The Thursday before the first day of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival is the unofficial launch of the event. It’s billed as a cast member preview and the booths (or Festival Marketplaces as Disney calls them) typically open up beginning around 11am. From here on out, the Marketplaces will open daily by 11am and continue operating through regular Park close. On busier weekends, you may see booths open up 15 to 30 minutes earlier. A few tips on experiencing the Festival:
Weekends are very crowded. And not like, “Oh my gosh the wait at Test Track is posted as 40 minutes!!!!!!” crowded.
But like this crowded:
This isn’t a holiday or anything. It’s 1:45pm on the first Saturday in October. Saturdays are almost always the busiest day of the week at Food and Wine, followed by Friday nights and Sundays. Avoid these days if possible.
World Showcase only gets busier as it gets later in the day. If you’d like to enjoy World Showcase with the fewest number of people around, plan to head up to World Showcase right at 11am.
World Showcase is also less kid-friendly the later in the day it gets. To avoid drunk behavior as much as possible, exit World Showcase as early as possible. This of course depends on your tolerance for swear words and the chance of seeing otherwise slightly-inappropriate behavior. Generally speaking, once the sun goes down, the number of four letter expletives goes up. Consider heading back to Future World around 5pm with impressionable youngsters in tow. This is also good touring strategy as World Showcase will only get more congested and wait times at the popular Future World attractions will only go down.
People stop at the first booths they see. Consider skipping the first several World Showcase Pavilions and start with the South Korean Marketplace past China or the France Marketplace in…France. Visit the first few Marketplaces (Hawaii, Scotland, Greece, Canada on one side and Florida Fresh, Australia, Patagonia, and Mexico on the other) after 7pm.
Save your snack credits. Every food item served at the Festival Marketplaces can be purchased with a snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan, including the $7.50 Lobster Roll at Hops and Barley (U.S. Pavilion) and $7.50 Filet Mignon (Canada).
Take advantage of the Chase Lounge in the U.S. Pavilion. If you have a Chase-branded debit or credit card, including (but not limited to) Disney Visa, you can visit this air-conditioned lounge at no charge. It’s right in the middle of the action, which makes it an ideal spot for a break. Note that it does fill to capacity, particularly on weekends. At a minimum, it means “free” soft drinks.
The Festival Center is air-conditioned and has historically offered a variety of wines and bottles of liquor at reasonable prices. Those of you considering a taxi ride over to the ABC or my condo may want to check out the Festival Center first. It’s located in between Ellen’s Energy Adventure and Mission: SPACE in Future World East.
These are pretty generic tips.
I really like this year’s logo.
Brews Around the World items are also available.
Even the gift card looks classy this year.
I’ll take mine medium rare, Mickey.
The biggest change this year is the arrival of Festival Marketplaces in Future World. Two of the major ones are located behind Innoventions West and Club Cool, which is sort of across from the Land Pavilion.
“The Chew” on ABC is a major sponsor this year and this is where you’ll find both of their Marketplaces.
I’ll have a full review of both of these in the next couple of days. Not because I feel like being coy with you, but because I failed and was unable to consume every new item in one afternoon.
Chew Lab should look familiar to returning visitors – it’s been the vegan “terra” booth for the last couple of years.
The items sound intriguing.
Sustainable Chew is a new model, I think. It looks better from the front and sides. The back is just Astroturf. I wouldn’t be surprised if Park leadership uses the top as a golfing tee with the cranberry bog as the principle hazard.
Speaking of the cranberry bog, it’s back after a tragic 1-year hiatus. Maybe the longest year of my life.
The two other “new” Marketplaces are located on the walk to Future World on the West side.
Looking toward World Showcase on the Canada side.
The Cheese Studio.
There’s a painting theme going on here.
$11 buys you this pretty adorable setup with each wine paired with a specific cheese. The palette is just cardboard, but it does make carrying the cheese in style a lot easier. The first cheese, a Karst Cave-aged Original, is firm with a sweet, nutty flavor to it. The honey helps bring those flavors out even more. Interestingly perhaps, someone sticks the cheese in a cave in Vermont for at least seven months. Hence, cave-aged. I wonder what would happen if you put the website in a cave in Vermont for seven months? The middle La Bonne Vie Goat Cheese is the most forgettable of the bunch, served here with Craisin Bread and offering little in the way of unique flavor. The Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese was our favorite, served here with Berry-Porte Compote. Very robust, particularly when paired with the jam.
$2.50 buys you about five bites of Sweet Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Guava Gelle. The texture from the goat cheese may be off-putting. It’s not unlike a rice pudding, kind of creamy but still thick with bits in it – I guess sort of like whipped goat cheese. I liked the flavor of the cool, sweet guava contrasting with the flavors from the cheese. At this price point, it might be worthwhile to try it if it sounds good. None of us were too keen on a second bite. But that’s okay. It’s part of what this kind of thing is about.
