It’s that time of year again when Disney fans are starting to make plans to attend Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival at Disney World. There is so much to love about this festival. The food! The wine! The craft beers! The entertainment! And some things not to love. . .like the crowds. I attended the 2011 Food & Wine Festival and came away with some observations about what it’s like to experience the Festival as a solo traveler. Here are my thoughts:
Why The Festival is Great for Solo Travelers
- The Festival is a fun event that attracts a lot of people–including adults without children. This provides you with great opportunities to meet more people (in line, at seminars and special events, etc.) and engage in people-watching.
- If dining alone in a restaurant makes you uncomfortable, you don’t need to worry about that if all your meals come from Festival booths. (You also don’t need to worry about booking Advanced Dining Reservations.)
- If food, wine or beer is your passion, you can indulge to your heart’s content.
Drawbacks for Solos
- My biggest—and perhaps only—criticism of the Festival is that there aren’t enough tables and surfaces to rest plates on while eating. The handful that do exist are always taken. When traveling with others, one person can “hold” the table while another can go buy food items. You can’t do that when you’re alone.
- Due to a lack of surfaces, you need to choose food that is truly “finger food” or at least food that doesn’t require cutting. When you’re alone, you have just two hands to work with—one to hold the plate and one to hold a fork. There is no third hand to hold the knife if you need to cut something or a drink if you feel like having a drink and a plate of food at the same time. (You also don’t have any free hands left to take photos of your food, if you’re so inclined. Bummer.)
The Food & Wine Festival isn’t cheap. First, you need to buy a ticket to Epcot. Then the food. Items cost between $3 and $7 each and are fairly small portion sizes. To give you a baseline of what to expect, I’m a very light eater compared to most people, and I found that I needed to eat about 3 items per meal in order to feel full. When you add in a beverage on top of that, I easily spent around $20/meal here, which is similar to what I would spend in a sit-down restaurant on property.
Of course, the main reason you’d want to attend the Food & Wine Festival in the first place is the food, wine and beer sampling, and in that regard, the Festival does not disappoint. As with any food festival or buffet where you’re sampling foods, you will have mixed responses about what you try. (I did not book any of the special events, so I can really only speak to the food from the booths.)
My Food Highlights:
- Escargots Persillade en Brioche in France
- Braised Beef with Smashed Sweet Potatoes from South Africa
- Apple Strudel with Karamel-Vanilla Sauce in Germany
- Godiva Chocolate Liqueur Iced Coffee from Belgium – would have been better if it were larger
- Crispy Shrimp Taco with Chipotle Lime Mayo and Cabbage Served on a Flour Tortilla in Mexico
- Sparkling Pomegranate Kir (alcoholic drink) in France
- Abita Purple Haze at the Craft beer booth
Food Festival Fails of 2011:
- Singapore Sling from Singapore – When I was in my 20s, my favorite adult beverage was the Singapore Sling. I haven’t had one in probably 20 years. This one tasted like Nyquil Cherry Cough Syrup and was absolutely undrinkable. I had to throw most of it away.
- Bunny Chow (vegetarian curry) from South Africa – It tasted okay but the bread was so tough I had to cut it in order to eat it, and the sauce slopped over the edges of the plate. Messy.
- The Food & Wine Festival is very popular (read: crowded). However, Disney is an expert at crowd control, so even when the food lines are long, they tend to move quickly.
- The plastic utensil dispensers are brilliant and very easy to use with just one free hand.
- I liked that they offered alcohol for the adults in the crowd. Disney is even more fun when you have a buzz. Just sayin’.
- The Festival Center is worth visiting. Here, you can buy gift cards for the Festival and all sorts of Festival merchandise, as well as attend seminars.
Tips for an Improved Festival Experience
- Create a plan of attack. Before my trip, I used The Disney Food Blog to research available food and drink items (with photos!) and created a list of priorities to try, “clumping” them based on their location to one another (to minimize walking back and forth—don’t forget, the World Showcase is 1.2 miles around). This strategy worked pretty well for me.
- I should have purchased a pre-loaded Food & Wine Festival gift card for myself. Psychologically, I think it would have been less painful than pulling cash out of my pocket all the time.
- If you really want to make the most of your own trip to the Festival, you can pre-order The Disney Food Blog Guide to the 2014 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival e-book for just $14.95 It has a full, daily schedule of events for the entire festival; a chapter on what’s new this year; full pages dedicated to each World Showcase booth (including photos and menus); eleven themed “booth crawls” (fun!); and customized touring strategies–all of which you can carry around the park on your smartphone or iPad.
(Disclaimer: If you use the link included in this post to purchase the book, I do get an affiliate payment for that. Even if I didn’t, I’d still recommend this book. Why? Because nobody knows Disney food like the Disney Food Blog, so you can be sure this is a thoroughly-researched planning tool for you to get the most for your time and money at the Festival.)
Have you been to the Food & Wine Festival? What advice would you offer a solo traveler headed there for the first time?