The 2017 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs March 1 to May 29, 2017 at Walt Disney World. This guide covers our tips & tricks for experiencing the highlights of the Flower & Garden Festival, as well as what to expect from the new offerings. Once again, it will run longer than past years–90 days!–with more Garden Rocks concerts than ever before. The “Outdoor Kitchen” food kiosks also return, making this like a mini Food & Wine Festival.
Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to enjoy expert-designed flower and garden displays, Disney character topiaries, the “Garden Rocks” live music concert series, special programs and seminars by HGTV (the main sponsor), DIY, and Epcot expert gardeners. Most of the offerings for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are included with theme park admission to Epcot.
Because most of the event is basically a “plussing” of Epcot at no additional charge, we highly recommend it. Whether you’re a first time guest or a seasoned veteran of Walt Disney World, visiting during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival is a great idea. Epcot is at its most beautiful during Flower & Garden Festival. The park smells and looks wonderful, and there are a lot of unique offerings, displays, and photographic opportunities.
While Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival used to be our favorite time to visit Epcot, the prices have skyrocketed, as have the crowds. Flower & Garden is a nice time to visit for lower crowds, and you can still enjoy some of the snacking (albeit to a lesser degree) without the headache of the crowds and lines. In general, many of these spring dates of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are great times to visit Walt Disney World (consult that guide to avoid the busy weeks).
Thinking a visit to Flower & Garden Festival might be for you? Then keep reading this guide for our ins and outs, and top picks for the festival!
Let’s start by hitting you with some fact-bombs. Just to give you an idea of how impressive Epcot looks at this time of year, here are some stats: 30-million blooms, 240 floating flower planters, 700 gardens, nearly 100 Disney character topiaries, 30 flower towers, and one beautiful butterfly tapestry of flowers all culminate in an incredibly vibrant time of year for Epcot. It takes more than one year and 400 Walt Disney World horticulturists to prepare for the 90-day Flower and Garden Festival.
Some of you are probably thinking, “yeah, but I loathe gardening and I much prefer barren concrete to vibrant flowers.” Well, if that’s the case, I can’t recommend visiting Epcot during the International Flower and Garden Festival. However, if your views on flowers and gardening aren’t quite that extreme, it’s a great time to visit. I groan when Sarah turns on HGTV (just how many episodes of a show about decorating a house to resell it can one person watch?!) and I’ve been known to (accidentally, I swear!) run over portions of our own garden with the lawnmower, but I still love visiting during Flower & Garden Festival.
It bears repeating: during Flower & Garden Festival, Epcot is gorgeous, smells great, and there are a lot of unique things to photograph. Much like the Behind the Seeds at Epcot Tour (which I highly recommend), the fundamental substance of the presentations at Flower & Garden Festival doesn’t appeal to me, but the overall “feel” and ambiance of the Festival does appeal to me. It’s a really fun time to be at Epcot.
If you’re going to be in Walt Disney World during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, here’s the full listing of special “stuff” for the event, and whether we think it’s worth your time to experience.
It’s also worth noting that those visiting during the last weekend of the Flower & Garden Festival cannot hit the first weekend of the Star Wars Weekends, as that event is on (permanent?) hiatus for 2017. We mention this because we always used to plan a trip that corresponded with the last weekend of Flower & Garden and first weekend of Star Wars Weekends, but without that being possible, we are thinking of visiting earlier this year to see Epcot in full bloom. We will likely do late April this year instead to take advantage of nicer weather and lower crowds. Consult our When to Visit Walt Disney World post so you can plan accordingly.
Outdoor Kitchens – The “Outdoor Kitchens” are essentially Food & Wine Festival kiosks offering food and drinks. There are 13 kiosks this year (up from 11 last year) with the two new kiosks being “La Isla Fresca” and “Cider House.”
The kiosks have been moderately popular, and the items we have tried were on par with Food & Wine Festival, with some things being even better. Although we question the motive, we absolutely love Food & Wine Festival, and we blow big chunks of money at these Flower & Garden kiosks, too.
If you’ve never attended Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, it’s worth noting that grazing from these kiosks will cost you considerably more than eating an actual meal. So if you’re looking to save money, stay away from these kiosks. If you’re looking to have a great time and are willing to spend a bit of money (we easily spend $40-60 in an afternoon at Food & Wine Festival kiosks), you should be able to spend an afternoon just wandering these kiosks.
Expert Presentations – HGTV and DIY experts will be on hand offering presentations on a variety of gardening and home improvement-related topics. These TV-celebrities appear every weekend at the Festival Center and offer tips guests can actually use at home (so just because you don’t own a mansion with a team of dedicated horticulturists doesn’t mean it won’t apply to you!).
These presentations are actually pretty interesting, at least for someone like me who has only a rudimentary understanding of gardening. I wouldn’t want to spend all day at these seminars (that would get old quick), and I feel that maybe someone who is really interested in gardening would find the information here a bit “below” them, but for a novice, they’re something worth seeing. Our recommendation is to pick one that stands out and consider others if you really enjoy that one.
Special Gardens & Exhibits – Each year there is a special garden display that’s used to promote a new film. This year’s has not yet been announced. There are a few big Disney films coming out in Summer 2017. Usually, this area is 50% garden, 50% play area.
Tinker Bell’s Butterfly House – Tinker Bell’s Butterfly House returns this year, combining butterflies and fairy topiaries. This butterfly house is always really cool, as butterflies fly all over the place and even land on guests. We recommend spending about 10-15 minutes in here to watch the butterflies and take photos.
Hummingbirds at Home – An exhibit presented by the National Audubon Society, this is a walk-through hummingbird garden (a la the butterfly house) and educational piece on how guests can attract hummingbirds to their own homes. We’re looking forward to this. I love the Audubon Society, and think something like this could fit really well with the “edutainment” aim of Epcot.