The Wine Studio is back there housed in what used to be the craft beer booth. It looked like they wanted to open but were having problems of some sort. No menu or anything was out.
There’s otherwise a ton of places to stand and enjoy your food and drinks over here. Something that will be more of a prized commodity once we get going up into World Showcase. The same is true over at The Chew.
If you don’t want to risk venturing deep into World Showcase, but still want to try a few things or use those snack credits on $5+ items, then you may want to consider sticking to these four kiosks, along with those closest to Future World. Of course, we’ll have to see how everything tastes.
The Dominican Republic arrives in Puerto Rico’s spot from last year. I think this is the Food and Wine Festival’s version of the Madden Curse as each country represented typically can’t pay any of their other bills within 12 months.
The area this year is particularly pleasant with lush greenery and waterfalls.
Shade is extremely scare up in World Showcase. Consider making the covered area across from the Dominican Republic your home base for as long as is feasible.
Anyway, the Dominican is back after a hiatus of a few years:
The menu should be all-new.
The booth itself is quaint.
I ordered the Lechon Asado: Roasted Pork with Mangu, Pickled Red Onions and Avocado. It was a decent portion for the money – most everything we run into is going to be on the small side. Mangu is a traditional Dominican side dish made of boiled green plantains. The flavor here is starchy, not entirely unlike a banana crossed with a potato chip with a smooth texture. The pork was on the dry side, though the couple bites of avocado helped. The red onions add a tangy, sharp layer. Hopefully yours won’t be overcooked.
The second item on the menu is the $4.75 Soufflé de yuca: Yuca soufflé topped with griddled cheese. With the loss of the griddled cheese and honey over at Greece, it’s nice to see something similar return. Here, the yuca is light and fluffy with a nutty, distantly sweet flavor underneath the soft, tender grilled cheese. Very good.
I’ll hold off on discussing drinks until the full onslaught of reviews, but things aren’t any better this year on the mixed drink front. That’s $11 worth of cocktail sitting next to a standard 20-ounce water bottle. Not only is it a small cup, but there’s virtually no trace of alcohol.
We begin on the Mexico side of World Showcase with the Farm Fresh booth, which takes over where “terra” has sat the last couple years.
Just the Griddled Yard Bird returns from last year:
The $4.25 Loaded mac n’ cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions seems like a no-brainer, but the execution of ours was poor. The macaroni was well overcooked and this is probably as much green onion as you’d want to top the entire pot of pasta. The overwhelming flavor was green onion and chewy pasta. I have a feeling you’ll have better luck, though the portion isn’t great for the money either. I’m not sure I can tell people to skip the bacon mac. So maybe the jury is still out.
Mexico now serves guests on both sides of the booth, which should help alleviate waits. We find two new items this year:
The $5 Chilaquiles de pollo: Corn chips layered with seasoned chicken, queso fresco, sour cream and cilantro was one of my favorite new items from the Festival.
Mexico usually does a beef taco instead. This is not exactly what I was expecting – I thought it would be more of a nachos situation, but this is more of a baked enchilada kind of thing with some corn chips that are no longer particularly crunchy. But it’s piled high with seasoned shredded chicken, melted cheese, and the other ingredients to make a flavorful dish that probably doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but tastes better than anything currently served at the Mexico quick service. It’s an above average value that’s easily shared.
The $5.50 Tacos de camarón: Battered shrimp, pico de gallo, pickled onions, and chipotle mayonnaise is a slightly different take on Mexico’s usual shrimp taco. This is the best version yet, with four lightly fried shrimp sitting underneath a creamy, spicy chipotle mayo and the piquant onions adding a little crunch along with the pico. It’s on the small side, but this is what these tacos have cost here for years, so it’s a take it or leave it proposition. I think the flavors finally elevate it to a reasonable value.
China is a perennial favorite, this time adding just one new food item in the $5.75 Gaoli Beef Slider:
This isn’t a great departure from what China has served in the past.
Last year’s was served in a steamed bun with a creamier sauce.
What I think is a poppy seed bun is sort of a strange choice – easier to prepare than the steamed bun perhaps, but a thick roll isn’t exactly what comes to mind first when you think of Chinese cuisine. But then I said the same thing about those sandwiches they served in Mexico for a short time and it turns out that they’re very authentic. So who knows. Anyway, for 75 cents more I recommend going with the duck, which I think is a lot more unique than this. The beef was chewy and one-dimensional and the bread just added unnecessary heft. I’d skip it unless you’re looking for one of the safer choices. Ask for no onions and you have a Mongolian Beef sandwich.
South Korea returns in the same spot with two new barbecue items:
This is the $5 Bulgogi Barbecue Short Rib with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi. This is basically three small rib pieces that probably look meatier than they ended up being. Each one is just a couple of nibbles of chewy beef that try to cling to the bone a little more than you might be expecting. The flavors weren’t as pronounced as your typical Korean barbecue and it wasn’t particularly easy to eat. The cucumber kimchi basically amounts to a couple bites of pickle, which actually contrast well with the sweetness from the sauce.
