All Day, ALL DAY

Disney, don’t get me wrong. I love you. Making magic with Guests is what it’s all about.

But do you have to keep scheduling me for overnight party shifts?

At two AM this morning (tomorrow morning?) do you know where I’ll be? I’ll be in Patagonia, drizzling oil on the permanently-leaning flat top, dancing to Taylor Swift or Ke$ha (last year it was a lot of Ke$ha) after chugging red Powerade and eating my weight in gummy worms, trying to stay awake.

Tonight I will watch the sun set over a splendid view of World Showcase, and I will still be there when it rises. Epcot, my darling, you are always beautiful, but at five in the morning I will probably not notice that. I will only notice one thing: I either need more sleep or more caffeine. Or both.

The Wine and Dine Half Marathon is this crazy dream of Disney’s that involves esteemed, high -paying Guests running 13 miles straight at wee hours of the morning, culminating in a big, final feast at the Food and Wine Festival where they eat, drink (a lot) and “protein spill” into the bushes.

Those poor custodial Cast Members. Sometimes I wonder what genius sat down and said, “You know what would be fun? Making people run a half marathon and then loading them up on lots of food and alcohol!”

But Guests seem to find it fun,  and so here we are. I really commend you who do it, I can only handle the eating part, minus the running.

And don’t get me wrong, Cast Members don’t suffer abuse working this event. We treat it like a party — Epcot’s usual chirpy elevator music is replaced by pop hits and bright lights, and even though we’re working, most business is slow enough to accommodate dancing, laughing, Guest interaction and a lot of really good people- watching.

Inebriated Guests can be funny. And this is the one night a year Epcot feels a lot like a party, less like a family -oriented educational experience.

Plus a lot of us are on overtime, so that’s always nice.

Last year I partied Wine and Dine style in Belgium, this year I’ll be in Patagonia. For a good long while this will be my final Food and Wine Festival. I’m terribly sentimental about it and I have stories to regale you with, and I will.

But first? I must survive tonight. Wish me luck! (And if you’re running, come say hi!)

Unashamed Old Lady In Training

Last night, during the Food and Wine Festival, where I was stationed yet again in Patagonia (five days straight! I’m an empanada master!) I was able to meet some new Cast Members who were a part of the Disney College Program. We ate lunch together while I shamelessly asked them questions about their Disney experience like I was some sort of interviewer. I love learning about why people come to work at Disney.

Partway through, one of them looked down at my lunch –a large salad with almonds, tomatoes, cucumber slices, mushrooms and dried figs — and asked quite frankly,  “Why are you eating… old lady food?”

“Old lady food?” I repeated. I looked down. My salad looked unassuming. There was a side of tabouleh salad and a cup of coffee.

“Are those prunes?”

“Figs! I like dried fruit.”

There was a beat of silence before, sarcastically, someone asked, “Do you knit, too?”

My lack of response was answer enough. They started to laugh. I tried to elaborate– I can only do scarves. I’m working on hats. But no one would listen. Knitting, to them, meant I was practically a grandma.

I returned to my kiosk, chatting with one of the workers as we plated. “Hey!” I said,  “If you have an empanada-shaped pinata,  is it an em-pinata?”

I was met with blank stares.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he said, seriously but not unkindly. “That wasn’t funny. That was old lady humor.”

So I had to set the record straight. “I thought that was clever,” I said. “I’m not afraid to admit I knit, I eat prunes and I like cottage cheese and I watch black and white movies more than any other kind. My favorite TV show is Bewitched. I bet you don’t even know who Elizabeth Montgomery is, and that’s a shame. I bake cupcakes for people who are mean to me and that’s how I make friends. And if I want to joke about having no empanadas in the window, I totally will.”

(My other empanada joke goes like this: if we have no empanadas plated, we have. … empa-nada! Get it? Nada, as in no more in Spanish, which fits because I’m in the Patagonia kiosk.)

Let’s face it though. I think I am an old lady in training. I jumped light years ahead to the time of life where I complain about Kids These Days and can’t work the internet. My coworkers totally have a point.

