If you’re lucky enough to visit Walt Disney World from March 2 – May 30 this year, you’re in for a treat! You can experience the annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, FREE to guests with valid park admission. This year, it takes place for an unprecedented 90 days!The festival authentically has something for everyone. For foodies, Outdoor Kitchens offer delectable small plates and flavorful non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. The kiddos will adore the brand new Harmony Gardens Musical Playground, featuring state-of-the-art net climbers. And for the nature-lovers in your travel party, feast your eyes on more than 70 world-renowned Disney-themed topiaries, vibrant gardens and wildlife habitats.
The 2016 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival also features:
– A new Fun Fresh Weekend focusing on family togetherness
– Inspirational exhibits, seminars and how-to demonstrations
– Garden Rocks Outdoor Concert Series featuring throwback beats from fan-favorite bands
– Behind the Seeds walking tour in The Land pavilion
– English Tea Garden presented by Twinings of London
And much, much more!
Of course, the way to my heart is through my stomach. At the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, I most look forward to sampling a wide array of fresh, farm-to-table flavors at 13 enticing Outdoor Kitchens, sprinkled throughout the World Showcase. Here are my top tips for navigating the kitchens:
1. Download a 2016 Garden Passport. Although passport booklets are available at each kitchen throughout the festival, you’ll want to do some research before your visit. Shortlist about 1-2 featured dishes from each kitchen based on your own tastes and preferences, but also check out third-party resources such as Disney Food Blog and WDW Info for in-depth food reviews. You can also pre-select food items based on dietary needs, such as gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan.
2. Set a budget. Each small plate normally retails for between $3 and $6 USD, so if you’re not careful, food costs can escalate quickly. Although you can conceivably make a meal out of 2-3 small plates – making it a cost-effective way to dine at Disney – trust me when I say there is temptation everywhere! So, decide ahead of time which offerings you’ll indulge in, or settle on a food budget in advance. My best tip: use a prepaid credit card! I normally take a $100 prepaid card with me and know that I can eat to my heart’s content… or, at least until I’ve maxed out my Festival food budget!
3. Expand your (culinary) horizons. With dishes such as Jamaican-braised Beef with Pigeon Pea Rice and Micro Cilantro, Harissa Chicken Kebab with Sweet Couscous Salad, Currywurst with Paprika Chips and many others, it’s the perfect time to try something new. And since the portions are small, you can be a little more adventurous without feeling the pinch. I always make a point of eating outside my comfort zone at the Flower & Garden Festival, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Pictured: Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions, B&W Gourmet Farms Baby Arugula, Feta and Balsamic Reduction ($3.75) from Urban Farm Eats. I’m happy to share that this dish, which I enjoyed at the festival in 2015, is once again offered this year!
4. Come hungry. This one’s a no-brainer, but for many guests who happen upon the festival without advance notice, they may find themselves unable to enjoy the delicious fare. If you’re planning a day at Epcot, create an agenda that includes both indulging at the World Showcase and time spent at your favourite rides and attractions. And don’t forget to consult the Walt Disney World Parks Calendar – you may luck out and find yourself at Epcot during Extra Magic Hours, which means Flower & Garden Festival sampling until 11:00PM!
5. Drink Responsibly. I’ve focused most of my tips on the food options, but beverages are a huge part of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. From imported beers to sparkling wines, slushies to sangrias and more, there’s no shortage of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options to celebrate with friends and family. Pace yourself, know your limit and never, never attempt to take on a thrill ride while under the influence of alcohol.
Pictured: Watermelon Cucumber Slush with Hendrick’s Gin ($10.25) from Florida Fresh. Besides the Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade, offered at Pineapple Promenade, it was my favourite beverage at the festival. And, once again, it will be offered this year!
Are you hungry yet? One of the *best* parts of my morning was going through my iPhone and finding photos from last year’s Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, like the salad and slush I posted above. Here are a few more dishes I enjoyed, which you can also look forward to at the 2016 celebration.
Below: Cassoulet au Confit de Canard Pulled Duck Confit ($5.75) from Fleur de Lys. This year, it’s served with braised flageolet beans. If you love duck, it’s a must-try!
Fleur de Lys: Saunter to the France Pavilion and land at a Parisian pop-up that’s sure to please your palate with its haute cuisine and tasty tonics. And don’t you dare pass up the chance to try the colossal raspberry and fudge macaron—it’s waiting for you to relish and share!
Below: Chicken Steamed Bun with Curry Sauce ($5.50) from Hanami. They’ve updated this dish for 2016 by adding edamame. The bun is filling and hits the spot with a fusion of Indo-Janpanese flavour!
While you’re at Hanami, don’t forget to pick up some Frushi ($5.25). It’s fresh pineapple, strawberry and melon rolled with raspberry coconut rice, and served with whipped cream sprinkled with toasted coconut on the side. It’s a festival favourite that’s brought back year after year!
Hanami: Journey toward this pagoda-style booth nestled in the Japan Pavilion to experience a moment of epicurean Zen. Innovative plates like the festival-favorite Frushi are a hit with kids and adults alike.
Below: Shrimp and Stone-Ground Grits with Andouille Sausage, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Cilantro ($6.25) from Florida Fresh. Confession: I ordered seconds! I wanted to order thirds! It’s a comforting, flavourful dish I can’t wait to enjoy again.
Florida Fresh: Follow your nose to this Sunshine State-station between the Morocco and France Pavilions. You’ll discover a shining selection of sweet and tangy creations made from locally grown fixings. Pair your picks with an adult thirst-quencher—wine, craft beer or a sweet watermelon juice or slush.
Below: Pulled Pig Slider with Crispy Onions and Coleslaw ($6.25) from The Smokehouse. Widely recognized as a festival favourite, this generously portioned dish is a hit with foodies of all ages.
The Smokehouse: Saddle up to this al fresco area at the American Adventure Pavilion to scoop up hearty portions of slow-cooked specialties—the perfect fixin’s for a springtime gathering with family and friends. Think lip-smacking sliders, brisket, smoked ribs and a mighty fine selection of golden craft brews.
Below: Pineapple Soft-Serve ($4.50) from Pineapple Promenade. Adults can enjoy this iconic Walt Disney World frozen treat with Parrot Bay Coconut Rum ($10.00), however, you’ll be forever ruined for soft serve. It’s *that* good.
Pineapple Promenade: Get your tropical fruit fix from this vibrant little cottage at Showcase Plaza. There are plenty of tart and tangy items to try—including pineapple-flavored soft-serve, frozen lemonade and the popular spicy hot dog topped with chutney.
This year, I was fortunate to receive an invitation to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration in May. So, armed with my iPhone and an appetite, I’ll once again be sharing drool-worthy dishes from the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival! Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for all the fun.
(Note: Admission to Epcot is required. While most Flower & Garden Festival events are included with your theme park ticket, some experiences require a separate purchase or a separate admission fee, and availability is limited. Events may be rescheduled or cancelled at any time.)
Have you attended the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival? Trust me folks, this is one for the bucket list!