Many adults head to Epcot in Orlando for the holidays. It’s Disney’s “adult” amusement park, and a big part of its allure is the food and wine.
Epcot, the second theme park of Walt Disney World, opened on Oct. 1, 1982. It covers 260 acres and is almost twice the size of the first Orlando park, known as the Magic Kingdom.
The main entrance brings you into Future World. As its name implies, this is where the latest technological offerings are located. You’ll find exhibits that focus on ocean life, the land and our environment, imagination, health, energy, communication, space exploration and transportation. Think of it as Disneyland’s Tomorrowland area on steroids.
For a completely different experience, Epcot’s World Showcase features 11 attractions, each representing a different country, encircling a lagoon. You’ll be immersed in the culture of each country as you explore the shops, ride the rides, view the movies and taste the cuisine. To add to the authenticity, many of the “cast members” are from the country represented, and are happy to share their heritage with visitors.
Among Orlando area residents, the real attraction at Epcot’s World Showcase is the food. Thousands purchase season passes to the park simply to be able to dine there whenever they wish, perhaps taking in a fireworks or light show as well before they depart. Epcot may be the only theme park on Earth where the food competes with the rides.
For some nine years beginning in 1998, the restaurant lineup at Epcot went virtually unchanged. This year and last, however, a number of changes have been made. New restaurants have been introduced, one has seen its menu completely overhauled, and others have been remodeled to create more “immersive experiences.”
And here’s the best news of all for wine lovers: Disney takes wine seriously. The wine lists you’ll encounter at several of the World Showcase restaurants are world-class in every way, and all are well thought out in terms of including selections that pair nicely with the particular cuisine.
To help you plan a wining-and-dining vacation at Epcot, let’s take an armchair tour of the World Showcase restaurants…
* Bistro de Paris – This gourmet restaurant, with French cuisine and a romantic ambience, features pan-seared lobster, rack of lamb and filet mignon. Its second-floor location offers a gorgeous view of Epcot, and its wine list includes many French bottlings.
* Les Chefs de France – France is a culinary capital, so it only makes sense that the “France” section of Epcot would have two fine dining establishments. Here, authenticity rules, from the atmosphere to the croque monsieur, and from the salade Nicoise to the various gourmet main dishes.
* Le Cellier Steakhouse – This is the place to enjoy Canadian cuisine, as defined by the various regions of our neighbor to the north. The environment is inspired by the castle wine cellars of the grandest of Canadian chateaux: Frontenac and Laurier. Le Cellier is a steak loverâ€™s paradise, but it also offers a handful of seafood specialties.
* Nine Dragons Restaurant – The rich Asian interior (carved wood figures and Chinese lanterns abound) is complemented by inventive cuisine: Cantonese, Mongolian, Szechuan, Hunan and Kiangche. In a word: sumptuous.
* Restaurant Marrakesh – Taste the flavors of Morocco in signature dishes such as roast lamb, couscous, brochette of chicken and shish kabob.
* Rose & Crown – This quaint dining hall offers English “pub grub,” including fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie.
* San Angel Inn – Modeled after a hacienda that dates back to 1692, this authentic Old Mexico-style rancho is not the place to go if you’re seeking Taco Bell-style Mexican fare. However, if it’s grilled tenderloin of beef, grilled shrimp or Mahi-Mahi you seek, you’ll be satiated by the subtle flavors infused into these and other dishes.
* Teppan Edo – The communal ritual of Teppan-yaki style cooking is the star of this “show,” as artful chefs chop and stir-fry fresh fish, meat and vegetables on grills at your table. Celebrating a special occasion? Opt for Wagyu or Kobe beef.
* Tutto Italia Ristorante – This casually elegant restaurant offers regional specialties from across Italy, and guarantees freshness by making bread, pastries, mozzarella and pasta on-site. The wine list, of course, leans heavily toward Italian selections.
* Biergarten Restaurant – It’s Oktoberfest every day at this restaurant in the German pavilion, as its traditional buffet offers an all-you-can-eat extravaganza of bratwurst, weinkraut, rotisserie chicken, roasted pork and more.
Each year, usually from late September through early November, Disney ups the culinary ante by staging the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. In addition to the usual park activities, guests can explore marketplaces featuring regional food and wine, learn from renowned chefs and winemakers at special programs and demonstrations, and enjoy the sounds of the “Eat to the Beat” concert series.
Stop by the Wonders Bar at the festival’s welcome center for a glass of bubbly, then hit the Stockpot shop on the way out to pick up a culinary souvenir.
And if you book a room on the Disney property, the resort’s transportation system will get you back safe and sound… so you can get rested for another day of Disney “adult” fun.