The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival kicks off in just about a month, September 14, 2016. But you don’t have to wait until it’s festival time to taste your way around the world. Personally, I feel it is a better experience and a better value to make your own food and wine festival type experience at Epcot. That’s exactly what I did on my recent visit, and it turned out to be one of the best visits ever!
Though there was rain in the forecast, blue skies provided a lovely backdrop to the iconic view of Spaceship Earth as I arrived. I made a bee line through Future World; my stomach growled and would wait no more. World Showcase holds so many culinary treasures, even when it is not Food and Wine Festival time. Beverages and snacks at Epcot are very easy to come by. Practically every pavilion has at least one full service restaurant, one counter service restaurant, and at least one cart or stand along the promenade offering snacks or drinks, or both.
When it comes to exploring World Showcase from a culinary perspective, there is some debate as to which direction to start, either Mexico or Canada. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. On this visit I headed toward the Canada pavilion because I had a 2:00 PM FastPass+ selected for Frozen Ever After and planned to my Epcot trip there.
United Kingdom and Canada Pavilions
Starting off with the Canada Pavilion is a bit rough if you arrive before 12:00 noon. The outside snack and beverage cart does not open until about 12:00 noon and the relatively new Trading Post Refreshments is currently unavailable – slated to reopen by the end of August. So really, there aren’t any snacks or beverages to enjoy here until later in the day.
If you do want to be sure to try something from the Canada pavilion I recommend a La Fin Du Monde beer from the outside cart or, if Trading Post Refreshments is open, an ice wine. Both will give you a taste of some of the best beer and wine produced by our neighbors to the North.
The United Kingdom Pavilion is also not ideal for sampling food, but there are plenty of great beers to sample. The Rose and Crown Pub and the neighboring beer kiosk open at 11:30 AM. Here you will find one of my favorite spots to sit and relax. It is a beautiful outdoor seating area with shade, strings of lights, and a beautiful waterfront view. When it is Festival time it is impossible to grab a seat here, which is another reason why creating your own Food and Wine Festival experience during “off season” is so wonderful.
My goal in creating my own food and wine festival experience wasn’t to sample something from each pavilion. So I had no qualms with skipping over the Canada and United Kingdom pavilions in order to enjoy something a little heartier and satisfying in the France pavilion.
If you want to see me at my happiest when visiting Epcot look for me at France; I practically walk on air. One of my dreams is to spend an entire day in this pavilion, but that’s a story for another time. The France Pavilion actually has the most food and beverage outlets of any World Showcase pavilion. There are two wine and beer stands, an ice cream and crepe kiosk, an artisan ice cream shop, a boulangerie and patisserie, and two full service restaurants.
If your sweet tooth needs to be satisfied then I highly recommend L’Artisan de Glaces. I have a hard time choosing between the ice cream martini and The Croque Glaces. The crepe kiosk is also a decent choice because crepes are about $4.50 and a full serving, whereas during the Food and Wine Festival you’ll likely pay $4.50 – $5.50 for a dessert half the size.
Personally I wanted something savory, something that felt like brunch. I headed for Les Halles Boulangerie Patteserie and perused the menu. The quiche tempted, as did the croque monsieur , but alas the simple, flavorful tartine de fromages won out. A rich tomato sauce is brushed onto a large slice of French bread. A generous layer of cheese blankets the bread and sauce, then crowned with a medallion of rich, tangy goat cheese, sprinkled with herbs, and baked. When paired with the next delightful thing I am about to share with you, it is a simple way to enjoy some flavors of provincial France.
MUST DO: The $20 Wine Walk
This is a must-do if you are making your own Food and Wine Festival experience. The Wine Walk is $20 with tax and includes stops at three pavilions: France, Italy, and Germany. You receive two wine samples at each pavilion, a pre-selected red and white, 2 oz each. For $20 you get to enjoy 12 oz of wine (just over two standard glasses). It’s a pretty good deal, especially considering most wine samples during the festival are $3.50 – $6.50 for each 2 oz sample.
You receive a Wine Walk page with a simple map and space for each of the three pavilions. At each one stop show your page with the receipt attached and the Cast Member will provide a brief explanation of the two wines and will stamp your page. You can purchase the Wine Walk at any of the three participating pavilions.
My favorites wines came from the France pavilion. The red is smooth, but dry, perfect example of a French red wine, and the Chardonnay is buttery, but not heavy, slight oak, and crisp. I am not a big Chardonnay fan but I’d gladly buy a bottle or three of either wine. Both wines are great on their own, but paired with the tartine de fromage, it made for a beautiful moment of French flavors as I sat in the pavilion, taking it all in.
