If you read our recent “Top Snacks” at Food & Wine Festival post, a few of these snacks may look familiar. Since I knew we’d be spending a lot of time at the Food & Wine Festival this trip, one of my goals prior to the trip was to really improve my food-photography skills. I didn’t go about this the conventional ways of reading about food photography, or even practicing. Instead, I wrote a post on the topic for the Disney Food Blog. This helped me reinforce ‘best practices’ to myself. The big problem I have when photographing food is not that I don’t know how to do it, but that I get lazy with it because I am so anxious to eat. These snacks made being patient difficult, but hopefully the patience I did have paid off!
The first country kiosk at which we stopped was…Hawaii. With Hawaii, Cheese, Desserts & Champagne, and Hops & Barley, I think Disney is playing fast and loose with the concept of a “country” when it comes to the Food & Wine Festival kiosks. Oh well, some non-country kiosks had really good snacks, so I can’t complain.
When I first gazed at the menu, I have to admit that I had some sticker shock. We did Food & Wine Festival in 2009, and the prices were similarly expensive then, but I was still a bit taken aback by some of the high prices. Overall, for the size of the portions, I think most snack prices are high relative to Counter Service meals (if you apportioned appropriately). I think Disney has an expectation that many people visiting during Food & Wine Festival are using the Disney Dining Plan (for “free”), which incentivizes Disney to raise prices to create a greater impression of value for these Guests. After all, if 75% (made up number, I have no idea what it really is–probably not that high) of Food & Wine Festival Guests are on the Dining Plan, the prices of snacks are illusory to 75% of Guests, anyway. These Guests are likely to respond favorably to higher prices for Food & Wine Festival snacks, as that increases their perceived “value” of the DDP. In fact, the more expensive dining options are, the more likely they are to be satisfied with the Dining Plan, as they didn’t pay for the Dining Plan (which, if you follow my ramblings, you know is not the case, since there is the opportunity-cost of forgoing another discount for free dining) or if they did pay for the Dining Plan, aren’t paying for the snacks directly.
There’s a decent chance that another 5-10% of Food & Wine Festival Guests are there specifically for the Food & Wine Festival events, and either have disposable incomes to visit specifically during that time, or will pay a premium to sample the snacks. That leaves a negligible number of Guests who will actually make purchases based upon prices, making it in Disney’s best interests to price items artificially (or unreasonably) high.
In any case, my point is that I think Disney realizes it can get away with charging a premium for many things at Food & Wine Festival because of the type of Guests to whom it is catering with the event. For better or for worse, we fall into the category of Guests who are willing to overpay to sample Food & Wine Festival snacks. Given all of these things, my ratings of value for the following items are relative to the rest of Food & Wine Festival, not to Disney dining in general.
I got over my sticker shock fairly quickly, deciding to not let considerations of money enter the equation (yeah, right). While we always kept prices in the backs of our minds, we were pretty willing to sample most things without worrying about prices. Only on a couple occasions did we not purchase a snack because of its price, and that’s when we saw the item in advance, and it’s price seemed grossly disproportionate with the sample-size and likely ingredient cost.
The first place we didn’t stop was the Craft Beer kiosk. Being a craft beer lover, I was quite excited when I first heard about this kiosk. Then I saw the beer list. Disney played pretty fast and loose with the term “craft beer,” and the list was quite underwhelming, in my opinion. We love drinking around the world at Epcot normally, but I expect more for Food & Wine Festival. As craft beers continue to become more mainstream, I hope Disney realizes it can do more than pay lip service to craft beers and still do alright in sales.
This was the first snack we tried at the Food & Wine Festival was the Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise, and it really set the bar high. The bun was a wonderful and buttery (unsurprisingly) Hawaiian roll, the sauce was rich and not too spicy, and the meat was moist and perfectly flavored. We were still incredibly hungry at this point, so we really had to restrain ourselves from ordering more of these bad boys!
Continuing on towards Canada, our next stop was in the venerable country of “Desserts & Champagnes.” Ahhh, this old-time country with its rolling hillsides and rich heritage. Of course Sarah’s sweet-tooth dictated that we stop. Cody (I forgot to link to his Disney photos in the last installment, but you should definitely check them out–he’s an awesome photographer) seemed equally ready to make the stop. I wasn’t about to object.
They both ordered the Dessert Trio, which looked absolutely amazing. For some reason, Cody promptly dropped his on the ground. Upon seeing this, I gave him some sage advice: if you don’t drop it on the ground, you can eat it. Heartbroken over the loss of the delicious-looking desserts, I don’t think he was amused. I probably shouldn’t have rubbed salt in that wound.
