Editor’s Note, April 8, 2016: We’re re-running our April 4 edition of Dateline Disneyland today so you can use it as a guide going into the second weekend of Disney California Adventure’s Food and Wine Festival. Bon appétit!

Disney California Adventure‘s fan favorite Food and Wine Festival returned over the weekend after a five year hiatus. The Festival runs on weekends throughout April and offers a diverse sampling of California flavors, culinary demonstrations, seminars and shopping. Today we take an in-depth look at the newly-returned festival and see how it stacks up against the other local theme park food festival at Knott’s Berry Farm. Has Knott’s taken the title of best foodie fest in the So Cal theme park scene or is Disney still king? We also catch up on Star Wars construction in Disneyland and meet some new characters in Hollywood Land.

Today’s Disneyland Update is brought to you by Howard Johnson Hotel & Water Playground.


Enjoy retro fun just steps away from Disneyland at
Howard Johnson Hotel & Water Playground

A short walk from the park, HoJo Anaheim is conveniently located next to Matterhorn Mountain at Disneyland with nearby dining, freeway access, FREE parking and FREE Wi-Fi. For more information on HoJo Anaheim, room rates, or to book your stay today, visit HoJoAnaheim.com/MiceChat


Save with MiceChat & Passholder Discounts Every Day!
The HoJo Anaheim is now offering daily discounts for MiceChat members and even DEEPER discounts for Disneyland Resort Annual Passholders! For more information visit the HoJo Anaheim Innsider Boards which features an up-to-date listing of available nights, or call (714) 776-6120 and ask for In-House Reservations to book. If your date isn’t listed, the HoJo Anaheim still offers rooms for 20% off their best available rate if you call (714) 776-6120.

We’ve got a big Food and Wine Festival update for you today, so let’s get started!

Welcome to Disney California Adventure!

Disney California Adventure is the star this spring as the Food and Wine Festival returns after a few years away.

style=”display:inline-block;width:468px;height:60px” data-ad-client=”ca-pub-9541968576199423″ data-ad-slot=”7943076690″>

Food and Wine Returns

Disney California Adventure’s Food and Wine Festival kicked off on Friday after returning from a five-year hiatus. The festival, which was first brought to the park in 2006 to bolster attendance at the fledgling California Adventure park, went offline after its 2010 season as Disney ramped up construction on the parks’ Buena Vista Street and Cars Land projects, both of which opened in 2012.

With Disney California Adventure now pulling its own weight, the popular Food and Wine Festival is finally back this year, running on weekends through April.

The Festival returns this year, just a couple years after Knott’s Berry Farm successfully launched its own food festival down the street. Disney’s Food and Wine Festival certainly takes a different approach than the Farm does and it returns with some notable changes — some for the better, some for the worse — which we’ll take a look at below.

Festival Marketplace

The heart of the Food and Wine Festival is, of course, the Festival Marketplace where you can sample a variety of foods, beers and wines at eight different themed kiosks.

The Marketplace takes over the parade route between Carthay Circle Theater and Paradise Pier this year, a departure from previous years where much of the small plates available during Food and Wine were available at existing dining locations. This year’s series of temporary marketplace stands is more in-line with what Disney does at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Each marketplace booth includes a nice semi-shaded eating area.

Each Marketplace booth carries its own theme with unique food and drink options. Click any of these for larger views of the menus.

I teamed up with my friend Sally on Friday and sampled six the items from the Marketplace booths. First up, we thought the Pork Belly Bao Taco from LA Style was good, although the fat on the pork belly could have been cooked down and caramelized a bit more.

The Ahi Poke was very fresh and tasty but if we decided that the great ahi poke at Disneyland Hotel’s Tangaroa Terrace was a better option if you’re looking for this type of dish.

