There are still three Party for the Senses nights remaining in this year's Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World's Epcot.
Party for the Senses, which runs from 7:30-10 p.m. Saturdays during the festival, is a chance to nosh on food prepared by chefs from around the world, paired with wines and a few cocktails. It's like an indoor version of the outdoor festival, except that the entrance fee -- $145 per person -- includes all the food and drink.
On a recent visit, the food was delicious. I loved the Flash-cured Tuna with Lapsang Souchon Smoked Tea, Over Fennel and Citrus Carpaccio and Soy Ginger Glaze by chef Ruth Van Waerebeek of Santiago, Chile. Equally tasty: Barbeque Pork Belly with Compressed Watermelon, Avocado Creme and Pickled Red Onions from Kevin Fonzo of Orlando's own K Restaurant.
Favorite beverage of the evening was surprisingly not a wine, but Xante Cider, a tasty fall-flavored cocktail made with the Swedish liqueur, Xante.
I had to watch my drinking, though, because I wanted to stay sharp to check out the performers from "La Nouba" that were to provide the evening's entertainment. I had seen a similar arrangement with "La Nouba" at a Party for the Senses years ago, but the program had been altered -- much for the better.
In years past, the Cirque acrobatic acts had been scattered throughout the evening, which was tough for patrons. You would want to watch -- but the Roasted White Chocolate Gelato with Wild Berry Sauce was calling.
This year, the bulk of the entertainment was in the form of music from Cirque, and Cirque du Soleil has some of the most intriguing music out there. A sharp combo and a female vocalist provided the perfect background to the dining -- fun, in an upscale kind of way. (I was thrilled to hear the music from the chair-balancing act in the original version of "La Nouba," a personal favorite.) It's easier to enjoy music while waiting in line for Oxtail Ravioli.
Not that Cirque didn't provide a visual treat, as well. The acrobatics took place in one main show that featured many favorite colorful characters from "La Nouba." The Green Bird did a hand-balancing act to the admiration of the audience and the four silly white-faced men known as Les Cons (The Nuts).
Then, the trampoline-based tumbling took off. Acrobats springing off the trampoline soared up to a modified version of the windowless structure familiar to patrons of the "La Nouba" show at Downtown Disney. Jumping, diving, spinning ... it was enough to make me reach for a glass of Champagne.
The long set was received with enthusiastic applause -- a good reminder of how lucky we are to be one of only two U.S. cities with a permanent Cirque du Soleil show. (Las Vegas, home to several Cirque shows, is the other.)
What else was different since my last visit? Party for the Senses patrons were more dressed up than I remembered. Clearly, a lot of people are visiting the park just for the event. But, it's designed to be the finale to a day at Epcot, so if you are wearing tourist attire, you won't feel out of place.
I also didn't remember the mass stampede as the event begins. People plowed through the opening curtain as if the bogeyman was chasing them down. I'm not sure what the hurry was -- most seating is reserved ahead of time (that ticket level is sold out for the rest of the festival).
And even though my guest and I didn't have reserved seating -- and didn't run -- we always found a high-top table to use while eating. Yes, you share them with other guests, but half the fun is discussing with people what they've liked and would recommend.
Plus, you don't lose your dignity like those people dressed to the nines pushing past each other like it's a feeding frenzy.
For more information on the Party for the Senses, go to disneyworld.com