Tuesday, December 15, 2015

5 Reasons Disney World is for Adults too: #4 Special Events at Epcot

By: Ashleigh

Welcome back to

Five Reasons Disney World is for Adults too!

RECAP: Last time, I began this series by making the case that Walt Disney World offers a great vacation for adults who are traveling with or without kids. I said I would give you five reasons, with the first being all the wonderful restaurants and fine dining experiences you can find around the resort. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, though, stay with me! I’ve got four more reasons and you’ll want to know all about this next one.
If you read my last post and thought to yourself, “Big deal. We can try great restaurants anywhere in the world,” I get that. But ask yourself, where else can I go to one place to try foods, wine, beer, cocktails, and desserts from 25 different countries and regions around the world? Give up? Yep, it’s Walt Disney World. Specifically, we are talking about the Epcot Food & Wine Festival hosted every fall at WDW. But there’s so much more!

#4 Special Events at Epcot

Any time you go to WDW is going to be a special trip. But if you do a little research and time your trip just right, you’ll find a little extra magic in the special events that take place throughout the year. In particular, Epcot is widely-accepted as being the most “adult” park at WDW, and there is good reason. Here are some great times for adults to visit Epcot to catch a special event:
  • The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (March 2, 2016 – May 30, 2016)

    (One of the many, many topiaries seen during a family trip in May 2004)
    • Best time to go: We went in early May one year and it was my favorite time I have ever been to WDW. The crowds were non-existent. Possibly, this is an unpopular time to take your kids out of school because they’re about to wrap up the year and are taking tests. Whatever the reason, we had no waits for rides all day long and this made the trip very enjoyable. Also, we had consistently sunny weather without too much humidity.
    • What it is: A springtime festival at Epcot for gardening enthusiasts that features seminars by horticulturists and garden experts. Throughout the park, are displays of over 100 topiaries in all shapes and sizes and featuring your favorite Disney characters. It’s truly something to see
    • What to do: Several hands-on presentations, tours, and demonstrations take place throughout the festival. The best advice is to check the schedule before you plan your trip to see what you want to do. The 2016 festival schedule has not been announced yet, but I bet it will be soon after the new year. There is also a concert series that takes place during the festival at Epcot. This past year, they had acts like Gin Blossoms, En Vogue, and Starship.   
  • The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (September 2016 – November 2016)
    (Me and William, trying the lamb meatball at the New Zealand booth, Oct. 12, 2015)
    • Best time to go: September or November. If you go in October, avoid the second and third week. This is when most schools are out for fall break and it was miserably crowded when we went this past year on Oct. 11 – Oct. 15, 2015.  
    • What it is: Heaven for foodies, wine connoisseurs, and craft beer lovers! It’s a culinary festival featuring booths from 25 different countries/regions around the world. Each booth features small plates, cocktails, wine, and beer from that region. This past year, The Chew TV show also filmed a few episodes at the festival. There are many, many special dining experiences and we took advantage of the culinary and mixology demonstrations on our trip.
    • What to do: Eat and drink, and then eat and drink some more! You’ve got to have a plan when tackling something as big as the Food & Wine Festival. Months of advance training like a world champion hot dog eater wouldn’t be unreasonable, either. Go hungry and then pace yourself. Some tips from our recent trip
      • Make your FastPass+ reservations for Soarin’ or Test Track around opening (say 9:30am or 10am) and give yourself plenty of time to ride the other before your reservation window. Get those out of the way because you’re going to want to spend the rest of the day touring the Food & Wine Festival
      • The Festival opens with the World Showcase at 11am. We went to the Festival Center at 10:30am to get our “passports” and festival maps. When you visit each of the booths, you get a stamp in your passport! We also got these bad boys (below) and I can’t recommend them enough.

