I just got back from eight delightful days in sunny Florida and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! To be honest, it was a little rough to come home to sub-freezing temperatures and still more snow than we had when I left (we’ve had SO MUCH over the past two months!) but I think that I just might have brought a little bit of spring magic home with me . . . as I write this, it is sunny and 61 degrees outside!
For the record, I really do love winter – I love waking up to discover that the world has been silently blanketed in snow while I slept, I love fog that freezes in delicate lacy patterns on my window, I love twinkle lights, Christmas trees, and peppermint hot chocolate . . .
I love winter . . . but spring is my favorite.
Once we put away the Christmas lights and the colored balls and the cheesy homemade paper garlands and we must hunker down for the cold grey of January, I very quickly begin to long for color. Sapphire skies, tiny green shoots reaching through rich brown soil to warm their fingers in the ever-strengthening sunlight, red robins, yellow finches, and emerald hummingbirds. Color makes my heart sing, so I was singing nonstop during my week in Walt Disney World!
At the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival, spring was in full bloom everywhere I looked, and I couldn’t get enough of the riot of color that was dancing in every corner of the park. There were flowers galore (of course!), but even the food and drinks offered in the parks at this time are all dressed up for the occasion.
Here are some of my favorite (and unapologetically colorful!) highlights from this year’s Flower and Garden Festival!
Epcot Flower & Garden Festival: Topiaries
One of my favorite things about the Flower & Garden Festival are the special topiaries that are erected all over the park. Every topiary is listed in the Festival Passport (free for all guests) and finding them is like a magical Disney-and-spring-themed scavenger hunt!
Some of the topiaries pay homage to beloved Disney characters, like this adorable little fellow . . .
. . . and this classic couple.
Other topiaries fit the theme of the specific area of the park where they are found, like this family of pandas in the China Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase . . .
. . . or this dragon who wins the award for Most Fabulous Pineapple Hair (also in the China Pavilion)!
Once in a while, you might come across an unexpected character hanging out in an unexpected part of the park, like Kermit the Frog riding a cheery yellow bicycle (complete with baskets full of fresh baguettes and pink blooms) through the streets of the France Pavilion!
But others are just classic Disney through and through, like Mickey and Minnie posing with oversized sunflowers in the American Adventure Pavilion. If this picture doesn’t say “Hello, spring, and welcome to Disney World!” I don’t know what does.
Epcot Flower & Garden Festival: Outdoor Kitchens
Okay, so this might be the real reason I get so excited for the Flower & Garden Festival . . . the EATS! Along with flowers and topiaries, outdoor kitchen booths spring up all over the park and offer special food and drink items that you can’t get at any other time of the year. All of these special eats are themed around spring, flowers, and fresh ingredients to suit the season.
For example, at The Citrus Blossom outdoor kitchen a tender and juicy chicken breast is breaded and fried, then generously topped with a creamy orange-scented aioli, shaved cucumbers, and microgreens. It was one of the most delicious bites of my entire trip and I enjoyed it so much that I went back for a second round later in the week.
Two surprise favorites at the outdoor kitchens were the eats at the Trowel & Trellis, which offered strictly vegan options . . . I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first! The meat-free “meatball” was unbelievably . . . well, meaty. I still cannot believe there was not actual meat inside! It was tender and flavorful, and the grain-free lentil “bread” was surprisingly tasty. Topped with marinated veggies, fresh mint, and a tzatziki-like sauce, it was reminiscent of a mini gyro and I loved it. The only downside was the size . . . this was a very small amount of food for the price (yet I still went back for seconds the next day, so that says a lot for how tasty it was!).
In the dessert category, the Trowel & Trellis takes the prize for most beautiful and themed dessert of the entire festival: an edible “terrarium” with a rich chocolate pudding as the base, layers of chia seeds, matcha powder, and pomegranate arils, topped with edible flowers and microgreens. It was so beautiful, I almost didn’t want to eat it. But eat it I did, and it was delicious!
One of the plates that gave me the most bang for my buck was the Tlacoyo at the Jardin des Fiestas (the outdoor kitchen in the Mexico Pavilion). It was HUGE, compared to most of the festival food offerings, and was very flavorful and satisfying (and photogenic to boot!). It was layer upon layer of flavor: blue corn masa tortilla, topped with black bean spread, topped with salty, scrummy, bacon-y chorizo, topped with crunchy cabbage slaw, topped with queso fresco, topped with Mexican crema, topped with greens, topped with a name that is next to impossible to pronounce . . . wow! It had a lot going on, and I loved it! I’m a little bit disappointed that I didn’t try this one until my last evening at Epcot, because it definitely would have gone on my “must eat again before I return home” list if I had tried it earlier in my trip.
Speaking of bang for your buck, I thought that Taste of Marrakesh, the outdoor kitchen in the Morocco Pavilion in World Showcase, offered the most well-rounded set of small plates that I tasted at this year’s outdoor kitchens. Plate #1 included a spicy harissa-marinated chicken kebab plus a side of chilled couscous salad with fruit and chickpeas. I tasted the couscous first and thought it would be too sweet and fruity for my taste, but when paired with the spicy harissa chicken . . . YUM. It was a perfect match and a generous amount of food compared to most of the small plates at the festival booths. It may not win the Most Photogenic award, but the flavors make up for it!
Plate #2 at Taste of Marrakesh was one of my personal favorites: Spicy fried cauliflower with a chili-ranch sauce. I don’t know how the breading stays so crispy (Disney magic, no doubt!) but these little bites are seriously addicting. Because they were a little on the spicy side, I was once again glad for the cooling power of the sweet couscous salad. Together, these two plates made for a satisfying and hearty snack and could even pass for a light meal. Very tasty.
