Everything You Need to Know About the 2017 Epcot Flower & Garden Festival
Do you enjoy delicious foods and immaculately structured shrubbery? How do you feel about butterfly tents? Okay, you probably only have strong opinions about food. That hasn’t stopped Disney’s Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival from becoming one of the most popular events on the Walt Disney World calendar, though. In fact, the exhibition is so beloved that The Walt Disney Company has extended its duration to a record-setting 90 days. If you want to own a piece of the magic right next door to the event check out DVC Resale Market’s current Beach Club and Boardwalk listings. Here’s everything you need to know about the 2017 edition of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.
What Is It?
Disney execs haven’t hidden their desire to turn Epcot into a park with year-round events. They’ve seen the numbers and understand that every exhibition increases attendance. In 2017, more than half of the days at Epcot will include some sort of event, complete with special food kiosks and exclusive merchandise. The crown jewel of them is obviously the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, but…
The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is actually a little bit better than its more storied counterpart in my opinion. Disney has used their international food festival as the model for everything that’s come afterward. So, the other events mimic its best element, the delicious international cuisines available as quick bites. While the alcoholic beverage menus aren’t as diverse, some are still available, and the spring answer to Food & Wine even includes a version of Eat to the Beat. So, the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival offers the best highlights of Disney’s signature event, only they add a few extra touches that elevate the overall experience. For instance…
Topiaries You Will Never Forget
Theoretically, April showers bring May flowers, but things work a bit differently at Walt Disney World. The company’s expert horticulturists and gardeners can craft amazing shapes from basically anything, independent of month/season. That’s why the grounds at all Disney facilities are always so spectacular.
When the company introduced their spring festival, they went next-level on the bit. Cast members fill Epcot with detailed topiaries of Disney characters. Many of the best ones recreate magical moments from Disney cinema, including my all-time favorite, a shrubbery interpretation of Sorcery Mickey carrying the buckets in Fantasia. The Dancing Hippos from the film also make an appearance, and they even have tutus. Until you’ve attended the festival, you truly can’t imagine the attention to detail that cast members show in pruning vegetation into legitimate works of art.
Of course, Disney would never limit its Imagineers by making each topiary a movie-based creation. Some attractions receive the artistic gardening treatment, too. During the 2017 event, you’ll find Figment spinning on a ball. In a meta set piece, Donald Duck teaches Huey, Dewey, and Louie how to tend to the yard. A green version of Stitch welcomes shoppers to Mouse Gear. Buzz Lightyear waves to visitors as they approach Mission: Space.
Then again, some of the renderings are thematic. Fittingly, the Three Caballeros “perform” outside the Mexico Pavilion. Anna watches with anticipation as Elsa prepares to work her magic at the Norway Pavilion. For that matter, while I admire the artistry of it, one of the Trolls from Frozen also appears, albeit by sporting a DayGlo look usually reserved for energy drinks. Park planners are all about the special touches, whether they work or not. My personal favorite at the World Showcase is a silly thing at the China Pavilion, a group of pandas frolicking in the grass and trees. You’ll find little touches like this throughout the World Showcase, with cast members putting thought into which designs would work best at each country’s facility.
Disney’s even using the latest garden expo to introduce park guests to Cruz, a new character from the upcoming Cars 3, which won’t even enter theaters until after the International Flower & Garden Festival. This year’s event runs from March 1st through May 29th (aka Memorial Day). Cars 3 arrives in theaters a couple of weeks later. Until then, you can stare at Cruz and her friend, Lightning McQueen, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll wonder how Disney’s gardeners “built” the wheels on the cars.
I realize that visualizing the topiaries isn’t easy. In addition to the accompanying images above, you can look at all of the 2017 Disney creations at this link. You’ll appreciate precisely how detailed and extensive the gardening is. Expert pruners have transformed virtually every part of Epcot with some eye-catching topiary. For you as a guest, each topiary is a photo opportunity you’ll love sharing on social media.
Before I discuss the other integral parts of the festival, I should mention one other tourist attraction only open during these 90 days. Toward the back of Future World, Disney constructs a butterfly tent. When you enter this structure, you’ll effectively walk into dozens of butterfly ecosystems, all of which reside side by side. Walking through will require only 15 minutes or so, but it’s time well spent. My family looks forward to the butterfly tent as much as any part of the entire exhibition.
Eat to the Beat Garden Rocks
The Eat to the Beat concert series has proven so popular that Disney added an eerily similar event called Garden Rocks for the Flower and Garden event. It’s a series of concerts involving successful artists from the 1980s and 1990s, plus the occasional act from the 21st century. The setup for the Spring version is identical to the one you know from Food & Wine. Each act performs America Gardens Theatre at Epcot World Showcase, which is at the American Adventure Pavilion.
