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Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Archives

September 22, 2016

One family's recommendations for 2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

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As my children -- ages 12 and 14 as of next week -- have gotten older, they have come to look forward to the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival almost as much as my husband and I do. So, as local Walt Disney World passholders, we plan several visits to the festival each fall.

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On Sunday, the kids and I had a few hours to make our way around World Showcase for dinner, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit during opening weekend. We knew we would not be able to try everything we desired, so we actually tried a strategy new to us – we didn’t have a strategy! We didn’t study the menus, and I had not been to any media previews this year so I did not have any insider insight. Instead, we did what many festival-goers do: We followed our stomachs from marketplace to marketplace.

For this culinary trip, my kids and I focused just on the food and not the specialty (and alcoholic) drinks. We’ll save those for the next lap around World Showcase when my husband is with us.

To begin our adventure, we purchased festival gift cards with wristbands at one of the festival kiosks that are located on either side of the planting bed that features Minnie Mouse in a hot air balloon. (The gift cards also are available in the Festival Center in Future World. You cannot purchase the cards in World Showcase, but you can reload money onto them at any festival marketplace.) Over the years, we have found these cards to be really useful for this event; it’s so much easier to swipe and eat than to have to dig out cash or credit cards at each marketplace.

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Plus, we allow the kids to wear the gift cards and pay for the food our family is sharing, which they like to do. We usually only add $50 at a time on each gift card to limit losses if a child misplaces the gift card. But Disney World has a system in place to help you recover lost gift cards, as well, so be sure to ask when you purchase yours. Also, know that if you have money left on your gift cards when you are finished eating and drinking, it can be used anywhere gift cards are accepted on Disney properties, and the cards do not expire.

We also grabbed a few of the complimentary Epcot International Food & Wine Festival passports. These pocket-size booklets have the menus for each marketplace, plus stickers for guests to keep track of when they have visited each country. This is different from past years when guests could collect stamps as they made their way around World Showcase. I’m not sure stickers hold the same cache because you’re not required to visit the country, but they certainly will cut down on lines. And kids will enjoy the process, either way.

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Gift cards on our wrists, we walked a few yards ahead to the Hawaii marketplace, the first on the right of the central walkway to the promenade. There, we each had what has become an annual favorite: The Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise.

Tip: Picky eaters and those with food restrictions should not be afraid to ask if a dish can be altered to suit their needs. I had the Kalua Pork Slider as is, but my son asked for the meat “naked,” and my daughter asked for the mayo on the meat and the chutney on the side. Cast members were happy to oblige. Usually, you will pay at the register and then ask the cast member who is serving the food if your request can be accommodated.

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Next, my son and daughter got a beef empanada from Patagonia to share. They both enjoyed it, and it was what you would expect – a tasty beef empanada. There was nothing unusual about it, and that was just fine. They were hungry and wanted a dish they knew they would like.

Tip: If you are looking for foods that children are likely to enjoy, kid-friendly items are marked with a symbol in the festival passport. The beef empanada is one example.

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After Patagonia, we all wanted to try something from the new marketplace, Islands of the Caribbean. We chose the Jamaican Beef Patty and the Quesito, a puff pastry with sweetened cream cheese and guava sauce. My son liked the beef patties – there are two in each serving – better than my daughter did because they were a little spicy. My daughter, who has a sweet tooth, enjoyed the quesito more. I liked both dishes.

Tip: Islands of the Caribbean is located in the feature spot and can be accessed from the promenade in front of the lagoon or from Imagination Walkway, which runs parallel to the central path on the right if you are facing World Showcase.

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Then, we hustled over to France, where the marketplace is again serving my daughter’s absolute favorite dish: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised short ribs with mashed potatoes. This flavorful dish is actually one that my whole family enjoys. Although we were tempted by the caramel and chocolate crème brulee, we skipped it in favor of sampling more hearty fare.

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Another must-do for our family is the Belgium marketplace, where you can get Belgian waffles, of course. They are served with either berry compote or warm chocolate ganache and whipped cream. Both versions are equally delightful, though younger kids may opt for the chocolate topping over the berries.

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Although we hated to bypass Morocco and Japan, my son had his eye on Italy, so we pressed forward around World Showcase. My pasta-loving boy initially was disappointed to see ravioli had been replaced on the menu with a baked ziti and chicken parmigiana dish, but he decided to give it a try. Both he and his sister enjoyed the dish and would recommend it to other kids. They also said they would go back for seconds.

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The Germany marketplace serves two kid-friendly dishes, and we usually do not skip the bratwurst in a hard roll, but the three of us were feeling full and we each had one more dish in mind to finish the evening. My son joined the line at the South Korea marketplace so he could try this year’s version of the Korean-style BBQ beef. It’s served with steamed rice and cucumber kimchi, which he didn’t care for, but he practically inhaled the BBQ beef.

Tip: If you’re like us and not sampling the specialty drinks or alcohol, bottles of water are available at most of the marketplaces. If you prefer a fountain drink, don’t pass by the Refreshment Cool Post or the Refreshment Port, which are on opposite sides of the promenade.

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For our final dish, my daughter and I wanted to hit up the Chocolate Studio in Future World West. We both wanted to revisit the Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel from last year. If you haven’t tried this dish, it is, of course, very cold, which is perfect for these still-hot Florida days. The texture is like a hard ice cream, and the combination is delicious!

At that point, it was time to head out because none of us could eat another bite. But we’ll be back -- the Epcot Food & Wine Festival runs through Nov. 14.

You can see complete menus (and pricing) for the Global Marketplaces on the AllEars.Net resource page.



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September 13, 2016

Tips for families at 2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

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The 2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begins tomorrow – and lasts a mouth-watering, record 62 days! My family and I look forward to this special event every fall. For years, my children, who are now a tween and teen, have enjoyed sampling the new foods and perennial favorites. We have learned a few tips and tricks over the years that we think will help other families maximize their time and increase their enjoyment of the festival. Here are our top suggestions:

** The day and time you visit the World Showcase promenade for the festival makes a huge difference in how your experience will play out. The best time to go is at 11 a.m. (when the majority of the food booths open) on weekdays to avoid crowds. However, that’s obviously not practical for families with kids in school. So, if you must go on the weekend, opt for Friday afternoons and evenings or Sunday mornings. The most crowded days by far at the festival are Saturdays, when many locals visit Walt Disney World.

** Another strategy for avoiding the thickest crowds is to start sampling foods and beverages farther around World Showcase, rather than at the front of the 1.2-mile loop. Take the Friendships Boats across the lagoon to either Germany or Morocco and begin your culinary tour at one of those countries. Bonus: Parents of young children know that even Disney transportation counts a ride in kids’ minds and is cause for excitement!

** If you plan to be at Epcot at park opening at 9 a.m., you can still enjoy several Food & Wine Festival activities, even though the majority of the marketplaces do not begin serving until 11 a.m. The Festival Center is located in Future World at the front of the park. There, families can walk through the Ghirardelli Chocolate display, which includes amazing sculptures made of chocolate; demonstrations of the process of turning the bean into a bar; and samples for each visitor. Guests also can see a short movie about the making of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, as well as shop for exclusive merchandise, visit a snack station, or attend a cooking demonstration in the air-conditioned center. In addition, on the other side of Future World, guests will find marketplaces -- The Chew Collective, the Wine & Dine Studio, Chocolate Studio and Greenhouse Guru -- which also open earlier than World Showcase.

** When you get to Epcot, purchase festival gift cards that include the wristband. If your children are old enough to trust, allow each to wear one of the gift cards. My kids always get a kick out of paying, and it’s easier for my husband and I, too. If you do not want your children handling the money, the wristlet gift cards are still a good idea for the adults because it means not having to dig through your purse or wallet to pay at each marketplace. Swipe and then eat!

** Get a festival passport – available at the Festival Center or each marketplace -- for each family member. There are stickers included to commemorate each marketplace you visit, and kids usually love to do this. The passport also lists all the menus, so you can keep track of what you have tried and make your Bucket List for the rest of the festival.

** Take a break to cool off and rest tired feet at the Chase Lounge inside the American Adventure. Chase Visa credit and debit cardholders can access this lounge by presenting their cards. Inside the third-floor lounge, guests can enjoy complimentary beverages and charging stations for devices. The last couple of years, cardholders also were offered wristbands for reserved seating at the Eat to the Beat concerts and Illuminations fireworks. My children were excited just to be allowed inside private rooms that typically are not open to the public.

** Walt Disney World is again offering its passholders a collectible glass for making multiple visits to the Food & Wine Festival. This year, it is a tumbler instead of a wine glass, and passholders do not have to have their passports stamped three times. Instead, the visits are recorded electronically with your MagicBand or RFID ticket. On the third visit, you simply go to Innoventions East with your band or pass card and a photo ID to collect your tumbler.

** Finally, Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game returns and takes family members on a scavenger hunt around World Showcase as the little chef collects ingredients for his signature dish. Maps and stickers for this interactive game can be purchased at several locations, and the price includes one of six new collectible pins that are rewarded when the map is redeemed before the end of the festival.

The 21st Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs through Nov. 14. Admission to the festival is included with regular admission (or annual passes) to Epcot.



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October 13, 2015

Tips for Remy's Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game at Epcot

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Fancy yourself a resourceful chef? Well, in this addition to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, you’ll have to hunt a lot harder for the ingredients to make this recipe a success than just going to your local supermarket.

New to this year’s festival is Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game, which has been designed for Walt Disney World guests of all ages to enjoy. This scavenger hunt takes participants around World Showcase in search of the ingredients needed to make Remy’s signature Ratatouille dish. At the end, there is a reward (beyond the personal satisfaction of finding each item)!

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To get started, you can purchase a packet that contains a map and 12 stickers at five locations in Epcot: Disney Traders, Festival Center, Pin Central, Port of Entry and World Traveler (International Gateway). The cost is $7.95 plus tax, but that includes your reward for playing. (It probably goes without saying, but you have to have park admission to play this game.)

My 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter tried the new Remy game for AllEars.Net recently and enjoyed it. As we approached each country, they immediately started looking for Remy and one of the ingredients pictured on a sticker. If your children are at all competitive, like mine, I would recommend having them take turns at each country to keep the game a friendly endeavor. Another suggestion to level the playing field is to buy as many map-and-sticker sets as you have participants, even if you only work with one, because there is only one prize per purchase.

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Ground rules in place, we found Remy’s hiding spots to be a good mix of easy and challenging, and that kept my children’s interest. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but suffice it to say that most of the Remy statues are not hidden deep inside each country’s pavilion, but rather somewhere toward the front or by the Food and Wine Festival kiosk. We began playing the game in the evening, but as we lost the sunlight, it became a lot harder to find the statues. So, keep that in mind, depending on the ages of your participants. Young children may become more easily frustrated playing at night in darker conditions. And if you plan to spend more than one day at Epcot, there is no reason you can’t resume the game another day.

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When you finish – or even if you don’t play at all – you are entitled to collect your reward: A choice of one of six Limited Release Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak pins that have the same images as some of the stickers for the game. The redemption location is Port of Entry, and you must return by Nov. 16 to collect your prize. If you prefer, you can collect your pin at the time of purchase. Parents may want to do this and just stash the pin until you finish the game.

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I asked my kids how this game compared to Disney Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure, another scavenger hunt at Epcot that opened about three years ago and is included with admission. Although many children, like my own, are naturally drawn to scavenger hunts, they both were emphatic that the Remy game was better because of the reward. So, perhaps another way to look at this experience is that you’re paying for a unique souvenir - and a Limited Release pin for $8 at Walt Disney World is a good deal -- and gaining some entertainment as a bonus.



