For the last 20 years, Epcot has hosted its annual Food & Wine Festival. As a native Floridian, I’ve been to Epcot many times, but for some reason, never during the festival. This year was going to be different; I was going to eat and drink my way around the world, amongst family and friends. It started simple enough: My sister called one day to invite me to join her and a few girlfriends at Epcot. What?! Perfect timing, right? Then, the next weekend, a Sunday morning latte at Starbucks turned into a day at – you guessed it – the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.
As an experienced Epcot visitor, I had an idea of what to expect when I entered the park. However, I still learned some lessons that have made each of the following visits a little better.
1. Be prepared to walk a lot. A couple of things to remember here. The park is bigger than you think, and the weather in Florida can be difficult, even in October and November. Make sure to wear lighter colors to help with the possible heat. Wear shoes that wouldn’t be dangerous if you needed to walk or run in the rain. And think about wearing a hat for chemical-free sun protection.
2. The cost of the festival is included with admission, however, the food is extra. If you’ve never been to the festival, or one like it, you may not be aware that you have to purchase the food. Unlike the food court at the mall, Disney doesn’t offer free samples; so be ready to spend close to $100-$150 per person. The amount you spend will depend on how much you eat and drink. I ate several dishes, with a few drinks to go along, and spent about $100 each time. If you are interested in tasting packages, make sure you check the schedule and book in advance. Some of the tastings only run a few days during the festival, meaning you may need to plan your visit around the event you want to attend.
3. Grab a Disney gift card for easy budgeting. A common complaint I hear from festival attendees is about the amount of money they spent without even realizing it. I had one friend tell me her and her husband spent $400 in a couple hours because they didn’t register how quickly $20 swipes on a credit/debit card can add up; with 35+ food stops, it adds up fast.
To stop myself from going down this road, I devised another plan. I purchased a Disney gift card when I bought my admission, and requested that there be $100 loaded to the card. I have to say, the plan worked like a charm. There will be no shocks when I look at my credit card statement later, and it turned out, I was full before the money ran out. To make life easier, you can purchase the cards at various locations around the park. Most of the stores in the park can reload them for you as well.
4. Grab a Hidden Mickey book and get competitive. This was a suggestion from a friend of mine who worked at the Hall of Innovation. If you go in a group, you can work out the clues as a group, or you can split into teams and battle for supremacy. And, it’s an added bonus if your team leaves with bragging rights for the next year.
5. Take a break from eating and experience the park. On a normal day, Epcot is a good choice, but add in the Food & Wine festival, and it gets turned up to 11 (Where my 80s babies at?). Where else can you eat in the world’s most iconic countries without ever having to talk to border patrol? I find it best to schedule eating with interludes of Captain EO, Test Track, and Soarin’. I’ve found that if I have a little to eat, take some time out to experience a concert, then return to eating, my visit is more enjoyable all around.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are a couple things I’ve discovered that help ensure a more enjoyable trip that doesn’t result in a credit card bill you want to hide from. Also, I promised you a breakdown of what I ate and recommend you give a try.
Africa: Buttered chicken with micro cilantro and naan bread
Belgium: Waffle with berry compote and whip cream, complete with a Palm Speciale Belge Ale
China: Beijing roasted duck in a steamed bun with hoisin sauce
France: Croissant aux escargot with garlic and parsley. Shout out for my festival favorite!
Germany: Roast bratwurst in a pretzel roll and a caramel apple with peanuts
Italy: Cannoli al cioccolato and prosecco
Japan: Spicy hand roll
Morocco: Kefta pocket
New Zealand: Seared venison loin with mushroom Marsala sauce
Poland: Kielbasa and potato pierogis with caramelized onions and sour cream
Craft Beer: Grab a gruyere, Applewood-smoked bacon, and caramelized onion grilled cheese from the food stand next to the Coca-Cola frozen car wash. Then, get one of each of the flights in the craft beer pavilion and enjoy conversation with your friends.
Have you been to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival? What tips do you have for your fellow readers?