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Disney Food & Wine Festival
For six autumn weeks, Epcot hosts the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, attracting folks more interested in a fine phyllo than a photo op with Cinderella.
The festival is essentially a compendium of food- and beverage-related offerings, some free with the price of Epcot admission, others costing anywhere from $3 to a few hundred. You can attend mixology or cheese seminars, have cookbooks signed by authors, and sample tapas-size portions of foods from around the world. And that's just the basics. Throughout the event, Disney and guest chefs host brunches, lunches, and wine-pairing dinners at Epcot and in hotels, some posh, others festive, and yet more T-shirt-and-shorts-friendly. The headliners change annually but might include names like Jacques Torres, Jamie Deen, or Andrew Zimmern. The festival's food and beverage lineup changes annually, but for more information and to make reservations (during festival season only, generally midsummer through early November), call 407/939-3378 or visit www.disneyworld.com/foodandwine.
Master of the House
Visitors with a serious interest in the fruit of the vine should consider enrolling in one of the festival's Wine School classes, some taught by Master Sommeliers. Each one- or two-hour course focuses on a single subject, which may include the regions from which pinot noir is derived or the wines of Argentina.
Shopping for a Snack
The heart of the Food & Wine Festival—and the most approachable event for hungry tourists on a budget—takes place around Epcot's World Showcase. Ordinarily a miniature world of 11 pavilions themed around one country apiece, the area takes on new life as 25 "international marketplaces" take up residence.
Each of the 25 marketplaces, from Hawaii to Scandinavia, offers a taste of one country, selling approximately three appetizer-size food items and a few beverages that pair well—nearly all for $3 to $7 apiece. Indisputably popular creations like the garlicky escargots at the France counter and the cheddar soup ladled out endlessly at Canada are keepers; regulars might revolt if those were absent at any time. Still, a majority of the menu can change in a given year. Attendees who stop by every autumn might taste Belgian steamed mussels with roasted-garlic cream (with a Stella Artois beer or Godiva-chocolate iced coffee) or Moroccan kefta chicken roll (with Ksar white wine) one time, an Irish fisherman's pie (with Bunratty Meade honey wine) or a Korean lettuce wrap with roast pork and kimchi slaw (with herbal rice wine) another.
At a few marketplaces, a certain item is featured instead of a locale. The Dessert and Champagne booth, for instance, pours a bounty of bubbly and special sweets. A cheese marketplace puts out treats like cheese fondue with sourdough bread and a trio of artisanal cheeses. And the all-American Hops & Barley Market often specializes in fare U.S. citizens can be proud of, such as Maine lobster rolls and Samuel Adams beers.
Lines tend to get very long, especially on weekends, when locals pour in for their regular fix of foreign fare, so consider timing your tour during the day or on a weekday evening, when most spots have shorter waits.
Festival of the Senses
Every Saturday evening throughout the festival, food and wine enthusiasts clad in cocktail attire saunter into the gala called Party for the Senses. Billed as a "grand tasting," the bash is a huge all-you-can-eat fancy-food fest. In a dramatically decorated, high-ceilinged room, 10 to 15 chefs from around the country host one food station apiece, serving a hearty appetizer-size portion of one passionately prepared dish. Some are Disney chefs eager to show their talents, and others are known nationally. Big names such as François Payard, Allen Susser, and Walter Staib have been known to participate. Wines and beers are poured freely throughout the night. Live entertainment such as acrobats and vocalists—some years, from Cirque du Soleil La Nouba—gives attendees something to watch while taking a break between bites. The price runs $145 to $270, depending on if, and where, you have reserved seats, with or without perks such as an artisanal-cheese station and a premium bar.
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