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

Please welcome guest author Melissa Sorrells Galley with a review of the October 15th, 2011, Party for the Senses at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival! Thanks to Melissa for TONS of awesome and useful PftS tips!!

Party for the Senses is a truly magical dining event offered on Saturday nights throughout the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Bringing food and beverage specialists from around the world in one giant, colorful pavilion, the Party takes place in the World Showplace, located between the United Kingdom and Canada pavilions on the west side of the World Showcase Lagoon.

Signage outside World Showplace

Atmosphere

Parties this year last from 7:30-10pm. Cost is $145 per person, and $260 for the Wine View Lounge (not including park admission, which is required). In addition to the wonderful food and drink, the ticket price includes performances by the artists and entertainers of Cirque Du Soleil La Nouba during the Party as well as reserved seating for the Eat to the Beat Concert prior to the Party.

Check In
When you arrive, there will be a huge throng of people gathering outside the gates of the World Showplace Pavilion. Resist the urge to join them! Check in for Party for the Senses is located near the water directly across from the World Showplace Pavilion. When you arrive, proceed directly to this area to check in, show your I.D. and receive your wristband.

We received our wristbands from the cutest couple ever: they met in kindergarten and have been married for 54 years!! My husband and I were celebrating our first anniversary, and they offered us some very sweet advice. It was a highlight of the evening!

If, like my husband, you prefer not to stand in a huge crowd of people, feel free to get your wristband and walk away. We took a walk to see the cranberry bog and get a photo in front of the Fountain of Nations. By the time we ambled back to the Party, the crowd had mostly moved into the building. We were able to get inside without any bustling and without missing even a moment of the party.

The main party area, as we entered the pavilion with the crowd.

One big criticism about the check-in process is that there is not enough signage. There are several signs directing guests to the check-in site coming from Showcase Plaza, but no directional signage for guests entering through the International Gateway. Hopefully, after reading this review, you’ll know exactly where to go.

Pavilion
Wow! The Pavilion looked absolutely amazing—dripping with colorful chandeliers and festive three-dimensional ribbons. The colors changed and shifted throughout the night, and the music added to the surreal experience. Performed by Michelle Amato and the rest of the La Nouba band, the soundscape was made up of an intriguing combination of house, klemzer and opera. Together with the light design, the music created a transporting mood. My husband and I both felt as if we were in a universe all our own, sharing something incredibly special with … well, a lot of other people.

Ceiling displays in the Showplace Pavilion.

Performance by the La Nouba band.

As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I were celebrating our anniversary, so we dressed up a little more than we would for a normal day at the parks. I wore a knee-length green dress, and Rob wore khakis and a dark tee-shirt. Other party-goers were wearing everything from jean shorts to suits and heels. No matter what you wear, you’ll fit right in, but make sure you wear comfortable shoes! The Pavilion is large and you will be doing a lot of walking!

Three times throughout the evening, we were treated to amazing displays by the performers from La Nouba, including an absolutely epic power track and trampoline act. (Full disclosure: we love La Nouba and highly recommend it!) We very much enjoyed the show and, from the glassy, awed expressions on the faces around us, we’re pretty sure our fellow guests enjoyed it as well.

An acrobat and contortionist from Cirque Du Soleil La Nouba

As we entered the pavilion, we were each given an artist’s palate-style plate along with a Food and Wine etched wine glass (ours to keep). The glass fit into a groove in the plate, which allowed us to tool around the room while keeping one hand free. Because we were expected to use the same wine glass all night, there were two stations available for rinsing your glass.

The Party plate and wine glass fit together like a little puzzle.

Tables of varying heights were set up throughout the pavilion. In the entry vestibule, standing tables were found along the walls. In the main section of the party, there was a mix of standing and sitting tables scattered around the room.

A good selection of seating was available at the front, near the Showplace Stage, which is where we ended up alighting with two very kind men who were Party veterans. In the center of the room, the Wine View Lounge provided a great view of the stage.

Food and wine booths were set up around the edges of the room with a few four-sided service areas—each featuring two beverage stations on the short sides and two food stations on the longer sides—in the center of the room. Desserts were generally located along the back of the room, although there were a couple of sweet offerings along the sides of the pavilion.

Alan Wong , chef and proprietor of Alan Wong's Restaurant in Honolulu.

