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A Sensible Party?

winecollection2.jeffbergmanAs the 14th annual EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival draws near, guests are reviewing the schedule and making plans.   One event with a loyal following is the Party for the Senses.  Despite hefty price increases over the years, this program continues to draw enormous crowds.  The Party is held every Saturday night during the Festival in the World ShowPlace venue and offers an embarrassment of gastronomic riches.  Attendees are presented with a wine glass and plate at check-in and set loose to wander, cocktail-party style, throughout the massive space.

It’s a grazer’s paradise and an opportunity to sample many imaginative creations, savory and sweet, at dozens of tasting stations.  There are also more than 50 wines and beers on offer, representing both famous and less well-known wineries from around the world.

A central stage features entertainment though, sadly, it is no longer provided by members of the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba.

Changes for 2010 include the debut of the Wine View Lounge.  For an additional fee, guests can enjoy a private area with reserved tables and some extra amenities and menu items.  The Party will also feature different themes each weekend:

• September 26    Spanish Cuisine, Chef Douglas Rodriguez
• October 3    Comfort Foods with a Twist
• October 10    South American Cuisine, Chef Jeff Tunks
• October 17   Classical Cuisine
• October 24   Asian Cuisine, Chef Alan Wong
• October 31   The Fall Harvest, Chefs Cat Cora and Tory McPhail
• November 7   Italian Cuisine

While a number of the other special events held during the Festival sell out quickly, this large-capacity extravaganza offers many more guests the opportunity to participate in a truly unique wine-and-dine experience.

If I have made it sound like a must-do affair, let me say that, despite its popularity, I heartily dislike this event.  Tickets include preferred seating at the early performance of that night’s Eat to the Beat concert.  The suggestion is for guests to enjoy the music and then make their leisurely way around to the World ShowPlace to attend the Party.  In fact, regular attendees know full well to avoid the concert and head straight for the Party to line up early for entrance.  Many will be waiting an hour or more before the doors open, for one reason – to get a seat.  When guests are allowed to enter, there is a mad dash to grab a table; a somewhat unfortunate contradiction to the sophisticated ambiance that the elegant food is meant to evoke.

Amazingly, a good number of the guests, who have paid $135 each to attend, will never find a place to sit.  They will be reduced to roaming around on tired feet, trying to juggle a wine glass, a plate, a napkin, the little dish holding the food sample of the moment, and any personal items they’ve carried in, while attempting to “enjoy” the food.  It’s not unusual for arguments to break out throughout the evening as people vie for precious table space, or a place to rest a park-weary body.

The last time I attended, there was a large area just inside the entrance devoted to a display of table settings.  I found this very interesting and spent at least ten minutes walking around, but did not see one other person stop to look during the entire time I was there.  I can’t help but think that guests would have been better-served if this space had been used for additional tables and chairs.  I have been told that some steps were taken this past year to address the issue.  That the “solution” for 2010 is to offer a guaranteed chair for an additional $75.00, boggles the mind.

I was ready to leave after a half-hour of wandering around looking for any flat surface and finding none, and I won’t be attending again until Disney rethinks their approach to seating.  Happily, there truly is something for everyone at Walt Disney World, and the Party for the Senses seems to be the “something” for quite a few visitors.

Party for the Senses

World ShowPlace, EPCOT

Every Saturday during the Festival 9/26 to 11/7, 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

$135.00 per person

Wine View Lounge additional $75.00 per person

Reserved seating at 5:45 performance of Eat to the Beat Concert included

Park admission required

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