A Last Minute (But Awesome!) Day at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2017

I’ve been to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival many times throughout the years…in fact, I’d have to sit down and really think back to figure out the exact number of times.

In the past, I went to eat my favorite samples (escargots from France, fried goat cheese with honey and pistachios from Greece, and the cheddar cheese soup from Canada)…but more than anything, I went to drink, because all those extra Food and Wine Festival booths allowed for a great change of pace for someone who has gone Drinking Around the World as many times as I have.

To be honest, the past couple times I went to the Food and Wine Festival I wasn’t all that impressed with the food samples. They changed the way they served the escargots, the fried goat cheese just wasn’t as good, and while the soup was fine, by itself it wasn’t worth braving the crowds and long lines that have plagued the festival much more than they used to.

I also remember hearing complaints about the portions not being worth one’s money, and while I personally didn’t actively complain about this, I also didn’t disagree. So imagine my surprise when I visited Epcot this past weekend – on the second-to-last day of the 2017 Food and Wine Festival – and experienced not just large portions but also cast members who kept things flowing so that we never waited more than 5 minutes to order (and rarely more than a couple minutes to get our food).

My one rule this year was that I would try different samples, and having someone to share them with allowed me to order a lot more than I have in the past…

epcot food and wine festival 2017

Clockwise from top left:
The Cheese Studio – Savory Caramelized Onion and Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs Cheese Tart
Flavors from Fire – Smoked Corn Beef with Warm Crispy Potatoes, Pickled Onions, and Blonde Ale Beer Fondue
Refreshment Port – Croissant Donut
Australia – Lamington
Brazil – Pao de Queijo

I also got to taste the Grilled Beef Skewer from Earth Eats, the Loaded Mac-n-Cheese from Active Eats, and yes, the Croissant aux Escargots from France. While none of my samples were bad, the only ones that really stood out were the Croissant Donut (I’ve had “cronuts” before but this one was the best ever, trust me) and the Grilled Beef Skewer (it was a pleasant surprise, especially as it featured apricots and feta).

Overall, I was really happy with the food this year…which does a good job of making up for the fact that the drink options were average at best. In fact, nothing that I drank was particularly memorable; mostly I’m just sad that I missed out on trying the Chilled Coffee from Belgium and the Mmmhops Pale Ale from Block & Haus (yes, “Mmmhops” – it’s from the Hansen brothers’ brewery, and yes, I’m as shocked as you probably are that this exists). But hey, there’s always next year!

Epcot Food & Wine Festival 2017

RunDisney: What I’ve Learned & How I Got Hooked

rundisney 2017 wine & dine 10k

For what seems like half my adult life, I’ve had friends who participated in RunDisney events, but even though I’ve been running on a regular basis since 2004, I never really thought about participating myself.

In fact, I didn’t even run my first 5k until 2012, and while I really enjoyed it and ran several more throughout the years, I never really planned on doing longer races. Between that and the expense involved in traveling to Orlando on top of the cost of the RunDisney races themselves, I couldn’t really justify doing any of them.

Of course, fast forward several years and here I am, once again living in the Orlando area. And yet if it weren’t for the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend, I’m still not sure I would have entered a RunDisney race. But this is me we’re talking about here – obviously I couldn’t pass up doing a Star Wars themed race! I actually wanted to do the 10k, but by the time I heard about these races at all that one was already sold out. (Seriously, that’s RunDisney Lesson #1: Register as early as possible!)

rundisney 2017 star wars 5k epcotThankfully the entire weekend wasn’t sold out, and I was able to run the 5k. Honestly even with the money I paid to run the dang race, I’m still surprised I dragged myself out of bed for it…there were a lot of 5k’s I would have liked to run back in Greenville but could never bring myself to sign up for because they started at, say, 8 AM on a Saturday. (I’m just not one for getting up that early on the weekends.) The race time for the Star Wars 5k at Disney was 6 AM…with participants required to be in their corrals by 5:30 AM.

I live 45 minutes away from Disney. It was a very, very early morning.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! The day before my race I had to go to Wide World of Sports to pick up my bib, and because I didn’t read everything they sent me when I registered, I had no idea that there was a whole expo going on during bib pick-up hours! Tons of running gear and RunDisney merchandise, on-site massages, even freebies here and there – I never thought I’d walk into a marketplace for runners and have to spend the entire time reminding myself that I’m a broke artist who can’t afford $100 compression running tights or an $80 shirt that says “Running + Wine” on it. Talk about RunDisney Lesson #2: You’ll want to buy a lot of stuff, so save up that money! (Or if you can’t/don’t save up money, maybe don’t go wandering through the expo.)

