Monday, November 20, 2017

FIRST LOOK at the 2017 Epcot International Festival of the Holidays! (PART ONE)


Happy Holidays, Disney Fans!!

     Have I got some eye candy for you! (No, not attractive men and women to look at.) I'm talking about a photo safari/review of the brand new 2017 Epcot International Festival of the Holidays! Epcot's newest festival kicked off this weekend with a bang! There were holiday shows, decorations and lots and lots of delicious treats to enjoy! Wanna know what you can look forward to on your visit this year? Follow me and I'll show you!

     For starters, can I just say that I'm kinda surprised that Disney picked November 19th to open this brand new Festival? Why? Well, for starters, I don't think I have ever seen them open a Festival on a weekend before. Typically opening day has some kitchen mishaps, slow lines due to new Cast Members learning the event, etc. Opening on a weekend day seemed risky to me. And not only THAT, it was also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, AND it was Dapper Day! (What's Dapper Day? An unofficial Disney event where Guests dress up in 40's and 50's attire, reminiscent of what Guests would have worn to the opening of Disneyland in 1955.) So suffice it to say, the park was packed! Didn't stop us from having fun though! After wait what seemed like forever to get through bag check, we checked out the various displays and decorations around Future World. Unlike other Festivals in Epcot, the Holiday Festival Center is NOT in the old Wonders of Life building, but in the Odyssey Center, so it doesn't open until 11am, when World Showcase opens up.


Closest thing to a "snowman" we get here in Florida!

Popular Gospel choir, Joyful, returns to Epcot this winter!


It's the same tree every year, but it always takes my breath away!

This year's Passport

Like other Festival Passports, this one includes menus, events, and stickers to mark of where you have visited.

     Even though World Showcase wasn't open yet, we looked around the shops, and walked toward France, so we could start from there, and get ahead of the crowd a bit.

These "Holiday Shops" are filled with toys and gifts for little ones. 


Who doesn't love a Disney Christmas stocking?

The new line of character themed purse ornaments are really cute!


Hey! My grandmother made us one like this when I was little!
The various Joffrey's locations each have their own unique holiday themed drinks!


There's a scavenger hunt at this Festival too! Buy a map for Chip and Dale's XMas Tree Spree
and search for holiday wreaths with ornaments on them and then match the corresponding sticker.
Hey, I found you, Dale!

     Turns out none of the Holiday Kitchens were actually opening until noon, so we hit up Les Halles for a baguette and a holiday treat. This seems like a good place to get started with my food reviews from around World Showcase. I want to lead in by sharing a couple of general comments on things I saw. 
     Firstly, much like Festival of the Arts this past January, I quickly noticed that the portions from the
booths were considerably larger than what you would get during Food and Wine. Not only that, most of the items were more substantial. (Not just a piece of turkey on mashed potatoes.... turkey, mashed, stuffing, gravy, green beans and cranberry sauce.) As one might expect, this also means that the per item cost was much higher. Most Food and Wine items average about $4-$5. Most of the Festival of Holidays items were more like $6 or $7. Worthwhile? Sure, but still not easy on the wallet, so be prepared.

     Also, a big difference, and one I was NOT a fan of, they seem to have far fewer registers and at most of the booths, you order right up where you get the food, as opposed to at a separate cash register area. This made for much longer waits and seemed to create a waste of man-power. There were several times throughout the day where I would be at the single register, waiting to order, and there were multiple Cast Members inside the booth, waiting to put orders together, but because they were coming in so slowly, they had nothing to do. I hope management figures this out and re-configures.

     My third observation was that once again, allergies were a challenge. My son has an egg allergy and so I have to check out most items to see if he can have them. The procedure for this at each booth, just like at previous Festivals and in previous years, was to have to call a chef on the radio and ask them about allergens. This takes a really long time and seems like a big inconvenience. I don't understand why they can't have pre-printed allergy menu pages, just like they do at the counter service restaurants, stating which allergens are in each item. I asked one of the chefs, after we have backed up a line and made some enemies behind us, and he said that for legal reasons, they can't. However, the Holiday Kitchen in Japan did have exactly what I was looking for... a binder with printed pages, stating ingredients and allergens. Why can one booth have it and not others? This is so weird to me. Anyway, be prepared that if you have food allergies, you will likely have to wait at each booth, while they call a chef for you. At least you will until they finally listen to me and fix this. Ya hear me, Bob Iger???? (Hahaha..... I'm sure he's directly in charge of the menus at the Holiday Kitchens. That's why they pay him the big bucks).

     OK, I think we are ready for the booth by booth run downs, no? Here we go then...

