WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com
Photo of meatloaf
Bobotie is curried meat loaf with pickled peach sauce (Cape of South Africa, $2.50)
Epcot Food and Wine Festival:
Ten Ways that it’s Better than Last Year

 
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, visits the
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, 2002

 
November 15, 2002
What does this article have to do with Yesterland? Not much, really. In a few days, the 7th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will he history, but it’s safe to assume that this delightful annual event will be back some time in mid-October next year and for many years to come.
 
My wife and I have attended every year since 1999. We enjoyed this year’s festival much more than the 2001 Food & Wine Festival.
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1. More International Marketplaces
Photo of Florida marketplace
Florida is a new "country" at the Festival
Photo of California marketplace
...and so is California

If I counted right, there were 19 marketplaces in 2001 and 25 marketplaces this year. That translates to more choices and shorter lines.

The marketplaces are the best known part of the Festival. A typical marketplace offers two or three food items and three to five wines or beers. The portions are appetizer-sized. Some food items, such as the Fresh Florida Citrus Slices or the Irish “Toasted Oatmeal and Whiskey Flan,” cost as little as $1.00. Many items with meat are around $3.00. The most expensive food item is the Seared Scallop with Pepper Relish (Andalucia, Spain, $4.50).

Everything that I tried was tasty. The Goat Cheese Polenta (California, $2.50) was unbelievably good; I wish I could fly back to Florida for another serving. The onion tart (France, $1.50) was the best bargain.

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2. Longer hours at World Showcase
Photo of meatloaf
World Showcase at Epcot now opens at 11:00 a.m.
For 2002, World Showcase opened at 11:00 a.m., compared to 12:00 noon last year.
 
On the opening weekend of the 2001 Food & Wine Festival, Disney management cut the hours at all four Walt Disney World theme parks to cut expenses. It had only been slightly over a month since the horrific events of September 11, and attendance had been way down after the attacks.
 
For 2002, World Showcase is back to its usual fall hours. That allows more time to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival.
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3. More Culinary Demonstrations
Photo of Jon Ashton
“Mad Chef” Jon Ashton prepares Jon’s Barbeque Shrimp with Cheesy Grits.
Three or four times each day, guests are treated to live culinary demonstrations. It’s a great opportunity to learn from visiting guest chefs (such as Bobby Flay of the Mesa Grill and Cass Abrahams from South Africa), chefs from Walt Disney World restaurants and representatives from food suppliers and associations. Many of these chefs are as skilled with a microphone as they are with a skillet. And each culinary demonstration includes a sample portion of the featured recipe for every guest seated in the audience.
 
Last year, there were only two culinary demonstrations per day, and many of those were “lifestyle demonstrations,” such as “Roadsidea,” the art of making floral arrangements from plants the grow along Florida roads. (That’s not why we came to a food and wine event.) This year, the term “lifestyle demonstration” disappeared from the program.
 
Although the presentations themselves were a pleasure, the facility was not. More about that later.
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4. Wine seminars at Odyssey Center
Photo of Odyssey Center
Air-conditioned and quiet—it’s the best wine tasting venue in the history of the Festival.
Last year the Odyssey Center was only used only for two private dining events each week. This year it’s used four times each day, seven days each week for wine tastings. Guests stand in line to get in. Once inside, they sit down in front of several glasses, each containing an ounce or so of wine—perhaps several kinds of Shiraz one time and several types of sparkling wine another time. An expert discusses the wines, provides insight into why the wines taste different, and solicits opinions from guests. It’s fun if you like wine (which I do) and there’s no charge beyond park admission.
 
