Sam Lau, Epcot's new vice president, takes time out of his busy schedule running one of the world's most popular theme parks to chat with Where Orlando. In our interview, Lau talks about his new role, his travels abroad, the upcoming Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and his perfect day in the city, while sharing a little inside scoop on getting the most out of a Disney vacation.
You have just settled into your role of vice president of Epcot from a VP position in transportation. How are you liking the change so far?
I’m enjoying it. Working at Epcot is a dream job for me because I’m an international traveler and foodie at heart and, each day, I’m immersed in cuisine from around the world. I like to cook, and I am adventurous with a variety of foods. Also, coming from California, I have a deep appreciation for the Wine Country, wine tasting and absorbing the scenery from various cultures.
What is it like to work for Disney?
It’s exciting and quite a change in pace from my earlier work in the public sector overseeing mass-transportation systems. I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to work for Disney. It’s a fun, vibrant and very creative company, always fostering new ideas and technologies to improve the experience for our guests. Walt Disney World Resort is a place unlike any other. Millions of guests come from around the world to enjoy the magic with their families. It’s very rewarding to be part of that magic and create one-of-a-kind experiences for countless family vacation memories.
The Travel Channel has just named Epcot among the top 10 amusement parks in the world. What’s the key to keeping it on the top of the list?
We are always focused on making the Epcot guest experience the very best it can possibly be. Walt Disney envisioned Epcot as a showcase for ingenuity and as a place that could generate ideas for making the world a better place. We are committed to staying true to his intent for the park. Today, you’ll see that Epcot celebrates innovation and culture in a way that inspires our guests to make new discoveries. Our guests love that the park is vibrant and always evolving, as seen with notable special events like the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and the Flower & Garden Festival. Plus, with World Showcase, guests can culturally immerse themselves in the sights, sounds and tastes from 11 countries without having to go halfway around the world to do so. And, in Future World, guests can enjoy technological innovations such as creating their own virtual concept car at Test Track or experiencing what it’s like to hang-glide over California on Soarin.’
You are a traveler yourself? What countries do you enjoy visiting? (Outside the World Showcase!)
I have pretty much visited every continent. I have visited the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Mexico, Singapore, China, Puerto Rico, etc. In addition to having lived and worked in major U.S. cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose, I have also lived in Hong Kong. I studied German in high school and college, and I enjoy Germany for its beautiful architecture. I love Asia because it is diverse in its own way with different cultures and exotic foods.
Do you have any insider advice for getting the most out of a trip to Disney?
The best way to get the most out of your Walt Disney World vacation is to take advantage of MyMagic+. Now, you can design the ideal vacation for your family and friends, and even reserve attractions and experiences before you arrive. Many guests also use the “My Disney Experience” app to help navigate around the parks, make dining reservations and see wait times, making your visit even better, with more time to enjoy our attractions, entertainment and dining experiences. Also, allow enough time to experience all of Walt Disney World Resort. There are so many choices and experiences to enjoy in addition to our theme parks. Visiting our uniquely themed resort hotels is an experience in itself. There are lots of activities such as boating, swimming, golfing and other recreation that many guests discover and enjoy during their vacation here.
Tell us about the upcoming Food and Wine festival.
At the 19th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which runs Sept. 19 through Nov. 10 this year, guests can enjoy tastes from around the world as they dine around more than 25 World Showcase marketplaces. Patagonia and Farm Fresh marketplaces are new this year along with festival favorites such as celebrity-chef demos, “Eat to the Beat” nightly concerts and much more. All provide a fantastic experience for the whole family. Events like Party for the Senses grand tastings, Parisian Breakfasts and Food and Wine Pairings can be booked ahead. And I’m really excited about new premium events including the “Dining Through the Decades: A Tribute to Walt Disney” dinner.
What's your idea of a perfect day in Orlando?
I’d head to one of the Space Coast Beaches, watch the sun rise over the ocean, then bike or walk along the beach. I’d go to Winter Park to enjoy a unique dining experience for lunch. Shopping would have to be on the itinerary—there’s so much great shopping throughout Orlando. Then, I’d head over to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa for dinner at Citrico’s. Afterward, I’d cap the evening with a dessert cruise to watch fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. Disney is the only place where you can see magnificent themed fireworks shows daily.