Character Topiaries – Throughout World Showcase and Future World, there are nearly 100 topiaries, with over 75 inspired by Disney films. The highlight at Epcot’s entrance will feature Donald Duck and his mischievous nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie along. To celebrate the National Parks Service centennial, Ranger Mickey Mouse will be featured in Future World.
There will also be a Frozen topiary display (of course there will!) at the entrance to World Showcase featuring Anna and Elsa, and punctuated with white and silver flowers, such as delphinium and alyssum. It will also somehow “transform” into vibrant color, with a bunch of other flowers. Exactly what this means is unclear to me, but there ya go…
The unimpressive light-up topiaries that debuted a couple years ago are returning (hopefully with improvements) as are the Muppets topiaries. Other topiaries around Epcot will include Pixar characters, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Princesses, Lion King characters, and other classic favorites. Hopefully we will see a few new ones besides Ranger Mickey, too.
For us, the topiaries should be the highlight of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival, but they quite often disappoint. The topiaries are recycled from year to year and season to season (you can see some of the exact same topiaries in different locations at Christmas…we have photos of them from about 10 years ago and they look the same) and are often shoe-horned in places they really don’t belong.
The centerpiece this year sounds like it will have a new Goofy topiary, but based on the positions of the other characters, it sounds like the rest will be recycled. It would be nice to have new topiaries each year, especially since in the late 1980s and early 1990s, new topiaries regularly appeared when there wasn’t even a special event (as reflected in one of our favorite Walt Disney World books, Gardens of the Walt Disney World Resort). Still, there are some new topiaries each year, and it’s great to see them added to enhance the park.
We just wish there were a Figment topiary. Maybe a Figment AND Dreamfinder topiary. All else would be forgiven if a special topiary were added over by Journey into Imagination. There used to be a Figment topiary over there, so why not a new one?!
Garden Rocks Concert Series – This weekend concert series features live music from the 1960s and 1970s during the Garden Rocks Concert Series (formerly the “Flower Power” concert series). Famous artists rock Epcot’s America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase (near the American Adventure) every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival at 5:15 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Bands typically include Chubby Checker and The Wildcats, Paul Revere & The Raiders, new acts Gary Lewis and the Playboys and The Alan Parsons Live Project, among many other favorites!
The 2017 lineup is not yet known, but here’s last year’s Garden Rocks Concert Series at Epcot lineup:
- March 4-6 – The Orchestra starring former members of ELO “Evil Woman”
- March 11-13 – Starship starring Mickey Thomas “We Built This City”
- March 18-20 – Little River Band “Reminiscing”
- March 25-27 – Village People “Y.M.C.A.”
- April 1-3 – Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”
- April 8-10 – The Guess Who “American Woman”
- April 15-17 – Blood, Sweat & Tears featuring Bo Bice “Spinning Wheel”
- April 22-24 – Bad Company, former lead singer BRIAN HOWE “Can’t Get Enough”
- April 29-May 1 – Georgia Satellites “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”
- May 6-8 – Gin Blossoms “Hey Jealousy”
- May 13-15 – Darlene Love “Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home”
- May 20-22 – Night Ranger “Sister Christian”
- May 27-30 – The Spinners “Working My Way Back to You”
It’s nice to see Disney offering more concerts this year, many of which are moderately big names. For our short, weekend trips lining up for these shows and watching an entire concert is too big of a time commitment for us, but locals and others really seem to love these shows. Now, if Elton John and Billy Joel were to appear together in a show as part of the concert series, we’d be the first ones in line at park opening to see them!
Other Stuff – Other exhibits include: The Festival Center (in the former Wonders of Life pavilion), featuring merchandise and presentations by Disney horticulture experts from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other parks and HGTV Design experts; and, illuminated gardens and topiaries that will twinkle and glow each night.
Overall, there’s a decent amount to do at the Flower & Garden Festival, and something that will appeal to everyone. We recommend visiting during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, but it’s not something around which you should plan a trip. It’s our second favorite time to visit Epcot, after the International Food & Wine Festival.
One of the cooler aspects of the Flower & Garden Festival, in my opinion, is that you can visit multiple times and have a totally different experience each time. This is not only because the presenters and bands change, but because halfway through the festival, Disney gardeners remove the blossoms that thrive in early-spring to plant a new crop of flowers that flourish in late-spring’s warmer temperatures. This is great for those guests visiting during the concluding weeks of the Festival, as they don’t have to worry about seeing a bunch of wilted flowers. It’s beautiful during the Festival’s entire run!
Although there are new offerings each year, generally not a ton differs from year to year. The same character topiaries are used year in and year out (with a few exceptions), and most of the new content consists of thinly veiled promotional pieces for upcoming Disney films.
The Outdoor Kitchens are another highlight, and while these are an obvious attempt to capitalize on the colossal success of the Food & Wine Festival, so what? Food & Wine Festival is a ton of fun for guests, so why not incorporate elements into other times of the year? The best things Disney does are mutually beneficial for it and guests. Obviously Disney is a business, and in this case we love the booths at Food & Wine Festival, so we think these are a solid addition to the Flower & Garden Festival.
Still, it would be nice to see similar investments in overhauling the topiaries that haven’t changed in the last 5 years or so. Based on what Disney has announced thus far, it appears 2017 will bring a nice set of additions to the Flower & Garden Festival, which is great to see. As a huge fan of the U.S. National Parks, I’m particularly interested in how Epcot plans on celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service. Hopefully it’s more than just a Ranger Mickey topiary.
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Have you ever been to Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival? Considering attending? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!