This year’s Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is in full swing, and the park has never looked more gorgeous. What better way could there be to explore all the amazing displays and learn what it takes to put on this signature event than with a tour? Thankfully, the Gardens of the World Tour lets guests do just that!
Offered only during the Festival, Gardens of the World offers guests a unique opportunity to explore Epcot along with members of Disney’s Horticulture group. As the team responsible for bringing Epcot into bloom, the Horticulture tour guides are the perfect folks to share the ins and outs of maintaining the park’s landscaping during the Festival and throughout the year.
Periwinkle Fairy, from the upcoming The Secret of the Wings, debuts as a topiary at the 2012 Flower and Garden Festival.
While I attended last year’s Flower & Garden Festival, this was my first time taking the two tours offered. The previously reviewed English Tea Garden Tour was a fun, free way to enjoy the Festival’s offerings. However, that quick tour is no match for the amount of information and access provided on Gardens of the World.
To start, tour guests met outside Epcot at Guest Relations at 9am. If you take this or any other tour, make sure you are early. For the first time in almost 20 tours, I was late. Somehow after arriving one minute late, it took over 15 minutes to finally catch up with the group. If you are ever late for a tour, immediately go to Guest Relations. Provided your tour allows late arrivals (some don’t), Guest Relations will find a Cast Member to escort you to meet up with the group.
By the time we found my group, they had already received name tags, pins, discussed the main entrance Fantasia topiaries, and made their way behind Spaceship Earth. Things were moving fast. I was handed a name tag and a headset. Almost all the paid tours use headsets to allow guests to hear despite their proximity to the guide and the volume of the crowds in the park. My tour had 21 guests, so I was very glad I could still keep up with what was being said despite trailing the group.
Guests can interact with butterflies and view cocoons in Bambi's Butterfly House.
At the point I joined, the group was learning about how the giant peacock topiary behind Spaceship Earth had to be lowered earlier that week because it didn’t flow with the surrounding flower beds, which are supposed to represent the bird’s tail feathers. This was one of the examples of how Disney is constantly evaluating and updating displays throughout the Festival. Another example was the sand sculpture highlighting the new Chimpanzee nature film, which will be completely rebuilt several times throughout the festival as the sand is eroded.
From there we made our way through Future World East into the For The Birds and Pixie Hollow gardens. Much of our tour was spent learning about the details in to the special displays throughout the park. Even though I had visited Epcot during Flower & Garden before, I never realized just how many displays there are. I counted at least seven on the tour, not including the country-specific landscaping throughout World Showcase. This tour did a fantastic job of encouraging us to really explore all the beauty the Festival has to offer.
Next, we learned about the creation of the flower berms and floating baskets in the waterway leading up to World Showcase. We also visited Bambi’s Butterfly Garden, my favorite Flower & Garden Festival staple. Then we walked by the rose gardens and the sand sculpture before making our way into World Showcase.
While there was plenty to see in Future World, World Showcase took up the bulk of this 3 hour tour. Starting from Mexico, we visited each and every pavilion. We even got to enter the Showcase before it opened to regular guests. I’m a big proponent of taking early tours that allow for a private park experience. I spent as much time taking photos of empty pavilions as I did learning about horticulture.
Prince Philip and Princess Aurora waltz outside the France Pavilion.
One thing I didn’t realize until this tour, is that many of the flowers and displays for the festival are donated from outside parties, as well as other departments within Disney. Mexico’s orchids are provided by Animal Kingdom, which features orchids in its Oasis area. Many of the Mexico orchids are kept in pots and will go back to Animal Kingdom at the end of the Festival. The orchids that have been sewn into the palm trees will stay and may bloom a few more times before being removed.
Similarly, the Japan pavilion features a gorgeous display of bonsai trees. Each has been donated by a private owner to Disney. Our guide indicated that due to the delicate nature of bonsais, making sure these were returned in great condition is one of the most stressful tasks for the horticulture team.
Our group also learned about the process of creating topiaries for the festival versus building permanent topiaries elsewhere on property. If you have visited Topiary Production on the Backstage Magic tour, this part of the tour will be very redundant. I spent this part of the tour searching for the even the smallest sliver of shade. Fortunately, the headset let me stand far off without missing out on what the guides were saying.
