Epcot Food and Wine 2016 Roundup

14441124_10207234557634826_5076242228864764790_n1

Epcot Food and Wine is my favorite Epcot festival. It’s the perfect time to enjoy what World Showcase is really about — experiencing different cultures — through food. Booths are set up throughout World Showcase and a few areas of Future World, highlighting different regions and countries and types of food.

The festival is included with admission to Epcot. Food and drinks are smaller portions, usually ranging from $4 to $9 per item. If you’re using the Disney Dining Plan, Festival items count as snacks. You can also purchase a tasting sampler, which will help you save a little money if you purchase higher-cost items with it.

When we do Food and Wine, we like to visit as many booths as possible. So, the festival usually takes the place of lunch, dinner or sometimes both. We also share many items to be able to taste as much as possible. Be sure to grab your tasting passport (free and available at most booths) to keep track of what you’ve tried.

France

14495307_10207234559274867_8006661577105335101_n1

What’s more French than French onion soup? This version was cheesy, gooey and had a nice touch of bitterness/acid from the cognac. It was heavy on onions, too, which I appreciate. I had this piping soup twice!

Hawaii

14457442_10207234561514923_8461073953622571142_n1

I love ahi tuna, and the spicy tuna poke with rice and a seaweed salad did not disappoint. The tuna was fresh and delicious.

14433225_10207234561874932_5898191809835853633_n1

I did not eat the Hawaiian pulled pork slider on a King’s Hawaiian roll (I’m not a big pork eater), but my husband loved it. He said this was his favorite dish all day. It was dressed with spicy mayo and pineapple relish.

The Chew Collective

14522948_10207235702503447_3298941497286086544_n1

The Chew, which is my favorite daytime show (all hail Clinton Kelly!), has a heavy influence at Epcot Food and Wine. They have their own booth, and they film several shows from the festival. This zucchini and ricotta lasagna with a rustic tomato sauce and micro basil did not disappoint. This is some of the best marinara sauce I’ve had. This booth is located in Future World.

The Chocolate Studio

14446187_10207235703623475_3329231179440247422_n1

The Chocolate Studio speaks to me on a personal level, mainly because I could eat chocolate every day for every meal. This red wine truffle was bitter at first. It’s dusted in cocoa powder, and the red wine adds to the bitterness, too. However, it has a rich, sweet finish, and I enjoyed this deeper flavor.

Craft Beer

14522995_10207234561714928_2960389170759078528_n1

Craft Beer is an indoor pavilion located as Future World becomes World Showcase. It’s near First Aid and the restrooms. It’s a nice break from the heat, and it has lots of cool graphics on how beer is made and different types of beer. We enjoyed some pimento and cheese at this booth. It was okay, but I’m a huge pimento and cheese connoisseur.

Scotland

14517505_10207235705543523_1974383488982348744_n1

We tried the traditional lamb stew, which is a traditional home-cooked meal in Scotland. This stew was served atop neeps (mashed rutabagas) and tatties (mashed potatoes). We were not fans of neeps, but the tatties were creamy and wonderful. This stew was okay for me, mainly because it tasted so beefy (I don’t really eat beef), but my husband loved it. I would consider this the Scottish version of pot roast.

Islands of the Caribbean

14519785_10207235704223490_2093357680266575293_n1

I didn’t expect to love the quesito, but this Puerto Rican dessert quickly became an unexpected favorite… possibly my favorite dish I had all day. This cream cheese-filled pastry is topped with a guava drizzle. It’s sweet, but the cream cheese gives it a nice tanginess. It gets better the more I eat it, as flavors develop. This treat is part of the Islands of the Caribbean pavilion, a new booth for 2016. It’s a cute area tucked to the side of the entrance of World Showcase filled with calypso music and bright buildings.

Canada

14520439_10207235705943533_9220889310091230129_n1

Canada’s cheddar cheese soup is a staple every year. It’s also included in the Food and Wine 2015 cookbook, and my mom made it for Thanksgiving last year. Though I don’t eat bacon (I know – who am I?), I usually will indulge in this soup because you can’t really taste the bacon. This year it was suuuuper bacon-y, so I only ate a few bites. My mom’s version is vegetarian, though, and I hope she makes it again. This soup is a favorite for most bacon-eating normal people.

China

img_5050

The pepper shrimp with garlic noodles is a fairly large portion packed with flavor. I added a little Sriracha to my plate, mostly because if I see Sriracha, I can’t forget about it. This was one of my favorites.

