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Review: Epcot Food and Wine Festival Party for the Senses

So this is pretty exciting — I finally got to attend a Party for the Senses at this year’s Epcot Food and Wine Festival!

For those who aren’t sure what I’m talking about (I know — “Party for the Senses” can sound a bit odd!), the Party for the Senses is held most Saturdays during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival each year. This exclusive event impresses the taste buds, of course, but it also aims to awaken all of your senses. During this 2 1/2 hour extravaganza, food and beverages flow freely as awe-inspiring entertainment is performed by Cirque du Soleil, La Nouba.

Party for the Senses at World Showplace Pavilion in Epcot (Photo copyright Disney)

There are two more parties being offered this year — November 5, and November 12 — for $145 per ticket (plus you’ll need Epcot park admission). Note that the Wine View Lounge upgrade, which includes private tables ($260) is sold out. Reservations can be made at 407-WDW-FEST or at Disneyworld.com/foodandwine.

Interestingly, the artfully prepared menus (including chefs and vinters) change, so your party may not have the same offerings as the one that we attended.

Now that we have the specs out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the night!

Atmosphere

We attended the Party for the Senses during the “Deluge of 2011,” as I like to call it. That’s right; we got all gussied up and sloshed over to Epcot on October 8th. When we arrived at the World Showplace entry — between the UK and Canada in Epcot’s World Showcase — the line to get into the event was about 200 people long!!

With just one umbrella and a poncho, the two of us decided to wait out the line under the warm and welcoming cover of Canada’s Trading Post shop; but after another half hour of staring at Moose jammies and maple candy, we decided that the line was just getting longer and we should bite the bullet.

Entryway

We ended up waiting for another 30 minutes in the rain before our soggy selves were allowed into the Party. That was definitely not the most logical way to check-in high-paying guests, I don’t think. It had been raining for two days straight at that point; I would have thought Disney would have put up a few temporary tents to keep the waiting (well-dressed) guests a bit more dry.

Alas, at this point we passed through the gate and were handed our snazzy Food and Wine Festival wine glasses and “palette plates,” as I call them.

Plate and Glass

Oddly, it seems that there was a serious spelling error at the crate factory when they were packing up the gear for the party…

Party for the Censes Crate

Once we got inside the actual building, we were greeted with a landscape of color and food! The Party is held in a ginormous room, where individual cooking and pouring stations are set up for each represented Chef, restaurant, and winery/beverage company.

Landscape of Party for the Senses

Restaurant Marrakesh Table

Tables are scattered around the room and covered in colorful cloths. Tables are first come, first served, and from what I hear, the number of tables has been increased over the past few years. We had no trouble finding a table when we were there.

Different Types of Tables Available

Throughout the event, guests are entertained by performances from Cirque du Soleil, La Nouba — the spectacular show that’s put on in Downtown Disney every evening.

Seating in front of La Nouba

The combined acts and music are truly outstanding, and I think this is one of the most compelling reasons to visit the Party for the Senses.

La Nouba

La Nouba

Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark and you’ve scanned the room for your plan of attack, it’s time to start hitting the food tables…

Eats

The food tables at the Party for the Senses each week are taken up by Disney chefs as well as chefs and beverage companies who are visiting presenters that week at the Food and Wine Festival Culinary and Beverage demonstrations. This means that you’ll always get to try something a little bit different, and you might even see a celebrity or two!

Of course, I wanted to try a little bit of everything, so…I went with dessert first! ;-) I happened to be at a table right by Chef Deran Lanpher, who is taking up the post of Pastry Chef at the Yachtsman Steakhouse this month. His offering was a Peanut Butter and Pretzel Gianduja with a Valhrona Brownie and Caramel Milk Chocolate Mousse, which will be introduced on the Yachtsman dessert menu very soon (if it hasn’t been already!).

This dessert was fantastic. Clearly Chef Lanpher is going back to the flavors we all loved as kids — caramel, chocolate, pretzels, and peanut butter — to create a high end, melt-in-your-mouth dessert. This is a winner.

Peanut Butter and Pretzel Gianduja with a Valhrona Brownie and Caramel Milk Chocolate Mousse — Deran Lanpher, Yacht and Beach Bakery

From here, I headed over to the sign that said both “PORK BELLY” and “GORGONZOLA.” Those are two foods I like very much, and I was intrigued to try them together. The Braised Pork Belly served over Gorgonzola and Chive Yukon Gold and Parsnip Mash Accompanied by Fig and Amarone was created by Chef Javier Pareja of Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club.

