The DCA Food & Wine Festival is back from February 28 to April 21, 2020! This guide offers tips for how to make the most of the Disney California Adventure foodie special event, what to order, what not to order, good value menu items, and general recommendations for making the most of this event, which has free and upcharge components.
For 2020, the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival is longer than last year, and will feature additional marketplace booths than last year (which makes sense given that Festival of Holidays had more booths). Our expectation is that the snacks at these booths will be more expensive than last year’s DCA Food & Wine Festival, but less expensive than Festival of Holidays.
In addition to the marketplace booths and seminars that ran last year, this year the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival will also feature ticketed events, such as culinary demonstrations by celebrity chefs such as Guy Fieri, Jamie Deen, Robert Irvine, Duff Goldman, Emily Ellyn, Keegan Gerhard and more.
We’ll have more information about the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival once the event starts, but for now, here are some tips and info based on our experience at the event last year…
One thing you’ll note that this guide doesn’t cover is saving money. While we had a lot of fun spending time grazing the marketplaces at the DCA Food & Wine Festival, it’s a costly experience. There are no “secret hacks” for parlaying a couple of filling snacks into a meal that winds up being less expensive than counter service options. The portions are relatively small, and the prices relatively high. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent the day wandering around the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. It’s the exact same idea.
When the DCA Food & Wine Festival was announced, we were super hyped. We never got a chance to experience the original event, and were bummed back when it was cancelled. It’s been gone for the last 5 years, so we figured it was gone for good. As tourists, we came to love California’s diverse culinary scene, so it seemed like the old event would have been an excellent opportunity to expose ourselves to more California cuisine as part of a thematically-fitting special event.
While Disney California Adventure has improved dramatically in the last few years, it seems like the park’s theme has shifted way from “California” more towards a generic catch-all park with loose California ties to shoehorn everything in. It’s Disneyland’s “studios” park.
That’s not necessarily problematic in many cases–things like Cars Land are exceptional even if the Route 66 connection is tenuous. Still, it’s nice to see a return to the park’s purported theme with the Food & Wine Festival. After experiencing this and a few other special events like Lunar New Year at DCA, I think this is a great way to keep the “California” in DCA. Now, where is my Parade of Whales down Buena Vista Street, Disney?!
Irrespective of all that, the DCA Food & Wine Festival has the potential to be a fun event that emphasizes the park’s theme. We’ll start our coverage with menus for the marketplaces, then some reviews of specific things we tried, followed by our overall impressions of the event. Let’s get started…
Last year, there were 15 marketplaces at the DCA Food & Wine Festival–almost double the number of the previous year. To that end, the DCA Food & Wine Festival is growing into its own, more closely resembling its cousin at Epcot held each fall. It remains to be seen how many booths there will be for the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, but we’d expect the number to grow once again.
Here’s an overview of last year’s marketplace booths, some of which should appear again in 2020:
Nuts About Cheese – Discover wine’s best friends.
Uncork California – Wine in flights and by the glass.
I Heart Artichokes – The thistle prepared 3 ways.
Garlic Kissed – Savory heat and an ice cream treat.
California Craft Brews – The best from local breweries.
Olive Us – Get a side of soup with your martini.
Bacon Twist – Because bacon is always on your mind.
Lemon Grove – Citrusy refreshment in every offering.
Seafood…Sustained – A better way to fresh flavor.
The Onion Lair – Kicky dishes and cool beverages.
Off the Cob – The essence of summer’s sweetness.
Sweet & Sourdough – The classic California staff of life.
LAStyle – Favorite southland food truck flavors.
Wineology – Taste wine and sangria by the glass.
The Brewhouse – Craft beers and beer cocktails.
Here are some of the items we sample at the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival last year; this should give you an idea of portion size and value for money. We’ll update this with additions once we try some of the different items.
When I first saw the Waygu beef, I thought, “this is a joke, right?” This is literally a spoonful of beef. Taste-wise, it was good and the cut was tender, but really? $8?! We do not recommend ordering this.
The Gold Rush booth was the hit of the party, both with us and in terms of the line. These chips were pretty good, but I would fork over another $5 for a second round.
I’m a sucker for mac & cheese, and this 3-cheese variety was no disappointment. The crumbles gave it a nice texture, and the pieces of gouda cheese along with chicken made it a solid dish. The portion wasn’t too bad here, either. We recommend this.
The Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie was sweeter than expected, with less pronounced bacon and apple flavors than we anticipated. Regardless, it was a stellar dessert despite the price. We also recommend this.
The White Cheddar Ale & Bacon soup was the highlight of what I sampled. This was some seriously good pub food, and rich soups like this are perfect bread bowl material. I’d love to see this added to Pacific Wharf Cafe’s menu. As should be obvious, we highly recommend this.
Lemon macaroons are almost always good, and this was no exception–just pricey–with a sweet and tart flavor that worked well.
The Blackberry Tart was forgettable. It was still enjoyable, just pretty much what you’d expect.
If you just go by the descriptions, there was a lot to like about the food we tried. Everything seemed relatively freshly prepared and was fairly flavorful. The only disappointments were in terms of portion size and price, and even as veterans of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival we thought prices were a decent bit higher and portions slightly smaller. In terms of quality, what we sampled equaled or exceeded Epcot’s offerings.
In comparing the lineups, the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival has grown as compared to last year, but is still somewhat scaled back as compared to its predecessors from the earlier years of DCA. If you look at this overview on Disney Food Blog, you’ll notice there were a lot more free presentations & tastings, plus paid dinners, tasting walks, and even a Festival Showplace. It sounded a lot more like Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival before its hiatus.
In fairness, the elaborate event was before Cars Land, before World of Color, and even before the Little Mermaid dark ride. Those were the days when Mali was booming, the park was fighting off an invasion of burger proportions, and sunglass-wearing dinosaurs roamed the park soaking up the rays. Ahh…the not-so-good ole days. Basically, Disney was doing anything it could to lure unsuspecting prey into DCA convince guests to visit DCA, so a larger event made sense.
I am pleased that there are some free presentations in addition to the paid seminars and costly marketplaces. (We watched a free 30-minute presentation on preparing meatball sliders, and while superficial, it was fun.)
The event was announced right around the same time as a few upcharge offerings at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, so I was a bit apprehensive that it was being brought back in name but not spirit with only the “best” revenue streams surviving.
Although there are ways to blow money and prices are high, the return of the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival doesn’t seem like a cash grab–at least not entirely. Although it does feel less like a celebration of California’s culinary scene as it could be if more effort was made with presentations, displays, etc.
Aside from the presentations and marketplaces, we were pleased that Blue Sky Cellar was open as a lounge for Annual Passholders, with Cast Members handing out free buttons, plus free phone charging, and Seasons of the Vine playing inside.
If you’ve never seen it, Seasons of the Vine is a high-quality (one of the few DCA 1.0 things about which that can be said!) short film about wine growing with an exceptional score.
“Hey, we have too many of these Country Bear souvenir jugs in Orlando…you guys want some?”
“Absolutely! The cranky Annual Passholders who are bitter about us replacing it with pooh will teach us a real lesson by buying them up!”
There’s also other merchandise. The coolest designs, I thought, were the poster art (see the AP pin) that had been created for the Food & Wine Festival, but I don’t believe those are being sold.
There are also Food & Wine Festival-inspired menu items at the restaurants around Disney California Adventure. I tried the Dungeness Crab Corn Chowder in a Boudin sourdough boule, and it was phenomenal. Lump crap meat in a rich soup plus filling (fresh!) bread for only about $10 after my AP discount.
Basically, the takeaway here is that at Disney California Adventure’s Food & Wine Festival, prices are high and portions are small, but the food is good. After some hiccups opening the booths, things went smooth operationally, and it was easy to hit the booths while wandering the park, but I wouldn’t call this a fun “experience” like could be said of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. That definitely has a great experiential element, likely in part because you’re wandering the countries of the world while grazing the booths.
For us, that’s what makes the high prices there palatable. Yeah, you know you’re paying too much, but it can be such an enjoyable event that you don’t mind too much. By contrast, I don’t think the DCA Festival has that going for it, at least not to the same degree. It’s a change of pace and something different to do, but not a reason to visit the park in itself. It’s a nice diversion if you’re already in the park, but if you can’t make it, you’re not missing much.
Do you agree or disagree with thoughts on the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival? Any additional thoughts on specific samples? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!