Commemorative Gardens of the World Tour Pin
Which reminds me: WEAR SUNSCREEN!!! I wore SPF 75 and still ended up with a terrible sunburn from this tour. Three hours of standing in direct sun is no joke. I spent much of the tour standing at a distance to be in the shade and even walked off at one point to get water. As a native Floridian, this was my first time getting a serious sunburn at Disney. If I were taking this tour again, I’d carry an umbrella to block the sun. Bringing a water bottle would be a wise idea as well. If it’s this bad in March, May is going to be brutal.
In the France Pavilion, we learned about how Disney constructs the hanging plant baskets. One of our guides works on the indoor plants at Magic Kingdom, including the hanging baskets in Crystal Palace. It never occurred to me how much work goes into choosing and maintaining the arrangements. Did you know that each of Epcot’s hanging baskets weighs up to 60 pounds? The larger the arrangement, the less likely it will dry out between daily waterings.
2012 Epcot Flower & Garden Festival Poster
We wrapped up in Canada. After learning about the irrigation system used for the trees on Canada’s “mountain”, we got to go backstage to view the pavilion from the other side. While this backstage portion of the tour was very short, it was fantastic to see how the mountain is constructed with deep planters and a pipe-system for the water. Here we each received a copy of the 2012 Flower & Garden Festival poster in a large tube. These posters cost $19.95 at the Festival Center, so it was really a nice surprise for tour guests.
Aside from being preoccupied with potential dehydration and sun-poisoning, I learned a lot from this tour. Most of the guests were avid gardeners, many taking notes on the specific plants used throughout Epcot. We each received a card with contact information for the Horticulture group should we have any follow up questions. Both of our guides were excellent and clearly passionate about their jobs.
If you are even the slightest bit inclined to learn more about gardening techniques and the process for pulling off the Flower & Garden Festival, I definitely recommend this tour for you. Bring some water, wear sunscreen and walking shoes, carry an umbrella, and you’ll have a good time.
If listening to questions about mulching techniques isn’t up your alley, you might want to reconsider. I’m not a gardener, and (sun aside) I had a reasonably good time. However, if I were facing time or budget constraints, I would skip the tour and just enjoy the beauty of the festival on my own. If you want to experience more Epcot but aren’t into plants, the UnDISCOVERed Future World tour is a good alternative. If you want to focus on Flower & Garden but want less of a commitment, try the English Garden Tea Tour. Just be sure to go late in the day to avoid heat exhaustion!
The Gardens of the World tour is currently offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 9am through May 20, 2012. It costs $60 and requires separate park admission. Guests must be at least 16 years old to take the tour. A 15% discount is offered for AAA Members, Annual Passholders, and DVC Members. Disney VISA Cardholders are eligible for a 20% discount when booking with their Disney VISA. To book, call (407) WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).
Have you tried the Gardens of the World tour? Do you plan on trying it out on your next trip? Let us know what you think!
It’s almost time to stop and smell the roses at Walt Disney World. The Epcot Flower & Garden Festival is taking root at the park from March 7 to May 20, 2012. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will be the best Festival ever.
My most vivid childhood memory of Disney is seeing a giant topiary hippo and wondering, “How do they DO that?” I still find these larger-than-life living sculptures endlessly fascinating. More than 100 topiaries are scheduled to be on display this year, including plants representing characters from Toy Story (strawberry-scented Lotso!) and Cars.
HGTV is again sponsoring the festival, lending many of its TV personalities to the proceedings. Here’s who you’ll be able to see:
- John Gidding, HGTV’s Curb Appeal: The Block—presenting March 9 – 11
- Sabrina Soto, HGTV’s The High/Low Project—presenting March 16 – 18
- Jason Cameron, DIY Network’s Desperate Landscapes and Man Caves—presenting March 23 – 25
- Camille Styles, HGTV.com Entertainment contributor—presenting March 30 – April 1
- Dan Faires, HGTV.com’s DanMade, Fan Favorite HGTV Design Star Season 5—presenting April 6 – 8
- Brandon Johnson, host of HGTV’s My Yard Goes Disney—presenting April 13 – 15
- Meg Caswell, HGTV’s Meg’s Great Rooms—presenting April 20 – 22
- Monica Pedersen, HGTV Dream Home Tour 2012 and Designed to Sell—presenting April 27 – 29
- Antonio Ballatore, HGTV’s The Antonio Treatment—presenting May 4 – 6
- Genevieve Gorder, HGTV’s Dear Genevieve and HGTV Design Star—presenting May 18 – 20
The only repeat presenters this year are Gorder and Gidding, so there should be lots of new material for annual guests.