Brazil

img_5041

Pão de Queijo is Brazilian cheese bread; it tastes slightly doughy and undercooked on purpose. I loved this gooey bread, and you get two rolls! They do a good job keeping the bread warm, too. It was cool to have Brazilian food after the Olympics were recently there.

Greenhouse Guru

img_5044

Greenhouse Guru is located next to the Chew Collective in Future World. The area itself is cool; it’s filled with facts on greenhouses, tomato plants and unique seating. This heirloom tomato salad with balsamic and goat cheese was delicious. It was nice to have a fresh break from several heavy foods, too.

Morocco

img_5037

The hummus fries have become a social media favorite this year, and my husband loved them. Though I love hummus and most Mediterranean food, I was not a big fan. They are a different texture, for sure. The flavors are good (except for the diced cucumbers — bleh), but I couldn’t get past the texture. If you like these, there’s good news. Spice Road Table, the sit-down restaurant in Morocco, offers a version of these guys all year round. Maybe I’ll give them another shot there.

Italy

img_5031

Holy chicky chicky parm parm! This chicken parm was cheesy and packed with flavor. The chicken itself was cooked well, too. You also get a pretty large portion of this, especially of the chicken.

Mexico

img_4954

The taco de camarón is a version of a similar dish you can enjoy at La Hacienda de San Angel, the sit-down restaurant in Mexico on the water (not inside the Aztec building). It’s one of my favorite entrees in all of Walt Disney World, so I always enjoy snagging a mini version during Food and Wine. Fried shrimp, red cabbage, cilantro and spicy mayo atop a flour tortilla provide a spicy, creamy and crunchy dish.

Australia

img_5075

This lamb chop with mint pesto and tomato crunchies was packed with flavor, but it did include two of my favorite things: lamb and pesto. The pesto was not super minty, and the potato crunchies add a nice element. The lamb was cooked about medium/medium well. I wouldn’t have minded it closer to medium well, but it still had a great texture and flavor.

Ireland

img_5407

This is a terrible, terrible photo of a delicious dessert. The warm chocolate pudding with Irish cream was rich, warm, gooey and sweet. It was like an amped-up, high-brow version of a molten chocolate cake.

 

 

Advertisements

As the year closes, I’m looking back at some of my favorite theme park memories of 2015. One of the best parts of the year was traveling to Epcot for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I had not been to this festival in over ten years, and my husband has never been. All the food was so delicious, and there was a great variety. I’m a fairly picky eater (I don’t eat beef or pork), but I found something at nearly every stand. Vegetarian, vegan and allergy friendly options also abounded.

12191003_10205091180851746_2101884068385656413_n

I began my feast with a cheese plate from Ireland. It’s impossible to go wrong with cheese in my book. Check out the festival passport! You received a stamp for every country you got food from.

12196326_10205091180371734_7107232249510184465_n

The chicken sausage with peppers, onions and polenta and cheese soup from Canada were amazing. I later found out the soup had bacon in it, which I do not eat, but I really didn’t care. It was that good.

11205569_10205091180611740_4702786050436321619_n

The yummy cheese soup again. My mom made this soup (minus the bacon) for Christmas. She got the recipe from the Epcot cookbook I bought her!

12193489_10205091180011725_1993638643811243447_n
I took a break from the heavy options with a Greek salad at the Greek booth, of course!

11221336_10205091233293057_8871309622819890359_n

The shrimp tacos in Mexico featured a spicy creamy sauce and pickled red onion. Yum!

12187844_10205091233093052_645859616684032145_n
The buttered chicken in African, served over naan bread, was very flavorful. The cilantro on top added a nice texture.

12190085_10205091231693017_4968997007169485813_n

This shrimp from Australia was spicy, and the veggies were crisp and delicious. I accidentally got some of the sauce in my eye while eating (how? I wish I knew) and had to rush to the bathroom to flush out my eye. All part of my glamorous life, folks.

11227871_10205091231973024_8824127855579747420_n
There was an entire area dedicated to CHEESE. This spot was made for me. My favorite is probably that lovely cheese triangle soaked in honey.
IMG_8399
The chicken dumplings in China were delicious and were served with a sweet and spicy sauce.
IMG_8387
I had to have a cannoli in Italy. It’s one of my favorite desserts, and this one did not disappoint!

In short, I came. I ate. I conquered. I did not eat breakfast or lunch on this day, and I probably should not have eaten dinner. I highly recommend visiting Epcot during this festival. Be sure to bring your appetite!

Photo Review: Chefs de France

As Epcot Food and Wine is well underway, let’s look back at one of World Showcase’s best restaurants, Chefs de France. Located in France, of course, this table service restaurant is one of my favorites. I highly recommend making reservations.

