10 tips for enjoying Epcot Food & Wine Festival — the world’s largest!



Are you ready for a bacchanal of deliciousness?

An explosion of calories?

An experience that will leave you sweaty, dizzy and 5 pounds fatter?

Then it’s time to drive to Disney World and experience the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, the massive global feast that really has to be tasted to be believed.

I must confess, before I visited the fest for the first time a few years ago, I thought it was not my cup of tea. Or even my cup of Two Henrys Blueberry Vanilla American Wheat Ale — one of the hundreds of beers and ciders offered here.

I figured, who can really enjoy delicate new flavors and fine wines when you’re 50-people deep in a line and it’s 95 degrees outside?

Then I tried it. Specifically, I tried two incredibly tender cubes of cabernet-savignon-braised beef short ribs at the France marketplace.

My addiction for this Boeuf Bourguignon — one of the fest’s most popular dishes — keeps me coming back to France each year. (The dish is also served all year at the Chefs de France restaurant in France.)

Here’s my strategy for sipping and strolling without wilting at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.

The festival, a record 62 days this year, runs through Nov. 14.

1. Go on a weekday and wait until it’s cooler.

Why? You’ll escape Epcot’s two big enemies of fun: Scorching hot weather and wall-to-wall crowds.

Do you really want to discover the new, cognac-laced French onion soup in France when it’s 100 degrees outside?

Sure, you can cool yourself down with a strawberry frozen daiquiri ice pop made with rum from Martinique, a French island.

But if you like soup, schedule a visit in November.

Two of my favorite foods at the fest are the cheddar cheese soup in Canada and the French onion soup with Gruyere cheese and cognac in France.

This is a new twist on France’s classic French onion soup developed by Jerome Bocuse, the famous chef (and son of Paul Bocuse, namesake of Monsieur Paul’s restaurant in France). There’s such a spectacular cognac kick, you have to be over 21 to try it.

The three food experiences offered in the France marketplace — the Boeuf Bourguignon, the onion soup with cognac and the “Croissant aux Escargots” (a croissant stuffed with escargot, garlic and parsley) — make a full meal.

2. Stay at an Epcot resort.

There’s nothing cheap about going to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, so just splurge and stay at one of the hotels rimming the boardwalk, just a 10-minute walk away from the back entrance to Epcot. (The Swan and Dolphin are the most affordable Epcot resorts and often have Florida resident specials.)

If you do this, you enter through the World Showcase area of Epcot, which makes it easy for you to experience my favorite new thing: Breakfast at France’s bakery at 9 a.m., before the World Showcase opens at 11 a.m.

You almost have the whole place to yourself, and it’s wonderful.

3. Stop at Festival Center first to get your “festival passport.”

The passport is your guide to all the food and drink at the 30-plus marketplaces around Epcot. It comes with stickers, so you can mark your passport when you’ve dined at each marketplace.

Festival Center is in Future World, near the Epcot ball.

While you’re at the center, try this: Free samples of chocolate at Ghirardelli … or a cup of gourmet drinking chocolate. The drinking chocolate — basically, a shot of really rich chocolate syrup — is one of the most popular, most decadent tastes at the festival. Also, try one of the wine sampling stations. For $5 or $8 (depending on the wine), you can get a 3-ounce pour.

Because of lines, I suggest getting two or three pours at a time — that’s plenty of wine, and you can relax with it, enjoy the surroundings and plot your day instead of spending all your time in line.

4. Try new things … obsessions may follow.

My two obsessions this year involve peanuts.

Say this aloud: “Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Mousse with a Caramel Drizzle.”

Now, try to imagine the most luscious, creamy mix of peanut-buttery deliciousness — plus the crunch of peanuts.

This new dish, at The Chew Collective, spoiled me for all others … until I went to France, and Eric Weistroffer, who directs the food and beverage for France, handed me a taste of his brand-new ice cream, “Candied Peanuts with Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge.”

This is crack in a cup. It is so good.

Like most French children, Eric grew up with a favorite sweet called “French burnt nuts” — basically, almonds with a red, crunchy candy coating.

His chefs mixed candied peanuts into a vanilla ice cream with chocolate peanut butter fudge. Each spoonful features a delicious sweetness and peanut crunch — a little like a Heath bar, a Reese’s cup and peanut M&Ms mashed together with cream.

5. Focus on one or two marketplaces to try all the dishes there and devour knowledge.

This year, France was my key destination — because of my Boeuf Bourguignon obsession, plus the fact that this marketplace turned me on to St-Germain elderflower liqueur a few years ago.

To taste how refreshing it is, try the St-Germain Sparking Kir — sparkling wine with the elderflower liqueur — at France marketplace.

6. Sign up for a special experience.

The most delightful things at the fest are the premium experiences — though they can be pricey.

These are special events — inside, in the air conditioning! — with experts who cook for you and share their knowledge.

Here’s one experience worth every penny of the $95: The French Family Meal Traditions dinner, where world-class French chefs prepare their favorite childhood meals for you and serve you in Le Creuset cast iron pots, just like their Mamans did.

Paired with the perfect wines and the chefs’ personal memories, the three-and-a-half-hour experience is more than a meal.

This is one of hundreds of special events at the festival, and they sell out quickly. Go to disneyworld.disney.go.com or call 407-939-3378 to make reservations.

7. Find peaceful spots amid the chaos.

Although I love the fest, I hate sweaty throngs, so I’m constantly trying to find places to get away from people and still enjoy the experience. When I stay at an Epcot resort, I always leave Epcot in the middle of the day to rest and recharge.

When I stay all day at the park, I hide away at peaceful, cool spots.

I often sit in the shade at outside tables in Italy or in the courtyard by the ice-cream parlor, L’artisan des Glaces, in France.

Or, I watch the “American Adventure” in the America pavilion. It’s a half-hour of history and patriotism in a cool theater that is almost never crowded.

If you have a Chase credit card, you can relax in the Chase lounge next to the American Adventure.

8. Sparkle!

My favorite new refresher is the Limoncello Spritzer in Italy. The mix of Limoncello, prosecco and berries is delightful — and the liquor line in front of Italy is one of the shortest and fastest.

9. Try Kurt and Goldie’s wine — and “only in Florida” wine.

Did you know actor Kurt Russell had his own wines? His GoGi “Goldie” Chardonnay and his GoGi “Tiger” Pinot Noir are among the eight wines offered at the new “Wine and Dine Studio,” an inviting nook between Future World and the World Showcase. Pair your sips with a “trio of artisan cheeses” in a tiny tray.

A new discovery for me this year: Sparkling pineapple wine and Mango Mamma wine from Florida Orange Groves Winery in St. Petersburg. The family-run winery makes citrus, tropical and berry wines from fermented fresh fruit. (Go to floridawine.com for more tastes and tours.)

10. Get a fast pass to Soarin’.

Have you been on the new Soarin’ ride yet? This is the best ride at Epcot — you sit in a hang-glider and “fly” like a bird across the globe, swooping down to almost touch the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Monument Valley, a castle in Germany, Sydney harbor and more.

You feel the breeze, smell the smells — it is exhilarating.

This is a new reincarnation of the ride, which used to feature California landscapes.

Double your buzz by sipping a drink from one of the global destinations first.

Kung Fu Punch with Smirnoff Vodka and Bols Triple Sec, anyone?

It’s available in China. Drink two, and you could tumble off a great wall.



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