Also keeping to tradition is the return of the Flower Power concert series, with artists that will make you nostalgic and your kids confused. During the Festival you can hear:
- March 9 to 11, Jose Feliciano, Light My Fire
- March 16 to 18, Starship Starring Mickey Thomas, We Built This City
- March 23 to 25, The Guess Who, American Woman
- March 30 to April 1, The Spinners, Cupid
- April 6 to 8, Chubby Checker & The Wildcats, The Twist
- April 13 to 15, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Good Thing
- April 20 to 22, The Turtles Featuring Flo & Eddie, Happy Together
- April 27 to 29, Chuck Negron Formerly of Three Dog Night, Black & White
- May 4 to 6, The Orchestra Starring Former Members of ELO, Don’t Bring Me Down
- May 11 to 13, Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone, I’m Henry VIII, I Am
- May 18 to 20, Davy Jones, I’m a Believer
The new performers this year are Three Dog Night and ELO. Personally, I’m always most excited to see Davy Jones because it takes me back to the days when I wished I was Marcia Brady. Sigh.
Shows are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 5:15 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. in the America Gardens Theatre.
Bushels of Gardening Information
In addition to the HGTV presenters, there will be gardening experts making scheduled appearances each day at the Greenhouse Stage in Festival Headquarters in Future World. Many of these presenters will be representatives from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. Along with planned lectures and demonstrations, experts will be available from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day to chat and take individual guest questions. This is a great opportunity to get your children interested in gardening; they will have a chance to have an adult expert take time with them.
The standard gardening talks will be supplemented by weekends dedicated to special topics:
- Art in the Garden Weekend: See nature through the eyes of “plein air” artists and behold one-of-a-kind works of art. At World Showcase from March 23 through 25, 2012.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Specialists: Meet the experts and learn about incredible indigenous insects that are part of our world. At the Festival Center from April 13 through 15, 2012.
- Florida Federation of Garden Clubs: See amazing arrangements that defy description. At the Festival Center from April 27 through 29, 2012.
- Fresh from Florida Weekend: Discover the bounty of Florida—from Apalachicola to Zellwood! At the Festival Center from May 4 through 6, 2012.
Special, Fun, and Everything Else Under the Sun
Among the other offerings at Epcot during the Festival are:
- Bambi’s Butterfly House, presented by HGTV: Experience hundreds of native butterflies and see some of your favorite characters from Bambi, presented in topiary. Located at Imagination Walkway.
- Sustainable Beauty, presented by HGTV: This unique garden showcases sustainable gardening ideas that you can try at home.
- English Tea Garden, presented by Twinings of London Tea: Discover the art and history of tea blending during a 20-minute tour of this elegant English Tea Garden, featuring classic tea blends and new herbal teas for 2012. Tours are held Monday through Thursday at 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., and Friday through Sunday at 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Register for your guided tour at The Tea Caddy. Located at the United Kingdom Pavilion.
- Bonsai Collection—located at the Japan Pavilion.
- Festival Blooms, Presented by Syngenta—located at Future World East and West Lake.
- Children’s Garden, Presented by Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association
- Orchids—located at the Mexico Pavilion.
- Spice and Herb Garden—located at the Morocco Pavilion.
- Let’s Get Moving: Unique play structures for ages 2 through 5. Located at Imagination Walkway.
- Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden: Explore the garden world of Pixie Hollow and find some of your favorite fairy characters presented in topiary. Play structures are designed for ages 2 to 5. Located at Test Track Walkway.
- Sounds of Nature, Presented by Nature Conservancy: Relax as you listen to the soothing sounds of nature. Located next to Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden at Test Track Walkway.
Access to the Flower & Garden exhibits and activities is included with your regular Epcot park admission ticket. There is a supplemental Epcot Gardens of the World Tour available in which a Disney horticulturist hosts a 3-hour, guided tour designed especially for garden enthusiasts. The Gardens of the World Tour is available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Register at Guest Relations or call (407) WDW-TOUR. Cost is $60.00, including tax, and theme park admission is required. The tour is available to Guests ages 16 and up only.
So folks, are you blooming with excitement about the Festival? Did you visit the Festival last year? Do you think Disney rose to the occasion? Do you like the offerings this year, or do you think they’re yucca? Do you carrot all? Let us know in the comments below.
Thanks to Tom Bricker for many of the brilliant photos of last year’s festivities.