Braised Pork Belly served over Gorgonzola and Chive Yukon Gold and Parsnip Mash Accompanied by Fig and Amarone -- Javier Pareja Yacht and Beach Club Catering

Next up — the Kurobota Pork Sliders I’d seen everyone wandering around the room with! I had to try one! These were done by Chef Charles “Bubba” Dolson of Cinderella’s Royal Table.

Kurobota Pork Sliders

Pork Slider

Then I went next door to the table occupied by Chef Francesco Santin of Epcot’s Bistro de Paris. His dish was called …take a deep breath… Pied de Conchon Panee with Soupe de Moules au Saffran (Whole Pork Trotter Gently Braised – Deboned – Seized in a Delicately Crunchy Crust and Mussels Soup with Saffron).

Pied de Conchon Panee

Now it was time to head over to some delicious Kobe Beef Short Ribs! These were served with Wasabi Potato Puree, Shiitakes, and Sweet and Sour Onions. A delicious dish from Chef Douglas James of Grand Floridian catering.

Soy Sake Braised Australian-Style Kobe Beef Short Ribs

Then we explored the front of the room and sampled a Tagine of Lamb with Peas and Artichokes from Chef Samad Benzari of Restaurant Marrakesh in Epcot. YUM!

Tagine of Lamb

Finally, this trip to WDW had been peppered with duck dishes, so I had to try the Motswako wa Sehudi Five Spice Duck Breast with Crispy Rind Crackling from Chef Sutilak Martin of Boma in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. This was a delicious dish, but I didn’t hear any crackling. ;-)

Motswako wa Sehudi Five Spice Duck Breast

Cutting Duck Breast

Of course we had to sample a bit of wine. I found the table for Chateau Ste Michelle Winery, which seems to be very prevalent on wine menus these days.

Chateau Ste Michelle Winery

And just in case you’ve indulged a bit too much, grab yourself a coffee on the way out!

Coffee Area

Wine View Lounge

While I didn’t experience the Wine View Lounge, I wanted to at least report about it. Guests who pay for the Wine View Lounge upgrade spend $260 for the event and have access to specialty beverages and food items. They also have a guaranteed table and are let into the event 15 minutes earlier than the rest of the guests.

The Wine View Lounge is a very large area in the middle of the World Showplace — much larger than I expected — with a dedicated “guard” to be sure none of the riff raff is let in. ;-)

Wine View Lounge Sign and Entrance

Wine View Lounge Guard

Here’s a photo I shot with my camera all zoomed in. I felt a bit like paparazzi! ;-)

Wine View Lounge

Lots of folks ask if the Wine View Lounge upgrade is worth the money. Really, it depends on how much a dedicated table and some extra, upgraded food and drinks means to you. Hopefully some Wine View Loungers will chime in with comments about their thoughts!

Overall

So — is the Party for the Senses worth the money? Yes and no.

The reason I’ve never attended Party for the Senses before is because the cost has always been a bit too rich for me.* I’d have rather spent my dollars on demos and smaller events…and the World Showcase Booths…than spend it all at once at Party for the Senses.

That said, if you’re looking to be exposed to a LOT of different food and beverages all at once in a classy and sophisticated atmosphere (c’mon…La Nouba?! That’s awesome!), the Party might indeed be for you! It’s a very fun event, and the opportunity to chat one on one with some fantastic chefs is a once in a lifetime chance!

So, if you’re visiting the festival on a budget and are wondering how to stretech your vacation dollars, I’d do so by attending a few seminars and demos, visiting the World Showcase Booths, and possibly doing a food and wine pairing or the 3D Disney Dessert Discovery event instead of spending it all on Party for the Senses. However, if you have a bit more room in your budget and want to truly indulge for an evening — the Party for the Senses is a great option!

Have you attended a Party for the Senses this year? Let us know in the comments below about your experience!

* I was lucky enough this year to be contacted by some folks at Guylian Chocolates who kindly offered to sponsor me to attend the Party for the Senses. In exchange, they asked if I would report back about their chocolates at the Belgium Booth. Considering the fact that I used to spend the last of my pennies on Guylian chocolates when I was in college, I said “Heck yeah!” Seriously — I love those little seashell truffles and I’m more than happy to write about them (expect a chocolate-y post coming soon!). Thanks again to Guylian!

