Having attended the inaugural IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party, I am hopeful (with a few reservations) that the new offering will become a staple at Epcot. I hesitate writing too much of a "review" because the opening night did seem a bit more like a practice run that a polished event. I am a little surprised by that. Usually with new events, you want to go big, and then scale back to taste (and budget).
Replicating the well tested idea that if you have fireworks... you can cordon off a special area, offer a few snacks, and turn the whole event into an "added value" experience. The IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party should be on a solid path to success.
One of the not so small hurdles at Epcot is that all of the really good, easy to rope off areas, are already being used by a never-ending stream of corporate and private events. One of the only areas left that would be suitable for 200+ guests (with food) is at the front of World Showplace, near the newly created "Fastpass" viewing area for Illuminations. Because only a thin rope is separating the premium dessert party guests and the "free" Fastpass guests, you don't really feel that it is really a "private" event. Not to mention another issue, that's really only apparent once you get into the space. The whole area is on a 5 degree slope. It makes setting up tables difficult, and setting up chairs, impossible. Needless to say, this is a standing room only type of dessert party.
The big draw here though (compared to the dessert party at the Magic Kingdom
) is that there is an endless supply of two sparkling wines (but seemingly, a limited number of plastic flutes, at least on opening night, so be sure to hold on to your glass). The Prosecco Brut and a Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut are… well… virtually the same wines. The Domaine Ste. Michelle is probably one of the best sub $15 bottles of sparkling wine that you can get, and manages to sit nicely between dry and sweet, leaning a little toward dry. I however, would use it more as a rich man's beer... pairing it with fried things, like fries, chicken, calamari or mushrooms… and not with dessert. But that might just be me.
On to the desserts. Here again, I hesitate writing too much of a review, because the whole endeavor didn't seem quite complete. I did manage to find something fried for my Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut... little tiny cinnamon doughnuts. Sadly, they were fried far too many hours before being brought out to the event area, and ended up having a dried paper maché quality about them. There were also small white-cake cups with heavy cream, baklava, vanilla pot de creme (which is creme brûlée, without the brûlée), some shortbread cookies with a strawberry sauce, cut fruit, and an ice cream cart, that contained Mickey premium bars, and ice cream sandwiches and such. Several other guests took very little time in pointing out that they were expecting something chocolate, and some hot dessert dish as well… many were hoping for a return of the "hot doughnuts" that were so popular at the Food and Wine Dessert parties.
I couldn't help but notice there were two, very large staging tables at the back of the event area... that were completely empty. Since there seemed to be more guests than tables, many guests assumed these were brought in as a place to rest your treats and drinks. I have been to enough of these events though, to realize those are food staging tables and not for guests. This all leads me to believe that for whatever reason, the "full" dessert party experience did not come together for this first night. At least one full table (and possibly two tables) of treats were missing.
The space being used though, is a good spot to watch IllumiNations, and the area did not seem overly crowded, which was also very nice. As always, the event staff was top-notch.
Many have scoffed at the $49 per adult price tag as being too high. Considering what was offered on the opening night, I would have to agree. Since I can only imagine at what might have been on those two extra food staging tables, I find it difficult to draw a conclusion on the event as a whole.
I like the idea very much, and maybe in a year, we'll return and see if the dessert party has grown into the promising event that it could be. At the moment though, Epcot's IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party only seems to highlight how great the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party
is. At $29, minus the sparkling wines, but with a chair, table, and nearly twice the number of desserts (including chocolate dipped strawberries), it seems like a more relaxing, evenly paced, and value packed event.