Monday, November 16, 2015

EPCOT: Food & Wine Festival 2015

   Many Disney fanatics refer to it as "The best time of the year".  I can't argue with that.  This year was the 20th annual Epcot Food & Wine Festival, and it was a smashing success.  Held from Sept. 25 - Nov. 16, this year's festival was the longest, running 52 days, and featuring over 30 different food booths, plus carts with special festival offerings, 22 different acts featured at the "Eat to the Beat" concert series, special festival merchandise, passholder festival merchandise, seminars featuring guest chefs, colorful displays and topiaries, and so much more.

   We did our first festival in 2012 and were hooked.  Having to wait 3 years for our next visit to the Epcot F & W fest, we planned for a stay that would include 5 days of visits to Epcot for the big event.  We read blogs and watched videos to prepare ourselves and make up a list of  "must taste" items.

The Festival Center 

Our first stop

   Our first stop was at the Festival Center which is located in the original Wonders of Life Pavilion.  The domed building that once housed the popular Body Wars simulator ride.  Here you can pick up your festival "Passport" which is a great little guide as well as a very informative tool with listings of what's available at the food booths and lots of other information about the goings on.  It makes for a nice little souvenir too.
A Handy little tool
Inside the booklet are listings of the food and drinks they offer and a place to get a stamp at each booth.  Just ask them when ordering and they will happily stamp your passport.  We had fun getting every booth and cart stamped in our booklets, and then going to the festival center for the "completion stamp".  It also has boxes by each item where you can check off what you tried during your visit(s).  We were very glad that we grabbed our passports early, because by the 3rd day of our tour, some of the guests we talked with asked us where we got ours, and said they could not find them anywhere.  They were becoming scarce towards the end of the festival's run.  The Festival Center itself is a nice place to just relax and take in the atmosphere.  There are lots of festival items available for purchase, and a little theater which was running a continuous film about the making of the festival.  One thing I think everyone should check out is Ghirardelli's display of beautiful sculptures made completely of chocolate!

The Avengers assemble  (in chocolate!)
 You can also get a free sample of Ghirardelli chocolate as you walk out of the exhibit.  There is also the Intermissions Cafe which features sandwiches, snacks and beverages if you're a little hungry or thirsty.  It's always fun just being inside the pavilion building and remembering back when this was one of Epcot's future world pavilions.
Carl's house from "UP" (in chocolate!)

The Festival Booths 
   Now we come to "The Main Event", the booths are located mostly around Epcot's World Showcase, but new this year were a couple of booths in the Future World area.  Our first booth of the trip was The Dominican Republic which featured one of our favorite items: "Pescado con Coco"  which was a pan seared grouper in a coconut sauce.
Pescado con Coco & Caramel Flan with Rum Roasted Pineapple
The Dominican Republic booth was a beautiful setting

   Crowds were not too heavy during weekdays, and even on the weekend they were very manageable for most of the afternoon.  We ate something light in the room, and then made the festival booths our lunch for the day.  We wandered around hitting booth after booth and enjoying treats from around the world.  

Here are a few of our favorites:
AUSTRALIA: Grilled Lamb Chop w/ Mint Pesto
BRAZIL: "Escondidinho de Carne" (Layered Meat Pie w/ mashed Yucca) and The Brazilian Cheese Bread
NEW ZEALAND: Seared Venison Loin & Lamb Meatball w/ Spicy Tomato Chutney

HAWAII: Pulled Pork Slider w/ Sweet & Sour Pineapple Chutney

ITALY: Filetto di Pollo w/ Marsala Sauce & Ciabatta Bread

FRANCE: Beef Bourguinon in Cabernet sauce w/ mashed potatoes

   There were some great desserts this year too.  My personal favorite was at the Scotland booth - "The Tipsy Laird" which is a Whiskey soaked Lemon cake with Cream and Toasted Oats.  

