New this year at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is the Festival Tasting Sampler package, which includes:
-- 8 entitlements for food or beverage of your choice (with a few exceptions) at the Food and Wine Festival International Marketplaces.
-- priority seating at the 6:45 p.m. Eat to the Beat concert at America Gardens Theatre on the day for which the package is purchased.
-- a limited release 20th Anniversary Food and Wine pin that comes in three colors.
These packages cost $59 per person (total $62.85 including tax) and DO NOT include admission to Epcot.
Because this was a new offering, I wanted to be sure to try it out, so I purchased the package in advance on one of the first days it was available for sale back in late July. I was able to order it in the same way that I booked reservations for my other Food and Wine Festival events, by calling 407-WDW-FEST. At the time it was not available for purchase online, but I see that it is now. You can order the package just as you would book a Walt Disney World Dining reservation at disneyworld.com/dining.
Booking the package was the easy part. More difficult was obtaining the physical credential for the package on the day I wanted to use it, the first Saturday of the festival. Perhaps I should have known that the finer points of distributing the package wouldn't have been worked out by the event's second official day, which was a very busy Saturday to boot.
I headed to the Festival Center that morning, but when I got there, the question became WHERE in the Festival Center could I pick up the package? After asking four cast members and a lot of confusion, I discovered that I needed to go to the right of the Intermissions Cafe, to the shop tucked in the back, where cookbooks and artwork are on display. (After you enter the Festival Center, walk down the ramp to the right and at the bottom, make a hard right. That's the space I'm talking about.)
The lines at the registers seemed to stretch for miles, but then, amidst the confusion, I noticed yet another line of people, way off to the side. At the front of THAT line was a single cast member with an iPad and an armful of lanyards. I overheard her explaining the Sampler Package to the woman standing in front of her. At last, I had found where I needed to be.
While I waited in that cramped space, I realized that many, if not most, of the people in line in front of me had not even purchased the package yet. As they each took their turn with the cast member at the head of the line, she patiently explained the package to them, took their payment and then gave them their lanyard credential and pin. Eventually, another cast member came along and the line moved a little more quickly. Finally it was my turn. Because I had prepaid, my transaction was quick. I heard an abbreviated version of the cast member's spiel and signed the iPad with my finger to indicate I had received my credential and pin.
They say the pin comes in three colors, but I wasn't offered a choice -- this seemed to be the only color available.
Altogether, the pick-up experience took way longer than it should have, especially since I had paid for the package in advance. Seems to me things could have been expedited considerably if they had had a specific check-in line for those who already had paid.
Once I had the credential in hand, I took a minute to look it over. It was a rectangular plastic card on a lanyard with a soft, wide strap. Those of you who recall Disney's "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion from almost 10 years ago might notice that the credential resembles the "Dream Fastpass" randomly given out to visitors, allowing them Fastpass privileges on a number of attractions throughout a particular theme park.
Around two sides of the card were eight tabs (four on each side), perforated for easy removal. Each one of these tabs is good for one food or beverage item at the 30 or so International Marketplaces found around World Showcase and, for the first time this year, in Future World. (There are certain exceptions; I'll outline them below.)
Along the bottom of the card was another tab, marked with the day's date, to be used to gain entry into the 6:45 p.m. Eat to the Beat Concert at the America Gardens Theatre.
On the back of the card are chefs' suggested pairings of the various foods and beverages and at the bottom there are the terms, conditions, and exceptions that apply to the package. When they say fine print, they mean it. Even with glasses it was hard to read!
So what does it say? Well, it tells you a few important things.
-- The Eat to the Beat concert coupon can only be used at the 6:45 p.m. show on the day you bought the package for.
-- The food and beverage coupons, however, can be used any time from the day you buy the package to the end of the festival on November 16, 2015.
-- The coupons are nonrefundable and nontransferable, however.
-- The coupons are good for almost all of the food and beverage items at the International Marketplaces with the following exclusions: beers larger than 6 oz.; the tasting "flights," such as the wine flights and the beer flights; champagne; and the Artist's Palette, found at the Wine and Cheese Studio.
When you consider how many options that leaves you, that's really not bad, especially when you take into account that many of the more expensive alcoholic beverages are included. You can maximize the sampler's value by choosing some of the most expensive items at the marketplaces. If, for example, you were to use the coupons for the La Passion Martini Slush in France ($9.95), the lobster roll at Hops & Barley ($7.95), the Le Cellier filet in Canada ($7.50) and the tzatziki martini in Greece ($8.00), you've already "spent" more than $30 (half the package's cost)... and you still have four more coupons to use.
And, by the way, using the coupons is as easy as can be, and really expedites your time in line -- I think paying for your items using the credential is even easier than using the nifty little festival gift cards, or your MagicBand. You simply place your order, present your credential, and the cast member breaks off the coupon tab or tabs needed to "pay" for your purchase.
The final component of the package is the priority seating for the Eat to the Beat concert. This can really come in handy on a crazy weekend night, when the crowd levels are at their highest.
When you're given your credential, you're told to arrive at the America Gardens Theatre about 30 minutes prior to the 6:45 show.
The line is on the Japan side of the theater, right next to the line for folks with the special Eat to the Beat Dining package. It's clearly marked -- if you can see the sign in the midst of the crowds of people milling about! Present your credential as you enter the seating area, and the cast member will break off the bottom coupon.
Performing the night I was there was former American Idol David Cook. Coming up are even more familiar names, like Hanson, Boys II Men, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chaka Khan.
All in all, I really felt the Tasting Sampler was a worthwhile purchase -- essentially, you're pre-paying for your marketplace items, plus you get a nice collectible pin and special seating for the show thrown in for good measure. If they can iron out the kinks with the package pick-up process (and, who knows, maybe by now, two weeks into the festival, they have), then I would recommend it without any reservations.
They say that only a limited number of packages are available each day, although I'm not sure enough people know about this yet for it to be selling out. Still, if you want to give it a try, it might be worth the effort to book it in advance.
If you use the Tasting Sampler, or attend any of the Food and Wine Festival events, we urge you to visit our Rate and Review section and share your thoughts there, so you can help others plan their vacations!
And if you've already "tasted your way around the World," don't forget to take our poll and rate the foods and beverages you sampled.
The previous post in this blog was 2015 Food and Wine Festival Merchandise and Special Packages.
The next post in this blog is Hulk in Paradise.