Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Epcot's International Festival of the Arts

Our passport for the day
Well hello there, Disney Fans!

     As you probably know, the brand new, Epcot International Festival of the Arts officially kicked off Friday. This event is a weekend-only event, running Friday through Monday, until February 20th. I was lucky enough to be there to check it all out! Me and about a zillion of my closest friends. It was packed, right from the time the gate opened. Epcot's festivals have grown to have a cult following, especially now that Disney has added food booths into all of the events. Think of this particular festival as Flower and Garden Festival meets the old Festival of the Masters from the old Downtown Disney, with some Food and Wine Festival mixed in. In fact, Disney may have found the PERFECT recipe to make Festival of the Arts the new fan favorite. Take a gorgeous park, add in a rainbow of gorgeous art and displays, stir in some fantastic Broadway performers in concert, and then take the food and drink booths and kick 'em up to an elevated level that only true foodies could appreciate, and there you have it. Magic! Top it all off with a dollop of heavenly Florida winter weather, and you really can't mess it up.

     So, what are we waiting for? Let me take you through my day in the park, including reviews of the food and drink items that I sampled. Buckle up. It's gonna be another tasty post!


     The Hubs, my Mum and I were actually able to do an adult-only Epcot visit, due to the fact that the Littles were at school, so this was a kind of bizarre occurrence. No stroller, no backpack of wipes, snacks and storage areas for all of the random stuff we manage to collect throughout a park visit. Whatever would we DO with ourselves??? We arrived at Epcot around 9:30 am, and found ourselves parked in the back of the parking lot, and then looking at massively long lines at the entrance gate.

Holy long lines, Batman!
Luckily for us, we had our trusty Annual Passes in hand and were able to use the new, exclusive entrance.




     Saved us probably about 15 minutes worth of waiting. Yay for being a Passholder! (On a side note, the parks have just introduced full metal detectors for all Guests, but everything seemed to be running pretty smoothly with the new procedures.) Now, Food and Wine was like, wildly popular this past year, and crowded to an unprecedented level, so I was not shocked by this. It was opening day, and many people, myself included, had been itching for the Festival to open. After getting through the gate, I snapped a picture of the decorated entrance, which, I was not super impressed with. I mean, this is an ARTS festival. I was expecting something a little more elaborate than this:

Womp-womp.

Oh well. 

We headed up into Future World, where we found this cute guy hanging out.

It's Figment!

We also saw that in the middle kiosks, they were selling maps for the Figment scavenger hunt throughout World Showcase, called Figment's Brush With the Masters.



As part of the festival, there was a high school band, performing on the stage behind the Fountain of Nations.



We also checked out the photo ops heading into World Showcase. Cute! Well, cuter than the front of the park.





     Because it was still only about 10:15 and World Showcase wasn't open, none of the festival areas were open to explore, either. Similar to the other "fests" this one is pretty much concentrated in World Showcase, with not much to see and do in Future World. The Odyssey building houses the biggest bulk of event-centric offerings in one venue, including galleries, one of the food booths, and workshop space.



      We checked to see if perhaps that area was already opened, but it was not, so we copped a squat across from the Joffrey's Coffee cart and waited for the booths to open. (P.S. - Did everyone know that Annual Passholders now get 20% off non-alcoholic items at all Joffrey's booths? Nice!) The popular coffee carts are in on all the festival fun too, serving up alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of some signature beverages, created just for the festival.



     While we waited, we flipped through the provided passport, and looked at the menus from the booths, the listing of events and workshops, and the general festival information. We also checked out a couple of the art gallery stands, which are displaying and selling the work of many different artists, and can be found all throughout World Showcase.


Beautiful view!
     Promptly at 11am, the booths started opening up shop. Those that love the Food and Wine and Flower and Garden booths will be familiar with the set up: a-frame menus out front, a rope queue, registers to order from, and then a countertop which overlooks the kitchen, where you will pick up your food. So picture what you have seen in past events, and now kick it up a notch! Nicer booths, more thoughtfully designed. More elaborate menus. More culinary artists in each kitchen. And for the food????? Talk about eating your art! Each plate is crafted carefully, with the visual presentation clearly mattering just as much as the flavors of the item being served! Your mind will be blown. Seriously. Plus the portions are bigger, which is nice, but so are the prices, so be prepared.

E=AT2 had a fun, Einstein-esque design to it.

