Our first Epcot Food & Wine Festival overview appeared on our former site, For the Love of Disney, in October 2014. You can read it here… but maybe you should just read about this year’s event, then start dreaming of what you’re going to eat first! Be sure to check out the Blogorail Loop below for even more Fall fun at Disney Parks.
Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Red Loop. Today we are sharing the Fall events happening at the Disney Parks.
If you’re at all aware of what’s happening in the Walt Disney World parks, you might know that this little thing called the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is coming up very quickly! The festival is a full two-months this year – a record number of days – so if you’ll be in the area between September 14-November 14, we can’t recommend it enough. It is a yearly staple for us, for good reason.
Top 10 Tips and Tricks
In no particular order…
- Avoid the weekends. This event is a huge draw for locals, so Friday night through Sunday afternoon can be oppressively crowded. If we’re in town as a family during the festival, we like to enjoy the booths beginning at 11:00am on weekdays (check a current times guide for hours). That said, there is something special about the atmosphere of a bustling World Showcase on the weekends. Have realistic expectations (lines may be long, waits for food may be long, and you almost certainly will not make it around the whole promenade in an evening) and you can still have a great tip!
- Go with a group. Especially if you are going when it will be crowded, grab a few good friends to chat with while you wait (and while you eat). Bonus: if you like the people you’re with well enough, share some of your food to maximize the number of things you get to try!
- Get there early. If your goal is to try as much as possible, get there as early as possible – not just for obvious reasons (more time = more food), but also because some kiosks, especially those closest to Future World, have been known to begin serving as early as 10:30am. If you’re in the area a bit before 11, you can start your culinary tour ahead of the crowds and enjoy little to no wait for most of your visit!
- Check out the Festival Center. If you get to the park before booths open (and it doesn’t break your heart to explore the now-defunct Wonders of Life Pavilion), be sure to check out the Festival Center in Future World. If you arrive after the booths open, skip it for now. You can circle back to it when you need a break from the delicious food, but there’s nothing you need to see or do there before enjoying the food and beverages.
- Don’t overlook the special seminars and events. This year you’ll find a variety of culinary demonstrations, beverage seminars, mixology and cake decorating courses, cheese-pairing classes/tastings, and so much more. There is even a “Beverage Boot Camp“, and special appearances by some of the world’s most famous chefs. These are well done (and well worth your time) if you find something that interests you, and the prices tend to be very reasonable. There are also several free offerings in the Festival Center including book signings (and wine bottle signings), segments of ABC’s The Chew at the Festival Stage, basic culinary lessons, The Chocolate Experience hosted by Ghirardelli, and of course plenty of 2016 Festival merchandise.
- Pace yourself… or better yet, make a plan of attack! Pick up a “Festival Passport” at the Festival Center or your first kiosk, and take a look at what lies ahead. There are over 30 locations to sample; your stomach – and your wallet – might not be able to handle all of them in one day (or even one trip). We have made the mistake on more than one occasion of stopping at every booth we pass thinking, “Oh! That sounds pretty good!” Then we fill up far too quickly on things that are somewhat appealing, missing items later that we would have preferred.If you aren’t spending several days of your trip at the festival, be a little bit choosy. While everything is probably good, some things are definitely better than others.
- Relax in an air-conditioned lounge. If you have a Chase credit card (Disney Visa or otherwise), be sure to stop by the members lounge above The American Adventure. The lounge offers complimentary soda from Freestyle Coca-Cola machines (yes, free soda at Walt Disney World!), and comfortable, air-conditioned seating areas with a great view of the American Adventure pavilion. In the past there have also been areas to play Disney Infinity, but with the recent announcements that it is basically no more (announcements that may have made more than one of my family members cry), it remains to be seen what might be there this year. Regardless, you can’t beat the view and the chance to rest bit between stops on your culinary world tour.
- Look at the “Eat to Beat” schedule. If a band you love is making an appearance, a “free” concert (included with the cost of park admission) is probably a no-brainer. If you’re like me though, many of the bands don’t immediately pique your interest. That said, some of our favorite memories have been made while lingering near the American Adventure Pavilion (generally anywhere from Italy to Japan, which includes several kiosks in addition to any that may correspond with those 3 countries), listening to the show without entering the theater. The concerts are loud enough to act as super fun background music, and you probably know at least a few songs from each of them… whether you think you do or not! Find the list of bands here to see who will be performing when you’re in town.Special dining packages are also available which provide guaranteed concert seating, but in this case I wouldn’t recommend them unless you absolutely have to see a particular band at a particular time. We find the similar Candlelight Processional package worth the cost, but let’s be honest: who wants to fill up on a large meal during the Food & Wine Festival?! If you’re interested though, costs (per adult) range from $39 to $76.50 for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at a variety of restaurants.
