International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot

It’s been a while since I last posted. I haven’t been cooking, or writing much for that matter. Rather, I’m running on free food at work and frozen pizza. The blanket of darkness that seeps into our windows at work at the mere hour of 4 each afternoon demotivates any sort of energy I’d have to cook, but rather drag myself to yoga, make scrambled eggs for dinner and fall asleep.

It also doesn’t help that it’s gift buying season, and most of my spending money in November was spent at Disney World and alcohol.

Which is what I’m here to tell you about today! It’s been three weeks since my birthday, when I flew out to Florida with my most spontaneous of friends, Beans aka Heather G. She last-minute asked if I wanted to join her in visiting her cousin Sarah, who lives in Orlando. Heather’s birthday is the weekend after mine, so we celebrated our days of birth down there eating extravagant brunches and attending the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot! I would have never guessed how much Orlando has to offer aside from Disney World. The downtown area is filled with fun, distinctive bars and outdoor plazas. It’s as if you’re in a theme park itself, with bar after bar, everyone is dressed to the nines walking around.

We arrived in Orlando with it being only a few degrees warmer than Boston. But we acted as if we were in 80-degree weather in our sandals and spaghetti straps. Here is an overview of how we spent our trip

Mango’s Tropical Cafe

On Saturday night, Sarah took us to Mango’s Tropical Café. She made it seem like your average restaurant, and I guessed we’d be eating some type of Cuban or Latin food. When we arrived, it was more than we could have ever expected. Upon arrival, we walked through a red carpet area into the main lobby, where Sarah asked to speak with the manager for a  reservation. He came over to us, let us in through the red velvet rope, and we entered a huge night club surrounding a stage. The hostesses and waitresses were dressed in cheetah printed jumpsuits with their butts hanging out. Women were salsa dancing on stage in bright colors and jeweled, feathered costumes, and before we even sat down, four men arrived on stage and started stripping their shirts off and dancing erotically. My mouth and Heather’s dropped to the floor.

We both yelled at Sarah through our laughter at how she could have left this out! We basically had front row seats to the show, where a Michael Jackson impersonator also took the stage and danced between billowing clouds of smoke. We ordered drinks, chicken tenders, and chips & guac (in the pursuit of not filling up on food). After the show ended and we finished eating, we went upstairs to the club. We didn’t really know the music that was playing, so we left and went to Howl at the Moon, and then a cowboy bar underneath the Orlando eye (a multicolored ferris wheel similar to the London eye).

Everything in Orlando was colorful and stamped with rainbows, as if it were remembering the Orlando shooting and honoring those who were affected. Our first night was so much fun, and even though it was the night of my birthday, I couldn’t keep up with the drinking, I was so tired from our delay that morning and the flight. We slept well that night.

Brunches and Bar Hopping

The next morning, Sarah’s boyfriend Josh arrived home from a few days in NYC. The four of us Ubered to a breakfast buffet downtown called Kasa. I usually consider any type of buffet generally cheap and gross, but this was a brunch buffet on another level. We sat outside and were given plates. We then brought out plates inside where there were tables of gingerbread French toast, spicy breakfast potatoes with sausage, peppers, and onions, cheesy scrambled eggs, seafood mac & cheese, chicken wings, pesto penne, praline crusted bacon, and more; a build-your-own-bloody mary bar, and bottomless mimosas. Josh ordered us a bucket of champagne and OJ, and we sat there for a few hours drinking and eating, singing happy birthday to Heather and me. After breakfast, we walked further downtown and took shots at bar where Josh knew the owner; then another bar: Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge, obviously all Christmas themed with a giant Santa, and pictures of celebrities in holiday attire. We each ordered  “Snow cone” drinks, literally snow cones infused with juice and booz, topped with flowers and dried lemons.

After Frosty’s, we went to our favorite bar, Hooch, which had tables outside and was set on a wide side street of other bars. We ordered more bloody marys, because apparently Orlando knows how to make a good bloody. There were tons of people walking around, watching the game on outdoor TVs, and an oxygen bar set up where a woman was doing massages and selling essential oils. We all did it.

