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Guest Review: Epcot Food and Wine Festival Party for the Senses

One of my favorite people in the whole internet, Kelly Tressler, captured her 2010 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Party for the Senses experience for us! Sit back, relax, and get ready for a treat…

Party for the Senses

I just returned from a week-long trip to Walt Disney World (mainly for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival) where I had the pleasure of attending the first Party for the Senses of the year on October 2, 2010. This was my fourth trip to Disney World during Food & Wine, but the first time I experienced any paid events. My traveling party consisted of myself and my fiance — both of us newcomers to the Party for the Senses — and my parents, who enjoyed the Party 2 years ago.

Atmosphere

The Party for the Senses is held between Epcot’s UK and Canada pavilions in the old Millennium Village (now called World Showplace). The Party offers reserved seating for that night’s Eat to the Beat Concert, which we didn’t take advantage of, and party check-in was either at the Concert or across from the Party location. All attendees must check-in as they placed wrist bands on us and checked IDs there. The Party was scheduled to start at 6:30pm, and at around 6:15pm the gates were opened so everyone could receive their plate and wine glass. The party doors opened at 6:25.

Tip: If you want to be sure to get a seat at a table, I’d arrive early to get to the front of the pack. If you don’t care if you have a seat, getting there around 6:15 would be fine.

View of the Party For the Senses Room

The room is set up in different sections; this year it was organized by colored kitchen item, like a yellow wine glass or an orange whisk (figuring out the sections makes it easier to find different food items in the program). There were two main set ups:

  • Sets of four items in the middle that each contained two food items and two wineries
  • Sets of tables along the edges of the room that alternated between food items and wineries

Desserts could be found in the back of the room along with coffee & tea stations. The Wine View Lounge — a specialty lounge available at an extra cost — was set up right in the middle of the room with a good view of the stage and live music performances. Every 45 minutes or so there was a short show from Cirque du Soleil performers.

Band Performing and Seating

One of the concerns that I heard from prior years was a lack of seating. Between my parents and others I chatted to throughout the night, all were in agreement that there were more tables and chairs this year. If we had moved directly to the back of the room when the doors opened, I’m sure we could have obtained a table and chairs, but we were fine with the tall tables as they allowed for easier grazing. About a half hour before the end of the night, we moved to sit down to enjoy our final glass of wine & dessert.

High top Tables

Eats

OK, that’s all nice, but what about the food & wine?!

Beverages
There were 23 different stations that offered beverages. Most places were wineries, but there were a few with beer and one that featured hard liquor. I suffer from migraines, so I can’t have red wine at all and I do need to watch how much I have to drink. Luckily, most wineries offered white wine, and I could ask for just a sip or two. Enough to try, but I still felt well at the end of the evening. Almost all of the winery representatives were extremely friendly and happy to answer any questions I had.

One of the Represented Wineries

The wine glass you got in the beginning was used to try all the wines, and while water was available to rinse your glass, many wineries were using one of their wines to “rinse.” My fiancé decided he couldn’t let that good wine go to waste, so he “rinsed” by drinking it.

I enjoyed trying wines that I wouldn’t normally try. I found out that I love an Argentinian wine called Torrentés. All 4 of us wound up finding things that we loved; my fiancé’s favorite was a French Beaujolais. I had heard that in years past the Champagne booth would run out of alcohol by the end of the night; but on our visit there was a Sparkling Wine (Champagne from California) and a French Champagne that were both pouring until the end!

Wine Glass...With Beer (You Get to Keep the Glass)

Food
As for food, there were 25 different stations that all offered a tasting sized portion, including two cheese tables with nice assortments.

Cheese Table

We started out each getting our own dish, but found out very quickly that it was too much! By the end of the night we were splitting dishes.

I will say that you should be a rather adventurous eater to enjoy the Party for the Senses. If you’re picky or afraid to try things you haven’t before, I’m not sure there would be that much for you to enjoy. My Dad has always disliked lamb, but he wound up trying a lamb loin and discovered he really liked it.

Plating Lamb Loin

I tried Squab for the first time…and discovered I’m not a fan of Squab! But at least I tried it, right?

Pan Seared Palmetto Squab Breast-Shrimp Okra Pilaf with Plum Glaze, Frank Lee, Maverick Southern Kitchen, Charleston SC

They had everything from Boar to Venison to figs! There was a fair amount of beef and pork spare ribs (we joked that Disney must have gotten a good deal!). Every week they have different chefs and different food, so I won’t go into each dish here. (There are photos and descriptions of every single dish on Kelly’s Party for the Senses Flickr page for those who want to explore.)

One of our favorites of the night, Wagyu Beef Short Ribs over a Potato Cake from the Wave

King Crab Truffle Ravioli from Pascal on Ponce in Miami

Braised Venison and Truffle Raviloi, Roasted Forrest Mushrooms, Brodo and Parmesan Frico, Michael Reitzler, California Grill, Disney's Contemporary Resort

Warm Chocolate Almond Cake with Black Currant Sorbet, Lothar Neumaier, Executive Pastry Chef, Epcot

One comment I heard was, in comparison to past years at the party, it didn’t seem like there were as many celebrity chefs. This could have been because it was the first party of the year. But I don’t think the food suffered; everything had a great flavor and I don’t particularly have a need to meet famous chefs. The one famous chef that was there that night was Keegan Gerhard from the Food Network Challenges. I tried his dessert just to see if he was as good as everyone said he was! He was very gracious and talked to everyone briefly before handing over each dessert.

