Last Friday, my sister and I traveled to Walt Disney World to experience our first ever EPCOT Food & Wine Festival. My grandma lives right outside of Tampa. With the Giants playing the Buccaneers in Tampa, we decided to take advantage of her close proximity and pay grandma a visit. That got us thinking – not only is our grandma close to Tampa, but she’s just under two hours away from Disney! Even with our Christmas trip just seven weeks away, we decided to do a quick stopover and check another Disney experience off our list.
We booked one night at Disney’s Swan Hotel. Staying at the Swan or Dolphin was also on our list of “must do’s” at Disney and we were able to use my sister’s teacher discount for the night.
The hotel is beautiful. The lobby is wonderfully and elegantly decorated and it has a true “Florida” feel to it. We took a small break in the afternoon to enjoy the pool. The grotto pool was awesome – the waterfall and [kiddie] slide was a lot of fun, as well.
We really enjoyed the close proximity to EPCOT. We loved that we could leave the park and be a short 15-minute walk back to our hotel. We didn’t have to wait for a bus or a boat – we simply left the park and walked back. It did lack a certain Disney flair, however. Once inside the room, it felt like an ordinary hotel room. There were no signs of Disney. No Mickey-shaped soap or shampoo in the bathroom, no towel animals, and as much as I hate to admit it – I missed Stacey (every Disney fan should understand that reference.)
Overall, it was a great stay. The fact that you have to pay for parking was a bit outrageous, but it all added up when you deducted my sister’s discount. If you must stay off-site, I definitely recommend the Swan or Dolphin!
Alright, let’s get to the review for the day…
We left grandma’s house around 6:30am and after a few quick stops, arrived at the Swan around 9am. We checked in, dropped off our bags at the room and were off and moving. We had a FP+ for Test Track, so after loading our Food & Wine gift cards, we walked toward Future World. I was surprised to see Test Track had an 80-minute standby wait. Sure, it was Food & Wine and a runDisney weekend, but I assumed it would be a much shorter wait than I’m accustomed to.
After riding Test Track, my sister and I made the executive decision that we’d forgo the rest of our FP+’s (Mission: SPACE and Spaceship Earth) and concentrate on enjoying the Food & Wine Festival.
We hadn’t eaten breakfast, so we started our day at the Refreshment Port with a croissant donut. I can’t bring myself to eat anything other than breakfast as my first meal of the day and the croissant donut was the closest thing to a breakfast pastry.
Once the festival booths opened at 11am, we decided to start with the most popular items first –as we read that the festival gets packed around 4pm when the after-work and happy hour crowd arrives.
Farm Fresh: Peppered Bacon Mac & Cheese and Cider Flight
We followed the heavenly aroma of bacon to the Farm Fresh booth, where we each ordered the peppered bacon mac & cheese and a cider flight. After seeing the size of the cider samples, we decided to share them moving forward. The bacon mac &
cheese was everything people claimed it to be. I was surprised by just how spicy the dish was, but the creamy cheese cooled the palate down a bit. There’s a reason this is one of the most popular dishes at the festival!
The cider was very refreshing. By 11am it was close to 90 degrees. While we thought ordering our own cider flight was a mistake, we really enjoyed it and it proved to be the right choice. The pumpkin cider was my favorite, followed by the pear.
Scotland: Fresh Potato Pancake with Smoked Salmon
I really wanted to try the haggis, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I even said I’d have a few more beers to build up my courage then return, but it never happened. My sister did try the potato pancake with the smoked salmon, however. The pancake was dense and the salmon was perfectly smoked. It was topped with an herb sour cream. I believe it had chives in it – and potatoes and chives are always delicious.
Dominican Republic: Roasted Pork with mangú/Yuca soufflé
Next up was the Dominican Republic. I went with the roasted pork, while my sister opted for the yuca and griddled cheese. In truth – the roasted pork looked unappetizing, but it tasted really, really good. The roasted pork melted in your mouth. The avocado complemented the pork, and the mangu salsa and pickled red onion was a refreshing and acidic element that cut down on the fattiness of the dish. While it looked like a typical fast food meal, it had the refined notes of a well-put-together dish.