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October 3, 2015

Tips for families at 2015 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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Many visitors consider fall the best time to visit Walt Disney World, and one of the main reasons is the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Who doesn’t like to eat, right? Some families with children may be deterred by the unusual foods, the crowds and the cost. All of those factors can be managed with a little forethought, however.

I am a planner, for sure, but when I go to the Food and Wine Festival, I don’t like having the entire day pre-planned. Instead, I like to know what my options are and have some alternate activities in case things don’t go as expected. Here are a few tips that have worked for my family through the years that I hope you will find helpful, as well.

1. The day and time you visit the World Showcase promenade makes a huge difference in how your experience will play out. The best time to go is on a weekday when the majority of the food booths open at 11 a.m. This is the least-crowded time, because locals tend to crowd the festival on weekends and evenings. If you cannot avoid a weekend visit to Epcot, then at least try to be in the park when the marketplaces start serving. And if you arrive sooner, you can check out the four kiosks that have expanded into Future World, which opens at 9 a.m.

2. Once you have chosen your festival day, use FastPass+ to book three attractions for the day. You don’t have to use them, but you just might be happy to take a break from eating and the Florida heat (or afternoon rain). For this reason, I would book FastPasses in the middle of the afternoon. And new to FastPass+ this year is the option to reserve a seat at an Eat to the Beat concert. Guests without sampler packages sometimes wait in line for hours, so if there is a performer you want to see, this could be a good solution for you.

3. When you get to Epcot, purchase festival gift cards that include the wristband. If your children are old enough to trust, allow each to wear one of the gift cards. My kids always get a kick out of paying, and it’s easier for my husband and I, too. If you do not want your children handling the money, the wristlet gift cards are still a good idea for the adults because it means not having to dig through your purse or wallet to pay at each marketplace. Swipe and then eat!

4. Get a festival passport for each family member. Each marketplace will stamp the passport (for free), and kids love collecting the ink. Plus, if you are a Walt Disney World passholder, you can get your passport stamped at Innoventions each day you visit the festival. On the third visit, cast members reward you with a collectible 20th anniversary wine glass.

5. Determine which direction you will start around World Showcase by looking at the menus in the festival passport. My family and I like to study the foods, and we choose the side that has the most things we are interested in right away because we usually only make it halfway around before we are full. As you are sampling the dishes, offer to share with other family members so you will not fill up as quickly, leaving more room to try other foods and drinks.

6. Everyone likes free stuff, right? Be on the lookout for giveaways, such as packets of Craisins by the Ocean Spray cranberry bog and Ghirardelli chocolate squares in the Bean to Bar display inside the Festival Center.

7. Speaking of the Festival Center, this is a great, air-conditioned place to take a break. There are exhibits and festival merchandise to peruse, a café for a bite to eat, low-cost demonstrations, and even a free movie screening about what it takes to prepare for the Food and Wine Festival.

8. Another place to cool off and rest tired feet is the Chase Lounge inside the American Adventure. Chase Visa credit and debit cardholders can access this lounge by presenting their cards. Inside the third-floor lounge, guests can enjoy complimentary beverages, a photo booth, animation sketch classes and charging stations for devices. My children were excited just to be allowed inside private rooms that typically are not open to the public.

9. Finally, the new Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak game takes family members on a scavenger hunt around World Showcase as the little chef collects ingredients for his signature dish. Maps and stickers for this interactive game can be purchased for $9.95 plus tax at Disney Traders, Festival Center, Pin Central, Port of Entry and World Traveler (International Gateway). Whether you choose to search for each ingredient or not, return your map to the redemption location at Port of Entry by November 16, 2015, to pick up a pin.

Remember that pacing yourself and taking breaks can make any day at a theme park more enjoyable, no matter what your age.



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October 1, 2015

Epcot Food and Wine Festival event lets you choose the perfect burger

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At a new premium event at this year’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, guests can help determine the best gourmet burger created by Disney chefs– after an evening of sampling, of course! The Rockin' Burger Block Party offers sliders that are inspired by recording artists who have left their mark on the beverage world, and those drinks are paired with the burgers. A DJ spins the musicians’ most popular tracks, adding to the evening’s upbeat atmosphere (and synergy).

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AllEars Editor Deb Koma and I were invited to cover the first of three Rockin’ Burger Block Parties this festival season on Sept. 25 for AllEars.Net. When we checked in at World Showplace for the two-hour party, and we were given wristbands and programs and offered glasses of champagne. There also was a fun backdrop for those who wanted to take photos while they waited.

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Inside the event space, we could clearly see the various admission options. Those who chose Nosh Pit seating for $199 (plus tax, including gratuity) were allowed early entry and guaranteed a private reserved table, a specialty cocktail toast, a premium bar and the closest seating to the stage in a sectioned off area. Reserved seating at $119 (plus tax, including gratuity) included a reserved table on the main floor, early entry and the cocktail toast. General admission at $99 (plus tax, including gratuity) does not guarantee a seat but does include all the food and beverage stations.

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When we entered the dining space at World Showplace, the stations were open and ready to begin serving the early arrivals at 6:45 p.m. As media guests, Deb and I first were part of a group interview with the party’s celebrity chef host, Andrew Zimmern, of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” and two related shows on the Travel Channel. You can see Deb’s interview in the highlights video below:

Then, Zimmern took the stage to address the partygoers. He explained that the hamburger in America is a food from Germany that we Americans adopted about 120 years ago. Although it has been called an American tradition for more than a century, the hamburger has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as a food trend in the last five or six years, he said.

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Partygoers who wanted to get started slowly could check out the Finger Foods Station, which included cheeseburger spring rolls, spicy sticky pig wings, vegetable pot stickers and lentil samosa. Most guests, however, seemed ready to dive into tasting the 14 different kinds of burgers. And even though the sliders and their side dishes are not huge portions, there is a lot of bread, so some of our friends used the strategy of splitting each slider in half to save room to sample all the varieties.

First up: Chef Carlos’ Smooth Burger (ground turkey and grape jelly burger with cheddar cheese, bacon and smooth peanut butter on a toasted bun) and Chef Tony’s Grouper Burger (grilled grouper patty topped with butter lettuce, vine-ripened romato and lime aiolo on a griddled bun). I enjoyed the combination of flavors on the Smooth Burger and would have gone back for seconds if there weren’t so many sliders to try! Deb did not care for the Grouper Burger, and I am not a huge fish eater, so I skipped it.

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Chef Carlos' Smooth Burger

These burgers were paired with Maestro Dobel Tequila; Ciroc Vodka (Moscow Mule, Red Berry and Pineapple); Florida Orange Groves Winery (White Sangria, Key Lime Wine and Blackberry Wine); and Red Stag by Jim Beam and EFFEN Vodka (All Summer Long Cooler and American Dream). The musical connection: Ciroc Vodka is promoted by Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, and Effen Vodka is repped by rapper 50 Cent.

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Chef Mikko's Bourbon Burger

The next grouping was Chef Mikko’s Bourbon Burger (Bourbon BBQ burger topped with cheddar cheese, fried onions and chipotle aioli on Parker House bun); Chef Marianne’s Sicilian Burger (pan-seared branzino patty topped with pecorino cheese, blood orange, raisin, onion jam and dried prosciutto on griddled bun); The Chew Burger (all beef sirloin, shortrib and brisket patty, cheddar cheese, carmelized onion mustard and sweet hot pickles on mayo toasted sesame bun); and Chef Jarrod’s Backwoods Burger (Grilled Cervena patty topped with Black Diamond cheddar, fried onions and juniper port wine ketchup on toasted bun). By far, my favorite burger in this group was Chef Mikko’s, although I also enjoyed The Chew burger, which had hints of the traditional burger toppings.

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The Chew Burger

These four burgers were paired with Jim Beam Bourbon (Devil’s Cut, Kentucky Fire and Apple varieties) and Sauza 901 Tequila, which is Justin Timberlake’s label. Who knew?!

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Chef Reynold's Chicago Burger

Traveling from the Midwest to the West Coast, we had Chef Reynold’s Chicago Burger (grass-fed beef patty topped with all-beef hot dog, relish and Hawaii cheese sauce on a poppyseed bun) and Chef Keith’s Cali Veggie Cheese Burger (Morningstar Farms bean burger topped with vegan cheese, marinated avocado and sriracha heirloom tomato ketchup on a vegan buttered bun). I’m not a huge fan of veggie burgers so I wasn’t tempted by Chef Keith’s creation. I did try the Chicago Burger but didn’t care for the slice of hot dog on the patty. Once I removed that, I enjoyed the burger more.

Also in the grouping was the Sweets Station, which featured cinnamon roll fireball bread pudding with cream cheese glaze, snickerdoodle crusted apple custard crisp and Vahlrona chocolate ganache brownie. All three were delicious, but quite a few people at our table were raving about the bread pudding, and I had to agree it was the best of the three offerings.

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The state burgers and sweets were paired with Margaritaville Brewing Co. (Landshark Lager); The Dreaming Tree wines (Everyday White Wine, Crush Red Blend and Chardonnay); assorted hot beverages; and Little Rocker Station (specialty non-alcoholic beverage). Jimmy Buffett is affiliated with the Landshark Lager from Margaritaville Brewing Co., of course. (It's made by Anheuser-Busch, but it's sold in his restaurants.) The Dreaming Tree wines are Dave Matthews' (of Dave Matthews Band) label. Deb had the "Crush" Red Blend and said it was a nice, full-bodied red – her favorite wine of the night.

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The next trio of burgers were Chef Judi’s Truck Stop Burger (mixed grill burger topped with fried egg, bacon grease fries and nacho cheese sauce on griddled bun); Chef Melissa’s Thai Shellfish Burger (shrimp and scallop burger topped with spicy thai slaw and cilantro lime mayo on sesame bun); and Chef Hanson Oklahoma Burger (grass-fed burger topped with BBQ pulled pork, cheddar cheese and onion fried on toasted Parker House bun). For me, and many other nearby diners, it was the Oklahoma burger, hands down, that got our vote from this group. Although the other sliders offered interesting combinations of flavors, Chef Hanson had the best toppings. Deb said the Oklahoma burger was in her Top 5 of the night.

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Chef Hanson Oklahoma Burger

This group was paired with Hanson Brothers Beer Company (Mmmhops Pale Ale) – no surprise there; The Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Seasonal and Rebel IPA brews); and Voli Vodka (International Love Cosmopolitan, Voli Black and Voli Mango Coconut). Hanson is, of course, famous for its single "Mmm Bop," so the play on words for the brothers’ beer refers to that song. Voli Vodka is promoted by singer Pitbull.

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Finally, the last of the burgers were Chef Nanor’s Middle-Eastern Burger (spiced lamb and feta cheese burger topped by pickled watermelon rind and Za’atar aioli on buttered bun); Chef Eggie’s Mallorcan Burger (coffee-crusted beef short burger topped with smoked gouda, garlic potato strings and sangria ketchup on medianoche roll); and Chef Dale’s Asian Cheese Burger (CVAP chicken duck burger topped with butterkase cheese, bulqogi braised pork belly and sweet Thai chili sauce on sesame bun). The Asian Cheese Burger was a crowd favorite, for sure.

