Let’s just be honest here.. Epcot is Disney World for grown-ups.
When I was a kid, a trip to Epcot was almost as bad as a trip to the pediatrician. I much preferred the bewitchment of the Magic Kingdom and the retro streets of the park formerly known as MGM, even though I was too small for the best rides. Epcot was just “too boring” and “too educational” to have fun for my seven-year old self.
Nowadays, it’s a whole different ball game. Epcot provides the perfect balance between the chance to unleash my fearless inner child on a few thrilling rides (Test Track is my favorite!) and indulging in the semi-adult shenanigans of “drinking the world” around the countries in the World Showcase.
The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival kicks things up to even another notch throughout the World Showcase. On top of the eleven countries already permanently available year round, they’ve added over 20+ more. This past weekend was my second trip to the Epcot F+W Fest and I’m here to give you the good, the bad, & the ugly!
HOTEL: The Ritz Carlton Orlando – Grande Lakes
The Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon was happening on the same weekend as our visit, and hotels within the borders of Walt Disney World were sparse, so we looked outside of the park. Home-base for the weekend (2 nights) was the Ritz Carlton – Grande Lakes. The hotel is situated on an expansive lake about 15-20 minutes away from Disney World and is just gorgeous! Of course I had high expectations knowing the hotel was a Ritz Carlton, but my my breath was still hitched when we walked into the grandiose lobby. Our room was spacious with a foyer and large marble bathroom. Our view was upgraded at check-in (they mixed up our reservation, oops!) to a panoramic sweep of the lake and golf course.
- large room + bathroom with excellent lighting
- the view – not your typical “Orlando view” of other hotels and parking lots
- location – away from the hustle + bustle
- amenities available – spa, restaurants, pool, etc.
- complimentary bottled water
- The downstairs bar – Highball + Harvest
- on-site ticket concierge
- everything is pricey (but hey, isn’t everything in Disney pricey?)
- location (both lists, I know! – but it’s a drive, on the highway, to Disney)
- strange smell in the hallways
- minor housekeeping details – all the clocks in our room were set to different times (an hour ahead, 2 hours ahead) which made us wake up in a panic that we were super late one morning!
- the shuttle service was not what I expected so we had to drive to the parks (could only be used round-trip and has to be scheduled ahead of time – who knew?)
- not getting the benefits of staying inside the park (such as free magic bands and extra magic hours) BUT, you’re staying at a Ritz so who cares!
THE MAIN EVENT: The Epcot International Food + Wine Festival
Every year, typically in the fall, Epcot hosts the International Food + Wine Festival for roughly two months. On any given day, there are eleven countries permanently situated around Epcot’s World Showcase. During the festival, however, they add 20+ more countries into the global mix. Depending on the kiosk you visit, an array of small bites, desserts, cocktails, beer, and/or wine are available for purchase (ranging from about $4-8 per item). Each item is authentic to that country’s kiosk (such as ravioli alla caprese + Moretti beer in Italy). Even the person working at that station is from the country you’re “visiting!” A complete listing of the countries that were offered in this year’s festival can be found here (Disclaimer: may make you hungry!).
Lines, lines, lines! The F+W Fest was packed! But please learn from my mistakes and take note of this amazing tip: Don’t attempt the lines for the food kiosks until nighttime! Ride the rides or visit another Disney park during the day, and then head over to the World Showcase around 7pm for a marathon of goodness (and fireworks)! The lines were unbelievably shorter during this time. This lesson was learned the hard way and because of that, I only got to try a few of the countries that were offered. [Insert sad face here]. There’s always next year!
THE HITS: Items tried, photos, + my review
[Note: Apologizing in advance for the photos! Being on the run, in crazy crowds, and handling multiple food items at once lends itself to not-so-perfect photographs! Sadly, there were so many countries I was interested in trying but time and crowds did not permit! China, Mexico, and South Korea’s menus looked amazing!]
- Kefta pocket with ground seasoned beef in a pita pocket
- Spicy shrimp roll with cilantro and mint sauce
- Both were great, seasoned perfectly. The kefta was a little dry, but the flavor of the beef and crunch of the slaw on top surpassed the dryness. The shrimp roll was served egg-roll style, very portable and easy to eat.
- Crispy pork belly with black beans, tomato + cilantro
- Frozen Caipirinha featuring LeBlon Cachaça
- Wow! This was my absolute favorite, and the best thing I ate all weekend (and I eat a lot!). I love pork belly and am very critical of how it’s cooked. This delicious piece of meat was crisped on the outside and just shredded at the touch of my fork-oh yeah! The salsa and black bean bed underneath the pork belly was the perfect accompaniment. The frozen caipirinha was strong! Definitely got my money’s worth in Brazil!
- Vegetarian moussaka
- Chicken gyro with tzatziki sauce
- Tzatziki martini featuring Crop Organic Cucumber Vodka and BOLS Natural Yogurt Liqueur
Interesting and bold. I would choose the zesty gyro over the moussaka next time, just saying! The tzatziki martini was an unusual blend of flavors that worked surprisingly well together. However, after about halfway through, I was over it.
- “Le Cellier” wild mushroom beef filet mignon with truffle butter sauce
- Anything with truffle is a must and this was well worth the line! The filet was tender and the mushrooms were delicious with the sauce. Rumor has it that this is an all-time favorite of many F+W Fest goers.
THE MISSES: Items tried, photos, + my review
- Hops + Barley (America)
- Florida grass-fed beef slider with pimento cheese
- Beef was dry and the pimento cheese contents were overwhelming. It was also extremely messy!
- New Zealand
- Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney
- The chutney was tomato sauce-ish and a little wattery for my taste. There were pieces of garlic and fennel seeds that could’ve used a little more time under the knife on the cutting board. The overall flavor of the meat was good, however.
As you may have noticed, there was a big absence of beverages above. Not for lack of trying, I promise! I spent the morning doing several wine seminars at the F+W Festival Center, three in total (you try drinking the world after three wine seminars!). Note: there is a fee charged for each seminar and must be booked in advance. The day started with a wine and cheese pairing (drinking at 10am!), and then moved on to a Cline Vineyards and a Riesling tasting. My favorite was the wine and cheese- a glass of Pinot Noir and Riesling paired with four cheeses. If you were interested in doing any tastings/seminars, I would recommend this one. And they didn’t skimp! The glasses of wine were decently filled and they offered refills. A good way to start the day, the breakfast of champions!
The Epcot Food + Wine Fest is definitely an event I look forward to annually. If you have the chance to go, do it! Just take my advice and plan it right. Cheers!
Oh and one last thing, DO NOT FORGET THE FUNNEL CAKE! The kiosk is located in America and is a must for every Epcot trip! TRUST ME!