Getting my fill at a less-than-full Epcot food festival

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A Taste of the International Food & Wine Festival is part of the admission to Epcot until later this fall. Here, four varieties of macaroni and cheese are displayed.
A Taste of the International Food & Wine Festival is part of the admission to Epcot until later this fall. Here, four varieties of macaroni and cheese are displayed. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

If you love Walt Disney World but hate the crowds, now is the time to consider a pilgrimage to the Central Florida park.

With Covid-19 admission restrictions in place, it's the chance of a lifetime, really, to wander around the parks without the usual crush of tourists, long lines at restaurants and attractions and the jostling and camping out to see the Main Street parades.

But there is a trade-off. Since there are fewer people, there are fewer things open. Favorite restaurants, rides and shows may not be available to you. Still, there's so much to do at Disney that guests sometimes complain no one can do it all.

On a recent trip to sample this year's International Food & Wine Festival, it was striking how comfortably sparse the crowds were at Epcot.

To take one example, although Disney has temporarily shelved its elaborate character parades, they've been replaced at Epcot by scaled down "caravans," consisting of one or two vehicles with characters riding in them or marching alongside. Cast members precede the vehicles to part the crowd, but there isn't much of a crowd to part. While interactions with characters are off limits, kids and adults get a great view of them, as close as six feet away.

• Related: Disney protocols get a sanitized thumbs-up from one advisor

Strolling the World Showcase promenade, I felt more like a member of some elite club than part of a herd on the move.

The downside was evident at the Yacht Club Resort, where I bunked the night before my Epcot visit. The place seemed overscaled for the number of people staying there. It might have suited the NBA players lodged there for their games, but the ballers moved out the night before I moved in, and the resort felt empty.

I missed the motorboats that used to ply the lakes and take guests to the parks. On a walk around Crescent Lake to the Boardwalk area I saw no surrey bikes. The Boardwalk Bakery and Trattoria al Forno were open, but the ESPN sports bar, the Flying Fish restaurant and the Atlantic Dance Hall were closed.

So you have to be prepared to take the bad with the good. If you are, fall is an especially good time for adults to visit, particularly Epcot, with kids back at school (or in virtual class, anyway). Fall months also bring the International Food & Wine Festival to Epcot, marking its 25th anniversary this year.

The 2020 version has been restyled as a Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, reflecting its reduced ambitions: no chef dinners, no concerts.

What's new with the event, which stretches into late November, is the use of the World ShowPlace to stage four of the more than 20 food stands. Normally booked with conventions and other private events, the darkened indoor space provides a nice break from the heat and/or rain that plague Florida in September.

The four showcases, set up for social distancing, include Mac and Cheese, Appleseed Orchard, Desserts & Champagne and Festival Favorites.

Clients should be sure to browse the menus before they go. There's too much food to try to go without a plan, unless you're willing to spread your visit over multiple days. And that goes double for all of the international beers and wines on hand.

At the Appleseed Orchard, which debuted last year at the Canada pavilion, I sampled a Frozen Apple Pie, a six-ounce, non-alcoholic slushy made from Granny Smith apples and topped with cinnamon crumble. It was really good.

I found myself inevitably drawn to the French showcase, where I had a scrumptious onion tart and a rose wine infused with raspberry, which I tried in part to see if it was better than it sounded (it was). On the more unfamiliar end of the spectrum, I stopped at the African showcase for skewered shrimp with citrus-scented couscous and a corn and white bean medley with pigeon peas, quinoa and kachumbari slaw.

Pricing and reviews are available online on various Disney fan sites such as the Disneyfoodblog.

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