The 22nd annual Epcot Flower and Garden Festival officially kicked off this month on March 4. This year saw many changes, but the new highlight was that the Frozen girls, Anna and Elsa, now appear in topiary form and can be seen center stage at the entrance to World Showcase.
According to Eric Darden, Horticultural Content Manager, it was quite a challenge to capture the sense of Elsa’s blue Snow Queen gown with plants. A variety of ficus, which comes in many shades, was used to create shimmering effects. The entirety of the display shows the story of the transformation from winter to summer in the landscaping around the Frozen royals, with flowers melding from hues of blues and whites to bright colors. I admit I was smitten and really liked it a lot.
While experiencing the event this year, I was relieved to see at the main entrance garden that Goofy, Pluto, Daisy, Donald, plus Chip and Dale were the stars and I loved the Farmer Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse topiary found in Future World.
Other returning favorites included some of the classic Disney Princesses as well as beloved characters from The Lion King, Peter Pan and Bambi. This year Cinderella and Prince Charming stand under the clock in the France Pavilion and I thought it was very fitting. In addition, Belle and the Beast were front and center at the water fountains in France.
As for the annual Butterfly House – it was a real letdown and I simply did not understand why so little thought went into the overall décor of the house. I am not talking about the amount of butterflies present; I am talking about the decoration inside the house.
Many areas were simply devoid of flowers or topiaries and a far cry away from last year’s beautiful fairy houses that were incredible and inspiring. I photographed pictures of every fairy house last year dreaming of the day when I would be able to replicate some of them in my backyard.
(Editor’s note: This year’s Butterfly House actually has a new theme/sponsor overall and is now called Butterflies on the Go. For those of you looking for Tinker Bell, you can still see her in topiary form right outside the entrance to the Butterfly House, but the house itself is no longer themed after the famous fairy.)
Some of the small new gardens were interesting but in areas that really did not stand out such as the ‘Trial Garden’ or the ‘Prehistoric Plants’ garden. I was disappointed to see that the ‘Pollinator’s Paradise with Winnie the Pooh Topiary’ and the ‘Miss Piggy Topiary and Tour de Fleurs Garden’ were labeled as NEW; To me NEW means what the word implies. These two were certainly not new – if anything they were missing accessories such as Pooh’s friends and in the case of Miss Piggy – Kermit the Frog. One new topiary display though was found in China to represent the Year of the Sheep.
On a positive note here are a few facts: Over 30-million blooms, 240 floating mini-gardens, nearly 100 Disney character topiaries, 30 flower towers, 10 new themed gardens still turn Epcot into one enchanted place.
My favorites among the new gardens were Shakespeare garden at the United Kingdom pavilion, the Health & Healing garden at Future World West, the Pizzeria Garden at the Italian Pavilion and the Bold Bromeliads display at Showcase Plaza.
While not new, the Urban Farm garden located at Future World West just before reaching World Showcase was my favorite garden. Visitors can learn about aquaponics, a combination of harvesting fish and hydroponically growing vegetables in a recirculating system. The garden was simply amazing and would have deserved being labeled NEW as so much was indeed new.
At the adjacent Urban Farm Eats kiosk my favorite dish was Kale Salad with dried cherries, almonds and goat cheese with white balsamic vinaigrette ($3.50). Other dishes of note were a Quinoa vegetable ‘naanwich’ with arugula pesto and oven dried tomatoes ($4.25) and the Ghost Pepper dusted Tilapia with crisp Winter Melon Slaw ($4.75).
New Name for the annual concert series at Epcot Flower and Garden Festival:
The Flower Power Concerts have been renamed – long live the Garden Rocks Concerts! During the 75-day Flower and Garden Festival the America Gardens Theater each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is host to the Garden Rocks concerts. The concerts are held at 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and at 8:00 p.m. Here is the lineup for the remaining weekends:
March 27-29 – Starship
April 3-5 – The Orchestra
April 10-12 – The Village People
April 17-19 – John Seceda
April 24-26 – The Guess Who
May 1-3 – Taylor Dayne
May 8-10 – Little River Band
May 15-17 – Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone
Other change of note:
This year the Festival Garden Center is open Fridays through Sundays and HGTV is no longer sponsoring the festival – this means no celebrity talks. Disney Cast Members, as well as guests from other public organizations are on hand to give the presentations. On weekends there is a hands-on presentation on the Greenhouse Stage daily at 11:00 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m. and horticultural demonstrations on the Fresh Epcot Stage at 12:00 p.m. and at 3:00 p.m.
Some weekends have special themes such as Art in the Garden Weekend (March 27-29), Earth Day Weekend (April 20-22) and Florida Fresh Weekend (April 24-26). Guests can hear from a specialist of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park (April 17-19) and The Seas with Nemo & Friends is host to a talk about conservation efforts to protect coral reefs, sea turtles and sharks (April 22). I find this development rather confusing and totally not at par with what was offered in years past.
