This weekend begins my favorite time of the year in Walt Disney World – the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. For six glorious weeks, epicurean delights of all shapes and sizes abound throughout Epcot, and people like me who love to eat and drink are in hog heaven. But don’t let the name fool you, this is not necessarily some fancy foodie expo. No, the Food & Wine Festival is as accessible for every day burger and fries people as it is for those who love to eat sweetbreads and truffle oil.
But what is the Food & Wine Festival? The basic idea is that it’s celebration of foods from around the world, displayed throughout Epcot’s restaurants, walkways, and the Festival Center. The details are a little more than that, and show you how you can make the most of the festival. So let’s dig in, shall we?
First of all, most people will experience the Food & Wine Festival through the World Showcase tasting booths. All around the walkway winding from Future World around the World Showcase Lagoon and back again, you will find small booths offering small plates of food from different locales. This year’s festival features foods from countries like Argentina and China, as well as booths from Hawaii and New Zealand, plus booths dedicated to certain types of food, like cheese, craft beers and more. This is the highlight of the festival for many people.
For anywhere between $3 and $8, you get a small portion of food from the booth’s specialties. Each will also have a suggested wine or beer pairing to go with it. This is living, my friends! Walking from booth to booth on the World Showcase walkway, tasting foods and fine drinks…it makes me smile just thinking about it. Take this opportunity to try things you might never have sampled before, or to try variations on old favorites. My tips for experiencing this: Do not try to do all the booths at one time, and even a third of them might be too many. Take your time, enjoy the atmosphere and share with friends. You’ll want to grab the handy gift cards located at one of the booths, which can store enough money for your whole excursion. They come with a plastic wristband, so you can put $100 or so on the card and not have to take your wallet out every few steps.
Yes, I said $100, because the tasting can get expensive if you try everything. There are usually 30 or more booths, and at $5-12 per booth, that adds up quickly. If you’re on a budget, pace yourself, grab a guide as you walk in the park, and try only what appeals to you.
If you’re willing to be a little more adventurous, make sure to stop at the Festival Welcome Center on your way in, located at the Wonders of Life Pavilion. Inside, you’ll find a shop with wines from the various countries, as well as seminars that feature beverages (wines, beers and liquors) or cooking demonstrations. Stop at the info desk and ask for that day’s schedule. The seminars usually involve an upcharge between $7-20 per person. In my experience, though, they are worth it. The seminar I attended last year was $12, and included a mini version of a lamb salad and a glass of riesling. I’ve paid twice that much for less food!
The seminars are a great way to experience more of the festival. I have seen some people stay in the building all day, hopping from beverage seminar to food seminar and back again. I have to tell you, it wouldn’t be a bad way to spend your day. If you stuck to just the seminars and booth tastings, you would have an amazing time, but there’s so much more you can try.
In addition to the easy to get into events, there are more high priced events for you to try. These come in a couple of different levels. First, there are the dinners or tastings at the various restaurants on property. Typically costing between $55-60 for a tasting or $100 and up for a dinner, these events take place in a restaurant setting, usually during off peak hours. For tastings, you’ll typically get some form of alcoholic beverage (tequila in Mexico, for example) and a small bite to eat. Italy has hosted pizza & wine tastings, Mexico does tequila, etc.
At the dinners, you will be treated to the best the chef has to offer. The dinners are a chance for the very good chefs of the Walt Disney World Resort to try and outdo each other. You will get fine meals that include things like Cat Cora’s lead chef at Kouzzina preparing the meal of a lifetime. Yes, these are expensive meals. Yes, you may not know everything on the menu, but you’ll be glad you ate it, trust me.
If you really want to go all out though, you need to try one of the special events. The signature event of the Festival is the Party for the Senses. Held on Saturday nights, the Party for the Senses combines live entertainment, food samples from all around the Festival, unlimited drinks and more into one enchanting evening in the World ShowPlace Events Pavilion, between the United Kingdom and Canada. Other events are cheaper, but none features Cirque Du Soleil entertaining while you eat! It is an expensive ticket, though, at $145 plus tax.
Other events include things like the 3D Delicious Dessert Discovery party, also held in World ShowPlace, Food & Wine Pairings seminars, the Discovery of Chocolate, and so many more. These events can be expensive, but Disney spares nothing in them, and they are easily the highlight of a trip. These events are one of a kind, and can only be experienced at Food & Wine.
For your entertainment while doing all this eating, make sure to check out the Eat to the Beat Concert Series. Featuring names like Night Ranger, Boyz II Men, and Sugar Ray, these concerts take place in the America Gardens Theatre, across from the American Adventure. They are free with your park admission and take place 3 times each night. So take a load off and enjoy the show one night.
If you decide to go to Walt Disney World during this event, make plans to go over and sample the wares of all the Festival has to offer. My best advice to you is to plan ahead. Make plans to call 407-WDW-FEST before you leave to try and book your special events and dinners. When I attend the Festival, I typically plan all lunch and dinner times in World Showcase, and book one tasting, one special event and two or three seminars. That way, I get a little sample of everything. Trust me, this is an event you will want to sample.
What about you? What are you looking forward to at this year’s festival?