Sunday, November 25, 2018

BRAND NEW! Review of the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Holidays - PART ONE


Happy Holidays, Disney Fans!!

     Who's ready to check out the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Holidays? Epcot's newest festival kicked off its second year this weekend with a festive bang! There were holiday shows, decorations and lots and lots of delicious treats to enjoy! Wanna know what's new and different this year? Follow me and I'll show you!

     I was surprised to see that this year's Festival was again scheduled for a Sunday opening, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, and on Dapper Day*, same as 2017. Typically opening day has some kitchen mishaps, slow lines due to new Cast Members learning the event, etc. Opening on a weekend day seems risky to me, but it must have gone smooth enough last year because they did it again for 2018. The park was packed, as expected, and the temps were more reminiscent of summer than they were of the holiday season, but nothing could stop us from enjoying all the Christmasy fun.

     After getting into the park, we checked out the various displays and decorations around Future World. This year's Festival did not seem to have a Festival Center, as most Epcot Festivals do. The event is mostly contained within World Showcase, but there are some cute displays in Future World.

          *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.*

Mickey and Minnie greet Guests at the park entrance. 

Cute photo op with the chipmunks.

Gorgeous poinsettia display near the Art of Disney store. 

Despite the 80 degree temps, Pluto was ready for cold weather. 

The only kind of snowman we get here in Central Florida. 

Goofy and Donald welcome you to World Showcase.

Amazing topiaries

Gospel choir, Joyful, returns to Future World this year. 

It may be the same every year, but it always takes my breath away. 

This year's passport again includes stickers so you can track with booths you have visited. 

Some of the treats and merch

The "completer cookie"
     Even though they did away with the Cookie Nook that they had last year, and almost ALL of the delicious cookies that were offered, brand new to the Festival this year is the Holiday Cookie Stroll. As Guests are hitting up the Holiday Kitchens around World Showcase, they can purchase five different cookies, and collect a stamp for each one. If they collect all five stamps, they return to the Holiday Sweets and Treats Booth in World Showcase Plaza to redeem their stamps for a free "completer cookie" and a container of milk. I will show you the cookies as I go over my reviews at each booth, but I want to point out a couple of things. 1.) You have to remember to ask for the stamp. They don't automatically offer them to you. We totally forgot to get them, and when I asked at the last booth if I could show my receipts and get the stamps, they said I could not because each stamp was
different and I would have to walk all of World Showcase, show the right receipt at each booth, and only THEN could I recollect them. Of course, I told the Cast member I thought that was kinda crazy and they did say they'd make an exception this one time, but come on.... that's nuts!  Over a cookie that probably costs them pennies to produce? When I have already spent almost $20 purchasing the other, required cookies? AND had receipts to prove it? Silly. Hopefully, this policy will change. 2.) Make sure you know which cookies count and which don't. The Christmas Tree Sugar Cookie from the Holiday Sweets and Treats booth does NOT count, which was weird. Neither do any of the Joffrey's booth cookies. Only the ones that are marked on the menu. 3.) The "completer cookie" is super unimpressive. It's a basic, thin sugar cookie in a Mickey head shape, with chocolate dipped ears and sprinkles. It's on the smallish side and doesn't have a whole lot of flavor. It was actually my least favorite of all the cookies. I thought the Christmas Tree Sugar Cookie from the same booth was way better, much larger and would have made a better "prize" for completing the cookie stroll. (Oh, and they forgot to give me the container of milk, which I didn't realize I was supposed to get until after I left the park and was looking at other people's reviews.) And here's a bonus HOT TIP: Bring a few zip-lock baggies so you can bring your cookies home! They will fill you up quick otherwise and they will be a fun surprise to eat back to the hotel or even when you get back home. If you forgot the baggies, they do sell a cookie jar for about $20, but it's glass. You can always ask for the small plastic bag from a merchandise outlet, or even better, if you go to a Kidcot Fun Stop location in World Showcase, they have little passport baggies that are actually zip-top plastic bags!

The Holiday Sweets and Treats booth advertises the Cookie Stroll

The Cookie Stroll is in the passport.

Collect 'em up!


     Before we started enjoying the booths, we stopped into the Port of Entry gift shop. In there we checked out the new Epcot mouse ears, including the one that pays homage to the famed "bubble gum wall" at the exit of Spaceship Earth. (It's a whole Instagram 'thing'.)

"Bubble Gum Wall" Ears on the bottom left
     We also picked up our free Annual Passholder car magnet. This time it's Goofy, with a snowflake background. The Hubs was psyched since Goofy is his fav. If you're a Passholder, you can get yours, while supplies last, by showing your annual pass and photo ID at Port of Entry or Mouse Gears gift shops.

     Our last mission in that store was to buy this year's Chip and Dale's Christmas Tree Spree scavenger hunt map.  My two kids love looking for Chip and Dale on their Christmas wreaths, in each of the World Showcase pavilions. They match the sticker for the "gift" that the chipmunk is holding in each country, and then at the end, they turn in the completed map at the same shop, to collect their prize. This year's prize is a pack of greeting cards. You can choose from three designs, featuring Minnie, Mickey or Figment. We had to go Figment, obviously. My kids love these scavenger hunts, which are now offered at all of the Epcot Festivals, and I appreciate them because it keeps the kids engaged and gives me some time to enjoy World Showcase, BUT FOR THE LOVE, DISNEY.... could you please put the sheet of stickers on the same page as the map??? Almost every time we have done this hunt, we manage to lose the stickers a country or two in. (Par for the course this time, too.) Of course, since we paid for the map, they did still let us claim the prize, but there isn't anywhere to get replacement stickers, so hold on to 'em tightly!