        At the Festival Center, you can get these small gift card bracelets that help you stay on a budget as you wine and dine around the world. We each put $50 on our cards and it was more than enough. It made visiting the different countries and paying for our small bites and drinks very easy to do. Technically, you can also use your magic band to pay for food, but I found the lag time on the payment processing kind of annoying. It was fine when paying at the gift shops, but not when I was on a boozy mission!  
      • Be ready to start making your way around the world right at 11am. We did that and never stood in line for the booths very long. By the late afternoon and evening, they got longer, but at that point, we were going to demonstrations and visiting the craft beer expo. 
      • Resist the temptation to make lunch reservations and make the festival small plates your meal instead. When we went in October, we had not been to WDW in a few years and I was itching to get into some of the good World Showcase restaurants. While I will never regret eating pizza at Via Napoli, I wish we had saved it for another trip when the Food & Wine Festival wasn’t running. It took up valuable real estate in my stomach and I didn’t make it for the crème brulee in France. Quel dommage!
      • Don’t miss the mixology class! It was only $15/a person to do this class and well worth it. Make sure to book this reservation as soon as you decide to go, though. These book up fast. Our instructor was Peter Heering and he was amazing. We learned how to make three drinks and got very generous samples to test out. He even stayed after the class was scheduled to end and taught us a few more cocktails. 
      • The culinary demonstration class was not our favorite thing. It was not very detailed and the entrée we learned about seemed very difficult to make with hard-to-find ingredients. I would not recommend it. There’s too many other things to do
      • Do your research before you go and know what items sound good to you. You’ll need to prioritize to make sure you have room in your stomach for everything you want to try! I’m still kicking myself for not saving room for the pulled pork sliders at the Hawaii boot
  • The Holiday Season at Epcot
    • Best time to go: early December, after the Thanksgiving crowds dissipate but before the kids get out of school for Christmas break. If you hate the heat and love Christmas, this is a great time to go to WDW. The mornings and evenings will be chilly, but a light jacket is all you will need. The afternoons are pleasantly in the 60’s and 70’s. We wore shorts but dressed in layers and it worked well. 
    • What it is: A celebration of Christmas and other holidays traditions from around the world. Between Halloween and New Year’s, Christmas is EVERYWHERE at WDW. Each of the parks and the resorts are festively decorated in special ways and Epcot is my favorite place to enjoy the season. If you have been to the World Showcase more times than you can count, I recommend visiting during this time of year, as the special holiday festivities add a new experience
    • What to do: Enjoy the beautiful Christmas and holiday decorations throughout the park, including giant Christmas trees celebrating different places and cultures. From the pickle ornaments in Germany to Père Noël in France, you will learn about holiday traditions unique to each country around the World Showcase. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the World Showcase also hosts the Candlelight Processional in which celebrity guests narrate the biblical story of the savior’s birth at Christmas. A 50-piece orchestra and giant choir join the show with beautiful Christmas hymns. Popular narrators this year include Neil Patrick Harris, Meredith Vieira, American Ferrera, and Whoopi Goldberg
  • An event for adults to miss at Epcot:
    • New Year’s Eve: When my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks football team made it to the Capital One Bowel in Orlando one year, I knew I had to be there to support them…. and also squeeze in another WDW trip. Might as well! Unlike a lot of people, I don’t believe there is ever a BAD time to go to WDW. While some times are better than others to visit, I firmly believe that if you stick with a good touring plan at the parks, you can still do and see everything you want. This belief, however, only applies to touring the parks right at opening and getting everything done by the afternoon. The year I went to WDW for the New Year, my group decided on Epcot to see the World Showcase fireworks for New Year’s Eve. Boy, was that a mistake. Around 10pm or so, cast members started handing out little paper horns, which is a fun idea…. until you think of what it would be like for thousands and thousands of people to be randomly blowing their horns every few seconds for two hours until midnight. It wasn’t magical. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the oppressive crowds. I have never seen crowds like that at Disney World and I hope to never again. It was impossible to move and took us 45 minutes to get from the World Showcase to the front entrance bus stops after the fireworks were over. I still think New Years is a fun time to be at WDW, but avoid the parks after 8pm on New Year’s Eve. Instead, try Disney Springs or a resort restaurant with a good view of the fireworks!

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