I managed to grab a few bites of my sister’s yucca dish. The griddled cheese was caramelized and had a a bit of a crunch on the outside, while the yuca had a mashed potatoes-like consistency. I was happy with my decision, but I’d definitely add on the yuca next time!
Desserts & Champagne: Orange Blossom Brewery Toasted Coconut Porter float with caramel ice cream
There was very little written about this booth, let alone the drink, so this is my biggest sleeper of the festival. It was a huge target on my list. I love dark beers and was intrigued by the pairing with caramel ice cream and coconut. The drink was reminiscent of a Guinness float.
The drink itself looked delicious. It had “stopping power” – people kept asking us where we found it.
The first sip I took was all beer. You really have to mix it up in order to get the full effect. The caramel ice cream was rich and creamy. The porter tasted like Guinness with hints of chocolate and coffee. It was definitely heavy – not the best drink on a hot summer-like day – but it was definitely my favorite “dessert” at the festival!
We decided to save Ireland and Canada for dinnertime and ventured back toward France. It was then that we were faced with a “fork” in the road. It was hot. We were sweaty and getting full. We promised ourselves an unconventional trip and that we’d enjoy not only the festival, but being in Florida. We wanted to head back to the hotel at some point during the day to get some time at the pool, shower and change. We checked the weather and saw that the forecast called for rain around 4pm. At that time, it was a little after 1pm. We decided to press on and head back to the hotel around 2:30pm, instead. We’d hit the pool, take a shower and change, then head back after the rain passed.
France: Braised Short Ribs
I decided to skip France and try some of my sister’s dish. She went with the braised short ribs in cabernet with mashed potatoes. The beef was cooked perfectly and was like butter! The mashed potatoes were a little bland, but the gravy was incredible and added a ton of flavor. Had I not been getting so full, I would have ordered another plate of it. This was my sister’s favorite dish at the festival.
Brazil: Crispy Pork Belly, Cheese Bread and Black Beer
We decided to squeeze in another popular booth, as we wouldn’t be back until close to 5pm and knew it would have a long line. Everyone talked about the Brazilian Cheese Bread, so we made sure to split an order, along with the crispy pork belly and a black beer. The cheese bread was good, but a tad bit overrated. It was cheese bread – what more can you really say? The taste was a cross between a Cheez-It and Red Lobster’s cheese biscuits.
I really enjoyed the pork belly. It had cilantro on it, which ruined it for my sister (who hates cilantro.) The black beans partnered well with the pork belly, while the acid of the tomato cut down on the fattiness (similar to the Dominican Republic.) I’d definitely recommend this dish.
After Brazil we grabbed a grapefruit beer from Germany and made our way toward the International Gateway and back to the hotel. After hanging out in the pool, showering and taking a quick 20-minute nap, we were back and on our way.
Ireland: Fisherman’s Pie and Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale
The Fisherman’s pie was definitely one of my favorites. Imagine a shepherd’s pie made with seafood! I think it had some sort of tomato-based sauce. The pie was filled with seafood – I definitely got a scallop or two and a nice chunk of lobster. This dish had a lot of hype surrounding it, and rightfully so!
Canada: Filet Mignon, Moosehead Lager and Chicken Sausage
Another dish with a ton of hype surrounding it was the filet mignon at Canada. As one of the more expensive dishes at the festival, it was worth the price. There was at least 2-3 ounces of filet mignon and it was cooked perfectly! The truffle butter sauce wasn’t too prevalent, but I prefer it that way. Too much truffle oil can ruin a dish!
I managed to grab a bite or two of my sister’s chicken sausage. Another sleeper dish! It’s easily overshadowed by the filet mignon and cheddar soup. The sausage was spicy, which made the creamy polenta a perfect complement to the dish. I tasted hints of apple in the sausage, as well (I could be wrong,) so that was a pleasant surprise. Overall, this may have been the best booth at the festival with the tastiest options!