The Gold Rush booth is especially popular, with its much-hyped Triple Cheese Mac and Smoked Chicken. The portion size we received was surprisingly generous but we were unfortunately not impressed with the flavor. The whole dish seemed bland, with unseasoned chicken and three cheeses that somehow failed to deliver any real flavor. Perhaps it was just too over-hyped by the time we tried it but we wouldn’t get it again.

The Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie was delicious. It delivered more of the maple cream cheese flavor rather than the apple and bacon but was still great.

The White Cheddar Ale and Bacon Soup from previous Food and Wine Festivals returns at the By the Bay kiosk and it’s once again one of the festival’s highlights, even after being away for several years. It’s rich, creamy and very flavorful — do not miss this soup!

The Chilled Shrimp and Snow Crab Cocktail is just okay but at $7 you can go to any number of local Mexican restaurants and get a much better and much bigger shrimp cocktail for not much more in price.

Two of the Marketplace booths feature drink-only menus, with one specializing in wines and the other in craft beers.

There’s plenty of spots to enjoy your small plates and drinks along the parade route.

Specialty items can be found at carts throughout the Marketplace.

If you’re still hungry, the quick service locations in Pacific Wharf have special festival-inspired menu items available.

Celebrity Kitchen, Culinary Demonstrations
and Seminars

Over in Hollywood Land, the Food and Wine Festival continues at the former Mad T Party. Most of the Mad T Party set-up and theming remains in place but the Food and Wine Festival has taken over.

Nope, no T Party here.

The giant stopwatch screen shows the schedule for the day’s seminars and demonstrations

Food and Wine Lifestyle Seminars take place on the T Party stage. The giant digital screens feature Food and Wine graphics now instead of Mad T Party designs.

The tablecloth stage is hidden behind potted plants.

A variety of lifestyle and product seminars will take place throughout the Festival. Bring a hat – there’s no shade here.

Across from the Mad T Party stage, the Backlot Stage is home to culinary demonstrations by Disney chefs. These demonstrations took place in Sunshine Plaza and Bountiful Valley Farm during past Festivals. With those areas now history, these demos are now located here in Hollywood Land. It’s a good move, with ample seating and plenty of shade.

Disney chefs share favorites from some of the Resort’s best menus.

In previous years, culinary demonstrations ended with a free sample of whatever the chef had cooked on stage. Apparently to save money, Disney isn’t handing out samples this year. With no samples and no recipe cards, we suspect cooking demos won’t draw the long lines they did at past festivals.

Nearby, Stage 17 is home to the Celebrity Kitchen where celebrity chefs ranging from Robert Irvine to Guy Fieri will appear throughout the festival. In previous years, guests could watch celebrity chef culinary demonstrations for free on a first-come, first-served basis. The celebrity culinary demos drew long lines but were free and came with free samples of the prepared dish. This year, if you want to see a celebrity chef you have to pay $99 per person, per session. If you’re an Annual Passholder and want front row seating, you can pay $149.

The cost essentially to pay for convenience — you pay $99 for a guaranteed seat at the celebrity session, a luxury that was previously not guaranteed and could require hours of waiting in line. Is it worth it to pay a hundred bucks for offerings that were previously totally free if you have the convenience of skipping the line? You decide.

Nearby, the Mad T Party bars have received new menus for Food and Wine Festival.

Stage 12, used in previous Food and Wine Festivals, is unused this year.

Mad T Party props have been moved to a far corner of Hollywood Land.

If you’re looking for beer and wine seminars, head up the parade route to the Sonoma Terrace.

The Sonoma Terrace’s outdoor seating area is roped off for upcharge beer and wine seminars during the Festival.

Even if you don’t attend a seminar, you can grab a drink at the Sonoma Terrace along with a special fruit and cheese or sausage and cheese plate.

Passholder Perks

Annual Passholders attending the Food and Wine Festival can pop into the Blue Sky Cellar, which is open as a lounge exclusively for Passholders.

Inside, Passholders can grab an exclusive button, recipe card, recharge their phone and catch a screening of “Seasons of the Vine,” an opening-day attraction that was originally housed in the Blue Sky Cellar venue.