The Dessert Trio was priced at $3.75 and consisted of Lemon Chiffon, White Chocolate Macadamia Mousse with Dark Chocolate Pearls, and Tres Leches Verrine. For all the complaining I just did above about snacks being overpriced, I actually think this one was priced quite well–probably better than many Counter Service snacks.
These snacks were beyond articulation. Sarah and I shared each of them (as we did with everything we sampled), and at first I thought maybe the Lemon Chiffon didn’t appeal to my tastes. I voiced this as soon as I tasted it, and before I could let the favor sink in and admit my mistake, Sarah had already claimed it. Drats! Well, at least it gave us a reason to come back and try this one again (and again…).
It was a really hot and humid day (all of those who said the weather was really nice for this weekend obviously weren’t there for Thursday–on a side note, you need to learn to take longer weekends!). I mention this now because the heat and humidity made us think twice about certain snacks. I love soups in the winter, but on a 95 degree day, there’s no way I’m eating soup, even if it’s the storied Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup that I had never tried.
This heat actually made us pass up a few items, and we didn’t stop for another snack until we arrived in Belgium. There, I ordered the Steamed Mussels with Roasted Garlic Cream & Baguette and Cody ordered the Belgium Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. This time, Cody ate it instead of donating it to the pavement. Sarah isn’t a fan of mussels, so I had those all to myself.
I am no connoisseur of mussels. I think I’ve only had them once or twice before trying this snack at the Belgium pavilion. However, I am an expert on garlic cream sauces. My non-expert and expert opinion on this dish is that it was one of the best snacks, both from a taste and value perspective, that I had at the Food & Wine Festival. The mussels were tender and tasted great, and the cream sauce was utterly amazing. Much to Sarah’s chagrin, I discretely headed to a hidden nook and licked the rest of the garlic cream sauce off my plate when I was done with this one. Uncouth? Sure. Totally worth it? Double-sure.
We wandered on to Morocco, a small island country in the Pacific Ocean famous for its miniature poodles and the Eiffel Tower. Morocco is always a good culinary bet, so I decided to grab the Kefta pocket here. At $5, this was a bit on the pricey side, but it was well-seasoned, very meaty, and tasted great. Definitely worth trying if you stop by Morocco!
From here we kept going, next making a stop in New Zealand so Sarah could get the Seared Sea Scallop with Kumara-Red Curry Puree and Apple Radish Salad. I have mixed feelings about this one. It seemed to have decent flavor, size, and presentation, but for some reason that I can’t quite pinpoint, it just didn’t do a whole lot for me.
We continued on, at first passing Japan, until Sarah pointed out that they (unsurprisingly) had sushi. In fact, if I recall correctly, different varieties of sushi comprised most of the menu. Sarah doesn’t like sushi, so I had the California Rolls that I ordered all to myself. The sushi tasted pretty good (albeit not as good as California Grill’s or other sushi served at Table Service restaurants on property), plus, as far as sushi goes, it was fairly reasonably priced at only $3.50. For sushi-lovers like myself.
As we rounded Japan, the famed Hops & Barley stand came into view. This is where we got our first taste of Food & Wine Festival in 2009, and it got us hooked. Back then, we were quite excited that Sam Adams brewed up a small batch (a true micro!) of beer for the Festival. However, we later heard rumors that the Festival beer was merely Blackberry Witbier. Once we tried the Blackberry Witbier at home, this was pretty much confirmed. Although a lot of craft beer lovers hate Sam Adams, mostly on principle, I think, I enjoy a lot of the varieties they offer, especially the darker Winter offerings. Despite the fruity undercurrent, I even like the Witbier. Granted, I couldn’t drink more than one at a time, but it’s still a good beer.
This year, Blackberry Witbier had a dedicated place on the menu, so the Festival Beer definitely wasn’t it. We assumed it was merely a rebranded type of commercially available Sam Adams, but we decided to give it a try anyway. It again, had a bit of a fruity flavor to it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what regular Sam Adams beer it was. Hopefully someone reading will know and share in the comments. If it is a regular beer, I find it disappointing that Disney and Sam Adams imply that this is a beer brewed specially for Food & Wine Festival.
While this beer was fairly good, it ended up being the only beer we purchased at Food & Wine Festival. With the exception of the Brewer’s Collection, I have to say I was really disappointed by the incredibly mainstream choices in each of the countries. Germany seemed to have a decent selection, but Belgium’s was downright laughable. I realize the majority of America thinks of Germany as the great beer country of the world, but in my opinion, Belgium is easily a better country for truly good beers. Likewise, AMERICA is a great country for beers (with Bell’s, Founder’s, New Holland, Arcadia, and other great breweries, I think my home state of Michigan ALONE could go toe to toe with Germany). That the only brewery represented was Sam Adams was incredibly disappointing. Where are the amazing Michigan, Washington, and Wisconsin (among other states) microbrews? I understand that Disney wants to sell as much as they can during Food & Wine Festival, and the best way to do that is to sell mainstream beers that pay face to the concept of “foreign beers,” but if Disney truly is trying to cater to a foodie crowd, it would be well-suited to re-think what beers are appropriate for a real food and alcohol festival.