They even had RunDisney vacation planners there! Now, you can’t simply register for the races – they’re there to help you plan a full RunDisney vacation , which I learned only after talking to one of them for about 20 minutes. However, I’m still glad I spent that time talking to them, because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t know RunDisney Lesson #3: If a race is sold out, there’s a chance you can still get in if you book a vacation package with it. In fact, that’s how I was able to register for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February – it was sold out online, but I booked two nights at one of the All Star resorts and was able to snag a race spot along with that. Now I’m just trying to convince myself it’s worth the expense because I’ll get to sleep about an hour longer and not have to drive home right after running 13.6 miles.

rundisney 2017 star wars 5kI’m sure you’re wondering how this is all worth it, when RunDisney race registrations cost three to five times more than your average race registration. The thing is, I know that for most people it’s probably one of those “you won’t understand until you try” things. That’s how it was for me, anyway, even though for years now I’ve had several friends telling me how fun these races were…which I guess makes that RunDisney Lesson #4: You have to experience a RunDisney race firsthand in order to understand it [and likely – possibly inevitably – get hooked].

The excitement was palpable the morning of the Star Wars 5k. There was music, a fun announcer, participants dressed up in fun outfits (and sometimes even costumes)…it was impossible to not be excited. And then along the race course there were photo ops with characters and tons of photopass employees snapping pictures of the runners…not to mention the fun of running through Epcot at dawn.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, at the end you’re handed an actual medal! (No other race I’ve ever run has given out participation medals, and the RunDisney ones are AWESOME!) Not only that, there’s plenty of free bottled water and gatorade, fresh fruit, and snack boxes…and then even more photo ops, both in front of a RunDisney background and with more characters…and in my case those character photo ops were a huge plus because yes, they were Star Wars characters!

rundisney 2017 star wars 5k bb8

rundisney 2017 star wars 5k captain phasma

My one regret from my first RunDisney race was that prior to the run, I didn’t know RunDisney Lesson #5: They don’t time their 5k’s. So just keep in mind that if you want to know your race time one of their 5k’s, you have to clock it yourself.

As much fun as I’ve had running races in the past, none of them even come close to how amazing that Star Wars 5k was…and not just because it was Star Wars. I loved it so much that when I got home later that morning, I immediately signed up for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend (which took place just last weekend) and the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January 2018. For Wine & Dine, I had to sign up for the Two-Course Challenge, as that’s all they had left. This meant running a 10k on Saturday 11/4 and then a half marathon on Sunday 11/5, which seemed crazy at the time and unfortunately still seems crazy now, as I ended up with a bum hip prior to the race weekend and was only able to run in the 10k, anyway.

I keep trying to tell myself it’s okay that I listened to my body and didn’t overdo it by running the half last weekend…and anyway, I’m registered for the half marathon – and only the half marathon – in January. I have over two months to heal and train, and if I’m honest with myself, I need that time in order to run the best race I can for my first half marathon EVER 🙂

rundisney 2017 wine & dine 10kWith the Wine & Dine 10k, I also got to run through another park, as both Hollywood Studios and Epcot were part of the course. And despite the problems I’ve been having with my hip and the fact that the RunDisney courses are far more crowded than most of your average local road races, I ran my first official 10k in 1:13:03. (Although that’s the official RunDisney time; my personal ‘stopwatch’ on my phone says 1:13:00.18!) And as a side note, that brings me to RunDisney Lesson #6: People will cut you off – a lot. Most of the time they aren’t doing it on purpose, but it will happen. People will also pass on the left. I passed on the left. If you’re running in one of these races and care about your time, you will inevitably cut someone off (hopefully not on purpose!) and/or have to pass on the left. If you don’t care about your time, don’t get too frustrated or yell at people for mistakenly cutting you off or for passing on the left. (I personally did not get yelled at for cutting anyone off, nor did I yell at anyway, though I did definitely get frustrated a couple of the times it happened…and yes, I did pass on the left and get yelled at for it.)

I’m sure that I’ll learn more lessons when I run in the half marathon and the Princess half marathon early next year, but for now I’ll leave you with RunDisney Lesson #7: Be prepared for some fun outfits/costumes. And if you’re so inclined, definitely wear one yourself! I personally probably won’t wear a crazy costume, but I have tried to wear fun yet comfortable running outfits for both of my races…and I’m still trying to come up with some more fun outfits for the next two. Any suggestions?

rundisney 2017 wine & dine 10k donald duck

A Wonderful Day of Food & Wine at EPCOT

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am so lucky to have the friends that I do. Last weekend I got to visit EPCOT, which was cool in and of itself because it’s Food & Wine Festival time right now…but even more exciting was the fact that I got to see my friend Melissa run one of the official Food & Wine cooking demos!

We started the day at Disney Springs – it was only a brief stop, but I got to visit the Star Wars and Marvel stores. The former had so many awesome things for sale that I can’t wait to go back if I ever have money to spend (ha) – the latter seemed a bit thrown-together, but man, I do want that Avengers Dooney & Bourke purse that they had on display! (Oh, and this set of BB-8 Mickey Ears is an eventual necessity. Yes, the shirt and purse are already mine.)

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

From there we went to EPCOT, and wow was it crowded. I blame this on it being the second to last weekend of Food & Wine and the Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend. Thankfully we still got to ride the new Soarin’ (I didn’t even know it was changed to Soarin’ over the world – or if I did, I’d forgotten about it), *and* wander back and forth through the World Showcase, sampling food and drink. (A lot of drink.)

But of course the highlight of the day was seeing Melissa’s presentation! She made vegetarian ‘chicken’ pot pie with cheddar drop biscuits. Sadly they ran out of the pot pie portion of the meal before they got around to our table, but we did get a whole ton of biscuits and extra wine, both of which were delicious 😉

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

Sorry not sorry for the picture dump – I’m just really proud of Melissa! She was on the College Program when I was a Restaurant Guest Service Manager for Sunset Ranch Market at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and she was one of the best CP students we had. She returned to school, got her degree, held leadership positions at restaurants outside of Disney and Orlando, and then returned to WDW and rocketed up to where she is now. She’s a hard worker who deserves everything that comes her way. (Oh, and her husband Adrian, who also worked for me at SRM, is pretty great, too!)

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

Walt Disney World EPCOT Food & Wine Festival 2016

After the demonstration, we wandered a bit more, got more drinks, and even eventually went on Test Track. Food-wise, I tried the Greek cake (which was not as good as the fried goat cheese with honey and pistachios, sadly) as well as the Escargots Croissant (again not as good as the single-bite escargot pastries they used to have). Thankfully the pierogies from the Poland installment were still the same!

Oh, and I’d forgotten that they let you “build” your own car for Test Track now, and that you compete against the others in your group. Brian and I with our car “CHEVROLET MECHANICORE TANK OF DOOM” went up against Melissa and Adrian’s “Lisa Frank DOMINANT” and Andrew and Merrilynn’s “Clifford the Big Red Car”. Every single one of our vehicles looked ridiculous (though I think the others looked way crazier than MECHANICORE, but no matter how balanced they tried to make their cars, it turns out that power is what really wins in the end, and we dosed MECHANICORE with a lot of that. (Oh, how sadly appropriate that is right now…power is what really wins in the end. Ugh.)

Walt Disney World EPCOT Test Track

Anyway, I hadn’t been to Disney since this past January and it was a welcome Sunday getaway from the “real world”…that being a shitty Walking Dead episode and a shockingly horrid presidential election.

But hey, “Forward always. Always forward.” Until the next adventure, I remain, your pansexual SJW female entrepreneur buddy,

Tara Lynne

Frozen Ever After: The New Waitstrom

Frozen Ever After

Image (c) Disney https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/epcot/frozen-ever-after/

The new Frozen ride opened in the Norway pavilion at EPCOT recently, and today I was seeing Facebook posts featuring pictures of wait times up to 300 minutes.

Three. Hundred. Minutes. That’s FIVE HOURS. These people are in a park that is essentially open from 9 AM to 9 PM (if you ignore the Magic Hours days), and they are waiting nearly half that time to go on this ride.

My friends and I used to joke around, calling Maelstrom – the original Norway pavilion ride – “Waitstrom”.  But this was back when thirty minutes was the average wait, and an hour or more was one of those “This isn’t worth it, let’s go to China” decision makers.

But waiting thirty minutes or less for Maelstrom? Hey, it wasn’t an amazing ride, but it was fun. It wasn’t the best representation of the Norwegian people and their culture, but it was so EPCOT. They could have updated Maelstrom as it was, could have made it more palatable, but instead they replaced it with “Frozen Ever After”, which would be a great attraction for Magic Kingdom, but in EPCOT – particularly in the World Showcase – just reeks of bad taste.

Half-assed as it was, Maelstrom was still a story of Norway and the Norwegian people. Now that pavilion has succumbed to Disney’s Frozen cash cow, and Frozen is a fairy tale set in a non-existent place. On top of that, the fairy tale upon which Frozen is based – The Snow Queen – is a Danish fairy tale…and while Denmark is part of Scandinavia, it is not Norway, and on top of that, isn’t even much like Norway.

Will Disney be changing the pavilion to truly represent Scandinavia in general? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I for one would be surprised if they did. It certainly wouldn’t make sense for the World Showcase’s general theme – even the U.K. pavilion is decidedly British.

I suppose the problem is that as a former cast member, I understand changes but don’t care for ones that lessen the value of the things I love best about Walt Disney World (for instance, don’t even get me started about the dining plan and how it has lessened the food quality all over property). I get the desire for a Frozen-themed ride – I even get the need for one – but I don’t care for the execution.

And on top of that, I personally wouldn’t wait 300 minutes to ride Maelstrom with Frozen characters…and that’s exactly what this is.