Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Dutchman in Orlando - Part 5: Epcot Food & Wine Festival

By Sam Vlas

Welcome back dear Disney Avenue pedestrians to another appetizing installment of A Dutchman in Orlando. This time, we’ll talk about my experiences working at one of my personal favorite things: the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, more commonly referred to as “Binge Fest”… at least for me! Continue after the page break for the next course of my adventures in the Disney College Program…

The day is Anno Domini August 28th in the good year 2014. The sun was shining as bright as ever, the heat index was just over 110 degrees and I just walked in for the day. I was putting away my stuff, when I stumbled upon a form on the pin board:

“If you are interested in working at the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival, please sign up here!”

You have to know that of all the Walt Disney World parks, EPCOT has to be my second favorite, right after Magic Kingdom. So the opportunity to swap the Studio’s temporarily for such an exciting place like EPCOT was a no-brainer for me. So I signed up and didn’t think much about it after that. A week passes and I log onto The HUB (the cast member portal) and I see in my schedule that EPCOT showed up: a park orientation and about a week of F&B training. I was beyond excited! Finally, this was my chance to work in EPCOT.

The old Wonders of Life pavilion
The first day of my training was upon me and it was time to take a different bus, the C-bus (thank goodness) to EPCOT Cast Services. First, it was time to pick up my costume. You’ve probably seen this costume before: the shirt with the flag pattern and the white pants. It’s a nice costume, heck, anything is better than the Pizzafari-costume! I was issued a locker and put my stuff there. The locker was right next to the Hairport, a cast member serving barbershop; I’m not making this up.
I learned that I was going to work in the Red Zone. For the record, Food & Wine operates as three zones. You have the Blue Zone (roughly from Mexico to China), the Yellow Zone (from Germany to France) and the Red Zone (from the United Kingdom to the World Showcase Promenade). I was excited about that, since many of my favorites were in the Red Zone and a novelty for 2014 was taking place in this zone: EPCOT Late Night Live, an extended VIP-party with musicians, theatre acts and specialty drinks.
It was time for the training. What kind of training, you ask? Well, you’re dealing with all different kinds of food, so a bit of food safety standards is in order. Also, how to hook up kegs of beer to drafts, how to uncork wine bottles and how to open champagne bottles. All very delicate stuff, but a lot of fun. Now Disney and EPCOT fans may love this tidbit, the training took place in the old Wonders of Life pavilion; the former home of Body Wars and Cranium Command. It is a huge space and during the actual festival home to the Festival Center. It was during that day that we also received our Cast Member-exclusive cap which I still have! We also got a tour of the entire (!) Festival with head chef of EPCOT, Chef Jens from Germany. A really nice guy and really passionate about food.
The festival started September 18th and we were immediately put to work. The first day I was stationed at the Hawaii stand, which was awesome and hectic, and the two days after that at Greece (where, I’ll admit, I shouted Opa! way to many times). But the rest of my first two weeks were spent working at the Terra marketplace: the all-vegetarian stand. This is the least busiest stand of all of Food & Wine, so there were many times I was just staring at the World Showcase lagoon doing nothing. For some reason, people seemed scared to try all vegetarian stuff, even though we had some amazing things on the menu: (vegetarian) chicken breast with gumbo, (vegetarian) crab cake with coleslaw, watermelon juice and even vegan beers and wines!
It’s a fun stand to work at if you can fool people a little bit. One thing I learned while working at Disney: people don’t read. So there were times where people didn’t know Terra was a vegetarian stand, so I played a long with their unknowingness. I’d give out the food and urge them to try it right at the counter. They’d try and then say to me: “oh my god, this is one of the best chicken breasts I ever had!” Then I would laugh quietly and lean over the counter and say to the person: “what if I told you this wasn’t real chicken?” The look on their faces was priceless!
I would often get in early on the day, before World Showcase opens. There’s nothing like walking through an empty World Showcase, believe me. The music and the quaintness is unmatched anywhere else in Disney.
Most of my time, however, was spent working at the Canada marketplace. The change couldn’t be any bigger: this is by far the busiest stand of all of Food & Wine!!! This is the only marketplace themed to one of the pavilions that isn’t operated by the actual people from the pavilion. We had some amazing things on the menu: filet mignon from Le Cellier, seared rainbow trout and, all-time favorite, the cheddar cheese soup with bacon bits. Because of all this goodness, the lines extended way into the actual pavilion! One benefit of that: time flies by really fast. But, again, I like to mess with people so I invented a new game, once again playing on the fact that people don’t read: “How Many People Can Sam From The Netherlands Convince That He’s From Quebec By Putting On A Horrible French Accent.” The answer: 8 people in about an hour!
Working Late Night Live was awesome too. Many times we would be overstaffed, so my manager would instruct me to (and I kid you not) “dance with the guests until your shift ends”. No joke! Can you imagine how awesome that is! The fun thing of working late night is how many drunken people you encounter. Drinking Around The World is a popular thing and I would deal with people who couldn’t stand anymore almost every day.
Me rocking the cheddar soup station! Look at that fly costume ;)
EPCOT Food & Wine is an evil thing to me. It robbed me of almost 200 dollars when I came through as a guest. They made it to easy to spend money with the new wristbands they introduced that year and I fell for it every time haha. But it was also an unforgettable part of my Disney College Program experience. Seeing the Monorail glide by and waving at the people became a favorite thing of mine. Seeing IllumiNations while closing down was a privilege each and every night. Also, during this time I had a chance to see the very last performances of Off Kilter, one of my favorite EPCOT entertainment acts ever. It was an awesome time, but, again, it was time to do something else! Something completely different: Left Block Merchandise in my home park: Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s.
How will Sam from the Netherlands deal with Halloween, Christmas, the hat rack and millions of pins and charms? Find out next time in a sparkling installment of “A Dutchman in Orlando”. See ya real soon!
Sam Vlas comes to us from the Netherlands. In everyday life Sam is a Communication major, studying International Event, Music and Entertainment Studies at the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries in Tilburg. He is following the Theme Park course, since he is an aspiring Imagineer. Sam has been a life-long theme park and Disney fan since he was a kid. He has been going to Efteling, which is a world class theme park in the Netherlands. When he was a teenager, Sam became more interested in the technical side of things. It was around that time that he found out that Walt Disney was an actual person, not just some company name. Since then he has been pursuing a creative career in the theme park industry. Sam will be participating in the Academic Exchange Program in Walt Disney World from July 2014 to January 2015. You’ll be hearing much more of that in the near future! Besides Disney and theme parks, Sam has a broad interest in everything fantasy, sci-fi and horror. He writes short stories and is currently working on his own website “Dreamventurer”, which he hopes will be released very soon! Sam will write about many different aspects of the company, from the very well known places and movies to very obscure corners of the Company. Since he will be working in Orlando, he'll be able to share some Cast Member stories too. Everything Disney grabs Sam's attention, so if he finds something exciting, he will be sure to share it!

You can find Sam's articles here.


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