Thursday, July 24, 2014

Disney Reviews: Special Edition - Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival

What better time to do a review of Epcot's Food & Wine Festival than today, because the menus for this year's festival just came out this morning!! About frickin time! The "theme" for this year's festival hasn't been released yet, but that should start appearing soon including previews of this year's merchandise line. There has already been word that the usual Food & Wine Festival Cookbook is being replaced by a more generic one that also includes the Flower & Garden Festival and other events, and I'm not too jazzed about it. I like my collection of F&W Cookbooks (although I've never tried to make any of the dishes). But I'm already getting off track and we've got a lot to cover!

The festival runs from mid September until the first of November. This year there are 35 participating booths (more than ever), 30 of which are country specific. Old favorites are returning as well as several new options that actually appeal to my "Queen Picky-Pants" gene. This is gonna be a VERY heavy photo post, so prepare yourself for the onslaught of gorgeous food (and some that might look good, but definitely didn't taste that way!).

From entering Epcot, you are aware that something is going on because of the Festival signage (which is completely different every year depending on the theme). It's a complete pain to get a picture of due to the large number of Photopass Photographers (don't get me started on how they HOG all the great picture spots), but every once and a while, you might get lucky:
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It is a free event (well, other than the purchase of the food samples), so you don't have to have a ticket like other special events. But, there is exceptions to this. They do offer numerous special parties, wine tastings, celebrity chef presentations and other events that do cost (and most quite a bit). I don't do any of these because they are a bit too social for me, they can be incredibly expensive, and none of them have appealed to me enough to waste several of my precious park hours to participate in them.

The Festival takes place in the World Showcase section of Epcot, so you can't start in 'till 11 am (which is probably a good thing considering how many people get SERIOUSLY drunk - more on that later). But as you start to get close to World Showcase, the first thing that you are hit with is the Cranberry Bog. It's a fairly new addition, only the past couple of years, but I'm glad they started it because the smell is amazing and it preps you for the "fun" to come!
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The old Wonders of Life building substitutes as the Festival Center. Considering it's pretty much closed (except for special events) the rest of the year, it's a pretty rare chance to go into this classic attraction building again even though all the rides have been removed. Here you can get Festival specific merchandise, buy full bottles of all the wines and spirits sold at the booths, it's here that the special events usually take place (or in the old Odyssey building) and it's also the place to pick up a Food & Wine Passport. These passports are MUST HAVES because you can check off what you ate and each booth will "stamp" the passport for you with their country's stamp. It makes for a great collectible (and a good reminder when you are trying to figure out what the food in the pictures are!). I still haven't managed a fully stamped Passport yet, but last year's was almost halfway full and that was the most yet.
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You can also get a Food & Wine gift card bracelet at the Festival Center or restock it once you've depleted it (and that happens extraordinarily quickly). It's extremely handy, all you have to do is go to the booths, order your poison, scan the card, and pick up your food, all without dealing with change or pulling cards in and out of your bags because it's attached to your wrist! Throughout the years, they have changed the clasp on these, but every single year, no matter what kind of clasp they have, I either lose mine or it breaks. As long as you keep your receipt, they will issue you a new one with your remaining balance, so no worries (and I'm an EXPERT in this). I'm extremely paranoid about the darn things considering my bad luck with them, but it never fails that I lose it anyway, probably because one of my Asper ticks is that I'm constantly playing with my hands, either wringing them or twisting them or hiding them in my pockets. I catch myself checking that it's still there all the time and probably all the pulling and tugging is what breaks it. This year, I'm determined to take my own attachment just in case this year's clasp is as sucky as usual.

The food and beverage offerings range from about $3 to about $10, depending on what you get. Some booths have souvenir mugs or glasses, but you might want to think about these before you buy them because you'll have to carry them around with you all day. All of the drink offerings come in plastic cups of various shapes and sizes, although none of them "large". What I'm trying to say is, don't be surprised if you buy an ice wine for $8 and get a thimble full of liquid. These are food and drink "samplings" after all. I have heard many a guest complain about the small size of the offerings. Considering the complexity of the dishes (which all contain imported ingredients) or that all the alcohol is also imported, I find the cost to be very reasonable if not a bit too low! But it's time to get to the good stuff, so I'm gonna stop babbling now (at least not until later). Oh, and I'm not going to troll through numerous years of my pictures trying to get every single food or drink sampling I've ever tried, but I'll do my best with what I have from last year.

