Theme Park Ranger
8:22 AM EDT, April 25, 2013
Erin Youngs, vice president for Epcot, acknowledges that she's a foodie.
But that's not the reason the theme park added 12 food kiosks to the mix at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Fest this year, she says.
Those marketplaces with edibles around World Showcase represent her efforts to branch out the theme park's popular annual events, including the Epcot International Food & Wine Fest, which starts in September.
"I want to make sure we keep them alive and keep them fresh and keep investing in them, and that they appeal to a wide range of guests and audiences," Youngs says.
Flower & Garden already is an established draw for fans of blooms and topiaries, so maybe new eats would bring in the Food & Wine fans, right? It's difficult not to compare the two events, but the fests' emphases remain distinct, Youngs says. It's obvious that there's more food and wine at Food & Wine. Last year's festival had 29 kiosks.
"Food & Wine is almost entirely about the food and beverage experience. The kiosks are the entire thing," she says. "But here at Flower & Garden you have all of the topiaries, all of the gardens, all of the children's play areas. There's so much to offer that if we added 29 kiosks, that would probably be too much for any guest to consume in their experience."
The current fest, which ends its 75-day run on May 19, plays off the springtime setting.
"We wanted to make sure that the menu was different and that it celebrated this time of the year and the bounty of the harvest," Youngs says. Each kiosk displays plantings that represent the food sold.
The notion of using Florida goods runs near and far — and near again. The Florida Fresh kiosk offers shrimp and grits and watermelon salad while an outlet near the China pavilion has traditional candied strawberries. They have a sugary coating surrounding berries grown in Florida.
"The strawberries are so fresh, they just melt," Young says. "It's just like liquid inside."
Epcot is a good place for a foodie to work right now.
"I'm drawn to all food," she says. "I really, really, enjoy it. It is a multisensory personal experience."
An old favorite and its twisted sister are top-sellers so far: Dole Whip and Dole Whip with spice rum lead the dessert pack.
"Dole Whip is a heritage favorite. It's nostalgic for people," Youngs says. The pineapple treat typically is only sold at Magic Kingdom, and no alcohol is involved there.
"We sold so many that we broke the machine that makes them. So I had to go out and buy a new machine," she says.
Youngs, who says she follows a "taste, don't eat; sip, don't drink" mantra, suggests that guests browse their way through the kiosks.
"If you don't like it, it's a small trifle from a kiosk," she says. "Go to the next one and try something different."
Can we say that these kiosks are an appetizer of Flower & Garden fests to come? Youngs isn't ready to say.
"I'm very hopeful we'll have it again," she says. "I think it's a fantastic add."
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Epcot International Flower & Garden Fest
Where: Off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando
When: Daily through May 19. Park hours are 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cost: A one-day, one-park ticket is $89 ($83 for ages 3-9).
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