In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic offers amazing cuisine this weekend

tempIf you’re a Disney fan, you’re probably already familiar with the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which continues through November 10 at the theme park. However, you might not realize that this weekend brings the fifth incarnation of another popular Epcot-area food fest. On October 31 and November 1, the Swan and Dolphin resorts host the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic, a two-day celebration of delicious food and drink.

If you’ve never visited the Food and Wine Classic before, check out the video below for highlights from the media preview. I was fortunate enough to attend this tasting of several of the featured items, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything I tried in both the food and beverage categories.

My special favorites were the pork dish, with sauce that made its flavors sing and the shrimp shooter, which makes shrimp cocktail as much fun as it is tasty. I was also hooked on the hot and cold bananas foster panini with vanilla ice cream:

Those items and many more will be available at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic on October 31 and November 1, with different items on each night just to keep things interesting. You can attend one or both nights and either buy tickets if you plan to eat and drink a limited amount or get an all-you-can-eat-and-drink band. I highly recommend the latter because it keeps you from having to make difficult choices. See two items that both sound good? Flash your band and try them both!

If this sounds like a perfect way to spend your weekend, you’ll find more information on the official website. I know it’s Halloween, so think of it as trick or treating for adults. Instead of collecting candy at doors, you sample adult treats like gourmet food, wine, and beer, and you don’t even have to dress up in a costume to do it.

The event itself is loads of fun, but if you want to round out your evening, sign up for one of the pre-event seminars. You’ll find them all listed here, but they cover topics like pairing cheese and port, creating sushi, making pasta, blending wine, and mixing your own drinks. Below is a video that covers the food-related sessions, which also involve alcoholic libations:

Want to go for pure drink? Here’s a description of the wine, beer, and spirits sessions:

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Italian wine seminar. I thought it would be a tasting, with moderate samples of each of the wines described. “Taste” meant full portions and generous re-pours, so by the time I headed out to the causeway to attend the actual event, I was already in a great mood courtesy of the Italian vinos. Here’s a video of the session, which is also offered this year:

This year there’s also a beer garden which you can enjoy for an upgrade fee. Check out the video below to see why that’s a good idea if you’re a beer lover:

The Swan and Dolphin resorts are within walking distance of both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, so it’s easy to combine a day at the parks with a night of indulgence. You can also just head out for the evening to enjoy the food, drink, live entertainment, and a nice view of the Epcot fireworks. If you’d like to stay overnight so you don’t have to worry about over-indulging, the Swan and Dolphin have special Food and Wine Classic packages.

If you’re a food and wine fan, or if you’re just looking for a fun way to spend the weekend, the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic beckons. Whether you sign up for a seminar before you hit the booths or just come out for a night of drinking and dining, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.

Make the Most of Halloween Horror Nights: A Local’s Hot Tips

It’s hard to believe it, but we’re running into the final weeks of the haunt season. As an Orlando local, I get to visit two of the nation’s premiere events, Halloween Horror Nights and HowlOScream, multiple times. I get a Frequent Fear Plus pass for Halloween Horror Nights that lets me in every night but Saturday, and it has express so I can go in all the houses once through the express line. However, I take it as a point of pride to see how many houses I can get through without using express.

Whether you have an express pass and want to save it to do some houses twice, or whether you don’t want to shell out the extra money and just want to see the houses as efficiently as possible through the regular lines, here’s how to do it (this is what I do every night, and I rarely use express until the last three or four houses):

1) Either visit Universal Studios Florida during the day and stay in the part after it closes or be one of the first in line outside. You can wait in a holding pen til Halloween Horror Nights open if you have a day ticket and stay until closing time. Otherwise, get to the front gates early and stake out a spot. All of the gates open, not just the center, so choose the one with the smallest crowd.

2) Wait in the kids zone holding area or head to the kids zone as soon as you get in. Most people go right to the sound stages, but the zone is home to two houses that you can knock off quickly (Roanoke and the creepy dolls). The exit of the first one leads right to the entrance of the other. The doll house lets out by the entrance to Halloween; if it’s already open, do it next. Otherwise, hurry over the Giggles and Gore by Disaster, do that one, then come back to Halloween. The Halloween line gets longer as the night goes on, especially when the Bill and Ted shows let out, so doing it early is wise.

3) Do the soundstage house with the shortest line. After you’ve knocked out the first four houses I mentioned, head to the soundstages. Out of those four, The Walking Dead always has the longest line, and Dracula has the shortest. If the Dead line isn’t bad yet, do it now. Otherwise, do Alien Vs. Predator, which also gets a pretty hefty line, or Dusk Til Dawn, which isn’t usually as crowded. Save Dracula for last if the other lines aren’t long yet, since Drac attracts a smaller crowd for most of the night.

That’s the pattern I use on every visit, and I rarely have to use my express pass on anything but the three most popular soundstage houses and sometimes Halloween. Then, when it gets more crowded, I can do a second round with express on the houses that I did via standby earlier.

Even though it’s past the event’s halfway point. there’s still plenty of time to see it. Here’s Mike Aiello talking about the latter half of the season:

I also chatted with Lora Wallace about how the scare zones are breaking in nicely:

Hopefully these tips will help you make the most of your night and the videos will get you bumped up for a late season video. I’ll also toss in a little plug, since I belong to Crowdtap, and one of my recent product samplings tied in perfectly with Halloween Horror Nights. I received samples of fast-acting Advil Film-Coated pain reliever, which really helped me get going after a long night of hustling to as many houses as possible. I always wake up with stiff muscles, and it gets me back to functionality fast. I like the coating because it’s easy to swallow, and apparently it lets the medication work faster, too.

And speaking of all that walking, I’ll leave you with one last tip: wear sturdy and comfortable shows! Sturdy because you never know when the person in front of you in the haunted houses might suddenly run backwards and trample you and comfortable or you’ll end up with blisters. If you’re like me, you can’t afford sore feet because you’ve still got many more nights of haunts to enjoy.