Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

While browsing through Pinterest the other day, I stumbled upon this quote, originally shared by Anne over at Part Time Traveler.

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Image Credit: Part Time Traveler

I’ve been dwelling on the idea of writing a series of posts on all the crazy adventures waiting just outside my front door. I’m sure there are a plethora of travel quotes with similar sentiments, but travel as a lifestyle is something that I’ve been unwittingly doing for years now. Ever since I moved to Orlando, Florida in 2007, my life has been a series of beach days, weekend trips within the state, and the occasional cross-country flight. As much as I love to complain about how hot, humid, flat, and generally miserable Florida can be, there really is a lot for one person to do here, and new things are cropping up all the time, thanks to a serious tourism industry.

Florida Outdoors
Jacksonville Beach in 2012 | Canoeing the Wekiva River in 2013

Since I won’t be doing much, if any, traveling out of state this summer – saving for next year’s European adventure is taking a huge bite out of my regular budget – I’m determined to explore all that Florida has to offer. My trips thus far have taken me to beaches, rivers, trendy downtown hot spots, historic markets and more, but there is still so much that I want to see.

To kick things off, I present my first post in the Florida Fresh series: a look at one of my favorite annual events, the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot!

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The World Showcase at Epcot is one of my favorite spots in the entire world, with themed pavilions dedicated to countries like France, Norway, and Japan. Every spring, the entire park is transformed, covered in brilliant blooms and colorful topiaries. Anna and Elsa can be seen welcoming guests to the World Showcase, while the titular characters of Lady and the Tramp stare adoringly at each other in the Italian pavilion.

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One of my favorite pavilions: France, of course!

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Pop-up food and wine booths entered the picture a couple of years ago, making this a highly-anticipated event each year. For those who have heard of the annual Food & Wine Festival, held in the same location each fall, this event is incredibly similar. The food and wine offerings at Flower & Garden Fest are pared down significantly, but are delicious all the same! This year’s event saw the introduction of one new booth, called Botanas Botánico, featuring traditional Venezuelan flavors.

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Each booth is themed to suit a certain location – just wait until you see what they do for the Food & Wine Festival, coming this fall!

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Keep in mind, this event can get expensive very quickly. With individual items generally running from $3-$12, a trip “around the world” is best done with a clear budget in mind. Epcot actually sells festival gift cards, which can be pre-loaded with a set amount, for those who need a little help controlling their spending. Living in Orlando, I find these gift cards to be a little gimmicky, but perhaps it would be in my best interest to invest in one next year. Over the course of this festival season, I probably spent $100-$150 overall in adorable little food and drink samples.

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As I made my way around each pavilion (or “country,” as I call them), I collected stamps in my Festival Passport. I love this little passport, and seeing the adorable stamps chosen to represent each country. Every food and drink offering is listed in the book. I am a planner, and knowing the offerings ahead of time helps me to decide what I want to purchase during each visit. The checklist is an especially handy function – I like to try all kinds of food, and a quick glance at my passport lets me know quickly what I still need to sample. I managed to collect stamps from every festival booth and even ventured into a couple of children’s play areas to collect their respective stamps.

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Here are some of my favorite things, both old and new, sampled over the last two months.

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My favorite offering this year is the Ghost Pepper Tilapia, shown here with winter melon slaw and mint oil. The majority of Epcot’s veggies are grown on property, including this winter melon! Also shown are Cucumber Lemon Spa Water and Kale Salad with dried cherries, almonds, goat cheese, and White Balsamic Vinaigrette, all from the Urban Farm Eats stand.
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Florida Blueberry and Lemon Curd Tart
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Seafood Ceviche, Braised Beef and Chayote Slaw Arepa, and a “classic Venezuelan fruit drink” called La Tizana, all from the brand new Botanas Botánico booth.
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Violet Lemonade & Ace Pineapple Hard Cider – the pineapple dog here was also fantastic, but didn’t photograph so well!
Maple Bacon Stout and Smoked Debreziner Sausage with sauerkraut and mustard. I love trying new international foods, but the American-style “Smokehouse” booth is well worth a visit, with traditional BBQ fare such as pulled pork sandwiches and beef brisket hash.
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Pistachio Baklava from Taste of Marrakesh.

Another favorite is the Twinings Berry Tea Cocktail, a British-inspired vodka-tea blend, which turned up this year at the “Pineapple Promenade.” I’ll be totally honest, at $8.75 per cup, I skipped this one and put the money toward a second visit to Urban Farm Eats. I generally steer clear of anything nearing the ten dollar mark, so tried-and-true favorites like France’s La Vie en Rose frozen slush or Mexico’s Blueberry Pomegranate Maragarita were off my personal menu. That being said, they are definitely worth trying at least once. I still fantasize about the Rose Margarita, ever since tasting it in 2013’s Flower & Garden Festival.

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In between snacks, cool off at the Festival Center. Here you can attend cooking classes, wine tastings and more. While I have not personally attended any of these events before, I would love to do so in the future! The golden-hued dome also serves as a gift shop, where attendees, having sampled various wines throughout the day, can purchase entire bottles of new favorites to take home after the festivities have ended. I find the pricing here to be very reasonable, with many bottles priced at $20 or less. Given how expensive Disney merchandise can be, a bottle of wine is a relatively inexpensive (and tasty!) souvenir.

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Let’s be honest here: I’m totally here for the international food and wine, the incredible atmosphere, and the gorgeous blooms. But if that’s not enough to tempt you, the festival also features musical performances from a different band each weekend (generally Friday through Sunday). Concerts are held across from the American pavilion. I don’t recognize half of the bands that played this year, but there is always a long line to enter the seating area – the concerts seem to be especially popular with the older crowd.

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See you next year, Flower & Garden Fest!

I’m clearly a bit behind on my blogging – this year’s Flower & Garden Festival ended on May 17th, but don’t worry! Dates have already been announced for next year’s event – it begins on March 2, 2016 – and we still have Food & Wine Fest to look forward to in the fall! Check back often, as I’ll be posting frequently about my summer adventures in the Sunshine State!

What do you think of this year’s festival offerings? Have you ever been to an event like this?

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3 thoughts on “Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

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