For two years, Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia has held its annual Food and Wine Festival, which has been receiving rave reviews from guests. Now, Busch Gardens Tampa in Florida has borrowed the concept, debuting their own spin on the event this past weekend.
Located in Gwazi Park, Busch Gardens Tampa’s Food and Wine Festival features rows of booths with dishes created just for the event along with carefully chosen wine offerings and plenty of entertainment. It replaces the Bands, Brew & BBQ event, which is still being held at SeaWorld Orlando.
Guests who have attended Busch Gardens Tampa’s Christmas Town event will find this pathway familiar, as the same booths are reused with new facades for the Food and Wine Festival. The single path layout makes wandering between booths incredibly easy, allowing guests to get a good overview of what’s available before starting to sample small plates. Of course, pocket guides are available too with checklists for regulars to easily keep track of what they’ve tried.
During a preview event on Friday, I had a chance to sample several of the new dishes Busch Gardens was showing off. Executive Chef Rob DeBonis was on hand along with celebrity chef Norman Van Aken. DeBonis noted that while he did discuss the Williamsburg event with that park’s chef, the menu in Tampa is entirely his own, created with Florida flavors in mind, drawing from local sustainable ingredients.
In the past, Busch Gardens Tampa hasn’t exactly been known for its fantastic food. In fact, quite the opposite. Fortunately, the cuisine offered during the Food and Wine Festival is definitely better. The freshness of ingredients is obvious among several delicious toppings, including the watermelon salsa accompanying the scallops and pineapple salsa atop the jerk chicken sandwich. Pork products seem to be a specialty of the festival, as both the bacon in the mac and cheese and the roasted pork belly are quite good.
Unfortunately, not everything out of the gate is spectacular. Though all the food is better than what’s normally served in the park, none if it compares to some of what’s served at the more seasoned Food and Wine Festivals in other Orlando theme parks. Scallops were not seared correctly, chicken under seasoned, and desserts a bit too sugary sweet. But considering it was their first-ever weekend, there is plenty of room to grow.
The vast majority of the wines are excellent, with plenty of appropriate pairings available for each of the dishes served. There are interesting whites and reds served throughout the festival – definitely something for everyone. Of course, there are plenty of beers available as well.
Entertainment includes an impressive lineup of bands for a first year event, such as Kenny Rogers, Pentatonix, Collective Soul, and Daughtry, among many others. They perform on a large, easily accessible stage near the food and wine booths.
Outside of Gwazi Park, a few other elements of the event are scattered throughout Busch Gardens. Plants are sold from a nearby truck and cigars just inside the shop. Wine bars are available throughout the park and guests will find impressively large topiaries on display too – the most amusing of which is the “Topiarazzi.”
The Busch Gardens Tampa Food and Wine Festival runs on Saturdays and Sundays through April 26, from noon to 9p.m. More information can be found on the event’s web site.
More photos from the Busch Gardens Tampa Food and Wine Festival 2015: