It’s March, and with it comes the Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot. This year the festival is longer than it’s been previously, running from March 2nd through May 30th.
It’s only two days in at this point, but I’ve both seen and tasted enough of the festival’s offerings now that I wanted to share my initial impressions. I’ll do this with an extensive photo tour of the various topiary sights, pictures of the full menus (including prices), as well as some food reviews of the items I’ve experienced so far.
As always, the character topiaries on display are always fun. These guys greet guests shortly after entering the park.
(Note that you can click on any picture for a larger image. Just use your web browser’s BACK button to return to this post.)
Further into the park, over closer to the Imagination building, Sorcerer Mickey and his broomsticks greet you as you walk by.
As you get closer to the World Showcase, the flower beds are also quite stunning.
Park Ranger Mickey (if there is such a thing?) greets you on the back side of Spaceship Earth, as you make your way nearer the World Showcase.
The Butterfly Garden also is back this year — basically the same as last year’s display, as far as I noticed at least.
There is a nice children’s play area near the pathway as you walk between the Imagination Pavillion area and World Showcase. I thought this Minnie topiary in the play area was especially well done.
Also in the play area is Pluto.
Here we are at the entrance to the World Showcase, with a different take on both Minnie and Pluto.
Before we get into the tour of World Showcase, I wanted to mention that if you’re using RideMax to plan your day at Epcot, there are basically three ways you can approach working the festival food items into your day.
One good approach to planning for the food kiosks with RideMax is to simply use the large block of “free time” that RideMax will normally work into your day if you have the ending time on the plan set late enough.
When RideMax creates your custom plan, it takes the starting time you specify, as well as the ending time, then places the attractions you’ve selected into the plan in an optimized way. Time left over after the attractions have been accounted for is listed as “free time” on the RideMax plan. This will normally occur during the afternoon hours, as this is the time of day when the attractions are the most crowded, and when it makes sense to take some “down time” and visit the World Showcase.
A second approach for enjoying the food items during the festival with RideMax is to explicitly put into your plan the various small-group acts and “shows” that take place around the showcase. As RideMax works these into your day, you’ll likely also have some gaps in the schedule that you can use to fill up on food items at the kiosks.
The third approach you can use for planning purposes is to simply choose one of the World Showcase “tours” that are listed in RideMax (the “3-Hour Counter-Clockwise tour,” for example). RideMax will then work this into your day when it thinks it makes the most sense within the context of the other activities you’ve chosen for your plan.
OK… As we begin the “food portion” of the tour, I want to point out that I haven’t tried everything yet, so you should consider this “Part I” of I don’t know how many posts covering food reviews of the festival. This post will at least give you the full menus for the festival, as well as give you an idea of the layout of the various kiosks around World Showcase.
Our first stop for the day will be at Urban Farm Eats. We’ll sample some of the food here, then continue clockwise around World Showcase, stopping for some food reviews and pictures of the topiaries.
As you look at the menu above, I thought I’d first make a general note about the prices this year. Many food items are 25-50 cents higher than last year, which I guess is about what you’d expect from Disney. As we’ll see later, some of the prices seem a bit overdone though, especially when you consider the portion size.
Above is the Seared Pork Tenderloin, which is new this year, and actually turns out to be one of my favorite dishes so far. Liesle also really liked this, so it gets two thumbs-up from us. (Again, you can click on any of these images for a larger view. Just use your web browser’s BACK button to return to this article.)
The mushroom ragoût covering this dish is very tasty, and the overall flavor reminded us of the filet mignon served at Canada during the Food & Wine Festival, though without the truffle butter. The pork was tender, and the vegetables cooked just right (not mushy), to act as a good complement to the pork. The onion on the right side of this picture was carmelized to perfection, and added to the overall good experience here.
Again, we give this one two thumbs-up, and even at six bucks I expect we’ll be getting this dish again sometime before May 30th.
We also had the Watermelon Salad, which was very good as well. The balsamic reduction dressing, along with the feta cheese, really complement well the fruitiness of the watermelon. This was one of our favorite salads from last year, and we were especially impressed with how generous Disney was on the number of watermelon pieces this time around. I’m not sure if we just got lucky here or not, but at $3.75 I consider this not only tasty, but a decent value as well (at least by Disney standards lol).
Next up is the Pineapple Promenade…
…where we didn’t try any of the food items. Sorry, but $7.00 for a hot dog just wasn’t in the cards today. We really liked the Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade last year though, so I expect we’ll be back at some point for that, at least.
But still. $7.00… SERIOUSLY?!!
As we continue around the World Showcase, La Isla Fresca is up next.
