Six years ago Epcot added a handful of food kiosks to its annual International Flower & Garden Festival, and the reception was…well…somewhat ‘meh’. Guests weren’t quite sure what to think, and lines to purchase food and drink samples were nearly non-existent. Within two years the lines were longer, but primarily for the interesting alcoholic beverages on offer. By 2016 lines were growing, and, as we walk through the park this year, we have to remind ourselves it’s March, not October, and this isn’t the Food & Wine Festival.
And that’s a good thing. With burgeoning interest comes burgeoning creativity, and the 2017 festival has some fab new offerings for visitors to enjoy.
Two new Outdoor Kitchens have been added to the festival, bringing the total to 15, and guests can enjoy them for a record 90 days (March 1-May 29). We sampled several small plates and a variety of beverages, including two dishes from new kiosks Northern Bloom and The Berry Basket.
From Northern Bloomwe sampled:
- Seared scallops with green beans, butter potatoes, brown butter vinaigrette and apple wood smoked bacon. The scallops were big, rich and hearty, and nicely complemented by the crisp vegetables. And we highly recommend sampling the Maple popcorn shake with Crown Royal Maple Whiskey (non-alcoholic version available), or a beer flight.
From The Berry Basket we tried:
- Everything Berry, a big dessert hit, with delightful flavour from the pepper berry ice cream and a good bite to the wild berry buckle that set everything off perfectly. A delicate lamb chop with quinoa salad and blueberry gastrique is also offered here.
Other samplings we enjoyed were:
- The Smokehouse Beef brisket with burnt-ends hash and white cheddar fondue had a superb depth of flavour, oodles of rich, smokiness and was succulent to the bite, enriched by the creamy fondue.
- Urban Farm Eats Crabless Cake. Unfortunately, there was not a lot to report flavour-wise with the cake on its own, but the Old Boy remoulade was tangy and inviting, and the cake was nicely offset by the tangy onion slaw.
- La Isla Fresca Sugar Cane Shrimp Skewer, a must-try for shrimp fans, with big, meaty shrimp and a nicely-balanced coconut lime sauce that adds a rich, decadent overlay.
- Florida Fresh Carne Asada – full of freshness and bursting with flavour, with succulent, tender beef and a spectacular lightly-spiced black bean cake. We also tried their beautifully creamy Key Lime Tart.
With 24 years under its belt, the Flower & Garden Festival regularly comes up with new topiaries to keep things interesting, and this year was no exception. Figment, the little purple dragon long-time Disney fans love from the Journey Into Imagination with Figment attraction (and its previous incarnations) made his debut, with pride of place directly behind Spaceship Earth. Phineas and Ferb hang out near the bridge leading to the Odyssey pavilion, The Three Caballeros at the Mexican Pavilion and Belle from Beauty and the Beast has found a home at the France Pavilion. Cruz from Disney Pixar’s Cars 3 is also new.
We chatted with Eric Darden, Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Horticulture Manager, who told us: “The thing about Epcot is that it is always pretty, so to have enough to tell guests, ‘Hey come and look at our horticulture,’ you have to add a lot of stuff. I especially like the Shakespeare Garden that highlights his works. It is easy to point out the new topiaries, but the really cool thing to see is how many flowers there are. We have squeezed them in to a lot more areas this year. You can’t look anywhere without seeing colour. We even tear out huge amounts of turf to put in the flowers.”
We also talked to Carla Shuman, Senior Landscape Architect, who said, “We are already planning for next year, which is the 25th anniversary. We tend to look at things and say ‘What needs to be changed? What are we tired of?’ If we see something for two or three years, we want to change up the look, or the message or the location. Last year we brought in more small-garden messages and pocket-garden ideas so guests could take them home. You don’t have to be Disney to do a container or a herb or spice garden, or grow healing plants, and we want to encourage that.”
Carla also mentioned the festival’s extended schedule and our unseasonably warm weather this year. “It is still technically winter when Flower & Garden opens, and we could still have frost, so we have to change to our warm season plants during the festival. Our weather has helped because it has been so warm and the plants are coming in full. We are using new varieties of gaillardia or blanket flowers for some of the bedding plants, especially in our pollinator and wildlife-friendly gardens, as we found out those are really attracting a lot of butterflies and bees, the important pollinators.”
On the heels of this year’s International Festival of the Arts’ popular photo ops, where guests literally inserted themselves into famous paintings for a special Photopass photograph, Flower & Garden allows guests to step into topiary settings, including the Fresh Epcot vignette in Future World, just before Showcase Plaza.
Guests will also find “interactive photos” in that area (just outside the back door to Club Cool), but we won’t spoil the surprise for you. Suffice to say, you pose for the Photopass photographer and when you receive your photo there’s a surprise waiting. Dying for a hint? This one relates to a Flower & Garden element you’ll find nearby.
This is also the first year Captain Ron the Environmental Sniffer Dog, an adorable “Pocket Beagle”, will be on hand from March 31-April 2 to showcase his talent for sniffing out sea turtle nests so they can be protected.
And finally, because live music should span more than just the weekend, the Garden Rocks concert featuring headliner acts will add Monday to their schedule. Concerts are free with park admission, and if you visit when Dennis DeYoung (STYX), The Gin Blossoms, or The Orchestra (ELO) are playing, wave at Simon. He’ll be there every time!
If you have questions about Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival – or anything else about the wonders of Florida – be sure to join Susan and Simon on the ATD forums, on this link: https://www.attractiontickets.com/forum/forum.php.
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