The Vegan version of the same dish is $4.75 and wasn’t originally supposed to be offered, though somebody probably noticed terra’s departure meant that they should pick up the vegan slack elsewhere. These are likely Gardein Beefless Tips in the same soy-based sauce as the short rib. I actually preferred the vegan version, which had a similar flavor to the beef and was considerably easier to eat. Don’t tell anyone I preferred the meatless version as I think it will affect my rep.
RIP Kimchi Dog. Forever in my heart.
Africa returns in the same spot, replacing last year’s South African Bobotie with a Buttered Chicken:
Of course, you say “butter chicken” and I say “Sanaa.” A high bar perhaps, but this unfortunately didn’t make it half way. The flavor profile reminded me a lot of a Lean Cuisine with a sort of generic peppery flavor alongside chicken that had become limp after bathing in the sauce for so long. The naan was the best part. Maybe next year they’ll go with a bread sampler.
The Brewer’s Collection returns next to the Germany Marketplace and the Germany Pavilion:
This time around, the number of beers is halved to just four, which is a little disappointing.
Fortunately, all four are rare on draft. On the beer front, it’s important to remember that the individual pours are all six ounces, while the flight arrives with four 4-ounce cups. So the per-ounce price is 62.5 cents on the 6-ounce cups and 64 cents per ounce as part of the flight. So it’s sort of a wash, though Disney will either sell you two 6-ounce cups or two 16-ounce flights. But not three 6-ounce cups. Go figure.
Concrete. Beautiful, beautiful concrete. Something we’re not going to be seeing much of for a while – at least on Saturdays.
Hops & Barley returns outside the United States Pavilion. The Lobster Roll is back in favor of last year’s Lobster Alfredo:
Sizing on these things is always on the sad side of things.
Quality on this is pretty high though and snack credit users will probably make a beeline back here to exchange a snack credit for it. Everything about it was fresh – the roll probably could have used some butter and there’s a little bit too much mayo, but the flavor was better than any on-property lobster roll I’ve tried in the last couple of years. And I’ve tried them all.
Someone should tell guy that he needs to take his photographs on top of garbage cans if he wants to impress anybody. Amateurs. He probably shoots Nikon in his spare time.
Block & Hans switches out beer for wine during the Festival:
Each of these is from the “Disney family” of wines. The Festival exclusives are reasonably priced at least. But then, they’re also probably just Woodbridge in a different bottle.
Japan features an all-new booth this year. What I mean is that it’s physically a new booth. The Miso Udon and Tempura Shrimp Roll are new:
The $5.25 Miso Udon: steamed shrimp, vegetables, and noodles in a spicy broth is one of the more impressive dishes at first glace with three sizable shrimp floating on top of the soup.
And a lot of noodles and vegetables hidden underneath. Unfortunately, none of us cared for the spicy version of the broth, which had a thicker, creamier component than your typical salty miso base. You may fare better.
The $5.95 Tempura Shrimp Roll: cut inside out roll, with cucumber finished with teriyaki sauce was a disappointment – almost impossibly bland with the only flavors coming from the cucumber and teriyaki sauce.
Brazil returns to its colorful home in between France and Morocco. Only the Layered Meat Pie is new:
What arrives isn’t unlike the Fisherman’s Pie in Ireland, topped with a swirl of mashed potatoes…I mean yucca.
This was another disappointment with the ground beef flavored with your typical onions and peppers. The yucca on top had hardened into a soft puck-like topping. You can sort of see that I have the whole top portion resting against the side of the cup.
France is another Marketplace that has received an aesthetic upgrade, in addition to adding a second set of cash registers, which should help alleviate lines. Or the wait will now appear to be half as long even though the same number of people are in line. Or the line will appear shorter, which means more people will get in line, and you’ll wait longer.
One more look at the booth. Both the escargots and creme brulee see their third new version in as many years:
This year’s Croissant aux escargots with garlic and parsley is the best yet with four escargots baked into the buttery croissant. You know this is just an excuse to consume butter and garlic and what better vessel than a fluffy croissant?
Talk about ending on an unfortunate note, but there’s nothing I can do with this year’s $4.25 Crème brûlée vanille chocolat: Vanilla & chocolate crème brûlée topped with caramelized sugar.
And believe me, I tried every angle. What we found underneath the glossy brown exterior didn’t taste any better than it looked. It was just sort of chocolate sauce and a syrupy vanilla pudding mixed together. I have a feeling that they’ll figure this one out down the line, but I’m not sure it’s a compelling value once they do.
That’s about as far as I can take you for now. We’ll return for the rest of the new items, return to some favorites, and consume a drink…or two.