggest heading for the Festival Center at the old Wonders of Life Pavilion. Here you can find a guide to the festival as well as a passport which allows you to check off items as you visit booths. The center also has retail spaces if you are interested in Food & Wine merchandise or would like to purchase wine to bring home. This is also where several demonstrations will be held throughout the celebration. Cast members inside will be happy to help with any questions you may have regarding your tasty visit.
Once you have a map of the booths in-hand, you can plot out where you’d like to visit. Since World Showcase is so huge, trying to keep your options in a continuous line will help minimize back tracking. Although, you may want to add on as many steps as you can to burn off some of your Food & Wine finds. There is no rule regarding where to start, so have at it and hit the booths that interest you most. You may want to do savory dishes first and save the sweet ones for later, but then again maybe you want dessert first!
Finally, enjoy the festivities! Stroll along with your friends or family and take in the atmosphere. Compare and share dishes with them and get into the spirit of things. I had a ball relaxing with my friends as we laughed, walking from booth to booth with food and/or drink in hand. Spend the whole day exploring World Showcase between tastings. Maybe take in an attraction or view some live entertainment you had skipped in the past. Don’t forget the Eat to the Beat concert series featuring a different live acts ranging from Air Supply to Hanson to Boyz II Men. These shows take place in America Gardens Theatre three times daily throughout the Festival.
I hope you all get the chance to experience the Food & Wine Festival at least once in your Disney World travels. It is a favorite among many WDW enthusiasts for good reason. You’re sure to have a blast sipping and snacking your way around the world!
What are your strategies for making the best of the Food & Wine Festival? Let me hear about them in the comments!