Epcot International Food & Wine Festival!
Post by Matt Papuchis.
It’s hard to believe, but October is upon us! In my last post, I mentioned how the unofficial start to fall was Labor Day. There are some who dismiss this idea and savor every last second of summer and refuse to relent to the idea that summer is over as early as the first weekend of September. And that’s fine. I get it. But even if you are one of these folks, it’s time to face facts: fall is in full swing now – officially. And as promised, I am bringing you this four-part series to give you four reasons to visit Walt Disney World this time of year. So, let’s embrace fall for all it has to offer at the Happiest Place on Earth as we examine reason number two – Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (from here on out, simply referred to as Epcot F&W).
Let’s get a couple things out of the way to start:
First, the obvious question – What is Epcot F&W? Essentially it is a near 3-month long celebration of global cuisine and culture primarily taking place at Epcot park. It runs through November 12 (and started August 30). The Festival includes dozens of food booths/kiosks spread throughout Epcot’s World Showcase and Future World. In addition, there are special events and cooking seminars/demonstrations hosted by celebrity chefs, special dining packages and parties, as well as a concert series cleverly titled ‘Eat to the Beat.’ Epcot F&W also includes some “offshoot events” taking place at WDW resorts such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic.
Epcot World Showcase is one of my favorite areas in all WDW year-round. It is a tribute and nod to global cultures, art, music, shopping and cuisine. During Epcot F&W, World Showcase gets kicked up a notch. And not only do the ‘regular’ Epcot countries (e.g., Mexico, China, France, Italy, Germany, etc.). have special food kiosks selling items you can’t get during the year, they add dozens of other countries too just for the Festival such as Greece, Brazil, Thailand, Ireland, New Zeeland, and Australia to name a few. It truly is an international festival showcasing flavors from around the globe.
Next question – does it cost extra? This is both a “no” and “yes.” While gaining access to Epcot F&W will not cost any extra (outside of a regular park ticket needed for standard admission), obviously the cost of any food items you purchase at any of the kiosks will. And some of the seminars and demonstrations and other special events come with a hefty price tag. But the concert series, for example, is completely free once inside the park. For the more popular artists, you may have to wait in a lengthy stand-by line if you want a good seat, but otherwise you can hang out behind the concert pavilion and still have pretty good views and hear everything.
OK, now that we’ve covered the basics, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your visit to Epcot F&W this fall (as well as a few of my favorite dishes).
Tip 1: Make a Plan. Sure, this seems obvious and I’d say making a plan is ALWAYS my top tip to anyone visiting WDW any time of year. But it is especially true for this event. Sometimes ‘winging it’ will get you by when visiting WDW but there is lots to do and many dishes to try so it’s worth doing some research and taking a look at the menus in advance. Unless you’re a local, or plan on going to the Festival for an entire week, it’s probably not realistic to think you’ll be able to try EVERY dish in the park…so you’ll want to make a list of your “must-try” dishes and prioritize what you want to do. You can find all menus here. Once there make sure you get a Festival passport, so you can mark down all you’ve tried. The same goes for the concert series. If your dates are flexible, you can always pick a date based on whatever band/artist of your choice is performing. You can check the full schedule at the link I posted above but it’s fun no matter who is playing. (And you can also do an Eat to the Beat dining package). You’ll also need to plan if you want to do any of the special events, seminars, demonstrations, etc. I’ll say, a lot of them are already booked or sold out for 2018 (they post some of these events for sale months ahead of time) so while you’re planning your 2018 F&W visit, it’s never too early to start looking at sold-out events you’ll want to try in 2019.
Tip 2: Purchase a Gift Card. One of my top recommendations is to purchase a special Epcot F&W gift card when you get to the park. They are available at the Festival Center (which is also where the main merchandise pavilion is as well as most of the celebrity chef appearances and seminars). I purchased one of the $250 ones which came with a lanyard and a cute Chef Mickey medallion which makes for a nice souvenir or keepsake. They also sell gift cards in other amounts that you can wear on your wrist. The benefit of purchasing a gift card is twofold. One, it’s the most convenient way to pay. When you approach a kiosk, the cast member simply scans the barcode of your gift card, so you can just stick out your wrist (if you have the wristband card) or extend the lanyard so they can scan that. The second reason is for budgeting. It can be easy to get lured into the mindset of ‘vacation mode’ and spend freely. But using only gift cards is a good way to keep track of your spending and helps you stick to a set amount. Plus, the gift cards can be used any time, not just during the Festival, so if you have a balance at the end of your trip, bring it back next time and you have a head start on your next vacation fund (remember those sold out events you want to check out for 2019?!).