Scotland's "Tipsy Laird"
   Some of the others were:
DESSERTS & CHAMPAGNE: "Chocolate Cherry Explosion"
CHEW LAB: Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle

IRELAND: Warm Chocolate Pudding w/ Kerrygold Irish Cream Custard
SOUTH KOREA: Soju Banana Milkshake w/ Ginger Soother


The Favorite Booth of the Festival  
   There was not a single booth that we did not enjoy, but we agreed on our favorite booth of the festival and it was a bit of a surprise.  With all of the exotic foods offered, rich and tasty treats from different parts of the world, you would think that it would be something else, but I guess our simple palates just couldn't stray far from home.  The favored booth for both of us was the "Farm Fresh" booth!  The "Griddled Yard Bird" (Grilled Chicken Breast w/ Braised Greens & Habanero Sauce), and "Loaded Mac n' Cheese" (w/ Pepper Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Peppers, & Green Onions) stole the show!
Who'd-a-thunk it?  Farm Fresh was our favorite booth for 2015

"Griddled Yard Bird"
"Loaded Mac 'n' Cheese"

Favorite Pairing of the Festival 

Each booth features a "Pairing" in which Disney's food experts will match an entree with a beverage.  Our budget didn't allow us to try every pairing, but of those that we did try, my personal favorite was the Poland booth's pairing of a Sauerkraut Perogi w/ Pork Goulash, and the Donausonne Blaufaenkisch Hungarian Wine.

Disney Fountain of Youth's favorite pairing of 2015 - Poland

Eat to the Beat Concert Series 

   One of the great things about Epcot's Food & Wine Festival is the concert series.  22 great acts performed this year including (just to name a few): 
  • .38 SPECIAL
   The concerts are included with your days admission to Epcot, and are performed 3 times each evening at the outdoor Americas Gardens Theater right on the water of World Showcase Lagoon.  A beautiful setting for a concert.
   Because of flight delays arriving, we missed SISTER HAZEL, but we were able to catch 2 of the concerts:


BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY: This Southern Cal Swing Band tore it up, and made us instant fans!

What a night with "Big Bad Voodoo Daddy"!

and we ended the trip with...


HANSON: They don't "look like girls" anymore, and really rocked the house!
Check out this video from our evening:

I never dreamed, in a million years, that I'd attend a Hanson Concert... and LOVE IT!

The Wild Side of Disney 
   One thing that we learned from this year's Festival is that night time brings on a whole different atmosphere to the event.  If you are looking for a "wilder" atmosphere from a Disney park, just head on over to Epcot during the Food & Wine Festival after dark.  The crowds seemed to triple from the afternoons, and the loud talking set invaded World Showcase.

A Special time for Epcot 

   The sights around Epcot during the Festival are beautiful.  Special Topiaries and displays celebrating the event are all around the park, and they are both colorful and enjoyable.  Making for some great picture taking opportunities. 

The Cranberry Bog
   And other special things like The Cranberry Bog - right there in the middle of the walkway heading from Future World to World Showcase.  With a Cranberry farmer in waders there to answer questions about the fruit, and a stand off to the side where you can get all of the free craisins you want!

Craisins anyone?

   And the old Odyssey restaurant building transforms into the Craft Beer Pavilion during the festival.  You can sample different beers from local Florida small breweries. 

Beer Flights from around Florida

The old Odyssey Restaurant transforms into the Craft Beer Pavilion at Festival Time

 And for Annual Passholders, there are special merchandise available for purchase, as well as a free commemorative Glass from the Festival for AP holders that attend the event 3 days - getting their passports stamped 3 times (once each day) at the Innoventions West Pavilion

Overall, this really is the best time of the year for this old guy.  It's an event that involves all of your senses, and is something to look forward to each year.  There are new booths to try every year, and most of the old favorites return.
Great Annual Passholder merchandise available

Thanks for coming along on this tour of the 2015 Epcot Food & Wine Festival.  Hope to see you there one day!

Sunday, July 5, 2015


It can't be true, but it is!  The Magic Kingdom's "New Fantasyland" has been around for a couple of  years now.