     Our first booth was E=AT2. Let me start off with this disclaimer: We did not try any alcohol. We aren't big drinkers to begin with, but the alcoholic drinks also happen to be expensive and will drain your wallet much quicker. Plus, you know, kids at school.... don't want to be the mom that shows up tanked to preschool. But I digress.... I immediately noticed that the chefs inside the kitchen were being meticulous with each plate that they served. They wiped the edge of each dish, to make it pristine. They hand-painted sauces onto plates. Everything was just exquisite.

The chef in the middle of the kitchen is using a paintbrush to add the aioli to the plate.
I know, I know..... how was the food??? Here's the menu and my mini-review of the items that we sampled:




  • What did I try?: Deconstructed Breakfast (Non-Alcoholic Version)
  • How would I describe it?: A creamy apple chai spiced milkshake, with a maple undertone, some candied bacon thrown in, and a mini waffle cookie on top.
  • How was the portion?: Probably about 6 oz. worth of shake. A fair portion, and it could fill you up quick. The pricing was $4.50. ($10.50 for the version with bourbon in it.)
  • What letter grade would I give it?: C   a tasty shake, but one of my least favorite things I had. I didn't get as much of a "breakfast" flavor from it as I did a "fall" flavor. Plus slurping up little crumbles of bacon was weird... and a mild choking hazard. Ok, maybe just for me, but still.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: No. Too many better options.

AND


  • What did I try?: BLT
  • How would I describe it?: A gorgeous plate, featuring a chunk of crispy pork belly and a poached egg. There was also some tomato jam, green and black pepper.
  • How was the portion?: At $6.50. this one was totally worth it. A nice piece of pork and a whole poached egg. Easily sharable.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: B (The Hubs says that's unreasonable and it's easily an A) This was The Hubs' favorite item of the day. The smoky, salty pork coupled nicely with the creaminess of the runny egg. All of the flavors and sauces worked well together. I'm just not that into runny eggs, so my opinion was a bit lower.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: I will not, but I KNOW The Hubs will. Probably more than once.



     The booth also has frozen slushy pops, and deconstructed versions of a Rueben sandwich and Cobb salad. Most booths also have, as this one did, a white chocolate easel, with a food coloring "painting" on it. E=AT2 had a Figment one.



     Cute, but too cute to eat, and too melty to probably successfully transport home. Most booths also have a white chocolate puzzle, which is basically white chocolate puzzle pieces, with a pallet of various edible paints and sprinkles to decorate it with. A fun thing for kids to do.

     Just across the way, there was also the El Artista Hambriento booth. There wasn't anything there we were super excited to try, so we skipped it and figured we'll try something from there next time. Here's a glance at the menu though:




      We continued to make our way around World Showcase, but since there wasn't really much in the way of festival displays from Mexico to China, we just kept on going. This is one glaringly obvious difference about this festival compared to the others. There are very few topiaries and festival d├ęcor around the lagoon. I assume this is because this event is only taking place on the weekends, and during the week, they need the festival to basically disappear. Or maybe it's because they will need to get ready for Flower and Garden toward the end of this event and they want to have a blank canvas. Who knows?

     



      The area between the African Outpost and the Germany pavilion had some cute festival merchandise. I love that Figment is the representative for this event! He never gets enough love.

     Just between the Germany and Italy pavilions is the Cuisine Classique booth. Unfortunately, they were experiencing technical difficulties, and the booth was not open. Add that one to the list of reasons to go back! Here's the menu:



     Also, next to the Italy pavilion, I saw the first of many photo areas where Guests can put themselves into famous works of art, like The Scream and Washington Crossing the Delaware. It's a really fun idea, and a nice souvenir if you purchase the Photopass images. (Or if you're a Gold or Platinum Passholder and you get them for free!)





     In the American Adventure pavilion, you will find my favorite booth, The Artist's Table. Lots of yummy stuff here! Check it out:




  • What did I try?: Pan-Seared Scallop with Chorizo, Red Pepper Coulis and Parmesan Crisp
  • How would I describe it?: A large scallop, on a bed or chorizo pieces, and topped with a crunchy parmesan wafer.
  • How was the portion?: One large scallop for $6.25. Not great, but considering quality, really not too bad. The portion was big enough to share.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: A Totally delicious. Cooked perfectly and had fantastic flavors with it. Yum!
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: I may, though I still have lots of other stuff to try.