Recharge

While the original presentation method for Seasons of the Vine wasn’t restored but it’s still fun to see it again in the park, even on a smaller screen.

A display of themed souvenir cups and popcorn buckets

Outside of the Blue Sky Cellar, Annual Passholders can pick up an AP-exclusive tasting card for $45. The Tasting Card gives you your choice of six food items from the Marketplace kiosks. It might seem like a deal at first glance but the only way you can recoup your cost is if you order six items priced at $7.50 or more. Incidentally, there’s only 3 items priced at $7.50 or more:

  • Chilled Shrimp and Snow Crab Cocktail — By the Bay — $7.50
  • Grilled Beef Tenderloin Slider — The Farm — $7.75
  • Zinfandel-braised Wagyu Beef — Wine Country — $8.00

You can, however, use your six-item Tasting Card for multiples of the same item, so you could theoretically buy six of the $8 Zinfandel-Braised Wagyu Beef (worth $48) and save $3 — but since the whole point of a card like this is to get a broad sampling of the available items, there’s no point to order multiples of the high-priced items just to break even. Instead, you’re better off ordering what you want a la carte without the tasting card. It’s a bummer that Disney has offered this card under the guise of it being an Annual Passholder-exclusive deal. It’s not a deal at all — it’s a blatant ripping-off of your loyal customers. Don’t buy this tasting card.

Edited 11:55 a.m. April 4, 2016:
In our comments section, our reader Doug pointed out that tax is not added on top of the $45 AP Tasting Card price, whereas you do pay 8% Orange County sales tax on each item when you buy a la carte from the Marketplace booths. I replied to Doug in the comments section and broke down the math to see if that tax break results in any real savings. I’ve excerpted part of my reply below:

With Orange County’s 8% tax not being charged on $45 worth of food, you do save $3.60 right off the bat on tax. If you then go on to buy the six most expensive items available…

  • Wagyu Beef, $8
  • Beef Tenderloin Slider, $7.75
  • Shrimp and Snow Crab Cocktail, $7.50
  • Ahi Poke, $7
  • Fried Shrimp Soft Taco, $6.50
  • Pork Belly Bao Taco, $6.50

…Your total for those items would come out to $43.25 without tax. That’s $1.75 short of the $45 card price, but since you aren’t paying tax ($3.60 on $45) you do come out $1.85 ahead.

Is it worth less than $2 savings if you have to buy the six most expensive items on the menu? I still say the AP Tasting Card is not a good deal but your mileage may vary.

Update April 8, 2016: We’ve been informed Disney has lowered the price of the Annual Passholder Tasting Passport to $39, following guest complaints. While the new lower price still isn’t a great deal (you need to order items at $6.50 or more to recoup your cost), it’s certainly not a blatant rip-off as it was at the $45 price point. Kudos to Disney for listening to guest feedback but it also should have never been priced that high to begin with.

Merchandise

In Hollywood Land, the Studio Store is home to Festival merchandise (you can also find a selection of Food and Wine merchandise in Julius Katz and Sons on Buena Vista Street).

AP-exclusive shirt design

Food and Wine wristband gift cards can be purchased with a minimum $15 activation

A variety of books and kitchenwares are also available

A Hit or Knott?

So is the return of the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival a hit? It’s certainly a welcome return with changes that are both great and disappointing.

The biggest improvement is, without a doubt, adopting the Epcot-style approach to the Marketplace kiosks. Breaking out the festival’s small plate items from the counter service restaurants was a smart move — and clustering them along the parade route really helps give the festival a real hub of energy to walk through and experience. Of course, moving the Marketplace to the parade route is a convenient reason to suspend the park’s daily parade offering — a significant loss during the busy spring break season.

