- Jan Tuckwood Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
It’s the most colorful time of year at Disney World.
The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs until May 28 — with 30 million blooms, 15 outdoor kitchens serving specialty food and drink, and more than 100 topiaries — including Belle, Snow White, Anna, Elsa and just about every Disney character ever sprouted.
To celebrate the festival’s 25th year, here are 25 fabulous things to experience…
BEE-LIEVE AT HONEY BEE-STRO
Did you know almost one-third of everything we eat is created with the help of pollinators like bees?
Honey Bee-stro, a new garden at the festival, buzzes with blooms, facts and food celebrating bees.
Our fave dish at the outdoor kitchen here: Roasted Cauliflower with Buckwheat Honey Carrot Puree, Wild Rice Pilaf, Asparagus, Honey-Blistered Grapes and Sunflower Brittle.
GET FLORIDA FRESH AT 15 ‘OUTDOOR KITCHENS’
Fifteen “outdoor kitchens” featuring themed food and drink are stationed around Epcot. Florida-grown dishes and drinks are a focus.
Ever tried Orange Blossom Honey Wine? It’s made by Florida Orange Groves Winery in St. Petersburg, and you can try it at Honey Bee-stro. Most dishes or drinks are in the $5 to $10 range.
ORANGE BIRD: MY NEW OBSESSION
Remember when Orange Bird tweeted around the Sunshine Tree Terrace at the Magic Kingdom?
Don’t know the bird? Then you were not a child in 1971, when the Magic Kingdom opened, and Disney created the Orange Bird as a mascot for the Florida Citrus Commission.
Orange Bird starred with Anita Bryant in ads for Florida oranges and had a limited solo career. But it faded into obscurity until the Japanese became crazy for the Bird in 2004.
Finally, in 2012, the Orange Bird made a triumphant return to Sunshine Tree Terrace at the Magic Kingdom. And Orange Bird stars on the cutest merchandise at this year’s Flower & Garden fest.
OOOH LA LA! CHOCOLATE OVERDOSE IN FRANCE
This is sin on a stick — the Macaron au Chocolat en Suzette at the Fleur de Lys outdoor kitchen in France.
MOST POPULAR DISH AT THE FEST?
Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar fondue served at The Smokehouse in the American Adventure. (The defibrillator you may need to jump-start your heart costs extra.)
MY NEW FAVE DESSERT?
Griddled Maple Pound Cake with warm peaches and sweet corn gelato at the Northern Bloom kitchen near Canada.
MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE, DO-NOT-MISS TREAT?
GET THIS! I MEAN IT!
If I had time to devour just one fruit group at this or any other Epcot festival, it would be the pineapple soft-serve ice cream with Parrot Bay coconut rum at the Pineapple Promenade in Showcase Plaza.
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.”
This Saturday, she had three cups of that whoa. Yes, she was tipsy afterward.
You will see many tipsy people at the Epcot Flower & Garden fest.
WANT TO MAKE A TOPIARY OF YOUR DOG?
You can find out how in the new How-To Garden. You can also get tips on how to turn concrete blocks into planters and make characters out of clay pots.
INHALE THE HEAVENLY SCENT
Given all the roses, gardenias, bromeliads, spices and you-name-it, it’s no wonder Epcot smells like paradise this time of year. There’s a different floral scent around each corner.
LIGHTNING McQUEEN IN FULL BLOOM
If your kids like the cars from “Cars,” they can check out the planted versions of Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez at the “Road to the Florida 500” garden and kids’ playground, near Test Track.
HAVE BREAKFAST IN FRANCE — AND THE UNITED KINGDOM TO YOURSELF
One of my favorite things to do is stay at an Epcot resort and go into the World Showcase early, through the back entrance.
(Epcot resorts are the Beach Club, Yacht Club, Boardwalk, Swan and Dolphin.)
The French bistro in France opens at 9 a.m., while the rest of World Showcase opens at 11.