Service, like any Disney restaurant, was excellent. Our French waitress was knowledgeable and helpful.
Service, like any Disney restaurant, was excellent. Our French waitress was knowledgeable and helpful.
Unfortunately I don't have a picture of our cheese plate, but I highly recommend starting your meal with one.
Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of our cheese plate, but I highly recommend starting your meal with one.
We were near a window, so we were able to see some of Illuminations when it started.
We were near a window, so we were able to see some of Illuminations when it started.
This dish is one of the best meals I've ever had. This is the Gratin de Macaroni. It will change macaroni and cheese forever! It's incredibly filling; I wasn't able to finish.
This dish is one of the best meals I’ve ever had. This is the Gratin de Macaroni. It will change macaroni and cheese forever! It’s incredibly filling; I wasn’t able to finish.
I don't have a photo of Kent's meal, but he had the  Canard aux cerises (Duck Breast with Cherries) and loved it.
I don’t have a photo of Kent’s meal, but he had the Canard aux cerises (Duck Breast with Cherries) and loved it.
I couldn't wait to take a bite of my creme brulee before snapping a picture.
I couldn’t wait to take a bite of my creme brulee before snapping a picture.
Puff choux with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Kent ordered this, and I think I will next time. The creme brulee is good, but I prefer the pistachio creme brulee at Tony's in Magic Kingdom.
Puff choux with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Kent ordered this, and I think I will next time. The creme brulee is good, but I prefer the pistachio creme brulee at Tony’s in Magic Kingdom.
Yum!
Yum!

Disney’s Backstage Magic Tour: Review

Have you ever wanted to uncover the secrets behind Disney magic? The Backstage Magic tour at Walt Disney World allows guests to do just that. I went on the tour during my last trip to WDW in June 2015.

You will receive a name tag similar to this at the start of your tour.
You will receive a name tag similar to this at the start of your tour.

Is the Backstage Magic tour for everyone? No. Is it perfect for the Disney parks obsessed? Absolutely. Bear in mind that this tour is seven hours long. I would not book this tour on a vacation unless I had at least five full days at the parks. You have to be at least 16 years old to experience the tour, and I think it’s perfect for anyone age 16 and up as long as a passion for the parks exists.

Tour Highlights:

  • Creative Costuming at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where Disney parks costumes are created
  • Central Shops, the storage and building area for ride vehicles, audio-animatronics, and more
  • Backstage at The American Adventure
  • The Utilidor, the underground means of transportation at the Magic Kingdom

Tour Low-points:

  • Animal Kingdom
  • Backstage at the Tower of Terror

Where do you go on the Backstage Magic tour?

You visit all four parks, plus a few extra locations. Below the locations are listed in order of the tour.

Epcot

11036950_10204386657879112_1618479537322692078_n

This is where you meet for the tour. Here your bus will take you to backstage Epcot, where you will learn that things are much closer backstage to make work easier for cast members. For example, Test Track and Mexico are next-door neighbors backstage. It takes a good 15 minutes to walk between these locations when you are on stage (in the park as a guest).

The highlight of the Epcot visit is going behind-the-scenes at The American Adventure, the audio-animatronics show at World Showcases’ America pavilion. The different scenes of the show are set up like a conveyer belt, sending the next scene up to the stage from down below. You also get to touch an audio-animatronic figure’s head!

After visiting The American Adventure, you’ll discuss forced perspective, a technique used throughout the Disney parks, which makes guests think something is bigger or smaller than it actually is by use of clever architecture. Want to experience forced perspective for yourself? Next time you visit the America pavilion, ask a friend to walk up to the doors of The American Adventure while you stand near the fountain. The door should shrink as your friend gets closer, but it doesn’t. That’s because this colonial, two-story structure is actually three stories due to the need for extra space. However, there were no three-story buildings during the colonial period, so Imagineers had to get creative with window and door sizes.

Walt Disney World Nursery & Tree Farm

1923475_1031278334793_3293_nYou know those beautiful topiaries you see throughout the parks? This is where they are constructed. You will probably see horticultural cast members at work while you visit, stuffing a topiary frame with moss or clipping away unnecessary leaves on a new figure. They also house topiaries that are not currently in use here. Since the Flower and Garden festival had just ended when I visited, we were able to see a lot of those figures. This part of the tour is especially fun for those who like to garden.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

1619503_10204390594977537_7612975963998825587_nAs mentioned above, this was a low point of the tour. You drive in through the backstage area, where you can see some of the animal containment areas, but you can also see these during the train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. We were able to ask a few questions about Avatar Land, which is currently under construction, and Rivers of Light, the new nighttime show for Animal Kingdom. Rivers of Light will be similar to World of Color at Disney’s California Adventure and will feature some beautiful Tibetan-inspired costumes for the dancers (we saw one at Creative Costuming). We didn’t learn much about Avatar Land that we didn’t already know, but when you visit Animal Kingdom right now, you can tell that it’s going to be huge.

