The 2019 Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival Stroll Around
Busch Gardens Tampa
April 19th, 2019
| by Mealtrip
It's so hard to believe there's just two weeks to go for the 2019 Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival! We had not been to the annual event since it first started back in 2015, so it's time to take another stroll around and talk about what we've found!
Looking down the main causeway, just past the main entrance to the Busch Gardens, Tampa, Food and Wine Festival event area.
Like most theme park based festivals, food and libation kiosks are where the action takes place.
Hummm... what great looking grass! So just a word of warning, it's a little tricky to walk around the food and beverage booths in this part of the Gwazi Park area. If you're not accustomed to walking on artificial turf... you will be by the time you leave this area. :)
While there are some beverages available at the food booths, there are also a few dedicated "libation stations" that only offer beverages.
This is Libation Station #2 featuring wines from Terraza de los Andrs Reserva and Lobetia — but really, THE thing to try here is the Cream & Sugar Please Hazelnut Porter from Cycle Brewing.
As you get closer to the festival stage area (Gwazi Park for those familiar with Busch Gardens, Tampa) you'll find the largest covered seating area dedicated to the festival, which is also where the Tex Mex Cantina and the Peacock Bar are located. (However, this really is still an "eat and stroll" experience... seating in general... is sparse.)
This large covered area offers a couple of tables and chairs, and is located about as deep into the Gwai Park Festival Area as you can get. It's also home to the Tex-Mex Cantina and Peacock Bar.
Most of the food booth locations have a large, double sided sign that lists all the food and beverage items offered at the booth, along with the prices for those items.
Most of the food booths have large double-sided signs nearby, so you can see what's being offered and what the cost of everything is. You can then order and pay at the register (on the right in this photo) and then take your recipe to the front of the booth to pick up your order.
Not being as familiar with the park layout as I should be, (and not even realizing it at the time), I apparently only found just over half of the food booths at the festival, so we don't really have our usual "all the signs and prices" post this time (sorry). Here's what a couple of the food booth menu boards look like…
Here's a couple of the menu board signs close-up. These are pretty typical of the item pricing at the food booths... so you can see where a 12 Sample Lanyard is a really good deal. At $55 for 12 samples... that works out to just over $4.60 per sample, regardless of the posted price!
… and then somewhere around the "Libation Station" booths, you'll probably find slightly smaller signs nearby.
Here's a menu board from the Peacock Bar. The Libation Stations generally have smaller signage posted (or attached directly to) their kiosks.
A Mini-Editorial Buried In My Article
Busch Gardens has introduced quite a few new food items this year… and those items would all seem to have ... a greater appeal ... to an overall, general, larger group of theme park guests... and maybe not so much for a foodie purist.
When the festival started in 2015, I remember seeing… honest to goodness… James Beard Award Winning Chef Norman Van Aken standing around, meeting guests, and signing books. The food items offered at that first festival, (while not being super high-end, cutting edge, foodie talk-worthy stuff)… did seem to strike a good balance between being culinary gems and something that guests would want to try.
This year, most of the items have taken a decidedly "street food" identity. Sister park SeaWorld, Orlando have generally advertised the food items at their annual Seven Seas Food Festival
as being "street food" items… and they've always gathered high marks from me for delivering exactly what they say the food is going to be.
Somehow here at Busch Gardens, it seems to be a bit of a retraction from previous year's offerings… not bad… but not the kind of high(er) end food that you would expect to "pair" with wine. "Food & Wine Pairing" is an actual activity... and not just a description of what's being offered at the festival.
Surprisingly (and yes, I'm aware I've drifted into editorial mode here) I don't think it's the wrong way to go. I think if you're going to a Food and Wine Festival event that's not attached to a theme park, you would expect the food and wine to be the main attraction. I'm not sure that's the case at a park like Busch Gardens though. Most people are going to the park for the attractions … and so any additional "festival" is a great bonus overlay to that experience. As such, more broadly accepted "street food" items would seem to be better way to go, as it's more likely that park guests will find something great to eat.
Perhaps — the very name "Food and Wine Festival" needs to be tweaked a bit… because it conjures the experience of pairing wine with food, which as I mentioned already — that really isn't what most of these items are about. Honestly, grabbing a beer, cocktail, or soda… would seem to fit most of the food items being offered this year better.
Enough Words, Let's See The Food and Beverages Already!
We got to stroll around to four different booths at this year's festival, starting with the Nola Eats booth.
This Chicken Gumbo was really great, but for a true Nola foodie, a little mild on the Creole Flavoring. There was a good amount of chicken and andouille sausage in this portion though, and under all of that saucy goodness was a tasty bed of rice.
The Hurricane is a combination of white and dark rum with lime juice, orange juice, and passion fruit juice.
Mmmmm… more and more, I'm finding the desserts at theme park festivals to be some of the best takeaways! This Bananas Foster Cheesecake was no exception. This was a moderately dense cheesecake smothered in a banana and rum glaze.
Next up, the Tex-Mex Cantina.
This Grilled Elote features grilled corn (which really should be a little more chargrilled) with Cotija Cheese and some Chili-Lime Crema.
Mmmmm… this Short Rib and Cheddar Quesadilla featured braised short ribs with peppers, onions, fresh pico and sour cream. All of the elements here were more "fresh" than "spicy".
This unusual Pepper Melon Margarita features Watermelon juice, tequila and a hint of jalapeño (but just a hint, I actually found the balance to be pretty good on this one).
Heading over to the nearby Heartland Booth…
This Hot Beef Sandwich featuring Chi Town's Slow Roasted Shaved Roast Beef with traditional Giardiniera was one of my favorite savory items of the day!
These St. Louis Ribs featured a good dipping of Kansas City Style BBQ sauce. The sauce was really good, and while I like seeing a stack of ribs on a plate… they can be a bit hit or miss at a festival… depending on which two rib you get.
Finally, a couple of items from the cheesy Boardwalk Booth…
This Mac and Cheese is bound to be a guest favorite… there's macaroni, there's cheese, and there's ham (which looks a lot like thick cut and diced juicy bacon)… you can't go wrong with this one! This really is more of a "beer" pairing mac and cheese than a "wine pairing" mac and cheese though… "what kind of cheese is that"… "it's yellow cheese"… "thanks!" :)
Another must-get at the festival is this Griddled Cheesecake… it's basically a grilled pound cake, with cream cheese filling, and topped with a raspberry sauce… served warm, it's just oooooo so good!
The most fun and cost-effective way to sample all kinds of things at the Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival is with a "Sampling Lanyard". There are three different lanyards available — with a 5-Item, 8-Item, and 12-Item lanyard you can simply make one purchase, and then exchange "punches" on the lanyard card for food and beverage items at the various food and beverage stations. You don't have to even look at the prices — every item is just "one punch" on your lanyard card.
The 12-Item lanyard is just $55, which breaks down to each sample item being just $4.60 (most all of the items are more expensive than that)… so it really is a great deal. The lanyards can be used by your entire party and so for a family of four… the lanyard really are a great way to get a taste of what the Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival has to offer!
The Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival is available on weekends only until Sunday, April 29th, 2019.