With the weekend kickoff of the 15th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, we showed restraint as we wandered around World Showcase on a beautiful Saturday afternoon – saving room for sipping and noshing at Party for the Senses. We burned a few calories as we sang along with Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It to My Heart” at Eat to the Beat at America Gardens Theatre (you pick up your Party for the Senses wristband right there and get awesome reserved seats), then took our time strolling over to World Showplace. In upcoming weeks, look for Kool & the Gang, Taylor Hicks, Sister Hazel, Rick Springfield – you are a few feet from the stage, it’s really a fun way to start the evening.
Cirque du Soleil is back in a big way at this year’s Party for the Senses, their musicians on stage most of the evening with the gorgeous, haunting melodies from “La Nouba,” and occasional vignettes from the show. The evening ends with a spectacular performance by the talented cast. It’s fantastic entertainment that makes the party even more special.
We won’t share all the dishes we loved, as every party features new chefs and new tastes. Suffice it to say that our favorite was California Grill’s beautiful bowl with a rich broth, roasted mushrooms and a single ravioli with venison and the scent of truffles. Yum.
Top 5 tips for Party for the Senses:
- Take your time getting there. The gates open and the crowd packs in the East Hall about 6:15 p.m., so instead of standing in line, arrive about 6:30 p.m. (or even 6:45 p.m.) when the crowd has moved inside. If snagging a table is important to you, all bets are off. (We never, ever sit, so we’re all for late arrival.) You can reserve seats in the Wine View Lounge, and if you do, plan to arrive at 6:15 p.m. for a little something extra.
- They’ve added beautiful vessels of iced water with a squeeze of fresh grapefruit and oranges in the East Hall – stop and sip on your way in and out. A really nice touch. We also sipped a vodka cocktail, new this year. One sip was plenty, but it was worth trying, part of the beauty of the party – you don’t have to commit.
- Don’t stand in line for food or wine. Every party, there is always one chef who draws a big crowd (Saturday night it was for a scallop the size of an enormous marshmallow). The lines will dwindle – hit up the chefs where no one is waiting, then circle back. We tried everything from braised beef cheeks to squab breast, the diversity and trying new tastes is a big part of the fun. You’re allowed to take one bite and move on.
- Ask questions. Most of the chefs and winemakers love your questions – and your feedback. And if you don’t like a wine, it’s OK to pour it out, rinse your glass and try another. There’s plenty of time to try most everything that looks interesting.
- While the array of cuisine is center stage, sample the cheeses – they’re even better this year than last. They’ve also arranged them on smaller tables, so it’s easy to circle and sample. We couldn’t get enough of a triple-cream cow’s cheese from the UK that we paired with a chunk of sweet honeycomb. Divine.
Each Saturday is a different experience – new wines, new chefs. The party is 6:30-9 p.m. Cost is $135 per person (park admission required). For seating in the Wine View Lounge, it’s an additional $90 per person (worth it if you want a guaranteed seat for the 2 ½ hours). Call 407-WDW-FEST or visit the Festival Welcome Center for reservations.