Each year thousands upon thousands of Disney World guests descend upon EPCOT to experience one of three food festivals throughout the year but the Food and Wine Festival is the biggest and most popular.
Naturally, from year to year things will ultimately change. It's a progression based on economics and interest. COVID took a big bite of what Disney was offering in theif festivals and that ultimately led to change.
Now, it seems as though that change has resulted in a rather bland, uninspiring Food and Wine Festival that has slowly degraded in consistency, authenticity, and creativity. Instead, what seems to be left behind is nothing more than a marketing tool to get visitors to spend more money on merchandise and food they really don't want.
Let's jump back in time. A long way back. My first Food and Wine Festival was in 2002. It was incredible and I was hooked. I remember visiting a Russian kiosk where I first tasted a red wine called Bulls Blood. I loved it. So much I drank far more than I should have and bought two bottles of it from kiosk.
That was intriguing. You could buy the wine you tasted and it was incredible that you could take it home. A small build-up pavilion near Italy housed a Spanish tasting center where you could sample breads and cheeses along with some of the absolute best Spanish olive oil I have ever had. I can almost still taste and smell it. You could buy that as well.
Over the years those types of kiosks gave way to quick shacks that could be rolled out on wheels, covered with tarps until ready to open.
The opportunity to buy some of what you tasted was taken out of the kiosks and moved to a singular building by Test Track and Mission Space. You could find yourself spending hours watching food presentations, sipping wine samples, and buying wines from around the world along with F&W merchandise.
That too, sadly, is gone.
For AP holders, you would get a set of Mickey Mouse coasters or a glass or a small cutting board. Those perks are now also a remnant of the F&W past that was so enjoyable.
Last year I started to really take notice. I hadn't missed a F&W festival since 2011 and now I was noticing a trend that I originally thought was simply a result of COVID. The menus were not changing and while some "New" items would be listed across the parks menu, they were not very inspiring.
I also noticed there was a far less attention to detail.
I wrote for a travel blog on this network a couple of years ago and one of the things that stood out to me was the presentation in the food you were given. I did a comparison at the time to another local festival, the Seven Seas Festival at Sea World and one of the biggest critics I had was a lack of originality, flavor, and more than that, presentation.
Last year was considerably different than the year before and this year I wanted to really apply my attention to see if it was simply an off year or the time of year. I paid far more attention to what others were saying and asking guests if they enjoyed what they were eating. Overwhelmingly the response was almost always, "It's o.k."
Last week I walked through the World Showcase and was surprised when a group of guests from Brazil literally laughed at the Brazilian kiosk menu and openly chided Disney for presenting something that was not at all what Brazilian food was like.
Two years ago, I ate one of the best things I had ever had at the F&W, a lamb chop with mint pesto from Australia. Last year it wasn't very good. This year was downright atrocious. A small chop was fine but the lack of pesto and a few crumbled potato chips wasn't all that interesting.
In Italy, I saw the kiosk menu and thought, the Cavatelli should be really good. The picture associated with it made it look so appealing.
The bacon, the sausage, the creamy sauce over a bed of Cavatelli pasta. It looked so good you couldn't help but want it. Sadly, that isn't quite what you got.
From kiosk to kiosk I saw similar presentations as guests walked away with nothing that looked like the pictures. Brown cardboard paper boats replaced ornate plates or bowls. Beverages were drawn out of big plastic dispensar instead of hand poured and crafted by cast members.
Over the years new kiosks were added like Coastal Eats, The Fry Basket, and others like Flavors From Fire and while the options are unique, they are really not what you used to come to the festivals for. You came to sample flavors from around the world and those are letting you down year after year. Or at the very least, they have let me down more and more often.
If there is one thing that hasn't changed it is the endless number of merchandise kiosks, the Festival Marketplaces that sell each seasons F&W items. I used to collect wine glasses from every year. I remember they used to be thick and based well but now, they are a thin glass and easily breakable. Cheaply made but sold at no less of a price. Gone are the box of four glasses you used to buy.
Will this year be my last? Probably not. I'm an addict. A disappointed addict. I like walking the countries and browsing the menus that for the most part haven't changed in a few years.
The Food and Wine Festival doesn't seem carry the pride it had in year's past. It used to be something special, fun, savory. It was a reason to go back for the 10th time on a Wednesday night in September or October and eating again something you absolutely loved earlier in the festival. Now, not so much.