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The last grouping was paired with Niche Import Co. (Hex vom Dasenstein Pinot Noir and Sweet Hex vom Dasenstein Pinot Noir); Casa Noble Tequila (Margarita and Casa Noble Reposado Tequila); and Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum (Mai Tai and Red Head Rum, also called Macademia Nut Rum). Deb said she did not recommend the Hex vom Dasenstein Pinot Noir. She tried the Maragarita and I tried the Mai Tai, and both mixed drinks were exactly what you would expect in terms of flavor. Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum is from Sammy Hagar, formerly of Van Halen.

At the end of the evening, guests were encouraged to vote for their favorite burgers by placing a guitar pick in a jar at the desired station. At our party, it was a tie between Chef Mikko’s Bourbon Burger and Chef Dale’s Asian Cheese Burger. The tie was broken by a vocal vote of the audience, when advocates of the Bourbon Burger outyelled fans of the Asian Burger. A trophy then was presented to Chef Mikko’s team. On our way out of the building, guests were given more of the guitar picks as souvenirs.

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There are two remaining Rockin' Burger Block Parties on Oct. 8 and Nov. 6. The cast of The Chew will host the event on Oct. 8, and "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro will be in the spotlight for the Nov. 6 party. Tickets can be purchased by calling 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for its Rockin’ Burger Block Party. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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September 29, 2015

Ocean Spray cranberry bog returns to 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

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Here’s berry good news! After a hiatus last year, Ocean Spray's popular cranberry bog is back at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival for the fourth year. If you've attended the festival, you've probably walked right past it on the central walkway leading to World Showcase.

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Cast members in waders stand knee-deep in the colorful bog, demonstrating how rakes are used to turn the fruit during wet harvesting. Cranberries actually grow on long vines in marshy areas, not underwater as some people might think. The night before the harvest, growers flood the area with up to 18 inches of water. Then, they use the rake-like tools to loosen the cranberries, and the fruit floats to the surface.

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So, what you're seeing at Epcot are the loose cranberries floating in water -- the final step of wet harvesting a crop. (Cranberries also can be picked dry, which is done with large machines that comb the berries off vines.) The festival schedule of September through November coincides with the annual harvest of cranberries in North America. Aside from being an interesting feature as part of the festival, the manmade bog at Epcot is a great visual way to demonstrate to kids how some of the food at the event is cultivated and harvested.

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On Saturday, during the opening weekend of the festival, Ocean Spray invited members of the media to step into the cranberry bog, which contains more than 1,500 pounds of fresh fruit. Deb Koma and I were among those in the water taking photos, posting on social media and using Periscope for interviews with fifth-generation cranberry growers.

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Although we were a bit nervous about keeping our smartphones from falling into the manmade bog, we didn’t worry about our clothing getting wet because the one-piece waders kept us completely dry. Ocean Spray even provided us with cute red knee socks to make the attached boots comfortable. (And the waders are sized according to the boots. Who doesn’t love that?!)

Here's an excerpt of our Periscope Broadcast:

Guests at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival can visit the Hops & Barley Marketplace through Nov. 16 to taste the carrot cake with Craisins (dried cranberries) and cream cheese icing. I sampled this dessert at the Ocean Spray reception and really liked it, even though I don’t usually enjoy carrot cake. At both the new Cheese Studio and the Wine Studio, guests can purchase La Bonne Vie goat cheese served with Craisin bread. Both the cake and the bread are vegetarian dishes. Across from the bog, visitors are invited to pick up a free sample of Craisins.

At Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, trick-or-treaters can collect Greek yogurt-covered Craisins at one treat station.

Ocean Spray is an agricultural cooperative owned by more than 700 growers, many of whom have been in the business for generations.



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November 4, 2014

Puerto Rican companies create flavors you experience at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

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If you live here in Orlando, you know that Puerto Rico has strong ties with Central Florida. Not only is there a sizeable population here that calls Puerto Rico its home island, but many restaurants in the region share the flavors of Puerto Rico, too.

This year, during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, locals and tourists alike have experienced the flavors of Puerto Rico at the commonwealth's marketplace pavilion presence at the festival.

And this past weekend I had the opportunity to learn a little more about two of the brands that are featured at the Puerto Rico marketplace at the event.

Of course, all good foods are made better by good drink. And there's a Puerto Rican company that's having an effect at Epcot.

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Gasolina Urban Blends are ready-to-drink adult cocktails that come in individual servings, much like juice pouches. The company's most popular flavor, Sangriiia, is being served at the Food & Wine Festival and has been so well-received that more than 100,000 glasses were sold in the first two weeks. It's made with premium Caribbean rum, Acai and other 100-percent natural fruit juices.

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Gasolina Sangriiia


I've tried the Sangriiia at multiple events and enjoyed it each time, so much so that I wondered if it can be purchased outside Puerto Rico, where it is manufactured. A Gasolina representative told me that liquor stores connected with Wal-Mart stores currently sell the products in Florida and the Northeast. Beginning in mid-November, however, Wal-Mart supermarkets will begin carrying the Gasolina products.

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Gasolina Original

This weekend, I also tasted the Gasolina Original, which contains premium Caribbean rum, Agave tequila and passion fruit and other juices. It, too, is a sweet, smooth drink. It has the highest alcohol content of the seven flavors at 11 percent. I also took a sip of the Mojito flavor, which is made with premium Caribbean rum and natural lemon juice. I tended to favor the sweeter drinks over one as sour as this one, but the Mojito is an acquired taste many enjoy today, so this flavor probably will be a popular one.

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Gasolina Mojito

Gasolina products complemented the food created by Mi Cosecha, a brand of the Greenpack company, at the event I attended. Mi Cosecha products are farm fresh fruits and vegetables that are peeled, cut and vacuum-sealed without preservatives. The company sells its products at retail chains, such as Wal-Mart and Costco; under a private label for a major fast-food chain in the United States; and through the Puerto Rico Department of Education's school lunch program.

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The Tostones (fried green plantains) at the Puerto Rico marketplace at Epcot are from Mi Cosecha. I've mentioned before that I have an affinity for Puerto Rican food because I lived on the island for three years when I was a child. So, I was happy to again sample the tostones at the party.

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Fried Tostones with Chipotle Mayo

We also were treated to many other dishes created with Mi Cosecha products. Take a look below:


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Cardamom Deep Fried Breadfruit Seasoned with Cured Ham Salt Topped with Garlic Atlantic Shrimp


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Deep Fried Taro (malanga) Balls Stuffed with Pork


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Mi Cosecha Malanga Chips with Pico de Gallo


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Chocolate Waffle with Vanilla Gelato and Papaya;
Puff Pastry filled with Sweet Papaya and Queso Fresco

If you really want to experience the flavors of Puerto Rico firsthand and do it surrounded with a touch of Disney magic, then don't forget: Disney Cruise Line recently announced that the Disney Wonder will be making return sailings to San Juan in 2016.

OK, so if that's a bit much for you, then consider this instead: You still can visit the Puerto Rico marketplace at the Epcot Food & Wine festival through Nov. 10.

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DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Mi Consecha and Gasolina Urban Blends. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.



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October 18, 2014

At Epcot, Chef Rick Bayless dishes on how to prepare authentic Mexican food

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Once again, Epcot Food & Wine Festival guests had a unique opportunity to explore culinary flavors and topics beyond the norm with one of the most proficient chefs of the day.

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Most people know Chef Rick Bayless as the winner of Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" but his name also is synonymous with authentic Mexican cuisine north of the border and has been for quite some time. His highly rated PBS series, "Mexico - One Plate at a Time," is in its ninth season, he has published eight cookbooks, and he has three top restaurant concepts in Chicago.

The casual Frontera Grill was founded in 1987 and received the James Beard Foundation's highest award, Outstanding Restaurant, in 2007. The 4-star Topolobampo served its first meals in 1991. And the very popular, fast-casual Xoco has been around since 2009, serving wood-oven tortas, steaming caldos, golden churros and bean-to-cup Mexican hot chocolate. Bayless' quick-service Tortas Frontera have changed the face of food service at O'Hare International Airport, while Frontera Fresco has brought Frontera flavors to several Macy's stores and Northwestern University. His award-winning Frontera line of salsas, cooking sauces and organic chips can be found coast to coast.

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Bayless was a guest chef Friday during the Food For Thought series at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World. He has been a frequent speaker over the years at the festival. This year, he spoke about his start in the culinary arts while preparing various foods and offering cooking -- and eating -- tips to the audience.

How did you get started on this Mexico path?

I always loved food -- not just cooking it, but serving it, gathering around the table. My grandmother was hugely inspirational in my family about that. " She taught me the most important lesson I could possibly ever learn about cooking and that is you bring a lot more than just a dish to the table. " She was the one who taught me how to create a community around the table. That's why I say the profession of being a chef is one of the most noble you can have.

When I was 14, I was taking a Spanish class and I got super interested in the culture of Mexico " So, I planned a family vacation to Mexico. " My family had never been out of the country. We arrived in Mexico City at 9 at night and that's the time people are starting to go out to dinner " There is so much life there. There were balloon vendors, there were street vendors and I could hear them from the hotel. There were ladies roasting walnuts and you could smell it up into the room. There was so much vitality -- the joy of life -- coming out of that park. I felt like I had come home, and I continued to go back to Mexico every year and I continued Latin American studies in college. I decide to go to graduate school in anthropology and linguistics.

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Chicken Tinga Tostada with Avocado and Cheese


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Grilled Corn and Poblano Guacamole

Rules for street food anywhere in the world

A lot of times when people travel to Mexico, they don't know if they should eat in the marketplaces. I think those are the best places to eat because you can see everything -- how the food is held, how the food is prepared, everything about it. You go into a fancy restaurant and the dining room may look really pretty but you don't see the kitchen, so you have no idea what is going on.

1. Eat food that is well-done, well-cooked. That simmering pot of whatever is going to most likely be the best bet.

2. If they put fresh, raw garnishes on it, I usually say no. If I'm only going to be there for a short period of time, I skip that part of it. The only exception that I make -- and this may surprise some of you -- is salsa that contains chiles, cilantro, salt and acid. Cilantro is the thing in the plant world that is the most anti-microbial " It will kill pretty much any germ. Salt, chiles and acid are preservatives so salsa is a pretty good risk if you're going to have something that is fresh and you want to get the flavor of what they're doing. Raw onion and raw lettuce, I usually say I'm going to skip that because I don't know how they washed it and all that sort of stuff.

3. Do I want to eat there? Does it look good? Is it well organized? Is it clean? Are they taking care of things? If I say yes to [those questions], then I ask, "Are there a lot of people there?" If yes, it's either really good or really cheap. Sometimes it's just cheap and I throw that one out. If it's the same price as everybody else, then I say, "Fine, I'll eat at that one because it must be good, and they're going to have a lot of turnover, so nothing sits around for a long time. [That's important because] with marketplace cooking, there's no refrigeration. Basically, you want something that's cooked and kept warm.

On getting good recipes

You can't go anywhere in the world and ask for a recipe. First of all, they may not know what you are talking about. A recipe is a fairly recent invention that would have exact quantities and steps. In the really old cookbooks in Mexico, they would list the ingredients and the assume you would know the quantities and how to balance them for your own taste, and then they would list the most basic of steps. These were essentially notes from my kitchen and I assumed you already knew how to make the dish. The really detailed recipe have only come in the last 50 years or so, as we have gotten further and further away from the kitchen.

So the only way I could work with street stall cooks was to let them know that I knew how to make that dish. My first question was never, "Oh, can you give me your recipe and show me how to make it?" It was "Do you put this combination of chiles in there like the person down the street or do you just do it with one chile?" And I would only ask that question after I consumed a whole portion of whatever it is they made.

