Here are some early highlights for the 16th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival from Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer and blogger. With the theme "Passport to a World of Flavors," the event with more than 25 international marketplaces will feature tapas-sized portions ($3 to $8) paired with beer, wine and cocktails.
Here's what's new:
•Hawaii, the Caribbean islands and Portugal all debut Marketplaces – look for Kalua pork sliders in Hawaii, ropa vieja in the Caribbean and calamari salad in Portugal.
•The new Odyssey Lounge opens, where guests can check in with friends and family back home, play games and surf the web while enjoying a specialty cocktail or a glass of wine or beer. There's even a charging station for mobile phones and other electronic devices.
•Celeb chefs are back – top culinarians like Jeff Henderson, Cat Cora, Alan Wong, Gale Gand, Suvir Saran, Jamie Deen, Rock Harper, Celina Tio and more. All told, more than 270 chefs participate.
•There's always fun stuff at the Festival Welcome Center, from a wine bar to tasting seminars and free sessions with cookbook authors.
•Eat to the Beat! Concert Series is back at America Gardens Theatre with first timers the Pointer Sisters, The Orchestra starring former members of ELO and Gin Blossoms. Taylor Dayne kicks it off opening weekend.
•Also back are First Bites Opening Reception on Sept. 29 (one time only); Kitchen Memories (formerly Celebrating Family and Friends in the Kitchen); Mixology Seminar, and "3D" Disney Dessert Discovery. And of course the grand Party for the Senses!
•A new Cranberry Bog display by Craisins tells the story behind the cranberry's rich agricultural heritage.
The Party for the Senses grand tasting events and other special wine and culinary programs require reservations and separate event admission. Guests can call 407/WDW-FEST (939-3378) for information and to make reservations for special events and programs (Aug. 16 is the date you can start booking). Festival details are available at http://www.disneyworld.com/foodandwine.