Last year I went to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival for the first time. I had a trip planned to attend Scrapbook Expo with my Mom, but we decided to spend a little less time scrapbooking and squeeze in some Disney instead. My parents hadn't been to New Fantasyland at that point, so I wanted to spend one day at Magic Kingdom. That meant I had only one day for the Flower & Garden Festival. I knew I would need a plan to fit everything in.
Of course, it would be impossible to do and see (and eat) everything at the Flower & Garden Festival in one day, so I decided to focus on the flowers displays and topiaries, specifically. We didn't stop for the concert or see any of the seminars in the Festival Center. We did, however, add in a few fun extras.
What is the Flower & Garden Festival?
If you haven't been to the Flower & Garden Festival, imagine the entire park, Future World and World Showcase, filled with themed flower displays, special gardens and character topiaries. I had seen pictures, of course, mostly of individual topiaries, but I wasn't quite prepared for the full effect. The parks are filled year-round with flowers and plants, but the Flower & Garden Festival is truly a magical experience and a photographer's dream.
This year's Flower & Garden Festival will run from March 5 – May 18, 2014. In addition to the flowers and topiaries, the Festival includes food, interactive exhibits, celebrity seminars, gardening workshops, concerts and merchandise. Most exhibits and activities are included with park admission.
While you're there, don't forget to pick up a Garden Passport, available at the Festival Welcome Center, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) kiosks and and at all Outdoor Kitchens.
The Flower & Garden Photo Op Plan
My one-day plan was to capture photos of every topiary and garden display. Of course, we still wanted to ride Soarin' (a must-do for our family), see Illuminations, eat and shop. I knew that to accomplish all of that my plan would need to be efficient; Epcot is so big that it's easy to spend much of the day just walking back and forth. Before my trip I sat down with the Festival Map and created a checklist of topiaries and exhibits in the order that we would see them. We arrived at the park at Rope Drop and, naturally, we rode Soarin' first. So our plan starts from the Land Pavilion, heads to the exhibits on the Imagination Walkway (near Figment) and then goes counter-clockwise around World Showcase. Because the plan goes in a circle around the park, you can start anywhere on the list and just loop around. The plan reflects normal Epcot operating hours 9am-9pm.
The Photo Op plan includes a Future World break about halfway around World Showcase. By this point we're usually full from snacking and ready to get off our feet and out of the sun. Hop on the Friendship Boat from Morocco or Germany and head back to Future World. In Future World you can visit more of your favorite Epcot attractions, check out the activities in the Festival Center or take a nap in Ellen's Energy Adventure (45 min.) If you're doing this trip sans kids, the Italian wine bar, Tutto Gusto, or the Mexican tequila lounge, Cava del Tequila, are also great options for a relaxing break.
I created my original plan in Evernote, using the built in check list feature, so that I could check off each item as we did it. See my previous post, Creating and Capturing Magic with Evernote, for more details on how I use Evernote for Disney planning. For this trip I was really glad I set my project notebook to offline mode that day since I was unable to connect to the park WiFi with my iPod Touch. Setting a Notebook to offline mode saves all the notes to the device so I had ready access to my plan, even without the WiFi connection.
You can download the plan as a PDF printable – Capturing Magic – Epcot Flower & Garden Festival Photo Op Plan 2014
Alternatively, you can access it as a shared note in Evernote. From this link click on Save to Evernote in the upper right corner and enter your Evernote account information. This will save an editable copy of the plan into your own account.
I updated the plan to reflect the new topiaries and exhibits for 2014. This year I also added the nearest Capturing Magic App photo op marker for each exhibit.
The Capturing Magic iPhone App for Disney World is a great tool for reminding you to take photos when you're in the parks. By setting up the photo ops in the app it will vibrate to remind you when you get near one of the exhibits on your list. The app also lets you take notes about each photo, which can be a great help for scrapbooking later. For more information on using and setting up the app, check out these videos.
Flowers, Gardens & Topiaries
I won't list the whole plan here but I will highlight some of my favorites. Tinkerbell's Butterfly House is definitely a must-see. Note – this exhibit closes at dusk so do this early in your day.
Besides the wonderful variety of butterflies, the fairy topiaries can also be found here.
If you're lucky, you might even see a butterfly coming out of it's cocoon.
As you're leaving the butterfly house, stop and look out over the lagoon. The festival includes 220 mini gardens floating on the water.
Although most topiaries are repeats from year to year, there are always a few new ones. The front entrance display changes every year. This year's scene – Spring is in the Air – is a butterfly hunt with Goofy, Donald and Daisy. This display features a real waterfall, a pond with water lilies and computer-generated effects. Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy debut this year to celebrate their upcoming movie.
The Timon topiary is also new, joining his friend Pumbaa at the African Outpost.