Still, standalone booths for the marketplace offerings is a notable and necessary improvement. With Disney California Adventure now a busy park, there’s no way this Festival could have functioned with the quick service locations serving their regular menus and the Food and Wine small plates. Unfortunately, the food at the Marketplace kiosks came up short for me and my Food and Wine partner. We thought much of the food we tried lacked seasoning and for the food we did love, the portions were generally too small for the price. I’d love to say that I plan to return again and again to try new items and revisit my favorites but it’s simply not feasible for me.

As for other festival offerings, it’s great to see the culinary demonstrations return but it’s unfortunate that the samples did not. It’s even more of a bummer that the celebrity culinary demos now come with a $100 price tag. It’s understandable for Disney to try to curb demand by making these a ticketed offering but the jump from FREE to $100 just comes off as a cash grab. Speaking of cash grabs, the $45 Annual Passholder-exclusive tasting card is the biggest offender and a surefire way to alienate the demographic that you should be courting to ensure this sort of event is a success so it can come back and continue to grow in future years. Selling your guests something your cast is telling them is a great deal when it’s really costing them more than if they were to just pay a la carte is in seriously poor taste.

Meanwhile, a few minutes down the freeway, Knott’s Berry Farm has just wrapped up its annual Boysenberry Festival. Growing every year in popularity, the Boysenberry Festival offers its own tasting card that also offers six items from the lineup of festival offerings. While the food isn’t as gourmet as Disney’s, Knott’s has gained the attention of its OC audience by serving up a variety of boysenberry-flavored items, many of which are both delicious and unique. You can order full-size portions of the Knott’s Boysenberry Festival menu items a la carte, or get six (some are smaller portions) with the tasting card which is only $25.

I spent about $40 on the six items I shared with a friend at Disney California Adventure on Friday. We walked away with mixed opinions on the food and weren’t terribly full. On the flip side, my partner and I were stuffed after sharing a $25 Knott’s Boysenberry Festival tasting card last week.

Meatballs with boysenberry barbecue sauce.

Chicken wings with spicy boysenberry BBQ sauce.

This year’s amazing new boysenberry short ribs, served with rice.

The truly wonderful boysenberry panna cotta

Knott’s also offers live festival entertainment…

…and kid-friendly activity areas where you can make-your-own mini boysenberry pie!

Of course, not everything is perfect. The Knott’s tasting card is six pre-determined items for you — so if you aren’t a fan of chicken wings or don’t eat beef, you’re out of luck — you get what’s on the card. As for entertainment, Knott’s succumbed to one of the worst theme park impulses — an evening dance party. The “Jammin’ in the Dark” dance party for the Boysenberry Festival was truly unfortunate — loud, obnoxious and a bad way to end a great night at the festival.

If you’re concerned with value and should Disney’s Food and Wine Festival return next year, I’d say skip it for Knott’s where you easily get a bigger bang for your buck. If you’re simply looking for a unique culinary experience, both are perfectly viable options with their own triumphs and disappointments. I look forward to visiting both again next spring — hopefully Disney’s event has grown and worked out the kinks that come with re-introducing an event that has been gone for a half-decade and hopefully Knott’s continues to create unique items that are worth returning for. No matter what, with both Disney and Knott’s in the food festival business, Orange County foodies have some great springtime options available to them now.

The Frontier Awakens

Disneyland’s new Star Wars project will be unprecedented in terms of scale for the park, dedicating 14 acres to a single property with massive new facades, rock work, and massive E-Ticket attractions that dwarf even Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones Adventure. Below, a map showing how the new land is expected to impact Disneyland’s landscape once completed in late 2018.

StarWarsExpansion-BeforeStarWarsExpansion-After

[ View Map Large ]
Relocating Backstage

Looks like a big section of the old Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland rock work has been demolished. The old arch remains, but with a big hole in its side. Hopefully it’ll survive.

The old Burning Settler’s Cabin remains in place on Tom Sawyer Island (we mistakenly reported it had been moved in an earlier update).

The cabin is expected to be relocated on the island after it’s shortened to accommodate the Rivers of America’s new route.