AND


  • What did I try?: Roasted Pork Roulade with Marbled Potatoes and Baby Carrots
  • How would I describe it?: A pork loin stuffed with sweet apples, breading and I believe ham. Served with veggies and over a delicious red wine sauce.
  • How was the portion?: This one's definitely for sharing. Two good sized slices for $6.50. I think this one is a good deal.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: A OMG, yum!
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: Can I have one now?

AND


  • What did I try?: Callebaut Belgian Sipping Chocolate Flight



  • How would I describe it?: Three types of liquid chocolate, white, milk and dark.
  • How was the portion?: The portion is very large. Each cup probably has 2 oz. worth of chocolate in it, and with three varieties, this can easily be share amongst three people. The price is steep, at $8. (You can do just one dark chocolate cup with Chambourd in it for $9.75.)
  • What letter grade would I give it?: A- SO good, but very easy to get sick of. One sip of each was enough for me.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: I might, but only because the Little will LOOOOOVE this.

The only thing we didn't try was the Artist's Palette Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookie. It looked good, but I just couldn't stuff that one down too.

     The American Adventure pavilion also features several artist's booths, a roving chalk artist, and, in the American Gardens Theater, the nightly performances from the weekend's resident Broadway stars. Opening week was Ashley Brown (the original Mary Poppins on Broadway) and Josh Strickland (the original Tarzan on Broadway). I really wanted to come back after we got the kids from school and see the performances, but we didn't get a chance to. I'll have to catch next weekend's.



     The clouds were starting to roll in as we headed toward Morocco, so we picked up the pace a bit. One of the most popular artist's booth was definitely the one with all of the Star Wars art. Such cool stuff!



      It was just after we looked at this booth that I saw the clouds rolling across World Showcase Lagoon, and dumping showers down, so we ran under an awning in France, just in time, to avoid getting soaked. The shower only lasted about ten minutes and while we waited, we got to discuss the arts with our fellow Guests... namely, tattoo art. We met an awesome English Guest who had incredible character art all over her body, including Anna and Elsa, Harry Potter and Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked. So cool! Once the rain cleared, we continued on, toward the UK pavilion.

     Just between the UK pavilion and the Canada pavilion, we came across the Masterpiece Kitchen booth. Here's the menu:



     Mum wanted to try the risotto. Mushrooms aren't my jam, so I only had a bite of that one. The Hubs had been dreaming of the charcuterie board since we first read about it, so he got that and I went for the chocolate mousse. Here's what we thought:


  • What did I try?: Wild Mushroom Risotto
  • How would I describe it?: A scoop of creamy, cheesy rice, with a rich wine reduction.
  • How was the portion?: Yipes. $9 for one scoop of rice was way too much.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: B- Again, I only had a bite. Mum liked it a lot flavor-wise, but thought the rice was undercooked. I totally don't think the price was appropriate for what we got.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: Nope



AND


  • What did I try?: Charcuterie Palette
  • How would I describe it?: An amazing display of cured meats, cheese and accoutrements. Included was Bleu cheese with honeycomb, parma ham with red pepper coulis, pate, brie, spiced nuts, mustards, balsamic reduction, and cranberry crostinis.
  • How was the portion?: So this one is $14, which isn't inexpensive, but you get a lot with it. It's meant for sharing. And get this, guys... that wooden cutting board is just a piece of cardboard! Go figure.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: A I didn't really eat any of this, but The Hubs threatened me if I didn't give this one an A. He loved it.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: I will not, but The Hubs definitely will.

AND


  • What did I try?: Triple Chocolate Mousse
  • How would I describe it?: A white, milk and dark chocolate mousse pyramid, on a crunchy chocolate bottom.
  • How was the portion?: A good, sharable size, but worth $9.25? Nope.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: B- Super tasty, but the pricing made it taste not as good. Haha.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: No, but only because it's too expensive.

We did not try the Smoked Salmon Tartare, but none of us thought that sounded good. Not our thing.

     Back over at the entrance of World Showcase, we came across a line, so I got in it. Turns out, it was to help paint a giant mural! Each Guest was handed a little sponge paintbrush, and a plastic cup with a paint color and a corresponding number. Then you go to the mural and paint 5 squares that have your number on them, a la paint by number. It was fun and I can't wait to see it all done!



The Hubs gets in on the painting action.

Next up was Decadent Delights, the dessert booth.




  • What did I try?: Purple Sweet Potato Pie 
  • How would I describe it?: An amazingly smooth and creamy pie, which looks like Easter, but tastes like Thanksgiving.
  • How was the portion?: Nice, sharable portion. The $6.50 price tag wasn't too bad.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: A I unexpectedly LOVED this! I think it may have been my favorite of the desserts. It was not overly sweet and had a rich flavor, and an amazingly fun color.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: Yes!



