Most people associate EPCOT with one thing… drinking!! This is in part to the annual EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival. Fall was a very slow time at all the Walt Disney World theme parks and in 1996 then EPCOT VP of Operations, George Kalogridis came up with the idea of marketplaces offering small plates and sips to encourage guests to visit during the month of October. The festival is now in it’s 22nd year, and Mr. Kalogridis is the President of Walt Disney World and Fall is one of the most popular times to visit the parks!
I often plan my annual trip in September so I am able to experience the Food and Wine Festival, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (in Magic Kingdom) as well as other fall festivities. I typically take a longer vacation and enjoy the Food and Wine Festival for two or three days of my trip. Unfortunately my schedule would only allow a short trip and I only had a few hours to experience this epicurean adventure. Of couse, this year’s festival is a record breaking 75 days and offers an unprecedented 35 different kiosks to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of EPCOT!!!
Now if you only have a limited time to experience this event let me make a few recommendations.
Plan Ahead – Take a look at the kiosk menus online. Highlight a few items you know you want to try. The Festival often offers a wonderful mixture of favorites from past festivals as well as new concoctions. I knew there were a few must haves that I wanted to ensure I had room for so I hit those kiosks first.
Figure Out Your Priorities – The Food and Wine Festival is much more than food booths featuring samples of international cuisine and adult beverages. There are events, seminars, tastings, Celebrity Chef appearances and a concert series. Make sure you do some research on what is available. Our dates weren’t very flexible and there were no celebrity chefs or musical acts that appealed to us during our visit so we focused on the kiosks. Do a little research on who will be appearing during your trip and figure out what appeals to you. If you only have one day you may not be able to meet your favorite Food Network Star AND see a concert from your favorite one hit wonder so figure out what is most important to you. If it is your first trip I would suggest focusing on the kiosks. If you are a returning guest or have a few more days to enjoy all that the festival has to offer make a reservation for a mixology class or other event.
Visit During the Week – The EPCOT Food and Wine Festival is a favorite for locals. They tend to visit on Saturdays and Sundays and the park gets extremely crowded. If possible visit early in the week to avoid the local crowds.
Visit Early in the Day – In the same vein many people come to experience the Festival in the evening as a substitute for dinner.One area the festival has definitely improved over the years but still has a long way to go are places to sit and relax. They have finally spread some high top tables along the walkway reducing the need to use trash cans as tables, but the places to sit are still extremely limited. Arriving early will allow to you access the kiosks with no lines, receive your food quickly, and have a place to enjoy it. We started right when the kiosks opened at 11 and were able to hit all the kiosks we wanted on the right side of the park, watch the Circle vision movie in Canada and catch the 12:30 show of American Adventure… all in 90 minutes!!! The other side of the park was a complete other story with the same number of kiosks taking about triple the amount of time.
Share!!! This is probably my favorite thing about the Food and Wine Festival. The ability to try a ton of things without being tied to a whole meal. It also let’s me get my picky husband out of his culinary comfort zone. Unless there is something we know we love and want the whole thing we will usually decide on sharing something from each kiosk. This way you get to try more without getting full!! If you love it you can always go back for more!
Beat the Heat – while temperatures may be cooling off where you are from fall in Orlando is still Hot! Hot! Hot! Make sure you stay hydrated especially if you are sampling the wine, beer and cocktails. You can buy a water at all the international kiosks. If you are looking to save a little money head to one of the counter service restaurants where you can get a small cup of water for free, you can also bring your own water bottles. Take frequent breaks in the air conditioning. During typical trips we often pass by all the wonderful movies in the countries as we rush to get from place to place, during food and wine our rule is we MUST stop at each one. This not only allows us to spend 20 minutes in the air conditioning but we also get to digest a bit
Take a Break – This is my #1 tip for any Disney trip whether it’s food and wine or not. We plan a mid-day break during every day of a Disney trip. While this might mean going back to the hotel and taking a nap, shower or dip in the pool it could also be a afternoon lunch reservation, boat ride or visit to a nearby resort. With a mid-day break away from the heat and the crowds you can mitigate evening meltdowns from children or adults. Knowing we didn’t have much time for a full hotel break I had made reservations at Via Napoli, while sitting down for lunch while you have been eating all day may not seem appealing, having a place to sit down in the air conditioning can be extremely rejuvenating. We each got a drink and shared an appetizer. Just because you have a reservation doesn’t mean you have to get an appetizer, entree and dessert! I also love taking the boat to the EPCOT resorts, there are quite a few lounges to set up camp in or grab an ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery or Boardwalk Bakery. You will return to EPCOT ready to start all over again.
Don’t forget the kids – Again, this is true of any day at EPCOT but especially during the Food and Wine Festival. As I am helping plan client’s vacations I am often told “we are going to skip EPCOT, there is nothing there for kids” SO NOT TRUE!!! Especially with the addition of Frozen Ever After, there are many attractions aimed at children. Kids love Turtle Talk with Crush, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Journey Into Imagination with Figment and the Gran Fiesta Tour. EPCOT is one of the best places to meet the characters with little to no wait. Each of the princesses meet in the country their story originated and Pooh,Tigger, Alice and Mary Poppins meet in the United Kingdom, Donald in Mexico and EPCOT is the only place you can meet Mulan!! There is live entertainment in all of the countries that your children can enjoy – our favorite is British Revolution in the UK – who doesn’t want to listen to your favorite British Rock while sipping on a refreshing pint? Also offered year round are the kidcot stations – these are areas in each country where children can craft while learning about that country’s culture. Each of the station’s have a stamp and your children can collect them all. Speaking of collecting them all just for the Food and Wine Festival, EPCOT offers Remy’s (of Ratatouille Fame) Hide and Squeek. They have hidden statues of the famous chef along with recipes to make his signature ratatouille. You can purchase the map at many of the retail locations for $9 and as your child finds the hidden Remy’s, they place the stickers on the map. Once you have found them all you can redeem your completed map for a prize! There are so many ways to keep the kids entertained while you are enjoying your Cheddar Cheese Soup and Ice Wine!!!
Now that you are ready for your day at the festival here are some of my favorites to add to your to try list!
Returning Festival Favorites: Patagonia: Beef Empanada, Belguim: Waffles with Berry Compote, Canada: Cheddar Cheese Soup & Wild Mushroom Filet, France: Croissant aux Escargots & La Passion Martini, Hawaii: Kaluha Pork Slider, Islands of the Caribbean: Quesitos
Some New Items to Try: Almond Orchard: Banana Almond Sundae, Africa: Spinach and Paneer Cheese Pocket, Flavors from the Fire: Piggy Wings: Hawaii: Tuna Tataki, Light Lab: T=CC2, Spain: Charcuterie in a Cone