This is the Jerk-spiced grouper. My first thought upon receiving this was that it offers a very small portion of fish — just a bite, really — for $5.25.
Even though the portion size was small, I really liked the overall flavor here. The shredded cucumbers had a slight but not overpowering vinegar flavor, and the cukes combined with the mango salsa to provided some acidity to the dish. This acted as a nice counter-balance to the spiciness of the grouper. The textures were also nicely mixed, with the slight crunch of the cucumbers blending well with the softness of the fish.
If I were just basing my decision on the *quality* of the dish I’d definitely try this again, as I really enjoyed both the taste and texture. I’m just not sure I’ll be able to quite get over the small portion size to make me shell out the $$ for this again though. I’m willing to consider that maybe the portion size was just a fluke though, so I’ll probably at least give it another look at some point.
Next up is Jardin de Fiestas at Mexico.
Above is the $5.75 Tacos de Camarón, and seeing the taco right after the small portion size on the grouper, this one came in so small it almost had me laughing. I didn’t do a very good job indicating scale in the picture, but this tortilla was maybe 3 1/2 inches in diameter, and those three shrimp were very small — as in, you might find these in a cup of shrimp cocktail small. Definitely not what comes to mind when I read “Tempura Shrimp” on the menu.
Having said all of that, the flavor here was actually quite good, and the texture was also nice, with the chewiness of the tortilla combining well with the rest of the dish.
The bottom line: I don’t think I’ll be getting this one again. Unlike the grouper, where the small portion size may have been just a fluke with the way the fish was cut, the small portion size here seems very intentional, given the small size of both the tortilla and the shrimp. Somebody had to make a conscious decision to buy plates, tortillas, and shrimp that small, so… JUST NO.
The Elsa and Anna topiaries from Frozen have been moved over in front of the Norway pavillion this year. This is a more appropriate placement than last year in my opinion, and should work well when the Maelstrom-rethemed-as-Frozen attraction opens here soon.
As we continue our walk around the World Showcase, next up is the Lotus House kiosk, in front of the China pavillion.
This time around we just had the Beijing-styled Candied Strawberries, which is one of Liesle’s favorites (I like them too). I’m sure we’ll be having these again (and again…) as the festival continues.
Here is a sand sculpture in progress as we pass Africa.
Rafiki and Simba are in the same location as last year.
These guys are cute.
Although today we didn’t eat anything at Bauernmarkt (try saying that three times fast), I’m sure we’ll be back soon.
I really love the details on the garden railroad display this year, complete with Flower and Garden theme.
Snow White and the Dwarfs are out on display nearby…
…and the view of World Showcase is good from this area as well.
Next up is Primavera Kitchen at Italy.
This trip we went straight for the dessert, the Cremoso al Pistacchio. We both really liked this. The pistachio and mascarpone creams blended well to create a great flavor combination, and it came across as a light dessert, rather than as a heavier cream sort of thing, which you might have expected. The strawberry filling completed the flavor, and the crunchy garnishes on top balanced well with the otherwise creamy texture of the dessert.
Would we get this again? Yes, I think we would, though again, a $5.00 price point for such a small serving size does give me pause. My apologies again for the lack of scale in the photo, but that cup is probably about three-and-a-half inches tall.
Some scenery from Italy…
…as well as Lady and the Tramp, who reside nearby.
Next we come to the Smokehouse, where Sheriff Woody keeps guard. This is just to the side of the America pavillion.
We were too full to try anything here today, but I expect we’ll be back. The hash is one of my favorites, and I’m glad to see it returning from last year, even though the price is up 50 cents.
Next is Hanami, near Japan.
All three of the food items look good to me here, but today we’ll just settle for the Frushi. You might not think that fruit inside of a rice roll would be very good, but I enjoy this. Next time I think I’ll ask for extra raspberry sauce and whipped cream though. 🙂
There’s a nice bonsai tree display nearby. This one’s been in the works for 13 years, according to the tag. Some are typically much older.
Next we come to Taste of Marrakesh in Morocco.
In something of a surprise, all of these food items are the same as last year, and the prices are the same as well. We didn’t get anything here today.
I have to admit that I wonder about poor Marrakesh, though. The crowds here just don’t seem to really materialize as much as they do at the other kiosks — the line was empty when we passed it today — and I’m surprised that they aren’t experimenting with the menu a bit in an effort to bring in more business.
Maybe next year? 😉
Next up is Florida Fresh.
Liesle and I remembered really liking the Kale Salad last year, so we bought it again today. The kale, along with the almonds, dried cherries, and goat cheese, make for a great flavor and texture combination, and the white balsamic vinaigrette dressing brings a nice punch to the dish.