There was some kind of organization to the food and beverages. Each station was marked with a logo that corresponded to a logo found in the Party for the Senses guidebook. We couldn’t seem to make heads or tails of why certain things shared the same logo, and in most cases, the food and wine items were not located alongside other offerings from their category. Maybe someone can explain the organization in the comments. Either way, we didn’t understand the set up, but it didn’t impact our enjoyment of the party at all.

Chef from Magic Kingdom Theme Park, preparing Lamb and Spinach Cigars with Blood Orange Tzatziki.

Eats

Party-goers had access to 23 food booths and five dessert booths, each offering small, tasting-sized portions. There were also two cheese stations. I tried at least one bite of everything offered, and there was a lot to like. But unadventurous eaters may have a big problem here.

A huge favorite at our table was the Beef TatakiNigiri, served up by the brilliant minds at Teppan Edo. Yes—that’s raw, marinated beef served on sushi rice with a delicious wasabi mayo. I think this was easily the boldest (and best) dish of the night. It offered up a truly marvelous texture and flavor.

We also really enjoyed the Chipotle Tamarind Lacquered Wild Boar with Emerald Crystal Ruby Red Corn Salad, served by Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Like raw beef, boar isn’t something we eat in our day-to-day lives, but it was fabulous and tender, and the chipotle added just the right amount of heat when accompanied by the light, fresh corn salad.

Chipotle Tamarind Lacquered Wild Boar with Emerald Crystal Ruby Red Corn Salad, imagined by Larry Walker from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Another adventurous try: smoked bleu cheese. The deep, gray flavor paired super well with sticky sweet honey comb. And the freeze dried vegetables on offer alongside the red fish and waffles from the Contemporary Resort added amazing texture and were completely unexpected!

I’m a big dessert eater, and I absolutely adored the TresLeches Cake with Wild Blackberry Sauce offered by Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. It was like eating sugary air. Yum! Everyone at the party was buzzing about the bug-shaped chocolates available from Moonstruck Chocolates. Sadly, they were completely gone before we made it over to the table.

TresLeches Cake with Wild Blackberry Sauce by Kristine Farmer from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

(Editor’s Note: You can see more of Melissa’s food photos here!)

These were our favorites, but if you don’t see something here that interests you, don’t discount Party for the Senses. The menu changes each week, so you can expect something new and different when you attend … or every time you attend! Our tablemates were enjoying their second Party of the year and they’d lost count of the number of Parties they’d experienced over the years, but they still tackled the tapas-sized plates with gusto and excitement.

One criticism, and something to keep an eye on if you decide to attend Party for the Senses, is that many of the plates were very hard to eat without a knife. In some cases, difficulty eating a dish ruined our enjoyment. In others, we just dug in with our hands. Short of bringing in a knife with you, there’s really no combating this one.

Sips

The party offered 26 different beverage stations: 17 serving wine and three each serving liquor/liqueur, coffee/tea and beer. Each of the stations offered at least three (but sometimes as many as five) different sips. The wine vendors, in most cases, did not have glasses and could only offer each individual one sample at a time. Be prepared to visit the wine stations multiple times if you want to try everything on offer.

In addition to wines, there was a station offering vodka, another offering whiskey and mead, and another serving cognac. Beers included Sam Adams and Stella Artois among others. I was impressed (and a little overwhelmed) by the three distinct coffee and tea stations, sponsored by Twinings, Haiti Originale and Joffrey’s.

Party for the Senses latte.

I’ll admit that wine isn’t my favorite, but I tried a lot of different wines throughout the night. There were a lot of standard reds and whites that didn’t excite me, but we were also able to find some truly interesting offerings. The big hit of the night was Key Limen wine from Florida Orange Groves Winery. Talk about a big flavor! And delicious, too—we bought a bottle in the Festival Center to take home.

We also loved all three sparkling wines being served by Chandon in Napa Valley, including a Cuvee Riche, a Blanc de Noirs and a Rose. I love sparkling wines (they make every day feel like a celebration!), and I can see myself drinking these all the time.

But even if the wines hadn’t been great, we would have returned to this booth multiple times because the men doing the pouring were fun and sassy! They made me laugh every time I visited their table.

Guests enjoy food and atmosphere at standing tables throughout the Party space.

