My life summed up in one phrase??? “I’d rather be eating”
The Epcot Food & Wine Festival has been on my bucket list for quite some time now. What are my three favorite things in the world? Food, wine, and Disney. It was the International Food and Wine Festival’s 20th anniversary, so it was a great year to go. I wanted to share my experiences with you and give helpful suggestions and tips if you’re planning to attend the Food & Wine Fest yourself.
One of the main reasons I was looking forward to visiting Disney during the first week of November was the lack of tourists. Apparently I picked the wrong week to go sans crowds because there were people EVERYWHERE. I really thought Disney World was only truly busy during the summer months but apparently that’s just not the case these days. I was looking forward to relaxing and eating my way around the world, but unfortunately it’s hard to relax when you’re being trampled by people going in every which direction. I went both during the day and at night. Evenings were definitely more crowed than days, although it was far from being a ghost-town while the sun was up. I believe many locals come in the evenings to eat, drink, and watch the Eat to the Beat concerts. Boyz II Men performed for three nights in a row while I was visiting but they were the only ones I had ever heard of when I took a peek at the roster for the entire festival. The theater where the concerts take place has limited seating but it is open air so you can see and hear it without standing in line for an hour to get a seat (You’ll get really selective about which lines you are willing to stand in when there are so many people).
Epcot’s famous Spaceship Earth with International Food and Wine Festival decor welcoming you to the park
I was a little confused about how the festival worked when I was planning my visit. The main part is all of the booths around Epcot’s World Showcase. For those of you who don’t know, the World Showcase circles the large lagoon on Epcot’s property and takes you around the world on a fairly short stroll. Each of the eleven countries showcased has buildings (which house restaurants, attractions, or theaters) that feature typical architecture of the country they represent. The buildings in the France pavilion have lots of ironwork and greenery and even an Eiffel Tower, while the Chinese pavilion features an elaborately painted Chinese gate and a replica of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. During the festival, there are small stand-alone “restaurants” usually located across from their country’s pavilion. However, there are many of these booths that feature cuisine from countries not represented in the World Showcase, such as Greece and Patagonia, scattered throughout the mix as well. They also have booths not associated with a particular country, but a specific type of food or style of cooking, such as Farm Fresh, Desserts & Champagne, and the Cheese Studio. There were over 30 booths at the festival this year. Be sure to pick up a free passport at the Epcot Visitors Center to get a stamp at each countries’ booth you visit. It also serves as a menu for every booth featured at the festival so you can map out the dishes and drinks you’d like to try. Another helpful tip is to start walking around the World Showcase in the opposite direction that most people will go (start at Canada instead of Mexico). I did this and didn’t really notice much of a difference because there were so many people but if you arrived early enough in the afternoon I imagine it would be much more pleasurable.
The cheese palette from the Cheese Studio booth featuring three cheeses and three wines, perfectly paired, including a short explanation of why they pair well together
The most appealing part of this whole festival is that it is centered around trying new things and exploring new cultures and cuisines. The booths feature “snack” sized portions so that you don’t fill up on just one country. Most every dish is between $4 and $7. Disney Dining Plan snack credits can be used at most, but not all booths and they never go toward alcoholic beverages. You can pay however you like (cash, credit card, Disney gift card, or MagicBand). I found that MagicBand and gift cards were the easiest methods of payment. Gift cards are much easier if you’re on a budget and want to keep track of your spending because it is VERY easy to drop $100 between a few people. In the Epcot and festival gift shops they sell bracelets with reloadable gift cards attached that can be used quickly and efficiently. I really enjoyed how the small portion option allowed me to try many different dishes rather than committing to just one. However, I think that the World Showcase could benefit from more seating areas around the booths. (Free) seating areas were extremely limited and because it was so crowded when I went, benches and edges of flower beds were hard to come by as well. The lack of seating areas was extremely frustrating from a photography standpoint.
Farm Fresh’s loaded mac n’ cheese with pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers, and green onions
Another very cool part of the International Food & Wine Festival is the classes, seminars, and special dining experiences offered throughout the duration of the festival. These include cooking classes with celebrity chefs, cheese and wine pairing seminars, and authentically curated five-course meals prepared by professional chefs. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any of these due to lack of information available on Disney’s website. The average price of these special events is around $100, with many being upwards of that. I was very intrigued by the cheese seminar but by the time I checked availability there were no openings during my stay. On this trip, I learned that the only way to do Disney nowadays is to be a planner. From planning your Fastpass slots to booking these festival events, there is no other way that you’ll be able to see or do anything unless you plan out your trip several months in advance. Considering most vacationers will be planning their trip from several states – even countries away, you would think that Disney’s website would be bountiful with useful information about these reservation-only seminars. Nope. It does list the events but it gives you a vague one sentence description of the event/dining experience. It doesn’t even list out the exact FIXED prices or the very basics of what is included with your reservation. On top of that you have to call to make reservations, available at the end of July, for the festival which begins in September. I know that the website information is vague on purpose as a money-making scheme but in the future, I would like to see a comparison chart of these events and dining packages with an EXACT price point for each and a description of what is included with your reservation. For example, “at the Cheese Seminar, guests will have the opportunity to sample five cheeses and five wines from around the world as they learn about the art of pairing”. They don’t have to give away all of the surprises, but if I’m paying $80 to learn about cheese, I want to know if I will have the opportunity to sample the cheese I’m learning about. I was very disappointed with the lack of information on these special events and the steep starting price points.
The hard cider flight from Farm Fresh featuring Woodchuck Raspberry Hard Cider, Wyder’s Dry Pear Hard Cider, Two Henry’s Elderberry Hard Cider, and ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider (my favorite!)
Though it may not sound like it, I did truly enjoy attending the festival. I read several blogs with tips and tricks prior to my visit. Disney Food Blog was by far the most helpful. I think the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is just something that you have to experience to get a thorough understanding of how it really works. I didn’t realize how much planning was involved and I think, had I known, I would have been able to take advantage of more opportunities and make the most out of my time at Epcot. Like everything at Disney World, there is an abundance of things to see and do but to get to your “must-dos” you have to do a lot of research and create a realistic schedule. I plan to do more extensive research and planning next time around.
The Chew Lab’s New York Strip garnished with parsnip silk, balsamic glaze, and arugula foam
My handmade Minnie ears are from the Etsy shop Enchanted Dust, which I highly recommend. She can do custom designs as well, but I just wanted a super-cute pair of ears and I love these so much more than the ones available for purchase at the parks.