Escape to Epcot
The idea to attend Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival in Walt Disney World was one born from necessity. It had been the snowiest winter on record for our area – it seemed like we would just get over one storm and another one would come barreling through. I had forgotten what anything green looked like. Everything was white. And cold. This trip was necessary for our sanity.
It was also born from this:
One day my friend, frequent traveling companion, and now business partner and I were discussing the Philadelphia Flower Show, which she had just attended in hopes of soaking up some spring. Overall she had been hugely disappointed in the exhibits. The above picture is one she sent me from the show – it was a second place winner. After we were finished laughing like a couple of 13 year old boys, an idea took shape – a long weekend in Walt Disney World, mainly to attend the Flower and Garden Festival, but also to recharge and soak up some sun. (And drink some wine, but that’s a given.) Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival takes place every year March through May, and features incredible gardens and topiary displays, the Flower Power Concert Series, seminars hosted by HGTV personalities, and lots of great and inventive food. Turns out the only weekend we could make it work with our schedules was Mother’s Day weekend, and in the planning process my daughter decided to join us. Just so happens that she is expecting, so Mother’s Day weekend ended up being very apropos.
We suffered through 2,348 more snowstorms, or so it seemed, and the day I received our Magic Bands in the mail was an exciting one indeed. Magic Bands are the nifty wristbands that you can color customize and are used to enter Disney theme parks, unlock your Disney Resort hotel room, use for FastPass+ entrance for attractions and entertainment experiences you selected, charge purchases to your room, and link Disney PhotoPass photos to your Disney account. They are shipped to your home about 30 days or so before your trip.
Yay!! A present from the Incredibles!
We left bright and early (well, early anyway) from Atlantic City Airport and arrived at the Orlando International Airport by 9:30 AM. We made our way to Disney’s Magical Express Counter, where we used our Magic Bands for the first time and checked in for the motor coach to our resort, a complimentary service that Disney provides. We were staying at Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort, which is a large resort consisting of 2,112 guest rooms in 33 two-story buildings (there are no elevators, so keep this in mind if mobility is an issue - a first floor room can be requested). There are 6 “villages” in Caribbean Beach. Each village has its own quiet pool, laundry facilities, playgrounds, and parking. Our village was Jamaica, where the buildings are a bright yellow and the grounds beautifully tended.
Jamaica quiet pool
This resort is so large, in fact, that they have an internal busses that provide transportation between Old Port Royal (where you can find shopping, food, an arcade, and the main pool), the Customs House (for check in and concierge services), and the villages. The size of the resort never seemed to be a problem, however, as the busses were plentiful and we usually had minimal waits, which made getting around very easy.
While our main focus this trip was the Flower and Garden Festival, we still had to pop in and say hello to the other three parks, like visiting with old friends. Since we were visiting for only a short time, we just hit our favorites at Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and, of course, Magic Kingdom.
Staying in the flower theme, one of my favorite spots in the Magic Kingdom is the Plaza Rose Garden that runs along the path by Cinderella Castle. This is one of those areas that’s easy to miss as guests hurry from one end of the park to the other. I love to wander here and well, literally stop and smell the roses.
No trip is complete without some great eats, are there is no shortage of these in Walt Disney World. We had some wonderful meals, including a Mother’s Day breakfast at Boma, located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are so many options here, including breakfast fare such as made-to-order omelets, hot and cold cereals, waffles, pancakes, ham, bacon, sausage, and those items a little more exotic, such as bobotie – corned beef, eggs, cream, potatoes, and onions. In honor of Mother’s Day, there was a candy station set up by the exit where you could make up a little take-out container of some goodies to go. Cute!
We also ate at another tried-and-true favorite for us – the Yachtsman Steakhouse, located in the Yacht Club resort. I love this area of Disney, which is home to not only the Yacht Club resort, but also the Beach Club resort and the Boardwalk resort just across Crescent Lake.
The Boardwalk Resort across Crescent Lake
The Yacht Club
Dinner at the Yachtsman is an unhurried, relaxing experience. The service is impeccable and the food a carnivore’s dream - a must-do every trip.
Our last full day was devoted to Epcot, and the main reason for our visit. Flowers! Topiaries! Food! WINE!
In conjunction with the festival, there are 11 “outdoor kitchens” in World Showcase featuring delicious small plates that allow you to taste flavors fresh from the garden, like this tomato, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar push pop.
Caprese push pop (photo from Disneyfoodblog.com)
We couldn’t wait to try the Piggylicious Bacon Cupcake with maple frosting and pretzel crunch from the Smokehouse. It was, uh…different, but it grew on me with each bite. I guess everything is truly better with bacon!
Piggylicious Bacon Cupcake with Maple Frosting and Pretzel Crunch
There are some fantastic offerings all around. From the Buttercup Cottage located in the UK Pavilion, there are field greens with Plant City strawberries, toasted almonds, and farmstead stilton with a light vinaigrette and crunchy almonds. From the Fleur de Lis kitchen in France you can try Gnocchi Parisian à la Provençal – Parisian-style dumplings with vegetables and mushrooms. In Japan you can tryHanami Sushi Platter, featuring balls of sticky rice topped with scallops, salmon, and beef. The trio is served with a Shiso Violet Sauce. Each kitchen has a wine and beer offering also to compliment your selection.
There’s also a lot of great stuff to check out at the Festival Center:
Intermissions Café – For a special way to dig into the day, or perhaps turn over your evening, stop by Intermissions Café, which features a fine selection of wine, cheese, wraps and salads.
Festival Center Shop – Bring home a piece of the event with a variety of Epcot Flower & Garden Festival-themed merchandise, unique gifts and more—open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
HGTV Theater – Hear tips from the experts at HGTV and see how Disney Horticulture goes about growing the magic in “The Making of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.”
Planting Pointers – Each day at 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM, join the experts from Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida as they present a daily assortment of topics and ideas to help your technique grow.
Ask an Expert – From 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM, collect answers for your deeply rooted gardening questions, courtesy of the “Master Gardeners” from IFAS at the University of Florida.
Greenhouse Stage – Drop by daily at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM to meet with gardening specialists as they share their knowledge and help you plant their expertise in your garden back home.
Designers’ Stage Presented by HGTV – Pollinate your passions with a duo of different experiences! Monday through Thursday, hydrate your thirst for knowledge during entertaining seminars led by nationally recognized garden VIPs. Then, Friday through Sunday, seed your interests at informative events presented by HGTV personalities—taking place at 12:00 PM and 3:00 PM.
Oh yeah, there are some flowers too.