Archive For September 30, 2016
Welcome to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival 2016 photo tour! Here, you’ll get a taste of what’s new, some oldies-but-goodies, what I liked, and what I loved! And, as we journey on this epicurean trip around the world, i’ll share a few helpful tips for your next visit to Epcot’s most popular annual event.
The theme for the 2016 Food & Wine Festival is ‘Taste Epcot.’ The front entrance to Epcot nicely displays the theme, and it’s the perfect back-drop for a group or family photo to begin your day. With a little patience, Disney employees are more than happy to photograph the moment for you, but be prepared to wait in line during the busiest hours.
Although the main attraction of the Food and Wine Festival is, of course, the food — let your stomach growl long enough to slow down and enjoy stunning views of fabulous flora all decked out in their finest fall colors. Sure, they’re not as spectacular as the springtime Flower and Garden Festival displays, but definitely worth a look.
Another worthwhile diversion is a quick stop at Club Cool. If you entered Epcot through the main front gates, you have to pass by it anyway enroute to World Showcase where most of the Festival food kiosks are located. Inside is a gift shop featuring pretty cool Coca-Cola-branded merchandise, along with a FREE (I know, I know, the words free and Disney are rarely used together) tasting of soft drinks from around the world. There are 8 different cola flavors found in places like Greece, Thailand, Japan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Peru, Brazil… and my favorite, Italy. The Italian cola is called Beverly, and it’s like drinking a non-alcoholic aperitif before dinner to stimulate the appetite. It’s actually a traditional part of Italian refreshment culture. Beverly has a very bitter flavor that people either love or hate. I love it… my hubby, well, not so much! The beverage machine is self-serve, so feel free to sample as many as you like. For me, this is a fantastic place to cool down from the Florida heat and wet my whistle at the same time. Try it, and let me know which is your favorite!
My second stop (right after Club Cool) was the most ingenious idea my husband has ever had. (After almost 40 years together, that’s saying a lot!) He recommended that we purchase a pre-paid Disney Gift Card. There are a number of Festival-themed Disney Gift Cards to choose from. We selected the mini-sized gift card (which is their most popular). The mini card features the Festival logo, and is attached to a wearable wristlet. You can choose the dollar amount to put on the card. We started with $100. There are no fees involved and it is accepted everywhere, no exceptions. Some of the other gift cards have limitations regarding usage. A Disney employee took the time to explain all options and any restrictions.
They’re available at select merchandise locations throughout Epcot, like the one pictured above where I purchased mine. The beauty of these cards?… well, they make paying a breeze! The average price for individual food and wine offerings at the kiosks are between $5-$7. It was always inconvenient for me to charge such a small amount at every stop, and the added stress of making sure I didn’t lose the card. With my new Disney Gift Card on my wrist, I simply show it, they scan it, and ta-dah… I’m ready to eat! No more fiddling in my pocket or purse. Such an easy way to pay!
With more than 30 delicious and exotic marketplaces available for the Food and Wine Festival, one must choose wisely, as it’s almost impossible to sample everything. Our first stop was at Farm Fresh. We almost passed this one up, as the offerings seemed a bit boring — nothing exotic. It was more like traditional ‘comfort food.’ But I’m so glad we tried it. Hubby had the Loaded Mac ‘n’ Cheese which was superb. Made with cheddar cheese, pepper bacon, green onions and peppers, it had a nice little ‘kick’ to it. Nothing boring here! The flavor combinations were excellent and left you wanting more.
I had the Chicken and Dumplings, made with stewed chicken, mushrooms, and spinach. Oh my goodness… I never thought I would be raving about such a simple dish. The sauce was extremely tasty, it was loaded with tender generously-sized chicken chucks, and the dumplings… well, I have never had dumplings so good. They were huge, and literally melt-in-your-mouth. I’m not kidding. I was raised on Pennsylvania Dutch cooking where dumplings are king, but these were the best I have ever had! I don’t know how they got them so light and moist. Typically they’re very dense and heavy. I had to resist the temptation to order another portion! My only complaint about this stop was that the food temperature on both items was barely warm.
Look at the size of those dumplings…
Next stop for us was Mexico. One of those ‘oldies-but-goodies’ for my husband is the Taco de Camaron. It’s a battered shrimp served over a flour tortilla with crispy purple cabbage and chipotle mayonnaise. He loves his food hot and spicy… very hot and spicy! This dish is far from hot and spicy, but flavorful nonetheless with the chipotle. He would have liked it kicked up a hundred notches on the heat index, but still enjoyed it, as always.
I usually pass on the Mexican offerings being we live in central Florida where Mexican food and restaurants abound. But I broke tradition and opted for the Barbacoa Enchilada. Unlike hubby, I don’t do well with spicy food. I love it, it just doesn’t like me. Upon ordering, I asked the Disney employee if there was anything spicy in it. She patiently described the ingredients, and offered me to return it if I didn’t like it. Wow… that’s the first time I was given a money-back guarantee during the umpteen times we’ve attended the Food and Wine Festival. Turned out to be very smart customer service — I loved it! The corn tortilla tasted just like the hand-made ones I had in Guatemala. The beef barbacoa was excellent, and the mole sauce was surprisingly outstanding. And yes, I stopped by to thank the young lady on my way to the trash can. This is one of those ‘repeat’ items i’ll have during my next visit to Epcot in a few weeks.
