The first question to be answered is what the heck is D23? D23 is the official community for Disney fans. Go here to find out more! The D is obviously for Disney and 23 is for 1923 when the magic of Disney began. D23 started in 2009 and I signed up right away thinking I would give it a year to see if it was worth it. They put out an amazing magazine several times a year, the cost of membership is almost worth it just for this! Occasionally they even send a free gift with the magazine and who doesn't love gifts? D23 also had a huge expo in California in September and has organized other smaller members only events.
The D23 Sip and Stroll on October 18,2009 was advertised in September and looked very interesting, but I sort of put it out of my head because #1-it wasn't cheap, #2-we already had a trip planned with the kids for my husband's birthday only 10 days later. I fully expected the event to sell out because while it wasn't cheap, it did seem like a good value for the money. A couple of weeks later, it still wasn't sold out. Color me confused. We tossed the idea around, made a few calls, and the next thing I knew, we were heading for the Wilderness Lodge. I will give other details about our trip in another post, but I want to stay focused on the Sip and Stroll event for this one.
My confirmation email said that we needed to check in at the Odyssey building in Epcot after the park opened but before 945. We were on the bus to Epcot at 830 so we had plenty of time to spare. There was an older couple across from us on the bus and we had a laugh together because the bus spiel about Epcot had a skip and would keep jumping back and repeating itself. When we got in the park we walked up to the Fountain of Nations where they keep a rope up until 9am. After the characters greeted people and welcomed us, the crowds parted nicely, some to the left to go to Test Track and some to the right to Soarin. We walked straight ahead. We noticed the couple from the bus heading in the same direction and guessed correctly that they were also attending the Sip and Stroll.
The Odyssey is a great space. The first thing that I noticed was that they were set up for a small crowd. Tables were set up for maybe 30 people. I admit to having mixed feelings. Yay for us- smaller crowd, smaller crowd-sad for D23. We joined the couple we had encountered first on the bus, and introduced ourselves. They had coffee and sodas out for everyone. Right at 10 the program started with Barry Jacobson who is the Director of Event Management and served as the general manager for the D23 Expo. Barry was full of energy for Disney and D23. I think their team will be working hard to bring unique experiences to the D23 crowd. Barry was followed by Dan Cockerell, vice president of Epcot. Dan, what do I say about Dan? I'll be honest, he was pretty good lookin' so I was a little distracted. I know he talked about Epcot. KIDDING-he is hot but I paid attention. He told us a lot about his relationship with Disney and his excitement about and appreciation for Epcot. He was asked some D23 questions that he referred back to Barry, then he talked about the possibility of new countries being added, and talked a little bit about the process of bringing in so many foreign nationals to work in Epcot.
Next we heard from Marianne Hunnel, (she has a long title) Event Content Development Area Manager, Park Event Operations. In a nutshell, she has a whole heck of a lot to do with the Food and Wine Festival. She is an executive chef and has worked in many of Disney's restaurants before working in content development. Someone asked her which was her favorite restaurant and she didn't answer.(It seemed more like she couldn't answer because she couldn't choose a favorite, not that she couldn't because of her position) She was very fun and easy to relate to. Marianne clearly has such an appreciation for the culinary arts and gave us great information about the Food and Wine Festival.
Pam Brandon was our last speaker. Pam is a journalist and an author. In particular she has written and edited several cookbooks. She talked about the pros and cons of cookbooks Disney has published in the past, and how they are improving them. She talked about the cookbook that will be coming out that will feature both old and new recipes along with classic photographs of Walt and others. As an added treat, she gave us each a copy of her cookbook, Culinary Confessions of the PTA Divas. After getting our cookbook signed we left to check out the festival booths.
Included in our packets was a handy gift card on a stretchy cord so you could wear it on your wrist. VERY convenient for the festival. We sampled some really great food. Crawfish etouffee and chicken and sausage gumbo from the New Orleans booth, hoofed around to the UK to get the lobster and scallop fisherman's pie, and chocolate lava cake with Bailey's cream sauce, lamb slider and a seared scallop from New Zealand. It was an absolutely gorgeous day so we were completely enjoying just walking around Epcot. I had a need to ride at least one ride, and we had been given fast passes for popular rides at the beginning of the day. We headed over to Soarin and got right on for our ride over California.
Next on our busy agenda was a wine tasting at the festival center. Kate MacMurray from MacMurray Farms Vinyard was the speaker and she had three excellent wines for us to taste. We are not conoisseurs by any means. We had a laugh with other D23 members about trying to look like we knew something since we were sitting in the front row! Kate MacMurray was delightful and I improved my knowledge about wine. She also talked a little bit about her father Fred's relationship with Walt Disney and the Disney family.
When the wine tasting was over, they slipped us out the front of the tasting so we could make the culinary demonstration. Chef Andy Trousdale from Le Bistro Restaurant in Lighthouse Point, Florida walked us through making a "roasted beef tenderloin 'diane'". He was funny and relatable. He told us how to use the sauce even if we weren't going to use tenderloin. Good thing since not many people are running out and buying tenderloin to cook for dinner. He talked about basic cooking skills that were in everyone's reach. The tenderloin and the sauce were amazing.
At this point, we were scheduled to go to the Jon Secada concert, part of the Eat to the Beat concert series. We decided to take off and give the concert a miss. We were exhausted and knew we had to drive back to NC the next day so we went back to the hotel for a quick nap. Afterwards we freshened up and met the group for our Party for the Senses. We learned that they were able to meet Jon Secada and have a picture made with him. That might have been cool, but rest won out for me! Our Party for the Senses was a mini version because of our low numbers. We fit into a space about one-eighth the size of the actual party! We were greeted with a Mickey-tini drink, and shown around. All of the food was brilliant but my favorite by far was a scallop on top of a lobster risotto. Heaven. We had a little of everything but I saved room for another scallop. We had our choice of beverages, from sodas to wines to cocktails. Andy Trousdale, the chef from our culinary demonstration, joined the group and we were able to talk to him for a few minutes. We spent some more time talking with Barry Jacobson. He was jazzed because they were meeting soon to discuss next year's expo. We were completely stuffed when we walked out to go to watch the Illuminations show. As we left, we were each given an Epcot wine glass, and a special D23 champagne glass from Arribas Brothers. The bag also had glasses that look like 3d glasses but when you look at light, Mickey heads form. When the fireworks went off, the sky was filled with Mickeys! We were watching from the plaza in front of Italy. I love Illuminations so I was in heaven. When the show was over we took our time walking out of Epcot. The beautiful day had turned into a beautiful night. When we got to the bus, our new D23 friends that had started the day with us were there and came back in the line to wait with us. They had been such fun to talk to and enjoy this crazy day with.
The sip and stroll was incredible. I am so glad that we went and it was worth every penny. D23 has gotten some flack from people. "D23, the community for wealthy Disney fans" is one that I have heard. Other members were angry when an event sold out. My response to both of those is that all of the people we met that are working with D23 get it. They understand why we love Disney. They know we aren't all wealthy. We personally are by no means wealthy, but when you added up everything that came with the purchase of our tickets, the event was beyond worth it. My guess is that there are around 20,000 members of D23. When there are that many members, some things are going to sell out. That really stinks but it is what it is. I hope that they keep thinking up new ideas for events, and the ideas are so good that events sell out. If the interest is there, they will keep doing more. I can't wait to see what's next.