No true Wanderlush can label themselves as such without experiencing the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival at least one time in their lives. In fact, you could almost say it is a requirement, a stripe to be added to your personal Wanderlush rank.
We made our annual trip to Orlando the weekend of November 6 and 7. It was the final weekend of the event, so we headed out early that Friday and made good time on the road, eventually reaching our hotel, Disney’s Beach Club Resort, around 1 p.m. Once we were checked in, we wasted no time and headed to the park to begin our eating and drinking journey around the world and back again. And again, provided our bodies could stand up to the harsh rigors of experiencing all that delicious food and drink. The weather was magnificent that whole weekend, by the way: daytime temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s, dry, with a slight breeze that made it feel somewhat cooler.
The first thing to remember about the festival (this year being the 14th) it is always heavily attended on the weekends, and so patience is the order of the day when dealing with the large crowds (often drunk or pleasantly buzzed) and young attendees (many on sugar highs or going through temporary insanity, a.k.a. snit fits). Lucky for us the overall spirit of the event kept unpleasant behavior in check, for both adults and children alike. Not being parents, we did see several times sated, buzzed and just plain fed up parents giving in to their demanding young one’s request for a certain food, drink or that must-have toy. This isn’t unexpected at Disney parks, but it can be awkward at an event like the International Food & Wine Festival.
Despite these few and minor distractions, we planned our itinerary for maximum enjoyment, efficient use of time and, most importantly, low stress. To my recollection there were no “why me?” moments or feelings of disappointment in reaching a particular destination or event. Besides, after a few glasses of wine the whole EPCOT world takes on a decidedly rosy hue. We made a long and detailed list of foods and drinks to try, and for the most part we were able to stick to the plan.
Our impressions of the food at this year’s festival were positive; the quality of all the food samples we tried over the two days was good to very good, excellent in some cases. Disney stated that they expected a higher standard of quality and the countries participating certainly lived up to that. Wine and drink pairings at each country were thought out and enhanced the overall tasting experience. Lines at several countries’ stands were long, but well worth the wait. We purchased special wristbands which could be used like debit cards for purchases at Disney properties. This sped up the process because the last thing you want to do when buying food or drinks is fumble through your pockets looking for your hotel card, cash or a debit card. Employees at each kiosk were friendly and helpful. My Italian, French and German language skills (laughable) would have me exiled from these respective countries, but the employees at Italy, France and Germany certainly appreciated (I think) my feeble effort to reach out and bridge the language gap.
But there’s more to this festival than the mere Wanderlush food and booze crawl. Festival planners also schedule private food demonstrations and wine tastings over the course of the event, hosting renowned wine makers from all over the country and top chefs from the culinary world. We should point out that the list of wine makers was somewhat diminished from previous years. We hope that is not an ongoing trend. We made reservations ahead of time for a few of these events, which are designed to be more relaxed and intimate experiences than simply touring the world showcase. The stand out for us was an “Adventures in Wine Varietals – Exploring Cabernet” seminar held by Andrea Immer Robinson. She has a way of navigating you through the wine world that makes it seem simple.
Seeking a respite from the gastronomical and alcoholic overload, we went on several rides at EPCOT: Spaceship Earth, Finding Nemo, The Land, Mission Earth and my personal favorite, Soarin,’ a large-screen ride that takes you over the vast California landscape, via hang glider, seeing and smelling the different regions of this diverse state north to south. If you’re at EPCOT during the festival (or any time, really) put this ride at the top of your list. The EPCOT Food & Wine Festival didn’t disappoint, and with Disney’s focus on quality and hospitality, was a better experience than the previous year. The beer choices throughout the festival could have been much more creative considering the number of microbrew beers available in Florida, however. We have a hunch that is more related to contractual obligations but it would be nice to see a greater variety for beer connoisseurs. Even so, this is a great event to attend.