I love grabbing coffee and a croissant — and then strolling peacefully through the United Kingdom before there are any crowds. This is a truly magical time, and the UK area of Epcot has the Winnie the Pooh topiary and all the Pooh characters and also Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell.
For the past couple years, the Peter Pan topiary has been posed atop a building at the United Kingdom, as if he’s waiting to fly. This year, he’s back on the ground, facing off with Captain Hook.
SWOON AT THE GARDEN ROCKS CONCERTS
Bands appear three times a night — 5:30, 6:45 and 8 — each night of the festival at the American Gardens Theater. For the schedule, go to epcotinspring.com.
STILL DAYDREAM BELIEVIN’: MEMORIES OF DAVY JONES
OK, I confess: I fell in love with the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 20 years ago, when the nightly concert series was called “Flower Power” and starred musicians from the 1960s.
My all-time fave boy-band crush, Davy Jones of the Monkees, appeared here every year.
I’m 61 now, and I confess that one of the biggest thrills of my life was when I was walking through Epcot with my sister, Lynn, and we heard the familiar sound of Davy’s voice — singing my favorite song, “Daydream Believer,” no less! — a short distance away.
When my sister and I realized it was Davy himself — live and in person! — we ran toward his voice, waving our arms above our heads and singing the song out loud like crazy people … until we reached the American Gardens Theater, where he was performing.
I later became friends with Davy, who lived in Indiantown, after I interviewed him for the Monkees’ 2001 tour.
In 2002, my sister and I went to see him at Epcot again — and he invited us backstage to see the Epcot fireworks from the most incredible vantage point: A direct view, right on the lagoon where the fireworks are launched.
For this hopelessly nerdy Monkees fan, watching fireworks in the dark with Davy Jones — the crush of my preteen years — was the very definition of “magical.”
Davy Jones performed at Epcot’s concert series every year until 2011. He died of a heart attack, after riding his beloved horse in Indiantown, on Feb. 29, 2012 — and that year, his bandmate and “brother,” Micky Dolenz, filled in for him.
This year, Davy’s pal Peter Noone returns with the Herman’s Hermits on May 4- 7, and another heartthrob, Rick Springfield, will be there April 15 and 16.
BRITISH BREW! TAKE THE 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, and there’s an additional tour that’s even tastier.
The Royal Tea Garden Tour starts at 9:30 each morning, costs $18 — 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. Hurry and reserve for the royal tour — it’s already booked for the first three weeks of the fest.)
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 $18, 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.
WALK AMONG THE TEACUPS
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.
BARD IN THE GARDEN
Don’t miss the Shakespeare Garden in Epcot’s United Kingdom. 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.
She’s the queen of topiaries, with a sculpted face and a ballgown of several different plants, including Joseph’s Coat and Creeping Jenny.
Be sure to walk around Belle — her skirt appears to be swaying, thanks to the position of the plants.
And check out The Beast’s sensitive eyes.
‘BERRY BASKET’ DETOX
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.
I stop at the Berry Basket for light dishes, like the Field Greens with Strawberries, Quinoa, Strawberry Vinaigrette and Spiced Pecans.
On the lakes at Epcot, 220 mini-gardens are set afloat.
FIGMENT BLOOMS & BAUBLES!
Epcot’s weird imagination dragon, Figment — a character so irritating it rivals Jar Jar Binks — stars front and center in a Showcase Plaza garden this year, and he’s on lots of the 25th anniversary merchandise.
I love to be annoyed by Figment.
So I bought two of the commemorative Tervis tumblers ($24.99) with his “Unearth the Unexpected” motto.
PICK UP YOUR PASSPORT
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.
NEW TOPIARY AT THE EPCOT ENTRANCE
Topiary icons Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Goofy will greet festival guests in a blaze of blooming color.
GROW YOUR OWN
Each Outdoor Kitchen will feature its own garden of herbs and produce that can inspire the growing numbers of guests who want to learn to grow what they eat.
STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES
Really. That is the best thing of all … just admire the 30 million flowers, forget about all the people around you, soak in the beauty … and inhale.