With the cold weather monotonously raging on here in the northeast, it’s almost impossible to imagine spring being right around the corner. (15 days and counting!) And while my iPhone weather app is telling me it’s a balmy 30º outside my window, temperatures appear to be averaging mid-70s this week in WDW. It’s a quirky habit I have – every morning before leaving bed I check our weather, and then I torture myself with checking the weather at Walt Disney World. *Sigh.
So with my landscape still appearing gray and white, I will vicariously enjoy spring with today’s opening of the 21st Annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Flower & Garden Fez means Epcot is brimming with colorful additions until the festival wraps up on May 18th. And the best part? When you go to Epcot you get to participate in all the festival fun at no additional cost. (There are a couple of exceptions – special garden tours are available at an additional ticket price.)
Topiary and Garden Displays: This is by far one of my favorite parts of the festival. Epcot’s landscapes and gardens are always lush and beautiful, but they really take them to another level for the festival. Gardens are suddenly charged with extra color and intricate patterns of plants. The topiary sculptures are simply amazing. Some of them take almost a full year to come to life. Some topiary displays, such as the Panda topiary display in China, bring some of the International traditions of the World Showcase to life. But most of them display favorite Disney Characters. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Whinnie the Pooh & Friends, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Bambi, Mike & Sully, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast are among a few of them. Kermit and Miss Piggy are joining the fun this year as well. There are over 100 topiary displays in all, and many of them are illuminated gardens that take on a new life after dark.
HGTV and DIY Network Stars Presentations: Impressive personalities such as Vern Yip, John Gidding, Genevieve Gorder, and David Bromstad are making appearances to give presentations on how you can improve your home and gardens.
Flower Power Concert Series: On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 5:30, 6:45, and 8:00 PM you can head to the American Gardens Theater for a little musical entertainment. Rotating musical guests such as The Guess Who and STARSHIP starring Mickey Thomas, will be appearing for 30 minute concerts.
Kid Sized Fun: Tinker Bell’s Butterfly House with delight kids with the many butterflies flitting around. Kids will also find special play areas and gardens just for them.
Festival Center: The Festival Center is host to food, special merchandise for the festival, and learning experiences. Here is where you’ll find the HGTV star presentations as well as other seminars and exhibits.
Special Happenings: While the Flower and Garden Festival is open daily from March 5 – May18, there are a few special events that are scheduled within that bracket:
- Art in the Garden Weekend – March 28-30
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Specialists – April 4-5
- Florida Fresh Weekend – April 25-27
- Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc – May 9-11
Outdoor Kitchens: Ah, my other festival favorite. This is the second year Flower and Garden Festival will be offering Outdoor Kitchen’s with small plate offerings that focus of fresh food and spring flavors. Taking a nod from the Food & Wine Festival in the fall, you can taste your way through the festival sampling spring through the eyes of cultures of the world. All of the menu items are available for purchase à la carte.
- Florida Fresh – Focusing on tasty offerings from the Sunshine State. You’ll find a watermelon salad, shrimp and grits, and a Florida Kumquat pie to tempt your taste buds. A plentiful offering Florida beer, wine, and juices can also be found.
- Hanami – Located in Japan this outdoor kitchen honors spring with sushi, fruishi (fruit sushi), puffed rice cakes, Kirin draft beer, and two fruit slushis – Pineapple Paradise with Yuzu and Orange Mango.
- Jardin De Fiestas – Located at the Mexican Pavilion in the World Showcase this outdoor kitchen has tapas to try. To eat you can try pork tacos with grilled pineapple, onions, and cilantro, a mushroom and cheese quesadilla, or Mexican chocolate custard. Beer, white sangria, raspberry margaritas, and tequila flights are available to sip.