Fixating on the disappointing beers does a real disservice to the festival’s standout dessert, which also could be found at the Hops & Barley stand. If you’re on Twitter at all, and have searched the #EpcotFW11 (the official hashtag Disney is advocating be used for the Festival) tweets, you’ve probably read about this dessert. Yeah, I’m talking about the Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce.
I love all things pumpkin. Heck, we do a yearly pumpkin beer sampling because we love pumpkins so much. Sarah makes pumpkin smoothies. We’ve gone through far more containers of Trader Joe’s pumpkin ice cream in the past two weeks than I care to admit (if you have a TJ’s near you, you must buy this ice cream…or avoid it at all costs!). A pumpkin candle, which we do NOT eat, sits on our coffee table right now.
That said, we are both pretty discerning when it comes to pumpkin-cuisine. We don’t just love everything with the word pumpkin slapped on it that just happens to have a hint of pumpkin and an over-abundance of cinnamon (a common error in pumpkin-food preparation). I think we ended up having about 5 of these over the course of our trip. The perfectly balanced mousse was definitely the highlight, but the Craisins were a surprisingly good compliment to the dish. This is easily the best mix of value and taste at this year’s Food & Wine Festival. Order this for sure, I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed.
At this point, I think we were all feeling fatigued from the heat. I suggested to Sarah and Cody that maybe we should stop at the attractions in Norway and Mexico, and this idea was met with resounding approval. So, we headed this way without giving much additional thought to the booths along the way. We’d be back to Epcot again the next day, and the next, and maybe even the next, so gorging ourselves that day wasn’t a priority, even if the lines were shorter that day.
Of course, our plans to make it to Norway quickly were thwarted by the Earth! Well, more specifically the Earth Barge for Illuminations, as the bridge over by the Outpost needs to be raised in order for this barge to enter the Lagoon. Sarah and I get stopped here all the time, and it doesn’t really frustrate us. We just occupy ourselves by playing around at the Outpost (a place we normally skip without a second thought), taking foolish photos while listening to the Reflections of Earth medley play on the speakers. Cody, on the other hand, had never seen this, and was pretty impressed, I think. Maybe impressed is the wrong word, but he seemed mesmerized by it. Okay, again, maybe that’s the wrong word choice. I don’t want to imply that he was like a kid playing around with an “amazing” new box on Christmas morning. He simply watched the barge as it moved and took some photos of it.
Once the bridge was lowered, we made our way to Norway. The wait here was posted as like 20 minutes, but it was actually quite short. While in line I pointed out to Cody that I think the oil worker on the mural resembles Chuck Norris. He agreed, and we looked for others in the attraction who resembled famous folks. I like going on these attractions with new people, as it gives me a chance to reuse and refine my time-tested jokes. Sarah probably rolls her eyes when she hears them, as she has heard them hundreds of times, but amusing myself is one of my hobbies, and telling corny jokes is one way I accomplish this (although the Chuck Norris thing isn’t a joke–the guy on the far right side of the mural really looks like Chuck Norris!).
During the attraction, Cody pointed out a couple of things that I hadn’t noticed, and afterward asked the Cast Members on the attraction. I don’t remember the first question, but the answer was something concerning a Norwegian fairly tale that involves some castle in the sky, or something like that (as I type this, I’m beginning to think there might not be a point to this story…) and the other question was why the flaming house near the beginning of the attraction had windows shaped like crosses, to which the Cast Member had no response. Anyone know the answer to that question?
Anyway, after Norway, we headed towards Mexico. On our way, Cody and I discussed how we loved Maelstrom even if it was corny and dated. Like I mentioned above, I think that once it’s removed, it’ll become a cult classic due to its highly quotable script. Next on the agenda was Gran Fiesta Tour. After the 2007 or 2008 refurbishment, this became an attraction that both Sarah and I really enjoy. The original Rio Del Tempio was okay, but it really needed a shot in the arm. I really respect Disney for breathing life into this attraction with characters from an older and obscure film that completely fit the theme of the pavilion, rather than just slapping sombreros on some popular Pixar characters and calling it a day. People may complain about the character invasion in Epcot in recent years (not true, characters have been around since the 1980s in EPCOT Center), but I think more character-based attractions in Epcot represent a necessary evolution of the park given the reasonable expectations of most Guests. Yeah, I prefer The Living Seas to the Seas with Nemo and Friends, but I know which is decidedly more popular with Guests. Some people need to realize that what works for die hard fans on a personal level doesn’t necessarily work for The Walt Disney Company as a business.