After that, we went to another bar that was also covered in holiday lights. We took pickle shots there (half a pickle carved out and filled with whiskey). THEN GUESS WHAT, WE WENT TO ANOTHER FERAKING BAR, but this one was hosting a chili contest. We were supposed to have tickets, but we just walked around to each crockpot and asked for free samples. They were DELICIOUS. My favorite chili was one made by the only girl in the lineup, and when I told her how great it was, she grabbed my hand and said, “please vote for me. I am the Hillary in this competition.” I almost teared up.

We were all fading at this point in the early night, and after some dude told me that he “windsurfed” when I asked what he did for work, it was time to go home. I think Heather and I laughed in his face, oops. When we got home, we bought our tickets to Epcot for the next day.

In this section of the post, I’ll also mention our breakfast on Tuesday morning, our last full day in Orlando. We went to Kiki’s Breakfast bar, where I had the best omelette of my life, the size of my arm, stuffed with crispy shaved steak, peppers, onion, and gooey American cheese. They also do loaded breakfast potatoes with bacon.

International Food and Wine Festival

The next day, Monday, Heather and I left for Disney around 10 a.m. I know, it was early, but we had just spent $100 on a 1-day ticket, and we had to make the most of it. It was also the last day of the International Food and Wine Festival, an annual feature at Epcot. We walked around the “world” a few times throughout the day, and stopped at as many countries as we admired. My favorites were Morocco, Italy, Germany, and Norway.

At each country, there were small replicas of what represented the country, and huts selling their most famous food, wine, and beer.

At the end of the day, it was cold and rainy. I bought a towel and wrapped myself in it to watch the fireworks. Heather was most excited for those. Although, they were only 15 minutes and it seems they spent more money on the lasers than the fireworks, which don’t fascinate me.

We were both a little disappointed with the lack of rides in Epcot, but we were there for the festival, and we made the most of it.

We started off in Greece, where we got the Chicken Gyro with creamy Tzatziki sauce.

In Hawaii (not pictured), Heather and I ordered the Florida Orange Groves Sparkling Pineapple wine. It was super sweet and carbonated. I poured mine out.

In France, Heather ordered the onion soup with Gruyere cheese. The flavor was rich with Cognac. I ordered the croissant with escargot, garlic and parsley. It was buttery and delicious, but we avoided the escargot after one managed to get down and didn’t sit well. We then walked over to the Boulangerie Patisserie. That was probably one of the best places to go to convince you to travel to France. The glass shelves were filled with ham and thick cheese between heavenly-esque croissants ready to be heated; gourmet coffee; and pastries galore. My dessert was some kind of rich raspberry custard with layers of chocolate cake and shavings.

In Belgium, we shared Beer-braised beef with smoked Gouda mashed potatoes. It melted in our mouths.

Morocco was one of the most beautiful and realistic spots on the tour. Heather tried the sangria, and we walked through the shops filled with eccentric lamps and textiles.

Can’t forget about Canada. That cheddar cheese soup was mind-blowing. We ate it in seconds. It was like a cheesy chowder, and with bacon bits.

We didn’t eat anything in Ireland, but the gardens were impressive, and we stopped for beers at the little pub there.


Lazy day

At this point in the trip (the third day), we were pretty pooped. It was a warmer day than prior days, so we laid by the pool at Sarah’s apartment building, and then went to work with her. She’s a bartender at a resort, and when we got there, we wished we had more days to spend hanging out there. It was a nice resort, and her bar was so cute! We went in the hot tub, sat by the pool, drank mango lemonade slushies, and ate at the bar before going home to pack for our flight in the morning and hit the hay.

It was a fun little trip that we squeezed a lot into, and definitely over-indulged. Heather and I always manage to have fun together no matter what we’re doing, but it’s always adventurous.

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