- Fleur de Lys – Decadent french cuisine includes Parisian-style dumplings with vegetables and mushrooms, pulled duck confit with garlic and parsley potatoes, and an orange blossom macaroon with white chocolate ganache. Beverages include La Vie en Rose slush – Vodka, Grey Goose Orange, St. Germain Liquor, and cranberry juice, Kir Imperial – Sparkling wine, Chamboard and black raspberry liquor, Rosé pamplemousse cocktail – Rosé wine mixed with natural grapefruit syrup, and Kronenbourg Blanc 1664 – a white beer.
- Lotus House – This China Pavilion kitchen features Beijing-style candied strawberries, spring pancakes with grilled chicken and green apple, and vegetable spring rolls. Quench your thirst here with popping bubble tea, Kung Fu Punch – Vodka and triple sec with mango and orange juice, South Sea Storm – Guava juice with light and dark rum, Plum wine, Beer and Lychee aerated water.
- Pineapple Promenade – Pineapple Dole Whip fans will be delighted to see the return of this outdoor kitchen which offers pineapple soft serve. Try the soft serve on its own, or try it infused with Myer’s dark rum or Parrot Bay coconut rum. You can also have it served on a sweet potato cinnamon waffle. Is your mouth watering as much as mine right now?!? Frozen desert violet lemonade, Tropical Mango Ale, St. John Brewers, and Once Upon a Vine’s The Lost Slipper Sauvignon Blanc are also available.
- Primavera Kitchen – Italy’s offerings of spring include Caprese, three cheese manicotti, and a torta di ricotta – lemon cheesecakes with limoncello-marinated strawberries. Wines, white beach bellini, strawberry rossini, beer and a frozen Italian primavera – assorted fruit slushy with limoncello and vodka will also tempt you.
- Taste of Marrakesh – Mint iced tea, white sangria and Moroccon beers and wines all make great pairings with this outdoor kitchens small plates that include lamb brewat, harissa chicken kebab, and baghrir – Moroccan pancake with honey, almonds, and argan oil.
- Urban Farm Eats – New this year this menu is all-natural. Eats include a pickled beet salad with goat cheese cream, mizuna, and pistachios, Land-grown eggplant “scallop” with romesco sauce and spaghetti squash, and a ghost pepper-dusted tilapia with crisp winter melon slaw and mint oil. Beverages include Cucumber lemon spa water, The Vegan Vine Chardonnay, The Vegan Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, and Redbridge Gluten-Free Sorghum Beer.
- The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews – This is the place I would lose my husband and brother. Probably my dad too, come to think of it. BBQ includes a pulled pig slider, smoked beef brisket, smoked turkey “rib,” and “Piggylicious” a bacon cupcake with maple frosting and pretzel crunch. Beers include Magic Hat #9, Magic Hat Brewing, Maduro, Cigar City Brewing, Fat Tire, New Belgium Brewing Company, Billy’s Chilies, and Twisted Pine Brewing Company. If you can’t decide – don’t worry, you can try them all with a flight. And if you prefer grapes to hops, try The Original Shack Red Wine.
- The Buttercup Cottage – Grab a taste of England with this menu that features a baked potato and cheddar biscuit with smoke salmon tartare, a pork and apple sausage roll, or a freshly baked lemon scones with berry preserves and crème fraÎche. If you want something lighter try field greens with Plant City strawberries, toasted almonds, and Farmstead stilton. Beverage offerings include chilled rose blush lemonade, Twinings cold brewed English Classic with lemon grass syrup, or the Berry tea cocktail – Twinings Cold Brewed Mixed Berry Tea with Florida Cane vodka and Plant City strawberry flavored with raspberry and açaí syrup. Wine drinkers may enjoy the Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee or the Deloach Pinot Noir.
- Intermissions Cafe – Located in the Festival Center, this spot offers beers, wines and flavorful bites. Fruit and cheese plates, wraps, and Caprese Push-Pops are among the menu items.
Clearly the Flower and Garden Festival offers so much to see, do, learn, experience, and taste. You can do as much or as little as you like. If you’re really into it, make sure to pick up a festival guide so you don’t miss anything and give yourself some extra time at Epcot – you’ll need it!