Disney California Adventure, Anaheim, CA
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s another year and another Food & Wine Festival from Disney California Adventure! This annual culinary celebration has settled into a well established pattern of cooking demonstrations, tasting events, specialty food kiosks, seasonal merchandise vending, and musical performances that provide entertainment and attractions (and good eats and drinks) all day long. This year’s festival is the longest yet in DCA’s history, lasting now through Tuesday, April 23rd. That’s over a month and a half of fooding and wining, and today’s update dives into some of this year’s offerings.
The Festival is once again spread throughout the main DCA thoroughfare through Pacific Wharf and Paradise Park, with satellite amenities in Hollywood Land. The Festival Marketplace is the main attraction, with merchandise and food stands, but there are also tasting classes for beer and wine located in the Boardwalk restaurant area of Paradise Park, not to mention kid-friendly craft and art activities in Hollywood Land and Pacific Wharf (the part on the Wine Country Trattoria side).
For Annual Passholders, the AP Center is located in Blue Sky Cellar this year. There isn’t a terribly fancy set-up—just a line to get this year’s event pin and a photo op where the Blue Sky Cellar documentary short film is played. It’s pretty much standard fare for AP holders at seasonal events these days… a small but admittedly superficial offering.
Also back this year for the foodies is the Sip and Savor Pass, the discounted coupon set that offers savings on the food stalls, if used efficiently. Available to Annual Passholders for $49 per pass and to regular guests for $54 each. The Sip and Savor Pass once again comes with 8 coupons. They can be used at all 14 Festival Marketplace food booths, plus for tapas sized portions of the special menu at Paradise Garden Grill, and also for a few select, low-advertised Festival snack stands and items.
For Annual Passholders, the value of the pass comes in ordering any non-alcoholic item $6.25 or above, which pretty much means all the savory items. Purchase something $6.00 or below, and you’re losing money on the pass unless you make up for it with other purchases. For the general public, $6.75 is the break-even point per dish. The great thing about this pass is that it can be used all in one trip or across multiple visits on multiple days until the end of the Festival. The tabs can be used on multiple items or all on one item. And after the tabs are used, one still has a souvenir lanyard and card, which features the primary menu items and their booth locations.
Sip and Savor Passes are available at the Festival Welcome Center, Festival Marketplaces, Festival Gifts and Artist Corner, Elias & Co., Seaside Souvenirs, Sip and Savor Cart, Trolley Treats and the Studio Store in Hollywood Land. And if you want extra mementos, get a Food & Wine Passport, which features scratch off “stamps” to signify kiosks visited. Unfortunately, for Annual Passholders who value simple trinkets, the Food & Wine Festival is not giving out little mini-buttons this year at each cashier stand.
The food and beverages are the main attraction at every Food & Wine Festival, and this year is no different. The 14 booths this year features a lot of returning themes, and the menu brings back a lot of items from last year—much more than usual, especially when counting the slightly modified varieties. I found this a little disappointing, as it detracted from the uniqueness of the festival. Bringing back the previous year’s top favorites is certainly not a bad thing, but it seemed as though nearly half of the items were returning from 2018 in identical or slightly altered forms.
On the other hand, this year brings a nice little secret that Disney started implementing last month during the Lunar New Year Festival. Guests actually have the ability to order food from all 14 stands from any single kiosk’s cashier. Although they still have to wait in line at each pick-up window, this saves invaluable time on the register side. Rather than wait in, say, eight different lines for at least several minutes each (and sometimes significantly longer during lunch and dinner rush), you can wait once and order everything you want. The risk, though, is that a food item may be sold out by the time you reach the pick-up window of a booth. But I think the overall convenience is much more beneficial. Thanks to our friend, Heather, at Disney Food Blog, for confirming this perk!
As I alluded to earlier, there are a lot of returning items at the Festival Marketplace kiosks this year. Normally, there seem to be a few or maybe a half dozen returning items at most. This year, for the main dishes alone, there are ten exact repeats and four modified returners from the 2018 Festival. Honestly, though I love the Food & Wine Festival and still like to try as many of the food items this year, the relative decrease of original dishes was a bit of a disappointment, especially when considering that some of last year’s favorites were altered for the worse this year (looking at you, Fried Artichoke and Sweet Corn Nuggets).
The other negative, which pops up every year, is the relative price for each item. This year, the most expensive dishes top out at $8.00 for a snack sized item, and though a few of the offerings were very delicious and worth the cost when factoring in a theme park premium, many weren’t quite up there. Fortunately, the use of the Sip and Savor Pass brought the cost-per item down to a more palatable level. When added up, the value of the 8 dishes ordered with the pass was $61—a $12 savings with our pass. But at the end of the day, for the average person, I still think the prices for everything are one to two dollars too high.