Baby Charmel-Chocolate Carmel Tart-Sauteed Baby Bananas-Rum Cream-Caramel Ice Cream, by Keegan Gerhard, Food Network Challenge, d Bar Desserts, Denver CO

Wine View Lounge Review
I spoke to someone who purchased tickets for the Wine View Lounge to get her opinion on the value. For an extra $90, it gets you a guaranteed seat, early admission (15 minutes), a larger bar selection (including hard liquor), and a gift bag at the end of the night. I think the biggest perk would be the guaranteed seat.

Overall Review, Tips, and Info

We left right before Illuminations started and were able to watch it before leaving; it made a great finish to the evening. All in all, I had a wonderful time and would definitely recommend the experience to anyone. I would certainly do it again!

Regarding the dress code, we were told it was Business Casual, but my parents felt overdressed the last time they went. I saw everything from suits & cocktail dresses (with heels!) to shorts and tee-shirts. We wore somewhere in between and didn’t feel out of place. So I’d wear something nicer than you would to the park on a normal day, but there’s no need to glam it up (it’s still HOT in October)! The biggest piece of advice I can give is to wear comfy shoes!

The Party itself costs $135/person, which I think is appropriate, I felt we definitely got our monies worth. The Wine View Lounge is an extra $90/person. To me, it’s not worth it, but if you really want to guarantee a seat, or if you have someone who isn’t a wine drinker, it might be worth it to you.

There’s so much more I could share, but I know this is long already! I’ll check the comments and I’ll be happy to answer any questions!

Thank you, Kelly! Everyone, don’t forget to go check out even more food photos from Party for the Senses over on Kelly’s Party for the Senses Flickr page.

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10 Comments

  1. Shawn says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ll be checking out the Food & Wine Festival in a few days with my wife and my parents. We haven’t decided if we’re going to do any of the paid events yet, this is our first time going to F&W.
    Can a great time be had without the paid events?

  2. Alan says:

    Kelly – A nice review and great pictures. As far as people wanting to see celebrity chefs; that is understandable, but it’s a good thing to let some younger, up and coming chefs have some room to make their mark.

  3. AJ says:

    Shawn — A great time can definitely be had without attending the paid events. Be sure to check out our coverage of the Festival, including the World Showcase Booth food photos and menus.

    Also, there are several free or very low-cost events (around $10) that are phenomenal. Enjoy!

    Alan — Great point. I think this event is a great opportunity for food-lovers from around the world to be exposed to some in credible restaurants and beverage companies they may never have found otherwise.

  4. Kelly says:

    Shawn- This was my 4th year in a row at the festival. The first two years I just stuck with the kiosks. Last year we did one of the low cost seminars that AJ mentioned, this year was the first we did anything major. I think for your first F&W, there’s more than enough to keep you busy trying everything around the World Showcase. Enjoy!!

    Alan- Thanks I’m glad you liked it :) I don’t particularly care if a chef is famous, I’d rather just have good food! My curiosity is just if they’re worth the hype. But I did hear from a couple people that there weren’t that many famous chefs at this particular event, so I figured I would mention it!

  5. Alan says:

    Kelly – I wasn’t reacting to your mentioning about the lack of celebrity chefs. You said clearly it was the buzz around the event. I was reacting more to what may be called ” the age of celebrity” we have been in for the last couple of decades. I am not sure how it works at Disney events, but I know for a fact that these celebrity chefs charge an outrageous amount of money for personal appearances. Bobby Flay appeared at the NC State Fair several years ago and received an unbelievable fee. I don’t recall the exact amount, but I was so surprised I contacted the Raleigh paper’s reporter to see if they added and extra zero by misprint, but she confirmed the fee. I just think these young chefs have as much to show and teach us as some of the famous ones.

  6. Nate says:

    Wonderful review! I absolutely LOVED the PotS — one of the highlights of our trip.

    Quick Question: Sooooo, WAS Keegan’s dessert good? Is he as good as everyone says he is?? :)

  7. Kelly says:

    Alan- I totally agree that young chefs have as much value as famous ones. Sorry I wasn’t so eloquent getting that across :)

    Nate- Thanks! Keegan’s dessert was really rich, very tasty. BUT that cream on top was loaded with rum. It was like doing a shot with every bite. So I pushed the cream to the side and ate the rest. I’ve got the biggest sweet tooth (I didn’t share any of my desserts!) so I really liked the chocolate in the dessert, but my parents, who don’t have a sweet tooth, only took a bite or so and pushed it aside. He was super nice & personable and it was a good dessert, so I’ll venture to say he’s earned his fame!

  8. Galloping Gourmand says:

    Alan – I am in agreement of you I think. It’s better to catch a young “hungry” chef on the way up. Older chefs often get stuck in their old ways. For something like Party for the Senses give me a young chef willing to do anyting to make an impression any day.

    I live in New England and am frequently in NYC. I know from experience that the older celebrity chefs also become less engaged in the restaurants and more into their outside sources of revenue. Bobby Flay is the poster child for that kind of thing. At WDW you can look at the mediocrity on display at Wolfgang Puck’s in Downtown Disney. I guarantee if he was in charge of the kitchen when his recipe is prepared it would be a work of genius. Just a name, though, isn’t enough.

  9. Bob says:

    Is ther a reason that there is no Party for the Senses on Oct 29. We have attended seven years running and this year our only saturday no party? Its one of our favorite events.

  10. AJ says:

    Bob — When I asked Marianne Hunnel about it (she’s the content developer for the F&W Festival), she mentioned that many folks headed out to other Disney events on that Halloween weekend, but that there were some other reasons as well.

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