Thursday, March 26, 2015

Exploring the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival

EPCOT, monorail, DisneyWorld, Disney
The decorative berm on the slope surrounding the waterway is covered with 76,000 individual plants for the festival.
225 garden islands of colorful impatiens float in the waterway.

How excited was I about the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival? To infinity and beyond. Beyond excited. I've always wanted to attend, and coincidentally, our Spring Break visit was during its multi-week run that ends May 17. Sure, Disney does a fantastic job of keeping its parks pretty throughout the year, but they really step it up a few notches at EPCOT during the festival with the addition of over 200,000 new plants. Flowered berms replace grassy hillsides and large topiaries stand proudly in flower beds. As an extra perk, additional food booths pop up around the World Showcase, and a few playgrounds are added in Future World. 

EPCOT, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, American Gothic
Disney puts a Mickey spin on American Gothic.

How do they do it?

Months before the festival, Disney Imagineers start planning the topiaries by creating small clay models to help them visualize how it will look from all angles.

Buzz Lightyear, topiary, DisneyWorld
Can you believe I got a photo of a bug buzzing by Buzz Lightyear?

Next, they fabricate an internal cage framework for the figure with a watering mechanism hidden inside it.

topiary, Lightning McQueen, DisneyWorld, Disney
Ka-chow! Take a look at this Lightning McQueen at the Cactus Road Rally.

A netting "skin" is stretched over the framework, and gardeners insert spaghum moss into the frame to act as a base for the plants. Then, they plug and pin small plants to the frame.

topiary, Tow Mater, DisneyWorld
Lots of kids wanted their photos taken by Mater.

They use plants with different colors and textures. Gardeners also use natural elements like dried moss, palm fibers and seeds to create the faces and embellishments.

Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mickey Mouse, broomsticks, topiary, DisneyWorld
The Sorcerer's Apprentice and his enchanted broomsticks

There's no magic to getting these topiaries to look beautiful; just a lot of hard work. Gardeners must use sharp shears and pins to keep the topiary in the right shape. After 400 Disney cast members work to install everything, the task of maintaining it all falls to 100 EPCOT horticulturists.

Gardener's Palette, DisneyWorld
Gardener's Palatte demonstrates color theory with blooming plants.

Attend a demonstration or seminar

From Friday to Saturday, 10AM to 5PM, gardening demonstrations and seminars are conducted at the Festival Center that cover everything from how to create gorgeous potted plants to attracting butterflies to your yard. Local topiary and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) societies have booths in the center, and there's a film showing a behind-the-scenes look at how they erected the giant topiaries at the EPCOT entrance overnight.

The Festival Center is located in the old Wonders of Life pavilion, former home of Star Tours knock-off, Body Wars. I was fascinated that they had not updated the bathrooms and that, unlike the rest of the parks, nothing was automatic in there. Not so futuristic after all.

Mike, Sulley, Monsters U, topiary, DisneyWorld
Wave Hi to Mike and Sulley from Monsters U.

Monsters U, playground, DisneyWorld
At the end of the day, the kids still had energy to climb on the playset.

Fun for the Kids

Temporary playgrounds are located in Future World. The one by the Cars topiaries is for younger kids while this one by the Monsters U display captivated even my 12-year-old.

Make sure you stop by the Butterflies on the Go tent to see butterflies emerge from their chrysalis and flit their way across the blooms.

Dole Whip, Pineapple Promenade
Dole Pineapple Whip, now with rum

Best. Dole Whip. Ever.

One of my favorite Disney treats is Dole Whip, a frozen, pineapple soft-serve dessert. From what I can tell, I am not alone with this obsession. I was a little bummed that we weren't visiting the Magic Kingdom which is the only park that sells it. I was prepared to make the trek to the Polynesian Resort which has a Dole Whip machine in their Captain Cook's quick service restaurant. Imagine my delight when I noticed that the Pineapple Promenade outdoor kitchen at EPCOT, not only offered Dole Whip, they sold it with spiced rum. You can bet that I made sure we stopped there! I almost had my Dole Whip with a Sammy's Beach Bar Red Head Macadamia Nut flavored rum floater but ended up going with the Parrot Bay Coconut Rum. Sorry kids. This Dole Whip is not for you. Regular, non-alcoholic Dole Whip is also available.

Frozen, Elsa, topiary, DisneyWorld
Elsa, of course

Tasty Small Dish Bites and Beverages

Fourteen Outdoor Kitchen booths are sprinkled throughout the World Showcase and the Showcase Plaza. They feature small plates of garden fresh cuisine ranging in price from $4-$6 and creative beverages, both with and without alcohol. If only my stomach and wallet were big enough to try them all. Guests with the Disney Dining Plan can use a Snack Credit to purchase dishes such as Seafood Ceviche from Botanas Botanico or Beijing-style Candied Strawberries from Lotus House. Gluten-free and vegetarian dishes are available, too.

Winnie the Pooh, topiary, DisneyWorld
Adorably cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh

Collect Passport Stamps

Another fun activity for kids is getting a Festival Passport and collecting stamps at all the special gardens and kitchens. It's a good way to keep track of what there is to do around the park. This was less fun once I realized that my girl was willing to stand in line just to get a stamp behind people waiting to purchase food. The rest of us were not as interested, so the passport is sadly (for her) incomplete.

topiary, DisneyWorld
Captain Hook, the Crocodile, Miss Piggy, and Lady & the Tramp

Rock out to Music

Every weekend the Garden Rocks Concert Series fills the space in front of The American Adventure with music at 5:30PM, 6:45PM, and 8PM. Too bad we're not going to be there to see the Village People perform "Y.M.C.A." live on April 10-12.