Taste of Marrakesh also offers a nice beverage called the Desert Rose (sparkling wine with pomegranate liqueur) which I tasted at last year’s Flower & Garden Festival and enjoyed very much. It would have been a lovely pairing with the harissa chicken / couscous salad / fried cauliflower plates! I thought about ordering it again this year, but . . .
I already had my heart set on this beauty in the pavilion next door:
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the classic “La Vie en Rose Frozen Slushy,” a returning fan favorite from past Flower & Garden Festival kitchens. Offered at Fleur de Lys in (you guessed it!) the France pavilion, it is as refreshing and delicious as it is Instagram-worthy. A frozen concoction of Grey Goose Vodka L’Orange, St. Germain Liqueur, and white and red cranberry juice, it’s light, refreshing, and a perfectly elegant accompaniment to a stroll through the narrow walkways of the France Pavilion. I hope they bring this back next year, because it will be going on my list of must-dos for future festivals.
And finally, no review of the food at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival would be complete without acknowledging the dish that I have been reminiscing about ever since last year’s festival . . . the dish that I purchased not once, not twice, not three times, but four times during the week (and, guys, I only visited Epcot on three separate days on this trip, so I’ll let you do the math for yourselves).
Drumroll, please . . .
Frushi. Yes, frushi.
A sushi-inspired dessert made with fresh strawberries, melon, and pineapple wrapped in slightly-sweet coconut-flavored sushi rice, served with whipped cream, raspberry sauce, and toasted coconut.
I need to figure out how to make this at home (it can’t be that hard) because otherwise I will be craving it for weeks! It’s so light and refreshing, not overly sweet, and the texture of the sushi rice is just perfect.
In fact, it’s so yummy that my new friend Kimono Kitty was eyeing my plate with envy, but I didn’t give in. You may look perfectly adorable in your cherry-blossom kimono, with that sweet little flower tucked behind your ear, but it’s no use, Kitty. This frushi is mine.
Epcot Flower & Garden Festival: Other Highlights
Okay. We’ve covered the flowers and the food . . . what else is there? As it turns out, there are hidden gems all over the festival and if you aren’t paying attention, the topiaries and outdoor kitchens might be the only things to catch your eye.
One of my favorite things to do at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival is to hang out in the Butterfly House and make some new friends.
There are actually four little beauties hiding in this picture: three dressed in matching outfits and one who seems to have missed the memo.
I love trying to spot all the different species, though I still haven’t been able to find all of them in one visit. The festival lasts for three full months and there were a lot of chrysalises still in the butterfly shelters, so many of them have yet to make an appearance.
This little stunner is called a Zebra Longwing:
This Red Admiral came over to compliment me on my oh-so-stylish choice of footwear (aqua crocs for the win!):
And she was so impressed that her friend had to come and see for herself just how fabulous my #aquacrocs really are!
Another hidden gem in the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival can be found in the China pavilion. That Pineapple-Hair-Don’t-Care dragon tends to steal the show, but scattered around the pavilion are smaller statues made of seeds and other organic materials . . . one statue for every year of the Chinese zodiac.
Turns out I was born in the year of the pig, which means I am intellectual and artsy (of course), goal-oriented (no surprise there) and . . . too easily swayed by material goods. Hmmm. Sorry, but I completely disagree. I am not at all motivated by the desire to accumulate material items. I could care less for worldly goods and am never tempted to purchase and accumulate unnecessarily. Just ask anyone who knows me and they will tell — OH MY GOODNESS LOOK AT THIS GORGEOUS MERCH OKAY JUST TAKE ALL MY MONEY NOW!
Okay, so maybe I was just a tiny bit overawed by the merch at this year’s festival . . . but come on! Is this not the most cheerfully floral display of worldly goods you’ve ever seen? Let’s just say that the temptation to buy one of everything (along with a second suitcase to get it all home in) was very real.
“Your quest for material goods could be your downfall . . . “
Touché, Small Seed Pig. Touché.
The exuberant spirit of spring isn’t limited to the merchandise stalls, however. In the Living with the Land ride in Epcot’s Future World, a giant orb of shamelessly fuchsia orchids greets visitors at the entrance to the conservatory:
And in the Mexico Pavilion, tiny, unassuming Brown Anole lizards do their best to compete with the outlandish topiaries, flashing their flaming orange dewlaps in the hope of catching the eye of a shy female.
He barely held still long enough for me to snap that pic before he was off! No doubt he spotted a friendly female and was determined to waste no more time posing for my camera.
And no photo tribute to the joyful colors of spring would be complete without a picture of these beauties, spotted in the peaceful garden pond in the Japan Pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase:
As much as I adore the festive topiaries and creative food of the Flower & Garden Festival, sometimes it’s the quiet, easily-overlooked beauties of God’s created world that I remember most about these trips. Some of my very favorite moments from my week in Florida were watching these stunning koi fish glide through the still waters of the pond, chatting with friendly butterflies who apparently like the color turquoise as much as I do, and snapping quick pics of a jumpy little lizard with a flashy necktie.
And let’s be honest: no mass-produced, overpriced, Minnie-Mouse-themed souvenirs can possibly hold a candle to the glory of an orchid-festooned palm tree dancing in the tropical sunlight.
Have you ever been to the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival? Will you be heading there this year? I love this park and this festival and I would love to hear about your experiences or plans, so please share your stories in the comments!
~ Cassandra Marie
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