Making a Meal of Epcot's International Food and Wine Festivalby Roan Poulter, contributing writer
Each fall for the past 21 years, Epcot has hosted a Food and Wine Festival. To say it is the marquee culinary event at Walt Disney World may be an overstatement, but judging from the massive crowds, many with dedicated t-shirts, it has become a highlight of many people's year. The potential for smaller crowds during autumn does not apply at Epcot, with the World Showcase seeming like one solid wall of humanity around all twelve countries.
Epcot's World Showcase is a great place to get a meal, with options as varied in cultural significance as they are in level of sophistication. The International Food and Wine Festival adds more than two dozen additional country options to this already impressive outlay. But with so many options, how does that translate into a meal? If you're new to the Festival, how should you budget each meal in comparison to a typical dining day in the park?
Many visitors never stop eating and drinking, migrating from one line to another in a progressive smorgasbord of culinary and vinous indulgence. We don't do that. One reason is the expense, though an ever growing case of week on week indigestion is a close second. Instead we treat it as tapas dining, small plates of which you may make a meal.
Find a Central Location
It is a regular sight to find festival goers eating atop garbage cans. The reason for this is the lack of table space around the expanded pavilions. Food and Wine puts up a smattering of stand up tables, but it is rarely enough for the typical weekend crowds. In places like France and Italy, where tables are always at a premium, this compounds the issue. The outdoor seating in Japan, Morocco, and to some extent Norway may be close enough and allow a few moments of contemplative peace away from the crowds.
We plan out our choices ahead of time, knowing a few places where tables are abundant. Once the meal is mapped, we separate to our respective lines, secure our orders and regroup at a table. Versus the far too many people devouring their treasures from atop garbage cans, we think this is the way.
Divide and Conquer, or Make New Friends
A little preparation here is invaluable. We separate our group into each chosen country line before regrouping at a preordained table. If we have an extra person, they secure the table.
If you're alone, talk to the people in front or behind you about their experience and favorite dishes. Everyone wants to be a critic and share their festival discoveries. Be bold and friendly, then see if it doesn't earn you just desserts.
Set a Budget
Eating from the expanded World Showcase venues is not cheap. While the prices are not overly high, the quantity is small. Our impression is that it would take four of the smaller dishes to make a typical counter service entrée. Of course where else on earth can you get an entrée from four different countries? Prices vary from four to nine dollars, therefore the conclusion we drew is that it's about 35 percent more expensive dining in this style.
Consider an Alternative
If you're too overwhelmed by the choices, or want to sit down for a meal, try checking at some of the table service restaurants around World Showcase. Reservations to exclusive restaurants like Le Cellier or Chefs de France may open up as the day progresses and people overindulge. We were able to get a same day, weekend table at Le Cellier by checking online as the day progressed.
Find Your Favorites
These choices are not meant to provide a complete or even near comprehensive listing of available dishes, but are meant to provide some thoughts from our opening weekend visit.
A vastly superior showing of brewing capability is found at the Craft Beers kiosk. Some truly excellent beers can be had here, including the Shipyard Milk Stout (right) and Two Henry's Blueberry Vanilla Ale (left). Photo by Roan Poulter.
It may be hard to imagine, but this is only a small sampling of what's available at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Recently someone did the math about how expensive it would be to sample every single food item once, and the total was over $450. Happy hunting and if I've missed your favorite dish, mention it in the comments and I will consider it for next year's version.