But that’s okay. I’ll just knit cozies for my cups of tea and watch The Dick Van Dyke show. If you want to laugh at my jokes and eat cupcakes, come on over! It’s bound to be a wonderfully low – key time. (No shame.)

It’s Festival Prep Week! *Scary Music Here*

It’s all coming back to me now.

The heat! The sweaty grossness! The dirt and grime and long hours!

I have a tendency to romanticize the past, make things that were difficult all so wonderful and rosy in my mind. And the Food and Wine Festival is no different. Only here’s the thing: the festival has a weird effect on Cast Members. Everyone is a walking-talking-working zombie at times, but when the Festival ends, everyone is sentimental and absolutely enamored by the events that have just occurred.

I won’t lie. I am charmed by Epcot. I think the Food and Wine Festival is the best experience in the world.

But it’s so hot. It gets so hot you forget what it’s like to feel A/C. Sometimes you’re so hot that you even forget that you’re hot until someone opens a cooler and you feel a nice breeze and you just want to move to Antarctica on the next available flight.

This year I’m working under a new team of chefs, and they’re… um, intense.

And if you haven’t heard of Chef Jens, the Executive Chef of Epcot, let me just tell you that man strikes fear into my very being. (When he shook my hand today and welcomed me back to the Festival, it was all I could do not to just throw out a slew of, “YES CHEF! HEARD! ALL DAY!” and run across the kiosk. As it was a managed a surprisingly cool, “Yes, Chef, thank you Chef.”)

My new chef team is based out of the Norway kitchen (Akershus, the princess dining in the Norway pavilion, is a name that everyone has a hard time pronouncing, so we just call it “The Norway Kitchen” to keep it easy.) They are, for the next three months, my immediate superiors and nothing that goes on in my work life occurs without their explicit approval. My fellow Cast Members, who will be running the left-hand side of World Showcase with me–that’s Patagonia, New Zealand, Australia, Florida Fresh and South Korea–are my family for the next 53 days.

I will do nothing but eat, sleep, breathe and dream of the Food and Wine Festival. I will get to know my team inside and out, and converse with nearly no one else.

“Here are the ground rules,” one of my chefs said to us today. “First, if you have family here, tell them goodbye for the next three months. You’ll get two days off a week if you’re lucky. Two, you’re being moved and placed and judged on your performance. You don’t walk, you stride. You don’t talk, you communicate. Understood? Third, this is your restaurant. You’re inviting thousands of guests over, and you’re their host. Take some pride in your work. And, lastly, don’t try to out-drink the Norwegians, or any of the International College Program Students, okay? They’ll drink you under the table. If you come to work hungover, I’ll send you home. If you come to work drunk, you’re fired. Clear?”

“Heard!”

“Yes, Chef!”

My other chef is a slim, snappy woman who has probably heard the line, “You’d make a great hostess!” as many times, if not more, as I have. But that’s where our similarities stop. She’s tough. She takes no crap. She is the most fierce chef I’ve ever encountered, as if she’s making up for her looks by being as strict and tough as possible. She scares me a little, but I also have tremendous respect for her. I kind of hope she has a little bit of mercy for me–you know, a girl-chef-to-girl-chef kind of way. (We’ll see how that goes.)

Anyway, all I can recall about last year is being thrown into the festival without hope of a life raft. I had none of the on-site training I needed. I just showed up and was told to grill lobster in Hops and Barley, my first kiosk. (Awww.) I learned the hard way last year.

This year, my new area and my new chefs seem to very adamant that we learn the menu back and forth, that we learn how everything is to be produced and that we make no mistakes and have little leeway. I, like the crotchety old grandma I am on the inside, keep thinking things like, look at these newfangled contraptions! as I look at my menu lists and listened to the safety spiels. I was actually given a tour of the kitchen. I was shocked. (Where was I last year? How did I miss all the important stuff like, where do we store the food?)

As the chefs educate everyone on their jobs and the upcoming 53-day culinary boot camp that is Food and Wine, I find myself nodding along like a redundant bobblehead. Of course, the second I realize I’m doing it, I stop, because I don’t want to be that guy” that thinks he/she knows everything. I detest those people.