Africa - I have never had the courage to try anything from this booth. I'm hoping, because we are staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge this year, my fear of African food will be diminished somewhat (or worsen, only time will tell). I'm pretty much a chicken at trying different kinds of food (and, like I said, I'm extremely picky and don't like a lot of things anyway). This used to be a South African booth, but it changed to just Africa last year.
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American Adventure Coffee Cart - Since I don't drink coffee, I've never tried this booth (and, to be honest, I'm not quite sure where it's at...I would assume in The American Adventure Pavilion, obviously). Even the smell of coffee puts me off, so I would probably have avoided this one, even if they had something I might want to try. It's the Starbucks effect...I can't get tea from Starbucks because it has the faint taste of coffee to it (I think they interchange their tea pots and coffee pots). Even their food has a coffee flavor (but it's probably psychosomatic on my part).

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The Pavlova was my absolute favorite dish last year and, since it's back this year, I may have more than one (and, if you can pry your eyes away from the Pavlovian goodness, you will see my passport underneath).
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Belgium - nothing has ever really appealed to me here either, but there are a couple of options this year that might persuade me to give it a try.
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Block & Hans - there are numerous booths that are beer specific and this is one of them. Although I like Guinness, I'm not a "beer drinker" per se, so I don't frequent these very often. My Sister, on the other hand, makes it a point to try almost every single beer she each his own! I have learned the hard way not to mix alcohols, wines, and beers though. If I start off with wine, I keep getting wine (or wait quite a while before getting another kind of alcohol). Since I only drink Guinness, I don't have to worry about the beer factor much. But in the Florida heat, any massive quantity of alcohol can make you sick pretty easily.
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I finally broke down and tried the famous pork belly last year and it was seriously NASTY! I ended up trashing it. I'm not a fan of just eating fat (even though there was SUPPOSED to be meat in it) and the black beans were just yucky and bland.
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Brewer's Collection - another beer joint. Most of these have 'flights', several smaller samples of their already small samples to try. It's a good way to try them all before passing out!
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Canada, oh Canada! How I love thee! My go-to must-have every single time...Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup and Ice Wine! It's the same soup they serve in LeCellier, so if you don't want to fight for a LeCellier ressie or waste two dining credits on a meal, then this is your best bet! They also serve the famous Mushroom Filet from LeCellier (which is no longer on their regular menu), so I have the feeling that it will be a sellout at the booth this year! You might also notice my favorite "table" of choice for the festival...the trash can!
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I SOOO wanted to love this dish, but the shrimp was incredibly rubbery, the noodles were dry and, considering my past fails of trying flavored waters in the Asian Pavilions, you'd think I would have known better than to buy yet another one! This stuff was FAR worse than that Plum soda I got several years ago (and, at the time, I thought THAT was the worst thing I'd ever consumed in WDW). The noodles are back on the menu for this year, but not the flavored water. Even though I have tried everything on the entree menu at China, I may go back to the old reliable Pot Sticker since it's the only one I ever truly liked.
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The string ice cream, on the other hand, was not only tasty, but amazing to play with (until it melted), it literally flaked off like shredded paper and it was cool eating it with the fork they gave you (it didn't make it on this year's menu, however).
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Craft Beers - the title says it all
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Desserts & Champagne - we've typically skipped this one, but there are a few new options this year I'd like to try, especially the cro-nut, which EVERYONE keeps talking about.
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Farm Fresh - This was previously the Florida Local booth, so since the menu is relatively the same, I'll just use the Florida Local booth pics
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I couldn't decide between the beef slider and my usual Shrimp Ceviche last year, so I went with both. The slider was nothing but a glorified hamburger on a blaa bun (but, in all fairness, I don't care for bread), the shrimp, however, didn't fail to disappoint! I also got the Mango Hurricane Wine which is AH-MAZ-ING! I ended up buying a bottle of it to bring home. It's one I'll never open (like my Fairy Tale Cuvee or the Once Upon A Vine flavors, but it makes a great collectible). None of these items will be on this year's menu. You might also notice the really neat tray they are sitting on...that was a new item last year and I really hope they have them again! It also made a great collectible and kept me from trash-tabling so much!
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Fife & Drum - Again, I think it's another beer location, but I'm not sure where it is.

