Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

For seven 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 $3.25 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 Jamie Deen, "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro, or Andrew Zimmern. The festival's food and beverage lineup changes every year, too, so 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.

Garden of Eating

So smitten are visitors with the Food & Wine Festival’s food marketplaces that Epcot created similar "outdoor kitchens" for its annual Flower & Garden Festival. At the six-week springtime celebration of all things green and floral, snack-size foods inspired by the season and the garden are cooked "on stage" and served throughout the World Showcase—with paired beverages, of course.

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 27 "international marketplaces" take up residence.

Most of the 27 marketplaces, from Brazil to South Korea, offer a taste of one country, selling approximately three appetizer-size food items and a few beverages that pair well—nearly all for $3.25 to $8 apiece. Indisputably popular creations like 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 potato-leek waffles with braised beef (with a Stella Artois beer or Godiva-chocolate iced coffee) or Moroccan spicy shrimp roll with cilantro and mint sauce (with Guerrouane white wine) one time, an Irish fisherman's pie (with Bunratty mead honey wine) or a Korean lettuce wrap with roast pork and kimchi slaw (with a soju fruit slushy) another.

At a few marketplaces, a certain item is featured instead of a locale. The Desserts and Champagne booth, for instance, pours a bounty of bubbly and special sweets. A craft beer marketplace puts out several regional brews along with complementary snacks like spicy pimento cheese with crackers. And the all-American Hops & Barley Market often specializes in fare U.S. citizens can be proud of, such as baked lobster alfredo and carrot cake.

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

Several Saturday evenings 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. Live entertainment such as acrobats and vocalists—some years, from Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba—gives attendees something to watch while taking a break between bites. The price runs $149 to $299. Other Saturday nights, a similar gathering with food and entertainment will have a one-time theme, such as Dining through the Decades: A Tribute to Walt Disney.

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