How to make freshest guacamole

Pairing alcoholic beverages with Mexican cuisine

Bayless has entered a partnership with the popular Negra Modelo beer, a dark-style lager that contains a slow-roasted caramel malt and is a complement to many dishes that he prepares. On the company's website, NegraModeloUSA.com, the chef has contributed recipes for entrees, such as Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos With Salsa and Negra Modelo, that are prepared with the beer. There also are recipes for items that pair well with the beer, such as the Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars that I sampled at the Food for Thought tasting at Epcot's Food & Wine Festival. This particular dessert -- which is to die for -- has been served at Bayless' Frontera restaurant in Chicago since it opened in 1987.

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Equally as delicious in the fall is the Mexican Snakebite Cocktail that we sipped at the tasting. As our treat to you, here's the recipe:

Ingredients
2 cups tamarind pulp
3 1/2 cups ice-cold apple cider, preferably fresh-squeezed and unpasteurized
4 (12-ounce) ice-cold Negra Modelos

Directions
1. In a blender, combine the tamarind and half of the cider. Blend to thoroughly combine.
2. Pour into a pitcher and stir in the remaining cider.
3. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.
4. When that moment comes, measure 2/3 cup of the apple cider mixture into 8 tall glasses, then slowly top off each one with half a Negra Modelo.
5. Serve right away.

Servings
8 (12-ounce) cocktails

Bayless says that adding 1 cup sugar to the tamarind base lessens the beer taste in the cocktail and other flavors emerge. No wonder I liked it so well!

If you have a chance to catch Bayless at future Epcot Food & Wine Festival events, I would recommend you consider it. Even though his Friday discussion and demonstration was a separate ticketed event, he offered a wealth of cooking information that you can take home with you into your own kitchen and share at your table. And that, as any foodie will attest, is priceless.

Check out our other Epcot Food and Wine Festival Videos:

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World and Negra Modelo. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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October 16, 2014

Part 1: A family's trip through Epcot's Food & Wine Festival

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As my kids have gotten older, they have come to appreciate, and even look forward to, the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival almost as much as my husband and I do. Here, I'll share our family's favorites. Of course, every child's palate is different, but perhaps this guide will help your family find some new favorites you might not have considered.

Years of experience have taught my family that we need at least two visits to the event to be able sample everything that interests us. No matter which side of the World Showcase we start on -- and even with sharing the appetizer-size portions among our family of four -- we cannot make it past the American Adventure with any room left in our bellies.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Entrance

One thing we always start with is collecting a Marketplace Discovery Passport for each person in our group. My children -- ages 12 and 10 -- enjoy collecting the stamps at each marketplace, and the small books make a handy menu guide for the adults. We also purchase two of the Food & Wine Festival gift cards, so each child can wear one and swipe it for our purchases. Yes, they will fight over who gets the privilege of paying at each stop, so having their own cards works well.

This year, we began on the right and traveled counterclockwise around the promenade. At the first food booth, Scotland, my husband was excited to find the Innis & Gunn Original, Oak Aged Beer ($3.50), which he had sampled in previous years at a tasting seminar. Since that first event, he hasn't found it anywhere in Central Florida and was anticipating its return to the festival. It's his favorite beer selection at the festival, and that's saying a lot for someone who enjoys a range of beers from IPAs to stouts to American craft beers offered at the event.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Hawaii Pork Slider

My son, daughter and I slipped over to the adjacent Hawaii booth for one of our perennial favorites: a Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mustard ($3.75). Everyone in my family loves this item, though the kids prefer theirs "naked" (without the chutney and mayo). A tip: Don't hesitate to ask cast members if you would like an item prepared without some of the ingredients. If it is possible to modify a dish, they are happy to do so.

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Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Tostones Sangriiia


Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Braised Beef Lemonade

I persuaded the kids to skip the Desserts & Champagne kiosk early in our rounds with a promise of something sweet later in the night. Instead, we joined the line at the Puerto Rico marketplace, one we all had been looking forward to. There we sampled the Tostones with mayo ketchup ($3.50), which lived up to others we enjoy regularly in the Orlando area. My daughter and my husband tried the Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican-Grown Rice ($4.50), and they confirmed what I thought when I tried this dish at a preview: It didn't have as much flavor as I expected. The kids sipped the non-alcoholic San Juan Breeze ($2.75), a lemonade-flavored drink that they found to be too bitter. The sweet Gasolina Sangriiia Cocktail ($5.50) was a perfect pairing for an adult, however.

We bypassed the Refreshment Port in favor of more international fare, but this would be a good stop for families with picky eaters. Dole is a sponsor, so you will find fried chicken chunks with Dole pineapple sweet and sour sauce ($8.99), Dole Fruit Squish'ems Apple-Strawberry ($1.39), and Dole Whip Soft-serve ($3.99). Plus, this is the home of the trendy and popular croissant doughnut with cinnamon and sugar ($4.69).

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Fishermans Pie

The Greece marketplace was skipped as my son made a beeline for Canada and its well-known Wild Mushroom Beef Filet with Truffle Butter Sauce from Le Cellier ($7.25). Meanwhile, my husband tried the Lobster and Seafood Fisherman's Pie ($3.25) and a Guiness Draught ($3.50) in Ireland. They both appreciated their selections.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival France Short Ribs

We crossed the bridge and headed into the longest queue of the night in France. There, both children wanted their own servings of the Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes ($5.75), which they sampled more than once last year. It lived up to their memories. While I don't think they would have relished the Escargot Tart, I do think they might like to try the Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese on another visit.

By this point, we all were on the verge of being pretty full, but we pushed on, saving the Brazil marketplace for the next time. (The Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Tomato, and Cilantro ($5.25) returns from last year. It is delicious.)

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Belgium Waffles

As a die-hard Mickey waffle fan, I couldn't wait to get to the Belgium marketplace, where I sampled miniature waffles with Berry Compote and Warm Chocolate Ganache. Both were drizzled with whipped cream ($3.50) and delicious, but the berry topping had more flavor.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Carrot Cake

The other members of my family wanted to reach the Hops & Barley marketplace at the American Adventure, so we passed on Morocco, Japan and Block & Hans. One there, we shared a Fresh-baked carrot cake with Craisins and cream cheese icing ($3.75). I tried this at a Food & Wine Festival preview in July, and the version being sold in the theme park was just as good as the original. My husband sampled the Beer Flight that featured Samuel Adams Octoberfest, New Belgium Snapshot, Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat and Leinenkugel's Seasonal Shandy ($9.25). He was happy with all the selections.

At that point, we had to admit defeat, if you could call it that, because none of us could eat another bite. Oh, well, we'll have to go back to eat and drink our way around the other half of World Showplace another time! Luckily for us, the Epcot Food & Wine Festival runs through Nov. 10.

You can see complete menus (and pricing) for the International Marketplaces on the AllEars.Net resource page.



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September 19, 2014

Epcot Food & Wine Festival design adorns Disney Dooney & Bourke bags and new Disney Dreaming pattern appears on Vera Bradley bags

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Fans of Disney Parks name-brand handbags -- like myself -- will be excited to learn that two new styles are about to be released at Walt Disney World. Today, there's a new look in The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley, and in a little over a week, guests can purchase the new Dooney & Bourke bags themed to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

Beginning at 10 a.m. today (Sept. 19), the new Disney Dreaming pattern will be available on popular Vera Bradley bags in the Marketplace Co-Op at Downtown Disney. The floral pattern is done in shades of blue with purple and yellow accents, and it shows Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse "dreaming of Disney fun."

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According to Steven Miller, Merchandise Communications Manager at Walt Disney World, guests will find Disney Dreaming on some of the most popular bags in the collection, including the Hipster (my favorite!), a Zip ID Case (perfect for business cards) and the Vera Bag (a tote style). Photos on the Disney Parks Blog announcement of the release indicate Disney Dreaming also will be available in the Cosmetic Bag, All In One Crossbody and Mini Hipster styles, as well. Miller wrote that the Duffle and Ultimate Backback will hit shelves in early 2015.

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As someone who has purchased quite a few pieces in The Disney Collection by Vera Bradley since it launched in 2013, I would expect the pricing to be the same as other patterns: Hipster, $75; Zip ID case, $15; Vera Bag, $99; Cosmetic Bag, $35; All In One Crossbody, $54-plus; Mini Hipster, $65; Large Duffle, $99; and Backpack, $99. Purchasing limits are in effect for all Disney Vera Bradley bags: two of each style per person maximum. The new Disney Dreaming pattern will be sold online at DisneyStore.com/VeraBradley and at Disneyland later in October.

Miller also revealed that there will be a new Dooney & Bourke design on bags for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which begins today. This is the first time that a pattern has been introduced for the hugely popular festival. It shows Chef Mickey Mouse set among a colorful array of festival icons. The background and straps are black, and the three full-size bags will have a unique leather hangtag with the event logo.

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The Food & Wine Festival pattern will appear on the Large Shopper, Crossbody Bag, Satchel and Wristlet styles. Current pricing for these bags is as follows: Large Shopper ($248), Crossbody Bag ($228), Satchel ($268) and Wristlet ($88).

The new Dooney & Bourke bags will be sold exclusively at the Festival Center inside Epcot park beginning Sept. 29. (The Festival Center is located between the Universe of Energy and Mission: SPACE pavilions in Future World.) However, you can get a sneak peek at the bags beginning today in a display at the Festival Center. The collection is not expected to be sold online.

Happy Shopping!




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September 11, 2014

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at Epcot's Food & Wine Festival

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The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begins in less than a week -- and most of us food and wine and Disney fans need no excuse to go! But the Disney Parks Blog recently suggested an angle that might be a fun way to experience the festival if you have more than one day to spend sampling the many foods and beverages.

National Hispanic Heritage Month officially is celebrated September 15 - October 15, and the festival at Walt Disney World has many opportunities to immerse guests in several Spanish and Latin cultures. Why not dedicate a day to these delicious dishes and customs?

In my preview story, I told you all about the offerings from Puerto Rico, which is the festival's highlighted marketplace. At the Puerto Rico experience, there will be four foods to sample: Carne Guisada con Arroz Blanco (Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican Grown Rice); Sweet Corn Sorullitos (sweet polenta fries) and Bolitas de Queso (cheese fritters) with Mayo Ketchup; Ensalada de Carrucho (Caribbean conch salad with onion, tomato and cilantro); and FlanCocho (vanilla caramel custard with chocolate coffee cake).

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Caribbean Conch Salad

Guests can taste these specialties and sip Medella Light Beer, Gasolina Sangriiia rum punch, a frozen San Juan Breeze with Don Q Limón Floater (also available as non-alcoholic lemonade) or Chilled Club Caribe Mango Rum, neat, at the festival's first two-story marketplace. The colorful backdrop of Old San Juan will be recreated to allow guests to explore the history and culture of The Enchanted Island.

They also can opt for an even more immersive experience with the "Experience Puerto Rico - The All Star Island" gala, a premium event in the park's World ShowPlace pavilion at 7:30 p.m. September 20. The two-and-a-half-hour dinner will feature authentic cuisine and entertainment. Plus, there will be a selection of beverages, including handcrafted cocktails made from Puerto Rico's world-renowned rum distilleries. It costs $99 plus tax per person, gratuity included. For tickets, call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).

The newest marketplace at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Patagonia, will showcase the tastes of Argentina and Chile. It will offer sustainable Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri and Grilled Beef Skewer with Cimichurri Sauce and Boniato Purée; and a Beef Empanada. The Chilean Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier and Argentinean Terrazas Reserva Malbec are suggested wine pairings; other beverages at the marketplace will be Pascual Toso Sparkling Brut and Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir Rosé.

