Food and Wine Festival Review: Food for Thought with Chef Norman Van Aken

We’ve finally made it! The 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival is opening next week!

Table Setting and Food for Thought Presentation

Soon, it will be time to Dine Our Way Around the World, as the World Marketplace Booths begin serving dishes inspired by flavors throughout the world! And with more than seven full weeks of Special Events, Culinary Demos, Beverage and Mixology Seminars, and special exhibits, this event is a food lover’s paradise.

While we anxiously count down these last few days until all the fun starts, we’re taking a look at some of the events we enjoyed from last year.

In 2014, one of the Special Events was Food for Thought, an event where celebrity chefs shared favorite recipes while sharing their personal stories. (Read our review of the event featuring Chef Rick Bayless last year here.) During these events, guests also enjoyed three dishes from one of the featured chef’s cookbooks. In 2015, you’ll find a similar event called “What’s Cooking With”.

I had the pleasure of attending one of these events last year, and I learned some great tips and techniques from Florida-local Chef Norman Van Aken. Let’s check out some of the delicious dishes we enjoyed.

Food for Thought with Chef Norman Van Aken

I arrived at Festival Center for this event a few minutes early. It actually took place during brunch hours.

The Festival Stage was decked out as usual. Located at the back of the Festival Center, this is where all festival Culinary Demonstrations as well as many Special Events take place.



It’s a neat venue, because it’s actually open to the rest of the pavilion; if you happen to be passing, you can actually take in the presentation from outside of the dining area for free. :-) Of course, you won’t get to try any of the goodies. [Read more…]

News: Ultimate VIP Tour Experience for the 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

More news on the 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival front today!

Food and Wine 2015 Info Graphic Square URL

If you enjoyed the Ultimate VIP Tour Experience for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival last year, we have great news: the package is returning again in 2015! And even better — Walt Disney World passholders can book the Ultimate VIP Tour Experience for a 15% discount!

Not to be confused with the Epcot Food and Wine Festival Tasting Sampler, or the Epcot Food and Wine Premium Package, the Ultimate VIP Tour Experience for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival offers you a combination of VIP experiences, special events, and opportunities to learn from Disney Chefs and other Festival notables in a whole new way.

Your special Food and Wine Festival experience, which will last the full day, includes all of the following:

  • Seating for What’s Cooking With…, which includes a champagne toast (See our list of who will be appearing each week on our Food and Wine Festival Special Events Page)
  • A special beverage demonstration, including Wine, Spirits, and Craft Beer, in the VIP Lounge at Festival Center
  • Escort to experience Soarin’ and Test Track attractions
  • A Private Tasting and Pairing Event with Disney Chefs at the new Sustainable Chew Marketplace Booth which includes tasting of 3 of the most popular Food and Wine Festival pairings
  • Backstage VIP Tour of The Land
  • Gold Badge Seating at the Eat to the Beat Concert, plus another champagne toast
  • VIP Reserved area for IllumiNations viewing

Please note that terms and inclusions in the package are, of course, subject to change. [Read more…]

News: Full Menus Announced for the 2015 Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

While we’ve been focusing on all the excitement that Fall brings for Disney Food Fans, we have another fun event to update you about — the 2015 Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic!

Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic Logo 2015

The two-night event, back by popular demand for the sixth year in a row, will once again take place over Halloween Weekend in 2015. Mark your calendars for Friday, October 30, and Saturday, October 31!

The Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic is made up of two components: Seminars and the Causeway. Seminars center around learning more about food and beverage in a fun, interactive way. For more details on this year’s Food and Wine Classic Seminars, be sure to check out our Food and Wine Classic Seminar Page.

But guests stay and play for the evening on the Causeway!

If you’re new to the Food and Wine Classic, the Causeway is a collection of food and beverage booths set up in the walkway that links the Swan and Dolphin Resorts. Every single restaurant from both the Swan and Dolphin — all nine! — participate, and bring tapas-sized eats to the party. Chef Robert Ciborowski, the executive chef of the Swan and Dolphin Resort, also prepares some dishes in Cib’s Smoke Shop.

Shula's Booth Is Always Popular at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

Shula’s Booth Is Always Popular at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

In addition, there are tents representing beer and wine from all over the world, offering tasting portions. [Read more…]

News: Victoria and Albert’s Debuts New Ten-Course Menu

If you think you’ve done it all at Victoria and Albert’s, it’s time to think again.