Add up all of this, and though I still overall enjoyed the cuisine at the Festival Marketplace, this year’s edition was disappointing relative to past events. Among the favorites, though, included…
Paradise Garden Grill is also serving up a special menu for the Food & Wine Festival. At this point the quick serve restaurant’s normal Mediterranean meals are served so infrequently that they’ve become the limited time offerings!
For the 2019 Food & Wine Festival, Garden Grill features a beer battered cod, an Impossible™ meatball sub, a giant turkey leg, and beer-braised pork tacos. As was the case introduced last year, there are also snack sized versions of these items that can be purchased with a Sip and Savor tab. And honestly… the servings are pretty good for the tapas size! There’s noticeably more food in these portions than in the regular Festival Marketplace booth servings!
Here’s a look at the menus for each of the Festival Marketplace booths. All of them are located along the Parade Corridor, from just after Buena Vista Street all the way to the Golden Zephyr in Paradise Park. The exceptions are L.A. Style, which is in Hollywood Land across from the old Muppetvision Theater, and Golden Dreams, which is located by the water wheel of Grizzly River Run (or rather, by the work walls that currently hide it).
In Paradise Park, there’s also the Festival Beer Garden returning this year with a selection of local craft brews. The prices are to be expected for a theme park… upcharged a couple of dollars over a similar bar SoCal bar price, but reasonable for being able to drink inside a Disney park.
There are also unadvertised or items on the down low related to the Food & Wine Festival. This specialty churro, for example, is located next to the L.A. Style booth in Hollywood Land and can accept a Sip and Savor Pass tab. There are other similar dishes to be found during this month and a half run as well.
We’ve only scratched into just a bit of the food offerings at this year’s Food & Wine Festival. For a more comprehensive write-up and reviews, check out the 2019 Food & Wine coverage from our friends over at Disney Food Blog!
Of course, no Disney event will pass these days without merchandise created “exclusively” for said event! Disney has figured out that pumping out limited edition wares will keep the Annual Passholders spending and encourage guests to check out some of the items too.
There are several areas along the Parade Corridor with Food & Wine merchandise or Festival-tied souvenirs for sale. The Artist Corner features artwork transplanted from Wonderground Gallery, available for purchase. They had this over in the back corner of Hollywood Land last year. Meanwhile, near the entrance to the Little Mermaid ride, there’s another stall with Festival-specific merch—shirts, sweaters, hats, ears, glasses, kitchen accessories, and more abound here.
As an FYI, the Artist Corner is also home to meet-and-greet with some of the Wonderground Gallery featured artists who have been selling their Disney art under the Disney licensing and distribution. Jerrod Maruyama, for example, was on hand this past weekend to take photos and sign souvenirs for fans, both at Wonderground and the Artist Corner in Paradise Park!
As in previous years, there are different food demonstrations and talks at the Food & Wine Festival. The Hollywood Land Backlot Stage has three Jr. Chef hands-on “cooking” experience during the early and mid afternoon, while Chef Daniella Malfitano gives food talks and interviews local purveyors at the same location later in the afternoon.
In addition, there are the culinary demonstrations, special tastings with celebrity chefs, and a variety of tasting seminars and classes available throughout the run, with different hosts and guests each week. For more information on all of the cooking-related events, click here.
Finally, much like the other DCA culture events like the Lunar New Year Celebration and Festival of Holidays, the Food & Wine Festival brings a bevvy of entertainment options across three different stages—a large one in Paradise Park / World of Color viewing area and a smaller one at the Paradise Gardens Band Stand. The Paradise Park obelisk is home to another less formal show.
The Paradise Park stage is home to the “headliner” acts each late afternoon and evening. Big band favorites, Phat Cat Swinger grace the weekends once again, bringing their high energy, infectious Disney compositions and classical covers and original creations to quite a cult audience full of jumping young ones and swirling swing dancers. Adelaide Tropicál picks up the beats on alternate days.
Jammin’ Chefs brings percussion to the table (literally) at the obelisk across from the entrance of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Journey. With help from Chip & Dale, these guys bang the drums on pots and pans and a variety of dinnerware. They’re a lot of fun and harken to the old custodian drummers who used to entertain in Tomorrowland.
The Paradise Garden Band Stand hosts a variety of singers during the afternoons and evenings. When I stopped by last weekend, Tina Aldana brought her soulful, powerful covers of classic rock, funk, and pop songs to a hooked dining audience, not to mention more dancing fans. The schedule of performers here varies daily, so check the showtimes to see who plays at what time.
That does it from the Food & Wine Festival! It’s booze and eats season at the local parks, with Knott’s set to start its Boysenberry Festival at the end of this month (more on that next week) and Sea World Seven Seas Craft Beer & Food Festival starting this Saturday and running through the end of next month. Following Disney’s lead, Southern California’s theme parks have found a way to leverage increased guest attendance during the traditional “off season.” I can’t fault them. Food and drinks are a delightful part of the human social experience, and I welcome all efforts to bring more of this diversity to the general public!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.