Actually, there was also an indoor wine tasting venue last year too. It was a room in an obscure corner of Innoventions that most guests never found. The Odyssey Center is a much better choice.
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5. More wine seminars at The Terrace
Photo of wine seminar at The Terrace
Spend around 40 minutes to learn about wine from experts and to try three or four tastes.
The wine tasting tent at The Terrace between Morocco and France was great last year, and it didn’t change much this year. But, this year, we happened upon some particularly good wine seminars, including a highly entertaining talk by wine writer Doug Frost. There was also an enlightening demonstration of how salty and sour foods affect how we enjoy wines, presented by Berringer. At still another session, I had my first opportunity to compare different kinds of sake. Although it’s not air-conditioned either, the wine tasting tent is much more comfortable than the nearby culinary demonstration facility.
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6. “Discover Andalucia, Spain”
Photo of Andalucia area
This temporary facility the blends nicely into World Showcase.
“They’ve added a new country to Epcot!” a guest remarked to her husband, “I’m sure this wasn’t here last time.”
 
If that guest returns next week, that “new country” will be gone. “Discover Andalucia, Spain” is home to exhibits about olives and sherry, flamenco dancing performances, and a food marketplace dedicated to Andalucia. It’s all very well presented. It’s not as detailed as a permanent country at Epcot, but someone has really done a remarkable job for temporary facility.
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7. "Explore the Cape Region of South Africa"
Photo of Cape Region area
The Cape Region of South Africa, right next to Andalucia, Spain.
When Epcot opened twenty years ago, a pavilion honoring South Africa would have been unthinkable. But now, post-apartheid South Africa makes an appearance at Epcot. At this exhibit, you’ll find friendly people from South Africa creating art, discussing tourism, selling jewelry, giving talks abut The Cape, and serving tastes (for a fee) of outstanding wines. There was nothing like The Cape Region of South Africa or Andalucia, Spain, at the Food & Wine Festival last year. These are very welcome additions.
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8. Six different acts at the America Gardens stage
Photo of Mary Wilson sign
Mary Wilson on the sign...
Photo of of Mary Wilson performance
...and Mary Wilson on stage.

Last year, the European company of Barrage performed at the Americas Gardens stage over the entire course of the Festival. They were amazing. This year, there are six different acts: the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Sister Sledge, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Fifth Dimension, and Chubby Checker.
 
There are many guests who come for extended stays, with some visiting every day of the Festival. (We went to Epcot six days in a row without visiting any of the other parks.) So it’s a smart idea not to have the same act performing for the entire term of the Festival.
 
I’ve seen “has been” acts from the 1960s and 1970s at suburban summer festivals in the Chicago suburbs. Such acts range anywhere from pretty good to pretty awful. I hoped we would enjoy Mary Wilson, but I wasn’t expecting too much. Wow! With a terrific ten-piece band and two fine backup singers, Mary Wilson delivered an outstanding concert.

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9. Party for the Senses
Photo of World Showplace
The former Millennium Village is now World Showplace.
“I’m not going to spend $80 per person to eat standing up,” my wife explained when I told her I had booked two spots at the Party for the Senses. So I called back to Disney Dining and cancelled our spots. Thus, I can’t give you a first-hand report.
 
But I talked to people who went, and they all enjoyed it. Each Saturday evening during the Festival, around 300 guests gather in the former Millennium Village where they wander between stations serving food and wine, enjoying a wide variety of each. There are some tables at which guests can sit or stand while eating, but you aren’t served there, and it’s not “your table.” You’re supposed to mingle with other guests.
 
This year’s Party for the Senses replaced the Grand Tastings at the Odyssey Center in previous years. Both events are similar, but the World Showplace is a much more spacious facility, allowing for more guests and for more selection.
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10. Signature Dinners
Photo of Signature Dinner
“South Africa Awakens” in the Capetown Wine Room at Jiko..the Cooking Place
Four and one half hours. Eight wonderful courses from four talented chefs, including creatively prepared courses of shrimp, lobster, rabbit and lamb. Some of the best wines I’ve ever had—all from South Africa. What a spectacular, memorable meal!
 
The marketplaces, exhibits, and demonstrations during the day are lots of fun. But the highlight of the Food & Wine Festival for us each year has been a “private dining” event. Each year they’ve been better. Each year they’ve become more popular. And each year they’ve become harder to book.
 