The Chef’s Degustation Menu is comprised of 10 small courses, and will pay tribute to Chef Hunnel’s travels through Europe and Asia. As always, the menu will also be influenced by seasonal flavors.

Guests who opt for this meal will enjoy a few extra touches: they’ll choose options from a cheese trolley, will be treated to table side butter carving, and receive a custom chocolate box at the end of their meal.

If guests are looking for a premium experience that explores wine pairing, the restaurant will also be offering food and wine pairings in the [Read more…]

News: 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Probable Booking Date, and More Special Events

A day after the big news about ABC’s The Chew filming from the 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, we’ve got more updates for ya!

Food and Wine Festival Updates The Flying Fish Café at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn has announced its Winery Event Series taking place throughout this year’s festival. And for the first time, all Flying Fish events will be booked through the Epcot Food and Wine Festival Event booking system.

Mark your calendars for Thursday, July 30th, 2015 — that’s the day that booking will open for these Flying Fish events! And because Food and Wine Festival events normally begin booking on the same day, we suspect that this will be the day general booking begins for ALL Epcot Food and Wine Festival special events and low-cost events. Note that we don’t have this booking date confirmed by Disney for all events, so it’s subject to change. But we figured we’d let you know for planning purposes.

Flying Fish Cafe Food and Wine Festival Signature Dinners

Let’s take a look at this year’s special offerings from Flying Fish Cafe. Call 407-WDW-FEST to book on July 30th, 2015.

Chef Tim’s Interactive Saturday Afternoon Supper

Featuring Local Florida Products and Special-invited Growers/Producers/Providers [Read more…]

News: “Disney Family Culinary Adventure” Cooking Class Now Open to All Disney Guests

We recently told you about new cooking classes at Walt Disney World that take you behind the scenes and into the kitchen with Disney Chefs for a family cooking adventure.

And today, we’re back with tons of details about this hands-on learning experience.

Even Younger Guests Get in on the Action

Even Younger Guests Get in on the Action

The Disney Family Culinary Adventure takes place in the giant catering kitchens of [Read more…]

Review: Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Time to head on over to Artist Point in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge!

OK, so I’ve had a couple of really good meals here in the past couple of years, and they almost made up for the less-than-stellar meals I’d had at this Signature Restaurant in the years prior.

But, based on my last visit, Artist Point may be on the way back down the ladder when it comes to my recommended fancy dining spots in Disney World. Let’s take a look… .


If you’ve ever visited Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, then you are familiar with the decor here. Enter into the lobby of the hotel, and you are transported to Pacific Northwest hideaway. Lots of Arts and Crafts touches echo that sentiment, and Artist Point refines the aesthetic.

artist point wilderness lodge

Glass Sign at the Entrance

Where natural wood and stone and warm hues dominate most of the resort, here, you see a lighter touch. Walls are painted a warm white, and woodwork has been whitewashed. The overall feel is much less “lodge-y” and rustic than the rest of the resort — more of a “wide open spaces” kind of vibe.

artist point


Seating is comfortable, with high-backed, generously padded chairs. The views here are normally quite lovely, as the windows look out over the grounds and the lake.

Beautiful View

Beautiful View

I say “normally” because the evening I visited, all of the windows were blocked by a frosted film, presumably to block the view of the construction taking place below. While I understand that it was necessary, it was kind of a bummer to be seated by a window with no view. (But I still wanted you to see the view, so I’m sharing pics from a previous visit.)



Murals reside high above the dining room, and depict sweeping panoramas of national parklands. They are the work of celebrated artist Thomas Moran, well known for his “larger-than-life interpretations of the West during the late 1800s.”



The colors are gorgeous!



Smaller paintings also cover the walls, and are inspired by the work of Albert Bierstadt, who sketched landscapes of the Shoshone Indian country in 1859.

Overall, the restaurant is subdued and understated under its soaring ceilings, and I absolutely love the expansive view of Bay Lake (when you can see them).


Because Artist Point is a signature restaurant at Disney, you can expect that the menu will change here frequently — sometimes daily or weekly. I checked, and several of the items that we ordered aren’t on the menu right now. Still, you may see them again in the future, and they certainly still give you an idea of the type of food served here.