At Animal Kingdom, you meet a Wild Africa Trek guide and learn a little about his or her background. If you want to truly go behind the scenes at Animal Kingdom, you have to book the Wild Africa Trek tour. I have yet to experience it, but I hope to soon.

That’s it for Animal Kingdom. I understand that the tour has to pack a lot of experiences in only seven hours, but adding a more special backstage experience to Animal Kingdom would really help.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

10171219_10204386447633856_7258115123146374497_nMy favorite and one of my least favorite parts of the tour happened here. I fell in love with Creative Costuming, and I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the backstage area of Tower of Terror.

If you’ve ever been on the now defunct Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you may remember seeing Creative Costuming. Designers design and seamstresses create Disney parks costumes here, including costumes for Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line. They create the character costumes; for example, I saw Sadness from Inside Out and Olaf in the midst of creation. They create costumes for the parades and shows; we saw a few for Beauty and the Beast in the works and the Tibetan costume for Rivers of Light. Creative Costuming is decorated with design sketches and photos, making it a prettier backstage area than most. As a fashion enthusiast and an amateur on a sewing machine, this was my absolute favorite part of the tour. We also saw someone from Marvel who was waiting to meet with someone at Creative Costuming. Right now, the Marvel characters only appear at Disneyland and on Disney Cruise Line due a deal with Universal Studios. But, we learned, this could be changing as Universal may change their Marvel area to Transformers. Just a rumor, but you never know.

My favorite attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is Tower of Terror, so I was excited to see it behind-the-scenes. You get to see one of the ride vehicles and learn how it operates, but that’s it. I thought we would get to see more inside the actual building, so I was disappointed.

Lunch – The Whispering Canyon Cafe

Disney.com
Disney.com

Lunch is included with your tour at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. It was my first time there, and it’s an experience. The wait staff is rude in order to become the characters they play, and it’s hilarious. As part of the tour, you share an all-you-can-eat barbecue platter with beef, pork and chicken options, as well as cornbread, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Your dinner ends with cobbler; ours was blueberry. If you are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, be sure to tell your tour guide at the beginning of the day (they’ll ask), and accommodations will be made for you.

I’m not a huge barbecue person, so I probably will not go back to Whispering Canyon. My husband, who has a huge appetite, enjoyed it thoroughly.

Central Shops

This was my second favorite part of the tour. Central Shops, warehouses and design shops near the Magic Kingdom, create, repair, and store ride vehicles, audio-animatronics, and more. You’ll see some old favorites here, like the polar bear from Maelstrom and Bonnie Appetite from Kitchen Kabaret. In the paint shop, all the colors are created especially for each attraction. Mickey’s shorts aren’t just red; they’re Mickey’s Red Shorts red. Nearby Central Shops, you’ll spot the transportation hub, the service area for the Monorail and other Disney transportation. They even have an entire warehouse devoted to storing their Christmas decorations. I wish we could have gone in there.

Magic Kingdom

Disney.com
Disney.com

You end the tour where the Florida project started at the Magic Kingdom. Your tour guides will point out the offices above Main Street, U.S.A., including the Magic Kingdom’s president’s office. Here you also get to visit the underground utilidor, the means of delivery and transportation throughout the Magic Kingdom. Remember, the utilidor and all other backstage areas are not decorated. This can be shocking when you’re used to the well-themed areas of onstage Disney. You’ll see maps on the walls directing you throughout the utilidor as well as cast member services.

After visiting the utilidor, you will end the day with the parade. I am not a big parade fan, but Magic Kingdom’s Festival of Fantasy is worth it. I wouldn’t use a FastPass for it — the floats are huge and easy to see — but I would make time to watch it once.

Some final points about the tour:

Disney.com
Disney.com

Cost: $249 (includes lunch)

Does it include park admission? No. You will be taken to the Epcot bus loading area when the tour is over. You cannot sneakily stay in the Magic Kingdom following the tour.

Length: 7 hours

How many people are on the tour? There were about 20-25 people on our tour.

Attire: You have to wear closed-toed shoes on this tour for safety purposes backstage. There are no exceptions.

How many tour guides are there? Two. You will be broken up into two groups during parts of the tour. Listening devices make it easy to here your guides when you aren’t close to them.

