As I enter the park I know I am in for a treat. Topiaries larger-than-life of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Pluto greet me. A floral version of Daisy is playing tennis with Donald Duck and my camera is ready to capture the action.
Topiaries are my passion and a special festival park map helps me hunt for each and every single one of them. The stars of this the 20th Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival are without doubt Monsters University with Mike Wazowski and Sully, Lightning McQueen and Mater inside the Radiator Springs garden, my personal favorite The Lady and the Tramp topiaries at the Italy Pavilion and the Pixie Hollow Fairies in and outside the Butterfly House.
The Butterfly House is an absolute must and so is the Oz Garden featuring scenes and props from the new film, a children’s play area and midway-style games.
At the United Kingdom Pavilion Peter Pan is ready to fly off to Neverland while the Crocodile haunts Captain Hook. Winnie the Pooh and friends are standing near the Rose & Crown Pub and on my way to France I find Cinderella and Aurora dancing with their respective princes. Of course there was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Germany, Dragon and Pandas in China, a Troll in Norway and did I mention Buzz Lightyear and Woody? By now I am using two cameras and my iPhone, click, click and some tweets, and postings on Facebook and Pinterest.
In the morning I learned all about you guessed it – topiaries. The hands-on workshop was held at the Greenhouse Stage inside the Festival Center, an indoor pavilion offering talks by HGTV celebrities and lots of merchandise for those with and without a garden back home. In the afternoon it was time for the free 20-minute guided Tea Garden tour leaving from the Tea Caddy shop at the United Kingdom pavilion.
The flowerbeds surrounding Future World, the hanging baskets, the spice and herb gardens as well as the floating gardens are incredible. The festival, in addition to workshops and celebrity presentations, also offers free Flower Power concerts. Artists from the 60’s and 70’s entertain Friday through Sunday at the America Gardens Theater. The concerts are held at 5:30 pm, 6:45 pm and 8 pm. For a schedule of all events check the festival park map. While all this is going on, the regular Epcot entertainment is also in full swing. Make sure to pick up Times Guide for show times and character meet and greet times.
Twelve food kiosks around the World Showcase helped me through the day. I had Crab tostadas with chipotle aioli and salsa in the Jardin de Fiestas in Mexico, spring pancakes with grilled chicken and green apple at the Lotus House in China and my favorite dish, bread pudding with spring peas and wild mushroom ragout at the Bauernmarkt in Germany.
At nightfall some of the gardens and topiaries are illuminated. And here I go again making my rounds from Future World to and through World Showcase to capture floral renditions of The Beauty and the Beast, my favorite at night, The Lion King, Phineas and Ferb and the adorable Lotso. For a moment I was tempted to hug that fragrant bear from Toy Story 3!
I start to relax as the evening music and firework show Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is announced. I watch for a while and suddenly I know I need one more picture and I head over to Radiator Springs and end the day with fireworks over Mater.
The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival runs through May 19 and is a treat for gardeners and photographers alike.
Where to stay:
On Disney property the Polynesian Resort connected to Epcot by the Monorail is a natural fit. Lush vegetation and beautiful landscaping are the setting for the Village Longhouses. Standard room rates start at $475 a night.
Off property I recommend The Villas of Grand Cypress, the luxurious villas with private patio are nestled along the waterways of the Jack Nicklaus signature-designed golf course. It is the perfect place to unwind after a long day at the park. The resort provides free transportation to all theme parks and is minutes away from Epcot by car. Two-bedroom villas, lodging up to 8 guests and equipped with full kitchens start at $349 mid-week and off-season.