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I'm including both last year's pic (and you'll notice the bracelet charge card I was telling you about),
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and one from 2010 simply because the Cosmo Slush is not on the menu this year, but the Pomegranate Kir is. They have replaced the Cosmo slush with a Passion Fruit Martini Slush and I'm pretty excited to try it (although I'll miss the cosmo Slush, especially in it's martini plastic cup!).

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I LOVE the Bratwurst on a pretzel roll (even if it is kind of funny to look at). Another returning favorite!
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I got the grilled cheese last year not expecting it to be as fabulous as it was! It was my second favorite of the entire Festival and I'm happy to see it back this year. Unfortunately, my favorite alcohol, Ouzo, is not making a return. I got a kick out of the CM who tried to tell me to sip it slowly because it packs such a punch...I told her I typically drink it from a very large glass at home and the tiny amount in that little cup wouldn't do me in at all. I noticed, after I shot it, she gave me two thumbs up from her station - she had been watching me the whole time to see how I'd react to it! I just shot her two thumbs up back and ate my cheese. It was probably closest to the most social interaction I had the entire trip last October.
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I'm also dipping back into 2012 because one of my other all-time favorites, the Greek Salad, is no longer offered and much missed! Oh well, maybe next year!

Hawaii - I'm not a fan of sweet and savory in the same dish and Hawaii is notorious for it, so I haven't tried anything from there before. But they do have a Pineapple Wine this year that sounds good, so I might have to break down and try it.
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Hops & Barley
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Yes, it is a beer place, but they do offer New England style food. The past several years it's been quite disappointing (I don't get the love that everyone has for the lobster rolls, I think they are nasty, but the crab cakes weren't so bad). Last year they had a lobster tail and, although I wasn't expecting much, it did surprise! It wasn't at all tough or rubbery like the shrimp in China and had a wonderful buttery sauce on it (which was really all pretty much soaked up by the cardboard bowl). Shame it was on the very small size and even more sad that it's not on the menu this year (there is a Baked Lobster Alfredo though that sounds pretty good).
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Intermissions Cafe - I know this has been there several years, but I'm not quite sure where it's at. I think it might be in the Festival Center, but considering how appetizing its menu looks this year, I must find it!

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Ireland was the first British booth and I had such high hopes for it, but after the Cheese selection disaster of 2009, I only ever go there to get a Guinness. This year though, I might have to try to the Chocolate Pudding with Irish Creme. Back to the Cheese selection, there were supposedly three different kinds of cheeses, but they all tasted the same. Throughout the years, the cheese flavors have changed, but not the bread (which was the only thing I really liked on the plate).

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Last year I kind of went hog-wild at Italy, I got the ravioli (which wasn't fabulous, but it was drowning in cheese, so it made it much better!), the chocolate cannoli (which are much better at France's pastry shop), and an Italian Margarita (I'm not sure what makes it Italian, as it tasted the same as a regular margarita, but it was good).
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Japan - Never in a million. Nuff said.
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Liberty Inn - this is actually the counter service restaurant in The American Adventure Pavilion, but this year they have a couple of wine offerings that are Festival specific, so they have been included in the booth listings.

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Throughout the years, I've tried numerous dishes from Mexico and they have all been good, but last year disappointed somewhat. I really wanted to like the rib-eye tacos, but they were a bit on the "old" side and quite stale. Since they are having them again, I'm not adversed at trying it one more time, because it still sounds good...maybe I just got a bad batch last year. I also got the Mango Habanero Margarita, but that's not being offered this year.
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I had to reach back to 2010 for a picture of the Mimosa (which is really good). I know I have had the baklava in the past, but I'm not sure when and I didn't want to dig into the pictures. Other than the sweets and the drinks, Morocco is another one I've been too scared to try their entrees after a particularly bad experience at Restaurant Marrakesh - although I've never had a bad dish at Tangierine Cafe and I WORSHIP the tabouleh there, so much so that I tend to get it several times).