- Grab a reloadable Food & Wine gift card. Any Disney Gift Card will work at the Festival booths, but if you don’t have one handy, several locations throughout Epcot will be selling cards in a Festival-themed lanyard and carrying case. Be advised that this does require a $200 minimum*, and are now full-size gift cards with the aforementioned lanyards instead of mini cards with wrist straps, as in previous years.Using a gift card is an excellent idea, too, if you’re concerned about how quickly (or unsure just how quickly) a little taste here and there may add up. Many guests budget a specific amount – any amount – for samples, and put it on a gift card. Nothing else goes on that card, so when it’s gone, they’re done sampling. This is not a bad plan, especially if there are other things you want to buy when you visit Walt Disney World.*$200 is more than we usually spend at the booths, but less than many people we know spend – so you may want to crunch your own anticipated numbers
Our favorite tip (hands down!) for making the most of a Food & Wine Festival visit:
Introduced in 2015, don’t overlook the $59 Tasting Sampler. Each sampler includes 8 vouchers for food and beverage items, as well as a collectible lanyard and limited-edition pin. “Certain exclusions may apply and will be listed on the voucher,” but last year the only limitation was on beverage flights. We purchased two of these in 2015, and it had a profoundly good impact on our experience.
We have always enjoyed the event, but I’ll admit – we can be a little cheap. We can’t help but keep an approximate running tally as the samples add up, so we almost never tried things we weren’t fairly certain we’d enjoy, spent money on frozen drinks (not our favorite), or splurged for the expensive stuff, knowing the portions are small. Last year though, we actually spent less than we normally would have and enjoyed much, much more.
We used the sampler “credentials” for purchases more than $6, and paid out of pocket for cheaper items. (We landed on $6 after assigning a value of $10 to the pin, and dividing the remaining $49 among the 8 items. If the pin is more valuable to you, consider factoring in the approximate retail value of $15. In this case, your “break even” point for the sampler would be $5.50 per item. If the pin and lanyard mean little or nothing to you, that price point would be $7-$7.50/item. It’s still very possible to get your value from the sampler even if the pin price isn’t factored in, but be advised that there are far fewer items in the $7+ price range than $5-$6 range.)
In addition to spending less, we truly felt more relaxed and free to try new things without a lot of pressure, since most of them were already paid for and “cheaper” than the menu price. If you have used any version of the Disney Dining Plan, you may recognize this familiar relief… where you don’t have to overthink your decisions, simply pick something out and enjoy it!
Extra Events & Suggestions
Not in Epcot this trip (or on a particular day)? This year, festivities have been extended to the resorts for the first time! Enjoy Brunch with a Twist at the Grand Floridian, The Secrets of Flavor at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Culinary Adventures with a Master Chef at the Contemporary Resort or Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. I think the idea of going behind the scenes at Trader Sam’s is super intriguing! Read more about it here.
If you have extra money (and don’t want to adopt my group for your Food & Wine Festival adventure), the “Ultimate Day at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival” is back. For 2016, guests will enjoy a celebrity chef hosted brunch at the Festival Center, a beverage demonstration in the VIP lounge, immediate access to the new Frozen Ever After attraction in the Norway pavilion, “an endless selection of bites and beverages” from the festival booths, another no-wait ride (this time on the newly reimagined Soarin’ Around the World), a sampling of the Festival’s signature craft beers, a chef’s pairing for dinner, priority seating at the Eat to the Beat concert (while enjoying a glass of champagne), and reserved seating for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. This 7+ hour VIP experience is $399 per person (offered to guests 21+), with discounts available to DVC Members, Annual Passholders, and Chase Disney Visa card holders.
Must-try Festival Booths
If you’re headed to the 2016 Festival, here are a few of our food recommendations:
AFRICA: Buttered Chicken with micro cilantro and Naan bread. If you’ve had the buttered chicken at Sanaa, skip this one (it’s the same). If you haven’t, get it (it’s delicious).
BRAZIL: Crispy Pork Belly with black beans and tomato
CANADA: Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup served with a pretzel roll (and Neige Premier Apple Ice Wine!)
CHOCOLATE STUDIO: Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whisky Caramel. I may have had 3 of these over a couple of trips last year. Ok, maybe 5 of them. Give or take. Also, I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with anything from a place called Chocolate Studio…
FRENCH: Boeuf Bourguignon: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised Short Ribs with mashed potatoes
GERMANY: Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce
HAWAII: Spicy Tuna Poke with seaweed salad and Nori rice (or the Kalua Pork Slider… definitely a favorite booth of ours each year!)
ITALY: Pennete alla Parmigiana: Baked Ziti and Chicken Parmigiana, tomato sauce, Mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese
MOROCCO: Kefta Pocket
NEW ZEALAND: Lamb Meatball with spicy tomato chutney
There are too many delicious offerings to mention (back from previous years), and just as many that are new this year which we can’t wait to try. Whatever you choose, you’re going to have a great time and hopefully try some new things.
Check out a great overview video from my friend Sam at Sam’s Disney Diary. Bon Appetit!
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Red | Fall Events at Disney Loop:
- 1st Stop – Magical Memories with the Mouse | It’s Time for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World
- 2nd Stop – Frontierland Station | Fall Decorations at Walt Disney World
- 3rd Stop – What’s the Point? | Celebrating Halloween on the High Seas with Disney Cruise Line
- 4th Stop – Bibbidi Bobbidi Booze | Fall Events I Can’t Wait To Try At The Disneyland Resort
- 5th Stop – The Delightful Life | YOU ARE HERE 🙂