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Saturday, April 11, 2020

review of the 2020 epcot flower & garden festival

Wouldn't we all die to be in Epcot right now, soaking up some vitamin D and admiring all the lush greenery in bloom for the International Flower & Garden Festival?

Social distancing is really taking a toll on me right now.  There are a lot of day-to-day things I miss: sitting down at Starbucks with my friends, going to see a movie in theatres, having dinner with my family at our favorite restaurant.  But more than anything, I really miss the Parks-- and not just visiting them.  I miss knowing that no matter what I'm doing up here in NJ, Mickey is still in Town Square Theatre and guests from around the world are experiencing the magic, some for the very first time.  It feels so odd knowing that Main Street USA is empty right now, and I'm sure most of you feel the same.

While we try to cope with the lack of normalcy in our daily routine, I wanted to talk about something that gave me joy while the Parks were still open and I was still living my fairy best life: the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival.

When I built my bucket list for Spring Advantage 2020, the first thing that came to mind was the fact that I'd be able to visit the Flower & Garden Festival.  During my Fall 16 Program, visiting Food & Wine was my favorite thing to do.  Epcot hits different during a festival-- beautiful topiaries, booths full of inspired new dishes and cult favorites alike, exciting limited-time offerings led by field experts.  There are performances from music stars to enjoy for free and, frankly, the merchandise gets cuter and cuter every year.  How could you not love Festival season in Epcot?

While I was admittedly less than enchanted by the International Festival of Arts, Flower & Garden lived up to my expectations in the short time I spent exploring it.  While there was more I was hoping to accomplish over the course of the Festival's season during my DCP, I was able to accomplish most of what I wanted to do in about two long visits to Epcot.  I don't microplan my days when I'm on my Program, but if you're like me and plan every minute of your vacations, I'm sure you could see everything you'd want to do at this Festival in one well-planned day from Rope Drop to Fireworks.

We'll start with the main attraction here at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival: the flowers, naturally!  During this special time at Walt Disney World Resort, you'll see Epcot like you've never seen it before.  The Park transforms into a vibrant, lush garden of topiaries and flower beds.  Disney's horticulturalist team outdoes themselves every year, sculpting larger-than-life topiaries of your favorite Disney characters.  My heart melts every time I see a new sculpture.  Here are some of my favorites from this year, including my all-time favorite: Miss Piggy!

Oh, and when you walk past that vibrant flower bed on your way to the World Showcase, you'll want to take your time-- you can definitely smell all those flowers on your walk :)

Like all of the Epcot Festivals, you'll find your fair share of Festival exclusive experiences at F&G this year.  The Garden Rocks concert series is without a doubt a must-do for Festivalgoers.  Disney always has the greatest lineup of musical acts for this concert series at the American Gardens Theatre!  These concerts are included in the cost of your Epcot Park admission, so if you're planning a F&G trip, it might be worth checking out which artists will be performing during the week of your trip.  Disney had some pretty good names lined up this year-- The Guess Who, The Pointer Sisters, the Plain White Ts, Daughtry, and more were announced for the 2020 Festival this year.  Personally, I was really looking forward to seeing Simple Plan, who were scheduled to perform March 13-16, but were pulled due to COVID-19 concerns.  Sadness.  I did not get to personally sit in on any of these concerts, but I have gone to the similar "Eat to the Beat" series for Food & Wine Festival and it's a fun memory I have, especially since I knew the music acts.  A free concert in the middle of Epcot, which is almost never lucratively crowded, to a band you casually listen to-- what could make your day better?

If there's a performance you must see, Disney offers a "Garden Rocks Dining Package" that guaranteed seating to a performance alongside breakfast, lunch, or dinner at your favorite Epcot restaurant.  It's not a bad idea if you don't mind missing out on a few outdoor kitchen dishes.  I'll link more information here.

There are a few Festival exclusive tours offered this year as well-- for $85, you can experience the "Gardens of the World Tour."  If you love the topiaries and greenery at F&G (who doesn't?!?), this World Showcase walking tour lead by a Disney horticulturalist will give you an inside look at how the flowers are maintained behind the scenes, and you'll take home some Disney landscaping tips as well.  If you're a tea-lover, there is a complimentary 20-minute tour of the UK pavilion's Tea Garden topiary display waiting for you.  Registration is first-come, first-serve every day at the Tea Caddy Gift Shop.

If I were to do any Festival-exclusive tour on a F&G vacation, I would likely do the Royal Tea Garden Tour.  For just $20, you'll be given a guided tour of the Tea Garden in the UK Pavilion, which ends with a stop at the Tea Caddy for some tea & scones.  The experience takes place at 9:30 in the morning, which is before the World Showcase opens the guests, giving you some prime time to snap some photos and check a pavilion off of your list for the day.

During my time at F&G, I did get to experience one complimentary Festival offering: the Goodness Garden Butterfly House.

I think the Goodness Garden Butterfly House is maybe the best free experience at any of the Epcot Festivals.  In this tent, you'll find dozens of different kinds of flowers and hundreds of beautiful butterflies.  Oh, to be a butterfly living in a tent in Epcot.

I love butterflies.  They are such a simple joy in life, and they take on so many profound meanings for so many of us.  They're gentle and colorful, a daily reminder of how truly beautiful this world is.  I really don't think there is anything more precious than a tent full of butterflies, so the Goodness Garden Butterfly House is a win in my book.  For the children, there is tons of signage in the Butterfly House full of useful information on Butterflies.  For all of you parents pulling your kids out of grade school for an "educational trip," this is a must-stop.

Festival mascot & Donald Duck antagonizer Spike the Bee makes an appearance here, too.

Shout out to Heather, my friend from home who taught me how to get a butterfly to land on my finger.