What about snacks? Bottled water is provided on the tour. If you want a snack, you’ll have to bring it with you. I brought a protein bar along with me.

Pick up and drop off? The tour starts and begins outside the entrance to Epcot.

How do I book it? Call 407-WDW-TOUR. You typically need to book these tours far in advance because they are not usually offered every day.

Can I take pictures? Photography is strictly forbidden in backstage areas. You can take pictures when you are on stage.

Bathroom breaks? You’ll have several opportunities to visit the restroom on the tour. There’s also a restroom on your bus.

Synopsis: If you are Disney Parks obsessed like me and you have at least five full days at the parks during your vacation, this tour is for you. This is not for first-time Disney guests or for people who are not interested in traveling backstage. Remember, the backstage areas are not usually decorated, so it can be a little jarring. However, going behind the scenes made me appreciate the park more. It did not spoil the magic.

Why you should purchase a Memory Maker at Walt Disney World: Review

Throwing out $169 for pictures may seem like a high price to pay, but purchasing Disney’s Memory Maker (advance purchase price: $169; regular price: $199) is worth it.

What do you get?

1. All photos taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers

11169938_10204386439033641_4243657927817853037_nThis means everywhere you see a Disney PhotoPass photographer, usually wearing a khaki vest and holding a Nikon camera, is up for grabs. When I first used the MemoryMaker in 2014, PhotoPass photographers were usually at the front of the park (near each park’s landmark) and at character meet and greets. When I visited in 2015, I noticed that PhotoPass photographers seem to be in more locations and in those locations for longer periods of time.

Where can I find PhotoPass photographers (usually)?

Magic Kingdom:

  • Main Street, U.S.A. — Leading up to the castle and near the founder’s statue
  • Liberty Square — Side view of castle
  • Tomorrowland Entrance — Side view of castle
  • Frontierland — Exiting Big Thunder Mountain
  • Fantasyland — Near Ariel’s castle

Epcot:

  • Spaceship Earth
  • Fountains at FutureWorld
  • France — Fountains
  • France — Eiffel Tower view

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Park Entrance — Great Movie Ride in the background
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios Archway — near the entrance to Voyage of the Little Mermaid
  • Tower of Terror

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • Ticket Kiosks — Before entering the park, many like to snap a picture under the Disney’s Animal Kingdom sign
  • Tree of Life — Various angles
  • Expedition Everest

2. All photos from character meet and greets

10603785_10204386453233996_828113591478815383_nNot only do PhotoPass photographers snap posed pictures at character meet and greets, but they also capture candid shots. These candid shots can be difficult to capture if you don’t have someone else in your party dedicated to snapping pictures.

11181213_10204386274189520_3606817736356252130_nCandid shots are usually my favorites (above). If you don’t have someone in your party taking pictures for you, the blueberry (a term used for Disney character handlers in blue shirts) will take a picture for you. Usually, they do a great job. I’ve also had blueberries take completely out-of-focus pictures that may or may not contain the subjects (ahem…Darth Vader meet and greet last year…ahem). Using the photos from the Disney PhotoPass photographer guarantees the photos will be high-quality shots.

3. All ride photos

11112295_10204386435913563_9037740285948348139_nYes, you will receive every photo from every ride you venture on that takes your picture. Every ride does not take your picture, but many popular attractions do. If you link your MemoryMaker to your Disney MagicBand, then you don’t have to visit the photo kiosk following the ride. Your MagicBand already knows you were on the ride! It’s fun, convenient, and a little creepy.

Rides that take your picture:

Space Mountain
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Seven Dwarves Mine Train (you can’t view these photos following the ride, but they show up on your MemoryMaker…as does a video)
Splash Mountain
Tower of Terror
Rockin’ Rollercoaster
Expedition Everest
Dinosaur
Spaceship Earth (doesn’t show up on your MemoryMaker, but you can email this photo for free)
TestTrack

Did I miss any?

4. Photos with a bit of magic

1467248_10204386484674782_6579620180324435906_nSome of your photos will have some fun effects treated with Disney magic. You don’t know what the effect will be until you look at your photos!

With the MemoryMaker, you get all of your photos digitally for one price. After your trip, you will have about a month to download your photos. You can download the photos once, but you can make as many copies as you would like for your party. One traveling party only needs one MemoryMaker!

If you’re tired of asking strangers to take your picture, it’s time to get MemoryMaker. My husband HATES having pictures made, but knowing that pictures were quick and easy with a PhotoPass photographer made them WAY more manageable. Plus, he liked getting the ride pictures.