AND


  • What did I try?: Dark Chocolate S'Mores
  • How would I describe it?: A marshmallowy dome, coated in chocolate ganache and on a base of graham cracker cake.
  • How was the portion?: This one was also $6.50. which was fairly reasonable for the size.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: B- Sweet and tasty, but I would have liked it more if the base was more crunchy graham cracker and less soft cake.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: Nah. I wasn't over the moon about this one. I'll try the Crisp Caramel Chocolate Mousse Bar instead.


     We did not try the Crisp Caramel Chocolate Mousse Bar, so I'll definitely go back for that. I mean, what kind of critic am I otherwise???

     The sky was turning dark again, and it was almost time to get the kids from school, so we squeezed in one last booth, Pop Eats! What a cool looking booth!



And here's their menu:




     By now, we were pretty stuffed. None of us were up for venison or ceviche, (though The Hubs is really excited to have the venison next time), so we stuck to dessert again. I had seen pictures of the Frangipane cake since they first announced the festival, so that was a must, as was the Pop T'Art. Sadly, I was disappointed by both. Here's what happened:



  • What did I try?: Almond Frangipane Cake
  • How would I describe it?: An amazing looking cake, no doubt. Super colorful and elaborate. The cake itself was a very, very dense sponge cake, pasted together with a ton of sickeningly sweet raspberry jam, and coated in chocolate ganache.
  • How was the portion?: It makes no sense that this cake is only $4.25, since it was served as a huge slab of cake, about an inch thick. Very fair price. Too bad it was not good.
  • What letter grade would I give it?: D- This cake's only redeeming quality to me was it's appearance. I didn't get much almond flavor, because all I could taste was the insanely sweet raspberry jam, holding the cake together. It was overwhelming and took away form everything else about the cake. We each took a bite and threw it out. Big bummer.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: Sadly, no. I was so psyched about it, but it was awful.

So pretty, but tooooooo sweet.


AND
A kid's dream come true

  • What did I try?: Pop't Art
  • How would I describe it?: A thin sugar cookie, with an even thinner layer of chocolate hazelnut spread, and then a huge pile of royal icing on top.
  • How was the portion?: Only $4, but considering that I found it to be a shingle of icing, not worth it to me. My kids would LOVE this, though!
  • What letter grade would I give it?: C- Though the flavor wasn't bad, I found my tart to be a gooey mess of white royal icing, topped with... more icing. I took a bite, and was done.
  • Will I get it again, when I return to the Festival?: No way. I am not a big frosting person to begin with, so this was NOT something I enjoyed at all. The Hubs did, however, like it more than I did, though he didn't want to finish it either.


Uh-oh!

     So now the sky was REALLY looking ominous, so we skipped out on going back to Odyssey to try their food both, The Painter's Palate, but here's the menu:


     We will add it to the list for next time. As we headed out, we were happy to see an old Epcot favorite, the Living Statues, doing their thing behind Spaceship Earth. When these human statues were a staple in the France and Italy pavilions, guests always loved them. I have seen them over at Disney Springs recently, but I'm glad to see that they were brought to the festival too. Very fitting and very fun!



And guess what, guys??? We made it to the car JUST as it started to rain! Awesome timing!

     So, here's my overall feelings on the festival:



  1. Not nearly as art-filled as the old Festival of the Masters, but still, it's nice to see visual arts, performing arts and culinary arts coming together at Epcot.
  2. The food is phenomenal. The chefs really stepped-up their game to make beautiful and delicious plates. BUT....
  3. The intense amount of time and attention that each plate requires is causing major back ups in the lines. I can't imagine how they are going to keep up when the crowds get heavier.
  4. As a result of the food being better, expect to feel it in your wallet too.
  5. There's not as much to see and do around the festival as there is during Flower and Garden and Food and Wine, so you can probably get it done in a shorter amount of time.
  6. I LOVE Epcot and it's many festivals! Now all we need is a summertime festival and we can rename the sections of the park "Ride World" and "Festival Land"!


     I highly recommend that you take the time to check out Festival of the Arts, now at Epcot. And if you need help planning your trip, you know where to go... contact Kingdom Konsultants and they will hook you up with the most magical trip EVER!


Thanks for joining me, Disney fans! Until next Thursday!


- Jenn aka "Tink"

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