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And, of course, the popular Mexico marketplace returns with three guest favorites: Shrimp Taco with Fried Shrimp, Pickled Habanero Pepper and Onions on Flour Tortilla; Rib Eye Taco with Marinated Ribeye, Roasted Chipotle Salsa and Grilled Scallions on a Corn Tortilla; and Sweet Corn Cheese Cake. Visitors can try a Dos Equis beer, Sangria, a Mango-Strawberry Margarita or a Tequila Flight. Be sure to check out the scheduled performances of the internationally acclaimed Mariachi Cobre band.

In addition to sampling the offerings at the marketplaces, guests can take advantage of Hispanic and Latin culinary stars hosting dining events and demonstrations. The lineup of notable chefs includes Puerto Rico's Maira Isabel, who will create a variety of recipes with Puerto Rican ingredients at scheduled culinary demonstrations and during the September 20 gala. Other Latin American chefs participating include Paula DaSilva of 3030 Ocean in Miami Beach; Lupe Sanchez of La Hacienda de San Angel and San Angel Inn at Epcot, and several other chefs from a variety of Walt Disney World Resort restaurants.

Some Festival Center activities are included with Epcot admission. Premium wine and culinary programs require reservations and separate event admission. Guests can call 407-939-3378 to make reservations.



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July 22, 2014

2014 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival shines spotlight on Puerto Rico

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Each year, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival highlights a particular culture not just with its marketplace offerings, but also special events, such as a themed dinner. This year, Puerto Rico was chosen for that honor.

Although the U.S. Commonwealth has been part of the festival in the past, Chef Jens Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef, said that it was selected this year because of its ties to many of Walt Disney World's guests.

"As you know, we have a very large base of Puerto Rican customers. There is a lot of passion around it. They are very proud of their culture," he said. "We hope to make a splash with the whole Puerto Rican experience."

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Chef Jens Dahlmann

I have to confess my own excitement about the return of the Puerto Rico kiosk to the festival. I lived on the island for several years as a child, so I have fond memories of my time there and look forward to a culinary trip down memory lane.

AllEars.Net founder Deb Wills, AllEars.Net photographer Linda Eckwerth and I attended the Tables in Wonderland preview for the 2014 festival, and we were able to taste some of the dishes that Chef Jens has prepared for the popular 53-day event.

At the Puerto Rico marketplace, there will be four foods to sample. We tried the Carne Guisada con Arroz Blanco (Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican Grown Rice). Of the various courses, it was my favorite, which is no surprise given my familiarity with the island's flavors. Deb agreed with me, saying, "The braised beef dish from Puerto Rico was very good, the meat ever so tender. I will try this again." Still, Linda said that although the meat was tender, she thought the dish lacked flavor.

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The Carne Guisada was paired with a sangria and a Medalla light beer. I'm not really a beer drinker, so I tried the Gasolina Sangriiia rum punch, which was very smooth. If you like sweet drinks, this one is for you.

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Chef Marianne Hunnel, content development manager of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, mentioned that there will be a third drink offered at the Puerto Rico marketplace: Ponce de Leon Lemonade. It will be a frozen drink made with lemonade and grapefruit juice, and adults have the option to add Puerto Rican rum.

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Chef Marianne Hunnel

During the reception, Deb, Linda and I also sampled the Sweet Corn Sorullitos with Mayo Ketchup that will be served at the Puerto Rico kiosk. These corn fritters will be paired with fried cheese balls and served in paper cups, a representation of the "frituras," or fried foods, sold along the beaches in Puerto Rico. We all enjoyed the crispy corn fritters. Their mild flavor paired with mayo ketchup that comes in a squeezable tube that is sure to be a hit with adults and kids alike.

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The other two offerings at the Puerto Rico booth will be a conch salad and flancocho. Flancocho is an island favorite that combines flan and cake ingredients for a delicious dessert.

Chef Jens describes the salad this way: "What I really love is the conch salad -- beautiful Caribbean conch chopped in small pieces with onions and sweet peppers and lemon served in a paper cone over rice. Just delicious."

For those who would like to be immersed in the Puerto Rican culture, Epcot is hosting "Experience Puerto Rico -- The All Star Island" on the opening weekend of the festival. The two-and-a-half-hour dinner will feature authentic cuisine and entertainment. Plus, there will be a selection of beverages, including handcrafted cocktails made from Puerto Rico's world-renowned rum brands. The dinner takes place from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Sept. 20. It costs $99 plus tax per person, gratuity included.

Tickets for the dinner go on sale to the general public at 7 a.m. July 31. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).


DISCLAIMER:
I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland event. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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July 21, 2014

First Look: 2014 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

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A relatively recent tradition at Walt Disney World is to give Tables in Wonderland members a preview of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival about two months before it opens. Along with a growing appetite for the festival, this event, too, has increased in popularity.

I attended the preview with AllEars.Net founder Deb Wills and AllEars.Net photographer Linda Eckwerth, so that we could be among the first to share our impressions about what you can expect at the 19th year of the festival. We quickly discovered that doubling the number of participants and moving the venue to World ShowPlace caused a few growing pains this year with the quality of the service, but certainly not the quality of the food.

The event began with a reception that featured food stations, as well as two open bars. Among the offerings this year were dishes and drinks from Puerto Rico, the culture that will be highlighted at this year's food and wine festival. You can read our thoughts about the island marketplace in my separate blog post tomorrow.

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Among the other appetizers, Linda raved about the Sea Scallop with Spinach Cheddar Gratin and Crispy Bacon from Scotland. She said the combination of flavors was "perfect" and "very delicious."

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If I am discounting my affinity for the Puerto Rican dishes, my favorite was the CraB'less CraB Cake with Pepper Slaw and Cajun Remoulade featuring Gardein. This vegan dish will be served at the Terra marketplace. Perhaps what I liked best about it was that the slaw reminded me of the Kimchi slaw that was served with hotdogs at the South Korea kiosk last year. It's spicy hot! I agree with Linda, who pointed out that while the CraB'less CraB Cake had the texture of a crab cake, it did not necessarily taste like crab.

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We also sampled the Pao de Queijo, a cheese bread from Brazil, and the South Africa Bobotie with Turkey and Mushrooms. None of us had strong opinions about either dish.

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Our least favorite was the Nueske's Pepper Bacon Hash with Sweet Corn, Potatoes, Hollandaise and pickled Jalapeños. It looked delicious when it was being prepared in a skillet, but it tasted bland and was drenched in the sauce. The hash -- and other "home-grown" dishes -- will be among the offerings at the Farm Fresh stand, which replaces the Florida Fresh booth.

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Our appetizers were accompanied by a selection of adult beverages. Linda and I sipped the Aulani Sunset cocktail, which is made with Sammy's [Hagar] Beach Bar Rum. The drink is similar to what is served at Disney's Hawaiian resort, though the rum from the rock musician is a new addition. We agreed we could not taste the alcohol in the drink, and we weren't sure if that was because of the quantity or the quality. Either way, it's a sweet, delicious drink.

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Among the wines served at the reception was a Paperboy Red, which will be available at the Terra marketplace. Deb tasted this one and said, "The story is great. It's the first 100 percent fully recyclable wine bottle that is 80 percent lighter than glass and made with ultra-green packaging. But the great stops there. I wanted to like the wine -- who doesn't want to do more for the environment? -- but the first flavors are not pleasant. It opened up a bit toward the end of the sip, but the bad nose and start was off-putting. I even tried it later in the evening and liked it less."

Other choices included a chardonnay from The Great American Wine Company; Brut Sparkling Blac de Noir from Domaine Chandon; and Duke's Cold Nose Brown Ale, from Bold City Brewery in Jacksonville. The pale ale will be available at the Farm Fresh kiosk.

And that was just the reception; then we moved into World Showplace for a plated dinner, which also showcased dishes that will be served during the 53-day festival. Chef Jens Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef, said there will be 35 new food offerings at this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, along with guests' favorites.

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Our dinner started with a course from Greece: Vegetarian Moussaka. It seemed to be well-received by the diners around me, including Deb and Linda.

Deb said, "The Vegetarian Moussaka was excellent, and I'd swear it had meat in it! This was paired with the M-A-N Family Wine, Chenin Blanc, a South African wine. If you like Chenin Blanc, be sure to try this wine."

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Linda said, "I was hesitant at first, but after a few bites started to enjoy the flavors. Even though it was vegetarian, it really tasted as if meat were in the dish. The Chenin Blanc paired very nicely. I thought it brought out some of the spicy flavors in the moussaka."

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The second course was from Patagonia, the festival's newsiest marketplace. This course consisted of Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Argugula Chimi Churri. Chef Jens pointed out that this particular fish is fully sustainable and simply prepared for a light taste.

"I really liked the Patagonia Course. Salmon can sometimes be overpowering in flavors, but this had a light taste," Linda said. "The Quinoa Salad was superb! It was hard to say which tasted better -- the salad or the salmon."

Deb said she liked the Quinoa salad better than the salmon.

Then, it was time for the third course, which was my favorite. The Carne Guisada con Arroz Blanco (Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican Grown Rice) came from the Puerto Rico marketplace. Deb enjoyed this dish as well, saying, "The braised beef dish from Puerto Rico was very good, the meat ever so tender. I will try this again." Still, Linda said that although the meat was tender, she thought the dish lacked flavor.

The Carne Guisada was paired with a sangria and a Medalla light beer. I'm not really a beer drinker, so I tried the Gasolina Sangriiia rum punch, which was very smooth. If you like sweet drinks, you'll love this one.

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We also were offered a taste of a somewhat new beer, MmmHops, from the band Hanson. The name is a play on the group's hit song, "MmmBop," and the pale ale is from the Hanson Brothers Beer Company. MmmHops was launched at select locations in 2013. The three brothers have been regulars at the festival's Eat to the Beat concert series, so this seemed like a logical tie-in, we were told.

Finally, the dessert trio arrived, and one of the sweets was the much-talked-about croissant doughnut, which can be found year-round at the Refreshment Port. The original Cronut was invented in New York City and is a pastry that is made by frying dough and then adding the sugar, filling and glaze. The Disney version we tried was more like a croissant doughnut hole that had a cinnamon-sugar flavor.

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We also sampled the Fresh Baked Carrot Cake with Craisins and Cream Cheese icing that will be available at the Hops and Barley marketplace. I enjoyed this dessert, but it might not be for you if you don't like Craisins because they are abundant in each serving.

The third dessert was the Warm Drinking Chocolate that is available at the Bean to the Bar location in the Festival Center. This thick chocolate drink is very rich. Can't wait to sample it? It's on the menu at Ghirardelli Chocolate Shoppe and Soda Fountain at Downtown Disney Marketplace.

At our event, the desserts were paired with Rose Regale, which Deb said goes well with just about any dessert.

The 19th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs from Sept. 19 through Nov. 10. It is included with regular theme-park admission to Epcot. Will you be attending? Tell us what you're most looking forward to in the comments.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland event. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own. Deb and Linda purchased tickets to attend the event.



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October 17, 2013

Kid-friendly foods at Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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Although my elementary-school-age kids are like most others, a little bit of Disney magic this time of year turns them into discerning foodies.

Every year, Epcot's Food and Wine Festival transforms my children, ages 9 and 11, into adventurous eaters. One child usually is a bit pickier than the other, but you wouldn't know it when it comes time to sample the dishes at the international marketplaces at Walt Disney World.

