WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com Cutbacks in Wonderland, Part 1
The Festival of Marketplaces, Cultural Displays, and Concerts
at the 2008 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
September 26 - November 9, 2008
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Very clever graphics celebrate the world’s great food cities.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, visits the
13th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

October 31, 2008

The official theme of this year’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is “Cities in Wonderland,” celebrating food cities around the world. The festival takes its creative inspiration from Walt Disney’s 1951 animated Alice in Wonderland and the it’s a small world art of Mary Blair, the conceptual artist for Alice in Wonderland.

Unfortunately, there’s a second, unofficial theme that runs through the 2008 festival: “Cutbacks Compared to 2007.” Last year, I wrote, “It Keeps Getting Better.” I can’t use that line this year.

I’m dividing the festival into two parts:

  • Part 1: The Festival of Marketplaces, Cultural Displays, and Concerts (this article)
  • Part 2: The Festival of Complimentary and Paid Events (next week)
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
The fancy, new Shanghai Marketplace at the 2008 Food & Wine Festival
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
The old China Marketplace at the 2007 Food & Wine Festival

As always, the most visible part of the festival is the collection of temporary food stands—called “Marketplaces”—that encircle World Showcase Lagoon. The good news here is that the number of Marketplaces is about the same a last year—27 in 2008 compared to 28 in 2007, according the 2008 and 2007 Festival Guide booklets.

Most of the countries and many of the popular menu items are back, but there are also new additions. One nice change is that Epcot is continuing to replace some of the smaller, rather generic food stands of years past with larger, more carefully themed structures that look better in World Showcase. The new Marketplaces for Shanghai (China) and Athens (Greece) are especially noticeable this year.

Epcot Food & Wine Festival
The fancy, new Marketplace of Athens at the 2008 Food & Wine Festival
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
The old Marketplace of Greece at the 2005 Food & Wine Festival
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
The even older Marketplace of Greece at the 2004 Food & Wine Festival

Some of the prices have gone up, but not all of them. For example, the Lyon (France) Marketplace now charges $4.00 for the same small, round goat cheese quiche that was $3.75 last year, while the very popular escargots in brioche stayed at $4.50. Alas, the $1.00 and $2.00 food items and wines of earlier in this decade are long gone.

The quality of the offerings remains high. This year, I heard more guests expressing enthusiasm about the food quality than ever before.

Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Vienna, Austria, near Epcot World Showcase’s Norway
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Beef Goulash with Bacon Dumpling ($3.50),
paired with Iby Zweigelt wine ($3.50)

A welcome addition this year is Vienna, Austria. The beef goulash was good, and the accompanying bacon dumpling was very tasty. The goulash is one of the better values at the festival.

At the Vienna Marketplace, guests can choose from three Austrian wines: Leth Grüner Veltliner ($3.50), Iby Zweigelt ($3.50), and Leth Riesling ($3.75). Most Americans are unfamiliar with the Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt grape varieties, or what Austrian winemakers do with them. This is one of many places where the Food & Wine Festival provides opportunities to discover new wines.

By the way, the wine pours at most Marketplaces are around 2 ounces. That means that each standard 750 ml wine bottle provides around a dozen servings. When you do the math, the “unit price” for the $3-4 wine pours at the festival is similar to the typical $8-10 for 5-ounce pours at restaurants, when buying moderately-priced wine by the glass.

Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Munich, Germany, on Saturday, October 25, 2008, at 1:30 p.m.
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Munich, Germany, on Monday, October 27, 2008, at 5:00 p.m.

The Marketplaces tend to be very busy on weekends, and not busy at all on weekdays, especially at times that aren’t traditional meal times. The two photos above are the same Munich Marketplace. If you have a choice, it’s better to go on weekdays.

Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Louisiana is this year’s biggest special “experience.”
Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Guests register to win prizes from Louisiana.

The second most visible part of the festival consists of sponsored “experiences” Several that were at the 2007 festival are back this year: Australia (now in the form of Melbourne, hosted by Tourism Victoria); The Pearville Fair, hosted by USA Pears; The History of Beer in America, hosted by Samuel Adams; and The New York State Wine Adventure (which is little more than a Marketplace selling New York wines).

Last year, Oklahoma was the first U.S. state with a major presence at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. I thought that Oklahoma was so well done that I wrote a whole article about it. This year, the featured state is Louisiana, with live music, cooking demonstrations, story tellers, displays, a kids’ area, and free purple Mardi Gras bead necklaces.

In 2007, there were three other major sponsored temporary attractions: Peru, Turkey, and the Dominican Republic. Each offered entertainment, merchandise, artists, and food demonstrations. These countries didn’t return this year, and nothing comparable replaced them.

This brings up the issue of sponsorship. Disney isn’t just running the Food & Wine Festival to bring more guests through the turnstiles. They’re also looking for sponsors to pick up as much of the tab as possible. Here’s what I wrote in my article about Oklahoma last year:

A 45-day presence at Epcot isn’t cheap. According to an August 1, 2007, article in Tulsa World, “The [Oklahoma] exhibit will cost about $1.2 million, of which $500,000 is coming from the Oklahoma Centennial Commission and the rest is being raised privately, [Oklahoma Governor] Henry said.”

Going by the back covers of the 2007 and 2008 Festival Guides, the number of sponsors is way down:

  2007 2008
Presenting Sponsor 1 1
Signature Sponsors 7 4
Festival Patrons/Sponsors 6 3
Festival Participants 47 31
  • The Presenting Sponsors for both years is Vanity Fair (Premium Napkins).
  • The Signature Sponsors are major exhibitors, such as Sam Adams and Louisiana.
  • The Festival Patrons/Sponsors are more visible sponsors, such as Disney Vacation Club and “Wines from Greece.”
  • The Festival Participants are companies such as wine distributors and housewares manufacturers.

With fewer sponsors, there are fewer exhibits, less entertainment, and less variety overall. Without knowing Disney’s business terms, I can’t say if the reduction in sponsorships is due to higher fees imposed by Disney or the reluctance of some potential sponsors to participate under the current economic conditions.

Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Otis Day and the Knights, part of the Eat to the Beat concert series

The third highly visible (and highly audible) part of the festival is the Eat to the Beat concert series. It was introduced at the 2002 Epcot Food & Wine Festival with six acts over the course of the 30-day festival. This year, during the 45-day festival, there are 18 acts, each performing just a few evenings, with three concerts per evening.

So far, I’ve only caught two acts. Otis Day and the Knights, a band created for the movie Animal House, did a great job covering other groups’ hits. Kool & the Gang reminded me why I never particularly enjoyed disco in the seventies—and oh were they ever loud!

Six acts returned from last year. Last year, I recognized the names of more of the acts. I don’t know if that means that some of the acts this year are lesser known and less expensive, or if it’s just my lack of popular music knowledge.

If you enjoyed the Marketplaces, cultural experiences, and concerts last year, you’ll probably also enjoy them this year. When it comes to the most visible parts of the festival, the overall experience is similar to last year—despite the cutbacks (and improvements) noted in this article.

Please watch for Part 2: The Festival of Complimentary and Paid Events. That’s where the cutbacks hit harder.

Food & Wine, 2008, Part 2
Ratatouille: Big Cheese Tour

© 2008 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated December 19, 2008

Photographs of Epcot Food & Wine Festival by Werner Weiss, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008.