New Zealand - another one that just doesn't appeal to me...they usually have some kind of "game-y" meat (this year it's venison) and I don't do "game-y".
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Patagonia - Although the Patagonia booth is new, it's basically just a merging of the Argentina and Chili booths, so let's look at those:
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I get the Empanada every year from Argentina, but I'm not sure why because it is pretty non-descript. I might try the beef skewer this year.
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I think I've had something from the Chili booth, but it's been a while and I don't remember.

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Again, not my cup of tea, but Amber had a pierogi a couple of years ago (the smell of sour cream gags me, so even taking this picture was hard - hence the reason why I'm far away from it).

Puerto Rico
This booth has been missing for a couple of years (which is why I had to go back to 2010). I don't remember much about these dishes, other than Amber and I ended up switching because neither of us liked our choices (I ended up with the soup and she got whatever that other thing was). The Torched Cherry Colada (which I do remember vividly) was one of my favorite frozen beverages from the festival ever!

Refreshment Cool Post - another 'not sure where it is' places.

Refreshment Port - apparently, unless it was a country, I didn't notice the other booths because I have no idea where this one is either! There are several booths that are at the entrance of World Showcase, after the Cranberry Bog and usually beside the Port Gift Shops, so these are probably some of those.

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Oh how I wanted to love the Scottish booth and oh how I HATED the Scottish booth! I got the vegetarian Haggis with neeps and tatties and it was N-A-S-T-Y! It got trashed after one bite!
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The Loch Lomond, a drink made with Scotch (which I typically like), also got trashed because it was even worse! This year they have a couple of new offerings (although the Haggis is still there), so I'm gonna be a glutton for punishment and try it again!
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Asian countries and fruit beverages are NOT in my palate range apparently because this Singapore Sling was even worse than the Loch Lomond! One sip and it got trashed!
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South Korea - see Japan above...not in a million
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I like meat. Period. End of story. But I'm also not against to trying vegetarian options. The Chili Colorado with homemade chips, however, makes me want to reconsider that. It was disgusting. It was what I imagine dog food tastes like. The chips weren't bad, but that weird turd-shaped chili stuff was just gross! Thankfully, it won't be returning this year (and neither will I be to the Terra booth).
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I also tried the vegan wine...I drank it, but I don't think I liked it much.
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And that's it for the booths!

Throughout the years, there have been other countries represented, India, Spain, Turkey, South Africa, The United States, a Cheese booth (surprisingly enough, considering my overall utter devotion to cheese, I have NEVER gotten anything from that booth that was even remotely edible), and several others. Originally, instead of just countries, the booths were particular cities from the countries (like Cork, Ireland). Every year, they would choose an American city as a "special" booth (New Orleans and San Francisco are two I remember), but the Florida Local booth appeared a couple of years ago and it's stuck ever since (although it's the Farm Fresh booth this year).

Now, let's get to the ranting! Anytime there is easy access to alcohol, you're gonna have's an written rule of nature. What makes it so bad is, despite the fact that it is a Food & Wine Festival, it is still Disney World and there are still children everywhere. Having a nip or two here and there, sampling different world flavors, is one thing, but this whole "drinking around the world" game that a lot of the locals play (even to the point of having themed T-shirts) is just kind of wrong. Large groups of young adults enmass trying to out drink each other, falling all over other people, throwing up in bushes, getting rowdy, loud, and rude to EVERYONE just isn't cool no matter how much they might think it is and, depending on the night you are there, could potentially ruin your F&W experience (it's happened to us more than once). The only advice I can give is to avoid your Epcot days on weekends and, if you see these matching-shirted groups, run the other way!

Granted, I have been "buzzed" before, but never full on drunk. The combination of alcohol, food, and Florida heat is just too much (and it tends to make the ones intentionally trying to get drunk even worse). Other than that, fall time at Disney World will ALWAYS be my favorite because of both Food & Wine and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party! So there we go...another review down and many more to come!

1 comment:

Linda said...

Fantastic review Keebles. I'm worse than you, other than the experience of going, I probably might try maybe 10 percent of those booths.


PS Still think you should write a book.