Look out, Epcot. There’s a new theme park food festival in town, and it’s making a great first impression. Busch Gardens’ Food & Wine Festival just wrapped up its second weekend (it runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 23) with an invitation-only VIP Experience to preview the park’s first-ever food and wine festival.
The event started with a reception in the Black Forest picnic/special events area. We were greeted by a few of the park’s animal ambassadors. Here they are. Aren’t they cute?
Okay, back to the food. There was a nice selection of cheese, crackers, fruit,vegetables and these amazing paprika-roasted Marcona almonds. They were so yummy. I could have eaten all of them. I knew there was way more to come so I practiced a little bit of restraint.
Here they are, among other tasty treats.
Park president Carl Lum spoke for a few minutes about the Food & Wine Festival, explaining how nearly two years of planning, researching and lots of tasting went into the final product. He then pointed out Chef Justin Watson, the incredibly creative chef in charge of the whole delicious venture. He always looks so humble.
We were then given the go-ahead to wander off to our own devices, sampling whatever we wanted on our own little tour of Europe. Preloaded wristbands make it convenient to purchase items, no need to dig through pockets, bags and wallets every time you want to buy something. Cash and credit cards are accepted at Food & Wine Festival kiosks. Most items are between $3 and $7 for a sample-size portion.
Wristbands are available for purchase at these locations in the park:
- Food & Wine Festival Welcome Center
- Castle O’Sullivan
- Griffon Gifts
- Der Marktplatz
- Bella Casa
- Pompeii Gifts
Busch Gardens has an excellent system for the purchasing of food and beverage items at the Food & Wine Festival. Kiosks decorated to resemble their respective country have signs that list all of the food and beverage items. You can also pick up a Food & Wine Festival Guide at any of the kiosks. This is a really cool little booklet with a map and descriptions of all of the items. Pretend it’s a passport and check off items as you try them. That’s what I did. It was fun. As you can see, I am liberal with my rating system. Pretty much everything got five stars in my book. After a while, I got tired of drawing all those stars. They still deserve them though.
Okay, after you’ve decided what you want, walk up to the counter where there will be two or three cash registers. Place your order. You will be given a receipt, which you then take to the next station. There, a cast member will locate your order and bring it to you. It was not very crowded the evening we were there and the lines moved fairly fast. We didn’t wait for much more than a few minutes at any of the kiosks.
And here are Austria’s goodies …
I am a detail person, and I have to comment on the small additions and decorative elements surrounding each country’s kiosk. There are potted plants such as herbs and vegetables at most of the locations. Markers list what each plant is as well as what dish it is used in. It’s really fun to see olives, peppers and lemons growing on the vine or branch. Also, check out the sign at Canada. It’s made of apples!
Here is the one beer we sampled. It’s a Molsen Canadian. As you can see, it is a pretty big serving. We agreed that while this was an excellent amount for the price, it might have been better to have a smaller “sample” size in the beer offerings. It was very filling, a good thing overall, but, since I’m not an avid beer drinker, we weren’t able to finish the whole thing. We were so busy snacking and nibbling that we did not get around to sampling any of the wine choices. Next time.
The pumpkin caramel mousse was amazing, nice and cold and creamy. If you’ve ever had Pumpkin Juice at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this is kind of like a frosty version of that, but creamier of course. It had just a hint of the pumpkin flavor and was not overwhelming at all.
Each country also has a four-sided sign with various facts about the country and its cuisine.
If you’ve ever seen the Pixar movie “Ratatouille,” you’ll surely remember the scene at the end where Anton Ego, the food critic, eats the ratatouille prepared by Remy. He is immediately transported back to his childhood where his mother is serving him the same dish. I think the general idea is that food moves us and makes us remember our past and good times. My clan and I always make mention of things being “our ratatouille.” I don’t know whether its the distinct chicken flavor or the creamy dumpling-ness of this dish, but, yes, this schinken nudel is my ratatouille.
I always have to have a salad.
Spain was one of my favorites. Partly because of the detail such as this …
But mostly because of this …
This ham-wrapped scallop did not last long. The rice was also very good.
We did not have enough time, or expandable waistlines, to get to the rest of the kiosks. Next trip, we will tackle Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, France and Greece. And yes, France does have actual ratatouille. I’ve heard it’s fabulous, and I’m really looking forward to it.
You may be saying “Wait a minute here, Busch Gardens doesn’t have Scandinavia, Greece or Spain in their line-up. What’s going on?” Well, yes, you are right. That is the really cool thing. They’ve added in some extra countries to come up with a really well-rounded tasting experience. There are also a few specialty kiosks such as a German beer kiosk and a crepes & coffee kiosk.
While I was at Busch Gardens’ Food & Wine Festival as part of a special event, all of the kiosks and foods I tried are available to every guest in the park. If you’re not interested in tasting, no problem. The food, wine and beer kiosks and samples are completely optional. It is very possible to walk around all day enjoying rides, shows, animals and the beautiful landscaping without participating in the Food & Wine Festival. We were so busy tasting that we did not even ride a single thing. Even this …
Don’t let appearances fool you. Verbolten is a serious coaster!
For the foodie interested in learning more about cooking or food in general, consider some of these special events offered by Busch Gardens. Visit BuschGardens.com to sign up for some of these demonstrations and wine events. They do require an additional fee.
Busch Gardens’ Food & Wine Festival Exclusive Experiences
- French Wine Tasting
- Wine on the Rhine
- Food & Wine VIP Tour
- Virginia Wine vs. French Wine Comparative Tasting
- The Chef’s Guests with Chef Virginia Willis
Be sure to catch some of the free demonstrations and food-themed shows around the park, including Grape Smashers in Il Teatro di San Marco, Cooking Live with Chef Virginia Willis and The Art of Food, which takes place throughout the day in Ireland, France and Italy. With resumes that include “Food Network Challenge!” “The View,” “Sugar Dome” and “Ultimate Cake Off,” these famous food experts take ordinary food and turn it into works of art. Some of the featured food artists include Jaime Ho, Michelle Boyd, Elizabeth Marek and James Parker.
If you are planning a trip, check out some of the current deals and coupons available. Military members can receive free admission for themselves and up to three dependents through SeaWorld Parks’ Waves of Honor program.
Busch Gardens’ Food & Wine Festival country kiosks
- German Beer
- Crêpes & Coffee
Our VIP event ended with dessert (yes, more!) and a gift. We had already tried a couple of the dessert offerings so it was nice to get a second taste. Also, we got the chance to try one or two that we hadn’t found out in the park, like this Scottish toffee. Let me just say, this stuff is amazing. I am not typically a sweets person (the above-mentioned desserts were all chosen by my tasting companion), but I could seriously eat this whole bowl of crunchy, chewy, just chocolatey-enough stuff.
If I had to pick a favorite dessert, it would probably be the Spanish hazelnut custard (pictured above) or the Austrian linzer torte (also pictured above). We really wanted to try the German griesspudding with blackberry compote but they were out of it. More for the next trip! We’ll be bringing the youngster the next time, so I think we’ll be set on getting in the rest of the sweet and savory treats. And that ratatouille.
Visit the Busch Gardens blog to try out some of the recipes featured in the Food & Wine Festival, including Austria’s chicken paprikash, Germany’s currywurst and Italy’s tiramisu.
Here is the gift.
Thank you to Busch Gardens for the opportunity to attend this incredible event. It was way more than I expected and a great start to what I hope is an annual event. Here’s to turning “first-ever” into “second annual” (and third, fourth, fifth….well, you get the picture).
Disclosure: The author received complimentary admission to the VIP event as part of Busch Gardens’ Mom’s Advisory Panel. All opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.