Food and Wine Feeding Frenzy



UGH! I feel as though I just finished the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona. And I am well and truly trampled.

OK, not literally, obviously. But figuratively that’s what the annual frenzy to book Epcot Food and Wine Festival events has become for me.

For those of you who don’t know, every year Deb Wills and I attend a variety of the Festival events, both to report on them for the AllEars.Net website and AllEars newsletter, and because well, let’s face it, we really enjoy food and wine!

We book these events just like you do, because, you may be surprised to learn, we pay for these events ourselves. (Yes, sometimes we get an invitation to attend something as a media guest, but those occasions are in the minority, as we really do try to maintain an independent perspective when we’re reviewing, not just the Festival, but anything Disney.)

We set our alarms and dutifully call 407-WDW-FEST at precisely 7 a.m. on the designated day(s). We get the panic-inducing ALL CIRCUITS ARE BUSY message and go through the infuriating phone tree. We wait an inordinate amount of time on hold (a long-distance call, by the way, not a toll-free number) listening to “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” while thinking, “Yeah, maybe, but right now today really stinks.”

Once we get through to a real, live human being we endure as they slowly scroll through the computer screen searching for the event that we have asked about (“Is it at 1 p.m.? I don’t see anything with that name…”). We can practically hear our chances at reserving the event whoosh past us as a hundred other guests book our coveted lunch or dinner. I often imagine myself reaching through the phone and taking over the cast member’s computer, channeling Woody in Toy Story and screaming in exasperation, “Oh, give me that! Plus is positive, minus is negative!” If by some chance an event that we request is open, we hastily recite our Disney VISA card numbers and listen impatiently to the spiel about nontransferable, nonrefundable, yada yada yada, eager to move on and book the next event.

So, I’ve just concluded the 2014 bull-running, er, booking experience. I was attempting to reserve events for two trips: one for the first weekend of the festival, for research purposes, and one personal getaway weekend in October with my husband. Yes, I was planning on spending a lot of money, and I had my Disney VISA all warmed up. But after spending 45 minutes on hold on Tuesday, I was unable to book any Festival event that I wanted, save one. Today, I wasn’t even able to get past the “ALL CIRCUITS ARE BUSY” message and gave up trying after 20 minutes of speed-dialing. Fortunately Deb Wills, who somehow managed to get in the phone queue ahead of me on both days, saw my frantic emails detailing my situation and was able to book several events for me while scheduling her own. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be attending ANY of the festival events that I wanted.

Now I’m left here wondering, just as I did last year, and every year for the last 10+ years that I’ve been “running with the bulls,” WHY? WHY does it have to be so frantic and infuriating? Why does a company that prides itself on providing excellent customer service consistently get this wrong?

Oh, it’s not that Disney hasn’t tried to expedite this process. They’ve put a selection of events online, so that you can conveniently book them yourself at your leisure. And they have implemented several “early booking” dates for certain guests — those with Tables in Wonderland memberships, Annual Passholders, Disney VISA card holders and residents of the Golden Oak Community. Since I qualify for three of those categories, lucky me, I can book some of these events a few days ahead of the general public. So why am I complaining? That sounds like a good solution, right?

No, what that really means is that now I can call on TWO days, wait a half-hour each time, maybe more, and find myself STILL shut out of the events that I want to attend. Yeah, lucky me.

I know that by now some of you might be saying, “What’s she complaining about? At least she can afford to go to these events — they’re too expensive for me.” I know. First World Problems, as they say.

But I’m not alone. There are plenty of people who really enjoy the Food and Wine Festival and look forward to it as much as I do — and dread the cursed “booking day” just as much, as well.

While I’m on interminable hold, feeling my normally low blood pressure skyrocketing, I’m surfing the Internet, reading message boards and Facebook. I see many folks chattering about the same thing. Some are triumphant: “I got through! And my cast member actually knew what she was doing! I got everything I wanted!” But most aren’t: “I was on hold on two phones, my cell and my home phone, for 45 minutes! By the time I got through, the reserved seating for the Walt Disney dinner was gone.” “I couldn’t get the tequila lunch I wanted.” “The cast member couldn’t find the Eat to the Beat package, and put me on hold for another 10 minutes. When he came back, he said it wasn’t in the system yet! By then, everything else I wanted to book was sold out.”

