Five Big Wins and One Big Loss at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

Walt Disney World Tickets , Epcot , Orlando , Seasonal Events
Five Big Wins and One Big Loss at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival
By ATD’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
It’s springtime in Orlando, and that means four things: flowers, gardens, music and plenty of tasty treats. The annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is celebrating its 25th year with lots of new experiences and new foods to try, but with a few things missing.

There was a time when Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival was the only thing going when it came to “outdoor kitchens” set up around World Showcase. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens got in on the action over the years, and the Flower & Garden Festival joined the feeding frenzy in 2012. The competition it faces from its sister festival and the other parks has been a good thing, and the increased creativity in the menus it offers is noticeable this year.


Beer at Flower and Garden - Veness


Although the main reason for the festival is to highlight the gardening magic Disney’s horticultural team pulls off on a daily basis, and indeed, the grounds are at their most stunning this time of year, the food and drink sampling concept borrowed from the ever-popular Food & Wine Festival has become a big deal, too. When it debuted in 2012, it looked as if you couldn’t pay people to queue up at the outdoor kitchens. Now, waits at many kiosks can top 10 minutes. And with good reason.

There is only one new kitchen this year, but it’s already proving to be popular. The Honey Bee-stro featured three of their offerings at our Media Tasting, and they were dripping with flavour (Get it? Honey? Dripping? Yeah…it’s a stretch). The Roasted Cauliflower with buckwheat honey carrot purée, wild rice pilaf, asparagus, honey-blistered grapes and sunflower brittle was a big hit for its taste, and for being a wonderfully creative vegetarian choice, while the Honey Tandoori Chicken Flatbread drizzled with clover honey sour cream was interesting and fairly filling. But the big stand-out here was the Honey-Peach Cobbler Freeze, with (or without) Blueberry Vodka, a delectable dessert-like drink with just the right amount of sweet.


Tandoori Flat Bread


Bauernmarkt: Farmer’s Market featured its Toasted Pretzel Bread topped with Black Forest ham and melted Gruyére, a salty delight loaded with savoury intensity; The Berry Basket dished up an excellent Field Greens salad with strawberries, crunchy quinoa and spiced pecans dressed in strawberry vinaigrette; and The Smokehouse: Barbeque and Brews created a towering Beef Brisket Burnt Ends and Smoked Pork Belly Slider with garlic sausage, chorizo, cheddar fondue and crisp house-made pickle, a sandwich so  full it was prone to deconstructing itself, making it an indulgent finger-food (or, get a fork and avoid looking like a barbarian).


Food at Epcot Flower and Garden Festival


But the highlight of the offerings we tried—deemed “absolutely delicious” by us and most of the media around us—was the Florida Fresh kitchen’s Carne Guisada with Black Bean Cake and cilantro-lime sour cream. Slightly spicy, entirely more-ish, it was the one dish for which Simon couldn’t resist going back for seconds. Their Spicy Blackened Shrimp and Cheddar Cheese Grits with brown gravy and local sweet corn relish was also a big hit (proving grits aren’t as scary as you think they are, so just try it!), but the Carne Guisada is definitely the stand-out winner.


Carne Guisada Epcot Flower and Garden


And for dessert, La Isla Fresca’s Tropical Mousse Cake redolent of Passion Fruit, coconut, and fresh pineapple was a superb choice, as was the surprisingly light and summery (but with a mind-numbingly long title) Golden Road Brewing Tart Mango Cart Wheat Ale.


La Isal Fresca Epcot


Several drink samples made their way to our table, including a fruity Ayinger Bräu Weisse Hefeweizen, super-sweet Island Grove Blueberry Moscato wine, and Frozen Lemonade with Blackberry Moonshine cocktail, deemed “Kool-Aid for adults”. But the best of the offerings as far as we were concerned were the aforementioned Honey-Peach Cobbler Freeze and Northern Bloom kitchen’s ridiculously enjoyable Maple Popcorn Shake with Crown Royal Maple Whiskey. Yes, we said “popcorn shake” and yes, this ice-creamy heaven in a glass was sprinkled with caramel-coated popcorn, for a chewy little “pop” as the drink went down. We were so busy drinking it we forgot to take a picture of it, so enjoy this rather colourful photo of the Moscato.


Moscato Epcot Flower and Garden


There are eight additional kitchens around World Showcase, featuring 39 more food items and 63 more drinks, making Epcot worth at least three lunches or dinners during your holiday. Avoid weekends if you prefer not to be shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of other festival-goers, or visit on weekends if the full-on party atmosphere appeals to you.

With all that eating, though, let’s not forget the floral designs and magnificent topiaries that give the Flower & Garden Festival its name. While there are no new topiaries this year, and the lovely Cinderella and Prince Charming topiaries were nowhere to be seen, favourites including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Anna and Elsa, Lady and the Tramp, and The Three Caballeros have returned.


Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Two new Gardens have joined the line-up, though, with The How-to Garden, which highlights cute ways to incorporate crafts and sustainability into your home garden, and the Imagination Play Garden, with nature themed climbing and sliding features, and family-friendly games made from all-natural materials. The Goodness Garden Butterfly House has returned, naturally (!), and makes a good start to your walk along the “garden path” linking Future World with World Showcase.

A new paid-for scavenger hunt, Spike’s Pollen Nation Exploration, also debuted this year, but if you’re not ready to shell out your cash for this, Spike is cute enough to warrant a photo or two when you spot him as you’re walking around World Showcase.


Flower and Garden Festival


Special Tea Garden tours have also returned, but the big item missing from this year’s agenda are the gardening seminars that used to take place in the Festival Center (the former Wonders of Life pavilion), which has closed to make way for a “magical new experience.” That also means there is no centralised merchandise centre, but festival-themed items can still be found at kiosks scattered around the park.


Flower and Garden festival


And, of course, the popular Garden Rocks Concert Series lives on, and it’s stronger than ever, with new bands, including Foghat, Survivor, Smash Mouth, Rick Springfield, Jo Dee Messina, Lonestar and Don Felder, formerly of the Eagles. Fan favourites Starship, The Orchestra, Herman’s Hermits and The Guess Who, among others, will also rock the American Gardens Theater, Fridays through Mondays at 5:30pm, 6:45pm and 8pm.

Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival runs from February 28 through May 28, just in time for the Food & Wine festivities to begin, and the experience (minus the food, drinks, scavenger hunt and merchandise) is free with your park admission.

Join us on Attraction Tickets Direct’s discussion forums for all things Flower & Garden! 

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Walt Disney World Tickets , Epcot , Orlando , Seasonal Events