As my kids have gotten older, they have come to appreciate, and even look forward to, the annual festival almost as much as my husband and I do. So far this season, we have eaten our way around the World Showcase twice. Here, I'll share their favorites -- some they agreed on and others they didn't. Of course, every child's palate is different, but perhaps this guide will help your family find some new favorites you might not have considered.

We'll travel clockwise around the promenade, as the marketplaces are numbered. Although we have visited the festival two times, we still haven't tried all the foods. On both trips, we started at the Hawaii marketplace with the Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise ($3.50). Everyone in my family loves this item, though the kids prefer theirs "naked" (without the chutney and mayo).

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The kids bypassed the Scotland, Terra and Brazil marketplaces in favor of the Argentina booth. There, they indulged in the Beef Empanada ($4.25). Because of a wonderful Latin restaurant near our house, both of my children eat empanadas on a fairly regular basis. When comparing the two versions, they noted that the Epcot empanada does not have cheese with the beef and instead appeared to have beans mixed in. But that did not deter them from eating their entire servings!

Moving past Australia, Mexico and Singapore, they chose to stop at the China stand for the Silky Spun Ice ($3.95). This marketplace offers three flavors that are rotated on a weekly basis -- strawberry, coconut and mango. Strawberry was the flavor du jour during our visit, and both kids enjoyed the treat. I took a taste, expecting the creaminess of ice cream, but it's really more of a smooth version of shaved ice. I didn't care for the texture. However, Deb Koma tried the coconut version earlier in the festival and declared it one of her favorites.

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Next door in South Korea, we all shared the Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard Sauce ($3.75) and the Lettuce Wrap with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw ($3.50). I had tried the Kimchi Dog at two previews and loved it. I suspected it would be too spicy for my kids, but they wanted to try it because I had raved about the dish. For the record, I was correct. My daughter did like the lettuce wrap with the Kimchi Slaw, however.

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They skipped over the Africa and Cheese marketplaces and queued up in Germany both times for the Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll ($5). This comes with mustard on the plate, but my children asked for the dish without it and ate every bite of the bratwurst. They also thoroughly enjoyed the Apple Strudel with Werther's Original Karamel and Vanilla Sauce ($3.50).

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Chef Jens Dahlmann, executive chef at Epcot, also recommended the Schinken Nudel, which is Pasta Gratin with Ham & Cheese ($3.25), in Germany for kids. He told me his own children, ages 11, 8 and 4, love it.

A few steps down the promenade at the Poland marketplace, kids will find two tasty options. "Zapiekanki, a Polish pizza you could say, is a crunchy piece of bread and cheese and mushrooms and house-made ketchup on it. Great textures and great flavors for the kids," said Chef Jens. "Also, pierogies sit well, too. Who doesn't like pierogies with kielbasa?"

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In Italy, my kids liked the Ravioli de formaggio all'emiliana ($5.75), which is offered in generous portions. They bypassed Hops & Barley, eager to get to the Florida Local marketplace and chow down on Florida Grass Fed Beef Slider with Monterey Jack and Sweet & Hot Pickles ($3.75). My children removed the pickles, of course.

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One of the biggest surprises was that my son really liked Morocco's Harissa Chicken Roll ($4.95), in spite of its spicy flavor. He selected that dish on both visits.

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Soon, New Zealand gave way to Belgium, where our quest for sweets was met with Belgium waffles with Warm Chocolate Ganache and Whipped Cream ($3.25) or Berry Compote and Whipped Cream ($3.25). Delicious!

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In France, my kids dove into the Boeuf Bourguignon (Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet with Mashed Potatoes -- $5.50) both times. Then, we had to walk off some of the great food without stops in Ireland, Canada or Greece. (Canada is offering the always-popular Cheddar Cheese Soup and "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon.)

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At the Refreshment Port, my daughter and I -- both pineapple lovers -- enjoyed the new Dole Pineapple Fritters ($1.99). The stand also offers Fried Shrimp or Chicken Chunks with Dole Pineapple Sweet and Sour Sauce, which are likely to appeal to kids.

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Finally, at the Desserts & Champagne marketplace, both children tried the Frozen S'mores drink ($3). My children love s'mores and will even make them in the microwave at home if the mood strikes, but they were not wild about this drink. They both mentioned they preferred the fruit-flavored smoothies served in the marketplaces of Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival.

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I'm sure we will find that repeat visits to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival will reveal new favorites for my kids as they explore more offerings. As long as they -- and your children -- can have fun with a sense of adventure, there's no telling what flavors will become their favorites.

You can see complete menus for the marketplaces of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival here.


October 10, 2013

Chase VIP Lounge takes guests inside American Adventure Parlor during Epcot Food & Wine Festival

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This year, some guests at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival have the opportunity to step into one of Walt Disney World's private party spaces -- free of charge.

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The Chase VIP Lounge has moved from the Festival Center in 2012 to the American Adventure Parlor this year, and it is open to all Chase card members. Each card member may bring as many as nine guests. To access the space, there is a queue in front of the building, slightly to the right, where you can present your card.

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A cast member told me the lounge can accommodate 100 people. When capacity is reached, they let in guests as others exit. Those wishing to burn off some of the calories they have consumed at the festival can choose to climb stairs to the third floor, while the rest of us opt for the elevator.

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Upstairs, you'll be greeted by another cast member who will explain that complimentary drinks are available to the right in the Thomas Jefferson Dining Room. My family and I were excited to see two Coca-Cola Freestyle machines plus regular and decaffinated coffee, and guests are invited to drink to their heart's content. Beer and wine also are available for purchase.

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This room typically is rented for intimate wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners and farewell brunches. The dining room, which is reminiscent of Monticello during the late 1700s, can seat 50 guests. The main focal point of the area is a large curio cabinet filled with fine china and period artifacts.

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Moving out of the Thomas Jefferson Dining Room and to the left of the elevators is the colonial-style Main Living Room. It features comfortable couches, antique furniture and two cozy fireplaces. While the space functions as part of the Chase VIP Lounge, it offers guests two charging stations for a variety of mobile devices, Disney-themed board games and televisions. For weddings, the space typically is where guests would enjoy cocktails and appetizers. Beautifully appointed bathrooms are available at the far end of the space.

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The Main Living Room boasts sweeping views of World Showcase Lagoon and the America Gardens Theatre, where the Eat to the Beat concerts take place. Disney Chase card members are offered preferred seating at the concerts or all Chase card members can get preferred viewing of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth fireworks, while wristbands are available. When I stopped by the lounge at 2 p.m. Sunday on the festival's opening weekend, only seating for the first concert was unavailable. There were plenty of wristbands available for the fireworks area, which is a roped off area in front of the Italy pavilion, on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.

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The Chase VIP Lounge is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. It stays open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Like to see "hidden spaces" at Walt Disney World? Take my photo tours of other private lounges: Living Seas Salon and Siemens VIP Center.


October 1, 2013

Step into a cranberry bog at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

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Before this year, I hadn't really given much thought to how cranberries make their way from farms to my Thanksgiving table. But after stepping into more than 1,000 pounds of the fruit at Walt Disney World, I was curious.

Ocean Spray's cranberry bog is back at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival for the third year, and if you've attended the festival, you've probably walked right past it on the central walkway leading to World Showcase.

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Cast members in waders stand knee-deep in the colorful bog, demonstrating how rakes are used to turn the fruit during wet harvesting. Cranberries actually grow on long vines in marshy areas, not underwater as some people might think. The night before the harvest, growers flood the area with up to 18 inches of water. Then, they use the rake-like tools to loosen the cranberries, and the fruit floats to the surface.

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So, what you're seeing at Epcot are the loose cranberries floating in water -- the final step of wet harvesting a crop. (Cranberries also can be picked dry, which is done with large machines that comb the berries off vines.) The festival schedule of September through November coincides with the annual harvest of cranberries in North America.

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On the opening night of the festival, Ocean Spray hosted a reception IN its cranberry bog for media, which I attended. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but it sounded like a unique opportunity I didn't want to miss. When it was my turn to enter the bog, I was given red knee socks (cute!) and asked my shoe size. Apparently the one-piece waders are sized according to the boots. Ladies, don't you wish all clothing was sized in that fashion?

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Once I slipped on the overalls, it was off to the bog. It was somewhat surreal to be standing in the midst of waves of cranberries as Epcot visitors stopped to ask questions and take photos. The waders kept me completely dry -- until the rain started -- and moving in the water was not difficult.

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In fact, Deb Wills and I were invited to sample foods made from cranberries while standing in the bog. To represent United States cuisine, we were served Seared Free Range Chicken with Craisin Moonshine Pearls and Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Craisin Ketchup. Both were delicious! Deb also interviewed Disney chef Damon in the bog about the versatility of cranberries:

And we explored the many culinary uses of the fruit, too. Outside the bog, we tried cranberry dishes from other countries: Cranberry & SeaSalt Cured Wild Salmon with Maple Sugar Crystals and Craisin Glazed Pork Belly with White Cheddar Maple Grits from Canada; Artisian Cheese Stuffed Mini Craisin Brioche and Craisin, Bacon and Brie Potato Gratin from France; Craisin Infused Five Spice Char Kobe Beef with Sriracha and Craisin Vegetable Fried Rice from Japan; Mole Shrimp Quesadilla with Cranberry Salsa and Pulled Chicken Craisin Tamales from Mexico; and English Mustard Dusted Scotch Egg with Cranberry Marmalade and Beef and Craisin Shepherd's Pie from the United Kingdom.

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Guests at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival can visit the Hops & Barley Marketplace through Nov. 11 to taste the Craisin Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Anglaise, which is a vegetarian dish. At the bog, visitors are invited to pick up a free sample of Craisins (dried cranberries).

Ocean Spray is an agricultural cooperative owned by more than 700 growers, many of whom have been in the business for generations. Below, Deb talks with Todd May, a fifth-generation cranberry farmer, from Canada.

Do yourself a favor, and stop at the bog and learn more about cranberries and how they are harvested. You just might develop a whole new appreciation for a traditional American holiday side dish.


September 17, 2013

Tips for making the most of your visit to Epcot's Food & Wine Festival

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If you think it's hard to prepare a delicious meal for your family and keep everyone at the table happy, try doing it for thousands.

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Michael Jenner, operations manager for park events content development, about the upcoming Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Here, he offers AllEars.Net readers a glimpse behind the scenes of such a large event at Walt Disney World and tips for guests on making the most of their time at the festival.

The first day that reservations are open is always crazy busy. What special events associated with the festival sell out quickly and what is still available now?

We sell about 50 percent of our inventory very quickly in the first couple hours on the first day. Our high-end events sell out, so Victoria & Albert's sells out. Our Wine View Lounge and our reserved seating for Party for the Senses has sold out. A lot of our signature dining events -- California Grill, Flying Fish -- have sold out. I would point out that for some of those events, they also are some of the smaller seating capacities. At Citrico's we have 10 seats there, so, of course, that went out. The Hibachi experience at Japan has eight seats and we do it five times, so obviously it sells out very quickly.

But there still are a plethora of events that are available: general seating at Party for the Senses, the Scotland opening dinner, our chocolate dinner, our beer dinner. Online we list what events are sold out. For culinary demonstrations, wine seminars and mixology, we hold back a certain number of those for day-of purchases, so when you come to the park and you're just discovering those events, you can walk up and there might be seats available.

Of the events that are still open at this point, what would you most recommend for a guest who is new to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival?