So what IS the answer? How can Disney avoid leaving a bad taste in so many people’s mouths? And more importantly, how can we all reserve at least some of the events we want without having to go through this annual feeding frenzy?

Is the problem understaffing? Are there simply not enough cast members working at 7 a.m. on “booking morning” to handle the call volume? When I call exactly at 7 a.m. and am told that my wait time will be “more than 30 minutes,” I suspect that to be the case.

Is the problem insufficient training? I recall last year when a cast member told me that he could see the event I wanted in the system, but he didn’t know how to book it. How is that possible? This year, a cast member told me that he couldn’t find the thing I was asking about in the system. (This actually has happened to me almost every year.) It took five full minutes before the cast member located the event. And believe me, those five minutes are precious when you’re competing with hundreds of other guests for a spot at a limited seating dinner. Needless to say, by the time he found it, the event was sold out.

I can’t put all the blame on the cast members handling the phones, though. Some of them are wonderful — extremely competent and pleasant, on a day that must be awfully stressful. I’m sure it’s terrifying to have thousands of calls light up your phones at 7 a.m. on Food and Wine booking day. They probably feel like they’re being thrown to the wolves as they have to deal with thousands of cranky callers, some of whom are probably not as nice and patient as I try to be when hearing repeatedly, “No. Sorry. Not that one either. Sold out. Sorry.” I don’t envy them at all.

I do have a few suggestions that might streamline the process. Like, if I’m calling WDW-FEST, which is presumably a phone line dedicated to festival events, why do I have to go through the usual Disney Dining phone tree? That takes up valuable time. Maybe there could be dedicated phone lines for specific events, so that people calling to reserve the Signature Dinners — which have very limited seating and can be unbelievably pricey — wouldn’t be competing with people wanting to book the Food and Wine pairings.

But the truth is, I don’t know what the ultimate solution is. I only know that, as a consumer, this annual Food and Wine Festival frenzy is what I would call A Very Bad Customer Experience.

Still, by the time September rolls around and I’m biting into my first sample from an International Marketplace, I probably won’t remember how frazzled I’m feeling at this moment. The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is truly THE event at Walt Disney World that I look forward to and enjoy the most every year, so I know that once it starts I’ll get caught up in all the new tastes and experiences. I’ll plunge headlong into sampling as much of the Festival as I can and will enthusiastically report on everything I experience for AllEars.Net readers. It’s what I do, every year. And I love it.

It’s just that until then I’m left with this “trampled by the bulls” feeling.

Good thing I have six weeks or so to recover.

Debra Martin Koma wrote about food, travel and lifestyle issues for a number of local and national publications before she fell in love with Walt Disney World on her first visit — when she was 34! She's returned to her Laughing Place more times than she can count in the ensuing years, and enthusiastically shares her passion with readers of AllEars.Net and AllEars®. Deb also co-authored (along with Deb Wills) PassPorter's Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line, a travel guide designed for all travelers to Walt Disney World who may require special attention, from special diets to mobility issues.

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14 Replies to “Food and Wine Feeding Frenzy”

  1. I work for an authorized Disney agency and really feel your pain as times we are on the phone for many hours waiting. 🙂 Applying free dining, discount codes, and making dining reservations. We ask ourselves the question why sooooo long. As you think of everyone from around the world are trying to get into these events or special offers. It’s amazing! Someone in England, Japan, and Africa are trying to accomplish the same task. (I have met many from these countries and others for these events.) I wonder if I would have the patience as the Japanese if visiting Tokyo Disney? 🙂 I have tried to be understanding during these moments knowing that Disney is doing what they can to handle the masses. I know that the Cast Members go through a lot with aggravations of guests and am always impressed with their courtesy.

  2. I encountered the same frustrations as Deb. Also wonder why there isn’t a dedicated Fest phone line for booking these events. Why is there a separate number if it goes to the regular Disney Dining location? I tried on the earlier date for Passholders but couldn’t get any events; all sold out. I did manage to get one event during the general public call-in date. Sadly I had to pass on our 2 favorites from last year, the Italian Regional lunch and food and wine pairings. Isn’t anyone else disgusted that the prices have gone up 25% for those events?

