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Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival feast for the senses

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We just returned with Noah from a whirlwind of a European vacation, taking in the tastes of Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy, Germany and the Caribbean, but we only traveled as far as Virginia. This past weekend was the opening of the 2nd annual Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival. If you have been to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg then you know the park is themed in the style of Europe, so you are already in a virtual paradise, now with more food.

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The festival also includes a few additional countries such as Spain, Greece, Belgium, the Caribbean and the American Southwest. You can eat and drink your way around the park, and even take a short cruise down the Rhine River, while delighting in some jazz music and savoring some fancy cheese and chocolate. The park goes all out for this event with additional decorations, country flags, lights and surprises. Truly a feast for the eyes as well. (no calories for that). So sensory-wise it will fill you up, in a good way.

There is no additional fee for the festival, all of the other attractions are running. Tastings range from $2-$3 for desserts and about $4-$5 for entrées, a few are more. The 2 of us and Mr. Picky managed to consume about $40 worth of food (8 shared tastings)one evening as dinner. It was well worth it. Each country has trivia and information about the food and the customs, so it's educational as well. I didn't know lollipops came from Spain, and apparently they have only been around for less than 60 years too.

To make your day a bit easier, you can purchase cashless wristbands. These are available in several areas of the park, 2 different spots before you even get to food (Booth before the turnstiles and guest relations after you enter), plus several other locations in the park. You can prepay with cash or link to a credit card. Then you just scan at the locations. This is a great choice when your hands are full and you need your stomach to be. Plus time is always of the essence with an ASD kid, so less standing around finding your wallet. If you don’t spend all of your cash, stop at Guest Relations in England when exiting and they will refund you any money not spent.

If your ASD child is like mine, then they probably eat maybe a dozen foods or so (give or take). So you probably have tried and are trying anything and all things to get them to expand their horizons a bit. There is only so much sneaking in of foods a person can actually do with this level of a picky eater. So when the opportunity arises to go to a buffet or something like this, (in one of his most favorite places in the world) we leap at it. Even if he tries one thing that is one more…we didn’t get to 12 items overnight anyway.

Noah is an extremely picky eater, or an advanced picky eater as he calls it, but don’t worry, he will try more food when he is older (according to him). So we had low expectations he would try anything at all, including dessert. (this kid won't usually eat cake and never has had pie! Right? Who doesn't like pie? This kid!) However, he was fascinated with the idea of volcanoes lately, so when he heard there is a chocolate lava cake in Canada (“New France”) he was willing to try it. The chocolate lava cake is made with a hint of chili powder for just the right amount of spice, without the burning. The middle is all chocolate lava, and it was nice portion for a tasting (your own personal cake/cupcake size). He devoured it. He almost tried the macaroni and cheese with bacon (2 of his favorite foods but not together) he still resisted, but I am optimistic if we make another go at it. Sometimes you do have to think outside the box to find a way to get them at least intrigued.

Like all food festivals, food is the highlight so those with the widest choices of their diet have the most options, as are those who are the most adventurous. There are vegetarian options at every kiosk; vegan and gluten free options are available but limited.

Even if your ASD child is also a picky eater, or perhaps is on a restrictive diet, there are Art of Food booths in Ireland, France and Italy (which I learned is the size of Arizona). Here you can watch these master chefs carve beautiful items out of food. And sometimes this creation of something beautiful out of a watermelon turns into an interest to try watermelon (which is sold in many of the main restaurants in the park).

In the end, he loved the Lava Cake, tried some hot sauce on chips (chips he likes) new crackers (a break from just plain old 365 Rice Crackers) some fancy green cheese in Ireland and steak. (which he did try before on the grill once, and sometimes that is all you get, is once). We enjoyed ourselves regardless, since we like different foods and don’t get that many options to make them or to go out to eat. So the experience was highly enjoyable. And who knows, there may be some new foods on Noah’s horizon after all. At least it was a lot of fun and it truly filled our other senses.

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