   It seems like yesterday when we received an invitation to attend a soft opening event for the New Fantasyland.  We were excited and honored to get to preview the newest addition to Walt Disney World.

We almost blew it!
   We had visited the Magic Kingdom the day before the preview.  While we took a break to rest on a bench somewhere near "City Hall" in the Main Street USA area, I managed to leave my folder with all of our trip plans AND the printed invitation for the New Fantasyland preview!  I didn't realize what I had done until we got back to our room that evening (A Royal room at Port Orleans Riverside).

We didn't get lost, but the signs were helpful
   We went back the next day (preview day), and went straight to guest relations to explain what had happened.  The Cast Members were sympathetic and understanding, and were able to get us 2 wrist bands so that we could attend the event.  Ahh.... Disney Magic!

The wrist bands made us feel like "VIP's"!

Be Our Guest Restaurant 
 The first thing we wanted to see was The Beast's Castle and The Be Our Guest Restaurant.  They weren't serving lunch or dinners yet, but they were allowing guests to tour the place.  It was impressive, and we looked forward to eating there.

I like this place already
The Entry way was very regal

The main ballroom is very large, and quite stunning
This guy looks a little worried about the crowds Be Our Guest Restaurant will attract!

Under the Sea: The Journey of the Little Mermaid

The Journey of the little mermaid was open, and was another beautiful attraction.  We got in line and again, we were very impressed with it's design.

Prince Eric's Castle is cool!
Oh man, I LOVE Waterfalls!

It is a great ride.  A really well done addition to The Magic Kingdom's lineup.  There are lots of details to enjoy from the moment you get into the line, all the way through the winding queue, through the ride itself, and even the exit is really well done.

Story Book Circus area
   The Story Book Circus area of New Fantasyland had already been open, and we got to enjoy the "Double Dumbo" ride, as well as the Casey Jr. Splash n' Soak, The Great Goofini, and the new Train Station.

The new "Double Dumbo" is a winner!

If you haven't been to BIG TOP SOUVENIRS - You're missing a fun place with some great snacks!

It is a great part of the New Fantasyland area, and adds a lot of color and fun to The Magic Kingdom.

Enchanted Tales with Belle

   I wasn't too sure about this attraction, but knew I HAD to scout it out for future trips with our Granddaughter, and at the time, we didn't know we'd soon have 2 Granddaughters to bring for future WDW trips.

We did the attraction and were just blown away by the whole experience!

Grandma & Grandpa were pretty amazed
It's not a ride, but it's more than a show!

An unexpected favorite
   My personal, and very unexpected, surprise of the whole tour was Gaston's Tavern.  The little eatery was great.  Serving a Pork Shank... A PORK SHANK!  A HUNK OF MEAT ON A BONE!  That's what Grandpa Dan's talkin' about!
"Grandpa Dan food"!

   The imagineers did a great job with this place.  I've never even seen the whole movie, but I enjoyed hanging out here.  A Pork Shank, a LeFou's Brew, and a giant Cinnamon Roll made me very, very happy! (Don't worry - I shared it with Grandma!)

It makes me want to see the movie!

All of the nice touches
The Beast's castle in the background
   I think what impressed me the most was just the way it all turned out.  It's not a land filled with attractions, but the design, the feel of this section of Fantasyland is enjoyable, almost comforting.

"Le Toilettes"

And there was more to come! 

   The main event was still being worked on as we toured.  The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was nothing but steel and concrete, partially hidden behind construction walls, but plenty of rails in sight to cause lots of excitement and anticipation.

We could only imagine what this ride would be like when it's finished!
It was an amazing day
   After making the rounds a few times, we were pleased with the way things turned out.  Knowing that the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride would probably be ready for us when we returned to WDW's Magic Kingdom kept the anticipation going.  Now, a couple of years later, New Fantasyland isn't such a big deal to most WDW fans.

Happy "Sneak Previewers"

   It's not a mystery to anyone anymore.  But we will long remember how we felt like special invited guests to get that sneak preview!