The Disneyland Resort has been behind Disney World when it comes to food-centric Festivals. It is understandable since the parks weren’t built with the kind of space Orlando has and Disney World has been able to build or adapt for these events, usually held at Epcot. Because fans on the West Coast felt left out they’ve reinstated the Food and Wine Festival and since 2016 they’ve had the Festival of Holidays. This celebration seems especially appropriate for multi-cultural California. While Epcot’s Festival makes use of the World Showcase Pavilions to theme their food booth, DCA finds inspiration from the cultures of California’s residents: Latino, Asian, Native American, and more.
Much like at Epcot the focus is on food, but that’s not all there is to see and do at the Festival. Every day there is entertainment throughout the park, but chiefly at the Paradise Gardens stage. You can catch the Grammy Award-winning Mariachi Divas or see taiko drummers in front of Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Check the park guide you receive when you enter for performance dates and times.
The Festival’s booths are concentrated on the old Parade Route starting at the path between the Carthay Circle Restaurant and the Wait Times Board and extending back to Paradise Gardens near Jumpin’ Jellyfish and Goofy’s Sky School. Booths are scattered along both sides of the path, each with their own ordering/payment stations, kitchens, utensil/napkin stations, and tables. Most booths do not have seating, just standing tables. Seating tends to be reserved for disabled guests. You can also find the Annual Passholder Corner at the Sonoma Terrace. This is where Passholders can purchase their Festival Sip and Savor Pass, special food and merchandise, or take exclusive PhotoPass shots.
Food at the Festival ranges in size and price. Most food is in a small tasting size, meant for a few bites so you don’t fill up on one plate. Drinks are also smaller in size, although alcohol flights can add up to at least a full-sized glass if not more. A few booths do sell full-size specialty non-alcoholic beverages, so check around for options. You can generally expect to spend between $5-10 per plate/drink.
As Passholders we had access to the popular Sip and Savor Pass. For a flat fee we received a lanyard with the menus for each booth and a set of 8 vouchers for food and non-alcoholic beverages at the booths. For $45 this pass could mean a decent discount depending on the food and beverages you redeem your vouchers for. You also get an Annual Passholder button every time you redeem a voucher, with each booth offering different colors. We love the convenience of this pass and how it can free you from having to budget out your purchases. As a reminder, vouchers cannot be redeemed for alcoholic beverages and you cannot receive monetary compensation for unused vouchers.
We started our Festival odyssey at the Blissfully Braised booth with the one food we were most curious about: Braised pork belly adobo with garlic fried rice. We’re half Filipina so we needed to see if the Festival could do justice to this Filipino comfort food.
I’m happy to report that this would have made our Nanay proud (although she never liked to eat out without seeing the kitchen the food was coming from). The adobo was incredibly flavorful and did not skimp on the vinegar. This sauce is meant to be tangy and it was great to find that the Disney cooks did not shy away from this. The pork belly was a change from the adobo we know. It was lusciously soft and fatty, truly decadent. On top was another new addition: crispy chicharones (fried pig skin; don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it). The crackling crunch with the meat and sauce was new and something I will definitely try at home. The garlic rice (big pieces of real garlic) complimented the whole thing fantastically, tasting like morning breakfasts with my grandparents as a kid. This was nostalgia and foodie goodness combined and I tip my hat to the Disney team for making Filipino food great for guests!
We did opt to purchase one alcoholic beverage flight: the mimosa flight. This was found at the Making Spirits Bright booth and consists of a white cranberry mimosa, a pear mimosa, and a blood orange mimosa, all made with California sparkling wines. Each cup amounts to three or four good sips, so not enough to get a buzz but enough to really appreciate the drinks. Each of them were very different: the cranberry was tart and dry, the blood orange citrusy sweet, and the pear the sweetest and smoothest. We each had a favorite (Busy Bumble loved the blood orange and I favored the pear) but all of them were delicious and worth the extra price.
Another standout for us was the sticky toffee pudding. We’re huge fans of this British dessert which is made up of a rich date and brown sugar sponge soaked and topped with a butterscotch sauce. Some places get this dish wonderfully right and others terribly wrong. Disney has made it to the good list with a moist cake and terrific butterscotch sauce that I could have taken as a straight-up shot (or twelve) it alone was so good. Disney’s version added another layer of flavor with brandy vanilla sauce, which was a delight and not excessive. The only bad part is that the portion is small, so you may need to shell out or give up another voucher to get more.