Appetizers Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Appetizers Menu — Click to Enlarge

The menu theme is Pacific Northwest, so you usually see a mix of seafood and some interesting game meats. There’s normally a buffalo and/or venison option, and you’re likely to encounter some Pan-Asian influences.

Entrees Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Entrees Menu — Click to Enlarge

We began the evening with a customary Bread Basket, served with Butter sprinkled with Black Salt. These were standard, but quite good.

Bread and Butter

Bread and Butter

I decided to begin my dinner my customary bowl of [Read more…]

2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival News: Menu for Mexico Tequila Tasting Lunch

We have some exciting news today for you about the 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival! We’ve confirmed that Tequila Pairing Lunches in the Mexico Pavilion are back as part of the Special Events line up!

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 2.14.45 PM

I had the chance to attend the luncheon a while back. It was a great way to spend the afternoon — sampling tequila, and learning how this versatile spirit can pair beautifully with different menu items.

In anticipation of this year’s lineup, our friends from the Mexico Pavilion recently held a tasting to determine just what would make the menu cut.

We’re excited to share some menu descriptions straight from La Cava del Tequila! Let’s take a closer look.

Menu Planned for the Tequila Pairing Lunch at the 2015 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

When I attended the Tequila Pairing Lunch, we enjoyed four courses, paired with three different tequilas as well as Agovera Liqueur. (This event is not for the faint of heart. :-) )

Display Table at Entry of Luncheon

Display Table at Entry of Luncheon

As of the writing of this post, the lunch will include four courses paired with tequilas. But please keep in mind, the dishes are subject to change! Anything is possible between now and Festival Go-Time on September 25!

Your journey through the world of tequila will start with a Flautas de Carnitas — a mini crispy Flauta filled with Pork Carnitas and accompanied by Avocado, Cream, Queso Foam, Roasted Serrano Pepper, and Tomato.

Crispy Carnitas

Flautas de Carnitas

The next course, Sopa de Chile Poblano y Calabaza, will be prepared with Roasted Poblano Pepper, Zucchini, Cilantro, Queso Fresco, and Guajillo Pepper Oil.

The Main Entrée will be a combination of Mar y TierraPan-Seared Snapper and Sirloin — served with a creamy [Read more…]

Review: California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Time to check in on one of Walt Disney World’s most popular signature dining spots — California Grill.

Located atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Grill has become nearly as well known for its stellar views as its market-inspired food. And those two factors can make this a tough table to book.

My last visit here, however, when the restaurant had just reopened after an in-depth refurbishment, was somewhat disappointing. At the time, I chalked it up to the kitchen having an off night; after all, I had enjoyed incredible dining here many times before.

I decided it was time to check in again. So we booked an early Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) on a recent visit, and up we went.


If you’ve never visited California Grill, then there’s one thing you should know: you don’t just head to the 15th floor. Your journey actually starts on the 2nd floor of the Contemporary where you check in. Even if you’re just heading to the first-come, first-served Lounge, this is your first stop.

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

You’ll then be escorted via a private elevator to the 15th floor. In this way, staff act as gatekeepers for the popular spot. If left unattended, it would get pretty busy up there, especially around Wishes-at-Magic-Kingdom time.

Once you make your way upstairs, a bank of Wine Fridges greets you straight ahead.

Entrance and Wine Fridges

Entrance and Wine Fridges

You walk through the Lounge and Bar to get to the restaurant’s main seating area. That sounds as though these are different spaces; they aren’t. Basically, with the exception of a few private dining rooms, the restaurant features an open floor plan, accentuating the sweeping views and retro-meets-modern vibe.

California Grill Bar

California Grill Bar

If you find yourself without an ADR, there’s still hope. You can sit in the Grill’s Lounge and order from the menu, or just enjoy Drinks, Sushi, and Appetizers. Be forewarned, though: it’s not uncommon for this area to reach capacity as the night goes on. Here at 5PM, though, it was pretty bare.

California Grill Lounge

California Grill Lounge

Wrap around to the main seating area, and you see that nearly every table commands an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, including Magic Kingdom and the Resorts situated around Seven Seas Lagoon.

Seating varies here and includes both tables and chairs and booths.



