Friday, October 19, 2012

Foodie Friday: Making the most of your time and budget at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Epcot's 17th Annual Food & Wine Festival is going on right now. While this is an extremely enjoyable and much anticipated event, it can also be tough on the budget; so here are a few hints to make the most of your time and budget. I have attended this event for many years and so far this year I've had the privilege of attending twice with first timers, so I hope I can offer some ideas and advice for both the veteran and newcomer to this special event. Here are my "Top Tips" for the Food & Wine Festival attendees.

1) Attend with a "Food Buddy". This is very important for a few reasons. First, it allows you to save on the cost by sharing your samples. Most dishes are sized for sharing with 2 people, but it may take a bit of planning. Secondly, it allows you to try more dishes since you won't get full as fast because you're not eating as much! Not every booth has a knife available, so pick one up at the first booth you can and keep it with you as you travel around the festival to make sharing easier. If you get a soup or something that doesn't look too "share-able", tell the cast member you are sharing and ask for another bowl or plate. Don't be afraid to try new or unfamiliar tastes or foods. On one of my visits my Food Buddy and I both tried things we otherwise wouldn't have because the other wanted to try them. We both ended up saying that those dishes were among our favorites!

2) Plan ahead. Decide what dishes you and your Food Buddy most want to try ahead of time and prioritize them. You can do this by researching the menus and prices online, or when you first get there by using the "Discovery Passport" you can pick up at the Festival Center and many other locations throughout Epcot. This will save you time and allow you to decide if you want to skip something because you're running out of time, budget or appetite and there's a higher priority item coming up.

3) Purchase a Food & Wine Festival gift card and load it with whatever amount you are comfortable spending on your journey around the Festival. If you have anything left over when you're done, you can spend it just like any Disney gift card anywhere on property. You will get a receipt after each purchase showing your remaining balance to help you keep track. You can choose to reload the card if you wish at most any cash register. Afterwards it becomes a souvenir or it can be used from year to year as the designs do change.

4) Bring a bottle of water into the park with you and then refill it at the water fountains. If you don't like the taste of the fountain water consider bringing something from home to add to it, such as a flavored powder or liquid.

5) Take advantage of the freebies. Yes, I said "FREE"! Everything from wine tastings (usually three times daily while supplies last) to samplings of everything from chocolate, ginger, vinegar, and mustard to butters. The Festival Center (located in the old "Wonders of Life" building) offers many free samples and demonstrations as well as seminars by HGTV celebrities each day. This is also where the Chase Lounge is located. If you have any type of Chase card, you and up to 9 guests can relax there with free soda, coffee or teas. (UPDATE for 2014: The Chase Lounge is located in the American pavilion in the World Showcase. They also have charging stations for your electronic devices here! Warning though if you have an Android device you should bring your own cord, all the cords last year were for apple products.) You can also get a wrist band for special seating at the (Free!) Eat to the Beat Concert Series and a reserved viewing area for Illuminations while supplies last. They also have a "charging station" for your phone and other devices.

6) If you have a little extra time and budget the Festival Center is also where the daily low cost ($15) wine/mixology seminars and culinary demonstrations take place. You can check at the desk in the Festival Center when you arrive at Epcot for same day availability or you can call or register online. (If it shows "sold out" online it's still worth checking for same day availability. I found same day availability for 2 seminars that showed "sold out" online while I was there.) The mixology seminar I went to was sponsored by Patron and we received 3 small mixed drinks for the $15.00 cost along with an entertaining talk by one of the owners of the company and a licensed mixologist. When you look at the price of the drinks at the kiosks at the Festival, this is a good value. At $15 the cost of the culinary demonstrations is also a good value. You get to see a chef (sometimes a Disney chef and sometimes a "celebrity" chef) prepare and discuss a dish or dishes and then sample it. If a demonstration is sold out but you really wanted to see it, you can still listen and watch from outside the seminar area, you just won't get to taste the final product.

Free ginger tasting seminar

7) So you want a souvenir, but you don't want to spend a lot for it. No problem. Your FREE Marketplace Discovery Passport is a great souvenir! You can pick one up at the Festival Center and many other locations throughout Epcot. As you go to each food location you can get it stamped and then check off what you sampled there! When you get home you can make your friends jealous as you show them all the wonderful food you sampled. Add a few pics from your digital camera of the various dishes you tried and maybe your used Food and Wine themed gift card and you have some instant scrapbook pages. (If you go to any of the seminars/tastings at the Festival Center you can ask to keep your tickets to add to your pages as well.) Another good option is the Festival cookbook at $16.95. It offers recipes from many of the different booths as well as some from the Party for the Senses and the Chef Demonstrations (which are from several of the table service restaurants).
Marketplace Discovery Passport

8) Stop at the Cranberry Bog between Future World and the World Showcase. It's something most of us don't ever get to see and there are samples of Craisins available.

9) If you can spread out your "food journey" over two days, you should do it. You will enjoy it more since you're not rushing. More importantly you will have more appetite for all the wonderful food; and you can go back for a "repeat" of a favorite.

10) Relax, have fun and most of all, this is the time to have an open mind and try new things! Whether it's introducing yourself or your children to new tastes and flavors or learning new things at a seminar, THIS is the time and place to do it!

I hope you find these ideas useful. Let me know how you make the most of your time and budget at the Food & Wine Festival!

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