The above video is from a previous festival a couple of years ago, but most of the information is still the same.
The 20th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival officially kicked off Saturday. I was there as an invited member of the media. This is where I give you my suggestions for how to best enjoy the festival and all it has to offer. This year I have one very important recommendation: wait.
The festival will be running until Nov. 16. I know it doesn't seem possible right now, but there is an almost certainty that temperatures will drop to something much closer to tolerable than what I experienced Saturday. Wandering around in the heat and the crowds, eating too much and adding alcohol to the mix is a brutal combination. At one point while waiting in one of the few lines that looked as though it would not take more than half an hour to get to the front to place an order, I actually thought I might pass out. I was never happier to purchase one of the exorbitantly overpriced bottles of water that I snatched from a tub of ice water, resisting, just barely, the urge to get in and submerge myself.
Seriously, unless there is a specific event or personality that you must see in the early days, wait for the cooler weather that still is outside the foreseeable forecast.
I must hasten to say that I was the only one I noticed who seemed to be melting. There were way too many people laughing and having fun exploring and even patiently standing in ridiculously long lines. I can't help those people.
And have I just never noticed in years past how many groups, each with its own custom-designed commemorative t-shirt, show up to be part of the festival's first day? There were engagement parties, sororities and fraternities and just gangs of drinking buddies.
Bless their little overheated hearts.
But you're not going to listen to me, are you? You're already planning to hit the fest as soon as you can, maybe even this weekend (predicted high of 88 degrees with little chance of rain). Don't say I didn't warn you as you're begging one of the cranberry wranglers to let you into the bog.
Ah, yes, the Ocean Spray cranberry bog has returned to the festival after taking a year off. And no, unless you're part of an invited group, as members of the media were Saturday, you won't have the chance to don the overall waders and tiptoe through the berries. But the boggers will be happy to give you some samples (I'd love it if one of them would reach down and bring up a can of jellied cranberry sauce; Thanksgiving is coming).
A new event has been added to the festival this year to further use the World Showplace megaspace that is also home to the Party for the Senses events on Saturdays. Rockin’ Burger Block Party is set up similarly to the PftS with slider stations serving a variety of burgers — some of actually made with meat — and beer, cocktails and wine alongside. The Rockin’ part is provided by a D.J. on the stage. Taking a cue from the Party parties, there’s even a premium seating area called the Nosh Pit (very clever).
Aside from a really delicious lamb burger, billed as Chef Nanor’s Middle-Eastern Burger, I found most of the sliders fairly mundane. (Better buns — read: less doughy — would have helped a lot.) Some of the "burgers" were made with fish, some with beef, some with no animal products. There was a dearth of wines and an even dearther number of white options. However, several beer choices and cocktails offered other beverage options.
Signage was lacking — video screens more often showed the name of the accompanying beverage rather than the type of burger at the station, and cast members were uncharacteristically lacking in descriptions when I asked what they were serving. (Also, if you’re going to name something after Chef Nanor, there really ought to some background on the chef.)
As happy as I was to have been in the air conditioning (and out of the rain last Friday), the Showplace may not be the best venue for something billed as a block party. For one thing, it’s much too big, even with some of the back area curtained off. A block party should have more of an intimate mien. And if it’s a Rockin’ Block Party, maybe there should be a place for folks to dance; a mosh pit next to the nosh pit. As it was, some people just took to standing in the aisles and boogying with their burgers.
There are two more Rockin’ Burger Block Parties during the festival, including one with the hosts from ABC’s The Chew on October 8 (best of luck getting a ticket for that one) and Nov. 6., both from 7 to 9 p.m. General admission is $99 per person. Reserved seating is available at $119 per person, and Nosh Pit places are $199. In all categories, gratuity is included but tax is extra. And, as always, admission to Epcot is both mandatory and not included.
As for the items in the World Showcase kiosks this year (officially known as Global Marketplaces), I had a few samples that I liked. My favorite was the Souffle de Yuca topped with a wedge of griddled cheese from Dominican Republic. The Loaded Macaroni and Cheese from the land of Farm Fresh was also quite good, and I’m not usually a fan of M&C. This one had Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese and chopped peppers. A gloppy delight.
And France can always be counted on for some good slugs. This year the escargots were served in a croissant topped with a classic sauce of garlic and parsley. Pretty yummy, especially with the Martini Slush, made with Grey Goose Citron vodka, cranberry (not from the bog) and passion fruit juice. Unfortunately, the glass of chardonnay that I also got here had been prepoured and was standing in the sun, just like me, and was quite warm, just like me.
I’ll have more notes on the festival in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I think I'll have my own commemorative t-shirt designed that reads: Hooray for the Last Day of the Festival!
Wisit the official Epcot International Food & Wine Festival website (which is unusually quirky and difficult to navigate this year) for more information and ticket details.