  3. Wow–this was my first W&D booking experience, and it wasn’t too bad.
    But I didn’t want anything until the very last week b/c we’ll be going down for the W&D Half Marathon.
    I called on the 25th as an AP to book a culinary demo, a wine & bev seminar, & a mixology seminar. Had no problem getting those.
    Then my hubby called on the 29th as a Disney Chase Visa Cardholder to book the very last Parisian Breakfast & had no issues.
    But I can see how, if you wanted a more high-demand event and/or one that was sooner during the festival, that it would be difficult. I agree that there should be a designated number to call for this so that we’re not competing with people making ADRs, and so that the staff is completely familiar with the events.

  4. If Disney let us agree online a week before to the terms and conditions and waived the right to be read to us during booking, we could give our ticket number and save everyone aggravation. One year the idiot on the phone read it for EACH reservation. The hassle is why we have stopped booking F&W events even though we used to spend six weeks there. Oh for the old days.

  5. I feel your pain. Every year we do the pin trading event in WDW. Information is slowly leaked out on it and even now just about a month from the event I only know the hours.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. It’s ridiculous that we have to go through this ordeal every year–a few years ago, I was in San Diego (supposedly on vacation), but I had to be up and on the phone before 4:00 a.m. This year, I experienced the same thing you and others did–connecting at 6:00 a.m. Central on the dot and being told that my wait time would be over 30 minutes–what? I actually spoke with a live body after 22:45 minutes on hold–I felt like I got on Toy Story Mania well before the posted wait time and didn’t question my luck. Unfortunately, as you and others have mentioned, I had to coach the cast member throughout the process as I mentally saw the clock (and my booking opportunities) ticking away. I did, however, manage to reserve everything I wanted, which was no small feat considering that my party size for some of the events was 8, but there has got to be a better way. Online booking seems to be the best option, but I suspect Disney is concerned that the rush of online activity could create a system overload/lock-out, much like what happened when MyDisneyExperience/FastPass+ was first rolled out. Disney is loaded with Imagineers–they should be able to come up with a solution.

  7. We managed to secure one event for the 3-day weekend we’ll be there; most of the deluxe resorts, it turned out, were also fully booked for that weekend, and nothing at all at the late fall special rates.
    Oh, and the Italian Regional Food and Wine Pairing, listed in the 2014 Food and Wine Guide given to Tables in Wonderland members at last month’s preview? It lists that event as happening on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Nope — turns out it’s Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

  8. Deb, I can certainly commiserate with you!! My situation was a little different but equally unproductive. I booked online a F&W Culinary Demo for 3:00 p.m. Demo is 45 minutes, so I decided to book a 4:00 p.m. F&W Beverage Seminar since I’m already in the right place. Nope, couldn’t do online. It said I already had a reservation at that time. Thinking it might be a limitation of the online process, I call the phone number thinking they probably have a work-around for this. Five minutes of waiting on the phone got me a pleasant cast member who also could not do it. She said she had never had a person book back-to-back seminars! Really! She said if she did book my second seminar that it would probably be caught by the computer and auto-cancelled and I would lose my $15. After waiting another 5 minutes while she called someone in I.T./management, she confirmed that it couldn’t be done. Since it was just me and I wasn’t staying on-property, there was no way to wiggle booking names/accounts. So I will try as a walk-up for the second demo. I know, most unlikely.

    Maybe if they take your suggestion about not going through the whole Disney Dining phone tree, they can also look into making it possible to attend two seminars/demos in a row!!

    Thanks for listening!

  9. This sounds horrible! I haven’t experienced this but have experienced the rush to book Cinderella’s Royal Breakfast, Chef Mickey’s etc. so know the feeling of adrenaline that goes thru the body waiting to be helped. Wonder why Disney can’t assign each event a number so when you call you can say I want to attend event # 123456 and all they would have to do is type that in verses searching for it by name. I think this would simplify the process and give a quicker response. But what do I know…I am not a big fan of how much Disney has put into the Magic Bands and FP+ system so I don’t understand their logic sometimes.

  10. I totally agree with you. This will be our 10th F&W festival and the booking process is just as bad as it was 10 years ago. I started calling at 7 yesterday and it was still 55 minutes to get through and 50 minutes on hold to talk to someone. UGH !!!!. We were able to get 1 event that we wanted out of 10. There has to be a better way. Why not put everything on line ? How is it Disney can spend billions on the Magic Bands and they can’t figure out how to help people with the F&W booking process. Oh well, I can’t wait to try some of the new items around the showcase. October here we come.

