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MouseStation 73 - Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and Disney Dining Plan

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Featured Topic - Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and Disney Dining Plan

In this week's feature, we've got two more interviews that Mark did while at Walt Disney World. This time around, he talks with Chris Clark, Special Events Manager for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, as well as the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and Holidays Around the World at Epcot. He also talks with Chris Morgan, a manager with the Disney Dining Plan.


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Chris Clark, Special Events Manager for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

In looking around to see which stories they wanted to tell this weekend, such as the Dominican Republic, they discovered that Oklahoma was celebrating its centennial as a state, and so Disney invited them to participate because they had a great story to tell.

The move of the Festival Center to the Wonders of Life pavilion has been working out great, because they have plenty of room for the wine seminars, an expanded merchandise location, book signings by celebrity chefs and more, all in an air-conditioned location.

There are lots of kids' activities this year, including the Pearville Fair in front of the American Adventure, the Kidcot Fun Stops, and the Junior Chef program at the Land pavilion. The Kidcot Fun Stops have some interesting surprises this year.

The theme of this year's festival is "Tastefully Inspired," showing how great artwork is inspired by and also inspires food. Topiary characters from Ratatouille in front of the park fit into the theme, as well.

Party for the Senses has amazing selections of food and beverages, along with entertainment by Cirque du Soleil. Interestingly, there is still some availability for the Party. If you're interested, don't assume that it's sold out – make the call!

Chris' favorite events include Party for the Senses; The Cook, The Book and the Bottle; and Odyssey Kitchen Conversations.

There are a lot of repeat guests who stumbled upon the festival on a vacation years ago and keep coming back.

The festival keeps growing each year, and it's sometimes difficult to reinvent the event each year. The Food & Wine Festival has been 45 days for a while now.

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

Chris is also in charge of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which is growing to 75 days in 2008.

Mark wondered how Chris' team would fill the Flower Power concert series. Chris said that they've actually got a great lineup, which she can't reveal yet.

During Flower & Garden, though, it has gotten so long that they now need to do two plantings because the festival spans two seasons.

Holidays Around the World

Yet another area that Chris is in charge of is Holidays Around the World at Epcot.

Candlelight Processional dining packages are starting to fill up and may start selling out soon, so make those reservations soon.

Mark told Chris about Mike's pet peeve, how Stephen Curtis Chapman is a Candlelight narrator, but he doesn't sing.

Mark also asked Chris about Gary Sinise being a Christmas Day tradition as a Candlelight narrator.

Chris' favorite holiday storyteller last year was the Kwanzaa storyteller. Mark asked about the past scheduling conflicts between the Hanukkah and Kwanzaa storytellers, who would perform at different ends of the American Adventure pavilion at the same time, making it hard to see both.

Chris loves all three events, so it was impossible for her to choose a favorite among them.

A Magical Moment

Mark asked Chris if she had any Magical Moments to share. She talked about people winning a chance to attend Party for the Senses and getting a reserved table there, which nobody else can get, and watching them be treated like royalty was great.

Loose ends

Chris' big tip for attending the special events is to get a Festival Guide as soon as you enter the park to avoid missing things because you don't know about them.

Mark asked Chris about a Food & Wine Festival guide that he got in the mail, and Chris explained that it was because he was a Disney Dining Experience cardholder. DDE membership is available to Florida residents and Annual Passholders, and is highly recommended.

An aside

Mike asked Mark about the food at Tutto Italia. Mark said that he ate there twice, and that the first time was better than the second time. He recommends the trofie pasta in pesto sauce.

Chris Morgan, manager with the Disney Dining Plan

The Disney Dining Plan has added a new level, the Deluxe Plan, which has the same dining options as the Premium and Deluxe Plans, without the additional non-dining extras.

Mark asked about the change from appetizer and dessert to appetizer or dessert, as well as the change in removing the gratuity from the plan; MousePlanet readers have been complaining about how they get the plan in order to not have to spend any cash on food, and the change is not good for them.

Chris noted that it was to put control back in the guests' hands, both giving them a chance to reward servers appropriately for the service provided as well as providing with the plan at a lower price point.

Mark noted that one MousePad member had suggested allowing guests to check a box indicating the level of tip that they felt that their server deserved in order to give them control over rewarding their server while at the same time allowing them to have the gratuity remain included in the Dining Plan cost. Chris thought that it was a great idea, but that their systems can't handle it right now. It might be worth looking at in the future.

Chris said that the adjustments made to the dining plan have been in response to requests, so the appetizer change was related to that. Also, the Wine & Dine Plan add-on was also in response to that.

Mark asked about the periods of Free Dining offers to fill empty beds, and how Chris' group handles it. Chris said that they try to find ways to make changes to accommodate the free dining, such as increasing capacity at table service restaurants, and so forth, in order to ensure that everybody has a good experience..

When the first round of the dining brochure comes out, there generally isn't time to include the third-party operators by the time that the brochure is rushed out. They are then added as they agree to the compensation deal. So far, Disney has never been had an operating participant who had not signed on by the time that the new plan came into effect.

Mark asked Chris to talk about the Premium and Platinum plans. The Premium Plan includes a lot of recreational opportunities, including the water parks. The Platinum Plan includes Cirque du Soleil, dining at Victoria & Albert's and a PhotoPass CD. Mark noted that the Platinum Plan seems to be analogous to the Gold Key Card plan that he used on his honeymoon 20 years ago.

Chris noted that sometimes guests have difficulty in trying to figure out how the various rules apply to their meals on the dining plan, so Disney has made some changes, including providing guests with a small card to help them understand what is included in each type of dining location.

Mark asked about the historical difficulties in having enough table service seating available for folks on the dining plan, especially during free dining periods. Chris noted that the 180-day dining reservation window has helped with that, but that they also monitor reservations to figure out what they might need to do in order to accommodate demand, such as adding lunch at Chef Mickey's or turning the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station into a buffet meal.

Chris recommends that people consider their dining needs and preferences before selecting a plan to ensure that they choose something that will work with their needs, dietary issues, etc.

Chris also urged people to continue to provide feedback on the meal plan whenever they have the opportunity to, since Disney uses the feedback to tailor each year's plans to what they're hearing from guests. To get an idea of what kind of experience people are already having in contacting the Dining Plan, check out this MousePad thread.

What do you think of the Food & Wine Festival or the Disney Dining Plan?. Let us know by sending an email or calling our toll-free feedback line (1-866-939-2278) and let us know what your favorites are!

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The MouseStation crew (@MouseStation) currently consists of Mark Goldhaber (@MPMark) and Mike Demopoulos (@MPMike).