By Sarah Sekula
Over the past decade, Orlando has emerged as a tasty haven for the farm-to-table movement and a blossoming independent restaurant scene. Overall, it's safe to say there is a pretty fabulous dining scene in Orlando. Not to mention, Walt Disney World plays host to one of the largest food festivals in the world. Each fall, loads of people head to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (which runs through Nov. 16, 2015) to sample a wide selection of tasty nibbles and beverages.
Get set for a behind the scenes look at all that's new, exciting and delicious for this year's 20th anniversary of this foodie festival only at Epcot.
"It's probably one of the few festivals that specializes in foods from all over the world, while most festivals focus on one dish or region," says Ricky Ly, founder of tastychomps.com, who has attended the festival since 2010. "It definitely brings a global perspective to food."
Kristin Lietz, who has been to the festival more than 100 times since 1989, concurs. "It really is an around-the-world festival," she says. "I love to travel internationally, and in a way, spending a day at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival satisfies my travel cravings for a while."
If you haven't been before, the endless options (including burger block parties, beverage boot camps and cheese seminars) can seem overwhelming. Never fear, though, we've rounded up tips from Ly and Lietz below.
Book a seminar
"I particularly like the wine and liquor seminars, which often feature the winemakers behind the brands," Lietz says. "They're very educational, and they generally include generous tastes. Take a look at the schedule and see if any appeal to you. Just remember that there's a fee for most of the seminars."
Map out a music plan
"If I was coming from out of town, I think I'd first take a look at the list of concerts and find two back-to-back bands I was interested to see," says Lietz. "I'd plan to spend at least one weekend day and one weekday at the festival, and I'd head to the park early each day. The World Showcase (where all the food and drink booths are) opens at 11, so I'd use the first two hours at the park to ride the rides -- such as Soarin' and Test Track -- before the festival booths open. Don't forget to get FastPasses ahead of time!"
Consider the gift card wrist bracelet
"Before you start your festival experience, purchase a Food & Wine Festival gift card wrist bracelet," says Ly. "This makes it so much easier to purchase dishes while your hands are full with plates and drinks or if you're just too busy stuffing your face."
Try new things
"Sure, you'll find familiar favorites, but the fun of the festival lies in sampling things you've never seen before," says Lietz. "Raspberry wine from South Korea? Polish beer? A cool local craft beer from Florida? Sparkling white wine from Brazil? If it's unfamiliar, give it a shot."
"There's a new Cheese Studio this year with lots of interesting-sounding cheese selections that I can't wait to try," she says. "I also love the black pepper shrimp with noodles in China (which is also a great deal; it's traditionally one of the more generous portion sizes at the festival), the bratwurst in a pretzel roll in Germany, the tuna poke in Hawaii, and the New England lobster roll at the Hops & Barley Market. But that just scratches the surface. I love trying new things -- especially dishes I'm not familiar with."
Sarah Sekula is a national travel correspondent who lives in Orlando and regularly contributes to USA TODAY, CNN.com, NBCnews.com, FOXnews.com, ISLANDS and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons. Follow her journeys at SarahSekula.com or @wordzilla on Twitter.