5 new things to experience at Epcot’s most colorful event


Flower lovers, it’s the most magical time of year at Epcot.

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival runs a record 90 days this year — until May 29 — with more blossoms, more treats, more tours and more topiaries.

That’s 30 million blooms, 15 outdoor kitchens serving specialty food and drink, and more than 100 topiaries — including a Belle with a face.

Yes, for the first time, the Belle topiary has a beautiful sculpted face, like the Snow White and Anna and Elsa topiaries.

Last year, her face looked like a Chia pet.

This year, to help celebrate the release of the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” movie, which opens Friday, Belle is smiling, dressed up, planted in France and ready for a tale as old as time.

If you want wine with your romance, there’s plenty of that, too.

Though Epcot’s known for its food and wine festival in the fall, the flower and garden fest has become a mini-bacchanal, with flowers thrown in.

Here are five new things to experience…

BRITISH BREW! TAKE THE NEW TEA TOUR

The free Twinings tea tour in Epcot’s United Kingdom has always been one of the most popular tours at the festival. It’s still being offered, but now there’s an additional tour that’s even tastier.

The Royal Tea Garden Tour starts at 9:30 each morning, costs $15 — and you can reserve a spot ahead of time. (This is important, since reservations for the free tour can be made only on the day you visit, and the 60 spots in three tours fill up fast.)

Plus, two delicious scones with specialty butter — how about a tasty Earl Grey-infused butter and another made with clotted cream and strawberry jam? — and a cup of tea are included,

So, for $15, you get a delightful 45-minute tour plus breakfast, plus you can dine on the patio of the Rose & Crown pub and sip your tea in peace before the crowds arrive.

Our tour was led by Francesca and Abby, two lovely Brits who taught us about black tea, green tea, herbal tea and chai.

The Tea Garden is dotted with 12 giant teacups holding the plants that make the tea — from Breakfast Blend to Earl Grey to Camomile to Buttermint, my new personal obsession.

We also learned about Twinings, the tea company and royal favorite. Founder Thomas Twining opened a tiny coffee shop, which evolved into Britain’s first tea room, in 1706. It still occupies the spot on The Strand in London where it all started.

After the tour, our group had time to shop for blends in the Tea Caddy, the charming shop where you can pick up some exclusives, like tea boxes featuring “Beauty and the Beast.”

We also sampled teas, poured a cup of our favorite and picked up our scones — one cheese scone and one fruit scone — and two butters, each specially paired to the scones.

Because the rest of Epcot’s World Showcase doesn’t open until 11 a.m., this is the most peaceful and picturesque part of the day.

We took our breakfast a few steps away, to the Rose & Crown patio, and relaxed, then took a casual walk around the United Kingdom and enjoyed the Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan topiaries without fighting the crowds.

Also worth a stroll in the United Kingdom: The Shakespeare Garden. A bust of the Bard stands guard over a charming small garden that features quotes from his plays. “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows …”


BELLE! LOOK AT THAT FACE!

As plant princesses go, she’s our favorite.

Last year, we couldn’t figure out why the Beast had a face and Belle’s mug was a mossy mess.

Now she’s the queen of topiaries, with a sculpted face and a ballgown of several different plants, including Joseph’s Coat and Creeping Jenny.

It’s impossible to create facial features with plants, so the newer character topiaries have sculpted faces with some texture to look like plants.

Be sure to walk around Belle — her skirt appears to be swaying, thanks to the position of the plants.


BERRIES! NEW ‘BERRY BASKET’ OUTDOOR KITCHEN

Did you know that a winery in the little Florida town of Hawthorne makes a blueberry moscato?

That’s one of the berry treats at the new Berry Basket kitchen, just one of the kiosks that celebrates fresh Florida food.

My personal favorite here is the pepper-berry sorbet.

Over in Germany, at the Bauernmarkt: Farmer’s Market, is another berry treat, the “warm cheese strudel with mixed berries.”

This could be my second favorite dessert at this festival.

If I had time to devour just one fruit group at this or any other Epcot festival, however, it would be the pineapple soft-serve ice cream with Parrot Bay coconut rum at the Pineapple Promenade.

This is the most delicious thing I have ever had at Epcot. It’s a $10.99 cup of whoa. My daughter called it “life changing.”


BLOOMS! BOOZE! BAUBLES!

Disney’s always thinking of new ways to spend your money.

That’s why they add new outdoor kitchens and new Flower and Garden Fest merchandise each year.

Oh, and new drinks. How about an “Urban Fairy” — a zingy potion made with absinthe? Or a “Maple Popcorn Shake” with Crown Royal maple whisky?

That’s served at Northern Bloom, the new outdoor kitchen in Canada.

Also here is one of my new favorites: seared scallops with French green beans, butter potatoes, brown butter vinaigrette and applewood-smoked bacon.

Be sure to stop by Festival Center, near the Epcot ball, to pick up your “passport” listing all the outdoor kitchens, gardens, topiaries and tours.

If you’re a Disney pass holder, Festival Center’s also the place to get your limited edition Tervis wine glass featuring Figment. Normally $24.99, the glasses are $19.99 for pass holders, who get a 20 percent discount at lots of Disney stores and restaurants.

I’ll be filling my Figment glass with my favorite new wine: Floriography Blooming White, a blend from South Africa. It’s available by the glass at Festival Center’s Intermission Cafe.


BEST NEW BAR!

OK, this bar is outside Epcot, but it’s close: The Abracadabar — a lounge Houdini would love — recently opened next to Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, about a 15-minute walk from Epcot.

It’s got a magician theme, with red brocade wallpaper, a “Carnac the Magnificent” vibe and posters on the wall that change before your very eyes.

This is Disney theming at its finest. Even the women’s restroom gets into the act, with a big arrow and the word “Stage” spelled out in the tile, pointing to the door.

I tried a “Pepper’s Ghost,” a concoction made with Ciroc pineapple vodka and Habanero lime. The description on the menu: “Don’t be surprised if you detect spirits and flavors that aren’t meant to be seen.”

My daughter tried the “Seashore Sweet,” made with lemonade and blue cotton candy (and vodka, for sweeties who are old enough).

Presto! This bar will enchant you.


Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

Where: Epcot, Walt Disney World

When: Now through May 29

What: A sensory explosion of flowers, plants, food and drink, featuring 100-plus elaborate topiaries of Disney characters, special gardens (orchids, teas, bonsai, spices, you name it), 15 outdoor kitchens, the free Garden Rocks concert series and more. This year, there are more concerts — with three concerts each night Fridays through Mondays, instead of Fridays through Sundays.

Cost: Epcot admission required. For Florida residents, that’s $99 a day or $139 for a three-day Florida resident pass. Appetizer-size foods are around $5 to $7 each, and adult beverages are in the $7-$10 range.

For more information: Go to wdwinfo.comdisneyworld.disney.go.com and disneyfoodblog.com



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