Tip 3: Bring a Few Essentials with You. This includes mainly water. There are some unique and delicious beverages available at every food kiosk (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) but water is an essential item and you’re not going to want to drop $3.50 every time you want some water (which is the going rate for a bottle of Dasani). You can bring your own bottles of water or a refillable bottle and fill it up yourself at any water fountain, or you can fill it up at any dining outlet that offers free cups of water, which includes all counter service locations. You can find ‘free water’ at many locations throughout the park so you shouldn’t have to spend much if anything on water. It may be fall, but it’s also Central Florida and it can be brutally hot through November! Another tip is to bring a tray. Yes, that’s right. You may think it sounds silly, but it will come in handy. The kiosks sell tapas style or snack-size dishes. So it’s possible to purchase 2-3 things from each kiosk (plus a drink) and then have to walk a little bit to find the nearest open table. Having your own portable tray could make this process a lot simpler. They do sell them there at the Festival Center, but you can also get one from Target or Walmart.
Tip 4: Pace Yourself. This kind of goes back to Tip 1 about having a plan. But it can be easy to ‘bite off more than you can chew’ when you first arrive. You know how they say you should never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry because you end up purchasing things you otherwise normally wouldn’t? Same thing applies here. You’re probably going to show up hungry and ready to eat, which is obviously the point. But take it easy, plan for some breaks (e.g., maybe going on a ride or two), and do things other than eating to fill time. Don’t fill up too quickly!
Tip 5: Don’t Make Dining Reservations at any of the Table Service Restaurants. As I mentioned above, Epcot World Showcase is one of my favorite aspects of any Disney park and one of the best things about it is the authentic restaurants located in each pavilion. Via Napoli in Epcot’s Italy pavilion, for example, is hands-down the best pizza I have ever had. And Tokyo Dining in Japan offers some of the freshest and tastiest Sushi I’ve ever had. You literally feel like you’re in Paris when you dine at Chefs de France. But, that said, as much as I love these restaurants, I would recommend against eating at any of these places during the Festival. With the kiosks and food booths, you don’t need a formal dining reservation and doing so will limit what you can try throughout the Festival. While eating inside one of the restaurants does provide a nice respite from the Florida sun, there are other places to seek A/C (such as the American Adventure pavilion, which offers inside entertainment worth checking out while you cool off).
Tip 6: Branch Out of Your Comfort Zone. OK here is my last tip. If you’re a veteran of F&W you already have some favorite dishes and locations from yesteryear. Everyone loves the filet mignon from Epcot Canada and why wouldn’t you? It is absolutely delicious. But don’t be afraid to try new stuff too. They add new booths and experiences every year so embrace the new (while still making room for your favorites). A new favorite for me was the ‘Flavors From Fire’ kiosk which celebrates the flavors of smokiness and internationally inspired BBQ (this was actually new in 2017).
So, now the fun part! Now that I have provided my top tips, let me share my top five favorite dishes from this year’s festival (in no particular order).
Since I just mentioned it, let’s start with my favorite item from Flavors From Fire, the Piggy Wings (roasted pork ‘wings’ with Korean BBQ sauce and Sesame Seeds),
China: Black Pepper Shrimp with Garlic Noodles,
Japan: Teriyaki Chicken Bun with Chicken and Vegetables,
Thailand: Red Hot Spicy Thai Curry Beef (notice a theme here – yes I LOVED the Asian dishes most),
Brazil: Moqueca (Brazilian Seafood Stew).
From Taste Track – the ‘Pancake Milkshake.’ This whimsical treat is inspired by the new Wreck-It Ralph movie and is a fun sweet treat. (if you’ve seen the new trailer, you’ll know what I am talking about!),
From Ireland – the Guinness Baileys Shake. It tastes like chocolate!
From Light Lab – 3 Daughters Brewing: Blueberry Peppercorn Hard Cider
From Refreshment Outpost – Bain’s Cape Mountain Whiskey and Frozen Coke
From Joffrey’s Coffee and Tea Company in the American Adventure – Fire and Ice (frozen lemonade with Fireball cinnamon Whiskey). Wow – delish and decadently refreshing.
From Shimmering Sips Mimosa Bar: Blood Orange Mimosa
OK, that’s just about it. One last thing. Will kids enjoy it? It probably won’t be their favorite event in the world but there is enough there to keep kids busy (besides eating). For instance, Candy Sushi making is cool and the Ratatouille ‘Hide and Squeak’ game is great fun. Remy, from Ratatouille, returns as one of the main mascots of this year’s Festival and he his “hiding” in various locations throughout World Showcase, if you find all 15 hiding Remy’s, you turn in your board for a prize!
Alright, I hope you now feel better equipped to conquer Epcot F&W. Have you been yet? Let me hear your thoughts, tips and favorites of your own!
In my next entry, I’ll share my third reason to visit WDW this fall – and here’s a hint. You get to be a “toy!” Stay tuned…
Matthew Papuchis is an award-winning corporate communications strategist and leader with global experience with some of the world's leading brands and most admired companies. Read more about Matt Papuchis here.