Between all the pand-orama and having been stationed in Hawaii, it’s been a while since my last trip to any Disney park – let alone Disney World. But we’re moving to the East Coast soon and when annual passes went on sale in April, I knew it was a must-have item. So, when the opportunity appeared to visit for the Flower and Garden festival it was an immediate yes for me. After all, I’m practically losing money if I don’t use the pass, right?
After far too long since the last trip, I couldn’t pack my bags fast enough.
Epcot’s Secret Entrance
My plan for the day wasn’t to rope drop the (many) new rides, or to race around and experience them all. It was definitely planned for another day, but this morning I just wanted to be back in the magic. I did purchase Genie+ and planned to stack my reservations throughout the day, while I enjoyed a leisurely morning.
Staying at the Swan Resort (full review here, but spoiler alert: it’s the best option on property), it was a quick walk to grab quintessential (vegan) Mickey waffles from the nearby Beach Club marketplace. The Epcot resorts are hands down my favorite area of Disney World that I’ve stayed so far. Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club and Swan and Dolphin are just a stone’s throw away from both Hollywood Studios and Epcot which you can enter through the International Gateway.
This might be the best (not so) secret at Epcot, the International Gateway is a back door to the park that allows you enter between the France and UK pavilions. Any guests are welcome to use the entrance but is particularly convenient for those staying in the Epcot area, or at a Skyliner resort since the park stop is just outside this entrance. It’s especially useful for those planning to rope drop Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, just a quick u-turn from International Gateway and you’ll be right there.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Minnie Mouse meeting with guests as soon as I walked into the park! I’ve never seen characters out this early and it was a treat to immediately immerse myself in the Disney magic. There wasn’t even a line yet but, I have a completely irrational fear of costume characters, I skipped it. I have been ever since I was a kid. Something about strangers in costumes of oversized animals, I don’t know. I love seeing them and taking a picture from afar but interacting with them just sounds so incredibly awkward. Maybe one day.
Touring World Showcase
Crossing the bridge into the France pavilion I was immediately greeted by the best topiaries of the festival. I hesitate to even show them to you yet, because if we start with the best – where is there to go from there?
I will though, because they’re absolutely adorable. Aren’t sidekicks really the best part of a Disney movie? Cogsworth and Lumiere are the tip of the iceberg! Hehei and Pua, Flounder and Sebastion, Olaf and Sven, Flit and Mecko, and so many more. Plus, these are the only two topiaries with mechanisms. Cogworth’s pendulum swings and Lumiere’s flames light up at night.
Just past those cuties are the topiaries of Belle, in her signature ballroom gown, and The Beast. All of the displays during the Flower and Garden festival are so beautiful, it’s hard not to take hundreds of pictures of them.
It was still early and none of the festival booths were open yet. The menu for Flor de Lys looked enticing though, and I made a mental note to come back and try the tarte later.
Walking past Spice Road Table, there was no noticable displays or decoration for the festival which was disappointing. The Tangerine Cafe was open with a few seasonal offerings, but again the stalls weren’t open yet. Interestingly, Tangerine Cafe closed along with the parks in 2020 but never reopened as a permemnent location. It is open during festivals and special events (which at Epcot is nearly always), with limited menus though.
Normally if I’m in the park this early, it’s because I’m speedwalking my way to Frozen Ever After (for my niece) or Test Track. So, it’s not very often that I get a chance to see the pavilions without the afternoon crowds. I jumped at the opportunity and went for some exploration, and wow! It’s easy to forget how meticulasly the pavilions are crafted, and Morocco in particular as it is the only one to have been funded by the country’s goverment. AND the king at the time, King Hassan II was heavily involved in the design and execution.
Through Japan, America, and Italy
During my first trip to the Flower and Garden festival Japan was home to topiaries of Cars characters Lightening McQueen and Tomater. Sadly these haven’t been out for display in years. But you can still enjoy the water sound garden made of bamboo shoots, cording, and the weight of water creating moving mechanisms throughout. I could sit here for hours watching the water build up in one container only to spill out into the next, and then be recycled back up and over again. It’s mesmorizing. But it was mid-morning at this point and I wanted to see as many pavilions as possible before it got busy.
