note: this is one segment in a multi-part series on how to plan a trip from Naperville to Disney World.
Growing up, Walt Disney World was all about the attractions. How many times can we get on Peter Pan this trip? Aw Mom, do we HAVE to do the Hall of Presidents? Hey, the parade is coming through, let’s get on Space Mountain while no one is there! Hungry? Let’s grab a burger at Pecos Bill’s and get back in a line!
Once a trip we would visit the Papeete Bay Verandah at the Polynesian for Minnie’s Menehune Breakfast (sadly, the restaurant is now ‘Ohana and the Menehue Breakfast has said Aloha). Other than that, we were a family of five hitting the counter service restaurants as we went along between rides.
Now that I am an adult (and met my husband and his Disney values) I appreciate something different: shopping! Just kidding. I appreciate the dining options in Disney. There are so many places to dine in so many ways I could dedicate an entire site to it (but I won’t because there are already fantastic people doing that).
There is one special time of year I recently discovered is a great time to eat in Disney. Every fall as September fades into October, EPCOT takes its worldly perspective one step further. I present:
EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival!
It’s 45 days of delicious tastes from over 20 different nations, demonstrations by world-famous chefs, entertaining seminars hosted by HGTV stars and so much more!
When someone asks me what the Food & Wine Festival is like, I compare it to any “Taste of (insert major city name here)” the way it SHOULD be (minus anything “on a stick”). EPCOT’s World Showcase is transformed into a full on immersion into international dining like no other. The easy description is this. All around World Showcase, extra kiosks are set up that offer 3-4 food items and 3-4 alcoholic pairings from a country. Say it with me “WOW!”
Before I continue, I have a disclaimer. I am a pretty boring eater. I love bland food and am not really good at trying new foods because I don’t want to commit to a full meal that I’m not sure of. To make things even more complicated, there are certain foods that ONLY I like but I won’t subject my travel party to sitting through a dining experience they won’t enjoy because I don’t like inconveniencing anyone. F&W solves both of my issues. I will try “Seared Barramundi with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes” from Australia because it’s a nice small portion that cost $4 instead of a huge plate of it at $22. If I don’t like it, I can pass my little plate over to my hubby or toss it without much guilt. I also get to have my favorite French delicacy: “Escargot Persillade en Brioche.” Yes, I like snails. I don’t eat them regularly – it is a true treat. So I can have these little yummy darlings and not make everyone in my party (hubby, 2 children and in-laws) have to sit through an entire French meal.
Oh yes, and I don’t drink much — of anything. I’m part camel I think. I can go a whole day nursing one can of pop. Therefore, when it comes to the “Wine” part, there are very few I will be having. My husband is the connoisseur of the beverage. He brews his own beer and enjoys a good cup of sake. Me, not so much!
When visiting the festival, you will want to visit the Welcome Center to pick up your actual passport that you can have stamped at all the International Marketplace stops you make! Personally, I think I will be giving the passports to my girls to get stamped as we go. They aren’t adventurous eaters unless Grandma and Grandpa are presenting it. Strange but true.
As you make your way around World Showcase, you will come upon the Marketplaces in no particular order. Disney didn’t scrimp on kiosks either. These are not flimsy food stands. Each mini building is decorated to represent its country. In front of each kiosk is a menu board explaining the dishes served. All items are listed in your Passport to Flavors Guide.
Did you want to eat at Le Cellier but couldn’t get in? Guess what? There is a Canada Marketplace that sells their famous Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. Have you ever wondered “What is Spaetzle?” You can try some at the Germany kiosk (it’s made from potato and tastes delicious by the way). Have you always wanted to eat at the EPCOT World Showcase Table Service restaurants but for whatever reason (kids, money, time, late reservations) couldn’t? Here is a great way to get fantastic sample portions at lower prices than full entrees.
My first year visiting we stopped at the Desserts and Champagne Marketplace (Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…and he delivered with this kiosk) and I tried a slice of heaven called Banfi Rosa Regale.
I was going to have a glass of regular champagne but this description caught my eye: “Red, sparkling wine, rose bouquet with flavors of raspberry and chocolate.” SOLD! Let me preface my review by telling you I cannot tell a difference between a $100 bottle of wine and Two Buck Chuck. This beverage delivers because as I sip, I can taste raspberry and chocolate and gosh darn it, there is some kind of rose scent or taste or something to it that just makes it yummy-licious! (That is a very specific term that only the highest level of foodie can use.)
From year to year many of the marketplaces return with favorite tastes. My favorite Banfi is actually sold year round in the Italy Pavilion AND in the resort sundries shops (Not that I was searching for it). Each year there are new kiosks and sometimes a mini pavilion makes a visit. One year Spain had a pavilion set up that stayed for months after the festival was over.
As if food and wine samplers all around World Showcase wasn’t enough. Disney also provides entertainment at the American Garden Theatre during the Eat to the Beat Concert Series. I saw Richard Marx perform last time and everyone indulged me to stop and listen to “Hold on to the Night.” Maybe we stayed a little bit longer to hear “Endless Summer Nights” too. Ah the 80’s.
While the International Marketplace Booths are available to visit without paying any extra admission fees to EPCOT, there are a vast assortment of extra fee seminars happening pretty much every day throughout the entire festival. There are dessert parties concluding with exclusive viewing of Illuminations or something as simple as a seminar on pairing wines with meals. Book signings, HGTV stars, culinary seminars and more fill the days. You will be referring to your Passport often throughout your visit so keep it closer to you than your park map!
When visiting EPCOT during the festival, you will find that evenings and weekends are VERY busy. Locals will come visit the festival just as much as vacationing families. Lines for more popular countries (Mexico and Canada especially) will get very long so either prepare to wait or visit them during the slower times.
Be sure to get your Passport as soon as you can or go online first to see all there is to offer so you have a plan for dining. You will want to have an idea as to which countries you MUST have and which you aren’t interested in.
EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival offers something for every palate! My family will be there eating to the beat of Taylor Dayne and .38 Special! You won’t want to miss this delicious Taste of Magic Walt Disney World offers!
These tips are provided by Your Naperville community member Jenn Hart, of Guru Travel. As a Disney Authorized Travel Agent, she can work with you to make your Disney dream vacation a reality. Services to Guru Travel clients are complimentary and designed to make your trip truly magical. Contact Jenn or find her on Facebook as Dis Savvy.
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