It’s been advertised as ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ and ‘The Most Magical Place on Earth’, but even if you didn’t grow up sleeping on Mickey Mouse bedsheets, there’s still plenty to do in Orlando’s Disneyworld that makes it a happy place for adults, too. Here’s how I made the most of a fun-filled Grownup Day at Disney, starting with a visit to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival.
1st Stop: Epcot’s Annual Food & Wine Festival
Disney’s Magic Kingdom may have the much-loved ‘It’s a Small World’ attraction, but Epcot has its own World Showcase and unlike it’s neighbouring Kingdom, this World includes WINE! And there’s no better time to take a trip around this World than in the fall, when Epcot hosts its annual Food & Wine Festival.
From mid-September to mid-November every year, Epcot’s World Showcase plays host to a world of flavour, with literally dozens of special marketplaces and destinations in the park where you can sample signature food – and drink – from across the globe. There are special events that allow you to meet food celebrities and even ‘Eat to the Beat’ dinner and concert packages that allow you to enjoy a sit-down meal followed by reserved seats for a performance by one of your favourite bands.
But the real tasting tour happens as you stroll around the 1.2 mile perimeter of the World Showcase’s central lake. Here, dozens of food kiosks are set up, representing cuisines from around the world and offering a selection of ‘tapas-sized’ food dishes, along with signature alcoholic drinks from each country.
And since no one does ‘authentic artificiality’ quite like Disney, even the servers who staff the kiosks come from that specific country!
The best part about this Festival is that you get to nibble and nosh on whichever cuisine whets your appetite, meaning that you never have to decide as a group on what you collectively feel like eating.
Control freak/planners can use their Festival passport as a guide to help map out their ‘courses’ ahead of time, while the more spontaneous diners can wait to see what comes next as they encounter one kiosk after another.
Of course, being Canadian, I had to check out the Canada kiosk to see what Disney’s idea of our ‘national’ dish was, and no, it wasn’t poutine! (Apparently cheese soup is a Canadian thing, as well as Moosehead lager.) The Canadian pavilion also featured replica totem poles from the West Coast as well as a pretty photogenic chateau that paid homage to the architectural style of our historic CN hotels.
As with all the Disney Parks, there’s never enough time to see – or eat – everything at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, so take your time, pace yourself, and take part in what might be the largest ‘moveable feast’ in the world!
TIP: The best way to pay at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival is with a pre-loaded Festival-themed Gift Card, so you can just ‘swipe and savour’ your way from one kiosk to the next! Also, note that there is a separate event admission required for this Festival, beyond your regular Disney Park Pass.
2nd Stop: Future World
Here’s a Fun Fact about Epcot: Many people don’t realize that E-P-C-O-T actually stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, Walt Disney’s vision of what a utopian city of the future could look like. But Disney’s imagineers couldn’t agree on what that city should contain, with one group pushing for a World’s Fair-type of international theme park (the World Showcase) and another group keen to showcase cutting edge technology (Future World).
The decision was made to include both, which is why you’ll find replicas of Mayan pyramids in one part of the park, and monorails and modernist structures in the adjacent one. While you might not be able to see everything in both of Epcot’s Worlds, it’s definitely worth squeezing in some of the highlights of Future World, even if you’re primary reason for coming to Epcot is the Food & Wine Festival.
Although it’s only 30 years old or so, there’s a cool retro vibe about Future World, especially for someone like me who grew up during the actual Space Age. For starters, there’s the Jetson-esque architecture of some of their pavillions:
Then there’s the iconic monorail that takes you from Epcot right through the centre of the Contemporary Hotel and on to the Magic Kingdom; and of course the giant ‘golf ball’ that houses the Spaceship Earth ride that takes visitors on a time-travelling tour through the history of human civilization.
After filling up on perogies, sushi and champagne cocktails at the Food Festival, hopping on a ride may not seem like the right thing to do, but there’s no need to worry about losing your lunch on Spaceship Earth. Instead, this 16-minute tour is a nice chance to sit down and relax as you move slowly past a series of historical vignettes that use some pretty impressive animatronics to bring great moments in human history to life.
3rd Stop: Disney’s Magic Kingdom (and no, it’s not just for kids)
I hate to admit it, but it’s been almost 4 decades since my one and only visit to the Magic Kingdom, so it seemed like a shame not to take advantage of my all-Parks-pass and hit the most iconic place in Disneyworld, too. So I hopped on the monorail station at Epcot’s entrance and scooted over to the land of princesses and Mickey Mouse, just in time for a live performance taking place at Cinderella’s castle.
Acting out scenes from the movie Frozen, live actors put on a show at the foot of the castle, entertaining the crowd as a sound and light show transformed the castle into a wintery, magical version of Elsa’s ice palace. Pretty gorgeous, I have to admit!
Show over, and with only a couple of hours before the Magic Kingdom closed, it was off to revisit some of the classic attractions I remembered from my first visit to the park, including the Haunted Mansion (officially ‘grownup’ now that it is 45 years old) whose visual effects are still as impressive today as they were decades ago.
Space Mountain was next, and just as fun as the first time, (except that this time, the signs warning people to avoid the ride if they have high blood pressure, pace makers, or heart conditions seemed a little more relevant!)
Even though it seemed like I had just arrived, ‘bedtime’ was fast approaching in the Magic Kingdom, because being a Thursday night, closing time was nine o’clock. Fortunately, I had just enough time to buy an illuminated set of ‘ears’ as a souvenir before hopping on the monorail to return to the parking lot and call it a night.
Even for this grownup, it had been a food – and fun – filled day at Disney!
Special thanks to Experience Kissimmee, who hosted me on my grownup Disney adventure and introduced me to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.
TIP: November was a great time to hit Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, as well as the Magic Kingdom, especially because I went mid-week. The crowds were smaller, the lineups were short or practically non-existent (especially at Epcot) and the weather was warm but not suffocatingly hot.
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.