With dessert, our tablemates preferred the two ice wines (Inniskillin Vidal and Inniskillin Cabernet Franc) being served by Constellation Wines. Since those wines are produced so close to home (Constellation is based in the Finger Lakes region, where we live, though their grapes are grown in Canada), we didn’t try them during Party for the Senses, but several party guests told us that these sweet wines paired very well with the various chocolate offerings.

We found another winery from close to home: Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. We’ve had their signature Cat wines many, many times, and we enjoy them, though they are quite sweet. At the Party, Hazlitt was serving something we’d never tried before: Red Cat Slushy. It was a delicious, sweet treat, like a grown up slushy. Yum!

The line for Remy Martin’s various cognacs was long all night, so we unfortunately did not try that. But Bunratty Mead and Liquor were serving up my digestif of choice: Irish Cream. It was the perfect way to end a truly rich and impressive meal!

Wine View Lounge
For an extra $90 per person, guests have the option of upgrading to a Wine View Lounge ticket. The upgrade includes access to the party 15 minutes early and a separate, reserved seating area. While their seats did look comfortable and offered a great view of the Showplace Stage, Lounge guests also had to enter and exit the reserved area through two door-width entryways, which seemed to be congested at several points throughout the night.

Wine View Lounge Sign and Entrance

For my money, the Wine View Lounge isn’t necessary to have a good time. There were enough tables for everyone in the general admission area, and there were plenty of tables close to the stage (we snagged a great one with great views of the performers). I’ll admit, though, as a tequila lover, I was a little jealous of the full bar in the Lounge.

Though Wine View Lounge seats are all sold out for the rest of the Food and Wine Festival, there are still tickets available for the Parties taking place on November 5 and November 12.

Overall

This is a great event. Everyone we encountered, including the chefs and guests,were wonderful. The chefs and other cast members were willing to answer all of my questions. Though the event was busy, some of the big-name chefs even went out of their way to banter with us. We shared a really great exchange with Grady Spears, who couldn’t believe we’d never had tamales before, and I even met Todd Winer’s son! Very cool!

Throughout the night we managed to sample every one of the food items, sometimes twice. We also tried a great selection of wines and beverages. Would we do it again? Absolutely! It was well worth the money we paid for it, and it felt like a truly special experience.

Melissa Sue Sorrells Galley works in higher education communications in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, Robert, and her cavapoo, George. Her favorite Disney characters are Elliott (also known as Pete’s Dragon) and Figment. Follow her @msorrellsgalley or read about her recent adventurous trip to Disney World on Passporter.com.

October 15 Menus

Savory Temptations
• Pan Seared Mote Sturgeon with Saffron Infused Cedar Creek Clam Broth, Arthur Bukalo (Coral Reef, Epcot)
• Beef TatakiNigiri, Yutaka Kude and Nabi Saito (Teppan Edo)
• Berbere Duck Breast with Apricot Cherry Chutney, Sweet Potato Corn Cake and Tamarind Demi-Glace, Marilyn Smith (Tusker House Restaurant)
• Braised Pork Belly and Bao Toast, Alan Wong (Alan Wong’s Restaurant)
• Seared Scallop, Lentils, Pancetta, Spicy Tomato Crème, Glenn O’Brien(Olivia’s Café)
• Chipotle Tamarind Lacquered Wild Boar with Emerald Crystal Ruby Red Corn Salad, Larry Walker (Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa)
• Lamb and Spinach Cigars with Blood Orange Tzatziki, Michael Deardorff (Magic Kingdom)
• Wild Salmon Ceviche, Jose Martinez(Masion Blanche)
• Grady’s Pork Tamales with Sundried Tomato Cream, Grady Spears (Grady’s Restaurant)
• Smoked Berkshire Pork Meatloaf Sandwich, Todd Winer (The Metropolitan Club)
• Roasted Octopus with Cauliflower Puree, Spanish Almonds and Green Olive Salsa, Dean Max (3030 Ocean)
• Seared Loin of Rabbit with Corn Succotash, Lee Lucier (Robert Irvine’s eat!)
• Braised Pork Belly Tacos with Kimchee and Lime Aioli, Paula Dasilva (1500 Degrees)
• Cherry-Balsamic Shortribs with Tomato Trahana and Mizythra Cheese, Dee Foundoukis (Kouzzina by Cat Cora)
• Corn Encrusted Red Fish with Almond Milk and Chive Waffle, Tomato Butter and Freeze Dried Vegetables, Andrew Larkin (Contemporary Resort Catered Events)
• Pork Belly Marsala with Apple Brined Pearl Onion Slaw and Prosciutto Parmesan Crisp, Josh Noid (Mama Melrose’s RistoranteItaliano)
• MalanzaneallaParmigiana, Jonathan Benno (Lincoln)
• Pan Seared Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Cucumber Tomato Salad, Matthew Langdon (Fulton’s Crab House)