After we left Mexico, we made one more stop for food, in Australia, where we got the Shrimp on the Barbie with Pepper Berry Citrus Glaze and Grilled Lamb Chop with Potato-Goat Cheese Salad and Shiraz Reduction. Sarah chose the shrimp and I chose the lamb chop. I tried one of her shrimp, and was not impressed. By contrast, my chop was excellent. I might be a little biased here. I absolutely love lamb, potatoes, and goat cheese. So it should really be no surprise that I loved this snack. To be fair, I didn’t just like it because it mixed three things I like; I liked it because it mixed them in a logical way where none overpowered the rest, and the resulting dish was flavorful. My one complaint was that my cut of lamb was a little fatty, but overall, it was not a big deal. For $5.75, it’s on the more expensive end of the snack spectrum, but it offers decent value given the large portion size.
It was late afternoon, and we soon would have to leave the park to go get ready for the Disney Parks Blog Trick or Meet-Up event, so we headed towards Future World.
Along the way, we saw something that none of the three of us recalled seeing on our way in: a cranberry bog. Come to find out, this bog was sponsored by Ocean Spray. It was really cool, especially for those who don’t live in New England (I know I’ve never seen one in person). Seeing this made me chuckle a bit in my head, as I recall when the Ocean Spray sponsorship of Walt Disney World was announced, a few in the fan community grumbled and complained. Between this bog and the great pumpkin mousse dessert alone, I’d say Disney was already seeing the fruits (ha!) of the Ocean Spray sponsorship, and overall the move was a positive for Guests. Since returning, I heard about something else, which I now can’t recall, that Ocean Spray was doing as part of the sponsorship that also seemed like a great plus for Guests. I guess this just goes to show you that the rabid Disney fans will complain about anything.
Once in Future World, we stopped at the Land pavilion. While Sarah and Cody were doing something, I headed into Sunshine Seasons, and snapped some photos. Luckily I was fairly full from all of the Food & Wine Festival booths, otherwise I think I would have stopped to grab a dessert. As always, they looked delicious!
While in the Land, we experienced Livin’ With The Land before heading over to The Seas pavilion. Much to my surprise, all of the effects were working, including a seldom-seen moving angler fish on the KUKA arm! I was quite excited to see these effects actually working, which in-itself is disappointing, as working effects should be the norm, not something out of the ordinary that causes excitement.
From there, we headed over to Test Track, where we met Nick. I felt a little bad that he had joined us so late in the day, especially since we had to leave after that attraction. He didn’t seem to care too much, though, and we actually ended up doing Spaceship Earth afterward because he offered to drive us home (dangit, another car ride!), which would save us time over taking the bus.
Of course, when we exited Spaceship Earth, Cody and I both instinctively noticed the great light and sunset that was beginning to shape up. He and I wandered around Spaceship Earth, quickly grabbing photos, at various angles.
Then, I saw a monorail approaching. I could have snapped a halfway decent photo from the location where I was standing at the time, but I wanted to get a shot with the sunset in the frame. This would require me to substantially change positions, so I began walking very briskly over to the spot I would need, adjusting my camera settings along the way. It was truly a race between me and the monorail, and I beat it by a split second, planting my feet and firing off three frames just as it crossing Spaceship Earth. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the large refurb wall around the Leave a Legacy tombstones, so I had to substantially crop the photo, removing a large portion of the sunset. I might still tinker with this photo before doing a Flickr-edit (if it ever makes it there) to see if there’s any reasonable way I can edit it that allows more of that gorgeous sunset into the frame.
After I grabbed those shots, we headed to the parking lot. Of course, along the way I walked right next to the monorail track, keeping my eye on the monorail I had just photographed, waiting for it to exit the station and head towards the TTC. Nick probably thought I was crazy, constantly looking over my shoulder as if I neurotically thought I was being tailed by a stalker. He would have been right about the stalker aspect, except I was the one stalking the monorail, it just didn’t know it yet. As we approached the point where the monorail track curves off and leaves the Epcot lot, I saw the monorail begin to move. I waited at that point and got off a few shots before running to catch up with Sarah and Nick.
It took us a bit of time to find the car, but we finally did, and with that, we were off to Caribbean Beach Resort, with only a short amount of time for me to get the costumes and for us to get ready for the event!
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