At the Italy pavilion I recommend purchasing a piece of dark chocolate or chocolate with hazelnuts. This little treat will amplify the sweet, fruity flavors of the sparkling Rose Regale that is served as part of the Wine Walk. The Germany pavilion has a nice advantage over France and Italy, though, which I will get to later in the post.
On this visit I did not stop at this exotic pavilion. If you want to sample something here I would recommend visiting the dessert counter inside Tangerine Cafe and select one of the varieties of baklava, and pair it with a Turkish coffee. You can also pop into Spice Road Table which has a large bar (no seating). There are some specialty drinks available, though they are all pretty sweet, but a nice wine and beer selection is worth a stop. Plus, with their full bar they can make practically any drink you desire.
Welcome to another one of my favorite pavilions, the Japan Pavilion. Here you have a large variety of places to grab a snack and drink. My personal pick is the Sake Bar tucked into the back corner of the impressive Mitsukoshi store. There is an outdoor sake and beer kiosk, but most of the prices are more reasonable at the indoor Sake Bar. On a previous visit I enjoyed a sparkling sake. Sweet fruit flavors dominate this sake, but the bubbles make it refreshing.
This time I tried a different sake that the Cast Member recommended. The Hana Awaka is delicious, light, and refreshing. At $7.00 including tax for a 4 oz glass, it is a decent value. I would definitely order this again! It was the perfect palate cleanser after my rich snack and wine in France.
If you are looking for a snack, I recommend the Kakigori kiosk. The Kakigori (shaved ice) is a nice treat, but there are also small portions of sushi available for $5.00, as well as edamame for $4.00. A great way to try these traditional flavors of Japan for the first time or to satisfy a craving.
American Adventure Pavilion
Though I did not sample any food or drink at the American Adventure Pavilion, I could not resist the call of Voices of Liberty. They are simply stunning. I highly recommend that you stop and pay them a visit. Their 15 minute performance always brings tears to my eyes,… always.
After another riveting performance by the Voices of Liberty I encourage you to visit the American Adventure show. It is an Epcot classic and I fear someday in the near future it may no longer exist. It is an impressive combination of film and audio animatronics. I also recommend that you sit no more than five or six rows back because they level of detail on the animatronics is simply stunning. It is a stirring experience.
Ah, Deutschland, my Mother Land. Here you can pop into the Karamel Kuche for delectable desserts made with caramel, you can enjoy a giant German pretzel, or visit Sommerfest for a bratwurst, if it’s a little chilly out, I recommend the Nudel Gratin ($4.29).
More importantly, here is where you will find what many consider to be a hidden gem inside Epcot: the Weinkeller. Tucked into the back left corner of the pavilion, the Weinkeller is typically not too busy and offers a nice atmosphere in which to enjoy German wine, and a small selection of beers.
Best of all you can enjoy an artisinal cheese plate for only $5.00 (including tax). This is a great value with a decent size portion of three cheeses, plus a small serving of ham, and pretzel crisps. This pair perfectly with the two Riesling wines presented as part of the Wine Walk.
The last stop on my make-your-own-food-and-wine-festival experience was the China Pavilion. Many guests overlook the Joy of Tea kiosk, but I recommend giving it a visit. There are some decent snacks here, but the real attraction is the nice selection of teas and a few nice specialty beverages. I selected the Curry Chicken Pockets ($4.50) and the Mango Gingerita ($8.95), so $14.00 for a cocktail and a substantial snack. There are two pockets in each serving, great for sharing. The sesame topped pastry and the curry sauce made this snack!
The Mango Gingerita is unfortunately a premixed, slushy style drink. I am not in a hurry to order it again. Still, on a hot day it is a decent choice and has a nice exotic flavor combination of mango and a hint of ginger.
Wrapping it up
In total I spent $53.52 and had a very fulfilling experience. I sampled flavors from six countries and felt very satisfied. Each serving was much larger than what I would have received at a Food and Wine Festival Kiosk. There is no way I could get this much food and drink for this price at the festival kiosks.
The walkways were not clogged with large social groups getting together to indulge in the festival. There were plenty of places to sit in each pavilion and relax. No crowding around trashcans being used as tables. Stop and explore each pavilion while you drink and dine. Or look along the waterline for beautiful, and often quiet, seating areas.
The finale to my great afternoon at Epcot was a trip aboard Frozen Ever After. This was my first time on this much-discussed Frozen themed ride. The last time I set foot on these beloved Viking ship style ride vehicles was just a few days before Maelstrom closed down. I got to ride first row then, and received first row again on this trip. Overall Frozen Ever After impressed me. I still have mixed feelings about the heavy use of a story that did not take place in Norway, but the ride itself is impressive. Frozen Ever After was a great way to wrap up one of my best visits to Epcot ever!