So I stand, in the front, trying to look both eager and serious at the same time. It’s hard, because on the inside I’m jumping up and down and skipping and singing and thinking, “Yes! I’m back at Epcot! Oh, how thrilling!” On the outside, I’m just trying to keep my, “Yes, Chef,” as even and monotone as possible, because I’m pretty sure everyone would think I was crazy otherwise.

As it stands, folks, there are FIVE days until the official opening.

Less than a week.

Are you ready? I’m ready. I was born ready.

LETS DO THIS THING.

 

Ten Days Until Food and Wine!

The leaves are changing (in places that are not Florida, I am sure) and the Pumpkin Spice Latte has made a reappearance at the local Starbucks. I personally adore these delicious pumpkin-caffeinated beverages, but have not ordered one out of respect for baristas who hate making PSL’s. (My best friend is one. I did this for you, Miss Barista. I’ve sacrificed my autumn goodness out of respect for your kind.)

Anyway, other than the season starting afresh with all sorts of autumn feel-good nostalgic memories, this is the best season for one simple reason.

It’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival time.

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It is the absolute BEST time at the best place in all of the Walt Disney World Resort, and that’s saying a lot because WDW is the size of Manhattan. Sure, you can make/buy food that is just as delicious as what we serve, and you can even buy the unique varieties of alcohol we distribute here. But can you ever come close to replicating the feeling of the warm evening air, the twinkle lights, the laughter and the music of World Showcase in the fall?

I’ll answer that right now. You can’t. Because the best cocktail we serve doesn’t have anything to do with the alcohol–it has to do with the perfect blend of atmosphere, experience and music, shaken–not stirred–and served in a sparkling glass.

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My favorite kiosk last year! (I own the photo)

Bear in mind I am not being paid by the company to say any of this. I truly believe it because I’m cheesy and full of it. And I have good reason to love Food and Wine. My very first job (ever-ever) was the Food and Wine Festival, and it was my dream job. It was hard. Guests have it easy–relax, knock back a few cocktails, sip a few beers, eat some sliders, hop from kiosk to kiosk and watch the fireworks explode before retiring to a luxury hotel on property. Cast Members, on the other hand, get to spend eight to twelve hours a day in the searing Florida heat, clothed head to toe in long, unbreathable costumes, leaning over grills in kiosks that reach upwards of 90 degrees, all while plastering that ‘Welcome to Disney!’ smile on their red, borderline-heatstroked faces.

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Some of my fellow Cast Members from last year’s festival! (I own this photo)

And you know what? We love it.

Because we have a chance to put smiles on your faces. Also, we have a blast back there. You would not believe the people I’ve met! My fellow Cast Members, who are in Culinary Boot Camp serving thousands of plates an hour, become family. We’re spending 56 straight days together crammed into kiosks the size of a postage stamp. We get to listen to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth for 56 nights straight. We’ve got that song memorized. I can snap my fingers to every crackling firework shell.

Today, as you may have guessed, was my big training day for Food and Wine. I’ve been ‘deployed,’ in Disney terms, from my ‘home location’ of Columbia Harbour House, Magic Kingdom, to Epcot for the duration of the Festival. I left today’s Festival Overview totally pumped, which is kind of lame because I’ve seen this all before and it can get a little boring for normal people. I, on the other hand, was trying to wipe the ridiculous smile off my face so I didn’t look entirely crazy.

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Last year’s festival! (Again, my photo.)

Walking into Epcot just feels like home. It’s a system I understand. It makes sense to me.

My kiosks this year will span from Mexico to China, to the left of World Showcase. This is a fun and new experience for me, considering last year I worked the back half of the festival, from Germany to Morocco. I’m looking forward to a change of scene and meeting all the new and wonderful people I know I have yet to encounter.

It’s going to be hot. And busy. And a serious workout. But the food is going to be delicious, and the experience is going to be awesome.

So, with just TEN days to go (nine, if you count the not-so-soft opening on the 18th) until the Festival starts… who’s ready for some Food and Wine Festival fun?