Rivers of America

Inside the park, the wilderness continues to disappear. The massive Mickey and Friends Parking Structure can now be seen from the New Orleans Square waterfront and the cofferdams have received new themed scrims.

A look at the berm from the back of the Hungry Bear Restaurant

The western side of the River…

Big Thunder Trail & Ranch

Big Thunder Trail continues to change as the wilderness disappears.

Characters in Hollywood

In Disney California Adventure, new characters have started showing up in Hollywood Land. With Zootopia approaching $800 million at the box office, there’s huge demand for the film in the parks and the stars — Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde — are drawing big lines of excited fans.

Nearby, Captain America has returned and moved over to Hollywood Land with Spider-Man. The super duo appear side-by-side, and guests lining up meet Cap before moving along to meet Spidey. It’s a twofer worth the 30-miunte wait time the characters were drawing on Sunday afternoon.

The facade, which was most recently home to a Monsters University meet-and-greet, is redressed as a police department entrance with some over Spider-Man’s webs, a banner welcoming Cap, and a couple Daily Bugle references.

It’s a modest overlay but it works and looks good. It’s a nice temporary home for our Avengers until Disney starts moving on the rumored Marvel mini-land that’s expected to take shape behind the Tower of Terror.

Closures & Changes

In addition to the major Star Wars expansion, several other notable changes and projects continue around the Resort.

Hondautopia

Back in Disneyland, Honda recently officially announced its new sponsorship of the classic Autopia attraction in Tomorrowland. The sponsorship deal includes the great new blue-white-and-silver color scheme and a new logo. The attraction marquee is now covered up while its reworked with the new logo design.

The new color scheme looks great and brings Autopia up to date with the rest of the blue color scheme that has slowly taken over Tomorrowland over the last decade.

Super Hero HQ closes

With Captain America and Spider-Man now in Disney California Adventure, Super Hero HQ in Tomorrowland is now closed and is expected to become a preview center for Disneyland’s upcoming Star Wars-themed expansion.

Everything is still in place upstairs for now, but the lights are off and guest access has been blocked as it awaits the arrival of work crews.

Tomorrowland is better now without Super Hero HQ. Hopefully the rumored Marvel-themed expansion coming to Disney California Adventure do this multi-brand IP justice, as what Disney had done so far in Tomorrowland simply was not good. Here’s to a brighter future for Marvel in the parks.

Starbucksland

In Downtown Disney, the new Starbucks location between the LEGO Store and AMC Theaters is coming along…

MiceChat Gumball Rally
10th Anniversary!

There is only one event in the world of Disney fandom which holds the status of the legendary… MiceChat Gumball Rally. It is a full day adventure through Disneyland to see how many attractions you can ride in a single day. Sound easy? It isn’t. However, we are told over and over again that this is the most fun our attendees have ever had in the parks.

  • Compete in teams of 2, 3, or 4 people.
  • You don’t have to be a trivia buff, ride warrior, or theme park nerd to play. The game is designed to put everyone on a level playing field.
  • You can play at the speed that you like. Take it easy or tear through the park. It’s up to you.
  • For one low price you get the game and Awards Party, complete with entertainment and prizes. (admission into the parks is NOT included)
  • Prizes will be awarded for 1st – 10th place, Best Team Logo, Best Team Name, and Spirit of MiceChat Award. There are plenty of chances to win!
  • Plus, while you are waiting for the results, we’ll present you with great entertainment and prizes!
  • An all day race through Disneyland to see who can ride the most attractions in a single day . . . There is simply no better way to challenge yourself, what you think you know about Disneyland, and have a fantastic time with your family and friends (whether you win or not).
  • Two types of tickets available – General ticket includes coffee, juice, and breakfast pastries in the AM and access to the Award Party in the PM. Please note that the Awards Party will take about two hours. You’ll have an hour and a half between the end of the Gumball Rally and the Awards Party to relax and find something to eat for dinner before the party.
  • VIP TICKETS – In addition to the above, VIP ticket holders will receive early registration, full breakfast at the ESPN Zone, full post-Rally dinner at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel, VIP Reserved spots up front for both the kick-off and the Awards Party, Rally T-Shirt, and special commemorative Tenth Anniversary Gumball Rally pin. Make your Gumball Rally experience extra special with our VIP package! (the VIP package is a value of over $90 plus guaranteed seating and express game-day registration for just $75 extra per person). This is your best Rally deal!