Cinderella, topiary, DisneyWorld
Cinderella and Prince Charming

How to Squeeze in the Fun

Have I mentioned that my hubby is a master strategist when planning out our days at Disney Parks? As per our customary tradition, we arrive before the park opens to make sure that we're near the front for rope drop. Many years ago, we were once the first people through the castle at Disneyland. According to the schedule he made up for this month's visit to EPCOT, we would arrive at Sum of All Thrills at 9:06AM, ride it twice, and then head over to enter the queue for Soarin' at 10:18AM. By 11:07AM, we'd be lining up for Living with the Land if all went according to plan. (It didn't.)

Beauty and the Beast, topiary, DisneyWorld
Beauty and the Beast

I knew that I'd be distracted by the amazing 70 Disney characters recreated as topiaries throughout the park. I'd react to them just like Doug the Dog from Up responds whenever he sees a squirrel. I warned him that I'd be stopping to take photos even if it meant we reached the O Canada! movie (in glorious Circle-Vision 360) at 4:34PM instead of 4:31PM as scheduled.

Snow White, topiary, DisneyWorld
Snow White with Spaceship Earth in the background

The best way for me to get to wander the gardens at my leisure and for him to stick to the plan was for me to just skip some attractions entirely and meet up with them at the next one. Hmm... Captain Eo or enjoying the pretty blooms at a relaxed pace? That was an easy decision for me.

Goofy about Spring, Pluto, Daisy Duck, topiary, Spaceship Earth, DisneyWorld
Disney horticulturists worked through the night to dig out the old plants and assemble these topiaries with a crane.

By the end of our 12 hour visit, we had walked over 10 miles according to the Health app on my iPhone. Enjoying the splendor of the Flower and Garden Festival made it seem like merely a pleasurable, albeit lengthy, stroll in the park. 

  • The festival is included with your admission to EPCOT. 
  • Some activities cost extra money such as the 3-hour guided Gardens of the World tour with a Disney horticulturist ($64 + tax, must be at least 16 years old). 
  • Download the official map of the festival here.

Which one was your favorite display?

This post is part of the following link ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. I really dig that Buzz Lightyear sculpture.

  2. Okay, I had no idea this event even existed! What a great tour - it reminds me of the Rose Festival Parade with all the floats decorated in flowers -- only this would be better. We keep saying we should go to Florida one of these days and this just might be the reason to do so. Thanks for this one, Michele - I learned a lot (and loved the photos)! Jackie

  3. Looks like a great time. I've never made it to this festival, but would love to. And that dole whip with rum sounds fantastic!

  4. Adding it to my list - gorgeous festival and a dole whip with rum. I don't think it could get any better!

  5. I love the Flower and Garden Festival, it's second only to the Food and Wine Festival - as you can probably guess, that makes us big Epcot fans in general, hehe.

    Love all the topiaries and also the Butterfly Garden. The Food Kitchens they've added the last couple of years is another great addition.

    Couldn't make it this year, so was nice to see all your photos instead - the Frozen topiaries look a great addition :)


  6. What a neat place to check out! And I also love dole whips. We had them at the dole plantation on oahu and I fell in love :)

  7. Wow, that's a different side to Disney and it looks great - so much work involved and yes your Buzz photo is fab! #wkendtravelinspiration

  8. Those are some impressive topiaries! I love the sound of all the food places and the pineapple whip too! Seems like a great day out.

  9. Wow so pretty! We are planning on surprising our son with a trip to Disney for his 10th birthday this summer! I can't wait to hit up Disney World and EPCOT... and be a kid again :)

  10. I'd love to see this! Everything looks so so beautiful. It's amazing what those Disney folks can do. Also....I keep hearing about this pineapple dole whip because it's vegan! AND you can get it with rum!? I had no idea! YUM! I want!

  11. I love flower festivals - but I've never seen anything that's at all like this. Now I want to go, too!

  12. I think Disney does things right! Love their flowers! Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration!

  13. Last time I went to Epcot,I was 3 years old but would you believe, I have a hazy memory of it from the outside! These structures are some serious works of art! Elsa and Cinderella with prince charming look spectacular!

  14. It is another world! Glad you got your pineapple whip dessert adult version lol. There is an enormous amount of manpower put into the displays - incredible.

  15. I love flower festivals! it always amazes me how they can put together these displays. The manpower alone must be mind boggling. I love the look of you pineapple dessert. I'd stand in line for that! Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  16. I love the Elsa one! This has been on my travel wish list for so long. We just haven't made it work. I'm glad I got to go on this virtual tour with you. I didn't realize they had so many other events going on besides the topiary displays and the food. Kudos to your hubby for being such a great planner. These topiaries are just amazing!

  17. I have never been to a flower show, ever. And, this one is making me wonder why I have never done that - wow, they are so pretty.

  18. I was there during the Festival last year and the gardens were magnificent. The topiaries were really fun,

  19. What an impressive display of plants - it reminds me a bit of photos I've seen of the Montreal Gardens.
    And your ice cream treat sounds delicious.

  20. wow these creations are amazing!


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