We were on a sweet kick so we went to Holiday Duets booth for the Warm Chocolate Float. This sweet/beverage was made of rich hot cocoa and a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream and brownie bits. This was fun from start to finish, starting out more like a true float (distinct beverage and ice cream portions) then turning into a lightly warm, thick drink. This was very, very sweet so it needed something to cut it, either some food or some water. Because it was a full -sized drink we had to work to get through it but those with a strong sweet tooth will definitely love it.
One of the many great things about culinary arts in California is the proximity to the sea. For a fun twist on crab salad the Holiday Duets booth sold warm polenta topped with chilled crab salad. Now warm is subjective (and subject to how well tools in the booth are working) so this was more like tepid, but it held up pretty well. The polenta itself was nothing to write home about (unlike some of the amazing polenta dishes we’ve had in Disney World) but the crab salad was just right. Not too creamy, filled with sizeable chunks of lump crab meat, this was satisfying.
One of my favorite seasonal treats is the traditional Yule Log. Disney’s take is a chocolate yule log with candied chestnuts and the unusual addition of clementine compote. I was skeptical myself but once I tried it I understood the combination. If you love the combo of orange and chocolate you will love this. The sauce was bright and sweet (just the tiniest bit tart) and it cut through the dense sweetness of the chocolate brilliantly. Bouchon Bakery is my usual go-to Yule Log destination and this guy could stand up to those.
I love me some sweets and this little nugget of joy was a fun surprise. The Twist on Tradition booth (same place you can get the Yule Log at) sold these squares of horchata fudge. If you’ve eaten at Mexican/Mexi-Cali restaurants here in the Golden State you’ve probably seen horchata sold as a refreshing drink. The same flavors (sweet rice, spicy cinnamon, and a touch of cream) fill this fudge. It was great that it was packaged and sealed to go, so we saved this as a souvenir of the trip.
Busy Bumble loves rainbow sherbet like Anna and Elsa love chocolate. She was excited to see the Holiday Sherbet Punch at the Festive Holiday Extras booth. This soda-based drink is mixed with pineapple, lime, and orange sherbet for something that is more like a summer drink than winter. Needless to say Busy Bumble was very pleased. She only wished it was more float-like (like a root beer float that needs a spoon).
Busy Bumble was also on the lookout for the Brussels sprouts with goat cheese, cranberries, and bacon. Brussels sprouts have gone through a renaissance and you can find them anywhere, now including the Disneyland resort. While these weren’t as crisp as we’d have liked them from a restaurant, they were still flavorful without the bitterness that accompanies badly-cooked Brussels sprouts. They are generous with the goat cheese (which I happily let Busy Bumble consume). The bacon is a typical addition with Brussels sprouts but the cranberries were a surprise. Busy Bumble thought better of them than I did and I think it may have been an attempt to make the dish seem more holiday “festive.” Honestly I could have done without them.
Finally here was the drink that did me in: the Merry Cherry-Pineapple Punch with jellies. This was super sweet, as in nearly-gives-you-a-cavity sweet. I might have been happier with it if I wasn’t so full by the time we got it. It also would have been a better drink on a hot afternoon and not the chill of evening. The flavors were okay but I can’t stress enough how sweet it was. I loved the jellies and the Cast Members made sure to give each guest a heaping helping of them. For those who have never had jellies or boba drinks these are lightly sweetened gelatin bits, more firm than typical Jell-O. The texture is fun but watch small children if they’re sampling. In the end I would like to see this drink with a tweaked recipe on the permanent menu somewhere in the park but it does need to lose some sugar.
By the end of the night we were just about as stuffed as we were at our Thanksgiving buffet. There are many booths and a wide variety of foods to choose from. I’m excited to see what the festival organizers will plan for next year and I hope this event continues to evolve into something that draws guests back year after year. If the Disneyland Resort can pull of food festivals maybe I won’t need to go all the way to Florida every year (who am I kidding? I’d still go to Florida.)