For the third installment of our Free Tour Series, we’re heading out of the resorts and into the parks. The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival brings us two seasonal tours each spring – and one of them is *gasp* free! (The other is the popular Gardens of the World tour, which we will be reviewing soon.)
Now through the end of the festival on May 20, guests can embark on free 20-minute English Tea Garden Tour hosted by Twinings in the United Kingdom Pavilion. Having missed this tour during previous years, I was antsy to check it out the first week of this year’s festival.
First off, thank goodness I tried for the first tour time of the day. When I arrived Saturday just before the start of the 2pm tour, I was very dismayed to learn that it was already full. Full! I’ve never had this issue for the free resort tours, but this one has a lot more press and traffic thanks to the popularity of the Flower & Garden Festival.
Tip One: If you really want to catch the English Tea Garden Tour, sign up early! Tour sign up is inside The Tea Caddy shop in the UK Pavilion just across from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop. You must be signed up in advance to participate, and guests can only sign up for that day’s tours. There are 20 spaces per tour, and you can sign up as soon as World Showcase opens at 11am. Your whole party doesn’t need to be there to sign up.
Fortunately, I was able to snag one of the last spaces available for the 4pm tour. The Tea Caddy Cast Member took down my name and handed me a small laminated ticket for the 4pm tour. This ticket does not come back into play until the end of your tour, so hold on tight!
Left with 2 hours of free time, but too dang hot to walk anywhere, I decided to hang out in the Tea Garden anyway and take photos. As I hung during the early tour group, I noticed two things. One, it was really too bright for photos. And two, the folks in the tour group looked miserable and visibly sweaty. Which brings me to….
Tip Two: Don’t take the 2pm tour! It is just too hot! Unless you happen to visit Epcot on an unseasonably cool day, opt for the 4pm or 6:30pm tours. By 4pm the Garden was shady and perfectly comfortable. Come late April or May however, you might want to stick with the 6:30pm tour. The 2pm tour is only offered Friday-Sunday anyways to accommodate weekend crowds.
Once 4pm came around, I checked in with the tour guide on the backside of The Tea Caddy shop in the English Tea Garden. All 20 guests were there, which makes for a crowded tour in such a small area. Many non-ticketed guests wandered by and were dishearten to find out the tour required prior sign up. The guide did nothing to shoo away these hangers-on, but most left when they realized how crowded it was.
Our tour began with an introduction to the Twinings of London tea company, which sponsors both the tour and The Tea Caddy shop. The tour is a bit like an extended commercial for Twinings, which was disappointing at first. However, I quickly gained new respect for the company and the tour when I learned that it had been in business for 306 years and made many unique contributions to how we enjoy tea today. For instance, Thomas Twining created my personal favorite, Earl Grey Tea, for Charles Grey, the Second Earl Grey.
The rest tour of consisted of working our way around the garden, stopping in front of each of the giant tea cup planters. The first planter had Camellia Sinensis, the plant which most teas are made from. Black, white, green, and oolong teas all come from this one plant. The remaining 12 planters on the tour were each designed to showcase a different tea blend offered by Twinings. If you’ve already visited in previous years, it’s worth noting that 5 of the tea blends featured are new to the garden in 2012.
At the end of the tour, we handed the guide our laminated tickets in exchange for a couple of tea packets. Cast Members also offered us fresh-made samples of two of their cold brew teas. These samples were made available to anyone in the shop after the tour ended, so I got to try all four varieties by hanging around for the 2pm & 4pm tours. I was very tempted to purchase some of the Lady Grey variety, which was super refreshing after standing I’d been standing in the sun all afternoon.
Overall, it was cute tour that gave me an opportunity to experience the Flower & Garden Festival beyond the landscaping. I wouldn’t recommend it for first time guests or for those with limited time at Epcot. Since you need to go early to sign up and then come back later for the tour, it can definitely be a bit of a time suck if you were not already planning to be in that area. Also, it may not be the best choice for kids who may get bored standing around listening to the history of tea.
However, if you are looking for something new to experience at this year’s festival, the English Garden Tea Tour is a great choice. Not only is it free, but it gives you a new appreciation for one of the world’s most popular beverages. And if you’re a fan of British accents, this is a sure way get your fill since the tour is lead by international Cast Members. Just be sure to sign up early for one of the later tour slots and stay in the shade!
The Twinings Tea Garden Tour is only offered only during the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival (this year’s dates are March 7 to May 20, 2012). Monday through Thursday, tours are held at 4pm and 6:30pm. Friday through Sunday, tours are held at 2pm, 4pm and 6:30pm. You must register in advance on the day of your tour in The Tea Caddy shop in the UK Pavilion. The tour is open to all ages and lasts 20-30 minutes.
Have you tried the Twinings Tea Garden Tour? Do you plan on trying it out on your next trip? Let us know what you think!