Sweet Temptations
• Assorted Chocolates, Romanicos Chocolates
• Assorted Chocolate Truffles, Julian Rose (Moonstruck Chocolates)
• TresLeches Cake with Wild Blackberry Sauce, Kristine Farmer (Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa)
• Praline Chocolate Cream with Dark Ganache Crunch and Orange Chocolate Mousse with Frangeleco Milk Chocolate Sauce, Mustapha Khetem (Disney’s Hollywood Studios Bakery)
• Chocolate Budino with Ricotta-Filled Cannoli and Blood Orange Sorbet, Richard Cappizi (Lincoln)

Beverages
• Selbach-Oster, Germany
• Mohua, New Zealand
• Jean Luc Colombo, France
• South African Wine Export Company, South Africa
• Belvedere Vodka, Poland
• Wagner Family of Wines, California
• Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, New York
• Florida Orange Groves Winery, Florida
• Gerard Bertrand Wines, France
• GrupoMatarromera, Spain
• Radeberger, Germany
• Silverado Vineyards, California
• King Estate Winery, Oregon
• Samuel Adams Brewery, Massachusetts
• Stag’s Leap Winery, California
• Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard, California
• Chandon, California
• Constellation Wines, Canada
• Remy Martin, France
• Bunratty Mead and Liquor, Ireland
• Penfolds, Australia
• Martini, Italy
• AB/Inbev, Belgium

Have you enjoyed a Party for the Senses this year, or do you have any questions about the event? Let us know in the comments below!

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6 Comments

  1. Excellent review! I’ve always heard about Party for the Senses but never really understood what it was…or why it was worth so much money! But that much food and wine–AND entertainment? Sign me up!

  2. Connie says:

    We were at the October 15th PFTS too! I thought the most inventive dish was the Corn Encrusted Red Fish with Almond Milk and Chive Waffle, Tomato Butter and Freeze Dried Vegetables, Andrew Larkin (Contemporary Resort Catered Events). Pairing the waffle with fish and freeze dried vegetables was weird, but delicious!

    My husband and I also thought that the Teppan Edo dish was very good! My husband thought it was sushi until we read the brochure and saw that it was beef.

    I really enjoyed the Selbach-Oster german wines. The Spatlese was sweet and delicious.

    Thank you for putting in your blog all of the food and drink options. It was nice to reminisce.

    My husband loved the Radeberger beer so much that when we came home, he bought it in bulk!

  3. Lisa Jerry says:

    I thought ur review was the best one I’ve read so far relating to PFTS. But having done the WVL on 3 diff. dates in the past yrs. Its more than an open bar. The wine quality is higher. You get a server. You can leave ur purse ( my favorite). And it’s ur table for the evening. A better cheeses station and always
    2 extra stations that are not on the floor. I know alot of people don’t consider this worth the extra 90 dollars but we have been doing this it was called vertical tastings back 15 yrs ago and we was so excited when they added this to PFTS

  4. melissa sue says:

    Connie, too bad we didn’t run into each other. Or maybe we did!! I also loved the Contemporary dish with the freeze dried veggies. It was so unexpected!

    Lisa, thank you SO MUCH for the compliment! I am flattered. Thank you, too, for the information about the wine view lounge!! What do the servers do? Clear plates? Get drinks? I am curious. Maybe we’ll try that next time.

    (Also, for reference, I left my purse on my chair in the general admission area … I guess someone could have taken my room key, ID, AP and chapstick, but luckily, no one did!)

  5. catherine says:

    It’s not an extra $90 anymore, it’s now an extra $115. Which priced a lot of persons I know out of the Wine View Lounge this year. Several didn’t attend the party because they wouldn’t do it without Wine View and didn’t want to pay that.

    I’ve never used Wine View Lounge at all so I don’t know whether it’s special enough to warrant an extra $115.

  6. Melissa Sue says:

    Catherine, you’re right! There’s a math error there. The Wine View Lounge in an additional $115, not $90. It does seem quite expensive!

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