I fear that the EpcotFood and Wine Festival is going in the same direction with the percentage of non-Disney chefs presenting steadily going down. I certainly mean no disrespect towards the great Disney chefs nor the wonderfully skilled Disney gardeners, but both festivals can only benefit from celebrity speakers being on hand to depart their wisdom.
The Outdoor Kitchens with spring-inspired dishes are a nice way to dine walking around World Showcase. The food is nice but it can be pricy and the portion size has been shrinking over the years.
Personally, I would like Disney to put their major efforts into the gardens. The same would go for the fall’s Epcot Food and Wine Festival where focus should be on the Food kitchens and presentations. I would hate to see either festival to become just a blend of both.
Back to the Flower and Garden Festival:
For those of you visiting the Festival, part of the fun is being able to keep track of your horticultural and culinary visit with the Garden Passport, which you can get stamped at each Outdoor Kitchen and at the entrance of the gardens. The booklet also lists all the topiaries, special events, concerts and conveniently marks all vegetarian dishes.
This year there are eleven Outdoor Kitchens. The latest addition is Botanas Botanico nestled between the France and Morocco pavilions. The offering are Seafood Ceviche ($5.25), Cachapa con Queso ($3.25), and White Corn Arepa with braised Beef ($4.25).
I was not impressed with the Cachapa con Queso and would not recommend ordering it. The dish does not do well when not served immediately after the cheese is melted. The ceviche is a nice dish but your experience will depend on how much seafood you will get versus the mango. It is difficult to balance such dish in an outdoor kitchen and little time to make sure the serving has a bit of every ingredient. At this kiosk my favorite dish was the White Corn Arepa with braised beef. It is a great combination of flavors – I just wished there would have been a little more beef inside the arepa.
I liked the Pulled Duck confit with garlic and parsley potatoes ($5.50) at Fleur de Lys and pretty much everything on the menu at Taste of Marrakesh. My companions however had mixed experiences at both booths. The majority of all complaints were about dishes that had been sitting too long under the heating lamps. I recommend asking for a freshly made portion if you see that there are too many dishes sitting under the lamps. It is only fair to say that feeding more eclectic dishes to the masses is a very hard job for any kitchen.
Consensus was reached about The Pulled Pig Slider at The Smokehouse ($6.00) and the smoked Debreziner Sausage ($4.25). Both were delicious especially when washed down with a beer flight ($10.50). As for the desert – that was a different story. While I agree that most everything is better with bacon, the “Piggylicious” Bacon cupcake ($4.00) is not my kind of cake but it seemed to be a big hit with many guests.
For a quick bite I recommend the Fior di Latte, Prosciutto e Pane di Casa ($5.75) served at Primavera Kitchen.
My absolute favorite dish however was the Shrimps and Stone Ground Grits with Andouille Sausage, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Cilantro ($6.00) at the Florida Fresh outdoor kitchen. Equally wonderful is the adjacent seating area.
If you are on a Disney Dining plan look for the DDP icon on menus of the Outdoor Kitchens. Quite a few items can be purchased using snack credits.
For a full look at the menus, make sure to visit this page. In addition, if you’d like to see additional reviews of some of the Outdoor Kitchen offerings, please visit this post.
Kids will be most happy at “Cactus Road Rally” located on the walkway near Test Track as the play area features the heroes of the movie, Cars. Another great place for children is Mike and Sulley’s “Monstrous Garden” near Pineapple Promenade. For parents the later garden is perfect as it offers lots of seating in the shade.
For $64 plus tax you can sign up for a 3-hour Gardens of the World Tour, led by a Disney Horticulturist. The tour is available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and starts at 9 a.m. To make a reservation call 507-WDW-TOUR. Admission to Epcot is additional.
A free 20-minute English Tea Garden tour is also available at select times at the United Kingdom pavilion. Reserve your spot in advance at The Tea Caddy located at the United Kingdom Pavilion. The tour ends with a free tasting of several cold brew teas and guests get to take home complimentary tea packets. Space is limited so sign up early in the day!
Epcot is a great park throughout the year. I love World Showcase at Christmas time and the Food and Wine Festival has its appeal but the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival is my all-time favorite. It is an amazing show for those with or without a green thumb and in my opinion the best time to visit Epcot.
Every year I stand at the same spot waiting for the monorail to pass over the floating gardens with the epic Epcot ball in the background. It is my favorite view of the park and I often visit without even going on any ride. If you are looking to decompress and relax Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival is just what the doctor prescribed – go and smell the flowers.
Did you visit yet? What did you think of the 2015 edition of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival? We would love to hear from you.
Liliane Opsomer is the coauthor of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids and a freelance writer.
She is passionate about travel, Disney, fairies, hobbits and all things magical. Some of her favorite destinations are Orlando, Anaheim, Middle Earth, Belgium, Sydney, Dresden, Patagonia and Hawaii. Liliane lives in Birmingham, Alabama and visits the parks several times a year.