Like all Festivals, F&G plays host to a series of Outdoor Kitchens.  These booths enhance each festival by serving small dishes, often with recommended alcohol pairings, that compliment the overarching Festival theme.  You can find them all around the World Showcase.  For F&G, these Outdoor Kitchens focus on locally-sourced garden produce.  Lots of veggies, lots of fruits here.  As usual, Disney Food Blog is an amazing resource for booth offering menus and food pics.

I had a few dishes at the F&G.  I wasn't particularly fond of the savory dishes I had, namely the Quesadilla al Pastor ($7.00) from Jardin di Fiestas and the Bon Bon Chicken Skewer with Sesame & Peanut Sauce ($6.50) from Lotus House.  They were both fine, but I wouldn't go out of my way to order either of them again.  By contrast, my two favorite Food & Wine Festival dishes were from the same booths-- the Tacos de Camarones and Pork Bao Bun-- and I genuinely cried when I had them on my last day of the 2016 Festival.  I know Disney is capable of making really delicious Outdoor Kitchen items, but the F&G ones seem to be a miss.

The one dish I really enjoyed at the festival, which I know is contested by many, was the Frushi ($6.00) from the Hanami booth.

This is a cult classic at the Flower & Garden Festival, a returning champion that many Dinstafluencers have posted about over the years.  And what a beautiful dish it is!  Pink soy wrappers hold together sweet rice and a stunningly vibrant array of pineapples, melon, and strawberries.  For added sweetness, the dish is garnished with a dollop of whipped cream, strawberry sauce, and toasted coconut flakes.  I loved this dish!  It is not overwhelmingly sweet, with a satisfying texture profile between the fruit, rice, and soy wrapper.  The whipped cream is a nice touch.  The next time I return to F&G, I will absolutely re-order this.

In the way of drinks, I had two alcoholic beverages from the outdoor kitchens.  The first was the Rosita Margarita ($12.75) from the Jardin di Fiestas booth.  It's a pretty concoction made up of rose petal liqueur, agave tequila, lemon, and cranberry juice with rose petal salt ring.

This was probably the strongest drink I've ever had in Epcot, and I've had my fair share of alcohol in the World Showcase.  As always, the Mexico pavilion gives you a heavy pour of tequila, and the rose petal liqueur is interesting to say the least.  While the Rosita Margarita was not my favorite drink of all time, it was something different and refreshing nonetheless.  Those of you who love the floral taste profile will enjoy it more than I did.

My absolute favorite drink of the Festival-- which I ordered twice and didn't photograph once-- was the Frozen Italian Margarita ($10.00) from the Primavera Kitchen.  It was a slushy made of limoncello, tequila, and everything good about the world.  On a warm night in the World Showcase, there is no better drink to enjoy while watching the sun set over Spaceship Earth.

No Festival would be complete without Festival-exclusive merchandise.  At F&G, "merchandise" meets "outdoor kitchens" with two collectible sippers this year.  I bought both over the course of my two visits.

The Orange Cream Shake in a Souvenir Orange Bird Sipper Cup ($15.00) is a returning champion at The Citrus Blossom booth.  Mr. Popular over here sold out pretty frequently last year.  While we haven't seen any stocking issues with him this year, the line for The Citrus Blossom can still get quite long, so plan accordingly.  As for the Orange Cream Shake served inside-- It was a typical, orangey-dreamsicle flavored frozen drink.  It's not bad, but the Outdoor Kitchens had a lot of problems with the frozen drink machines this year, so the consistency of the drink is spotty.  Whatever, he's still my favorite little bird.

Just across the way at The Honey Bee-stro Hosted by National Honey Board is a newcomer for the 2020 F&G season, Honey-Peach Freeze in a Souvenir Spike the Bee Sipper Cup ($15.00).  Spike is such a cutie!  The Spike the Bee motif is refreshing and welcome this season, a playful nod to an old Donald Duck cartoon.  He also appears on the current Season-Exclusive Passholder Magnet with Donald.  I love a tactfully-done nod to an older, more obscure Disney character, and Spike is perfect for a Festival all about gardens.

Admittedly, the Honey-Peach Freeze drink is not good.  The honey taste is really strong and really artificial, creating a really strange flavor profile with the peach.  If you already have the Orange Bird sipper, this is only worth ordering to add another sipper to your collection. 

The other merchandise for this Festival is très chic as always, featuring all your favorites-- namely Minnie Mouse, Spike the Bee, and the Little Orange Bird.  The Minnie sketch theme here is whimsical and feminine, some perfect additions to your wardrobe and home to remind you of brighter days during this quarantine.  The great news is that right now, you can get all of the fabulous Flower & Garden merchandise online through Shop Disney!  Before my Program ended, I got my hands on this absolutely stunning "World in Bloom" Minnie Mouse Spirit Jersey.  I'm wearing it right now!  The soft pastel tie-dye and Minnie's teal dress and pink sun hat make this one of my favorite Spirit Jerseys of all time (though I'm still partial to my sparkly Mickey pumpkin Jersey from August).  Other favorites of mine include a similar tie-dye windbreaker and this beehive mug.  I'll link the entire collection here so you can pick and choose your favorites yourself.

We've come to the end of today's stroll in the garden.  In summary: I love the Flower & Garden Festival!  While the Food & Wine Festival has better outdoor kitchens, and perhaps more experiences in general, the topiaries turn Epcot into a brand new Park.  While there are a lot of things I miss about Disney right now, my heart breaks a little more thinking about all the butterflies I could be visiting and Italian margaritas I could be drinking.

Did you stop and smell the roses at this year's Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival?  Let me know in the comments below what your favorite topiary was!


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