Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival

There is much to do at Busch Gardens. Whether you go for the thrilling roller coasters or watching animals, there’s truly something for everyone at Busch Gardens.

If you’ve never been, and you’re a foodie, now it the perfect time to visit.

The annual Food and Wine Festival began in February and runs until April 25.

The Festival can take up most of your day. With 110 treats, and 22 new dishes for those that have been in years past, more than 80 wines, brews and cocktails, an entire day can be spent trying the various dishes and adult beverages. That is, if you have a big enough appetite.

Chicken biscuit with bourbon blackberry jam; shrimp and grits.

Full disclosure. I’ve been an annual passholder most of my life. And apart from a few teenage years when roller coasters were the thing to do, I go for the ambiance and the animal watching. It’s a beautiful place to spend a day.

While going for the Food and Wine Festival was the task at hand, for this particular trip, I never miss the chance to check out what the animals are doing. They are the stars of the show, in my opinion.

Here’s a tip I’ve learned over the years. On cooler days, when the sun is out, the animals are more active and fun to watch. On really hot days, you will find them mostly sleeping. Who can blame them? The Florida sun is no joke.

My mother and I arrived on the first day of the Food and Wine Festival on February 20. It was the busiest day getting into the park I’ve witnessed since they reopened. It took a little patience, and we worried that once inside it would be too crowded for us. But people spread out and, in the areas where we visited, it didn’t feel crowded at all and keeping a distance was never a problem.

We first strolled through the animal viewing areas visiting our gorilla, lion and penguin friends.

The next thing we always do is go up to the deck at the Serengeti Overlook Café to have a cold beer and check out the giraffes and zebras.

At this point it was around 1 p.m. and we were starting to get hungry so we moved over to the other side of the park where the Food and Wine Festival was taking place. It wasn’t crowded and there was ample room to space out. 

For the festival, Busch Gardens offers pre-purchased lanyards that booth attendants will simply scan and punch a hole in every time you want to try something. This is more convenient than pulling out your credit card every time you want to try something, and you will want to try things often.

You can purchase lanyards for 5, 10 or 12 items each and passholders can purchase a 15-item lanyard for the price of a 12-item lanyard. Don’t fret, these are good for the duration of the festival so if you don’t use all of your item spots in one day, you have a fantastic excuse to return to the park to finish them out.

We were getting tired, and full, by 4 p.m. so we started to make our way to the front of the park for some shopping. With that, we ended our day.

There’s really too much to try in one day, maybe even two. While they don’t give you full meals, the servings are filling.

Here’s my advice. Get yourself an annual pass, buy the largest lanyard and plan to come back a few different times. It ends on April 25, so you still have time! 

EDITOR’s NOTEBOOK

The Drunken Bread Pudding at Pepin Garden. Just do it. It has Woodford Reserve Bourbon, caramel and drunken cherries. You’re welcome.

• You can pay full price and get a full-size drink if you find something you love. My mother did this for the frozen Mardi Gras Hurricane. She wasn’t driving that day, so she indulged. I tried it. It was delicious.

• The Smoked Beef Brisket Pub Chips at All American Eats by Kraft-Heinz were surprisingly our favorite snack of the day. The brisket was delicious and the flavors just all worked well with the crisp chips. The line is long, and slow-moving, at this stop so be prepared to wait. It’s worth it. Get two of these. We didn’t want to share.

• There are live bands, on and off, throughout the day. You can view the lineup of concerts here.

• The staff and workers at Busch Gardens deserve a round of applause. They did a fantastic job keeping everything clean. I noticed as soon as people would leave a table, someone would show up and wipe everything down.

For more information on Busch Garden’s Food and Wine Festival visit buschgardens.com.

Photos below by Jo-Lynn Brown

 

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