In 2013 Disney started illuminating many of the topiaries and gardens. This was a beautiful sight but also a practical improvement, allowing us more time to see the displays and take photographs after dark. I've indicated on the plan when a topiary is illuminated.
Finally, this plan focused on the topiaries and large displays but don't forget that the park is filled with 30 million beautiful flowers. There's plenty of time in this plan to stop and smell (or photograph) the flowers.
Last year Disney introduced food as a component of the Flower & Garden Festival. The arrangement is similar to the Food & Wine Festival in that kiosks, called Outdoor Kitchens, are setup throughout World Showcase. There are fewer kiosks for Flower & Garden and the food items are different with a big emphasis on fresh ingredients. Each kiosk has a display identifying three ingredients grown and used in that locality and the dishes showcase those ingredients. Overall this makes for a lighter array of foods with lots of fruits and vegetables. There are also a lot more non-alcoholic beverages than are usually found at Food & Wine. (Though there's still plenty of beer, wine and fruity alcoholic beverages!)
There's only so much food we could consume in one day, so again we needed a plan. Before the trip I perused the food descriptions and read reviews to narrow down the list of things we wanted to try. We focused only on the most interesting items and ate as we made our way through World Showcase, a little bit at a time to spread things out. We also shared each item, so that we could try more things. My favorite resources for Festival food reviews are:
For tips on photographing your food at the Festival, check out these Capturing Magic posts:
Photopass at the Festival
I've always been a big fan of Disney Photopass service so I want to mention a few notes about that here. First, several of the more popular topiaries had Photopass photographers set up in front. I always pre-order the Photopass CD(now MemoryMaker) for a discount and I hate to pass up a photo opportunity. However, some of the lines for these were very long. With our tight schedule, we just couldn't take the time to hit them all. Where we could, we took pictures of each other in front of these topiaries but often, we just took a close-up of the topiary itself and moved on. If you're on a one-day schedule, you'll have to decide whether these are worth your time.
Second, I have several favorite Photopass locations in World Showcase where the photographers are rarely busy. These are normally a great place to get family photos and Magic Shots. However, on this day they were notably absent. I'm assuming that they were redeployed to the topiaries. Keep that in mind if you're planning to get some of the usual World Showcase Photopass shots during the Festival.
Finally, in past years if you purchased the Photopass CD and had photos taken in Epcot, the CD included stock photos of the Festival. It seems likely this will continue, though I've read generally that stock photos will only be included with CD purchases, not with the totally-digital Memory Maker option. There are also special Flower & Garden borders available when you edit your photos online.
For the Kids
I should mention that I didn't take my son on this trip; it was just me and my parents. However, that doesn't mean you can't adapt this plan to include kids. In addition to seeing their favorite characters come to life in flower form, the Festival has activities and exhibits geared specifically for kids, including
- Mater's Parts, Plants & Play Garden
- Mike & Sulley's Monstrous Garden
- Backyard Play Garden – Presented by GoGo squeeZ™
- Gardener's Palette – Presented by Transitions® Adaptive Lenses™
This year's festival is also promising special Muppet activities throughout World Showcase. Of course, Tinkerbell's Butterfly House is always a kid favorite, and don't forget to pick up the Garden Passport. Collecting all the stamps is a fun way to keep kids engaged and it makes a great souvenir.
In addition to the flowers and food, there are a lot of extra exhibits, activities and events that can make the Flower & Garden Festival even more magical. One Festival extra that we really enjoyed was the English Tea Garden Tour. This free tour runs 3 times a day, generally at 12:00pm, 2:15pm and 4:45pm, and can be booked at the Tea Caddy shop in the United Kingdom Pavilion. Tours fill up fast though, so I recommend signing up as soon as the shop opens at 11:00am. The tour runs 20 minutes and covers the history, science and art of tea growing and blending. I'm not a big tea fan but our guide was really knowledgeable and I enjoyed this tour.
There are other activities and special events during the Flower & Garden Festival that we didn't hit in our one day trip, but you might enjoy:
- Flower Power Concert series
- HGTV Celebrity Seminars
- DIY and Epcot Expert Gardening Workshops
- Epcot Gardens of the World Tour (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays)
- Art in the Garden Weekend (March 28-30).
If you are planning to attend a seminar or concert, plan to arrive ahead of time as these tend to fill up. You can find a complete list of all Festival activities and events here.
Here are some resources with tips for photographing flowers:
Unfortunately I won't be visiting Disney World during the Flower & Garden festival this year. Will you? Share your experiences and your photos and let us know how the plan worked for you.
Special thanks to Tobey Fierst for sharing her photos so that we can bring you the latest and greatest information on this year's Flower & Garden Festival. Thanks, Mom!