As a newbie to the festival, you can't go wrong with Party for the Senses. I know the reserved seating and the Wine View Lounge always sells out, but, in my opinion, that doesn't matter. You have 25 food stations and 25 beverage stations, which have at least three offerings, so you don't want to be sitting at any time. You need to be up and moving for that two hours, and you still will not get through all those stations. That is a true food-and-wine connoisseur's heaven.

You can go to every single [party], and it will be different each time. We have different chefs that come in -- Disney chefs and guest chefs -- and they each have their own unique item that they prepare. And we bring in different wineries. The entertainment is the same, the layout is the same, but the food and beverage elements are different for each one. Party for the Senses starts at $145 plus tax and park admission.

Last year's VIP Chef Tours got rave reviews from our readers. Why didn't those events return this year?

The person who made that happen was Chef Jens [Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef], and that was a lot out of his day to escort 10 people around the park. It's better for us to have him oversee the festival and the marketplaces. Really, to do it again, we would do multiple days. To be honest, we just couldn't pull him out of the operation for that long. And then to put another chef or someone else into that role, it's not the same experience. It was a nice "let's try it" but when all is said and done, 60 guests got to experience that. " You never know, it might come back in future years, or at least one-offs. It's more important for us to have Chef Jens on the promenade, overseeing the marketplaces, now, though.

How do you keep the marketplace wines and the foods at the proper temperatures with the Florida heat?

The foods are prepared fresh in the marketplaces. Plus, they are not just little cabana tents. Each marketplace is a kitchen with refrigerators and grills. There is a whole compound behind Germany that we create just for the festival. There are at least 12 refrigerated semi-trailers for all the wines, and they are divided among events. The wines are kept there and then brought out to the marketplaces several times a day, so you don't have six cases of wine sitting in a marketplace waiting to be used all day long. The food items are brought out continuously throughout the day.

Since Epcot doesn't have utilidors (the underground tunnels at the Magic Kingdom), how do cast members at Epcot transport the foods and beverages continuously without being obvious?

We built these cart boxes that hide the food inside of them because you want to protect it from birds, people, etc. They're totally enclosed metal boxes that even have little lights along the top so at night people can see them, and they can see where they're going. It makes it easier and safe for our cast members as well as the guests.

Obviously, it's more crowded on the weekends than during the week at the festival. What tips would you offer for guests whose only opportunity to experience the festival is on the weekend?

Start at the back of the park, by France or Hops & Barley or somewhere back there. I will see at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, the marketplaces at the front -- Mexico, Argentina, etc. -- packed, and then I'll walk down a couple marketplaces and there's no one in line. It's a circle, so just start at a different place. A lot of people go right, even though are marketplaces are numbered the other way. As you get to the Eat to the Beat concert series [at American Adventure], it's busier at that side of the park.

Always use the passport. It's a great way of finding out what's in the marketplaces and what you've missed. You can check what you like and get the passport stamp. Guests using the Festival Center, having the festival guide and the festival passport have a greater experience.

Do guests tend to skip the Festival Center?

They do because they may not know about it. It opens at 9 a.m. with the rest of Future World, but the marketplaces don't open until 11 a.m. It's a great way to start off -- to see our wine seminars or visit our merchandise shop and collect your passport.

How early do families need to find seats at the Eat to The Beat concerts?

It depends. If you want to hit the 5:30 p.m. show, which is often the most popular show, check the line early. Some of the more popular acts have a line start at noon. But you don't have to sit in the theater to enjoy it. You can hear it around the promenade or standing close by, it's a great show.

Can you offer any tips for families who are bringing their kids to the Food & Wine Festival?

Weekdays are the best, if possible, but I know that's hard with kids in school. Or, go on a Sunday. Saturdays are awfully crowded. The Festival Center is good for kids, too. We do a seminar called Authentic Tastes three times a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays where we talk about whole ingredients -- like strawberries, sugar -- and there is a little sampling. Plus, there's the Chocolate Experience, which is phenomenal, and explains chocolate from bean to bar. Ghiradelli will be handing out chocolate samples, and our Disney pastry chefs have each created a chocolate sculpture, which is fun for kids.

I think all the marketplace menus are family-friendly because they're such small portions -- tapa size. Kids can try portions without parents feeling they have wasted a whole entree if they don't like it.

When I was a little kid, we would go to restaurants with buffets, and I was always told I had to try everything. And I loved it! I didn't have to eat it all, but I had to try it. What a great experience! That's what the Epcot Food & Wine Festival is like -- a buffet through all the marketplaces.

September 16, 2013

More Epcot International Food & Wine Festival dishes and beverages revealed

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With less than two weeks until the 18th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begins, I have more details about new foods, wines and beers that will be offered.

Members of the AllEars.Net staff first previewed some of the items at a Tables in Wonderland event in July, and you can read about those here. Now, Epcot Executive Chef Jens Dahlmann is sharing more tastes to tempt your palate.

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At the Hops & Barley Marketplace, a Griddled Lobster Tail with Garlic Herb Butter replaces last year's lobster claw and is paired with La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Dahlmann said, "It will have the flavors of saltwater and drizzled butter -- and it doesn't get better than that!" I have to agree with him. Chef Marianne Hunnel, who is charged with finding the perfect beverage pairings for Dahlmann's creations, described the La Crema as a "match made in heaven."

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In the Africa Marketplace (which has evolved from the South Africa Marketplace of previous years), guests will find a Berbere Style Beef with Onions, Jalapeños, Tomato, Okra and Pap. Though many might find it delicious, this dish was probably my least favorite of all that I've sampled. I'm not a big fan of grits, which is what pap is similar to, and the flavor of the meat just didn't appeal to me.

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The Berbere Style Beef is paired with The Wolftrap Red from Africa, which is a blend of syrah, mourvedre and viognier. Deb Wills tried it at the previous tasting and said, "I have had this wine without food before and not cared for it. I tried it again to see how it went with food, and it paired well with the filet." She went on to say that fans of the viognier grape will really want to give this wine a tasting.

This year's new marketplace -- Scotland -- features a Vegetarian Haggis that has foodies and vegetarians talking. Chef Dahlmann described it this way: "It will taste like a beautiful, grainy vegetable patty, almost like the idea of a veggie burger, but we just make it really, really good. We serve it with neeps and tatties, or rutabagas and potatoes, so it is very traditional."

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Scotland also will sell a Scottish Banoffee Tart, which is layered with bananas, whisky, whisky toffee sauce and sweet cream and topped with chocolate shavings. If you like the taste of toffee, you won't want to miss this dessert!

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Beverages at the Scotland Marketplace include a Loch Lomond cocktail made with Scotch Whisky, Drambuie and Dry Vermouth; a flight of whisky, with the 12-, 15- and 18-year-old Scotch whisky; and Innis & Gunn Beer. "What's really great about the offerings is that guests who have always wanted to try an 18-year-old Scotch but didn't want to commit to a $100 bottle can taste it as part of the flight for $12 or by itself," Hunnel said.

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At the Desserts and Champagne Marketplace, festival organizers are introducing Frozen S'Mores, which taste just like you would think. They are made from Nesquik with toasted marshmallow syrup and topped with chocolate, marshmallows and a graham cracker. This is a non-alcoholic beverage that was developed for kids but is sure to be a hit with the young-at-heart as well.

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Finally, at the Refreshment Port, which is a permanent location near Canada, guests will find a special version of the wildly popular pineapple Dole Whip. This one is orange-flavored, and adults can add Creme de Cacao White liqueur for a flavor boost. Trust me when I say that you will want to enjoy this treat. What a great combination! Interestingly, the Cherryman Maraschino Cherry is a new product that has no artificial red dyes and is not as sweet as a traditional maraschino cherry. I really didn't notice much difference in the taste, though.

Dole has another new product at the Refreshment Port for the Food & Wine Festival: Pineapple beignets. These will be fresh pineapple rings that are dipped in bread and fried. In addition, the chicken shanks on the stand's current menu will get new sweet-and-sour dipping sauces for the festival.

There will be three Florida beers at the festival: Orlando Brewing Company is creating a brew called Sun Shade Organic Pale Ale just for the festival; the Florida Beer Company will bring its Devil's Triangle from Melbourne; and Cigar City Brewing in Tampa will serve Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale.

"I think I am most excited to get that energy [of the festival] back at Epcot," said Dahlmann. "The cast members get excited, the guests get excited, the promenade has a hustle and bustle. It's the driving energy with the love of food and wine. It's a feeling, not a particular thing. It's my favorite time of the year. It's like Christmas!"

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at a media preview for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. This did not affect my story, and my opinions are my own.


September 13, 2013

Food trucks to bring favorite Disney Parks, Epcot International Food & Wine Festival dishes to Downtown Disney

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This year, fans of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival may be a little less sad when it ends because they'll still be able to find some of the most popular dishes from the event on Walt Disney World property. New food trucks, featuring old and new favorite foods, will be rolling into Downtown Disney as soon as mid-November.

Each of the four food trucks is themed to one of Walt Disney World's parks:

** The World Showcase of Flavors truck from Epcot is expected to feature items from the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, such as Grass-Fed Beef Sliders (new this year), Pierogies with Kielbasa and Lobster Rolls.

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Grass-Fed Beef Sliders
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Pierogie with Kielbasa
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Lobster Roll

** The Enchanted Fare truck from the Magic Kingdom will serve favorites from Disney Parks around the world. Disneyland enthusiasts already are salivating at the promise of Hand-Dipped Corn Dogs being available on the East Coast.

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Hand-Dipped Corn Dog

** The Superstar Catering truck from Hollywood Studios will look like an old city diner and offer a variety of meatball options, such as the Lamb Meatball Flatbread with Tzatziki.

** The Namaste Café truck from Animal Kingdom plans to serve Butter Chicken, Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs and Tandoori Spiced Shrimp.

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Slow-Cooked Beef Short Ribs

Foods will be priced between $8 and $15 per serving, with the shrimp and ribs likely to be among the most expensive. Also, the food trucks will accept quick-service credits of the Disney Dining Plan.

"We're very excited, and we expect for the food trucks to be a big hit at Downtown Disney and on Disney property," Walt Disney World Chef James Kleinschmidt told me Thursday. "We do have an existing food truck out at ESPN Wide World of Sports that's used for large events out there. But this is kind of taking the trucks to a new level. " Just the sight of them is going to be amazing."

The four Disney World food trucks will park at the West Side of Downtown Disney, near the Cirque du Soleil theater and House of Blues restaurant, from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays until Disney Springs is completed in 2016, Kleinschmidt said. "We're in deep construction with the island [for Disney Springs]. West Side has the biggest open area, and we have a lot of people funneling through that side," he explained.

When construction moves to the West Side, a dedicated food truck park has been planned for the grassy area adjacent to Bongo's Cuban Cafe, he said. Even after that space has been transformed, the trucks still will have to move each night, as other community food trucks do.

Still, the Disney World trucks largely will remain on property, though Kleinschmidt said there may be special Disney and community events that put the trucks on the road. Expect to see them at the 2014 Marathon Weekend, for example.

"Disney has taken this on to kind of diversify our offerings and be able to be mobile as well," Kleinschmidt said. "It's an ever-growing trend. I was just at a Food Truck Rally this past weekend, and there were 22 food trucks there, which tells you that it's not going away."

Of course, food truck rallies are known for long lines, but as Kleinschmidt points out, Disney World is known for its effectiveness in managing lines. He says he thinks the one-stop dining experience will appeal to a variety of guests. Many visitors already come to different parks for their favorite foods, and soon they will be able to go to Downtown Disney and sample what they were craving. An added bonus: No admission needed!