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19 Comments

  1. Mark D. says:

    How was the Pork Belly? It sounds right up my alley.

  2. Tamara Blundy says:

    My husband and I attended the Food and Wine Festival and the Party for the Senses for the very first time in 2010. Our experience was so great, mostly due to the Party for the Senses, that were are returning this year.

    As for the upgrade to the Wine View Lounge…if you don’t mind spending the money it is worth it. A reserved seat that you don’t have to stampede into the room to find (and many of the guests do stampede in), a private bar, a gift bag, and some of the greatest Cast Members you will ever meet.

    We were lucky enough to secure the Wine View Lounge again this year and can hardly wait for our trip.

    The food and wine was exceptional. We got to try things we never would have tried. And the flavors and the presentations were more than you can describe in words. To top it off, we got to watch performances by Cirque du Soleil. One of our favorites.

    Our only two complaints (and they are minor) are the location of the Wine View Lounge and the dress code. The WVL is located towards the back of the room. This mean that when Cirque performs, people stop and stand right in front of the lounge to watch – blocking the view of anyone sitting in the WVL.

    As for the dress code – this is an expensive event and designed to be a more upscale experience. I wish there was more of a definitive dress code. Some people wear cocktail attire and suits…others business casual. All fine…but then there are those that show up in their daily Disney wear. Shorts, gym shoes, t-shirts, etc. It puts a bit of a damper on the atmosphere.

    But otherwise – an event worth every penny for a foodie!

  3. Phil P says:

    We did PFTS back in 2008. The food was excellent, but while we’re glad we did it, we don’t plan to do it again. We found the general chaotic environment and the “will we/won’t we get to sit?” a bit annoying… it was hard to truly enjoy some things. For the price charged (which has gone up), we felt that we were left wanting more. Not more food or drink, but a more relaxing experience. I can see why some would like it, but at $145/person, being left wanting is a real turnoff.

  4. Alan Sadwin says:

    We attended for the third year in a row on the 15th and were dissapointed for the first time. Three different chefs served pork belly meals (not a favorite) and there was no shrimp or lobster as we have had in the past. Seemed to be less serving tables this year although my memory fail not be correct. The scallop, crab cakes, and lasagna were spectacular. Great selection of wine and Cirque is always great. It seemed thayt there were more people this year, but that may also be wrong. Yes the level of dress does vary. While some dress to the hilt, others dress as if they are visiting a theme park and it does distract a little. We opted for business casual which seems to be a happy compromise.

    We will probably take next year off.

    We opted for wine view as there are only two of us and the seating is reserved, so we don’t have to save seats.

  5. Snow Hayes says:

    All I can say is, I need a sponsor! :D Great review thx!

  6. Heather says:

    Hi AJ, I’ll be attending the party on Nov 12. What time do you recommend that we arrive at the party to get on line?

    Also, when you found a table there did you leave a jacket or anything on a chair and then wander or did you send one person up to get something for all of you? Thanks

  7. Chris says:

    We did the Wine View Lounge last year and we were given additional dishes, drinks and keep sakes than the rest of the attendees. We had a Lobster Brullle, chocolate truffles and a grapefruit dish. On arrival we had a sparkling wine (name escapes me) and then we were also given a huge bag of Werther’s chocs when we left!

    I seem to remember being quite drunk and sharing the chocs with an elderly non-English speaking Mexican couple whilst waiting for my taxi…. Just call me “Forest Gump”!

  8. Ben says:

    My wife and I will be there on the 12th also, can’t wait!! Thanks for the great review!

  9. Theresa says:

    I so glad you finally got to go to the PFTS!! My husband and I have gone several times and had such a wonderful time! I don’t like the stampede as it’s been called, but once we get settled, it is wonderful! I would love to be in the Wine View Lounge but we haven’t splurged for that yet. Maybe next year!!

  10. Anna says:

    Whoa. whoa. whoa. Not vegetarian friendly at all. No bueno.

  11. AJ says:

    Anna — Those weren’t all of the items available; my apologies for not covering everything at the party. :-(

  12. I’ve never taken to Party for the Senses, for much the same reasons as you AJ. I can’t see spending that much when I can have dinner and wine pairing at V&A’s instead. But, I am a try everything once kind of guy, and perhaps next year we’ll give it a whirl…

  13. Frank Stefanec says:

    Can someone write a comparison of the Party of the Senses to the Food & Wine Classic presented by the Swan/Dolphin??? Not sure if they are similar events.
    Thanks.
    Frank

  14. AJ says:

    Frank, we’ll be posting our food and wine classic review soon! The classic doesn’t have as many food options and is more alcohol focused, but the events are similar otherwise. The classic is usually held outside as well, and it incorporates the option to attend drink seminars for an extra cost.