The American Adventure
This topiary of Tiana is utterly stunning. I love the vibrant flowers surrounding her in the beds, and the wispy willow-branch like texture as her backdrop. There aren’t any moving mechanisms or sidekicks, but this one might be in the running for festival favorites.
The festival booths and marketplace stands were starting to open. And what’s an Epcot festival without a few treats along the way? I decided on the Banana Split funnel cake. It was sweet and crispy with a tang from the strawberries, delicious. Also, incredibly messy!! Grab extra napkins and find somewhere to sit down, because this is not a walking snack.
Lady and the Tramp topiaries greeted guests as the entered the Italy pavilion. I’m not sure what inspired the placement of these characters here since the film takes place in New England. But I’m just glad these two have a home at the festival. They do eat spaghetti too, so sure Italy.
Nearly haflway through World Showcase, I walked into the Germany pavilion where Snow White and Dopey stole the show. There is so much to see and do in the Germany pavilion. From the minature train village to the tasting bar. They really didn’t need to go this hard with their topiary, but here we are.
And how freaking adorable are the rest of the dwarves?! If these were sold in the parks, or even started kits, you could take all of my money. On second thought some of these designs can take 3-10 years before they are ready for display. I’m not sure I have that kind of patience.
Tasting Treats at Epcot Flower and Garden
As midday approached I quickly made my way through the remainder of World Showcase. I was on the hunt for a specific festival booth I’d researched, and was tres excited to try. Trowel and Trellis is the all plant based booth at Epcot Flower and Garden. It’s sort of unexpected that a festival about plants would have so few plant options, but I digress. I absolutely love plant based food because it forces creativity, you have to think outside of the box. That’s also part of what makes Disney food so exciting, especially those seasonal offerings – you can’t find them anywhere else.
I ordered one of everything. There were more than a few surprises here, some good some not. The chocolate cake was obviously a winner, because hello – chocolate cake. You’ll have to wait for our full review of Trowel and Trellis, but suffice to say it missed the mark on creativity and innovation.
It was, finally, time to hop on my first Disney World ride since 2020. Between classics like Spaceship Earth and shiny new rides like Cosmic Rewind and Ratatouille, there was a difficult decision to make.
Just kidding! It obviously had to be Figment. Judge all you want but there is no greater dopamine hit than this purple dragon! He even has his own topiary, which is so sweet! Fun fact: the skunk smell blasted in your face on Journey into Imagination with Figment is actually just burnt coffee.
Another friendly face was just around the corner too, Winnie the Pooh! I really wish that the parks did more of these atmosphere characters. I think it’s just so fun to see them wandering around the parks, grazing in the gardens, or hosting secret tea parties. It’s a great way to allow a larger number of guests to enjoy the character without the chaos or frustration of impromptu lines in inopportune areas. As someone who has sworn off character meet and greets, I really appreciate being able to take cute pictures like this – from a distance.
Being lucky enough to snag a boarding group for Cosmic Rewind, my return time was drawing near. And I was pumped. I’ve heard so much about this ride! From the initial concept cars to people walking off sick, and everything in between. I knew it was going to be intense, and I was a bit nervous. TLDR – I loved it. Bought an Individual Lightening Lane and did it a second time.
I’d managed to stack up quite a few lightening lane reservations at this point, so I was able to hop around and ride nearly everything. My return window for Ratatouille wasn’t until later in the evening and I wasn’t able to snag one for Frozen forever after (sorry, not sorry).
After a long day, thousands of pictures, and probably one too many snacks it was time for a break. I made my way back to World Showcase and took advantage of the Friendship Ferryboats to cheat a few steps to the International Gateway. Another big perk for guests staying at the Swan or Dolphin hotels (or any Disney deluxe resorts) is Extra Magic Hours. On this day Epcot closed at 9pm and Extra Magic hours ran until 11pm. I would be back, but a nap was defiantly in order.
Have you ever visited the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival? Which is your favorite topiary?