While Garden Rocks was initially a weekend-only series of performances, Epcot has added Monday shows for 2017. Each musician plays three shows nightly from Friday through Monday, giving guests a dozen chances to see their favorite recording artists. Obviously, with that timeline, the sets aren’t long. They also do sell out quite regularly.
The best chance to guarantee a seat at the show is to book the Garden Rocks Dining Package, although it won’t be cheap. A breakfast or lunch dining package costs $39 for adults, while the dinner version is $53 per adult, although that number is a moving target of sorts. Some restaurants charge more for their Garden Rocks package. A total of 15 Epcot eateries participate, including beloved establishments such as Akershus, Rose & Crown, and Coral Reef.
Should you want to attend without paying the restaurant markup, you should plan an early arrival. The show times start at 5:30, 6:45, and 8:00 p.m. You should arrive at 5:00 if you want to watch the first show. For the latter ones, you should attempt to grab a seat the instant the crowd clears out from the prior performance. Frankly, it’s a lot of work for a largely mediocre group of performers. Here’s the schedule Disney lists for Garden Rocks 2017:
- March 3 & 4, 2017
- Jon Secada
- Known for the Song: “Just Another Day”
- March 5 & 6, 2017
- Dennis DeYoung featuring the music of STYX
- Known for the Song: “Grand Illusion”
- March 10 to 13, 2017
- The Pointer Sisters
- Known for the Song: “I’m So Excited”
- March 24 to 27, 2017
- Night Ranger
- Known for the Song: “Sister Christian“
- March 31 to April 3, 2017
- Little River Band
- Known for the Song: “Reminiscing”
- April 7 to 10, 2017
- Blood, Sweat and Tears featuring Bo Bice
- Known for the Song: “Spinning Wheel”
- April 14 to 17, 2017
- Gin Blossoms
- Known for the Song: “Hey Jealousy”
- April 21 to 24, 2017
- The Orchestra starring former members of ELO
- Known for the Song: “Evil Woman”
- May 5 to 8, 2017
- STARSHIP starring Mickey Thomas
- Known for the Song: “We Built This City”
- May 19 to 22, 2017
- Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone
- Known for the Song: “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”
Speaking from experience, we accidentally caught the tail end of a STARSHIP performance back in September. Suffice to say they feel the sting of Grace Slick’s absence. To a larger point, the overall list of musicians at Food & Wine is better. That’s due to its sustained popularity. While Garden Rocks is growing in stature, this concert series still won’t match its sibling for another few years. It’s a nice addition but nothing worth altering your trip to enjoy…unless you’re a huge fan of Night Ranger.
What about the Food?
Food kiosks at the World Showcase are a fact of life now. You’ll see them more often than you won’t in 2017. Still, Disney is savvy enough to change the menu for each version. Disney has named the Flower & Garden type of these booths as “outdoor kitchens.” There are 15 of them for 2017, and you’ll find a slew of delectable bites at each one.
The newest outdoor kitchens are The Berry Basket and Northern Bloom. At The Berry Basket, you can eat the equivalent of a full meal with the lamb chop with quinoa salad and blackberry gastrique. Amazingly, this meal counts as a snack credit if you’re using the Disney Dining Plan. For guests seeking lighter fare, the warm wild berry buckle with pepperberry sorbet is more than tasty; it’s also vegetarian!
Northern Bloom also offers a meal you can buy with a snack credit. The seared scallops with French green beans, butter potatoes, brown butter vinaigrette, Applewood smoked bacon is by all accounts divine. For those of you missing the Wine part of Food & Wine, this kiosk also offers a decadent alcoholic beverage. The maple popcorn shake with Crown Royal maple whiskey has already been named one of the best new foods at Flower & Garden 2017 by multiple Disney sites.
As for returning favorites, Florida Fresh has introduced a key lime tart with toasted meringue that looks like it could claim the gold medal at the Sugar Olympics. It also gets bonus points for adding the butterfly design to match the tent at Future World. Meanwhile, the always-long lines at Urban Farm Eats are due to its especially fresh farm-to-table ingredients. This year’s highlight is the seared pork tenderloin with mushroom ragoût, spring vegetables and fingerling potatoes. Yet again, this one counts as a snack on the dining plan. The less than subtle point I’m making here is that if you plan to spend a lot of time at Flower & Garden, take a hard look at the Disney Dining Plan. You may save yourself some money while eating like a proud member of House Lannister.
Look, there’s never a bad time to visit Walt Disney World. For my family, however, this will be the fourth straight year that we’ve attended the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. We do this because it has an amazing combination of Disney artistry and masterful visual aesthetics combined with some truly decadent foods. My family considers this exhibition as the Can’t Miss event on the Epcot calendar.