The Signature Dinners this year replaced the Winemaker Dinners which had been held at the Odyssey Center in previous years. The Signature Dinners are held at various restaurants across Walt Disney World. Ours was at Jiko..the Cooking Place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Adding the Signature Dinners was a good idea, but it’s a real shame they eliminated the Winemaker Dinners. Only around 40 people were at our dinner due to the size of the room, and I’d estimate that half were VIPs. That leaves almost no opportunity for paying guests who booked their travel long before the Festival schedule was announced and who hoped that they too would be able to enjoy such a dinner as the highlight of their visit to the Festival.
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Werner’s Wish List
The organizers of the Food & Wine Festival did a great job this year. But I think there are some opportunities to improve the Festival again next year. Here’s my wish list:
  • Relief from the heat, sun, and rain during culinary demonstrations.
    When we were there, it was 89°F, sunny, and humid. Although there were a few large sun umbrellas over the seating area for the culinary demonstrations, the shifting sun meant that any shade was temporary. I understand that the Festival organizers moved the culinary demonstrations out of the Odyssey Center last year and this year so that more park guests would be aware of the demos and to give the sponsor, KitchenAid, more exposure. Last year we were rained out, and this year we were roasted. Meanwhile, the wine tasters next door are at least in a large tent with large overhead fans. I wish for a better venue for the culinary demonstrations.
     
  • A reservation system for dining events that allows more people to be successful.
    Expecting that Disney Dining would soon be taking bookings for the 2002 Food & Wine Festival private dining events, I had been calling twice a week in early July 2002. For two weeks, I was told, “It says ‘coming soon.’” But when I called Monday, July 15, 2002, I learned that Disney Dining began taking bookings that morning at 7:00 a.m., but that we were already too late to book a Signature Dinner or a Reserve Dinner. They were sold out by 9:00 a.m. What a disappointment! One problem is that the same people book many dinners. Members of the Florida resident Disney Dining Experience program get advance notice of the events. Some members then book every sit-down dinner that they can get when Disney Dining starts taking bookings. For the Party for the Senses, with its high capacity, that’s fine. But for the limited capacity sit-down dinners, it means that it’s nearly impossible for out-of-state guests to book such an event. Even Disney Dining Experience membership is no guarantee; we know a charming retired couple in Florida who are members, but who received the “advance notice” on July 16—one day after the sit-down events were booked up—so they could not attend a single Reserve Dinner or Signature Dinner. The Festival organizers need to rethink the booking process to allow fair distribution of reservations for limited capacity events.
     
  • Additional multi-course, sit-down “event” dinner capacity.
    When I called on July 15, I was able to get on waitlists for the sit-down dining events during our stay. A few months later, I was thrilled to get a call from the Festival office telling me that I could get two seats for the Signature Dinner that I described earlier. I doubt many others were so lucky. The rapid sell-out of all private dining capacity, and the resulting disappointment for many guests, indicates that the Food & Wine Festival needs to be able to accommodate more guests at private dining events. There are too few private sit-down dinners, and they each accommodate too few people. The Signature Dinners this year held far fewer guests than the Winemaker Dinners in previous years. The Festival organizers need to add sit-down dining capacity. Such events don’t have to be as incredible as the Signature Dinners, but they should still be one-of-kind events.
     
  • Greater use of World Showplace, the former Millennium Village.
    World Showplace is a huge, air-conditioned space. The Festival organizers booked World Showplace for the entire term of the Festival, but they only used it once a week for the Party for the Senses. The rest of the week it sat unused. What a great place it would be for a Food & Wine Festival Village! Imagine culinary demos in one area, wine tastings in another, a shopping and crafts bazaar, exhibits, a few food and wine marketplaces, and some hands-on areas for kids. Sure, other parts of the Festival would still take place all around World Showcase Lagoon, but I’d like to see the World Showplace facility as the focal point of the Festival.
     
 

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© 2002-2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks
 
Updated December 19, 2008.
 
Photographs of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival by Werner Weiss, 2002.