August 1, 2013

Preview of 2013 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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At a Tables in Wonderland dinner on Saturday at Walt Disney World, guests were invited to preview some of the offerings for this year's Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. The popular event, which begins Sept. 27, allows Walt Disney World visitors to taste their way around the world via kiosks that sell foods and beverages representing various countries.

AllEars.Net founder Deb Wills, AllEars.Net photographer Linda Eckwerth and I attended the event, so we could share with you what to expect when the 46-day festival opens. Deb and Linda agreed to share their thoughts on the adult beverages because I'm really not a wine or beer connoisseur.

When we arrived, an open bar offered a variety of wines, beers and a signature cocktail. The frozen Polish Szarlotka, which will be available at the Poland kiosk, mixes the flavors of an apple tart and Polish vodka. Several of our dining companions declared it a delicious combination. Linda chose the Once Upon a Vine Chardonnay, which she said was refreshing considering it was so hot outside. She described the wine as crisp, with a touch of fruit and very little oak.

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Three appetizers were offered: Florida Grass-fed Beef Slider with Monterey Jack and Sweet & Hot Pickles from the Florida Fresh kiosk; Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard Sauce from the South Korea booth; and Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Onions, Avocado and Cilantro from the new Brazil marketplace. Of the trio, we all liked the flavors of the crispy pork belly -- which is the same cut of meat as bacon -- best. I normally don't choose to eat spicy foods, but the Kimchi Dog was at first appealing, and then, addictive. I couldn't put it down! The three of us weren't overly impressed with the beef slider, even though grass-fed beef is trendy right now. Deb said she did like the meat, but the bun and the pickles didn't appeal to her.

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A Xingu Black Beer from Brazil was paired with the Crispy Pork Belly. Linda said, "This is a dark beer and, when poured, has a slightly tan, frothy head. It appears heavy but was actually a medium to light body. I tasted coffee and a little sweetness." She also sampled the Carnaval Moscato sparkling wine from Brazil and described it as slightly bubbly, but not as sweet as most Moscatos.

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For the salad course, we were served a very popular dish from the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. We all were excited to see the Watermelon Salad with Pickled Red Onions, Baby Arugula, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Reduction from the Florida Fresh booth. So delicious! It was paired with Florida Orange Groves Hurricane Class 5 Florida White Sangria. Linda said, "This was not like any Sangria I have had; It was light but very fruity. While it is a blend of five fruit juices -- passion fruit, pineapple, mango, lime and watermelon -- I was only picking up the pineapple. It was sweet. I think it paired well with the Watermelon Salad but it was not to my taste."

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Hostess Pam Smith and Chef Marianne Hunnel

I asked Chef Marianne Hunnel, content development manager of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, if she thought the new Garden Marketplaces at the Flower and Garden Festival might help broaden the audience for the Food and Wine Festival.

"Typically, the demographic is very different," Marianne said. "I think that by incorporating the food and beverage piece as part of the Flower and Garden Festival, there could be a possibility of people becoming more foodies and more interested in the whole art of food and wine."

And, although the festivals may share the same audiences, they will not share the same food. Sadly, the Watermelon Salad was only making a special appearance at the Tables in Wonderland event. It will not be offered at the Food and Wine Festival.

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Our dinner entrees were the Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce from Le Cellier at the Canada pavilion and the Seared Scottish Salmon with Cauliflower Puree, Watercress and Malt Vinaigreet from the new Scotland marketplace. They were served with baby root vegetables. This was my first opportunity to try the Le Cellier filet mignon that guests repeatedly rave about, and I now can understand why. It was a most tender and delicious piece of beef! I am told the salmon was prepared perfectly, light and flaky without a heavy fish taste. The salmon will be featured at the new Scotland marketplace, along with Vegetarian Haggis with Neeps and Tatties (griddled vegetable cake with rutabaga and mashed potatoes) and Scottish Banoffee Tart (bananas, Scottish Whiskey toffee, Walker's Shortbread crumbles and sweet cream).

Marianne said, "It's very exciting that this country [Scotland] is being represented because we just had the "Brave" movie. But it was something that the Scottish government really wanted to work with us on this year and have a presence. It's not because of "Brave," but I'm sure "Brave" put some exposure to the whole country of Scotland. It just made sense that this was the year to do something like this. There are going to be a lot of surprises and delights for the guests with the dinners."

Our entrees were paired with two wines. Linda said the Mohua Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand went well with the salmon. "It was a light, crisp citrus wine. I tasted grapefruit, lemon and very little grassy notes."

Deb tasted the Wolftrap Red from Africa, which is a blend of syrah, mourvedre and viognier. She said, "I have had this wine without food before and not cared for it. I tried it again to see how it went with food, and it paired well with the filet. I still don't care for the wine, but that's because I don't care for the viognier grape. If you do, you must try this wine!"

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Finally, the best part of the dinner: a dessert trio of Chocolate Orange Cupcake, Hazelnut Chocolate Cheesecake and Morello Cherry Pistachio Mousse. The three of us enjoyed all three desserts, but we also had favorites. Linda and I agreed we'd be standing in line for the cupcake, while Deb preferred the mousse. The three desserts will be available as a trio or can be purchased separately at the Dessert and Champagne marketplace. Linda tried the Nicolas Feuillatte Rose Champagne and found it to be a little too sweet for her when combined with the sugary desserts.

Another dessert has been developed for the festival with kids in mind -- a frozen s'mores beverage made of frozen Nesquik, toasted marshmallow syrup and topped with graham crackers, Marianne told me. And she said there are plenty of foods and beverages for kids to sample, as well as experiences such as the Ghirardeli Chocolate Experience and the Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog.

"So many kids are being educated about different countries and the different foods from the countries. " Kids have the opportunity to taste sushi or the hot dog with kimchi and different things, so I highly encourage kids to explore. It's really a way that they can expand their flavors of the world without that commitment of a whole dinner," Marianne said.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland event. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


July 23, 2013

Radio Disney kicks off TRYathalon tour; DisneyXD to air competition in August

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Radio Disney kicked off a national tour this weekend designed to bring the fun of DisneyXD's TRYathalon to kids across the United States. Orlando is one of the upcoming stops, and kids are invited to come out to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at 10 a.m. Aug. 31 to experience it.

Part of Disney's "TRYit" campaign planned to inspire kids and families to try a variety of new foods and exercise, the TRYathlon Road Tour features competitive challenges to encourage physical activity and to highlight nutritious foods needed to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Event activities include the Hoop It basketball challenge, Build It shape building challenge, Kick It soccer goal competition, Plate It nutritious meal creation and Dance It interactive activities with prizes from the Radio Disney Road Crew. Participants at each stop can enter to win a runDisney Vacation for four at Walt Disney World.

Other tour stops are in Philadelphia, July 27; Chicago, Aug. 31; Boston, Sept. 7; Dallas, Oct. 19; Atlanta, Oct. 26. Radio Disney expects to add more stops.

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Radio Disney's TRYathlon Road Tour is based on Disney XD's TRYathalon, which is in its second year. The competition pairs Disney XD and Disney Channel actors with kids viewers. This year Leo Howard and Olivia Holt ("Kickin' It"), Calum Worthy ("Austin & Ally"), Jake Short ("A.N.T. Farm," "Mighty Med"), Spencer Boldman ("Lab Rats") and Bradley Steven Perry ("Good Luck Charlie," "Mighty Med") team up with three student athletes and contest winners. The competition will air at 9 p.m. ET Aug. 12 and 19 on Disney XD and is hosted by Hal Sparks and Tyrel Jackson Williams ("Lab Rats").

Beginning Aug. 13, NBA superstar Dwight Howard and White House chef Sam Kass each will host a series of "TRYit" interstitials on Disney Channel and Disney XD. Howard will teach viewers new exercises to stay in shape, and Kass will give kids and families tips on healthy eating and preparing recipes. "Disney TRYathlon" stars and "Lab Rats" actor Billy Unger will join Howard and Kass in Disney's "TRYit" interstitial series.

Kids can get involved with the "TRYit" campaign at home by tracking online the new health-conscious actions they've taken. Disney hopes to record 1 million "TRYit" actions. On July 29, DisneyXD.com/TRYit also will launch a web game in which users can test their skills in three "Disney TRYathlon" challenges.

Families who are visiting Walt Disney World during the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival in the spring can taste foods that Disney chefs have earmarked "TRYits" for kids. This is a great way for families to experience the festival together and to get kids to sample foods they may not otherwise be tempted to taste. My 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter spent an afternoon this spring in World Showcase sampling the TRYits, and they really enjoyed the experience. You can read about our journey here and the video is below.

October 6, 2012

Kids and families will find plenty to sample at Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

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Visiting the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival can be a wonderful evening for adults. In fact, many Disney fans and local residents look forward to this special event all year. But the fun isn't just limited to the grown-ups. For children who are at least elementary-school-age and a little adventurous in their tastes, there's quite a lot to explore. (And if your kids are younger, they may be happy to stay in the stroller, while you sample the adult foods and beverages.)

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For families, it's likely to be more about the food than the wine and beer. Repeat visitors will, no doubt, be looking to see if their favorites have returned. My own children are happy to see these specialties on the menus again:

** Hawaii marketplace: Kalua pork slider with sweet and sour Dole pineapple chutney and spicy mayonnaise
** Argentina marketplace: Beef Empanada
** Canada marketplace: Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup
** Scandinavia marketplace: Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries
** Germany marketplace: Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll

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I think their absolute favorite was the Kalua pork slider. I say that because my daughter wanted to go through that line three times. The one dish they tried and really didn't care for was the Cheese Fondue at the Cheese marketplace. My son and daughter, like many kids, love to eat finger foods that come with a dip of some sort, so they were drawn to the fondue. But when they discovered the cheese wasn't cheddar or American, they were ready to feed it to the birds. (The melted cheese has a sour taste, which probably is more suited to adult palates.)

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Jennie Hess, a Disney spokeswoman for the Food & Wine Festival and mother of two sons who attend the festival each year, recommends these new, kid-friendly dishes:

** Terra marketplace: Trick'n Chick'n with Curry and Basmati Rice (vegan dish)
** Florida Local marketplace: White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa pork and Zellwood sweet corn salad
** Germany marketplace: Schinken Nudel
** New Zealand marketplace: Lamb Meatball with Spicy Tomato Chutney

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Be sure to save room for dessert, which is offered at several marketplace locations. Or, live dangerously and stop by the Festival Center on your way in and check out the Bean to the Bar Chocolate Experience by Ghirardelli. Guests will receive free chocolate samples and can purchase an inexpensive cup of delicious drinking chocolate that tastes like a liquid candy bar. How many kids do you know who would turn that down?

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Another fun, and educational, exhibit is the Ocean Spray "Discover the Cranberry Bog" in Future World, where guests can see how cranberries are harvested and learn more about their history. Plus, there are free Craisins for the kids!  Not far from there, the Mr. Food Watermelon Patch features the giant fruits growing on vines and storyboards about watermelons.

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Families who enjoy cooking together really seem to like the culinary demonstrations at the Festival Center, which cost $11 or $14 per person, and the complimentary Authentic Taste Seminars hosted by Driscoll's each Friday through Sunday, Hess said. Also, at the Port of Entry merchandise location families can enjoy a seminar featuring Epcot chefs and industry pros at 3:15 p.m. daily. For an updated schedule of events, see the AllEars festival page.

There's no doubt that the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival offers a fun and delicious diversion for adults. But don't hesitate to take your children on an adventurous discovery of different foods from around the globe, either. It just might open up a whole new world of dining options for your family.

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About Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is the previous category.

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