I enjoyed this one, but Liesle, who isn’t a fan of raw onion flavor, didn’t like it as well as I did. There seemed to be a lot of diced green onions blended into the mix here, which though not quite overpowering, made it a less enjoyable experience than she had remembered from last year.
Given that the price here is still fairly reasonable at $3.75 though, I can see myself getting this again at some point.
This is what they’re calling the “Florida Larder Board,” which basically consists of two small pieces of crunchy bread and enough accompaniments to make a couple of small open-faced sandwich-type items. The “meat” of the dish is something called “Country Pâté,” which has sort of a bratwurst flavor, but with a texture that I’m going to call “fluffy Spam.” (Remember, you read that one here first lol!)
The overall flavor and texture of the onions, feta cheese, and pickle, combined with the meat and bread, was good, but I didn’t think it was great. As I try to put my finger on what was lacking here, I think the fattiness of the meat was just sort of off-putting for me. I probably won’t be trying this one again.
This is the $4.25 non-alcoholic version of the Watermelon Cucumber Slushy. It had just enough acidity to it that it served as a nice complement to the heavy meat in the Larder Board. We both really liked this, and I see us getting it again sometime.
Next we come to Fleur de Lys at France.
I decided to go for the Tarte à l’Onion Alsacienne, which is a puff-pastry crust (think croissant dough and you’ll be on the right track), filled with onions and accompanying spices.
I enjoyed the flavor of this dish, and was actually surprised at how light and fluffy the crust was. It had enough of a greasy texture to it that I probably will pass on it next time though.
This is the 2016 model year version of the macaron, something Disney calls the “Macaron Chocolat Framboise.” They bill it as a “Large Raspberry Macaron with Chocolate Fudge and Raspberry Jam.”
If you like dark chocolate, you should like this as well, since the dark chocolate filling was rich and satisfying. For the money, though, both Liesle and I still prefer the raspberry with lime cream macaron in the nearby “Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles” cafe, which is available year-round.
Some of the fun topiaries near France.
The Beast gets eyes, Snow White gets eyes… Why not Belle?
Cogsworth and Lumier… EYES!
Our final food stop of the day is at Cider House, near the U.K.
We both enjoyed the Land-harvested Field Greens salad, with at least some of the ingredients apparently coming from Epcot’s Land Pavillion.
Although it was good, I didn’t think this salad was anything too special. I think if I’m going to spend money on a salad, I’d prefer the previously-mentioned Watermelon Salad or Kale Salad.
I’m not a huge fan of corned beef, but I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the Pear Cider-brined Shredded Corned Beef. The sweetness of the pear flavor — in both the brine used on the beef and in the actual fruit chunks — really complemented the beef well. And the Branston Dressing really rounded this out for a nice, full, and flavorful dish overall.
I expect we’ll be trying this again while the festival is running.
Disney is billing the Freshly Baked Lemon Scone as “new” for 2016, but they actually served something very similar two years ago. This year’s edition of the scone brings us a very dense cake-like dessert, topped with mixed berries and crème fraîche, a thin whipped cream vanilla sauce. The scone contains a fair amount of lemon zest, and the citrus taste seems more pronounced than it did in the 2014 version, which is fine with me.
If you think the picture is showing a lot of berry compote, it’s because we always ask for extra berries and crème. The scone is dense enough that it soaks up the toppings quickly, and even though it seems flooded with berries and crème in the photo, believe it or not we could have used more still. 🙂 We definitely recommend asking for extra toppings if you decide to try this.
This is one of Liesle’s favorites, and I won’t be surprised if we find ourselves getting this again next visit.
There are a lot of topiaries near the U.K. kiosk.
If it isn’t obvious, this one’s Eeyore.
Moving further around the World Showcase, these guys are on display just outside Canada.
To finish up today’s post, I wanted to share some of the merchandise that’s on display during the festival.
I forgot to check the price on these necklaces, but I though the concept was sort of cool.
Who knew that wearing orange peels and cantaloupe seeds could be fashionable?
There were also several Flower & Garden t-shirts on display.
And hats? You wanna hat?
…and just what every gardener needs for inspiration. “GROW OR GROW NOT. THERE IS NO…” well, something.
Time for me to scoot!
That about wraps up our first go-around of Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival.
As always, be sure to check out RideMax if you’re looking for custom touring plans designed to help minimize the amount you spend in line during your Walt Disney World or Disneyland visit.
And finally, do *you* have a favorite must-see or must-eat item at the Flower & Garden festival? Be sure to share in the comments below!