Alsace Holiday Kitchen
(France)










Food
  • Napoléon de Saumon Fumé, Brioche á l’aneth: Smoked Salmon Napoleon in a Dill Brioche
  • Le Réveillon de Noël: Turkey Breast Stuffed with Mushrooms and Chestnuts with Sweet Potato Purée
  • Bûche de Noël au Chocolat: Slice of Chocolate Christmas Yule Log


Beverages
  • Spiced Rum Punch Slush: Spiced Rum, Rhum Clement V.S.O.P., Orange and Pineapple Juice with Cinnamon
  • Merlot & Cabernet Blend, Château de Bechuad, Saint Emilion
  • Holiday Kir: Sparkling Wine and Monin® Cranberry Syrup
  • Champagne Brut, Nicolas Feuillatte

     In full disclosure, the booth wasn't open when we were in France, and we never got back to it. We did, however, try the Buche de Noel from Les Halles bakery, so I included a review here, but just know that is it NOT the same one that you would get at the booth.:
  • What did we try?   Buche de Noel from Les Halles
  • How would I describe it?   Chocolate orange mousse, on a graham cracker crust, topped with a chocolate glaze. 
  • How was the portion/value?   Holy cow! This pastry was over $7! I didn't find this one to be a good deal. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  C   I'm trying not to hold it against this dessert that I despise chocolate and orange together, but it's hard not to, because the orange flavor was so prevalent. If chocolate and orange is your jam, this is a nice textured mousse, but if not, avoid it at all costs!
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   Nope, nope and nope.

Buche de Noel from Les Halles

Tarabaki Holiday Kitchen
(Morocco)



  • What did we try?   Chicken Drum
  • How would I describe it?   A seasoned chicken drumstick with applesauce and brussel sprouts.
  • How was the portion/value?   This was a $7 one, but pretty much a full, small-sized meal, so the price tag wasn't too bad. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  A   The Hubs and our friend, C, were both blown away by the flavors of this dish. The apples were sweet and tangy and the brussel sprouts were nicely cooked and added a lot to the dish. The almonds gave it the perfect amount of crunch. Yum!
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   Yes!



  • What did we try?   Triangle Honey Briwat
  • How would I describe it?   Almond paste wrapped in phyllo dough and fried, with a sweet and sticky glaze and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. 
  • How was the portion/value?   For $4 we got two triangles, which seemed very fair. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  A-   I loved these! I'm a big fan of almond and there was plenty of almondy filling in these. The dough was crispy and the glaze had the most unexpected floral finish to it. We thought it tasted like orange blossom or jasmine, but I guess it was actually rose water. I likes the floral notes, but The Hubs hated them, hence the A-.
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   I absolutely will!




Hokkaido Holiday Kitchen
(Japan)




  • What did we try?   Celebration Soba
  • How would I describe it?   Noodles in broth with spinach leaves, a tempura shrimp and some white meat chicken. 
  • How was the portion/value?   For $6.50 we got a large bowl of soup with a huge tempura shrimp, chicken and plenty of noodles. It could totally be lunch.
  • What letter grade would we give it?  B   Our friends, C and K, really liked this dish a lot. My daughter also managed to grab a couple of bites and liked it a lot too. Nice flavor and plenty of yummy stuff in it!
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   I won't, but I bet my friends would. 




  • What did we try?   Cinnamon Mochi Cake
  • How would I describe it?   Little cubes of cinnamony dough, topped with strawberries and cream. 
  • How was the portion/value?   $4.50 got us six cubes of "cake". That seemed pretty generous. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  A-   I was a little weirded out by this one at first, because the texture is definitely not one I am used to, but I ended up loving it. Flavor-wise it reminded me of a churro... cinnamon fried dough. The berries and condensed milk were a nice accompaniment. I only added the minus to the A because some people might not like the texture. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   I want more now!



  • What did we try?   Iced Strawberry Milk
  • How would I describe it?   A strawberry smoothie.
  • How was the portion/value?   $5 is too much for this little smoothie. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  C   Eh. Tasted just like a plain old strawberry smoothie to me. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   Nope. Waaaay too much other good stuff!


American Holiday Table
(American Adventure)






  • What did we try?   Slow Roasted Turkey
  • How would I describe it?   Thanksgiving dinner on a little plate. 
  • How was the portion/value?   $5.25 seems pretty reasonable for this one. I could have easily eaten this as my lunch. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  B+   How can you go wrong? Carved turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce. Super tasty. Personally, I found it a bit on the salty side, but other than that, delicious!
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   It was great, but I don't think I'd bother with it a second time. 



  • What did we try?   Pork Tenderloin
  • How would I describe it?   Pork in gravy with green beans and sweet potatoes. 
  • How was the portion/value?   Just like the turkey, this could have been lunch. $5.50 wasn't bad. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  B+   I liked this one about the same as the turkey. Delicious, classic holiday dinner. I thought the gravy was a little much, but my daughter had NO problem polishing this off. Oh, and the sweet potatoes were great!
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   It was yummy, but once was good. 



  • What did we try?   Chocolate Pecan Tart
  • How would I describe it?   A mini chocolate pecan pie
  • How was the portion/value?   $4.50 is totally reasonable, considering that other Disney desserts are generally this price or higher, and this was easily shareable. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  B   I don't even like pecan pie and I actually thought this was pretty good! Sweet and crunchy, with a nice crust to it. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   It was good, but I don't want another one. 



  • What did we try?   Chocolate Apple Shake
  • How would I describe it?   A chocolate milkshake
  • How was the portion/value?   For $4.25, I think we should have gotten a larger shake. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  C+   I got NO apple flavor from this. It just tasted like a chocolate shake to me, and not even a great one. Pass. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   No thanks. 



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     Like what you're seeing so far? Well there's a bunch more to come, so check back for Part Two of my visit, coming very soon!

     Until next time, have a magical week!!!!

                                                                                      - Jenn (aka Tink)



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