  15. Janet says:

    We’ve done PFTS 3 times and every time, we’ve loved it.

    Because we loved it so much, we tried DCA’s version the first year they offered it during their Food & Wine festival. Hated, Hated, Hated it. There was no comparison. Tiny, crowded & very little entertainment for the cost. Spent most of the time waiting in line for samples as they weren’t getting the food out fast enough.

    As for PFTS, we are in our Disney attire (jeans & Tshirts) since we’ve usually spent the day at EPCOT anyway. For those who dress up & wish we did, we apologize, but will probably do the same thing the next time we make it to WDW for F&W. We’re the ones waiting at the front of the line to check in & we’re the ones who head to a sit down table (some are standing tables) before getting food.

    We usually meet other Disney fans who want to share our table. Then we don’t have to leave something at the table, we have “new friends” who watch our seats as we get food & we watch theirs as they get food. It’s nice to chat with people, see what they’re trying & comparing notes.

    Don’t know if they’re still doing it, but in past years, there’s been an unofficial theming to the food each week. It’s not that Disney necessarily tries to set it up that way. I think it’s more on which chefs are doing which nights & what their speciality is or what new thing they want to try out. We’ve done the exotic game (elk, bison, quail, etc.) version, we’ve done the seafood (crab cakes done 4 or 5 ways, lobster, bass, etc.) & I forget what the last one was. I never knew I liked crab cakes until I got a chance to try all these different versions.

    And remember, for those who care – eat dessert with every plateful. You won’t regret it.

  16. J M Samuels says:

    Thanks again AJ for another outstanding review. Remembering that you get what you pay for, this will be our last PFTS. Comparing the 2004, 05 and 08 to this one, well let me be blunt, you have no idea what you are not getting. The wine portions per glass alone are skimpy. Gone are the Remy Martin VSOP and Cointreau Noir, Champagne Pommery, G. H. Mumm, Piper Heidsieck, Korbel, less we not forget Fess Parker Winery and all that wonderful Australian Shiraz.

    Batasiolo Piedmont, Italy ran out of red wine, The Barolo, and the Bacardi table shut down before 9:15 PM – noticed this while waiting in line for the Robert Irvine autograph.

    AJ you should have been there when the cost was $95 pp – there were food and wind locations where that Wine View Lounge now takes up space and one year there was this massive cheese table requiring at lease two plates to sample the entire offering.

    Bring back the old Disney way of doing things. Nevertheless, keep up the excellent reviews and thanks again.

  17. Shayne says:

    Thanks for this review, AJ! I’ve always wondered what PFTS was all about. We’ve never been to F&WF at all, but plan to head there next year and the wine view lounge sounds like the perfect 40th birthday celebration!!

    On a side note, I’m glad to hear that Chateau Ste. Michelle is gracing lots of Disney wine lists these days. We’ve been fans of their wines for many years, and I think they are great wines at a fairly reasonable price point, so I’m always happy to find them on restaurant wine lists. One more thing to look forward to on our next trip (54 days and counting…)

  18. Michelle says:

    We were at this same party. It was our first F&W and our first PFTS. We splurged on Wine View seats since we were celebrating our 21st anniversary. We think it was so worth the money and had a great time. Unfortunatly, since it was raining so much, we dressed down for the occasion. Since we were Wine View, we actually were whisked inside as soon as we got there (about 40 minutes early) and served champagne! They even coat checked our umbrella and ponchos! The food was so good and the wine was plentiful, there was even a full bar in the WV area. We got goody bags as we left with two boxes of chocolates, caramel popcorn and candy from Werther’s, even fresh baked pastry for breakfast the next morning! We will definitely do this again!

  19. Noone says:

    We’re in a similar situation as Alan above, in that we didn’t enjoy the 10/15 Party as much as last year (and we like pork belly). The dessert and chocolate stations didn’t seem as impressive either and it’s probably blasphemy to admit that we were a little tired of La Nouba already.
    At the rate that this event’s price, especially WVL, has been increasing, we’re probably going to give it a rest next year as well and use that money for a super nice meal or two.

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