Central Florida rolled out its most gorgeous weather of the year thus far for the ninth annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic. The event was held Friday and Saturday evenings, Oct. 26 and 27, both breezy nights in the mid-70s — a perfect Florida fall weekend. We were invited by the Swan and Dolphin Resort to attend the event on Saturday evening for this review.

Event attendees sampled countless wines from 30 wineries around the world, as well as small plates of deliciously prepared food from more than 40 tasting stations, all of which is served at restaurants and vendors across the two hotels. It’s really a condensed version of the International Food & Wine Festival, going on at the same time over at Epcot.

Lasting just one weekend, single-day tickets for the event started at $119.55 + tax, with add-ons and package prices increasing from there. (They also offered an “A La Carte” ticket booklet with 25 tickets for $50, in case attendees wanted a smaller, more individual sampling.) It’s a really excellent (albeit slightly expensive) date night option for locals — and my husband and I even met a few people who made a longer drive, opting to stay at the Swan or Dolphin to make a full weekend out of it. For example, after a full night of drink sampling, we spent a great hour or so in conversation with a retiree from Sarasota who used to play with The Who. You never know the interesting people you’ll meet if you don’t get the (liquid) courage to strike up a conversation!

Most of the food stations offered different samplings between Friday and Saturday, which made for a nice variety of options if you purchased tickets for both days. For me, there were some clear standouts from Saturday’s offerings. First and foremost, BBQ joint Cib’s Smoke Shop had something amazing called “hand-crafted bacon.” It came on a black slate platter with hay-smoked potato gnocchi, black truffle, Thai chili Brussels sprouts and grape “pudding.” There were so many mild but interesting flavors to balance the richness of the bacon, and I just really loved all the different colors on the plate.

Honorable mention for other delicious plates goes to Shula’s for their beef with mashed potatoes and Bordelaise sauce, Kimonos for their crispy shrimp and yellowfin dragon roll and to the Cabana Bar & Beach Club for the gooey spicy ham and cheese fritters with tomato sofrito and romano crackers. The Pig & Poke also offered some decent tuna poke and traditional earth-baked kalua pork, which I’m assuming came from these guys.

Another personal favorite: Carnival Corner. I ate my funfetti fried Oreo too fast to snap a pic, but this Frito pie with house-made chili was perfect fair fare, along with the Lit’l Smokies with brown sugar BBQ sauce and Cheez-Its.

We ventured back inside briefly — only briefly, because it was just too beautiful outside — and made our way to the Bubbles Lounge. As soon as I walked in, I had to walk back out so I could get video walking into the place. It was so cute! The Prohibition-era sounds of Vintage Vibe echoed through the room as colorful balloons floated overhead, with the words “POP!” and “FIZZ!” reminding guests to partake in champagne and sparkling wine as they made their way through treats like deviled eggs, smoked salmon toast, candied Detroit beet with burrata, and buttered popcorn.

Back outside, and as the sun went down, the entertainment was in full swing. As we were walking through the festival and talking with new friends, we enjoyed Frankie Valli covers from the Atlantic City Boys. But we ended our night with a trip to the front of the stage to watch Epic, a local dance/pop group. It was a great way to end our evening! They did a few of the 2000s “party jams,” like “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas, but you could tell the whole band really enjoyed their Bruno Mars covers. Bruno’s one of my favs, too, and when I snapped a bit of their performance, I guess it was believable enough that some of my out-of-towner friends sent me messages of jealousy for getting to see him so close!

It was a non-stop night full of entertainment — from the food and drinks, to getting a wine education, chatting up interesting people and dancing to some great tunes. Pricing considered, my husband and I both agreed we’d be attending next year, maybe even splurging for a night at the Swan and Dolphin to save on an Uber or Lyft back home. Safety first! Fun… always.

About the author: Lauren Garcia, a 10-year local news veteran-turned-freelance writer, is an Orlando native and lover of all things Disney, where you can usually find her with her toddler.

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