For more information or to register for the event, CLICK HERE!


Enjoy retro fun just steps away from Disneyland at
Howard Johnson Hotel & Water Playground

A short walk from the park, HoJo Anaheim is conveniently located next to Matterhorn Mountain at Disneyland with nearby dining, freeway access, FREE parking and FREE Wi-Fi. For more information on HoJo Anaheim, room rates, or to book your stay today, visit HoJoAnaheim.com/MiceChat

Save with MiceChat & Passholder Discounts Every Day!
The HoJo Anaheim is now offering daily discounts for MiceChat members and even DEEPER discounts for Disneyland Resort Annual Passholders! For more information visit the HoJo Anaheim Innsider Boards which features an up-to-date listing of available nights, or call (714) 776-6120 and ask for In-House Reservations to book. If your date isn’t listed, the HoJo Anaheim still offers rooms for 20% off their best available rate if you call (714) 776-6120.
Weekly News & Information Round-Up
Weekly Theme Park Hours
April 4-10, 2016

Disneyland Park California Adventure
Mon.-Thu.: 8 am – 11 pm
Friday: 8 am – 12 am
Sunday: 8 am – 11 pm
Daily: 8 am – 9 pm
For a complete listing of theme park hours,
visit the Disneyland.com Theme Park Calendar
Closure and Refurbishment Schedule
Disneyland Park
  • Disneyland Railroad: Closed for over a year starting January 11 while the Railroad path is rerouted for Star Wars Land.
  • Rivers of America: All River traffic and attractions are closed for over a year starting on January 11 while Star Wars Land construction reduces and reroutes the northern portion of the River. The extended closure includes:
    • Mark Twain Riverboat
    • Sailing Ship Columbia
    • Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island
    • Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
    • Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
    • Fantasmic!
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: Closed April 11-14 for refurbishment.
  • Disneyland Monorail: Closed April 11-May 19 for refurbishment.
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds: Closed April 18-22, April 25-29 and May 2-6 for refurbishment.
  • Autopia: Closed through April 28 for refurbishment.
  • Jungle Cruise: Closed through May 5 for extended refurbishment.
Disney California Adventure
  • Silly Symphony Swings: Closed April 11-June 9 for refurbishment.
  • Grizzly River Run: Closed April 18-May 17 for refurbishment.
  • Frozen — Live in the Hyperion: New stage musical show opens May 27.
Downtown Disney and Disneyland Resort Hotels
    None.
Tomorrowplan Crowd Estimates for Disneyland Resort from Mouseaddict

April 4-10

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun

  • Since the Spring Break season has begun, we’ve expanded our Tomorrowplan crowd projections through April. Activate now to look into the future. Only in the Mouseaddict app.
  • Have you checked out the new Wait Watcher feature in Mouseaddict? When you don’t want to wait in a long queue, just tell us what time you’re willing to wait. Wait Watcher will notify you when the wait time reaches that time. Only in Mouseaddict.

The free Mouseaddict app for iPhone and iPad features more than five dozen categories of searchable resort information, weather forecasts, park and show schedules, the latest news and articles from MiceChat, and more. Download free on the App Store or at mouseaddict.com.

Headline Roundup

A quick look at noteworthy Disney theme park headlines from around the web.

 

Support Our Sponsors
 

FTC-Mandated Disclosure: Promotional consideration for this edition of Dateline Disneyland was provided by the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel & Water Playground.