  11. I got on the phone at 9:20AM with a 25 minute wait, albeit it’s late but alas I’m not a real morning person and had to be at work at 8:15. Trying to book Party for the Senses on the 25th, only General Seating still available, ok, I’ll take it. How about the Parisian Breakfast? Sorry, it’s already fully booked.That was at 9:50 and after explaining that I’m at work and have a meeting in 10 minutes I explain I know all the yada yada here’s my Disney Visa Card #. But NO, she says I have to read all of this to you!!! Ok, so I go to schedule 1900 Park Fare for Breakfast on the 26th. What?? No availablity? I’ve never had a problem booking that even last minute. UGH, I may need to turn in my Mickey Ears:( ok, perhaps not but geeeze!!!

  12. My husband was on the phone for 35 minutes & was going to get what we wanted. Every year it gets worse as the festival grows in popularity. They really need to have the higher end events booking in an earlier date.

  13. Boy, did you nail the frustration of that experience perfectly! As a Tables in Wonderland member and an annual passholder, I had a chance to book a few culinary demos early and by the time I got through on the phone that day, two of the three I wanted were already gone. Which also means that anyone who was just coming for a few days vacation didn’t even have a chance. Today, after dealing with the “all circuits are busy” message for close to an hour, and then being on hold for almost 45 minutes, I did manage to book a few of the events I wanted although none with the reserved seating I hoped for. What does a Cast Member have access to that I couldn’t book online like any other dining reservation? There’s no doubt that some events would still be unavailable but at least I could find out right away instead of that two hour phone experience. I could book a Harambe Nights premium seat online. Why not for Party for the Senses? For a company that does so many things so well, there has to be a better way.

  14. My three children are looking at me as I laugh hysterically at the “reach through the phone” line you wrote – WOW! EXACTLY my feeling this morning! I think my heart rate is finally at a normal rhythm. 🙂

    Hubby and I wanted to book ONE event – the Oct. 25th one-night only Disney Chef Party for the Senses. We succeeded (partially), but our experience included,
    1)Three phones dialing from Texas starting at 5:59 am. At 6:00 and seconds my cell phone got through and I was promised a mere 20 minute wait.
    2) 6:08 am – cast member answered. Hurray! (Hubby still kept his cell waiting – just in case my cell dropped. He got through seconds after I did, but was told he had a 30 minute wait).
    3) Cast member couldn’t find “Anything about a Party For The Senseless”. (I guess now I can giggle at her statement)
    4) After patiently telling her exactly what event I wanted and that it was only available Oct. 25, she found the event. Time? Now 6:04.
    5) “I’m sorry. Category 2 is sold out.” (WOW! 4 minutes!)So much for sitting down.
    6)”Category #1 and general admission are both available. Would one of those be ok?” Not feeling like completely spoiling ourselves, we opted for General Admission (Hey, the way I see it, that saves $150 for more eating, drinking, and merch purchases!)
    7) Now here is what nearly put me over the edge – as we started the reservation process, I was told my information was not in their system and that we’d have to start with name, address, etc. I’m sorry?! 20 years of trips, annual passholders, and too many meal reservations to count (including December) and you have no idea who we are? I insisted she look again, and lo and behold, “Wow! You just showed up on my screen!” At this point, not being sure if we had two spots “on hold” or not, I started to feel like our opportunity was slipping away as others filled the availability.
    8) Swallowed obnoxious comment I had ready, fearing a disconnection if I said it.
    9) Got through all the yadda yadda no changes, refunds, etc., and finally received confirmation number. Time? 6:08 am.
    10) Hubby’s cell was still on hold, with an approximate wait of 25 minutes. Since we had our confirmation number, he went ahead and hung up.

    So, I have to agree with the anxiety-riddled process being a bit out of control. I can’t begin to imagine trying to book more than one event!

    Since I was now wide awake with the adrenaline, I got on my laptop and tried to see if we wanted to book anything online. Good thing we didn’t, because I never saw the online option available, even though Tables In Wonderland sent a reminder email message yesterday evening saying that we could.

    I’ve had less stressful mornings booking Breakfast with Cinderella in the Castle!