There are also a selection of tables that mix banquette and chair seating. Note that white tablecloths and cloth napkins are the norm here, lending to the upscale air of sophistication.

Table for Two

Table for Two

Booths are somewhat unique in that they are located in the middle of the floor. That means that you can enter from either side, and there will be traffic on both sides of your table, similar to what you find at Jiko. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it does mean that your booth won’t be as secluded as you might like.

But the view outside of the windows isn’t the only thing you have to look at.

California Grill Kitchen

California Grill Kitchen

The well-orchestrated, professional hustle and bustle that’s happening behind the counter in the on-stage kitchen can be fascinating as well.

Prepping for Dinner Service

Prepping for Dinner Service

Although we will focus today on the food here, the sweeping, panoramic vistas certainly bear mentioning. You can see for miles!

The View

The View

And that’s one of the biggest draws of California Grill — this view, especially when it comes to [Read more…]

Review: The Boathouse at Disney World’s Disney Springs

We’ve been waiting, and it’s finally here! The Boathouse is now open!

The restaurant is located in what will be The Landing Area of Disney Springs (still officially Downtown Disney, but it seems to be getting closer to the changeover everyday.)

The Boathouse opened its doors on Monday, but don’t rush out to get an Advance Dining Reservation just yet. While we’ve had success booking through the Open Table website for May 15th and after, Disney still isn’t offering ADRs — a signal that this is clearly a soft opening period, and a time for the staff and kitchen to work out the kinks.

There’s been a ton of hullabaloo over what we can expect, food and price-wise. We have lots of information and pics to share with you — as well as some information to clarify! So let’s get started.


I’ve been dying to get a peek behind those walls forever — and now they’re down! And the new restaurant is pretty beautiful.

As You Approach the Boathouse

As You Approach the Boathouse

You’ll see the entrance to the restaurant to the left. The big green tower that we’ve all been watching for a while now is the entrance to the Ship’s Store, the Boathouse’s gift shop.


Entrance to Ship’s Store

Between the two entrances on the day we visited, there was this tiny little boat right by the front door. I’m thinkin’ it would be pretty fun to take it for a spin. :-)

Another Tiny Boat

A Tiny Boat By the Front Entrance

Here’s a shot from across the water. This is a great way to sort of get your bearings if you’re still wondering where in the grand scheme of Downtown Disney that The Boathouse is located. This also gives you a glimpse of how The Boathouse has “grown” rather organically. I’m looking forward to hearing the story here. Because we all know — this is Disney. There’s always a story.

The Boathouse as Seen from the Water View

The Boathouse as Seen from the Water View

But The Boathouse will be more than just a place to eat. It will also be home to several boat-themed attractions. In other words, it really is a boathouse.

We gave you a glimpse of Amphicar dress rehearsals taking place the other day ahead of Monday’s soft opening. And today, we have a few more pics to show you! You’ll find the Amphicar Launch around the side of restaurant, to the left of the main entrance.

Amphicar Launch

Amphicar Launch

So you think they just hop in the car and drive it into the water, right? Well, of course, it’s not quite that simple.

See this Amphicar Captain? That wheel behind him is more than just a fancy prop. The captain’s wheel has many gears just behind and under it. When a member of the staff turns the wheel, it actually rotates the turntable that the Amphicars are parked on. When they come in from the lake, they are facing the street. The car wheels are locked down, and the captain turns this wheel, which rotates the car 180 degrees, so that it’s facing the water again. Pretty swift, eh?

Amphicar Captain Stands at the Ready

Amphicar Captain Stands at the Ready

And in case you aren’t tired of looking at these cute little overachievers, here’s another shot. The teal one may just be my favorite.

One of the Amphicars on the Ramp

One of the Amphicars on the Ramp

And…off he goes! Super fun.

One of the Captains Taking an Amphicar for a Spin

One of the Captains Taking an Amphicar for a Spin

But the amphicars aren’t the only game in town. While we haven’t yet seen the 40-foot Italian Water Taxis that are touted as another Boathouse draw, there are plenty of interesting watercraft to check out.

Like this gorgeous option. I wouldn’t mind cruising the harbor in one of these.

Another Beautiful Boat

Another Beautiful Boat

And then, there’s the U-22 Alter Ego, a vintage racing boat. This thing is [Read more…]