The year was 1982 when Epcot, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, at the Walt Disney Resort in Florida, opened its gates to the public. It was supposed to be this fantastic display of optimism in the future and what the world could be if everyone got along. In many ways it never was the original EPCOT that Walt Disney designed; there never was a dome and as far as I know no human lives there permanently. I was one of the many that walked through the gates that year and have fantastic memories of everything: meeting Figment the Dragon in Journey into the Imagination, the Communicor, and the fantastic World Showcase where were could learn about so many other countries. Mostly I remember walking a lot. And I remember everyone making a huge deal about there not being any alcohol being served anywhere in Walt Disney World because it was against Walt's wishes. There was even a rumor about a secret club somewhere, reportedly in Spaceship Earth, that served alcohol only to VIP guests among the rich and famous. Thing is, there really was a secret club for entertaining VIPs, it just wasn't at Epcot. Club 33 was, and still is, at Disneyland in California, according to Snopes.
Then came 1989, when Disney opened Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney. It was considered a big deal because suddenly Disney became owner of not only nightclubs, but places that served *gasp* alcohol. What would Walt think? I thought it was kind of strange to name it Pleasure Island because I remember those scenes from Pinocchio as being rather unpleasant and somewhat scary. Maybe I should re-watch the movie.... At any rate, the venture was considered a success, although the nightclubs have been shut down in order to perform a major renovation and overhaul of that portion of the business in order to update it.
Fast forward to 1996, the opening of the very first Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. The event, which runs from late September to early November, originally featured amateur and professional cooks from around the world showcasing food not normally seen in Epcot or Central Florida. In its fourteenth year there are no longer amateur cooks featured. Instead the best of Walt Disney kitchens and guest chefs from around the world showcase the foods, beers and wines from 27 countries, in temporary structures around World Showcase. Including countries where you might have difficulty finding wine served, such as Morocco. Entrees and desserts are served tapas style: small dishes typically costing $3-7 a piece. It's a wonderful experience to sample foods from around the world without breaking the bank. Wines are typically 4 oz pours and beers range from sample size to full pints and cost between $3 and $10 a serving. I can say with all honesty, that everything that sounded tasty, really, truly was. We went all the way "around the world" and only sampled things that sounded good in each country. Nothing, including entree, dessert or wine, was bad. This is an impressive feat when you consider what most of us expect from an amusement park.
Sam Adams represented the United States for alcohol and brought most of their product line. Unfortunately the food representing us was *groan* turkey legs, funnel cakes and popcorn. Along with having a boring movie and McDonalds representing us in the "American Adventure" pavillion, I was not amused. At least the beer was good.
While I won't bore you with a listing of every country's offerings I'll mention a few of the notables. Ireland featured a chocolate lava cake with Baileys ganache that tasted exactly as delicious as it sounds. China featured a cocktail called the Happy Lychee that was
refreshing, delicious and extremely alcoholic, as well as a to-die-for ginger and caramel ice cream. Their grilled pork dumplings were also the best I've ever had with a crispy wrapper and well-
balanced ginger sesame dipping sauce. South Africa featured a barbequed beef tenderloin with sweet potato puree. The tenderloin was perfectly cooked with a spicy sweet sauce and the sweet potato tasted like dessert. India featured super-thick ice-cold mango lassi's and potato and lentil dosai that were made-to-order following the crepe method. Here (pdf file) is a more complete map and listing of everything each country had to offer. Again, nothing we tasted was bad; it was all unbelievably good.
Being Disney, the festival did not just offer food. There was of course, shopping and swag to be had everywhere. The former Wonders of Life pavillion served as headquarters for the festival and as a site to host a variety of events including cooking classes, wine seminars and bottle signings. Not to mention, shopping. In true Disney style, you can purchase bottles of every wine served in the park. Of course you can't just take them with you, but can find them at the Guest Services desk on your way out of the park.
If you live in the area, really, you have no excuse. Get yourself over to Epcot and sample the festival. If you don't imbibe, at least enjoy the fantastic entrees and desserts. If you do imbibe, make sure you bring a designated driver or arrange for a taxi. If you wish to visit from afar, I highly recommend staying at the Boardwalk resort in Walt Disney World. It is walking distance to the "back gate" of Epcot and to the World Showcase, where the festival is primarily held. Currently one-day single park admission to Epcot is $79. Admission to the festival is free with admission to the park. Food and drink prices vary according to vendor.
Note: my full review of Epcot in 2009 will appear only at Trip Advisor under username ShutterBug. Reviews of some of the permanent restaurants in Walt Disney World will appear here, and cross-posted to Trip Advisor, as I am able to prepare them.