Get your map and keep the kiddos busy while you enjoy the Festival!

My little dude was ready to go!

Hey, I found you, Dale!

     So now I think it's time to get into to good stuff... the food reviews for the Holiday Kitchens! Before I jump in, let's cover my overall observations first. Just like last year, it was easy to see right away that the portions from the Holiday Kitchens were considerably larger than what you get during Food and Wine. Not only that, most of the items are 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. The larger portions also make this a great Festival to do with a larger party, since then you can share items and try more stuff. 

     Once again, I also found that allergies are 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, is for a Cast Member to have to call a chef on the radio and ask them to come to the booth. This takes a really long time and seems like a big inconvenience to everyone involved.... The Cast Member waiting on the Guest with allergies, the person with allergies who has to wait, the chef who is pulled from elsewhere, and the other Guests in line, who have to wait while you speak to a chef. 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 rundowns, no? Here we go then...

Le Marche de Noel Holiday Kitchen
(France)










  • What did we try?   Bouchee a la Reine Traditionnelle
  • How would I describe it?   A puff pastry square with turkey and mushrooms, in a cream sauce.
  • How was the portion/value?   $6.75 may have been a touch high, but the portion was large and easily shareable. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  A   Mmmmm... flaky, buttery puff pastry with big chunks of turkey and mushrooms in a smooth, creamy sauce? It all screamed 'France' and it was all delicious! I don't even like mushrooms, but I managed to push them to my husband's side of the pastry and enjoy! One of the best items I had. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   Oui, oui!

Bouchee a la Reine Traditionelle

  • What did we try?   Buche de Noel au Chocolat "Christmas Log"
  • How would I describe it?   A roll of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and filled with a caramel cream, with crispy rice pearls and a meringue on top. 
  • How was the portion/value?   $4.75 was fair, considering this was about the size of a regular dessert in a counter service restaurant. Two people could share this and each get a couple of bites. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  A+   Oh my goodness.... rich, chocolatey cake, with uber-rich ganache. Every element of this was delicious. I had a brief but fulfilling love affair with this cake. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   One day, my love, I shall return for you. 

Buche de Noel au Chocolat "Christmas Log"


Sapphire Holiday Kitchen

(Morocco)





  • What did we try?   Confit of Chermoula Chicken Drum
  • How would I describe it?   A seasoned chicken drumstick with applesauce and Brussel sprouts.
  • How was the portion/value?   This was an $8 one, (up $1 from last year), but pretty much a full, small-sized meal, so the price tag still wasn't too bad. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  A   The Hubs was 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!

Confit of Chermoula Chicken Drum


  • What did we try?   Sfenj: Warm Beignets
  • How would I describe it?   Donut holes filled with cream and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and topped with chocolate drizzle and toasted almonds. 
  • How was the portion/value?   For $5 we got two little beignets, which seemed like too small of a portion. For less than that you can get three large beignets at Port Orleans. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  B   The Hubs loved these babies, but I found them to be too greasy. I don't enjoy tasting the grease on fried foods and you could really taste it on these. They were served warm, with cool, creamy centers. Minus the grease, they had a nice flavor. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   I will not, but The Hubs might. 

Sfenj



Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen
(Japan)






  • What did we try?   New Year Celebration Soba
  • How would I describe it?   Noodles in broth with spinach leaves and white meat chicken. 
  • How was the portion/value?   For $6.75 (up $0.25 from last year) we got a large bowl of soup with spinach, chicken and plenty of noodles. It could totally be lunch.
  • What letter grade would we give it?  B   Nice flavor and plenty of yummy stuff in it!
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   I won't, but only because there's other stuff I want more. 

(Last year's New Year Celebration Soba. This year's does not have shrimp.)



  • What did we try?   Ichigo Milk Boba
  • How would I describe it?   A strawberry smoothie with popping boba.
  • How was the portion/value?   $5.25 is too much for this little smoothie. 
  • What letter grade would we give it?  C   Eh. Tasted like a cross between strawberry milk and a strawberry smoothie. I asked for the boba on the side, since my little guy is nuts for them, and the Cast Member happily obliged. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   Nope. Waaaay too much other good stuff!

Ichigo Milk Boba

My son's side of boba bubbles. 


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?   $5.50 (up $0.25 from last year) 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. 

Slow Roasted Turkey


  • What did we try?   Hand Carved Smoked Ham
  • How would I describe it?   Ham with a sweet glaze, green beans and mashed sweet potatoes.
  • How was the portion/value?   Just like the turkey, this could have been lunch. $6 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 liked the added flavor from the glaze. The chef had no problem putting the candied pecans on the side so my son could eat this. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   It was yummy, but once was good. 

Hand Carved Smoked Ham


  • What did we try?   Chocolate Pecan Tart
  • How would I describe it?   A mini chocolate pecan pie with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.
  • 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. 

Chocolate Pecan Tart


  • What did we try?   White and Green Sugar Cookie
  • How would I describe it?   A basic sugar cookie with sprinkles and a white chocolate drizzle.
  • How was the portion/value?   All of the Cookie Stroll cookies are $2 each. They aren't particularly big, but the $2 price is just ok.  
  • What letter grade would we give it?  B   A decent sugar cookie, but nothing spectacular. 
  • Will we get it again, when we return to the festival?   No thanks. 

White and Green Sugar Cookie

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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 

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