[***Question: Have you ever taken the time to thank a Disney employee for going above and beyond what was expected of them? Please share in the comment section at the end of this article. Many Disney employees earn little more than minimum wage, work outside in the heat, humidity and tropical downpours, and hear complaints all day long. Oftentimes we’re quick to complain and slow to compliment those in the hospitality industry. Make it a point to give ‘kudos’ when appropriate. We may never know the positive effect in that person’s life!]
By now you’ve heard that one of the most popular Epcot attractions has been totally re-done. SOARIN’ has become SOARIN’ Around The World. We were able to get a FastPass for it so we took a brief respite from lunch to try the new version. It was awesome! Hubby liked the old version better, but I respectfully disagree. It remains my favorite Epcot ride.
Since the heat index was over 100 degrees this September day, SOARIN’ was the perfect way to cool down and beat the heat for a while. But after our hang-gliding experience around the world, we were ready to indulge in our next round of tasty treats. The Wine & Dine Studio is one of the new marketplaces at the Festival this year. And what a great addition it was! Of everything I tried, it was here that I had my number one tasting food item — the seared scallop! I kinda cheated with this choice because I already knew from the pre-Festival tasting event with members of the Press that this was a favorite among the voters. Because of that, hubby and I both had the same thing, something we rarely do.
The seared scallop was served over a truffled celery root puree (something I’m not usually fond of) and brussels sprouts with wild mushrooms. Oh my goodness… heaven on earth! This dish is worthy to be served in any 5-star restaurant this side of Mars. You have to try it. ‘Nuff said!
Even if you pass up on the Wine & Dine Studio, stop by long enough to shoot a couple of photos. It’s a beautiful area as evidenced by the slideshow above. It’s also one of just a few areas that offer a place to sit your food and beverage down while eating. They have an ample amount of counter space under the trellis for that.
Our next stop was the Islands Of The Caribbean, another new entry this year. This area gets my vote for the most beautiful displays. Lush landscaping and small vignette-type displays feature islands like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica (see slideshow below). They also have a couple of thatched-roof tiki huts with tables to get you out of the hot sun while you munch on Mojo Pork, Quesito or other Caribbean cuisine tapas.
Hubby’s tummy was getting full but I was still going strong. I tried the Pescado con Coco: seared grouper, pigeon peas and rice, with coconut sauce. The concept was great (i’ll try almost anything with a coconut sauce!) but I probably wouldn’t have it again. The rice was too salty for my taste buds (the olives, most likely), and it had large chunks of sausage that weren’t mentioned in the ingredients, which I’m not a fan of. The grouper was great, as was the sauce, but was hoping for a stronger coconut flavor. Overall… good, but not a repeat item for me.
One thing I really liked this year at the Food and Wine Festival was the style of the food kiosks. Each one was a tiny replica of the type of architecture that is indicative of the country it is representing. I’ve included a few of them in the photos below…
Our final stop was at Brazil — not because we wanted this culinary adventure to end, but because our bellies were busting at the seams! We had done our homework and looked over a listing of each food item in advance of our visit. We had a good idea of what we wanted to sample before we even got there. Since we attend the Food and Wine Festival multiple times each year, we limit our food to 5 or 6 countries during each visit. With great anticipation we were looking forward to trying the crispy pork belly with black beans and tomato at Brazil. Once again, hubby and I ordered the same thing.
I have fond memories of the very first time I had crispy pork belly. It was at Disney, at the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood Studios. Gosh, that had to be about 10+ years ago. It was so incredible, it became the gold standard by which I measure every crispy pork belly appetizer I try. None has ever compared to that first experience. That’s why I was so excited to sample it at Epcot. Hubby and I both agreed that although it was great, it was not phenomenal as I was expecting. I thought it was a little too lean. I mean, come on… if you’re gonna have pork belly, then pork fat should rule! Despite my criticism, some people we chatted with said it was the best item at the Festival, in their opinion.
To end our epicurean tour around the world, we chose to have dessert in Norway, rather than a food kiosk from the Festival. The Kringla Bakery is a permanent part of the World Showcase at Epcot and we love the berry cream puffs from there. Plus, it was another opportunity to go inside to escape the blazing hot sun.
The berry cream puff was the perfect ending to a perfect day at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. Interested in the cost of today’s tasting tour? Well, for everything i’ve included in this article, plus 2 bottles of water, the price tag was $64.31. We’ve been attending the F&WF since its inception 21 years ago, and have witnessed steady price increases, but still consider this event one of our Disney favorites. Here’s another tip: as locals, we always go on a weekday, and try to get there early in the day. As you can see from the photos, most of the kiosks had little or no line!
Stay tuned for our next visit where we’ll be sampling even more delectable dishes. This year, the event runs from September 14th – November 14th, 62 days of deliciousness!
Have you been to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival? Maybe you have a question about the event. Or perhaps you have a tip of your own that you’d like to share with our readers. Please post your question or comment in the reply box below!