I’m a big kid at heart so of course I adore Disney! Ever since my boys were little, I’ve been taking them to Walt Disney World as often as possible. Now that they are grown and have homes of their own, I still plan for the family to meet in Orlando at least once every couple of years. In the meantime, I drag my loving husband to Disney for my favorite festivals: Flower & Garden Festival (Epcot), Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (Magic Kingdom), and the International Food& Wine Festival (Epcot).
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
Every spring, flowers bloom at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center. Starting in 2017, the International Flower & Garden Festival will last 90 days! Some of the awesome things to experience are expert-designed flower and garden displays, Disney character topiaries, the “Garden Rocks” live music concert series. There are also special programs and seminars hosted by HGTV (the main sponsor), DIY, and Epcot expert gardeners. Best of all, most of these activities are included with theme park admission to Epcot. That means you can enjoy the festival, as well as the regular attractions at the park! And don’t worry if gardening isn’t your thing—trust me, I’ve been known to kill my fair share of plants. I think that is why I admire these awesome displays so much. Here are some my highlights:
- Outdoor Kitchens – Who doesn’t love good food? The “Outdoor Kitchens” are kiosks offering farm-to-table dishes featuring the fresh locally sourced ingredients. The neat thing is that they also correspond to the “world” they are located in. There is a German farmer’s market: Bauernmarkt and British cider house among the 13 kiosks this year.
- Special Gardens and Exhibits – There is a hands-on “Harmony Gardens” musical playground with the Fab Five, including “band leader” Mickey Mouse. There’s also the “Road to the Florida 500,” which centers around racing (it’s a promo-piece for Cars 3).
- Tinker Bell’s Butterfly House – 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.
- Character Topiaries –Throughout World Showcase and Future World, there are nearly 100 topiaries, with over 75 inspired by Disney films. The highlight at is always at Epcot’s main entrance, which features a centerpiece display with multiple characters and cool design.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom
The only reason this is my second favorite time to visit is because you have to buy a special ticket for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The party events begin at 7 p.m. and ends at midnight. People with event tickets can enter Magic Kingdom as early as 4 p.m. to enjoy the park in its “regular” state before the party officially kicks off at 7 p.m. The party is on specific nights in November and December each year. Ticket prices vary based upon whether you purchase in advance and whether you have an Annual Pass, Disney Vacation Club membership, or some other affiliation that entitles you to a discount. You can visit Disney’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party page to purchase tickets. If they prices are too high or this just isn’t your cup of tea, there’s still plenty to do at Walt Disney World around Christmastime.
For example, not only does Cinderella’s castle look different during the holidays, but there’s a little ceremony that precedes the lighting of the castle. From early November to early January, Queen Elsa from Frozen appear twice every night to light up the castle in a 7 minute show called “A Frozen Holiday Wish.” I don’t think Disney communicates the details of this show clearly because they want people to think this is only part of the Christmas party but the party doesn’t begin until 7 p.m. and the first showing occurs daily before that time.
Having said that, if it’s in the budget I do recommend sticking around for the party and here’s why:
- Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas Parade – This special holiday parade takes place at 8:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Marching toy soldiers, reindeer, gingerbread men, classic characters dressed in their holiday best and Santa Claus himself appear in this super fun parade. Best of all, it snows! The best kind of snow, too…snow in 70 degrees! We like to watch the second showing on our way out of the park. In my opinion the best view is on Main St. toward the front of the park with the brightly-lit castle as a backdrop.
- Holiday Wishes Fireworks – This special version of Wishes fireworks takes place at 10:00p.m. you can see them all over the park, but if you watch from Main St., you’ll have prime real estate for the parade.
- Free Treats – You can get complimentary treats like hot chocolate, apple cider, and cookies all over the park. They vary from year to year, so be sure to get the map marking all the locations on your way in.
- Finally, there are some special holiday shows, as well as character meet and greets.
Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival
This year we attended the International Food and Wine Festival for the first time. While the food was amazing, the weather was not! It gets super hot in Florida! Hot food and hot weather don’t really mix in my boat. However, there is refreshing beer, wine, and even non alcoholic beverages.
Pros – Food & Wine
This year was Epcot’s 35th anniversary, so they had 35 speciality food & wine booths. We only ate at 7 of them, but everything was so good! Here’s what we had:
- Flavors from Fire! Smoked Corned Beef with Warm Crispy Potatoes, Pickled Onions and Blonde Ale Beer Fondue and Orlando Brewery Smokin’ Blackwater Porter
- Coastal Eats – Lump Crab Cake with Napa Cabbage Slaw and Avocado Lemongrass Cream
- Earth Eats – Ricotta and Zucchini Ravioli with Rustic Tomato Sauce with Kurt Russell’s Gogi Wines Chardonnay Gogi “Goldie”, California
- Islands of the Caribbean – Mojo Pork with Black Beans, Cilantro Rice, and Pickled Red Onions
- Ireland – Warm Irish Cheddar Cheese and Stout Dip with Irish Brown Bread with Twinings Pumpkin Chai Tea and Caramel Shake
- Belgium – 2 Belgian Waffles: one with Warm Chocolate Ganache and one with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream; Stella Artois Hard Cidre
- Greece – Loaded Greek “Nachos”: Pita Chips, Meatless Sausage Crumbles, and Vegan Tzatziki and Bougatsa: Warm Phyllo Dough Strudel with Sweet Vanilla Custard, Lemon Honey Syrup and Cinnamon
We both agreed that Greece was our favorite–the nachos and the bougasta. My favorite drink was the Twinings Pumpkin Chai Tea and Caramel Shake, and Sean’s was the Stella Artois Hard Cidre.
For a full list of the booths, check out the Disney Food Blog.
Cons – Weather
We went in early October and couldn’t believe how hot it still was! The high was 89, and the weather app said it “felt like” 100 with the humidity. It felt hotter than that to me. We skipped Future World, and went straight to the World Showcase. By the time we were halfway around the World Showcase, we were so hot that we just didn’t want to see or eat anymore. My recommendation would be to go as late in the season as possible.