Hawaii: Pork slider, Tuna Poke with Seaweed salad, and Kona Big Wave
Another very good booth. The pork slider was topped with a pineapple chutney and spicy mayonnaise. It was just a well-composed sandwich and I was tempted to get another! The tuna poke was refreshing. Beautifully presented in a plastic mixed drink glass, it featured three or four chunks of fresh tuna and a seaweed salad. The sesame oil in the salad was a little overwhelming, but the tuna was very fresh and it was well worth the $4.75!
China: Roasted Duck in Steamed Bun, Tipsy Duck in Love
I couldn’t resist – the Tipsy Duck in Love is my favorite drink, and although you can get it year-round, I still bought one! I was looking forward to it all day! Something else I was looking forward to all day was trying the Roasted Duck Steamed Bun. While the duck was delicious, overall, this dish really disappointed. The bun had a strange texture – the bottom had hardened, giving it a plastic, gummy-like texture. It was definitely the worst thing I tried all day!
Okay – we tried both craft beer flights. I really enjoyed the second sampler choice, which consisted of two ales, a porter and a stout. My favorite was the Funky Buddha Vanilla Espresso Porter, which tasted like coffee ice cream! It reminded me of the delicious porter float I’d had earlier in the day! My sister preferred the first flight, however she wasn’t a fan of the pumpkin ale! They were out of the Orlando Brewing Grateful Pumpkin and substituted a pumpkin ale I had never heard of. Overall, it was nice to see them do something with the Odyssey building!
Chew Lab: Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle, New York Strip, The Smoking Hibiscus
We couldn’t end the day without trying the highly touted Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond truffle. My sister, who has more of a savory appetite, went with the New York Strip. It was cooked a bit rare, but I really enjoyed the piece I tried. It was supposed to be served with an arugula foam, but they left it off. A bit of a disappointment, as I was excited to try it!
In the name of science, we had to try the Smoking Hibiscus drink. I wasn’t a fan. I don’t like tea, and this definitely tasted like a frozen chai. The flower, however, was sweet and delicious. I finished the drink just to get to the flower.
Now – as for the chocolate almond truffle – it was certainly decadent! I think I expected more of an ice cream, when this dish was quite literally, a liquid nitro truffle. It was extremely chocolatey and silky smooth. My final consensus: it was very good but didn’t live up to the hype. If I had a choice, I’d go with the porter float – hands down. The truffle is a delicious non-alcoholic option, though!
Il Mulino withstanding, I’m not a fan of the Italian food at Disney. I’ve never tried Via Napoli (although I plan to) and I didn’t like Tutto Italia. Ironically, the only pizza I like on property is from Wolfgang Puck Express. For this reason, we skipped Italy.
We have reservations for the Biergarten for our Christmas vacation. Almost all of the items at the Germany booth are also served at the Biergarten. The main goal of our F&W trip was to try food we couldn’t normally find at Walt Disney World – so we skipped Germany, as well.
We also passed on the Greece and Japan stand. While the offerings were tempting, we felt that we could get the food anywhere, so we saved our money and appetite for other dishes.
As I look over the menu, I realize that I skipped the South Korea booth and forgot about the Brown Elephant drink at the Refreshment Cool Post. I’d also go with the Frozen s’more if I had to choose again! We all learn from our mistakes!
I really enjoyed the festival. There are so many delicious options and the food is small enough to “try,” but large enough to fill you up after a while!
Like many guests, we purchased and used the gift cards. We each put $200 on our gift card and it was way too much. We’re big eaters and drinkers, but even we ended the day with close to $70 leftover. My sister used the leftover money on souvenirs, while I saved it for our Christmas trip.
I’m sure if it wasn’t too hot outside and we were able to stay the entire day, we could have finished most, if not all, of the booths. It’s a lot to do in one day, though, from both a time and appetite perspective. I was hungry when we returned in the evening, but I got pretty full by the time we reached the China booth.
We hope to return again next year. When we do, we’ll definitely reserve two days for the festival rather than one – which should give us ample time to sample something from all the booths.